seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


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Birth of James Hope, United Irishmen Leader

james-hopeJames “Jemmy” Hope, Society of United Irishmen leader who fights in the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803 against British rule in Ireland, is born in Templepatrick, County Antrim on August 25, 1764.

Hope is born to a Presbyterian family originally of Covenanter stock. He is apprenticed as a linen weaver but attends night school in his spare time. Influenced by the American Revolution, he joins the Irish Volunteers, but upon the demise of that organisation and further influenced by the French Revolution, he joins the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795.

Hope quickly establishes himself as a prominent organiser and is elected to the central committee in Belfast, becoming close to leaders such as Samuel Neilson, Thomas Russell, and Henry Joy McCracken. He is almost alone among the United Irish leaders in targeting manufacturers as well as landowners as the enemies of all radicals. In 1796, he is sent to Dublin to assist the United Irish organisation there to mobilise support among the working classes, and he is successful in establishing several branches throughout the city and especially in The Liberties area. He also travels to counties in Ulster and Connacht, disseminating literature and organizing localities.

Upon the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion in Leinster, Hope is sent on a failed mission to Belfast by Henry Joy McCracken to brief the leader of the County Down United Irishmen, Rev. William Steel Dickson, with news of the planned rising in County Antrim, unaware that Dickson had been arrested only a couple of days before. He manages to escape from Belfast in time to take part in the Battle of Antrim where he plays a skillful and courageous role with his “Spartan Band,” in covering the retreat of the fleeing rebels after their defeat.

Hope manages to rejoin McCracken and his remaining forces after the battle at their camp upon Slemish mountain, but the camp gradually disperses, and the dwindling band of insurgents are then forced to go on the run. He successfully eludes capture, but his friend McCracken is captured and executed on July 17. Upon the collapse of the general rising, he refuses to avail of the terms of an amnesty offered by Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis on the grounds that to do so would be “not only a recantation of one’s principles, but a tacit acquiescence in the justice of the punishment which had been inflicted on thousands of my unfortunate associates.”

Hope lives the years following 1798 on the move between counties Dublin, Meath and Westmeath but is finally forced to flee Dublin following the failure of Robert Emmet‘s rebellion in 1803. He returns to the north and evades the authorities attentions in the ensuing repression by securing employment with a sympathetic friend from England. He is today regarded as the most egalitarian and socialist of all the United Irish leadership.

James Hope dies in 1846 and is buried in the Mallusk cemetery, Newtownabbey. His gravestone features the outline of a large dog, which supposedly brought provisions to him and his compatriots when they were hiding following the Battle of Antrim.


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The 1994 Shankill Road Killings

trevor-king-muralThe 1994 Shankill Road killings take place on June 16, 1994. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) shoot dead Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members Trevor King, Colin Craig and David Hamilton on the Shankill Road in Belfast, close to the UVF headquarters.

On June 16, 1994, high-ranking UVF Commander volunteer Trevor King is standing on the Shankill Road about one hundred yards from “The Eagle,” the UVF’s Belfast GHQ, talking to fellow UVF members David Hamilton and Colin Craig. A car drives past them and as it does so Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) gunmen inside the vehicle open fire on the three men. The car is later found burning close to Divis Tower.

David Lister and Hugh Jordan claim that Gino Gallagher, who is himself shot dead in 1996 during an internal dispute, is the main gunman in the attack. However, Henry McDonald and Jack Holland say that Gallagher is inside the car which is scouting the area for UVF members, and not one of the gunmen.

Colin Craig is killed on the spot. King and David Hamilton lay in the street, seriously wounded as panic and chaos erupt on the Shankill in the wake of the shooting. Presbyterian minister Roy Magee is in “The Eagle” discussing an upcoming Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) meeting and the possibility of a loyalist ceasefire with the UVF Brigade Staff when the attack takes place. He and the others race out of the building after hearing the gunfire.

King is rushed to the hospital where he is put on a life-support machine. The shooting has left him paralysed from the neck down. He dies on July 9 with Reverend Magee at his bedside. According to Magee, King himself makes the decision to turn off the machine.

The killings are a blow for the Northern Ireland peace process and a morale boost for the INLA. The attack is the INLA’s most notorious since the Droppin Well bombing in 1982 which killed seventeen people, eleven British soldiers and 6 civilians.

The following day, the UVF launches two retaliatory attacks. In the first, UVF members shoot dead a Catholic civilian taxi driver in Carrickfergus. In the second, they shoot dead two Protestant civilians in Newtownabbey, whom they believe to be Catholics. Two days after the killings the UVF decide to launch another revenge attack when they kill six Catholic civilians in a bar while they are watching the Ireland vs. Italy 1994 FIFA World Cup game opener in what becomes known as the Loughinisland massacre. The tit-for-tat attacks continue during the spring and summer of 1994 until the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire of August 31, 1994 and the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in October. The attacks on the Shankill are the INLA’s deadliest attacks of the 1990s.

When interviewed for Boston College for research on the conflict, Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine suggests the INLA might have been working in cahoots with the Provisional IRA in targeting prominent Loyalists, as the month after the Provisional IRA kill three leading Ulster Defence Association (UDA) men.

(Pictured: Trevor King mural, Disraeli Street, May 2012)


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Birth of Snooker Champion Alex “Hurricane” Higgins

Alexander Gordon “Alex” Higgins, Northern Irish professional snooker player, who is remembered as one of the most iconic figures in the game, is born in Belfast on March 18, 1949. He is nicknamed “Hurricane Higgins” because of his fast play.

Higgins starts playing snooker at the age of eleven, often in the Jampot club in his native Sandy Row area of south Belfast and later in the YMCA in the nearby city centre. At age fourteen and weighing seven and a half stone (47.6 kg), he leaves for England and a career as a jockey. However, he never makes the grade because, in his youth, he drinks a lot of Guinness and eats a lot of chocolate, making him too heavy to ride competitively. He returns to Belfast and by 1965, at the age of sixteen, he has compiled his first maximum break. In 1968 he wins the All-Ireland and Northern Ireland Amateur Snooker Championships.

Higgins turns professional at the age of 22, winning the World Snooker Championship at his first attempt in 1972, against John Spencer winning 37–32. Higgins is then the youngest ever winner of the title, a record retained until Stephen Hendry‘s 1990 victory at the age of 21. In April 1976, Higgins reaches the final again and faces Ray Reardon. Higgins leads 11–9, but Reardon makes four centuries and seven breaks over 60 to pull away and win the title for the fifth time with the score of 27–16. Higgins is also the runner-up to Cliff Thorburn in 1980, losing 18–16, after being 9–5 up. Higgins wins the world title for a second time in 1982 after beating Reardon 18–15 (with a 135 total clearance in the final frame). It was an emotional as well as professional victory for him. Higgins would have been ranked No. 1 in the world rankings for the 1982-1983 season had he not forfeited ranking points following disciplinary action.

Throughout his career, Higgins wins 20 other titles, one of the most notable being the 1983 UK Championship. In the final he trails Steve Davis 0–7 before producing a famous comeback to win 16–15. He also wins the Masters twice, in 1978 and in 1981, beating Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths in the finals respectively. Another notable victory is his final professional triumph in the 1989 Irish Masters at the age of 40 when he defeats a young Stephen Hendry, which becomes known as “The Hurricane’s Last Hurrah.”

Higgins comes to be known as the “People’s Champion” because of his popularity, and is often credited with having brought the game of snooker to a wider audience, contributing to its peak in popularity in the 1980s. He has a reputation as an unpredictable and difficult character. He is a heavy smoker, struggles with drinking and gambling, and admits to using cocaine and marijuana.

First diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, Higgins is found dead in bed in his flat on July 24, 2010. The cause of death is a combination of malnutrition, pneumonia, and a bronchial condition. Higgins’ funeral service is held in Belfast on August 2, 2010. He is cremated and his ashes are interred in Carnmoney Cemetery in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.