seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Teebane Bombing

The Teebane bombing takes place on January 17, 1992 at a rural crossroads between Omagh and Cookstown in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. A roadside bomb destroys a van carrying 14 construction workers who had been repairing a British Army base in Omagh. Eight of the men are killed and the rest are wounded. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) claims responsibility, saying that the workers were killed because they were “collaborating” with the “forces of occupation.”

Since the beginning of its campaign in 1969, the Provisional IRA has launched frequent attacks on British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) bases in Northern Ireland. In August 1985 it begins targeting civilians who offer services to the security forces, particularly those employed by the security forces to maintain and repair its bases. Between August 1985 and January 1992, the IRA kills 23 people who had been working for (or offering services to) the security forces. The IRA also alleges that some of those targeted had links with Ulster loyalist paramilitaries.

On the evening of January 17, 1992, the 14 construction workers leave work at Lisanelly British Army base in Omagh. They are employees of Karl Construction, based in Antrim. They travel eastward in a Ford Transit van towards Cookstown. When the van reaches the rural Teebane Crossroads, just after 5:00 PM, IRA volunteers detonate a roadside bomb containing an estimated 600 pounds (270 kg) of homemade explosives in two plastic barrels. Later estimates report a 1,500 pound (680 kg) device. The blast is heard from at least ten miles away. It rips through one side of the van, instantly killing the row of passengers seated there. The vehicle’s upper part is torn asunder, and its momentum keeps it tumbling along the road for 30 yards. Some of the bodies of the dead and injured are blown into the adjacent field and ditch. IRA volunteers had detonated the bomb from about 100 yards away using a command wire. A car travelling behind the van is damaged in the explosion but the driver is not seriously injured. Witnesses report hearing automatic fire immediately prior to the explosion.

Seven of the men are killed outright. They are William Gary Bleeks (25), Cecil James Caldwell (37), Robert Dunseath (25), David Harkness (23), John Richard McConnell (38), Nigel McKee (22) and Robert Irons (61). The van’s driver, Oswald Gilchrist (44), dies of his wounds in hospital four days later. Robert Dunseath is a British soldier serving with the Royal Irish Rangers. The other six workers are badly injured; two of them are members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). It is the highest death toll from one incident in Northern Ireland since 1988.

The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade claims responsibility for the bombing soon afterward. It argues that the men were legitimate targets because they were “collaborators engaged in rebuilding Lisanelly barracks” and vowed that attacks on “collaborators” would continue.

Both unionist and Irish nationalist politicians condemn the attack. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, however, describes the bombing as “a horrific reminder of the failure of British policy in Ireland.” He adds that it highlights “the urgent need for an inclusive dialogue which can create a genuine peace process.” British Prime Minister John Major visits Northern Ireland within days and promises more troops, pledging that the IRA will not change government policy.

As all of those killed are Protestant, some interpret the bombing as a sectarian attack against their community. Less than three weeks later, the Ulster loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) launches a ‘retaliation’ for the bombing. On February 5, two masked men armed with an automatic rifle and revolver enter Sean Graham’s betting shop on Ormeau Road in an Irish nationalist area of Belfast. The shop is packed with customers at the time. The men fire indiscriminately at the customers, killing five Irish Catholic civilians, before fleeing to a getaway car. The UDA claims responsibility using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters,” ending its statement with “Remember Teebane.” After the shootings, a cousin of one of those killed at Teebane visits the betting shop and says, “I just don’t know what to say but I know one thing – this is the best thing that’s happened for the Provos [Provisional IRA] in this area in years. This is the best recruitment campaign they could wish for.”

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) conducts an investigation into the bombing and releases its report to the families of the victims. It finds that the IRA unit had initially planned to carry out the attack on the morning of January 17 as the workers made their way to work but, due to fog, it was put off until the afternoon. Although suspects were rounded up and there were arrests in the wake of the attack, nobody has ever been charged or convicted of the bombing.

Karl Construction erects a granite memorial at the site of the attack and a memorial service is held there each year. In January 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the attack, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA, Trevor Clarke, whose brother-in-law Nigel McKee at age 22 was the youngest person killed in the bombing, demands that republicans provide the names of the IRA bombers.


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Belfast Nationalists Vote Against Orange Parades

Nationalist residents of Belfast’s Lower Ormeau Road vote overwhelmingly on August 4, 2000 against allowing Orange Order parades through the flashpoint district. Results indicate that over 90% of those polled in a secret vote on the mainly nationalist lower Ormeau area of south Belfast want such parades rerouted.

The nationalist residents’ group, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC), which organised the ballot, says the majority of the 600 people who voted want the parades rerouted. In a statement it says it welcomes the result as “an overwhelming and democratic expression of our community’s desire to live free from sectarian harassment”.

LOCC spokesman Gerard Rice says, “We do not claim to speak for loyalist residents.” He adds that the loyal orders will now have to listen to the people of the area. “The whole point in this exercise was not to vindicate our position, but to set out clearly an informed position as to what exactly the opinion in our community is and has been for many years,” he tells BBC Radio Ulster.

“The Orange Order and other loyal institutions have said for many, many years that really people living on the Ormeau Road want parades. That they are actually a colourful event that people can enjoy. We have said that many people within our community would say parades by the loyal institutions were seen as sectarian, coat trailing exercises, the institutions were seen as anti-Catholic and sectarian organisations. Now we can actually say that 95.9% of our community believe that to be true.”

However, the Belfast County Grand Master of the Orange Order rejects the results of the poll. Dawson Baillie says the vote was unrepresentative because it did not include the staunchly loyalist Donegall Pass area and the Ballynafeigh district above the Ormeau Bridge. “We believe that it’s our right and everyone’s right to walk down a main thoroughfare. We’re not going into side streets on the right hand side of that part of the Ormeau Road or the left hand side. We go straight down the main thoroughfare. Our parade at any given point would take no more than three to four minutes to pass.”

Unionists question the validity of the poll as it excludes nearby loyalist areas. Dawn Purvis of the Progressive Unionist Party says the poll would not help to resolve the situation. “You don’t get people to enter into talks on the basis of no parade. You get people to enter into talks on the basis of an accommodation,” she says. “If that poll had been held to show what concerns the people of Lower Ormeau have over loyal order parades, that would have been better, that would have been a way forward, trying to address the concerns of the residents of the Lower Ormeau Road. LOCC have not been forthcoming with those concerns so the talks haven’t moved forward.”

Reverend Martin Smyth, the Belfast South MP, says it had been “a stage managed exercise” to show how well the group could conduct their business in that area and “to gather support from those who don’t want a procession down that road.”

However, Rice rejects the suggestions that it is unrepresentative because loyalist areas had been left out. Another LOCC representative, John Gormley, says they would welcome equivalent ballots from the loyalist part of the Ormeau area.

Local parish priest Father Anthony Curran says he is satisfied with the conduct of the vote. “A large number of people seem to have come out, a very broad section of the community, elderly young middle-aged, sick. They came free from fear and intimidation.”

A similar poll was last conducted in the Lower Ormeau area in 1995 by management consultants Coopers & Lybrand, when a large majority voted against allowing loyalist marches in the area.

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission has barred the Orange Order from marching through the Lower Ormeau area during its Twelfth of July demonstrations for the previous two years.

(From: “Poll ‘rejects’ loyal order parades” by BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk), August 4, 2000)


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Parades Commission Approves Apprentice Boys’ March

On April 6, 2001, the Northern Ireland Parades Commission agrees to allow an Apprentice Boys march along Belfast’s flashpoint Ormeau Road on Easter Monday. The Belfast Walker Club of the Apprentice Boys is being allowed to march along the mainly nationalist lower Ormeau Road for the first time in nearly two years. The parade, which is opposed by nationalist residents, kicks off the loyalist marching season.

Fifty members and one band take part in the parade but the Commission forbids any music to be played between the two bridges on the Ormeau Road. In its ruling, the Commission says that since the last parade in August 1999, there has been “clear evidence of considerable efforts” by the Apprentice Boys to reach agreement with the residents’ group, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC). It says the LOCC has, in turn, engaged in dialogue with them which has been “sustained and meaningful, notwithstanding spasmodic breaks.” The Commission adds, “It is regrettable that it has not produced agreement or acquiescence. With regard to this decision, the Commission stresses that it provides no guarantees for the future. The Commission will continue to look for evidence of ongoing commitment by LOCC and the Apprentice Boys to find their own resolution to the local issues on the Ormeau Road.”

Apprentice Boys’ spokesman Tommy Cheevers says they are disappointed that agreement has not been reached with the residents. “This is the second time in five years that we will have managed to parade along our traditional route on the Ormeau Road,” he tells BBC Radio Ulster. “We would just ask that everybody accepts the rule of law, as we have had to do in the past when it went against us, and make sure it is peaceful.”

However, the ruling is criticised by LOCC spokesman Gerard Rice. He says he is “absolutely shocked” by the decision, adding he had already asked the Parades Commission for it to be reviewed. “We believe this was the wrong decision. We will ask the Parades Commission to overturn this decision. Failing that, we may go to the courts and ask for a judicial review.” The residents’ group meets with the Commission in the evening to discuss the ruling.

In 2000, the chairman of the Parades Commission praised the behaviour of the Apprentice Boys, after they abided by the decision barring their parade from the lower Ormeau Road. However, there have been violent confrontations at previous parades.

The Parades Commission is established in 1997 to determine whether conditions should be placed on contentious parades in Northern Ireland.

(From: “Green light for contentious parade,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, April 6, 2001)


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Sean Graham Bookmaker’s Shop Shooting

sean-graham-bookmakers-shopA mass shooting takes place at the Sean Graham bookmaker‘s shop on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 5, 1992. Members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary group, open fire on the customers, killing five civilians and wounding another nine. The shop is in an Irish nationalist area, and all of the victims are local Catholic civilians. The UDA claims responsibility using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters”, and says the shooting is retaliation for the Teebane bombing, which had been carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) less than three weeks earlier.

The start of 1992 witnesses an intensification in the campaign of violence being carried out by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) under their UFF covername. However, the Inner Council of the UDA, which contains the six brigadiers that control the organisation, feel that one-off killings are not sending a strong enough message to republicans and so it sanctions a higher-profile attack in which a number of people will be killed at once. On this basis the go-ahead is given to attack Sean Graham bookmaker’s shop on the Irish nationalist Lower Ormeau Road, which is near the UDA stronghold of Annadale Flats. The bookmaker’s shop is chosen by West Belfast Brigadier and Inner Council member Johnny Adair because he has strong personal ties with the commanders of the Annadale UDA. A 1993 report commissioned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch also claims that Adair is the driving force behind the attack.

The attack occurs at 2:20 in the afternoon. A car parks on University Avenue facing the bookmakers and two men, wearing boilersuits and balaclavas, leave the car and cross the Ormeau Road to the shop. One is armed with a vz.58 Czechoslovak assault rifle and the other with a 9mm pistol. They enter the shop and unleash a total of 44 shots on the fifteen customers. Five Catholic men and boys are killed and nine others are wounded, one critically.

In a separate incident, a unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) travels to the area at the time of the attack with the intention of killing a local Sinn Féin activist based on intelligence they had received that he returns home about that time every day. The attack is abandoned, however, when the car carrying the UVF members is passed by speeding RUC vehicles and ambulances. The UVF members, who had already retrieved their weapons for the attack, are said to be livid with the UDA for not coordinating with them beforehand and effectively spoiling their chance to kill a leading local republican.

A UDA statement in the aftermath of the attack claims that the killings are justified as the Lower Ormeau is “one of the IRA’s most active areas.” The statement also includes the phrase “remember Teebane”, suggesting that the killings are in retaliation for the Teebane bombing in County Tyrone less than three weeks earlier. In that attack, the IRA had killed eight Protestant men who were repairing a British Army base. The same statement had also been yelled by the gunmen as they ran from the betting shop.

On February 5, 2002 a plaque is erected on the side of the bookmaker’s shop in Hatfield Street carrying the names of the five victims and the Irish language inscription Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a n-anamacha (“May God have mercy on their souls”). A small memorial garden is later added. The unveiling ceremony, which takes place on the tenth anniversary of the attack, is accompanied by a two-minute silence and is attended by relatives of the dead and survivors of the attack. A new memorial stone is laid on February 5, 2012 to coincide with the publication of a booklet calling for justice for the killings.


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Annie’s Bar Massacre

annies-bar-memorialThe Annie’s Bar massacre, a mass shooting incident in Derry‘s Top of the Hill, takes place on December 20, 1972 during the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles. The bar is located in a small Catholic enclave of the majority Protestant Waterside area of Derry. Five civilians are shot dead by Loyalist paramilitaries from a unit of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) which is a part of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The shooting is also known as the “Top of the Hill bar shooting.”

The UDA is formed in September 1971 during one of the most violent phases of The Troubles right after internment without trial is introduced when a number of Loyalist Defense groups combine together. They form a paramilitary wing, the UFF, in 1972 so the organisation can use the UFF name to carry out violent acts and kill people while keeping the UDA name legal by not involving the UDA name with attacks.

The UDA/UFF claim to be combating the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) but approximately 85% of its victims are innocent Catholic civilians. The UDA carries out its first killing on April 20, 1972 when they shoot dead taxi driver Gerard Donnelly in Ardoyne, Belfast. In October, the group is responsible for the deaths of two small girls when they detonate a car bomb outside an Irish nationalist pub in Sailortown, Belfast. The girls killed are Clare Hughes, age 4, and Paula Strong, age 6.

On December 20, 1972 along the Strabane Old Road, Annie’s Bar is packed with customers watching a football match. At about 10:30 PM two men from the UDA burst into the bar, one of them carrying a Sterling submachine gun and the other holding a pistol. Both are wearing hoods to disguise their identities. The men instantly and indiscriminately spray the main room in the bar with bullets. The attack is reported to have lasted less than a minute but it still manages to leave five people dead and four others wounded. Those killed in the attack are all males and include, Charlie McCafferty (31), Frank McCarron (58), Charles Moore (31), Barney Kelly (26) and Michael McGinley (37). At the time this is the largest and most deadly attack carried out by the UDA. They do not carry out another attack of this size until February 1992, when they shoot dead five civilians and injure nine in the Sean Graham bookmakers’ shooting on the Ormeau Road in Belfast.

The year 1972 in Derry begins with the Bloody Sunday shooting which occurs in the Bogside area and ends with the Annie’s Bar shooting. Nobody is ever charged in connection with the Annie’s Bar murders, although in recent years relatives of those murdered have been calling for a fresh investigation to take place.

The attack is carried out by members from the UDA’s “North Antrim & Londonderry Brigade.” Although this is one of the UDA’s smaller brigades it also carries out the October 1993 Greysteel massacre which is the UDA’s worst ever attack, in which eight people are killed and 19 others are injured. The Greysteel shooting happens about 9-10 miles away from Annie’s Bar.

(Pictured: Annie’s Bar Memorial stone located at Strabane Old Road, Top of the Hill, Waterside, Derry, County Derry, Northern Ireland. Annie’s Bar is in the background. Photo taken by Martin Melaugh, November 20, 2008.)