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


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Birth of Seamus Twomey, Two Time Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA

Seamus Twomey (Irish: Séamus Ó Tuama), Irish republican activist, militant, and twice chief of staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on November 5, 1919 on Marchioness Street in Belfast.

Twomey lives at 6 Sevastopol Street in the Falls district. Known as “Thumper” owing to his short temper and habit of banging his fist on tables, he receives little education and is a bookmaker‘s “runner.” His father is a volunteer in the 1920s. In Belfast he lives comfortably with his wife, Rosie, whom he marries in 1946. Together they have sons and daughters.

Twomey begins his involvement with the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s and is interned in Northern Ireland during the 1940s on the prison ship HMS Al Rawdah and later in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. Rosie, his wife, is also held prisoner at the women prison, Armagh Jail, in Northern Ireland. He opposes the left-wing shift of Cathal Goulding in the 1960s, and in 1968, helps set up the breakaway Andersonstown Republican Club, later the Roddy McCorley Society.

In 1969, Twomey is prominent in the establishment of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. By 1972, he is Officer Commanding (OC) of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade when it launches its bomb campaign of the city, including Bloody Friday when nine people are killed. During the 1970s, the leadership of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA is largely in the hands of Twomey and Ivor Bell.

In March 1973, Twomey is first appointed IRA Chief of Staff after the arrest of Joe Cahill. He remains in this position until his arrest in October 1973 by the Garda Síochána. Three weeks later, on October 31, 1973, the IRA organises the helicopter escape of Twomey and his fellow IRA members J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon, when an active service unit hijacks and forces the pilot at gunpoint to land the helicopter in the training yard of Mountjoy Prison. After his escape, he returns to his membership of IRA Army Council.

By June/July 1974, Twomey is IRA Chief of Staff for a second time. He takes part in the Feakle talks between the IRA and Protestant clergymen in December 1974. In the IRA truce which follows in 1975, he is largely unsupportive and wants to fight on in what he sees as “one big push to finish it once and for all.”

IRA informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that on January 5, 1976, Twomey and Brian Keenan give the go-ahead for the sectarian Kingsmill massacre, when ten unarmed Ulster Protestant workmen are executed by the Provisional IRA in retaliation for a rash of loyalist killings of Catholics in the area. It is Keenan’s view, O’Callaghan claims, that “The only way to knock the nonsense out of the Prods is to be ten times more savage.”

Twomey is dedicated to paramilitarism as a means of incorporating Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. In an interview with French television on July 11, 1977, he declares that although the IRA had waged a campaign for seven years at that point, it can fight on for another 70 against the British state in Northern Ireland and in England. He supports the bombing of wealthy civilian targets, which he justifies on class lines. On October 29, 1977, for example, a no-warning bomb at an Italian restaurant in Mayfair kills one diner and wounds 17 others. Three more people are killed in similar blasts in Chelsea and Mayfair the following month. He says, “By hitting Mayfair restaurants, we were hitting the type of person that could bring pressure to bear on the British government.”

In December 1977, Twomey is captured in Sandycove, Dublin, by the Garda Síochána, who had been tipped off by Belgian police about a concealed arms shipment, to be delivered to a bogus company with an address in the area. They swoop on a house in Martello Terrace to discover Twomey outside in his car, wearing his trademark dark glasses. After a high-speed pursuit, he is recaptured in the centre of Dublin. The Gardaí later find documents in his possession outlining proposals for the structural reorganisation of the IRA according to the cell system. His arrest ends his tenure as IRA chief of staff. In the 1986 split over abstentionism, Twomey sides with the Gerry Adams leadership and remains with the Provisionals.

After a long illness from a heart condition, Twomey dies in Dublin on September 12, 1989. He is buried in the family plot in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast. His funeral is attended by about 2,000 people.


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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

The Milltown Cemetery attack takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During the large funeral of three Provisional Irish Republican Army members killed in Gibraltar, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, Michael Stone, attacks the mourners with hand grenades and pistols.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional IRA members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three had allegedly been preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but the deaths outrage republicans as the three were unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes. Tensions are high as the security forces flood the neighbourhoods where they had lived, to try to prevent public displays honouring the dead. For years, republicans have complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which have led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) will instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Michael Stone is a loyalist, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) who had been involved in several killings and other attacks, and who describes himself as a “freelance loyalist paramilitary.” He learns that there will be little security force presence at the funerals, and plans “to take out the Sinn Féin and IRA leadership at the graveside.” He says his attack is retaliation for the Remembrance Day bombing four months earlier, when eleven Protestants had been killed by an IRA bomb at a Remembrance Sunday ceremony. He claims that he and other UDA members considered planting bombs in the graveyard, but abandon the plan because the bombs might miss the republican leaders.

The funeral service and Requiem Mass go ahead as planned, and the cortege makes its way to Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road. Present are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead. Stone claims that he entered the graveyard through the front gate with the mourners and mingled with the large crowd, although one witness claims to have seen him enter from the M1 motorway with three other people.

As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones. Stone begins jogging toward the motorway, several hundred yards away, chased by dozens of men and youths. He periodically stops to shoot and throw grenades at his pursuers.

Three people are killed while pursuing Stone – Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean (20) and John Murray (26), and IRA member Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (30), also known as Kevin Brady. During the attack, about 60 people are wounded by bullets, grenade shrapnel and fragments of marble and stone from gravestones. Among those wounded is a pregnant mother of four, a 72-year-old grandmother and a ten-year-old boy. Some fellow loyalists say that Stone made the mistake of throwing his grenades too soon. The death toll would likely have been much higher had the grenades exploded in mid-air, “raining lethal shrapnel over a wide area.”

A white van that had been parked on the hard shoulder of the motorway suddenly drives off as Stone flees from the angry crowd. There is speculation that the van is part of the attack, but the RUC says it was part of a police patrol, and that the officers sped off because they feared for their lives. Stone says he had arranged for a getaway car, driven by a UDA member, to pick him up on the hard shoulder of the motorway, but the driver allegedly “panicked and left.” By the time he reaches the motorway, he has seemingly run out of ammunition. He runs out onto the road and tries to stop cars, but is caught by the crowd, beaten, and bundled into a hijacked vehicle. Armed RUC officers in Land Rovers quickly arrive, “almost certainly saving his life.” They arrest him and take him to Musgrave Park Hospital for treatment of his injuries. The whole event is recorded by television news cameras.

That evening, angry youths in republican districts burn hijacked vehicles and attack the RUC. Immediately after the attack, the two main loyalist paramilitary groups—the UDA and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)—deny responsibility. Sinn Féin and others “claimed that there must have been collusion with the security forces, because only a small number of people knew in advance of the reduced police presence at the funerals.”

Three days later, during the funeral of one of Stone’s victims, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, two British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, in civilian clothes and in a civilian car drive into the path of the funeral cortège, apparently by mistake. Many of those present believe the soldiers are loyalists intent on repeating Stone’s attack. An angry crowd surrounds and attacks their car. Corporal Wood draws his service pistol and fires a shot into the air. The two men are then dragged from the car before being taken away, beaten and shot dead by the IRA. The incident is often referred to as the corporals killings and, like the attack at Milltown, much of it is filmed by television news cameras.

In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. Many hardline loyalists see him as a hero and he becomes a loyalist icon. After his conviction, an issue of the UDA magazine Ulster is devoted to Stone, stating that he “stood bravely in the middle of rebel scum and let them have it.” Apart from time on remand spent in Crumlin Road Gaol, he spends all of his sentence in HM Prison Maze. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

In November 2006, Stone is charged with attempted murder of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, having been arrested attempting to enter the Parliament Buildings at Stormont while armed. He is subsequently convicted and sentenced to a further 16 years imprisonment. He is released on parole in 2021.


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Death of Dolours Price, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Dolours Price, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, dies in her Malahide, County Dublin home on January 23, 2013.

Price is born in Belfast on December 16, 1950. She and her sister, Marian, also an IRA member, are the daughters of Albert Price, a prominent Irish republican and former IRA member from Belfast. Their aunt, Bridie Dolan, is blinded and loses both hands in an accident handling IRA explosives. 

Price becomes involved in Irish republicanism in the late 1960s and she and Marian participate in the Belfast to Derry civil rights march in January 1969 and are attacked in the Burntollet Bridge incident.

In 1971 Price and her sister join the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1972 she joins an elite group within the IRA called “The Unknowns” commanded by Pat McClure.  The Unknowns are tasked with various secretive activities and transport several accused traitors across the border into the Republic of Ireland where they are “disappeared.” She personally states that she had driven Joe Lynskey across the border to face trial. In addition she states that she, Pat McClure and a third Unknown were tasked with killing Jean McConville, with the third Unknown actually shooting her.

Price leads the car bombing attacks in London on March 8, 1973, which injure over 200 people and is believed to have contributed to the death of one person who suffers a fatal heart attack. The two sisters are arrested, along with Gerry Kelly, Hugh Feeney and six others, on the day of the bombing as they are boarding a flight to Ireland. They are tried and convicted at the Great Hall in Winchester Castle on November 14, 1973. Although originally sentenced to life imprisonment, which is to run concurrently for each criminal charge, their sentence is eventually reduced to 20 years. She serves seven years for her part in the bombing. She immediately goes on a hunger strike demanding to be moved to a prison in Northern Ireland. The hunger strike lasts for 208 days because the hunger strikers are force-fed by prison authorities to keep them alive.

On the back of the hunger-striking campaign, Price’s father contests Belfast West at the February 1974 United Kingdom general election, receiving 5,662 votes (11.9%). The Price sisters, Hugh Feeney, and Gerry Kelly are moved to Northern Ireland prisons in 1975 as a result of an IRA truce. In 1980 she receives the royal prerogative of mercy and is freed on humanitarian grounds in 1981, purportedly suffering from anorexia nervosa due to the invasive trauma of daily force feedings.

After her release in 1980, Price marries Irish actor Stephen Rea, with whom she has two sons, Danny and Oscar. They divorce in 2003.

The Price sisters remain active politically. In the late 1990s, Price and her sister claim that they have been threatened by their former colleagues in the IRA and Sinn Féin for publicly opposing the Good Friday Agreement (i.e. the cessation of the IRA’s military campaign). she is a contributor to The Blanket, an online journal, edited by former Provisional IRA member Anthony McIntyre, until it ceases publication in 2008.

In 2001, Price is arrested in Dublin and charged with possession of stolen prescription pads and forged prescriptions. She pleads guilty and is fined £200 and ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

In February 2010, it is reported by The Irish News that Price had offered help to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains in locating graves of three men, Joe Lynskey, Seamus Wright, and Kevin McKee. The bodies of Wright and McKee are recovered from a singular grave in County Meath in August 2015. It is unclear if Price played a role in their recovery. The remains of Joe Lynskey have not been recovered as of April 2021.

Price is the subject of the 2018 feature-length documentary I, Dolours in which she gives an extensive filmed interview.

In 2010 Price claims Gerry Adams had been her officer commanding (OC) when she was active in the IRA. Adams, who has always denied being a member of the IRA, denies her allegation. She admits taking part in the murder of Jean McConville, as part of an IRA action in 1972. She claims the murder of McConville, a mother of ten, was ordered by Adams when he was an IRA leader in West Belfast. Adams subsequently publicly further denies Price’s allegations, stating that the reason for them is that she is opposed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s abandonment of paramilitary warfare in favour of politics in 1994, in the facilitation of which Adams has been a key figure.

Oral historians at Boston College interview both Price and her fellow IRA paramilitary Brendan Hughes between 2001 and 2006. The two give detailed interviews for the historical record of the activities in the IRA, which are recorded on condition that the content of the interviews is not to be released during their lifetimes. Prior to her death in May 2011, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) subpoena the material, possibly as part of an investigation into the disappearance of a number of people in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. In June 2011, the college files a motion to quash the subpoena. A spokesman for the college states that “our position is that the premature release of the tapes could threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history, and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.” In June 2011, U.S. federal prosecutors ask a judge to require the college to release the tapes to comply with treaty obligations with the United Kingdom. On July 6, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit agrees with the government’s position that the subpoena should stand. On October 17, 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States temporarily blocks the college from handing over the interview tapes. In April 2013, after Price’s death, the Supreme Court turns away an appeal that seeks to keep the interviews from being supplied to the PSNI. The order leaves in place a lower court ruling that orders Boston College to give the Justice Department portions of recorded interviews with Price. Federal officials want to forward the recordings to police investigating the murder of Jean McConville.

On January 24, 2013 Price is found dead at her Malahide, County Dublin home, from a toxic effect of mixing prescribed sedative and anti-depressant medication. The inquest returns a verdict of death by misadventure. Her body is buried at Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast.


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Birth of Joe McDonnell, Irish Hunger Striker

joseph-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951. He dies after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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Birth of Provisional IRA Member Seán Savage

sean-savageSeán Savage, Provisional Irish Republican Army member who is shot dead by the British Army while attempting to plant a car bomb in Gibraltar, is born in Belfast on January 26, 1965.

Born into an Irish Republican family in the Kashmir area of Belfast, Savage is educated at St. Gall’s Primary School, and at St. Paul’s Secondary School in the Falls Road area of West Belfast.

In 1987 Savage and Daniel McCann shoot and kill two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers at Belfast docks. He is also the leader of an IRA attack that places a car bomb beneath the car of John McMichael, an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, in Lisburn in December 1987. McMichael dies of his injuries two hours after the blast.

In March 1988, Savage and McCann, along with another Provisional IRA member, Mairéad Farrell, are sent to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a bomb in the town area targeting a British Army band which parades weekly in front of The Convent, the official Governors’ residence. However, the British Government acquires information about the intended attack and specially dispatches a British Army detachment there to intercept it, in an operation that it code-names Operation Flavius.

On March 6, 1988 Savage, McCann and Farrell enter Gibraltar from across the Spanish border to carry out a reconnaissance of the target. Having conducted it, they are leaving Gibraltar on foot approaching the Spanish border in two separate parties, when Savage sees McCann and Farrell up ahead being confronted and shot dead by soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment. He turns around and flees, running back into Gibraltar town, closely pursued on foot by another SAS soldier. After a 300-yard chase the soldier catches up with Savage and shoots him dead beneath a beech tree in Smith Dorrien Avenue. Civilian witnesses to the incident state afterwards that Savage is repeatedly fired upon by the soldier that had run him down while he is lying on the ground seemingly incapacitated.

The IRA team is subsequently found to be unarmed at the time of their deaths. A hire car rented by them, converted into a car bomb containing 140 lbs. of Semtex, with a device timed to go off during the changing of the guard ceremony in Gibraltar, is found two days later by the Spanish Police, who had assisted the British Government in tracking the IRA team’s movements in its territory before it had entered Gibraltar.

The bodies of Savage, Farrell and McCann are repatriated to Northern Ireland, where a collective IRA-sponsored funeral is held for them on March 16, 1988 at the IRA plot in Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast. As the coffins are being lowered into the ground Michael Stone, an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, stages a single-handed attack upon the ceremony, throwing grenades and firing a handgun at mourners. The funeral immediately descends into chaos. One group of mourners pursues the retreating attacker, who continues to throw grenades and fire bullets, through the cemetery grounds. Three of the unarmed mourners are killed and scores are injured. Stone retreats onto the adjoining M1 motorway, where he is arrested.

A Gibraltar inquest into the deaths of Savage, McCann and Farrell concludes the three had been lawfully killed. In 1995, the European Court of Human Rights rules that the human rights of the three were infringed, and criticizes the British authorities for lack of control in the arrest operation. They also rule that the three had been engaged in an act of terrorism, and consequently dismissed unanimously the applicants’ claims for damages, for costs and expenses incurred in the Gibraltar Inquest and the remainder of the claims for just satisfaction.

A British television documentary, Death on the Rock (1988), is produced and broadcast about the failed IRA operation in Gibraltar, examining the details of the events, and raising doubts about aspects of the British Government’s statements about the circumstances of the shootings of the IRA team, and questioning whether excessive force had been used in the confrontation in line with persistent rumours in the British media at that time of a “Shoot to Kill” strategy being used against the Provisional IRA by the British Government.


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Birth of Suffragist Winifred Carney

winifred-carneyMaria Winifred Carney, also known as Winnie Carney, suffragist, trade unionist and Irish independence activist, is born into a lower-middle class Catholic family in Bangor, County Down on December 4, 1887. Her father is a Protestant who leaves the family. Her mother and six siblings move to Falls Road in Belfast when she is a child.

Carney is educated at St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers School in Donegall Street in Belfast, later teaching at the school. She enrolls at Hughes Commercial Academy around 1910, where she qualifies as a secretary and shorthand typist, one of the first women in Belfast to do so. However, from the start she is looking towards doing more than just secretarial work.

In 1912 Carney is in charge of the women’s section of the Northern Ireland Textile Workers’ Union in Belfast, which she founds with Delia Larkin in 1912. During this period she meets James Connolly and becomes his personal secretary. She becomes Connolly’s friend and confidant as they work together to improve the conditions for female labourers in Belfast. Carney then joins Cumann na mBan, the women’s auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers, and attends its first meeting in 1914.

Carney is present with Connolly in Dublin‘s General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising in 1916. She is the only woman present during the initial occupation of the building. While not a combatant, she is given the rank of adjutant and is among the final group to leave the GPO. After Connolly is wounded, she refuses to leave his side despite direct orders from Patrick Pearse and Connolly. She leaves the GPO with the rest of the rebels when the building becomes engulfed in flames. They make their new headquarters in nearby Moore Street before Pearse surrenders.

After her capture, Carney is held in Kilmainham Gaol before being moved to Mountjoy Prison and finally to an English prison. By August 1916 she is imprisoned in HM Prison Aylesbury alongside Nell Ryan and Helena Molony. The three request that their internee status be revoked so that they could be held as normal prisoners with Countess Markievicz. Their request is denied, however Carney and Molony are released two days before Christmas 1916.

Carney is a delegate at the 1917 Belfast Cumann na mBan convention. She stands for Parliament as a Sinn Féin candidate for Belfast Victoria in the 1918 General Election but loses to the Labour Unionists. Following her defeat, she decides to continue her work at the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union until 1928. By 1924 she has become a member of the Labour Party. In the 1930s she joins the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland.

Following the Irish Civil War, Carney becomes much more disillusioned with politics. She is very critical and outspoken of Éamon de Valera and his governments.

In 1928 she marries George McBride, a Protestant Orangeman and former member of the Ulster Volunteers. Ironically, the formation of the Ulster Volunteers prompts the formation of the Irish Volunteers, of which Carney was a member. She alienates anyone in her life that does not support her marriage to McBride.

A number of serious health problems limit Carney’s political activities in the late 1930s. She dies in Belfast on November 21, 1943, and is buried in Milltown Cemetery. Her resting place is located years later and a headstone is erected by the National Graves Association, Belfast. Because she married a Protestant and former Orangeman, she is not allowed to have his name on her gravestone due to the religious differences.

In 2013, the Seventieth Anniversary of Carney’s death is remembered by the Socialist Republican Party. Almost one hundred people attend as a short parade follows, marking and commemorating the work she did for the cause. She is placed in high esteem among the other hundreds of radical women, who stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences they face.


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The Execution of Tom Williams, IRA Volunteer

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vol._Tom_Williams.jpgThomas Joseph Williams, a volunteer in C Company, 2nd Battalion of the Belfast Brigade in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged in the Crumlin Road Gaol on September 2, 1942 for his involvement in the killing of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police officer Patrick Murphy during the Northern campaign.

Williams is born in the Beechmount area of Belfast on May 12, 1923. He is the third child in a family of six. After the death of his mother, he and his brother go to live with their grandmother at 46 Bombay Street in the Clonard area of Belfast. The Williams family has to leave the small Catholic enclave in the Shore Road area of Belfast after their house is attacked and burned.

As a child, Williams suffers from asthma and as a result is often very ill. He attends St. Gall’s Primary School but leaves at an early age to obtain work, which at the time is difficult due to discrimination. His work therefore consists of labouring and as a delivery boy.

As soon as Williams is old enough, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, the republican Scout Organisation founded by Constance Markievicz in 1909, becoming a member of the Con Colbert slua in the Clonard area. Alfie Hannaway, a friend of Williams, is his OC in Na Fianna, and assigns him to the rank of Quartermaster for the company. He takes his role in Na Fianna very seriously and all who came to know him are struck by his dedication and maturity, even at this early age.

At the age of 17, Williams is old enough to become a volunteer and joins C Company of the IRA in the Clonard area where he lives. Due to his “dedication and his remarkable ability” he is appointed to the role of Adjutant of C Company.

At Easter 1942 the government of Northern Ireland bans all parades to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising. An IRA unit of six men and two women stage a diversionary action against the RUC to allow three parades to take place in West Belfast, but in this clash a RUC officer is killed and the six IRA men are captured. The RUC officer, Constable Patrick Murphy, a father of nine children, from the Falls Road area of Belfast, is one of a minority of Catholics serving in the RUC.

There is debate over the years about who actually fired the fatal shot. The six IRA members are convicted and sentenced to death for murder under the law of common purpose. Five have their sentences commuted. The sentence of Williams, who acknowledges that he is the leader of the IRA unit involved and takes full responsibility for the actions of his men, is not commuted.

Williams is hanged in Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast on the morning of September 2, 1942. The executioner is the official English hangman Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrepoint. Afterwards Williams’ body is interred in unhallowed ground in an unmarked grave within the grounds of the prison. His remains are only released in January 2000 after the closure of the prison in 1996 and a lengthy campaign by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

Williams’s funeral is held on January 19, 2000 and is attended by thousands, with burial at Milltown Cemetery. Joe Cahill, Williams’s cell mate, and John Oliver, sentenced to death with Williams but later reprieved, as well as Madge McConville, who had been arrested with Williams, Greta McGlone, Billy McKee, Eddie Keenan and perhaps least known, Nell Morgan, Williams’s girlfriend at the time of his death, are all present. Six senior Sinn Féin members including Gerry Adams are also present in St. Paul’s Church on the Lower Falls Road for the Mass.

Williams is remembered in a ballad Tom Williams. Various recordings have been made, most notably by the Flying Column and Éire Óg, who preamble their version with the story of the campaign to release his body. The now disbanded, Volunteer Tom Williams Republican Flute Band from Glasgow, Scotland is named in his memory as is the Tom Williams Camogie Club in Belfast.

(Pictured: Tom Williams’ headstone at Milltown Cemetery after being reinterred)


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Death of Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell

 

joe-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on July 8, 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951 as one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

milltown-cemetery-attackThe Milltown Cemetery attack, also known as the Milltown Cemetery killings or the Milltown Massacre, takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional Irish Republican Army members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three were allegedly preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but their deaths outrage republicans as the three are unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes.

The “Gilbraltar Three” are scheduled to be buried in the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery on March 16. For years, republicans had complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which had led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) would instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Present at the funeral are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead.

Michael Stone, a loyalist and member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), learns there are to be no police or armed IRA members at the cemetery. As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones.

As Stone runs towards the nearby motorway, a large crowd begins chasing him and he continues shooting and throwing grenades. Some of the crowd catches Stone and begin beating him, but he is rescued by the police and arrested. Three people are killed and more than 60 wounded in the attack. The “unprecedented, one-man attack” is filmed by television news crews and causes shock around the world.

Three days later, two British Army corporals drive into the funeral procession of one of the Milltown victims. The non-uniformed soldiers are dragged from their car by an angry crowd, beaten and then shot dead by the IRA, in what becomes known as the corporals killings.

In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

(Pictured: The funeral at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast moments before the attack by Michael Stone)


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Assassination of Activist Miriam Daly

miriam-dalyMiriam Daly, Irish republican activist and university lecturer, is assassinated by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) on June 26, 1980.

Daly is born in the Curragh Irish Army camp, County Kildare in 1928. She grows up in Hatch Street, Dublin and attends Loreto College on St. Stephen’s Green and University College, Dublin, graduating in history. She goes on to teach economic history in UCD for some years before moving to Southampton University with her husband, Joseph Lee. Two years after her first husband dies, she marries James Daly and returns to Ireland with him in 1968. They both are appointed lecturers in Queen’s University Belfast.

Daly soon becomes an activist in the civil rights movement, particularly following the introduction of internment without trial by the Government of Northern Ireland. She is active in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the Northern Resistance Movement.

Daly is a militant member of the Prisoners’ Relatives Action Committee and the national Hunger Strike Committee. In that campaign, she works with Seamus Costello and soon joins him in the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). After Costello is assassinated, she becomes chairperson, leading the party for two years. During this time she and her husband are instrumental in opposing Sinn Féin‘s drift towards federalism.

On June 26, 1980, Daly is shot dead at her home in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast. At the time of her assassination, she is in charge of the IRSP prisoners’ welfare.

According to reports in The Irish Times, members of the Ulster Defence Association gain entry to her home with the intention of killing her husband, who is also a republican activist. Daly is captured and tied up while they wait for him to return home. However, he is in Dublin at the time and so does not arrive. After a considerable time, the UDA men decide to kill Daly instead. Muffling the sound of the gun with a cushion, they shoot her in the head and cut the phone lines before fleeing. Her body is discovered when her ten-year-old daughter arrives home from school.

Daly is buried in Swords, County Dublin. Mourners at her funeral, which features the firing of a volley of shots over her coffin, includes Seán Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. She is included as a volunteer on the INLA monument in Milltown Cemetery and is one of several commemorated by an IRSP mural on the Springfield Road, Belfast.