seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

milltown-cemetery-attackThe Milltown Cemetery attack, also known as the Milltown Cemetery killings or the Milltown Massacre, takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional Irish Republican Army members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three were allegedly preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but their deaths outrage republicans as the three are unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes.

The “Gilbraltar Three” are scheduled to be buried in the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery on March 16. For years, republicans had complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which had led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) would instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Present at the funeral are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead.

Michael Stone, a loyalist and member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), learns there are to be no police or armed IRA members at the cemetery. As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones.

As Stone runs towards the nearby motorway, a large crowd begins chasing him and he continues shooting and throwing grenades. Some of the crowd catches Stone and begin beating him, but he is rescued by the police and arrested. Three people are killed and more than 60 wounded in the attack. The “unprecedented, one-man attack” is filmed by television news crews and causes shock around the world.

Three days later, two British Army corporals drive into the funeral procession of one of the Milltown victims. The non-uniformed soldiers are dragged from their car by an angry crowd, beaten and then shot dead by the IRA, in what becomes known as the corporals killings.

In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

(Pictured: The funeral at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast moments before the attack by Michael Stone)

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Ahern & Blair Push for Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

ahern-and-blair-1998At an informal European Union summit near Bonn on February 26, 1999, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agree to push for implementation of the Good Friday Agreement by the March 10 deadline.

As EU delegates discuss the Union’s budget and Europe‘s farming subsidies, the two prime ministers vow to battle on with the peace deal’s outstanding problems.

“We’re very clear on what we have to do in the Good Friday agreement … we have just got to keep pushing the thing forward as well as we possibly can,” says Blair.

Both Ahern and Blair say the way forward on the outstanding deadlocked issue of paramilitary disarmament is through the official decommissioning commission. Chaired by former Canadian General John de Chastelain, the international commission is working to take arms out of the province’s political arena.

The republican party Sinn Féin insists it is fully cooperating with the commission, which is implementing the final deadline for the handover of arms in May 2000. But some Ulster Unionists oppose further peace moves because of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) failure to begin disarming.

According to Ahern and Blair, the following few weeks will be a key time to try and finalise disarmament issues.

“During the month of March … we can conclude the central aspects,” says Blair.

However, in a separate development on February 26, the chairman of the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin, warns that pressure on disarmament could cause irreparable damage to the fragile peace process. He adds that disarmament should not become a litmus test for progress.

“Those who are now demanding prior decommissioning before we move to setting up the executive are reneging on the Good Friday Agreement,” says McLaughlin in an interview with BBC Radio.

(From BBC News Online Network, Friday, February 26, 1999 | Pictured: Bertie Ahern with Tony Blair at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998)


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Cumann na mBan Rejects Anglo-Irish Treaty

cumann-na-mban

Cumann na mBan (Irishwomen’s Council), at the behest of Constance Markievicz, votes overwhelmingly to reject the Anglo-Irish Treaty on February 5, 1922. During the Irish Civil War, over 400 members of the movement are arrested by the Irish Free State Government.

Cumann na mBan is an Irish republican women’s paramilitary organisation formed in Dublin on April 2, 1914, merging with and dissolving Inghinidhe na hÉireann and, in 1916, it becomes an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers. Although it is otherwise an independent organisation, its executive is subordinate to that of the Volunteers.

On January 7, 1922 the Anglo-Irish Treaty is approved by the Second Dáil by a close vote of 64–57. On February 5 a convention is held to discuss this, and 419 Cumann na mBan members vote against as opposed to 63 in favour. In the ensuing Civil War, its members largely support the anti-Treaty Republican forces. Over 400 of its members are imprisoned by the forces of the Provisional government which becomes in December 1922 the Irish Free State. Some of those who support the Treaty change the name of their branches to Cumann na Saoirse, while others retain their name but give allegiance to the Free State Government.

Cumann na mBan continues to exist after the Treaty, forming (alongside Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Army, Fianna Éireann and other groups) part of the Irish republican milieu. The government of the Irish Free State bans the organisation in January 1923 and opens up Kilmainham Gaol as a detention prison for suspect women.

Its membership strength is adversely affected by the many splits in Irish republicanism, with sections of the membership resigning to join Fianna Fáil, Clann na Poblachta and other parties. Máire Comerford, a lifelong member from 1914, reflects in later years that it became a “greatly weakened organisation” that “gathered speed downhill” from the founding of Fianna Fáil in 1926.


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Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

anglo-irish-agreementThe Anglo-Irish Agreement, an accord that gives the government of Ireland an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, is signed by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on November 15, 1985, at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, Northern Ireland. Considered one of the most significant developments in British-Irish relations since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the agreement provides for regular meetings between ministers in the Irish and British governments on matters affecting Northern Ireland. It outlines cooperation in four areas: political matters, security and related issues, legal matters, including the administration of justice, and the promotion of cross-border cooperation.

The agreement is negotiated as a move toward easing long-standing tension between Britain and Ireland on the subject of Northern Ireland, although Northern Irish unionists, who are in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom, are themselves strongly opposed to giving their southern neighbour a say in domestic matters. Many political leaders, including Thatcher, who has been strongly committed to British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, have come to believe that a solution to years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland can only be achieved by means of an all-Ireland arrangement.

Such an attempt had previously been made in 1973. A power-sharing executive, composed of Irish nationalists as well as unionists, was set up in Northern Ireland, and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave participated in talks with British Prime Minister Edward Heath that resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement. That accord recognized that Northern Ireland’s relationship with Britain could not be changed without the agreement of a majority of its population, and it provided for the establishment of a Council of Ireland composed of members from both the Dáil Éireann (the lower chamber of the Oireachtas) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That agreement collapsed in May 1974 because of a general strike inspired by unionist opponents of power sharing.

In 1981 FitzGerald launches a constitutional crusade to make the reunification of Ireland more attractive to Northern Ireland’s Protestants. At the end of the year, the Irish and British governments set up an Anglo-Irish intergovernmental council to discuss matters of common concern, especially security. In 1984 the report of the New Ireland Forum, a discussion group that includes representatives of political parties in Ireland and Northern Ireland, sets out three possible frameworks for political development in Ireland: a unitary state, a federal state, and joint sovereignty. Of Ireland’s major political parties, Fianna Fáil prefers a unitary state, which Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party regard as unrealistic. They prefer the federal option.

Also in the early 1980s, in Northern Ireland, John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a member of the British Parliament, gathers the support of prominent Irish American political leaders in condemning the use of violence and urging Irish Americans not to support the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization that often uses violent means to bring an end to British rule in Northern Ireland. Hume’s group also encourages United States President Ronald Reagan to persuade Thatcher to pursue closer relations with Ireland.

In the improved political climate between Britain and Ireland, leaders of the two countries sit down to negotiations. Ireland and Britain agree that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and an intergovernmental conference is established to deal with political, security, and legal relations between the two parts of the island. The agreement is a blow to Northern Ireland’s unionists, because it establishes a consultative role for the government of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and other unionists denounce the agreement, and UUP members of Parliament resign their seats over the issue, although 14 are returned in by-elections in 1986. The party organizes mass protests and boycotts of local councils and files a lawsuit challenging the legality of the agreement. However, these efforts, which are joined by the Democratic Unionist Party, fail to force abrogation of the agreement.

Contacts between the Irish and British governments continue after February 1987 within the formal structure of the intergovernmental conference. Fears that the violence in Northern Ireland would spill into Ireland as a consequence of closer Anglo-Irish cooperation in the wake of the agreement proves unfounded, and the UUP decides to participate in new negotiations on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in 1990–93. After republican and unionist forces declare cease-fires in 1994, the UUP reluctantly joins discussions with the British and Irish governments and other political parties of Northern Ireland. No deal accepted by all sides is reached until the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which creates the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions.

(From: “Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Lorraine Murray, Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com, November 12, 2010)


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IRA Refuses to Disband in Response to Ultimatums

gerry-adams-2002On October 27, 2002, after comments by the British prime minister Tony Blair that the continued existence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) is an obstacle to rescuing the Northern Ireland peace process, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams says the IRA is never going to disband in response to ultimatums from the British government and from unionists.

Nationalists throughout Ireland wish to see the end of the IRA. In a response to a major speech by Adams, Mark Durkan, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), says IRA activity is playing into the hands of anti-Agreement unionists and calls on the IRA to cease all activity.

Adams tells elected Sinn Féin representatives from both sides of the Irish border in Monaghan that he can envision a future without the IRA. He also admits that “alleged” IRA activities are boosting the cause of those opposing the Northern Ireland peace process. However, he also tells Tony Blair that the IRA will never disband in response to ultimatums.

“He needs to recognise, however, that the Agreement requires an end to paramilitarism and that nationalists throughout this island fervently want one. It is time that republicans took heed of their call.”

The former Deputy First Minister in the devolved administration at Stormont says he welcomes Adams’ recognition that IRA activity is exacerbating the difficulties within unionism. “The reality is that IRA activity is playing right into the hands of anti-Agreement unionists. And letting the nationalist community badly down,” he said.

“It is also welcome that Gerry Adams has begun to recognise Sinn Féin’s credibility crisis. Too often republican denials have proved to be false in the past – be it over Colombia or Florida. This too has served only to create distrust and destabilise the Good Friday Agreement,” he adds.

In a major speech billed by his party as a considered response to the Prime Minister’s demand for an end to Republican-linked violence, Adams declares “Our view is that the IRA cessations effectively moved the army out of the picture – and allowed the rest of us to begin an entirely new process.” His speech is understood to have been handed in advance to both the British and Irish governments.

Adams says the continued IRA ceasefire and decommissioning initiatives demonstrated the organisation’s commitment to the peace process. “I do not pretend to speak for the army (IRA) on these matters but I do believe that they are serious about their support for a genuine peace process. They have said so. I believe them,” he said. He adds, “The IRA is never going to respond to ultimatums from the British government or David Trimble.”

Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern later says he welcomes and is encouraged by many aspects of Adams’ speech. He says the Sinn Féin leader’s strong statement of determination to keep the peace process intact and the recognition of the need to bring closure to all the key issues is a positive contribution at this difficult time in the Northern Ireland peace process.

(From the Irish Examiner, October 27, 2002)


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Murder of IRA Paramilitary Eamon Collins

eamon-collinsEamon Collins, a Provisional Irish Republican Army paramilitary in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is beaten and stabbed to death near his home in Newry, County Down on January 27, 1999.

Collins grows up in a middle-class Irish family in Camlough, a small, staunchly Irish republican town in County Armagh. After completing his schooling, he works for a time in the Ministry of Defence in a clerical capacity in London before studying law at Queen’s University Belfast, where he becomes influenced by Marxist political ideology. He eventually drops out of university and, after working in a pub for a period, joins Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise Service, serving in Newry, and goes on to use this internal position within the administrative machinery of the British Government to support IRA operations against Crown Forces personnel.

Collins joins the Provisional IRA during the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates in the late 1970s and he becomes involved in street demonstrations. He joins the South Down Brigade of the IRA, based around Newry, and is appointed its intelligence officer.

Collins becomes noted within IRA circles for his hard-line views on the continuance of armed campaign, and later joins its Internal Security Unit. Around this time he has a confrontation with Gerry Adams at the funeral of an IRA man killed in a failed bombing over how to deal with the funeral’s policing, where he accuses Adams a being a “Stick.”

Despite his militarist convictions at this time Collins finds the psychological strain caused by his involvement in the terrorist war increasingly difficult to address. His belief in the martial discipline of the IRA’s campaign is seriously undermined by the March 11, 1982 assassination of Norman Hanna, a 28-year-old Newry man, in front of his wife and young daughter. His uneasy state is further augmented by being arrested on two occasions under anti-terrorism laws, the second including a week of detention and intense interrogation.

Collins subsequently states that the strain of the interrogation merely exacerbates increasing doubts that he has already possessed about the moral justification of the IRA’s terrorist paramilitary campaign and his actions within it. These doubts are made worse by the organization’s senior leadership quietly deciding in the early 1980s that the war has failed and now slowly manoeuvering the movement away from a military campaign to allow its political wing, Sinn Féin, to pursue its purposes by another means in what would become the Northern Ireland peace process.

In 1987, after being charged with several counts of murder and attempted murder, Collins is acquitted as the statement in which he admits to involvement in these acts is ruled legally inadmissible by the court. On release from prison he spends several weeks being counter-interrogated by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, after which he is exiled by the organization from Ulster, being warned that if he is found north of Drogheda after a certain date he will be executed.

After his exile Collins moves to Dublin and squats for a while in a deserted flat in the impoverished Ballymun area of the city. After several years in Dublin, he subsequently moves to Edinburgh, Scotland for a period, where he runs a youth centre.

In 1995 Collins returns to Newry, a district known for the militancy of its communal support of the IRA, with numerous IRA members in its midst. The IRA order exiling him from Ulster has not been lifted, but with a formal ceasefire from the organization and renunciations of violence by all the paramilitary organizations in the province, he deems it safe to move back in with his wife and children who had never left the town.

Rather than maintaining a low profile Collins decides to take a prominent role in the ongoing transition of Ulster’s post-war society, using his personal history as a platform in the media to analyze the adverse effects of terrorism. In May 1998 he gives evidence against leading republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy in a libel case Murphy has brought against The Sunday Times, over a 1985 article naming him as the IRA’s Northern Commander. Murphy denies IRA membership, but Collins takes the witness stand against him, and testifies that from personal experience he knew that Murphy had been a key military leader in the organization. Murphy subsequently loses the libel case and sustains substantial financial losses in consequence. Collins and his family receive numerous threats after the trial.

Collins is beaten and stabbed to death by one or more unidentified assailants early in the morning of January 27, 1999, while walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill. His body also bears marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest comment upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder are that he had returned to Ulster in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish terrorist paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy.

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated by the condition of his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Church in Newry, Collins’ body is buried at the town’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he had helped to organize in 1982.


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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.