seamus dubhghaill

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

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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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Death of IRA Chief of Staff Cathal Goulding

cathal-gouldingCathal Goulding, former Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and the Official IRA, dies in Dublin on December 26, 1998.

Goulding is born on January 2, 1923, one of seven children born on East Arran Street, north Dublin to an Irish republican family. As a teenager Goulding joins Fianna Éireann, the youth wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He joins the IRA in 1939. In December of that year, he takes part in a raid on Irish Army ammunition stores in Phoenix Park, Dublin. In November 1941 he is gaoled for a year in Mountjoy Prison for membership in an unlawful organisation and possession of IRA documents. Upon his release in 1942, he is immediately interned at the Curragh Camp, where he remains until 1944.

In 1945, he is involved in the attempts to re-establish the IRA which has been badly affected by the authorities in both the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. He is among twenty-five to thirty men who meet at O’Neill’s Pub, Pearse Street, to try to re-establish the IRA in Dublin. He organises the first national meeting of IRA activists after the World War II in Dublin in 1946 and is arrested along with John Joe McGirl and ten others and sentenced to twelve months in prison when the gathering is raided by the Garda Síochána.

Upon his release in 1947, Goulding organises IRA training camps in the Wicklow Mountains and takes charge of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade in 1951. In 1953, Goulding, along with Seán Mac Stíofáin and Manus Canning, is involved in an arms raid on the Officers Training Corps armoury at Felsted School, Essex. The three are arrested and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, but are released in 1959 after serving only six years at Pentonville, Wakefield, and Stafford prisons. During his time in Wakefield prison, he befriends EOKA members and Klaus Fuchs, a German-born spy who has passed information about the U.S. nuclear programme to the Soviet Union, and becomes interested in the Russian Revolution.

In 1959, Goulding is appointed IRA Quartermaster General and in 1962 he succeeds Ruairí Ó Brádaigh as IRA Chief of Staff. In February 1966, together with Sean Garland, he is arrested for possession of a revolver and ammunition. In total, Goulding spends sixteen years of his life in British and Irish jails.

Goulding is instrumental in moving the IRA to the left in the 1960s. He argues against the policy of abstentionism and develops a Marxist analysis of Irish politics. He believes the British state deliberately divides the Irish working class on sectarian grounds to exploit them and keep them from uniting and overthrowing their bourgeois oppressors. This analysis is rejected by those who later go on to form the Provisional IRA after the 1969 IRA split.

Goulding remains chief of staff of what becomes known as the Official IRA until 1972. Although the Official IRA, like the Provisional IRA, carries out an armed campaign, Goulding argues that such action ultimately divides the Irish working class. After public revulsion regarding the shooting death of William Best, a Catholic from Derry who is also a British soldier, and the bombing of the Aldershot barracks, the Official IRA announces a ceasefire in 1972.

Goulding is prominent in the various stages of Official Sinn Féin‘s development into the Workers’ Party. He is also involved in the anti-amendment campaign in opposition to the introduction of a constitutional ban on abortion along with his partner, Dr. Moira Woods. However, in 1992, he objects to the political reforms proposed by party leader Proinsias De Rossa and remains in the Workers’ Party after the formation of Democratic Left. He regards the Democratic Left as having compromised socialism in the pursuit of political office.

In his later years, Goulding spends much of his time at his cottage in Raheenleigh near Myshall, County Carlow. He dies of cancer in his native Dublin and is survived by three sons and a daughter. He is cremated and his ashes scattered, at his directive, at the site known as “the Nine Stones” on the slopes of Mount Leinster.

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The McGurk’s Bar Bombing

mcgurks-bombingThe Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) explodes a bomb at McGurk’s Bar, an Irish Catholic-owned pub in Belfast, on December 4, 1971, killing fifteen Catholic civilians including two children and wounding seventeen others. This is the highest death toll from a single incident in Belfast during the Troubles. The bombing sparks a series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists and republicans, which help make 1972 the bloodiest year of the conflict.

On the evening of Saturday, December 4, 1971, a four-man UVF team meets in the Shankill area of Belfast and are ordered to bomb a pub on North Queen Street. According to the only convicted bomber, Robert Campbell, they are told not to return until the job is done. Campbell says that their target had not been McGurk’s, but another pub nearby. It is believed this is a pub called The Gem, which is allegedly linked to the Official Irish Republican Army (IRA). The 50-pound bomb is disguised as a brown parcel, which they place in a car and drive to their target. Campbell says they stop near The Gem at about 7:30 PM, but are unable to gain access to it because there are security guards outside. After waiting for almost an hour, they drive a short distance to McGurk’s. At about 8:45 PM, one of them places the bomb in the porch entrance on Great George’s Street and rushes back to the car. It explodes just moments after they drive off. Campbell implies that McGurk’s had been chosen only because it was “the nearest Catholic pub.”

The blast causes the building to collapse. Bystanders immediately rush to free the dead and wounded from the rubble. Firefighters, paramedics, police, and soldiers are quickly on the scene. Fifteen Catholic civilians are killed, including two children, and an additional seventeen are wounded. The rescue effort lasts many hours.

Within two hours of the blast, a sectarian clash erupts nearby at the New LodgeTiger’s Bay interface. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) move in and a gun battle develops. A British Army officer, Major Jeremy Snow, is shot by the IRA on New Lodge Road and dies of his wounds on December 8. Two RUC officers and five civilians are also wounded by gunfire. Eventually, five companies of troops are sent into the district and they search almost 50 houses.

Meanwhile, the UVF team has driven to a nearby pickup point where they dump their car. They walk to the area of St. Anne’s Cathedral and are picked up by another car. They are driven back to the Shankill area and meet the man who had ordered the attack in an Orange Hall, telling him that “the job has been done.”

Among those killed are Philomena and Maria McGurk, wife and 12-year-old daughter of pub owner Patrick McGurk. Patrick and his three sons are seriously injured. Shortly after the attack, McGurk appears on television calling for no retaliation, “It doesn’t matter who planted the bomb. What’s done can’t be undone. I’ve been trying to keep bitterness out of it.”

In March 1976, the RUC receives intelligence that links UVF member Robert Campbell and four others to the McGurk’s bombing. Campbell is arrested on July 27, 1977 and held at Castlereagh RUC base. He admits his part in the bombing but refuses to name the others.

On July 29, 1977, Campbell is charged with 15 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. On September 6, 1978, he pleads guilty to all charges and receives life imprisonment with “a recommendation to serve no less than 20 years,” in part for a separate conviction for the murder of a Protestant delivery driver in 1976. He is the only person to have been charged for the bombing. He eventually serves fifteen years in prison and is released on September 9, 1993.