seamus dubhghaill

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


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Assassination of Billy “King Rat” Wright

billy-wrightBilly “King Rat” Wright, prominent Ulster loyalist death squad leader during the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, is murdered on December 27, 1997 in HM Prison Maze by three members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) who manage to smuggle guns into the prison.

William Stephen “Billy” Wright, named after his grandfather, is born in Wolverhampton, England on July 7, 1960 to David Wright and Sarah McKinley, Ulster Protestants from Portadown, Northern Ireland. The family returns to Northern Ireland in 1964. While attending Markethill High School, Wright takes a part-time job as a farm labourer where he comes into contact with a number of staunchly unionist and loyalist farmers who serve with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve or the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The conflict known as the Troubles has been raging across Northern Ireland for about five years by this stage, and many young men such as Wright are swept up in the maelstrom of violence as the Provisional Irish Republican Army ramps up its bombing campaign and sectarian killings of Catholics by loyalists continue to escalate. During this time his opinions move towards loyalism and soon he gets into trouble for writing the initials “UVF” on a local Catholic primary school wall. When he refuses to clean off the vandalism, he is transferred from the area and sent to live with an aunt in Portadown.

Wright joins the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1975. After spending several years in prison and becoming a born again Christian, he resumes his UVF activities and becomes commander of its Mid-Ulster Brigade in the early 1990s, taking over from Robin “the Jackal” Jackson. According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, he is involved in the sectarian killings of up to 20 Catholics, although he is never convicted for any. It is alleged that Wright, like his predecessor, is an agent of the RUC Special Branch.

Wright attracts considerable media attention during the Drumcree standoff, when he supports the Protestant Orange Order‘s desire to march its traditional route through the Catholic/Irish nationalist area of his hometown of Portadown. In 1994, the UVF and other paramilitary groups call ceasefires. However, in July 1996, Wright’s unit breaks the ceasefire and carries out a number of attacks, including a sectarian killing. For this, Wright and his Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade are stood down by the UVF leadership. He is expelled from the UVF and threatened with execution if he does not leave Northern Ireland. He ignores the threats and, along with many of his followers, defiantly forms the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), becoming its leader.

The LVF carries out a string of killings of Catholic civilians. In March 1997 Wright is sent to the HM Prison Maze for having threatened the life of a woman. While imprisoned, Wright continues to direct the LVF’s activities. On the morning of December 27, 1997 he is assassinated inside the prison by three INLA volunteers – Christopher “Crip” McWilliams, John “Sonny” Glennon and John Kennaway – armed with two smuggled pistols, a FEG PA-63 semi-automatic and a .22 Derringer. The LVF carries out a wave of sectarian attacks in retaliation. There is speculation that the authorities collude in his killing as he is a threat to the peace process. An inquiry finds no evidence of this, but concludes there are serious failings by the prison authorities.

Owing to his uncompromising stance as an upholder of Ulster loyalism and opposition to the Northern Ireland peace process, Wright is regarded as a cult hero, icon, and martyr by hardline loyalists. His image adorns murals in loyalist housing estates and many of his devotees have tattoos bearing his likeness. His death is greeted with relief and no little satisfaction, however, from the Irish nationalist community.

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The Execution of Rory O’Connor

rory-o-connorRory O’Connor, Irish republican revolutionary, is executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922 in reprisal for the anti-treaty Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of Irish Free State member of parliament Sean Hales.

O’Connor is born in Kildare Street, Dublin on November 28, 1883. He is educated at St. Mary’s College, Dublin and then in Clongowes Wood College, a public school run by the Jesuit order and also attended by James Joyce, and his close friend Kevin O’Higgins, the man who later condemns him to death.

In 1910 O’Connor takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees in University College Dublin, then known as the National University. He goes to work as a railway engineer in Ireland, then moves to Canada, where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles of railroad.

After his return to Ireland, O’Connor becomes involved in Irish nationalist politics, joins the Ancient Order of Hibernians and is interned after the Easter Rising in 1916.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) O’Connor is made Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers.

O’Connor does not accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State and abolishes the Irish Republic declared in 1916, which he and his comrades had sworn to uphold. On March 26, 1922, the anti-treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin in which they reject the Treaty compromise and repudiate the authority of the Dáil, the elected Irish Parliament. Asked by a journalist if this means they are proposing a military dictatorship in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “you can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor, with 200 other hardline anti-treaty IRA men under his command, takes over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to leave the building before fighting breaks out.

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped JJ “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins shells the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. O’Connor surrenders after two days of fighting and is arrested and held in Mountjoy Prison. This incident sparks the Irish Civil War as fighting breaks out around the country between pro and anti treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, three other republicans captured with the fall of the Four Courts, Rory O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-treaty IRA’s killing of Free State member of parliament Sean Hales. The execution order is given by Kevin O’Higgins, who less than a year earlier had appointed O’Connor to be best man at his wedding, symbolising the bitterness of the division that the Treaty has caused. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the Irish Free State, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.


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Assassination of Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson

Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson is shot and killed by two Irish Republican Army (IRA) men in London on June 22, 1922.

Wilson is born in County Longford and a long-time opponent of the Irish Home Rule movement. He joins the British army in 1884 and sees action during the Boer War. He is assigned to British army headquarters during the infamous Curragh incident and supports the near-mutiny of British officers who refuse to lead troops against Ulster opponents of home rule. He serves in France during the World War I and, when the war ends, continues his staunch support of the Unionist cause while serving as Chief of General Staff. He is a strong supporter of the coercion tactics of the British in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence, even suggesting that the leaders of Sinn Féin be executed. He leaves the army when David Lloyd George decides not to renew his term as chief of staff and is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for North Down as a Conservative in 1922. In Parliament, he urges even stronger coercion methods than those then being carried out by the Black and Tans.

On June 22, 1922, two London-based volunteers of the Irish Republican Army, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, assassinate Wilson outside his house at 36 Eaton Place at approximately 2:20 PM. He is in full uniform as he is returning from unveiling the Great Eastern Railway War Memorial at Liverpool Street station at 1:00 PM. He has six wounds, two of them fatal wounds to the chest.

Stories later circulate that the first shot misses but rather than taking shelter in the house, he draws his sword and advances on his attackers, who are able to shoot and kill him. These stories often stress that he dies a martyr. His housemaid testifies that she found his drawn sword lying by his side. These details do not feature in the witness accounts by Reginald Dunne, which is smuggled out of prison, the inquest testimony of one of two road menders working nearby, and the taxi driver who had just dropped Wilson off. One of the road mender’s accounts, as published in the Daily Mail, mentions Wilson turning on his attackers with the words “you cowardly swine!” but this is believed to be a possible embellishment by the newspaper.

Two police officers and a chauffeur are also shot as the men attempt to avoid capture. They are then surrounded by a crowd and arrested by other policemen after a struggle. Dunne and O’Sullivan are convicted of murder and hanged on August 10, 1922. On the day Wilson’s killers were hanged, Currygrane, the family homesite in Ballinalee, County Longford is burned to the ground, possibly as a reprisal although possibly as an unrelated part of the unrest in that county.

Wilson’s widow blames the government for his death and is only persuaded to allow government representation at the funeral on the grounds that not to do so would be disrespectful to the King. Wilson’s funeral is a public affair attended by David Lloyd George and the cabinet, Ferdinand Foch, Robert Nivelle and Maxime Weygand from France as well as many of his former army colleagues including John French, Nevil Macready, Douglas Haig and William Robertson. He is buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.


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Oliver Plunkett Beatified by Pope Benedict XV

oliver-plunkettOliver Plunkett, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, is beatified by Pope Benedict XV on May 23, 1920.

Plunkett is born on November 1, 1625, in Loughcrew, County Meath, to well-to-do parents with Hiberno-Norman ancestors. He is ordained a priest in 1654, and deputed by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome. Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–1653) has defeated the Roman Catholic cause in Ireland. In the aftermath, the public practice of Roman Catholicism is banned and Roman Catholic clergy are executed. As a result, it is impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years.

He eventually sets foot on Irish soil again on March 7, 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 has begun on a basis of toleration. After arriving back in Ireland, he sets about reorganising the ravaged Roman Church and builds schools both for the young and for clergy, whom he finds “ignorant in moral theology and controversies.” The Penal Laws have been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and Plunkett is able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett does not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college is closed and demolished. Plunkett goes into hiding, traveling only in disguise, and refusing a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. In 1678, the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by clergyman Titus Oates, leads to further anti-Roman Catholic action. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin is arrested and Plunkett again goes into hiding.

Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, Plunkett refuses to leave his flock. At some point before his final incarceration, he takes refuge in a church that once stood in the townland of Killartry, in the parish of Clogherhead in County Louth, seven miles outside Drogheda. He is arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. Plunkett is tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion.

Plunkett is found guilty of high treason in June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith” and is condemned to death. He is hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on July 1, 1681, the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England.

Oliver Plunkett is beatified on May 23, 1920 and canonised in 1975, the first new Irish saint for almost seven hundred years, and the first of the Irish martyrs to be beatified. For the canonisation, the customary second miracle is waived. Plunkett has since been followed by 17 other Irish martyrs who were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992. Among them are Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley, Margaret Ball, and the Wexford Martyrs.