seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

The Launch of the SS Canberra

ss-canberraThe SS Canberra, an ocean liner in the P&O fleet which later operates on cruises, is launched in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 16, 1960. She is built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast at a cost of £17,000,000.

The ship is named on March 17, 1958, after the federal capital of Australia, Canberra. Her launch is sponsored by Dame Pattie Menzies, GBE, wife of the then Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies. She enters service in May 1961 and begins her maiden voyage in June.

At the end of 1972 she is withdrawn and refitted to carry 1,500 single class passengers on cruises. Unusually, this transition from an early life as a purpose built ocean liner to a long and successful career in cruising, occurs without any major external alterations, and with only minimal internal and mechanical changes over the years.

On April 2, 1982, Argentina invades the Falkland Islands, which initiates the Falklands War. At the time, SS Canberra is cruising in the Mediterranean Sea. The next day, her captain, Dennis Scott-Masson, receives a message asking his time of arrival at Gibraltar, which is not on his itinerary. When he calls at Gibraltar, he learns that the Ministry of Defence had requisitioned SS Canberra for use as a troopship. SS Canberra sails to Southampton, Hampshire where she is quickly refitted, sailing on April 9 for the South Atlantic.

SS Canberra anchors in San Carlos Water on May 21 as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. Although her size and white colour make her an unmissable target for the Argentine Air Force, the liner is not badly hit in the landings as the Argentine pilots tend to attack the Royal Navy frigates and destroyers instead of the supply and troop ships. After the war, Argentine pilots claim they were told not to hit SS Canberra, as they mistook her for a hospital ship.

SS Canberra then sails to South Georgia Island, where 3,000 troops are transferred from Queen Elizabeth 2. They are landed at San Carlos on June 2. When the war ends, SS Canberra is used as a cartel to repatriate captured Argentine soldiers, landing them at Puerto Madryn, before returning to Southampton to a rapturous welcome on July 11.

After a lengthy refit, SS Canberra returns to civilian service as a cruise ship. Her role in the Falklands War makes her very popular with the British public, and ticket sales after her return are elevated for many years as a result. Age and high running costs eventually catch up with her though, as she has much higher fuel consumption than most modern cruise ships. Although Premier Cruise Line makes a bid for the old ship, P&O had already decided that they do not want SS Canberra to operate under a different flag.

SS Canberra is withdrawn from P&O service in September 1997 and sold to ship breakers for scrapping on October 10, 1997, leaving for Gadani ship-breaking yard in Pakistan on October 31, 1997. Her deep draft means that she cannot be beached as far as most ships, and due to her solid construction the scrapping process takes nearly a year instead of the estimated three months, being totally scrapped by the end of 1998.

The SS Canberra appears in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever as the liner where Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd try to kill Bond. In 1997, singer/songwriter Gerard Kenny releases the single “Farewell Canberra” which is specially composed for the final voyage.


Leave a comment

Operation Banner Ends in Northern Ireland

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityOperation Banner, the operational name for the British Armed Forces‘ operation in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007 as part of the Troubles, ends at midnight on July 31, 2007. It is one of the longest continuous deployments in British military history.

The British Army is initially deployed, at the request of the unionist government of Northern Ireland, in response to the August 1969 riots. Its role is to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and to assert the authority of the British government in Northern Ireland. At the peak of the operation in the 1970s, about 21,000 British troops are deployed, most of them from Great Britain. As part of the operation, a new locally-recruited regiment is also formed, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). After the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the operation is gradually scaled down and the vast majority of British troops are withdrawn.

In August 2005, it is announced that in response to the Provisional IRA declaration that its campaign is over, and in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement provisions, Operation Banner would end by August 1, 2007. This involves troops based in Northern Ireland being reduced to 5,000, and only for training purposes. Security is entirely transferred to the police. The Northern Ireland Resident battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, which had grown out of the Ulster Defence Regiment, stand down on September 1, 2006. The operation officially ends at midnight on July 31, 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army’s history, lasting over 38 years.

While the withdrawal of troops is welcomed by the nationalist parties Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin, the unionist Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party oppose the decision, which they regard as premature. The main reasons behind their resistance are the continuing activity of republican dissident groups, the loss of security-related jobs for the protestant community and the perception of the British Army presence as an affirmation of the political union with Great Britain.

According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,441 serving British military personnel die in Operation Banner, 722 of whom are killed in paramilitary attacks and 719 of whom die as a result of other causes. The British military kills 307 people during the operation, about 51% of whom are civilians and 42% of whom are members of republican paramilitaries.

(Pictured: Two British soldiers on duty at a vehicle checkpoint near the A5 Omagh/Armagh road junction)

 


Leave a comment

First Use of Rubber Bullets in Northern Ireland

rubber-bulletRubber bullets are used for the first time in Northern Ireland on August 2, 1970. Rubber bullets are invented by the British Ministry of Defence for use against rioters in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

Rubber bullets (also called rubber baton rounds) are rubber or rubber-coated projectiles that can be fired from either standard firearms or dedicated riot guns. They are intended to be a non-lethal alternative to metal projectiles. Like other similar projectiles made from plastic, wax and wood, rubber bullets may be used for short range practice and animal control, but are most commonly associated with use in riot control and to disperse protests.

The British developed rubber rounds – the “Round, Anti-Riot, 1.5in Baton” – in 1970 for use against rioters in Northern Ireland. A low-power propelling charge gives them a muzzle velocity of about 200 feet per second and maximum range of about 110 yards. The intended use is to fire at the ground so that the round bounces up and hits the target on the legs, causing pain but not injury.

From 1970 to 1975, about 55,000 rubber bullets are fired by the British Army in Northern Ireland. Often they are fired directly at people from close range, which results in three people being killed and many more badly injured. In 1975, they are replaced by plastic bullets. In Northern Ireland over 35 years (1970–2005), about 125,000 rubber and plastic bullets are fired – an average of ten per day – causing 17 deaths.

The baton round is made available to British police forces outside Northern Ireland from 2001. In 2013 however, Ministry of Defence papers declassified from 1977 reveal it is aware rubber bullets are more dangerous than was publicly disclosed. The documents contain legal advice for the Ministry of Defence to seek a settlement over a child who had been blinded in 1972, rather than go to court which would expose problems with the bullets and make it harder to fight future related cases. The papers state that further tests would reveal serious problems with the bullets, including that they were tested “in a shorter time than was ideal”, that they “could be lethal” and that they “could and did cause serious injuries.”

(Pictured: 37 mm British Army rubber bullet, as used in Northern Ireland)


Leave a comment

Murder of IRA Paramilitary Eamon Collins

eamon-collinsEamon Collins, a Provisional Irish Republican Army paramilitary in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is beaten and stabbed to death near his home in Newry, County Down on January 27, 1999.

Collins grows up in a middle-class Irish family in Camlough, a small, staunchly Irish republican town in County Armagh. After completing his schooling, he works for a time in the Ministry of Defence in a clerical capacity in London before studying law at Queen’s University Belfast, where he becomes influenced by Marxist political ideology. He eventually drops out of university and, after working in a pub for a period, joins Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise Service, serving in Newry, and goes on to use this internal position within the administrative machinery of the British Government to support IRA operations against Crown Forces personnel.

Collins joins the Provisional IRA during the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates in the late 1970s and he becomes involved in street demonstrations. He joins the South Down Brigade of the IRA, based around Newry, and is appointed its intelligence officer.

Collins becomes noted within IRA circles for his hard-line views on the continuance of armed campaign, and later joins its Internal Security Unit. Around this time he has a confrontation with Gerry Adams at the funeral of an IRA man killed in a failed bombing over how to deal with the funeral’s policing, where he accuses Adams a being a “Stick.”

Despite his militarist convictions at this time Collins finds the psychological strain caused by his involvement in the terrorist war increasingly difficult to address. His belief in the martial discipline of the IRA’s campaign is seriously undermined by the March 11, 1982 assassination of Norman Hanna, a 28-year-old Newry man, in front of his wife and young daughter. His uneasy state is further augmented by being arrested on two occasions under anti-terrorism laws, the second including a week of detention and intense interrogation.

Collins subsequently states that the strain of the interrogation merely exacerbates increasing doubts that he has already possessed about the moral justification of the IRA’s terrorist paramilitary campaign and his actions within it. These doubts are made worse by the organization’s senior leadership quietly deciding in the early 1980s that the war has failed and now slowly manoeuvering the movement away from a military campaign to allow its political wing, Sinn Féin, to pursue its purposes by another means in what would become the Northern Ireland peace process.

In 1987, after being charged with several counts of murder and attempted murder, Collins is acquitted as the statement in which he admits to involvement in these acts is ruled legally inadmissible by the court. On release from prison he spends several weeks being counter-interrogated by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, after which he is exiled by the organization from Ulster, being warned that if he is found north of Drogheda after a certain date he will be executed.

After his exile Collins moves to Dublin and squats for a while in a deserted flat in the impoverished Ballymun area of the city. After several years in Dublin, he subsequently moves to Edinburgh, Scotland for a period, where he runs a youth centre.

In 1995 Collins returns to Newry, a district known for the militancy of its communal support of the IRA, with numerous IRA members in its midst. The IRA order exiling him from Ulster has not been lifted, but with a formal ceasefire from the organization and renunciations of violence by all the paramilitary organizations in the province, he deems it safe to move back in with his wife and children who had never left the town.

Rather than maintaining a low profile Collins decides to take a prominent role in the ongoing transition of Ulster’s post-war society, using his personal history as a platform in the media to analyze the adverse effects of terrorism. In May 1998 he gives evidence against leading republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy in a libel case Murphy has brought against The Sunday Times, over a 1985 article naming him as the IRA’s Northern Commander. Murphy denies IRA membership, but Collins takes the witness stand against him, and testifies that from personal experience he knew that Murphy had been a key military leader in the organization. Murphy subsequently loses the libel case and sustains substantial financial losses in consequence. Collins and his family receive numerous threats after the trial.

Collins is beaten and stabbed to death by one or more unidentified assailants early in the morning of January 27, 1999, while walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill. His body also bears marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest comment upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder are that he had returned to Ulster in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish terrorist paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy.

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated by the condition of his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Church in Newry, Collins’ body is buried at the town’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he had helped to organize in 1982.