seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Downpatrick Land Mine Attack

On April 9, 1990, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a massive improvised land mine under a British Army convoy outside Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. Four soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) are killed, the regiment’s greatest loss of life since 1983.

The Provisional IRA had been attacking British Army patrols and convoys with land mines and roadside bombs since the beginning of its campaign in the early 1970s. The deadliest attack was the Warrenpoint ambush of August 1979, when 18 soldiers were killed by two large roadside bombs near Warrenpoint, County Down. In July 1983, four soldiers of the local Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) were killed when their vehicle struck an IRA land mine near Ballygawley, County Tyrone. It was the UDR’s biggest loss of life up until then.

On the morning of April 9, 1990, two UDR armoured landrovers are traveling from Abercorn Barracks to Downpatrick. An IRA unit has planted a 1,000-pound improvised land mine in a culvert under the Ballydugan Road, just outside the town. The unit waits in woodland overlooking the road, about 350 feet away. As the landrovers drive over the culvert, the IRA detonates the bomb by command wire. The huge blast blows the vehicle into a field and gouges a large crater in the road, 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep. A witness describes “a scene of utter carnage.” Four soldiers are killed: Michael Adams (23), John Birch (28), John Bradley (25), and Steven Smart (23). It is the biggest loss of life suffered by the UDR since the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack. The soldiers in the other landrover suffer severe shock and are airlifted to hospital. According to police, a civilian driver also suffers shock and another receives cuts and bruises.

The bombers escape on a motorcycle which had been stolen in Newry a week earlier, and is later found abandoned in Downpatrick. The IRA issues a statement saying the attack was carried out by members of its South Down Brigade.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says on BBC Radio, “You take these murders of these four people today alongside those decisions in the Supreme Court of the Republic not to extradite those accused of violent crime – and one is very, very depressed.” Charles Haughey, the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, condemns the attack as an “atrocity.”

A 23 year-old man is later sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attack. He had driven a scout car for the bombers when it was planted the day before the attack.


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1985 Newry Mortar Attack

On February 28, 1985, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches a heavy mortar attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at Corry Square in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland. The attack kills nine RUC officers and injures almost 40 others, the highest death toll ever suffered by the RUC. Afterwards, a major building scheme is begun to give police and military bases better protection from such attacks.

In the early 1970s, after the onset of the Troubles, the Provisional IRA launches a campaign aimed at forcing the British to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

The IRA, particularly its South Armagh Brigade, has repeatedly attacked the British Army and RUC with home-made mortars, but with limited success. Between 1973 and early 1978 a total of 71 mortar attacks are recorded, but none cause direct British Army or RUC deaths. There are only two deadly mortar attacks before 1985. The first is on March 19, 1979, when Private Peter Woolmore of the Queen’s Regiment is killed in a mortar attack on Newtownhamilton British Army base. The second is on November 12, 1983, when a RUC officer is killed and several hurt in a mortar attack on Carrickmore RUC base.

The attack is jointly planned by members of the South Armagh Brigade and an IRA unit in Newry. The homemade mortar launcher, dubbed the ‘Mark 10,’ is bolted onto the back of a Ford lorry that had been hijacked in Crossmaglen.

Shortly after 6:30 PM on February 28, nine shells are launched from the lorry, which had been parked on Monaghan Street, about 250 yards from the base. At least one 50-lb. shell lands on a portacabin containing a canteen, where many officers are having their evening tea break. Nine police officers are killed and 37 people are hurt, including 25 civilian police employees, the highest death toll inflicted on the RUC in its history. The nine dead officers range in age from 19 to 41, seven male and two female, seven Protestants and two Catholics. Another shell hits the observation tower, while the rest land inside and outside the perimeter of the base.

The day is dubbed “Bloody Thursday” by the British press. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher calls the attack “barbaric,” while Ireland’s Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, says it is “cruel and cynical,” and pledges the help of the Irish security forces to catch those responsible. Although not involved in the attack, Newry IRA member Eamon Collins is arrested shortly afterwards and interrogated. After five days of questioning, Collins breaks under interrogation and turns supergrass, leading to more than a dozen arrests of other IRA members. The attack prompts calls from unionist politicians to “increase security,” and the British government launches a multi-million pound programme of construction to protect bases from similar attacks. This involves installing reinforced roofs and building blast-deflecting walls around the base of buildings.

After the successful attack in Newry, the IRA carries out a further nine mortar attacks in 1985. On September 4, an RUC training centre in Enniskillen is attacked. Thirty cadets narrowly escape death due to poor intelligence-gathering by the IRA unit responsible. The cadets are expected to be in bed sleeping, but are instead eating breakfast when the bombs land. In November 1986, the IRA launches another attack on the RUC base in Newry, but the bombs fall short of their target and land on houses. A four-year-old Catholic girl is badly wounded and another 38 people are hurt, prompting the IRA to admit that “this incident left us open to justified criticism.”

Beginning in the 1990s, operations at the Corry Square base are progressively shifted to a new facility on the outskirts of Newry. The base is closed in 2002, and a park occupies the site today.

(Pictured: Destroyed cars and remains of the Newry RUC Corry Square police Station in Catherine Street taken the day after the attack by the Provisional IRA using homemade mortar bombs)


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The Downing Street Mortar Attack

The Downing Street mortar attack was carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 7, 1991. The IRA launches three homemade mortar shells at 10 Downing Street, London, the headquarters of the British government in an attempt to assassinate prime minister John Major and his war Cabinet, who were meeting to discuss the Gulf War.

During the Troubles, as part of its armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, the Provisional Irish Republican Army repeatedly uses homemade mortars against targets in Northern Ireland. The IRA carries out many attacks in England, but none involve mortars. In December 1988, items used in mortar construction and technical details regarding the weapon’s trajectory are found during a raid in Battersea, South West London, by members of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch. In the late 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is top of the IRA’s list for assassination, following the failed attempt on her life in the Brighton hotel bombing.

Security around Downing Street is stepped up following increased IRA activity in England in 1988. Plans to leave a car bomb on a street near Downing Street and detonate it by remote control as Thatcher’s official car is driving by had been ruled out by the IRA Army Council owing to the likelihood of civilian casualties.

The Army Council instead sanctions a mortar attack on Downing Street and, in mid-1990, two IRA members travel to London to plan the attack. One is knowledgeable about the trajectory of mortars and the other, from the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, is familiar with their manufacture. An active service unit (ASU) purchases a Ford Transit van and rents a garage and an IRA co-ordinator procures the explosives and materials needed to make the mortars. The IRA unit begins making the mortars and cutting a hole in the roof of the van for the mortars to be fired through. Once preparations are complete, the two IRA members return to Ireland, as the IRA leadership considers them valuable personnel and does not wish to risk them being arrested in any follow-up operation by the security services. In November 1990, Thatcher unexpectedly resigns from office, but the Army Council decides the planned attack should still go ahead, targeting her successor John Major. The IRA plans to attack when Major and his ministers are likely to be meeting at Downing Street and wait until the date of a planned cabinet meeting is publicly known.

On the morning of February 7, 1991, the War Cabinet and senior government and military officials are meeting at Downing Street to discuss the ongoing Gulf War. As well as the Prime Minister, John Major, those present include politicians Douglas Hurd, Tom King, Norman Lamont, Peter Lilley, Patrick Mayhew, David Mellor and John Wakeham, civil servants Robin Butler, Percy Cradock, Gus O’Donnell and Charles Powell, and Chief of the Defence Staff David Craig. As the meeting begins, an IRA member is driving the van to the launch site at the junction of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall, about 200 yards from Downing Street.

On arrival, the driver parks the van and leaves the scene on a waiting motorcycle. Several minutes later, at 10:08 AM, as a policeman is walking towards the van to investigate it, three mortar shells are launched from a Mark 10 homemade mortar, followed by the explosion of a pre-set incendiary device. This device is designed to destroy any forensic evidence and set the van on fire. Each shell is four and a half feet long, weighs 140 pounds, and carries a 40-pound payload of the plastic explosive Semtex. Two shells land on Mountbatten Green, a grassed area near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. One explodes and the other fails to detonate. The third shell explodes in the back garden of 10 Downing Street, 30 yards from the office where the cabinet is meeting. Had the shell struck 10 Downing Street itself, it is likely the entire cabinet would have been killed. On hearing the explosion, the cabinet ducks under the table for cover. Bomb-proof netting on the windows of the cabinet office muffle the force of the explosion, which scorches the back wall of the building, smashes windows and makes a crater several feet deep in the garden.

Once the sound of the explosion and aftershock has died down, the room is evacuated and the meeting reconvenes less than ten minutes later in the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR). No members of the cabinet are hurt, but four people receive minor injuries, including two police officers injured by flying debris. Immediately after the attack, hundreds of police officers seal off the government district, from the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square. Until 6:00 PM, civilians are kept out of the area as forensic experts combed the streets and government employees are locked in behind security gates.

The IRA claims responsibility for the attack with a statement issued in Dublin, saying, “Let the British government understand that, while nationalist people in the six counties [Northern Ireland] are forced to live under British rule, then the British Cabinet will be forced to meet in bunkers.” John Major tells the House of Commons that “Our determination to beat terrorism cannot be beaten by terrorism. The IRA’s record is one of failure in every respect, and that failure was demonstrated yet again today. It’s about time they learned that democracies cannot be intimidated by terrorism, and we treat them with contempt.” Leader of the Opposition Neil Kinnock also condemns the attack, stating, “The attack in Whitehall today was both vicious and futile.” The head of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch, Commander George Churchill-Coleman, describes the attack as “daring, well planned, but badly executed.”

A further statement from the IRA appears in An Phoblacht, with a spokesperson stating “Like any colonialists, the members of the British establishment do not want the result of their occupation landing at their front or back doorstep … Are the members of the British cabinet prepared to give their lives to hold on to a colony? They should understand the cost will be great while Britain remains in Ireland.” The attack is celebrated in Irish rebel culture when the band The Irish Brigade releases a song titled “Downing Street,” to the tune of “On the Street Where You Live,” which includes the lyrics “while you hold Ireland, it’s not safe down the street where you live.”


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The Maze Prison Escape

The Maze Prison escape, known to Irish republicans as the Great Escape, takes place on September 25, 1983 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, is a maximum security prison considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, and holds prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles. In the biggest prison escape in UK history, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners escaped from H-Block 7 (H7) of the prison. One prison officer dies of a heart attack during the escape and twenty others are injured, including two who are shot with guns that had been smuggled into the prison. The escape is a propaganda coup for the IRA, and a British government minister faces calls to resign. The official inquiry into the escape places most of the blame onto prison staff, who in turn blame the escape on political interference in the running of the prison.

IRA volunteers regard themselves as prisoners of war with a duty to escape. During the Troubles, Irish republican prisoners escape from custody en masse on several occasions between 1971 and 1981.

Prisoners had been planning the 1983 escape for several months. Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly start working as orderlies in H7, which allows them to identify weaknesses in the security systems. Six handguns are also smuggled into the prison. Shortly after 2:30 PM on September 25, prisoners seize control of H7 by simultaneously taking the prison officers hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent them from triggering an alarm. One officer is stabbed with a craft knife, and another is knocked down by a blow to the back of the head. One officer who attempts to prevent the escape is shot in the head by Gerry Kelly, but survives. By 2:50 PM the prisoners are in control of H7 without an alarm being raised. A dozen prisoners also take uniforms from the officers, and the officers are forced to hand over their car keys and details of where their cars are, for possible later use during the escape. A rearguard is left behind to watch over hostages and keep the alarm from being raised until they believe the escapees are clear of the prison, at which time they return to their cells. At 3:25 PM, a lorry delivering food supplies arrives at the entrance to H7, whereupon Brendan McFarlane and other prisoners take the occupants hostage at gunpoint and move them inside H7. The lorry driver is told the lorry is being used in the escape, and he is instructed what route to take and how to react if challenged.

At 3:50 PM the prisoners leave H7, and the driver and a prison orderly are taken back to the lorry. Thirty-seven prisoners climb into the back of the lorry, while Gerry Kelly lay on the floor of the cab with a gun pointed at the driver, who is also told the cab has been booby trapped with a hand grenade. At nearly 4:00 PM the lorry drives toward the main gate of the prison, where the prisoners intend to take over the gatehouse. Ten prisoners dressed in guards’ uniforms and armed with guns and chisels dismount from the lorry and enter the gatehouse, where they take the officers hostage.

At 4:05 PM the officers begin to resist, and an officer presses an alarm button. When other staff respond via an intercom, a senior officer says while being held at gunpoint that the alarm had been triggered accidentally. By this time the prisoners are struggling to maintain control in the gatehouse due to the number of hostages. Officers arriving for work are entering the gatehouse from outside the prison, and each is ordered at gunpoint to join the other hostages. Officer James Ferris runs from the gatehouse toward the pedestrian gate attempting to raise the alarm, pursued by Dermot Finucane. Ferris had already been stabbed three times in the chest, and before he can raise the alarm he collapses.

Finucane continues to the pedestrian gate where he stabs the officer controlling the gate, and two officers who had just entered the prison. This incident is seen by a soldier on duty in a watchtower, who reports to the British Army operations room that he has seen prison officers fighting. The operations room telephones the prison’s Emergency Control Room (ECR), which replies that everything is all right and that an alarm had been accidentally triggered earlier.

At 4:12 PM the alarm is raised when an officer in the gatehouse pushes the prisoner holding him hostage out of the room and telephones the ECR. However, this is not done soon enough to prevent the escape. After several attempts the prisoners open the main gate, and are waiting for the prisoners still in the gatehouse to rejoin them in the lorry. At this time two prison officers block the exit with their cars, forcing the prisoners to abandon the lorry and make their way to the outer fence which is 25 yards away.

Four prisoners attack one of the officers and hijack his car, which they drive toward the external gate. They crash into another car near the gate and abandon the car. Two escape through the gate, one is captured exiting the car, and another is captured after being chased by a soldier. At the main gate, a prison officer is shot in the leg while chasing the only two prisoners who have not yet reached the outer fence. The prisoner who fires the shot is captured after being shot and wounded by a soldier in a watch tower, and the other prisoner is captured after falling. The other prisoners escape over the fence, and by 4:18 PM the main gate is closed and the prison secured, after 35 prisoners had breached the prison perimeter. The escape is the biggest in British history, and the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Outside the prison the IRA has planned a logistical support operation involving 100 armed members, but due to a miscalculation of five minutes, the prisoners find no transport waiting for them and are forced to flee across fields or hijack vehicles. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary immediately activate a contingency plan and by 4:25 PM a cordon of vehicle checkpoints are in place around the prison, and others are later in place in strategic positions across Northern Ireland, resulting in the recapture of one prisoner at 11:00 PM. Twenty prison officers are injured during the escape, thirteen are kicked and beaten, four stabbed, and two shot. One prison officer, James Ferris, who had been stabbed, dies after suffering a heart attack during the escape.

The escape is a propaganda coup and morale boost for the IRA, with Irish republicans dubbing it the “Great Escape.” Leading unionist politician Ian Paisley calls on Nicholas Scott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to resign. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement in Ottawa during a visit to Canada, saying “It is the gravest [breakout] in our present history, and there must be a very deep inquiry.” The day after the escape, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior announces an inquiry to be headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, James Hennessy. The Hennessy Report is published on January 26, 1984 placing most of the blame for the escape on prison staff, and making a series of recommendations to improve security at the prison. The report also places blame with the designers of the prison, the Northern Ireland Office and successive prison governors who had failed to improve security. Prior announces that the prison’s governor has resigned, and that there will be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report’s findings. Four days after the Hennessy Report is published, the Minister for Prisons Nicholas Scott dismisses allegations from the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers Association that the escape is due to political interference in the running of the prison.

Fifteen escapees are captured on the day, including four who are discovered hiding underwater in a river near the prison using reeds to breathe. Four more escapees are captured over the next two days, including Hugh Corey and Patrick McIntyre who are captured following a two-hour siege at an isolated farmhouse. Out of the remaining 19 escapees, 18 end up in the republican stronghold of South Armagh where two members of the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade are in charge of transporting them to safehouses, and given the option of either returning to active service in the IRA’s armed campaign or a job and new identity in the United States.

On October 25, 1984, nineteen prisoners appear in court on charges relating to the death of prison officer James Ferris, sixteen charged with his murder. A pathologist determines that the stab wounds Ferris suffered would not have killed a healthy man. The judge acquits all sixteen as he cannot correlate the stabbing to the heart attack.


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Jack Lynch Resigns as Taoiseach of Ireland

Jack Lynch, Irish politician and Taoiseach of Ireland from 1966 to 1973 and from 1977 to 1979, resigns as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil on December 5, 1979.

In 1946, Lynch has his first involvement in politics when he is asked by his local Fianna Fáil cumann to stand for Dáil Éireann in a by-election. Over the next 35 years he serves as Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (1951-54), Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands (1951-54), Minister for the Gaeltacht (March 1957-June 1957), Minister for Education (1957-59), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1959-65), Minister for Finance (1965-66), Leader of Fianna Fáil (1966-79), Leader of the Opposition (1973-77), and 5th Taoiseach of Ireland (1977-79).

The year 1979 proves to be the year in which Lynch finally realises that his grip on power has slipped. The first direct elections to the European Parliament take place in June and see the electorate severely punishing the ruling Fianna Fáil party. A five-month postal strike also led to deep anger amongst people all over the country. On 27 August 1979, the Provisional Irish Republican Army assassinates Earl Mountbatten of Burma in County Sligo. On the same day the IRA kills 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint in County Down.

A radical security review and greater cross-border co-operation are discussed with the new British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. These discussions lead Síle de Valera, a backbench TD, to directly challenge the leadership in a speech at the Liam Lynch commemoration at Fermoy, County Cork, on September 9. Although Lynch quickly tries to impose party discipline, attempting to discipline her for opposing party policy at a parliamentary party meeting held at September 28, de Valera correctly points out that she had not opposed the party policy regarding the North which called for the declaration of the British intent to withdraw from the north. The result is embarrassing for Lynch.

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in September proves to be a welcome break for Lynch from the day-to-day running of the country. In November, just before he departs on a visit to the United States he decides that he will resign at the end of the year. This would allow him to complete his term as President of the European Community. The defining event which makes up his mind is the news that Fianna Fáil had lost two by-elections on November 7 in his native Cork (Cork City and Cork North-East).

In addition during the trip Lynch claims in an interview with The Washington Post that a five-kilometre air corridor between the border had been agreed upon during the meeting with Thatcher to enhance security co-operation. This is something highly unsavory to many in Fianna Fáil. When Lynch returns he is confronted openly by Síle de Valera, Dr. Bill Loughnane, a noted hardline Republican backbencher, along with Tom McEllistrim, a member of Charles Haughey‘s gang of five, at a parliamentary party meeting. Lynch stated that the British do not have permission to overfly the border. Afterwards Loughnane goes public with the details of the meeting and accuses Lynch of deliberately misleading the party. An attempt to remove the whip from Loughnane fails.

At this stage Lynch’s position has become untenable, with supporters of Haughey caucusing opinion within the party. George Colley, the man whom Lynch sees as his successor, comes to him and encourages him to resign sooner. Colley is convinced that he has enough support to defeat the other likely candidate, Charles Haughey, and that Lynch should resign early to catch his opponents on the hop. Lynch agreed to this and resigns as leader of Fianna Fáil on December 5, 1979, assured that Colley has the votes necessary to win. However, Haughey and his supporters have been preparing for months to take over the leadership and Lynch’s resignation comes as no surprise. He narrowly defeats Colley in the leadership contest and succeeds Lynch as Taoiseach.

Lynch remained on in Dáil Éireann as a TD until his retirement from politics at the 1981 Irish general election.


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Assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten

assassination-of-lord-mountbattenLord Louis Mountbatten is killed on August 27, 1979 when Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorists detonate a 50-pound bomb hidden on his fishing vessel, Shadow V. Mountbatten, a war hero, elder statesman, and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is spending the day with his family in Donegal Bay off Ireland’s northwest coast when the bomb explodes. Three others are killed in the attack, including Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas. Later that day, an IRA bombing attack on land kills 18 British paratroopers in County Down, Northern Ireland in what becomes known as the Warrenpoint ambush.

The assassination of Mountbatten is the first blow struck against the British royal family by the IRA during its long terrorist campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland to the south. The attack hardens the hearts of many British against the IRA and convinces Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government to take a hardline stance against the terrorist organization.

Mountbatten, the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria I, enters the Royal Navy in 1913, when he is in his early teens. He sees service during World War I and at the outbreak of World War II is commander of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. His destroyer, the HMS Kelly, is sunk during the Battle of Crete early in the war. In 1941, he commands an aircraft carrier, and in 1942 he is named Chief of Combined Operations Headquarters. From this position, he is appointed Supreme Allied Commander for South East Asia Command in 1943 and successfully conducts the campaign against Japan that leads to the recapture of Burma.

In 1947, Mountbatten is appointed the last Viceroy of India, and he conducts the negotiations that lead to independence for India and Pakistan later that year. He holds various high naval posts in the 1950s and serves as chief of the United Kingdom Defense Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Meanwhile, he is made Viscount Mountbatten of Burma and a first earl. He is the uncle of Philip Mountbatten and introduces Philip to the future Queen Elizabeth. He later encourages the marriage of the two distant cousins and becomes godfather and mentor to their first born, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Made Governor and then Lord-Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight in his retirement, Mountbatten is a respected and beloved member of the royal family. His assassination is perhaps the most shocking of all horrors inflicted by the IRA against the United Kingdom. In addition to his grandson Nicholas, 15-year-old boat hand Paul Maxwell and the Dowager Lady Brabourne, Nicholas’ grandmother, are also killed. Mountbatten’s grandson Timothy, Nicholas’ twin brother, is injured as is his daughter, Lady Brabourne, and the twins’ father, Lord Brabourne.

The IRA immediately claims responsibility for the attack, saying it detonated the bomb by remote control from the coast. It also takes responsibility for the same-day bombing attack against British troops in County Down, which claims eighteen lives.

IRA member Thomas McMahon is later arrested and convicted of preparing and planting the bomb that destroyed Mountbatten’s boat. A near-legend in the IRA, he is a leader of the IRA’s notorious South Armagh Brigade, which kills more than 100 British soldiers. He is one of the first IRA members to be sent to Libya to train with detonators and timing devices and is an expert in explosives. Authorities believe the Mountbatten assassination is the work of many people, but McMahon is the only individual convicted. Sentenced to life in prison, he is released in 1998 along with other IRA and Unionist terrorists under a controversial provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

(From: This Day In History: Mountbatten killed by IRA, by the editors of History.com, July 21, 2010, http://www.history.com)


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Garrett FitzGerald Becomes 8th Taoiseach of Ireland

garret-fitzgeraldGarret FitzGerald succeeds Charles Haughey to become the eighth Taoiseach of Ireland on June 30, 1981. He serves in the position from June 1981 to March 1982 and December 1982 to March 1987.

FitzGerald is born into a very politically active family in Ballsbridge, Dublin on February 9, 1926, during the infancy of the Irish Free State. His father, Desmond FitzGerald, is the free state’s first Minister for External Affairs. He is educated at the Jesuit Belvedere College, University College Dublin and King’s Inns, Dublin, and qualifies as a barrister. Instead of practicing law, however, in 1959 he becomes an economics lecturer in the department of political economy at University College, Dublin, and a journalist.

FitzGerald joins Fine Gael, attaching himself to the liberal wing of the party. and in 1969 is elected to Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. He later gives up his university lectureship to become Minister for Foreign Affairs in the coalition government of Liam Cosgrave (1973–1977). When the coalition government is resoundingly defeated in the 1977 Irish general election, Cosgrave yields leadership of Fine Gael to FitzGerald. In his new role as Leader of the Opposition and party leader, he proceeds to modernize and strengthen the party at the grass roots. He briefly loses power in 1982 when political instability triggers two snap elections.

By the time of the 1981 Irish general election, Fine Gael has a party machine that can easily match Fianna Fáil. The party wins 65 seats and forms a minority coalition government with the Labour Party and the support of a number of Independent TDs. FitzGerald is elected Taoiseach on June 30, 1981. To the surprise of many FitzGerald excluded Richie Ryan, Richard Burke and Tom O’Donnell, former Fine Gael stalwarts, from the cabinet.

In his prime ministry, FitzGerald pushes for liberalization of Irish laws on divorce, abortion, and contraception and also strives to build bridges to the Protestants in Northern Ireland. In 1985, during his second term, he and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sign the Anglo-Irish (Hillsborough) Agreement, giving Ireland a consultative role in the governing of Northern Ireland. After his party loses in the 1987 Irish general election, he resigns as its leader and subsequently retires in 1992.

On May 5, 2011, it is reported that FitzGerald is seriously ill in a Dublin hospital. Newly-elected Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny sends his regards and calls him an “institution.” On May 6 he is put on a ventilator. On May 19, after suffering from pneumonia, he dies at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin at the age of 85.

In a statement, Irish President Mary McAleese hails FitzGerald as “a man steeped in the history of the State who constantly strove to make Ireland a better place for all its people.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny pays homage to “a truly remarkable man who made a truly remarkable contribution to Ireland.” Henry Kissinger, the former United States Secretary of State, who serves as an opposite number to FitzGerald in the 1970s, recalls “an intelligent and amusing man who was dedicated to his country.”

FitzGerald’s death occurs on the third day of Queen Elizabeth II‘s state visit to the Republic of Ireland, an event designed to mark the completion of the Northern Ireland peace process that had been “built on the foundations” of FitzGerald’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher in 1985. In a personal message, the Queen offers her sympathies and says she is “saddened” to learn of FitzGerald’s death.

On his visit to Dublin, United States President Barack Obama offers condolences on FitzGerald’s death. He speaks of him as “someone who believed in the power of education; someone who believed in the potential of youth; most of all, someone who believed in the potential of peace and who lived to see that peace realised.”

FitzGerald is buried at Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill, Dublin.

FitzGerald is the author of a number of books, including Planning in Ireland (1968), Towards a New Ireland (1972), Unequal Partners (1979), All in a Life: An Autobiography (1991), and Reflections on the Irish State (2003).


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Birth of James Molyneaux, Northern Irish Politician

james-molyneauxJames Henry Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead, Northern Irish unionist politician and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) from 1979 to 1995, is born in Killead, County Antrim on August 27, 1920. He is a leading member and sometime Vice-President of the Conservative Monday Club. An Orangeman, he is also Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution from 1971 to 1995. He is an unrelenting though peaceful supporter of the Protestant cause during the factional conflict that divides Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the early 21st century.

Molyneaux is educated at nearby Aldergrove School. Although he is raised an Anglican, as a child he briefly attends a local Catholic primary school. He leaves school at age 15 and works on his father’s poultry farm. When a Catholic church near his home is burned down by Ulster loyalist arsonists in the late 1990s, he helps to raise funds for its rebuilding.

In World War II Molyneaux serves in the Royal Air Force between 1941 and 1946. He participates in the D-Day landings in FranceFrance and in the liberation of the Belsen-Belsen concentration camp, and occasionally gives interviews about what he sees there. On April 1, 1947, he is promoted to flying officer.

After demobilization Molyneaux establishes a printing business with his uncle, and in 1946 he joins the UUP. He is first elected to local government in 1964 and enters Parliament six years later. He staunchly opposes all power-sharing deals, notably the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, which gives Dublin an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland and paves the way for devolution.

Molyneaux lacks the firebrand public image of his longtime rival Ian Paisley, who in 1971 breaks with the UUP to form the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). He never acquiesces to the Good Friday Agreement, which calls for the devolution of Northern Ireland’s government from London to Belfast, however, unlike Paisley and David Trimble, who in 1997 succeeds Molyneaux as the UUP leader and in April 1998 signs the devolution accord.

On retiring as UUP leader, Molyneaux is knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1996. The following year, after standing down as an MP at the 1997 general election, he is created a life peer on June 10, 1997 as Baron Molyneaux of Killead, of Killead in the County of Antrim.

James Molyneaux dies at the age of 94 in Antrim, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on March 9, 2015, Commonwealth Day.


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Harrods Bombing

harrods-bombingA Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) car bomb kills six and injures ninety outside London‘s Harrods department store, a large, upmarket department store in the affluent Knightsbridge district near Buckingham Palace on December 17, 1983. The IRA Army Council claims that it has not authorised the attack and expresses regret for the civilian casualties. After the bombing, the IRA changes its tactic to focus on military targets on the mainland.

Harrods had been the target of an earlier IRA bomb on December 21, 1974 which was placed in the northeast corner of the first floor. There was a very short warning and the store was in the process of being cleared when it exploded. It was also the target of a much smaller IRA bomb almost ten years later, in January 1993, which injured four people.

From 1973 the Provisional IRA has carried out waves of bombing attacks on commercial targets in London and elsewhere in England as part of its “economic war.” The goal is to damage the economy and cause disruption, which would put pressure on the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland. On December 10, 1983, the IRA carries out its first attack in London in some time when a bomb explodes at the Royal Artillery Barracks, injuring three British soldiers.

One week later, on the afternoon of December 17, IRA members park a car bomb near the side entrance of Harrods, on Hans Crescent. The bomb contains 25 to 30 lbs. of explosives and is set to be detonated by a timer. It is left in a 1972 blue Austin 1300 GT four-door sedan. At 12:44 PM a man using an IRA codeword phones the central London branch of the Samaritans charity. The caller says there is a car bomb outside Harrods and another bomb inside Harrods, and gives the car’s registration plate. According to police, he does not give any other description of the car.

The bomb explodes at about 1:21 PM, as four police officers in a car, an officer on foot and a police dog-handler near the suspect vehicle. Three officers and three bystanders are killed and 90 others are injured, including 14 police officers. The blast damages 24 cars and all five floors on the side of Harrods, sending a shower of glass down onto the street. The police car absorbs much of the blast and this likely prevents further casualties.

Five people die at the scene of the bombing and a sixth later dies in the hospital. The bystanders who die are Philip Geddes (24), a journalist who had heard about the alert and went to the scene, Jasmine Cochrane-Patrick (25) and Kenneth Salvesen (28), a United States citizen. The Metropolitan Police Service officers killed are Sergeant Noel Lane (28) and Constable Jane Arbuthnot (22). A third officer, Inspector Stephen Dodd (34), dies in the hospital from his injuries on December 24. Constable Jon Gordon survives, but loses both legs and part of a hand in the blast.

At the time of the explosion, a second warning call is made by the IRA. The caller says that a bomb has been left in the C&A department store at the east end of Oxford Street. Police clear the area and cordon it off but this claim is found to be false. In the aftermath of the attack, hundreds of extra police and mobile bomb squads are drafted into London. Aleck Craddock, chairman of Harrods, reports that £1 million in turnover has been lost as a result of the bombing. Despite the damage, Harrods re-opens three days later, proclaiming it will not be “defeated by acts of terrorism.” Denis Thatcher, the husband of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, visits the store and tells reporters “no damned Irishman is going to stop me going there.”


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Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

anglo-irish-agreementThe Anglo-Irish Agreement, an accord that gives the government of Ireland an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, is signed by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on November 15, 1985, at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, Northern Ireland. Considered one of the most significant developments in British-Irish relations since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the agreement provides for regular meetings between ministers in the Irish and British governments on matters affecting Northern Ireland. It outlines cooperation in four areas: political matters, security and related issues, legal matters, including the administration of justice, and the promotion of cross-border cooperation.

The agreement is negotiated as a move toward easing long-standing tension between Britain and Ireland on the subject of Northern Ireland, although Northern Irish unionists, who are in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom, are themselves strongly opposed to giving their southern neighbour a say in domestic matters. Many political leaders, including Thatcher, who has been strongly committed to British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, have come to believe that a solution to years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland can only be achieved by means of an all-Ireland arrangement.

Such an attempt had previously been made in 1973. A power-sharing executive, composed of Irish nationalists as well as unionists, was set up in Northern Ireland, and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave participated in talks with British Prime Minister Edward Heath that resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement. That accord recognized that Northern Ireland’s relationship with Britain could not be changed without the agreement of a majority of its population, and it provided for the establishment of a Council of Ireland composed of members from both the Dáil Éireann (the lower chamber of the Oireachtas) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That agreement collapsed in May 1974 because of a general strike inspired by unionist opponents of power sharing.

In 1981 FitzGerald launches a constitutional crusade to make the reunification of Ireland more attractive to Northern Ireland’s Protestants. At the end of the year, the Irish and British governments set up an Anglo-Irish intergovernmental council to discuss matters of common concern, especially security. In 1984 the report of the New Ireland Forum, a discussion group that includes representatives of political parties in Ireland and Northern Ireland, sets out three possible frameworks for political development in Ireland: a unitary state, a federal state, and joint sovereignty. Of Ireland’s major political parties, Fianna Fáil prefers a unitary state, which Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party regard as unrealistic. They prefer the federal option.

Also in the early 1980s, in Northern Ireland, John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a member of the British Parliament, gathers the support of prominent Irish American political leaders in condemning the use of violence and urging Irish Americans not to support the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization that often uses violent means to bring an end to British rule in Northern Ireland. Hume’s group also encourages United States President Ronald Reagan to persuade Thatcher to pursue closer relations with Ireland.

In the improved political climate between Britain and Ireland, leaders of the two countries sit down to negotiations. Ireland and Britain agree that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and an intergovernmental conference is established to deal with political, security, and legal relations between the two parts of the island. The agreement is a blow to Northern Ireland’s unionists, because it establishes a consultative role for the government of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and other unionists denounce the agreement, and UUP members of Parliament resign their seats over the issue, although 14 are returned in by-elections in 1986. The party organizes mass protests and boycotts of local councils and files a lawsuit challenging the legality of the agreement. However, these efforts, which are joined by the Democratic Unionist Party, fail to force abrogation of the agreement.

Contacts between the Irish and British governments continue after February 1987 within the formal structure of the intergovernmental conference. Fears that the violence in Northern Ireland would spill into Ireland as a consequence of closer Anglo-Irish cooperation in the wake of the agreement proves unfounded, and the UUP decides to participate in new negotiations on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in 1990–93. After republican and unionist forces declare cease-fires in 1994, the UUP reluctantly joins discussions with the British and Irish governments and other political parties of Northern Ireland. No deal accepted by all sides is reached until the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which creates the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions.

(From: “Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Lorraine Murray, Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com, November 12, 2010)