seamus dubhghaill

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

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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)


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Birth of UUP Politician Harold McCusker

harold-mccuskerJames Harold McCusker, Northern Ireland Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) politician who serves as the Deputy Leader of the UUP Assembly Group from 1982–1986, is born on February 7, 1940.

The youngest son of Jim and Lily McCusker, McCusker is born and raised in the heart of Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. He is educated at Lurgan Model Primary School, Lurgan College and Stranmillis University College, before qualifying as a teacher. Before entering politics he works in industry, latterly with Goodyear, in their Craigavon Plant.

McCusker represents the Armagh constituency, and is first returned to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom at the February 1974 general election. He is returned again in October 1974 and in the 1979 election. In 1982 he tops the poll in Armagh in the Assembly election.

At the 1983 general election, McCusker is returned for the new seat of Upper Bann. Alongside other Unionist MPs, he resigns his seat in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, in order to contest his seat again at the ensuing by-election. He is returned again at the 1987 general election, which proves to be his last as he dies of cancer in 1990, causing another by-election, which is won by future Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

McCusker is an Orangeman and staunch Unionist. Prior to his death in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on February 12, 1990, five days after his 50th birthday, McCusker is expected to rise further in the Ulster Unionist Party and British political scenes, due to his ability and popularity among his peers and the wider public. He is a member of the Methodist Church in Ireland (Lurgan circuit).

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Publication of the First Issue of the “Northern Star”

northern-starThe first issue of the Northern Star, the newspaper of the Society of United Irishmen, is published in Belfast on January 4, 1792. It is published from 1792 until its suppression by the British army in May 1797.

The publication of an Irish newspaper that reflects and disseminates liberal views is an early goal of Irish republicans in the late 18th century. By the founding of the Society of United Irishmen in October 1791, the project is well underway and the first edition of the Northern Star appears in Belfast in January 1792. Like the United Irishmen, the first financial backers of the Northern Star are Presbyterian and one of the United Irish leadership, Samuel Neilson, is made editor.

Political content dominates the Northern Star but its publication of local news, as opposed to the focus on British and international affairs of other Irish newspapers of the time, brings it wide popularity. Leading members of the United Irishmen are regular contributors and mixed direct political analyses with cutting political satire. William Orr is among those who contributed to its content and his letters lead to his eventual arrest and execution under the Insurrection Act of 1797. The newspaper also enjoys an excellent voluntary distribution network as its penetration follows rapidly wherever the United Irishmen set up new branches. It was estimated that for each copy of the Northern Star sold there are at least five readers, as the reading aloud of articles from the paper is a regular feature of United Irish meetings.

The newspaper is initially protected from the authorities due to the support of well-connected liberals but following the outbreak of war between Great Britain and Revolutionary France in 1793 and the subsequent banning of the United Irishmen as a seditious body it begins to draw increasing attention. The massive popularity of the newspaper protects it from serious harassment until January 1797 when the establishment goes into a state of panic following the French invasion scare at Bantry Bay. The paper is alleged to be behind the Dublin-based Union Star, a militant, low-circulation newssheet, often posted in public places, which specializes in naming informers, “notorious Orangemen,” and other enemies of the United Irishmen, being regarded by Dublin Castle as a republican hitlist.

The extensive distribution network and potency of the Northern Star in spreading United Irish opinion alarms the authorities and possession of a copy comes to be regarded as an admission of seditious intent. The end finally comes with the uncovering of supposed United Irish infiltration of the Monaghan militia in Belfast, which results in the execution of four soldiers. General Gerard Lake, 1st Viscount Lake, already engaged in a brutal counter-insurgency campaign, is quick to put much of the blame on the Northern Star and requests permission to suppress the paper.

As it turns out, official suppression is not necessary as on May 19, 1797, three days after the execution of their ex-comrades, a mob of Monaghan militiamen anxious to prove their loyalty attack the offices of the Northern Star and destroy not only the printing presses but the building itself. The attack results in the demise of the Northern Star to the undoubted satisfaction of the authorities as no action is taken against those involved in the destruction. The Chartist movement later pays tribute to the Northern Star by using the same name for their newspaper that is founded in 1837 by Feargus O’Connor.

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Funeral of Loyalist Billy Wright

billy-wright-funeralThousands of Ulster loyalists pack the streets of Portadown, County Armagh, on December 30, 1997 for the funeral of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) commander William Stephen “Billy” Wright.

Wright, born in Wolverhampton, England on July 7, 1960, is a prominent Ulster loyalist paramilitary during the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles. He joins the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1975 and becomes commander of its Mid-Ulster Brigade in the early 1990s, taking over from Robin “The Jackal” Jackson. According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Wright is involved in the sectarian killings of up to 20 Catholics, although he is never convicted for any. It is alleged that Wright, like his predecessor, serves as a double agent of the British security forces.

Wright attracts considerable media attention at the Drumcree standoff, where he supports the Orange Order‘s desire to march its traditional route through the Catholic/Irish nationalist area of Portadown. In 1994, the UVF and other paramilitary groups call ceasefires. However, in July 1996, Wright’s unit breaks the ceasefire and carries out a number of attacks, including a sectarian killing. For this, Wright and his Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade are stood down by the UVF leadership. He is expelled from the UVF and threatened with execution if he does not leave Northern Ireland. Wright ignores the threats and, along with many of his followers, defiantly forms the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

In March 1997 Wright is sent to the HM Maze Prison for having threatened the life of a woman. While imprisoned, Wright continues to direct the LVF’s activities. On December 27 of that year, he is assassinated at the prison by Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners as he is led out to a van for a visit with his girlfriend. The LVF carries out a wave of sectarian attacks in retaliation.

Owing to his uncompromising stance as an upholder of Ulster loyalism and opposition to the Northern Ireland peace process, Wright is regarded as a cult hero, cultural icon, and martyr figure by hardline loyalists. His image adorns murals in loyalist housing estates and many of his devotees have tattoos bearing his likeness.

Wright’s funeral procession moves at a snail’s pace on a grey and windy day. Groups of mourners take turns carrying the coffin. Women carry a wreath that simply says “Billy.” Twenty men with tight haircuts and white shirts with black armbands flank the cortège. There is heavy security. Troops stand guard on bridges and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Land Rovers prowl the housing estates. A spotter plane flies overhead. A lone piper plays “Abide With Me” before a banner bearing the letters “LVF.”

Wright is buried at Seagoe Cemetery, Portadown, Northern Ireland.

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Death of the Quinn Brothers in Ballymoney

Three brothers, Jason, Richard and Mark Quinn, are killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in a firebomb attack on their home in Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on July 12, 1998. The crime is committed towards the end of the three-decade period known as “The Troubles.”

The Quinn family, consisting of mother Chrissie and sons Richard, Mark and Jason, live in the Carnany estate in the predominantly Protestant town of Ballymoney. The family is of a mixed religious background. Mother Chrissie is Roman Catholic from a mixed background and the boys’ father Jim Dillon is Catholic. After separating from her estranged husband, Chrissie rears the boys as Protestant “to avoid the hassle.” Chrissie lives with her Protestant partner Raymond Craig in Carnany which is predominately Protestant, reflecting the religious make-up of Ballymoney itself. The boys, aged 9, 10 and 11, attend a local state school and on the evening before their deaths had been helping to build the estate’s Eleventh Night loyalist bonfire. A fourth brother, Lee, is staying with his grandmother in Rasharkin at the time of the attack.

The killings take place at the height of the stand-off over the Orange Order march at Drumcree, which creates a tense atmosphere in various towns across Northern Ireland. In the weeks leading up to the fatal attack, the children’s mother expresses fear that she is not welcome in the area and that there is a possibility the family home might be attacked by loyalists. The Ballymoney Times reports a story the week of the deaths, stating that a resident of the Carnany estate had called in and was concerned about tension in the area adding something serious might happen “unless Catholic residents were left alone.”

The attack occurs at approximately 4:30 in the morning as the inhabitants of the house sleep. A car containing members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary organisation, arrive at the house and throw a petrol bomb through a window at the rear of the house. The petrol bomb is made from a whiskey bottle. The sounds of the boys’ shouting wakes their mother, who finds her bedroom full of smoke. Chrissie Quinn, Raymond Craig and family friend Christina Archibald escape the resulting fire with minor injuries. Chrissie believes the boys have escaped the fire as she is unable to locate them in the dense smoke before she jumps to safety from a first floor window. Two of the brother’s bodies are found in their mother’s bedroom and the other in another bedroom. Chrissie is taken to the hospital and released the next day after receiving minor injuries and shock in the attack.

One man, Garfield Gilmour, is found guilty of murdering the three brothers fifteen months later and is sentenced to life imprisonment after admitting that he had driven three other men to the house to commit the fatal petrol-bombing. Although Gilmour names the three alleged killers, they are never charged due to a lack of concrete evidence. Gilmour’s conviction for murder is reduced to manslaughter on appeal on June 5, 2000 and he is released six years later. Nine days after his release, his life sentence is replaced by a fixed prison sentence of 14 years.

(Pictured: The Quinn brothers. Left to right: Jason, Mark, Richard)

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Belfast’s Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday or Belfast’s Bloody Sunday is a day of violence in Belfast, Ireland (present-day Northern Ireland) on July 10, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

Belfast sees almost 500 people die in political violence between 1920 and 1922. Violence in the city breaks out in the summer of 1920 in response to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Detective Oswald Swanzy after Sunday services outside a Protestant church in nearby Lisburn. Seven thousand Catholics and some Protestant trade unionists are driven from their jobs in the Belfast shipyards and over 50 people are killed in rioting between Catholics and Protestants.

Violence in Belfast wanes until the following summer of 1921. At the time, Irish republican and British authorities are negotiating a truce to end the war, but fighting flares up in Belfast. On June 10, an IRA gunman, Jack Donaghy, ambushes three RIC constables on the Falls Road, fatally wounding one, Thomas Conlon, a Roman Catholic from County Roscommon, who, ironically, is viewed as “sympathetic” to the local nationalists. Over the following three days, at least 14 people lose their lives and 14 are wounded in fighting in the city, including three Catholics who are taken from their homes and killed by uniformed police.

Low-level attacks continue in the city over the next month until another major outbreak of violence that leads to “Bloody Sunday.” On July 8, the RIC attempt to carry out searches in the mainly Catholic and republican enclave around Union Street and Stanhope Street. However, they are confronted by about fifteen IRA volunteers in an hour-long firefight.

On July 9, a truce to suspend the war is agreed in Dublin between representatives of the Irish Republic and the British government, to come into effect at noon on July 11. Many Protestants/unionists condemn the truce as a “sell-out” to republicans.

On the night of July 9/10, hours after the truce is announced, the RIC attempt to launch a raid in the Lower Falls district of west Belfast. Scouts alert the IRA of the raid by blowing whistles, banging dustbin lids and flashing a red light. On Raglan Street, a unit of about fourteen IRA volunteers ambush an armoured police truck, killing one officer and wounding at least two others.

This sparks an outbreak of ferocious fighting between Catholics and Protestants in west Belfast the following day, Sunday July 10, in which 16 civilians lose their lives and up to 200 houses are destroyed. Of the houses destroyed, 150 are owned by Catholics. Most of the dead are civilians and at least four of the Catholic victims are ex-World War I servicemen.

Protestants, fearful of absorption into a Catholic Ireland and blindly angered by the presence of heresy and treason in their midst, strike at the Catholic community while vengeful Catholics strike back with counter-terror. Gun battles rage all day along the sectarian “boundary” between the Catholic Falls and Protestant Shankill districts and rival gunmen use rifles, machine guns and grenades in the clashes. Gunmen are seen firing from windows, rooftops and street corners. A loyalist mob, several thousand strong, attempt to storm the Falls district, carrying petrol and other flammable materials.

A tram travelling from the Falls into the city centre is struck by snipers’ bullets, and the service has to be suspended. Catholics and republicans claim that police, mostly from the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), drive through Catholic enclaves in armoured cars firing indiscriminately at houses and bystanders. The police return to their barracks late on Sunday night, allegedly after a ceasefire has been agreed by telephone between a senior RIC officer and the commander of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, Roger McCorley.

The truce is due to come into effect at midday on Monday, July 11, but violence resumes that morning. Three people are shot dead that day, including an IRA volunteer who is shot minutes before midday. In the north the official truce does not end the fighting. While the IRA is involved in the violence, it does not control the actions of the Catholic community. Tuesday July 12 sees the Orange Order‘s annual Twelfth marches pass off peacefully and there are no serious disturbances in the city. However, sporadic violence resumes on Wednesday, and by the end of the week 28 people in all have been killed or fatally wounded in Belfast.

The violence of the period in Belfast is cyclical, and the events of July 1921 are followed by a lull until a three-day period beginning on August 29, when another 20 lives are lost in the west and north of the city. The conflict in Belfast between the IRA and Crown forces and between Catholics and Protestants continues until the following summer, when the northern IRA is left isolated by the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in the south and weakened by the rigorous enforcement of internment in Northern Ireland.

At the time the day is referred to as “Belfast’s Bloody Sunday.” However the title of “Bloody Sunday” is now more commonly given in Ireland to events in Dublin in November 1920 or Derry in January 1972.

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Opening of the Albany New Theatre

theatre-royal-1821The Albany New Theatre opens in Hawkins Street, Dublin, on January 18, 1821.

In 1820, Henry Harris purchases a site in Hawkins Street and builds the 2,000–seat Albany New Theatre on the site at a cost of £50,000. The theatre is designed by architect Samuel Beazley. The construction work is not completed at the time of opening and early audience figures are so low that a number of side seating boxes are boarded up.

In August 1821, George IV attends a performance at the Albany and, as a consequence, a patent is granted. The name of the theatre is changed to the “Theatre Royal” to reflect its status as a patent theatre.

On December 14, 1822, the Bottle Riot occurs during a performance of She Stoops to Conquer attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Marquess Wellesley. Orangemen angered by Wellesley’s conciliation of Catholics jeer him during the national anthem, and a riot ensues after a bottle is thrown at him. Wellesley’s overreaction, including charging three rioters with attempted murder, undermines his own credibility.

In 1830, Harris retires from the theatre and a Mr. Calcraft takes on the lease. The theatre attracts a number of famous performers, including Niccolò Paganini, Jenny Lind, Tyrone Power, and Barry Sullivan. By 1851, the theatre is experiencing financial problems and closes briefly. It reopens in December under John Harris, who had been manager of the rival Queen’s Theatre. The first production under Harris is a play by Dion Boucicault. Boucicault and his wife are to make their first Dublin personal appearances in the Royal in 1861 in his The Colleen Bawn. The first performance of Boucicault’s play Arrah-na-Pogue is held at the theatre in 1864, with Boucicault, Samuel Johnson, John Brougham, and Samuel Anderson Emery in the cast.

The theatre burns to the ground on February 9, 1880.