seamus dubhghaill

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


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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)

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The Rathlin Island Massacre

bruces-castle-ruinsThe Rathlin Island massacre takes place on Rathlin Island, off the coast of what is now Northern Ireland, on July 26, 1575. More than 600 Scots and Irish are killed.

Rathlin Island is used as a sanctuary because of its natural defences and rocky shores. In earlier times, when the wind blows from the west it is almost impossible to land a boat. It is also respected as a hiding place, as it is the one-time abode of Saint Columba. Installing themselves in Rathlin Castle (also known as Bruce’s Castle), the MacDonnells of Antrim make Rathlin their base for resistance to the Enterprise of Ulster. Their military leader, Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Scottish Gaelic: Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill) and other Scots have thought it prudent to send their wives, children, elderly, and sick to Rathlin Island for safety.

Acting on the instructions of Sir Henry Sidney and the Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys take the castle by storm. Drake uses two cannons to batter the castle and when the walls give in, Norreys orders direct attack on July 25, and the Garrison surrenders. Norreys sets the terms of surrender, whereupon the constable, his family, and one of the hostages are given safe passage and all other defending soldiers are killed. On July 26, 1575, Norreys’ forces hunt the old, sick, very young and women who are hiding in the caves. Despite the surrender, they kill all the 200 defenders and more than 400 civilian men, women and children. Sir Francis Drake is also charged with the task of preventing any Scottish reinforcement vessels from reaching the island.

The entire family of Sorley Boy MacDonnell perishes in the massacre. Essex, who orders the killings, boasts in a letter to Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s secretary and spymaster, that Sorley Boy MacDonnell watched the massacre from the mainland helplessly and was “like to run mad from sorrow.”

Norreys stays on the island and tries to rebuild the walls of the castle so that the English might use the structure as a fortress. As Drake is not paid to defend the island, he departs with his ships. Norreys realises that it is not possible to defend the island without intercepting Scottish galleys and he returns to Carrickfergus in September 1575.

(Pictured: the ruins of Rathlin Castle)


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Birth of Geoffrey Henry Cecil Bing, Barrister & Politician

geoffrey-henry-cecil-bingGeoffrey Henry Cecil Bing, British barrister and politician who serves as the Labour Party Member of Parliament for Hornchurch from 1945 to 1955, is born on July 24, 1909 at Craigavad near Belfast in what is now Northern Ireland.

Bing is educated at Rockport School and Tonbridge School before going on to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he reads history. He graduates with a second-class degree in 1931, before attending Princeton University, where he is a Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellow between 1932 and 1933. He is called to the bar from the Inner Temple in 1934.

Always a radical and a member of the socialist left, Bing is active in the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and the National Council for Civil Liberties. During the Spanish Civil War, he joins the International Brigades as a journalist, barely avoiding capture at Bilbao. He is also an early anti-Nazi.

During World War II, Bing serves in the Royal Corps of Signals, attaining the rank of major. A 1943 experiment with parachutes at the GSO2 Airborne Forces Development Centre leaves him disfigured and he bears the scars for many years.

At the 1945 general election, Bing stands for Labour in Hornchurch, winning the seat. He is re-elected in 1950 and 1951, serving until 1955. He serves briefly as a junior whip in 1945-1946 but this is widely thought to have been the unintended result of confusion on the part of Clement Attlee, who confuses him for another Labour MP of a similar name.

On the backbenches, Bing is, according to his Times obituary, “the unrestrained leader of a small group of radicals, never fully trusted by their colleagues and known as ‘Bing Boys.'” He takes a particular interest in the cases of Timothy Evans and John Christie, and he supports the campaign to overturn the conviction of Evans, which is ultimately successful. He supports Communist China and takes a keen interest in Northern Ireland, the brewers’ monopoly and parliamentary procedure.

Bing also builds a practice in West Africa. He becomes close to Kwame Nkrumah, the first post-colonial president of Ghana and is appointed Ghana’s attorney-general, a post he holds until 1961. When Nkrumah is ousted in 1966, Bing is arrested and ill-treated, before being sent home some months later. His memoir of Nkrumah’s Ghana, Reap the Whirlwind, is published in 1968.

Geoffrey Henry Cecil Bing dies in London on April 24, 1977 at the age of 67.


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Birth of Former Politician John Cushnahan

Portrait of MEP John Walls CUSHNAHANJohn Walls Cushnahan, former politician in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 23, 1948. He serves as leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and then as a Member of the European Parliament for Fine Gael.

Cushnahan is educated at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School and Queen’s University, Belfast and works as a teacher before going into politics. He works as General Secretary of the Alliance Party from 1974 until 1982 and is a member of Belfast City Council between 1977 and 1985.

In 1982 Cushnahan is elected to the Prior Assembly for North Down and two years later he becomes the new leader of Alliance, succeeding Oliver Napier. During his tenure as leader he seeks to strengthen the party’s links with the British Liberal Party. The Anglo Irish Agreement is signed during this period and Cushnahan faces the difficult position of giving Alliance support to it and facing the united opposition of the Unionist parties. However, when the Assembly is dissolved in 1986, Cushnahan finds it financially difficult to remain in politics and so stands down as leader in 1987 to be succeeded by John Alderdice.

Two years later Cushnahan makes a surprise political comeback when he moves to the Republic of Ireland and stands as a Fine Gael candidate in the 1989 election to the European Parliament, winning a seat in the Munster constituency. He is an MEP for fifteen years before retiring at the 2004 elections.

Cushnahan now serves as a board member of the peace and reconciliation charity Co-operation Ireland.


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The Glasdrumman Ambush

glasdrumman-ambush-ni-mapThe Glasdrumman ambush, an attack by the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) against a British Army observation post, takes place on July 17, 1981 at a scrapyard in Glasdrumman, County Armagh, southwest of Crossmaglen.

The crisis, triggered by the 1981 Irish hunger strike of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners, leads to an increase in militant Irish republican activity in Northern Ireland. British intelligence reports unveil IRA intentions of mounting illegal checkpoints and hijacking vehicles on the IRA-controlled roads in South County Armagh, near the Irish border. To counter it, the British Army deploy the so-called COPs (close observation platoons), small infantry sections acting as undercover units, a tactic introduced by Major General Richard Trant in 1977.

On May 6, 1981, a day after the death of hunger-striker Bobby Sands, one IRA member from a three-man unit is arrested while trying to set up a roadblock east of the main Belfast-Dublin road by twelve members of the Royal Green Jackets, divided in three teams. A second volunteer crosses the border, only to be arrested by the Irish Army. The third IRA man escapes, apparently injured. A total of 689 rounds are fired by the soldiers.

After this initial success, the British Army continues these tactics. On July 16, another operation is carried out by eighteen Royal Green Jackets soldiers. That night, four concealed positions – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta – are inserted into the Glassdrumman area, around a scrapyard along the border. The plan is that another unit, called the triggering team, would ambush any IRA unit on sight, while the other four would block the expected escape routes. On July 17, the commanders in charge of Alpha and Delta teams, suspecting that the operation has been compromised by the presence of local civilians, orders the withdrawal of their men. Shortly thereafter, Bravo team is suddenly engaged by automatic fire from an M60 machine gun and AR-15 rifles fired by six or seven IRA members. The concealed position, emplaced inside a derelict van, is riddled by more than 250 bullets. The team’s leader, Lance Corporal Gavin Dean, is killed instantly and one of his men, Rifleman John Moore, is seriously wounded. Moore is later awarded the Military Medal. The IRA members fire their weapons from across the border, 160 yards away.

British army commanders conclude that “it was not worth risking the lives of soldiers to prevent an IRA roadblock being set up.” The incident also exposes the difficulties of concealing operations from local civilians in South Armagh, whose sympathy with the IRA is manifest. Several years later, the IRA would repeat its success against undercover observation posts in the course of Operation Conservation in 1990.


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The Falls Curfew

falls-curfewThe Falls Curfew, also called the Battle of the Falls, a British Army operation in the Falls Road district of Belfast, Northern Ireland takes place on July 3-5, 1970.

The Northern Ireland riots of August 1969 mark the beginning of the Troubles. In Belfast, Catholic Irish nationalists clash with Protestant Ulster loyalists and the mainly-Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland’s police force. Hundreds of Catholic homes and businesses are burned and more than 1,000 families, mostly Catholics, are forced to flee. The rioting ends with Operation Banner, the deployment of British troops.

A week before the Falls Curfew, on Saturday, June 27, 1970, there is severe rioting in Belfast following marches by the Protestant/unionist Orange Order. At the Short Strand, a Catholic enclave in a Protestant part of the city, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) fights a five-hour gun battle with loyalists. Three people are killed and the loyalists withdraw. The Provisional IRA presents itself as having successfully defended a vulnerable Catholic enclave from armed loyalist mobs.

Meanwhile, the Official IRA arranges for a large number of weapons to be brought into the mainly nationalist and Catholic Lower Falls area for distribution. The area is a stronghold of the Official IRA.

The operation begins at about 4:30 PM on Friday, July 3, as a search for weapons in the staunchly Irish nationalist district. As the search ends, local youths attack the British soldiers with stones and petrol bombs and the soldiers respond with CS gas. This quickly develops into gun battles between British soldiers and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After four hours of continuous clashes, the British commander seals off the area, which comprises 3,000 homes, and imposes a curfew which lasts 36 hours. Thousands of British troops move into the curfew zone and carry out house-to-house searches for weapons, while coming under intermittent attack from the IRA and rioters. The searches cause much destruction, and a large amount of CS gas is fired into the area. Many residents complain of suffering abuse at the hands of the soldiers. On July 5, the curfew is brought to an end when thousands of women and children from Andersonstown march into the curfew zone with food and groceries for the locals.

During the operation, four civilians are killed by the British Army, at least 78 people are wounded and 337 are arrested. Eighteen soldiers are also wounded. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition are captured. The British Army admits afterwards that some of its soldiers had been involved in looting.

The Falls Curfew is a turning point in the Troubles. It is seen as having turned many Catholics/Irish nationalists against the British Army and having boosted support for the IRA.

(Pictured: British soldiers on the Falls Road during the 1970 curfew)


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David Trimble Resigns as NI’s First Minister

david-trimbleProtestant leader David Trimble resigns as Northern Ireland‘s First Minister on June 30, 2001, plunging the British province into a political vacuum and threatening a hard-won peace deal with minority Roman Catholics.

In the hours leading up to Trimble’s midnight resignation, there are minor clashes between the two sides as the Protestant “marching season,” an annual flashpoint for trouble, starts in Belfast.

Trimble, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Catholic leader John Hume for their part in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, precipitates the crisis by submitting a post-dated resignation letter several weeks earlier in protest of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) refusal to disarm as part of the deal.

Trimble, who is attending a commemoration of the World War I Battle of the Somme in France when the resignation comes into effect at midnight, appoints Trade Minister Reg Empey, a member of his Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), to take over his duties.

Under the landmark Good Friday Agreement, the power-sharing government of Catholics and Protestants that Trimble has headed has a six-week period to either re-install Trimble or replace him before the Northern Irish Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive are suspended. If such steps fail, Britain can call new provincial elections or re-impose direct rule from London.

As Trimble leaves the province, police and British troops mount a strong presence to head off trouble during a parade by the Protestant Orange Order institution. There are only minor scuffles between police and residents as a concrete and steel barrier is put up by security forces to seal off the Catholic enclave ahead of the march.

A spokesman for Trimble’s UUP says Empey’s appointment is intended to “shore up the political institutions and ensure its representation in the government.” Empey says his role is to perform the functions of First Minister but not take the title or salary. He says his party will not share power with the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) political arm Sinn Féin unless the guerrilla group starts to disarm.

Sinn Fein leaders denounce Trimble’s resignation as an evasion of responsibility for peace in the province. The IRA says it wants a permanent peace and security sources say there is no sign of a return-to-war mood in the ranks of the guerrilla group. It has twice opened up arms dumps for international inspection to prove that the weapons have not been used, but Protestant politicians say that is not enough.