seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Brighton Hotel Bombing

The Brighton hotel bombing, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassination attempt against the top tier of the British government, takes place on October 12, 1984 at the Grand Brighton Hotel in Brighton, England. A long-delay time bomb is planted in the hotel by IRA member Patrick Magee, with the intent of killing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet, who are staying at the hotel for the Conservative Party conference. Although Thatcher narrowly escapes injury, five people are killed including a sitting Conservative MP, and 31 are injured.

Patrick Magee stays in the hotel under the pseudonym Roy Walsh during the weekend of September 14-17, 1984. During his stay, he plants the bomb under the bath in his room, number 629. The device, described as a “small bomb by IRA standards,” is fitted with a long-delay timer made from videocassette recorder components and a Memo Park Timer safety device. The device may have avoided detection by sniffer dogs due to it being wrapped in cling film to mask the smell of the explosive.

The bomb detonates at approximately 2:54 AM (BST) on October 12. The midsection of the building collapses into the basement, leaving a gaping hole in the hotel’s facade. Firemen say that many lives are likely saved because the well-built Victorian hotel remained standing. Margaret Thatcher is still awake at the time, working on her conference speech for the next day in her suite. The blast badly damages her bathroom, but leaves her sitting room and bedroom unscathed. Both she and her husband escape injury. She changes her clothes and is led out through the wreckage along with her husband and her friend and aide Cynthia Crawford, and driven to Brighton police station.

At about 4:00 AM, as Thatcher leaves the police station, she gives an impromptu interview to the BBC‘s John Cole, saying that the conference would go on as scheduled. Alistair McAlpine persuades Marks & Spencer to open early at 8:00 AM so those who have lost their clothes in the bombing can purchase replacements. Thatcher goes from the conference to visit the injured at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

Five people are killed, none of whom are government ministers. But a Conservative MP, Sir Anthony Berry, is killed, along with Eric Taylor, North-West Area Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lady Jeanne Shattock, wife of Sir Gordon Shattock, Western Area Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lady Muriel Maclean, wife of Sir Donald Maclean, President of the Scottish Conservatives, and Roberta Wakeham, wife of Parliamentary Treasury Secretary John Wakeham. Donald and Muriel Maclean are in the room in which the bomb explodes, but Mr. Maclean survives.

Several more, including Walter Clegg, whose bedroom is directly above the blast, and Margaret Tebbit, the wife of Norman Tebbit, who is then President of the Board of Trade, are left permanently disabled. Thirty-four people are taken to the hospital and recover from their injuries. When hospital staff asks Norman Tebbit, who is less seriously injured than his wife, whether he is allergic to anything, he is said to answer “bombs.”

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Long Kesh Prison Hunger Strike Ends

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger strike is called off at Long Kesh prison – later known as HM Prison Maze –  on October 3, 1981. While the IRA does not win immediate concessions, in some ways it is a Pyrrhic victory for Margaret Thatcher’s government. It galvanises support and membership for the IRA and generates huge sympathy for the strikers in the United States where fund-raising is a major priority. The death of the first hunger striker, Bobby Sands, creates a martyr and an iconic figure.

In January 1981, prison authorities begin to supply the prisoners with officially issued civilian clothing, whereas the prisoners demand the right to wear their own clothing. On February 4, the prisoners issue a statement saying that the British government has failed to resolve the crisis and declares their intention of a hunger strike. The hunger strike begins on March 1, when Bobby Sands, the IRA’s former officer commanding (OC) in the prison, refuses food. Unlike the first hunger strike the previous year, the prisoners join one at a time and at staggered intervals, which they believe would arouse maximum public support and exert maximum pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The republican movement initially struggles to generate public support for the second hunger strike. The Sunday before Sands begins his strike, 3,500 people march through west Belfast. During the first hunger strike four months earlier the marchers had numbered 10,000. Five days into the strike, Independent Republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Frank Maguire dies, resulting in a by-election. There is debate among nationalists and republicans regarding who should contest the election. After negotiations they agree not to split the nationalist vote by contesting the election and Sands stands as an Anti H-Block candidate against Ulster Unionist Party candidate Harry West. Following a high-profile campaign, the election takes place on April 9, and Sands is elected to the British House of Commons with 30,492 votes to West’s 29,046.

Sands’ election victory raises hopes that a settlement can be negotiated, but Thatcher stands firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. The world’s media descends on Belfast, and several intermediaries visit Sands in an attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike, including Síle de Valera, granddaughter of Éamon de Valera, Pope John Paul II‘s personal envoy John Magee, and European Commission of Human Rights officials. With Sands close to death, the government’s position remains unchanged.

On 5 May, Sands dies in the prison hospital on the 66th day of his hunger strike, prompting rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. More than 100,000 people line the route of his funeral, which is conducted with full IRA military honours. Margaret Thatcher shows no sympathy for his death.

In the two weeks following Sands’ death, hunger strikers Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara die. Following the deaths of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson, the families of some of the hunger strikers attend a meeting on July 28 with Catholic priest Father Denis Faul. The families express concern at the lack of a settlement to the priest, and a decision is made to meet with Gerry Adams later that day. The following day Adams holds a meeting with six of the hunger strikers to outline a proposed settlement on offer from the British government should the strike be brought to an end. The six men reject the settlement, believing that accepting anything less than the “Five Demands” would be a betrayal of the sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers who had died.

The hunger strike begins to break on July 31, when the mother of Paddy Quinn insists on medical intervention to save his life. The following day Kevin Lynch dies, followed by Kieran Doherty on August 2, Thomas McElwee on August 8 and Michael Devine on August 20. On September 6, the family of Laurence McKeown becomes the fourth family to intervene and asks for medical treatment to save his life, and Cahal Daly issues a statement calling on republican prisoners to end the hunger strike.

The strike is called off at 3:15 PM on October 3, 1981. Three days later, James Prior, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announces partial concessions to the prisoners including the right to wear their own clothes at all times. The only one of the “Five Demands” still outstanding is the right not to do prison work. Following sabotage by the prisoners and the Maze Prison escape in 1983, the prison workshops are closed, effectively granting all of the “Five Demands” but without any formal recognition of political status from the government.

(Pictured: A Belfast mural of the Long Kesh hunger strikers)


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The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park Bombings

The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings occur on July 20, 1982 in London. Members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonate two bombs during British military ceremonies in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, both in Central London.

At 10:40 AM, a nail bomb explodes in the boot of a blue Morris Marina parked on South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park. The bomb comprises 25 lbs. of gelignite and 30 lbs. of nails. It explodes as soldiers of the Household Cavalry, Queen Elizabeth II‘s official bodyguard regiment, are passing. They are taking part in their daily Changing of the Guard procession from their barracks in Knightsbridge to Horse Guards Parade. Three soldiers of the Blues & Royals are killed outright, and another, their standard-bearer, dies from his wounds three days later. The other soldiers in the procession are badly wounded, and a number of civilians were injured. Seven of the regiment’s horses are also killed or had to be euthanised because of their injuries. Explosives experts believe that the Hyde Park bomb is triggered by remote by an IRA member inside the park.

The second attack happens at about 12:55 PM, when a bomb explodes underneath a bandstand in Regent’s Park. Thirty Military bandsmen of the Royal Green Jackets are on the stand performing music from Oliver! to a crowd of 120 people. It is the first in a series of advertised lunchtime concerts there. Six of the bandsmen are killed outright and the rest are wounded. A seventh dies of his wounds on August 1. At least eight civilians are also injured. The bomb had been hidden under the stand some time before and triggered by a timer. Unlike the Hyde Park bomb, it contains no nails and seems to be designed to cause minimal harm to bystanders.

A total of 22 people are detained in hospital as a result of the blasts. The IRA claims responsibility for the attacks by deliberately mirroring Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s words a few months before when Britain entered the Falklands War. They proclaimed that “The Irish people have sovereign and national rights which no task or occupational force can put down.” Reacting to the bombing, Thatcher states, “These callous and cowardly crimes have been committed by evil, brutal men who know nothing of democracy. We shall not rest until they are brought to justice.” The bombings have a negative impact on public support in the United States for the Irish republican cause.

In October 1987, 27-year-old Gilbert “Danny” McNamee, from County Armagh, is sentenced at the Old Bailey to 25 years in prison for his role in the Hyde Park bombing and others, despite his plea that he is not guilty. He is released from HM Prison Maze in late 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.

On May 19, 2013, 61-year-old John Anthony Downey, from County Donegal, is charged with murder in relation to the Hyde Park bomb and intending to cause an explosion likely to endanger life. He appears at the Old Bailey on January 24, 2014 for the beginning of his trial and enters a not guilty plea. On February 25, 2014, it is revealed that Downey’s trial has collapsed after the presiding judge has ruled upon a letter sent by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to Downey in 2007, assuring him that he would not face criminal charges over the attack. Although the assurance is made in error and the police realise the mistake, it is never withdrawn, and the judge rules that therefore the defendant has been misled and prosecuting him would be an abuse of executive power. Downey is one of 187 IRA suspects who receive secret on-the-run letters guaranteeing them unofficial immunity from prosecution.

A memorial marks the spot of the Hyde Park bombing and the troop honours it daily with an eyes-left and salute with drawn swords. A plaque commemorating the victims of the second attack also stands in Regent’s Park.


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The Remembrance Day Bombing

remembrance-day-bombingThe Remembrance Day bombing, also known as the Enniskillen bombing or Poppy Day massacre, takes place on November 8, 1987 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb explodes near the town’s war memorial during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony, which is being held to commemorate British military war dead. Eleven people, many of them old age pensioners, are killed and 63 are injured.

The bomb explodes as a parade of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers is making its way to the memorial and as people wait for the ceremony to begin. It blows out the wall of the Reading Rooms, where many of the victims are standing, burying them under rubble and hurling masonry towards the gathered crowd. Bystanders rush to free those trapped in the rubble.

Eleven people, all Protestant, are killed by the Provisional IRA that day, including three married couples. The dead are Wesley and Bertha Armstrong, Kitchener and Jessie Johnston, William and Agnes Mullan, John Megaw, Georgina Quinton, Marie Wilson, Samuel Gault, and Edward Armstrong. Armstrong is a serving Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer and Gault has recently left the force. Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie dies in the blast and who is himself injured, goes on to become a peace campaigner and member of Seanad Éireann. The twelfth fatality, Ronnie Hill, dies after spending 13 years in a coma. Sixty-three people are injured, including thirteen children. Ulster Unionist politicians Sam Foster and Jim Dixon are among the crowd. Dixon receives extensive head injuries but recovers. A local businessman captures the immediate aftermath of the bombing on video camera. His footage, showing the effects of the bombing, is broadcast on international television.

A few hours after the blast, the IRA calls a radio station and says it has abandoned a 150-pound bomb in Tullyhommon, twenty miles away, after it failed to detonate. That morning, a Remembrance Sunday parade, which includes many members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, has unwittingly gathered near the Tullyhommon bomb. Soldiers and RUC officers were also there, and the IRA says it attempted to trigger the bomb when soldiers were standing beside it. The bomb is defused by security forces and is found to have a command wire leading to a “firing point” across the border.

The IRA apologises, saying it had made a mistake and that the target had been the UDR soldiers who were parading to the memorial. The bombing leads to an outcry among politicians in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says, “It’s really desecrating the dead and a blot on mankind.” The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, denounces the “outrage” in the House of Commons, as does the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Lenihan, in Dáil Éireann. Seanad Éireann Senator Maurice Manning speaks of people’s “total revulsion.” It also facilitates the passing of the Extradition Act, which makes it easier to extradite IRA suspects from the Republic of Ireland to the United Kingdom.

The bombing is seen by many Northern Irish Protestants as an attack on them, and loyalist paramilitaries ″retaliate″ with attacks on Catholic civilians. The day after the bombing, five Catholic teenagers are wounded in a shooting in Belfast, and a Protestant teenager is killed by the Ulster Defence Association after being mistaken for a Catholic. In the week after the bombing, there are fourteen gun and bomb attacks on Catholics in Belfast.

The Remembrance Day bombing has been described as a turning point in the Troubles and an incident that shook the IRA “to its core.”


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The Deal Barracks Bombing

deal-barracks-bombingThe Deal barracks bombing, an attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on the Royal Marines School of Music building at the Royal Marine Depot in Deal, England, takes place on September 22, 1989. The building collapses, killing eleven marines from the Royal Marines Band Service and wounds 21 others.

Throughout the 1980s, the IRA has been waging a paramilitary campaign against targets in Britain and Northern Ireland with the stated aim of achieving the separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. These operations have included an attempt to kill British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and a similar attack on a military band in London in 1982.

At 8:22 AM on September 22, 1989, a 15 lb. time bomb detonates in the recreational centre changing room at the Royal Marines School of Music. The blast destroys the recreational centre, levels the three-story accommodation building next to it, and causes extensive damage to the rest of the base and nearby civilian homes. The blast is heard several kilometres away, shaking windows in the centre of Deal, and creating a large pall of smoke over the town. Most of the personnel who use the building as a barracks have already risen and are practising marching on the parade ground when the blast occurs. These marines witness the buildings collapse and many of the personnel are in a state of shock for days afterwards.

Some marines remain behind in the building and thus receive the full force of the explosion. Many are trapped in the rubble for hours and military heavy lifting equipment is needed to clear much of it. Kent Ambulance Service voluntarily agrees to end its industrial strike action to aid those wounded by the blast. Ten marines die at the scene with most trapped in the collapsed building, although one body is later found on the roof of a nearby house. Another 21 are seriously injured and receive treatment at hospitals in Dover, Deal, and Canterbury. One of these men, 21-year-old Christopher Nolan, dies of his wounds on October 18, 1989. Three of those killed are buried nearby at the Hamilton Road Cemetery in Deal.

The IRA claims responsibility for the bombing, saying it is a continuation of their campaign to rid Northern Ireland of all British troops who have been deployed there since 1969. Many British people are shocked at the attack, carried out on a ceremonial military band whose only military training is geared towards saving lives.

The British Government also condemns the IRA’s attack. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement from Moscow, where she is on an official visit, saying that she is “shocked and extremely sad.” Leader of the Official Opposition, Neil Kinnock, describes the attack as an “awful atrocity” and says, “Even the people who say they support what the IRA calls its cause must be sickened by the way in which such death and injury is mercilessly inflicted.”

One week after the bombing, the staff and students of the School of Music march through the town of Deal, watched and applauded by thousands of spectators. They maintain gaps in their ranks to mark the positions of those unable to march through death or serious injury.


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Patrick Magee Found Guilty of Grand Brighton Hotel Bombing

patrick-joseph-mageePatrick Joseph Magee of Belfast is found guilty on June 10, 1986, of planting a bomb at the Grand Brighton Hotel in 1984 which kills five people but misses its primary target, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The bombing is testament to the ingenuity of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its bomb makers.

The 30-pound bomb is planted behind a bath in a room on the sixth floor more than three weeks prior to the Prime Minister’s visit. Timed to go off on the final day of the conference, it explodes in the early morning hours of October 12, 1984 and nearly wipes out most of Thatcher’s cabinet, killing five prominent Conservatives and injuring thirty-four.

The bomb destroys a bathroom that Mrs. Thatcher had been in just a few minutes earlier.

Magee stays in the hotel four weeks previously under the false name of Roy Walsh, during the weekend of September 14-17, 1984. He plants the bomb, which includes a long-delay timer, in the bathroom wall of his room, number 629. Magee becomes the primary suspect when forensic officers find his palm print on a hotel registration card following the blast.

Magee is arrested in the Queen’s Park area of Glasgow on June 22, 1985 with other members of an active service unit, including Martina Anderson, while planning other bombings.

Sentenced to a minimum 35 years in jail, he is released from prison in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement early release program. Magee is one of many on both sides of the conflict whose release raises differing emotions.

In one of the more compelling twists associated with the Northern Ireland troubles, Magee works diligently since his release to ease tensions in Northern Ireland and develops a strong working relationship with Jo Berry, daughter of Sir Anthony Berry MP who was killed in the Grand Brighton Hotel blast. They first meet publicly in November 2000 in an effort at achieving reconciliation. They have met publicly on more than one hundred occasions since that date.


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Assassination of MP for Abingdon, Airey Neave

airey-neaveAirey Middleton Sheffield Neave, British army officer, barrister, and politician, is killed in a car-bomb attack at the House of Commons on March 30, 1979. During World War II, Neave is the first British officer to successfully escape from the German prisoner-of-war camp Oflag IV-C at Colditz Castle. He later becomes Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Abingdon.

Neave is killed when a magnetic car-bomb fitted with a ball bearing tilt switch explodes under his Vauxhall Cavalier just before 3:00 PM as he drives out of the Palace of Westminster car park. He loses his right leg below the knee and his left is hanging on by a flap of skin. Neave dies without regaining consciousness at the hospital an hour after being freed from the wreckage. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), an illegal Irish republican paramilitary group, claims responsibility for the killing.

Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher leads tributes, saying, “He was one of freedom’s warriors. No one knew of the great man he was, except those nearest to him. He was staunch, brave, true, strong; but he was very gentle and kind and loyal. It’s a rare combination of qualities. There’s no one else who can quite fill them. I, and so many other people, owe so much to him and now we must carry on for the things he fought for and not let the people who got him triumph.”

Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan says, “No effort will be spared to bring the murderers to justice and to rid the United Kingdom of the scourge of terrorism.”

The INLA issues a statement regarding the killing in the August 1979 edition of The Starry Plough, “In March, retired terrorist and supporter of capital punishment, Airey Neave, got a taste of his own medicine when an INLA unit pulled off the operation of the decade and blew him to bits inside the ‘impregnable’ Palace of Westminster. The nauseous Margaret Thatcher snivelled on television that he was an ‘incalculable loss’ — and so he was — to the British ruling class.”

Neave’s death comes just two days after the vote of no confidence which brings down Callaghan’s government and a few weeks before the 1979 general election, which brings about a Conservative victory and sees Thatcher come to power as Prime Minister. Neave’s wife Diana is subsequently elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Airey of Abingdon.

Neave’s biographer Paul Routledge meets a member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of INLA, who was involved in the killing of Neave and who tells Routledge that Neave “would have been very successful at that job [Northern Ireland Secretary]. He would have brought the armed struggle to its knees.”