seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Máire MacSwiney Brugha, Activist & Author

Máire MacSwiney Brugha, Irish activist who is the daughter of Terence MacSwiney and niece of Mary MacSwiney, is born in Cork, County Cork, on June 23, 1918. In addition to being an activist she is also an author and is now regarded as a person of historical importance.

MacSwiney Brugha is the daughter of the former Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney and his wife Muriel Frances Murphy. Her father dies on hunger strike when she is two years old. Her father is in jail when she is born and does not see her until she is brought to see him when she is three months old. Her family’s republican and political activities leave a strong mark on her life.

Following the death of her father, her mother moves to Dublin. MacSwiney Brugha goes to live with Madame O’Rahilly, widow of The O’Rahilly, and sees her mother intermittently. Although as a child her parents decide she would speak the Irish language, her father’s death and her mother’s health results in her move to Germany in 1923 and there she is moved around a lot. She learns German and speaks no English and little or no Irish. In 1930 she is moved to Grainau in Bavaria, where she attends school. Her aunt, Mary MacSwiney, a legal guardian of hers, eventually comes to collect her and takes her back to Ireland. This causes a court case when it is claimed her aunt had kidnapped her. As a result of the court case her aunt is given custody, and she and her mother became estranged.

MacSwiney Brugha attends Scoil Íte and then St. Louis Secondary School in Monaghan where, in 1936, she completes her Leaving Certificate and gets a scholarship to University College Cork to study arts. In 1937 she plays the lead role in a play, The Revolutionist, published in 1914 and written by her father and produced by her aunt. She returns to Germany in 1938 to keep up her German and graduates with a first-class honours degree. She goes on to get her higher diploma and becomes a teacher. She spends some time teaching in Scoil Íte and then goes to Dublin in 1942 to get a master’s degree. She meets Ruairí Brugha while in Dublin. His father, Cathal Brugha, was killed in the Irish Civil War in 1922. They marry on July 10, 1945. The marriage produces four children: Deirdre, Cathal, Traolach and Ruairí.

MacSwiney Brugha’s husband has a strong political career with her support. He is a senator, a TD, and a member of the European Parliament. She leads her Fianna Fáil cumann and volunteers with the aid agency Gorta. With her husband as Official Opposition Spokesman on Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1977, the couple are very much involved in creating the policy of developing conciliation rather than aimed more at ending partition which they previously have been focused on.

At the age of 85 and after her sight has failed MacSwiney Brugha dictates her story to her daughter-in-law, Catherine Brugha. History’s Daughter: A Memoir from the Only Child of Terence MacSwiney is launched in 2005. Her own story is recorded in Irish Life and Lore. Her story is also the subject of a radio production. She dies unexpectedly at her home in Clonskeagh, County Dublin, at the age of 93 on May 20, 2012. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin describes her as having made a “strong and valued” contribution to the development of Fianna Fáil while Gerry Adams says she “made her mark” on Irish history.

(Pictured: Máire MacSwiney Brugha on her wedding day, July 10, 1945)


Leave a comment

Michael Collins Letter Fetches Record Price at Auction

On February 21, 2003, a letter signed by Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins, written in 1922 upon his return from London, fetches a record price of €28,000 at an auction at James Adam & Sons Ltd. on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green. Estimated to fetch up to €8,000.00, despite fierce bidding by the National Library of Ireland, the letter is purchased by singer Enya’s manager, Mickey Ryan, who says he wants the letter to remain in Ireland.

The letter is a three-page document sent by Collins to prominent Derry republican Louis J. Walsh in 1922, telling him about his opposition to the Northern Ireland border. Replying to a letter from Walsh, he outlines his position regarding negotiations with Winston Churchill and unionist leader James Craig.

The letter is written after Collins returns to Dublin from a meeting in London with Churchill and Craig. He states in the letter that Craig’s stance on partition is seen as “an unreasonable one and not ours.”

“All the British statesmen are agreed that it was most disastrous on Craig’s part to talk about agreeing to nothing less than the six county area,” Collins writes.

Collins expresses his belief that ties would increase between leaders in the north and south, leading to a united Ireland in the long term. He tells Walsh that he is “no lover of partition, no matter what form it appears,” and that any form of partition is “distasteful” to him. “It would be far better to fix our minds for a time on a united Ireland, for this course will not leave minorities which would be impossible to govern,” he writes. He also says he hopes that one day a multi-denominational party might be formed in the north east, developing links with the Free State and destabilising the northern administration.


Leave a comment

Fermanagh County Council Pledges Allegiance to Dáil Éireann

Fermanagh County Council pledges allegiance to Dáil Éireann on December 15, 1921. After the meeting the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) takes over the council chamber.

Fermanagh County Council is the authority responsible for local government in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, between 1899 and 1973. It is originally based at the Enniskillen Courthouse, but moves to County Buildings in East Bridge Street, Enniskillen, in 1960.

Fermanagh County Council is formed under orders issued in accordance with the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 which comes into effect on April 18, 1899. Elections are held using proportional representation until 1922 when it is abolished in favour of first-past-the-post voting. On December 15, 1921, shortly before the partition of Ireland and transfer of power from the Dublin Castle administration, Fermanagh County Council passes a resolution on a 13–10 majority not to recognise the newly formed Parliament of Northern Ireland and pledges their allegiance to the unrecognised republican Second Dáil of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic in Southern Ireland before the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The resolution states, “We, the County Council of Fermanagh, in view of the expressed desire of a large majority of people in this county, do not recognise the partition parliament in Belfast and do hereby direct our Secretary to hold no further communications with either Belfast or British Local Government Departments, and we pledge our allegiance to Dáil Éireann.” In response, the Royal Irish Constabulary evict them from their council offices and confiscate official documents. As a result, the council is temporarily dissolved. The council are replaced by Commissioners appointed by Sir Dawson Bates.

The council is reformed by the time of the 1924 Northern Ireland local elections. As a protest against the abolition of proportional representation nationalist parties boycott the election, allowing unionist parties to take control of the council uncontested. Due to the abolition of proportional representation and gerrymandering, the council always has a unionist majority of councillors elected up until abolition. In 1967, the Government of Northern Ireland passes the County Fermanagh (Transfer of Functions) Order 1967. This makes Fermanagh County Council amalgamate with the smaller Enniskillen Borough Council and the rural district councils in Enniskillen, Irvinestown and Lisnaskea to turn Fermanagh County Council into a unitary authority.

In 1969, the Fermanagh Civil Rights Association publishes a booklet criticising the council and accusing them of favouring the Protestant community over the Catholic community. Some of the accusations include that the council deliberately hires Protestants for skilled local government and school jobs and that they propose to build a new village for Catholics in a gerrymandered district that already has a Catholic majority. The council is abolished in accordance with the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 on October 1, 1973 and replaced by Fermanagh District Council.

(Pictured: Coat of arms of Fermanagh County Council, Northern Ireland)


Leave a comment

Sinn Féin Holds First Formal Talks with the British Government in Over 70 Years

On December 9, 1994, Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), holds its first formal talks with the British Government in over 70 years. The negotiations take place in Belfast, almost one year after Britain and Ireland began an uncertain program to try to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. The first session is held at Stormont, a gigantic, columned edifice on top of a hill on the outskirts of Belfast that houses the old Northern Ireland parliament.

Although the announcement of the negotiations is not a surprise, it still sets off an exciting ripple that history is in the making. British officials have conducted secret talks with Sinn Féin leaders in the past, but never before have they sat down openly at the same table with them.

In both a letter to the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, and in a three-paragraph statement, Downing Street pointedly refers to the meeting as “exploratory dialogue.” This is in keeping with London‘s position that it is simply joining in “talks about talks,” not a full negotiating session, which must involve all parties to the conflict.

For 25 years the IRA has been fighting in the name of the Roman Catholic minority of 650,000 in Northern Ireland. It wants to link Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland that remain British after partition, to the Irish Republic, a move opposed by most of the province’s 950,000 Protestants.

The announcement of talks evoke a predictable pattern of responses across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum. Adams, who works to persuade the IRA to go along with a unilateral cease-fire that was declared on September 1, welcomes it. “The opportunity to realize a lasting peace, which will benefit all of the people of Ireland, has never been greater,” he says in a statement. Adams had been accusing London of foot-dragging on the peace effort. Now, he says, it is time to move on to “the next phase of dialogue — multilateral talks led by both Governments.”

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the main Protestant political group in Northern Ireland, is skeptically accepting, as it has been all along. John Taylor, a Unionist Member of Parliament, says the talks will at least establish whether “Sinn Féin really is to become a normal political party.”

The Rev. Ian Paisley, a Member of Parliament whose Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has become a rejectionist front, continues to oppose talks or any move smacking of compromise. He tells the House of Commons that “a vast majority of people” resent the decision to talk to “the men of blood.”

Sinn Féin is represented at the talks by Martin McGuinness, a veteran IRA political leader who took part in secret contacts that broke up the previous year. In 1972, together with Adams, he was flown to London for a meeting with William Whitelaw, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Those talks eventually failed.

Adams is in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, December 7. He attends a meeting at the White House, his first one there, with Anthony Lake, President Bill Clinton‘s National Security Advisor. Seven weeks earlier, Britain protests vigorously at the thought of Adams visiting the White House. But events moved so swiftly that he gains a kind of legitimacy that is hard for Whitehall to deny. His visa to the United States, good for three months, allows several visits.

The Government team of civil servants, in contrast to higher-level ministers, are led by Quentin Thomas, deputy secretary of the British administration called the Northern Ireland Office.

Going into the negotiations, the key question is what will be discussed. On the British side, the top of the agenda is how to get the IRA to turn over its considerable stash of 100 tons of arms and explosives. There is nothing, of course, that Sinn Féin is less likely to agree to at the outset. So should the British make this a condition for multilateral talks to begin, the two sides will meet an obstacle right away.

McGuinness says that the issue of IRA weapons has to be considered “in the context of us removing the causes of conflict, the reason why people use armed force in our society.”

From its side, Adams says Sinn Féin wants to discuss being treated with “a parity of esteem” with the other parties, and “the release of all political prisoners.”

The British Government says that it will soon hold talks with the so-called loyalist paramilitaries on the Protestant side. And it indicates it will have no objection if elected Sinn Féin councillors attend a major international investment conference in Belfast on December 13 and 14.

(From: “Britain and I.R.A. Group to Begin Talks in Northern Ireland” by John Darnton, The New York Times, December 2, 1994 | Pictured: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness lead a Republican parade in Belfast, commemorating 25 years of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1994)


Leave a comment

Birth of León Ó Broin, Civil Servant, Historian & Author

León Ó Broin, senior civil servant, historian, and author, is born Leo Byrne on November 10, 1902 at 21 Aungier Street, Dublin, the second of four sons of James P. Byrne, a potato factor’s bookkeeper, and Mary Byrne (née Killeen), daughter of a seaman who abandoned his family.

After early education in convent school, Ó Broin attends Synge Street CBS, where he is especially adept at languages. After working in several minor clerical employments, he becomes a clerk in the Kingsbridge headquarters of the Great Southern Railway. Joining a local Sinn Féin club, he canvasses for the party in the College Green ward during the 1918 Irish general election. Sent from an early age to Irish language classes by his father, he attends the Irish summer college in Spiddal, County Galway, and joins the Gaelic League, becoming by early 1921 secretary of central branch. He writes articles for the league’s successive weekly organs, each in its turn suppressed by the authorities. Despite regarding such writing as practice work within a language he is yet learning, he is selected best writer of Irish at the 1920 Dublin feis.

Arrested with his father and two brothers just before Christmas 1920 when Black and Tans discover a letter in Irish on his person during a house raid, Ó Broin is imprisoned for several weeks in Wellington Barracks. Leaving his railway job, he works as a clerk in the clandestine office of the Dáil Éireann Department of Agriculture (1921–22). During the Irish Civil War, with departmental work at a standstill, he joins the National Army as a commissioned officer assigned to general headquarters staff at Portobello Barracks. Having recently commenced legal studies at the King’s Inns and University College Dublin (UCD), he handles army legal matters, such as compensation claims for damage to property.

Called to the bar in 1924, Ó Broin enters the civil service. Assigned to the Department of Education (1925–27), he was involved in launching the Irish language publishing imprint An Gúm, intended to redress the paucity of reading material, apart from school texts, in the language. Transferred to the Department of Finance (1927), he serves as estimates officer and parliamentary clerk, and is assistant secretary of the economy committee established by the Cumann na nGaedheal government to make recommendations on reductions in current expenditure. Appointed private secretary to the Minister for Finance (1931–32), he serves both Ernest Blythe and the first Fianna Fáil minister, Seán MacEntee. Promoted to assistant principal (1932), and to principal officer (1939), he represents the department on the Irish Folklore Commission, and serves on the interdepartmental committee that, after the disastrous Kirkintilloch bothy fire in 1937, investigates seasonal migration to Scotland. During the emergency he is regional commissioner for Galway and Mayo (1940–45), one of eight such officers charged with organising contingency preparations for dealing with the likely collapse of central administration in the event of invasion by any of the wartime belligerents.

Transferred out of Finance, Ó Broin becomes assistant secretary (1945–48) and secretary (1948–67) of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, administering both the postal service and telecommunications. He works closely with Fianna Fáil minister Patrick Little to improve the range and quality of music offered by the broadcasting service, playing a large part in the decision to form and adequately staff a full Radio Éireann symphony orchestra. He represents Ireland in several post-war conferences in Europe and America that reorganise the international regulation of broadcasting activities. He is elected to the European Broadcasting Union‘s administrative council (1953). He establishes and serves on a departmental committee in 1953 that studies all facets of launching a television service.

A devout but liberal Catholic, Ó Broin is prominent for many years in the Legion of Mary, founded by his close friend and civil-service colleague Frank Duff. President of a legion presidium of writers, actors, and artists, he is first editor (1937–47) of the quarterly organ Maria Legionis. Sharing Duff’s ecumenism, he belongs to the Mercier Society, the Pillar of Fire Society, and Common Ground, groups organised by Duff in the early 1940s to facilitate discussion between Catholics and, respectively, protestants, Jews, and secular intellectuals. The first two are suspended amid disapproval by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

On retirement from the civil service in 1967, Ó Broin concentrates on the parallel career of research and writing that he had cultivated over many years. Having begun writing articles and short stories in Irish from his earliest years in the Gaelic League, he publishes his first collection of short stories, Árus na ngábhad, in 1923. With the establishment of An Gúm, he publishes three more collections of original short stories and translations of such masters of the genre as Alexander Pushkin, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Jerome K. Jerome. He translates several popular modern novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped and H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds. Active as secretary, actor, and writer with the state-subsidised Gaelic Drama League (An Comhar Drámaíochta), which produces Irish language plays, he publishes many plays in Irish, both original and translated. His best-selling book in Irish is Miss Crookshank agus coirp eile (1951), about the mummified corpses in the vaults of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin.

Ó Broin writes prolifically on modern Irish history and biography. His Irish language biography of Charles Stewart Parnell (1937), the first full-scale study of its kind in Irish since the commencement of the language revival, is a landmark publication, praised for the quality of its prose by such critics as Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin. His biography of Robert Emmet, published in Irish in 1954, and awarded the Douglas Hyde prize, pioneers the scholarly subversion of the romantic myth surrounding its subject, and includes consideration of the political and social context. The subjects of subsequent biographies include Richard Robert Madden, Charles Gavan Duffy, Joseph Brenan, Michael Collins, and Frank Duff.

Ó Broin takes a largely biographical approach to historical writing, researching neglected aspects of pivotal historical events, and basing his studies on previously unexploited primary sources, often the papers of a single individual, whose career serves as the linchpin of his narrative, filtering events through the perspective of that person. Another vein of his scholarship is his primary research into the history of Irish separatism, especially with sources in the Irish State Paper Office.

Ó Broin receives an honorary LL.D from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in 1967. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1971, he is a council member (1974–76) and senior vice-president (1976–77), and chairs the group whose recommendations results in the academy’s establishment of the National Committee on International Affairs. He is president of the Irish Historical Society (1973–74), and a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In 1925 Ó Broin marries Cait Ní Raghallaigh, an office assistant reared in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, whom he met in the Gaelic League. They have two sons and three daughters. After residing in the south city suburbs, they move to Booterstown, County Dublin in the 1930s, and from there to the Stillorgan Road in the 1950s.

Ó Broin dies February 26, 1990 in Dublin, and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). His eldest son, Eimear Ó Broin, is an accomplished musicologist and assistant conductor of the several Radio Éireann orchestras (1953–89).

(From: “Ó Broin, León” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


Leave a comment

Birth of James Matthew Dillon, Fine Gael Politician

James Matthew Dillon, Fine Gael politician who serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and 1954 to 1957, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and Elizabeth Mathew. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar of Ireland in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937, Dillon serves as a TD for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon temporarily resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. A passionate anti-Nazi, he describes the Nazi creed as “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zeal against Adolf Hitler draws him the ire of the German Minister to Ireland Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.” Even Éamon de Valera, then Taoiseach, is not spared the fierceness of Dillon’s rhetoric. When the Taoiseach ridicules his stark support for the Allies, noting this means he has to adopt a Pro-British stance, Dillon defiantly retorts, “My ancestors fought for Ireland down the centuries on the continent of Europe while yours were banging banjos and bartering budgies in the backstreets of Barcelona.”

In 1942, while holidaying in Carna, County Galway, Dillon meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that the pair are married. He is 40 and Maura is 22 years of age.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959, he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965, Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties won four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

On Northern Ireland, while Dillon stands against Partition, he equally opposes any “armed solution” or militant nationalist policy, stating, “We have got to win, not only the barren acres of Ulster, but the hearts of the people who live in it.”

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He dies in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


Leave a comment

Sinn Féin Joins Northern Ireland Peace Process

Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), joins the Northern Ireland peace process on September 9, 1997 that aims to determine the future of Northern Ireland, after renouncing violence as a political tool.

The move paves the way for Sinn Féin’s first face-to-face talks with British Cabinet ministers since 1921, when the country was partitioned. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, chief negotiator Martin McGuinness and party secretary Lucilita Bhreatnach agree behind closed doors at Stormont Castle in east Belfast to abide by the guiding principles underlying the Northern Ireland all-party talks.

These principles were set up in January 1996 by former United States Senator George J. Mitchell, former Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. John de Chastelain and former Prime Minister of Finland Harri Holkeri. They are generally referred to as the “Mitchell Principles,” and require negotiators to affirm their commitment to the tenets listed below:

  • Democratic and peaceful means of resolving political issues. Total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations. The disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission.
  • Renounce for themselves and oppose any effort by others to use force or threaten to use force to influence the course or outcome of all-party negotiations.
  • Abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree.
  • Urge that “punishment” killings and beatings stop, and take effective steps to prevent such actions.

Sinn Féin pledges to honor the Mitchell Principles exactly 51 days after the IRA stopped its decades-old violent campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland. “This is a watershed. There is an expectation and understanding out there of the importance of this moment,” Adams says.

Paul Murphy, minister for political development in the province, says the Sinn Féin pledge marks a new phase in the peace process. “The significance I am sure is that we are now entering a new era … in the sense that the gun is going out of politics in Northern Ireland and that here Sinn Féin is ascribing to those principles of nonviolence, of democratic government.”

“I believe people outside these buildings, outside Stormont, are of the view that enough is enough, and that change must come,” Murphy adds. “But that change must be change which encompasses everybody’s aspirations and which will last for generations.”

The pledge to honor the Mitchell Principles means that the ten parties involved can proceed with round-table talks on the future of Northern Ireland on Monday, September 15, as planned.

However, two mainstream Protestant parties that favor continued British rule of Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the UK Unionist Party (UKUP), plan to boycott the talks. In addition, the powerful Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), is expected to decide on Saturday, September 13, whether to attend the crucial new round of negotiations.

In a statement, the Ulster Unionists call Sinn Féin’s commitment “a charade.” “The subscription of Sinn Féin to the Mitchell Principles will completely lack credibility. Actions matter much more than words,” the statement says.

The London and Dublin governments agree that sovereignty in Northern Ireland can only be changed through the ballot box. While Protestants generally are determined to remain British, most Catholics favor making Northern Ireland part of Ireland.

(From: “Sinn Fein gains access to Northern Ireland talks” on CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com, September 9, 1997)


Leave a comment

Disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary

The Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve special constable police force in Northern Ireland commonly called the “B-Specials” or “B Men,” is disbanded on April 30, 1970 following the release of the Hunt Report.

The USC is set up in October 1920, shortly before the partition of Ireland. It is an armed corps, organised partially on military lines and called out in times of emergency, such as war or insurgency. It performs this role most notably in the early 1920s during the Irish War of Independence (1920-22) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) Border Campaign (1956-1962).

During its existence, 95 USC members are killed in the line of duty. Seventy-two of these are killed in conflict with the IRA in 1921 and 1922. Another eight die in air raids or IRA attacks during World War II. Of the remainder, most die in accidents but two former officers are killed during the Troubles in the 1980s.

The force is almost exclusively Ulster Protestant and as a result is viewed with great mistrust by Catholics. It carries out several revenge killings and reprisals against Catholic civilians during the Irish War of Independence. Unionists generally support the USC as contributing to the defence of Northern Ireland from subversion and outside aggression.

The abolition of the B Specials is a central demand of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement in the late 1960s. On April 30, 1970, the USC is finally stood down as a result of the Hunt Report, produced by a committee headed by John Hunt, Baron Hunt in 1969. Hunt concludes that the perceived bias of the Special Constabulary, whether true or not, has to be addressed. One of his other major concerns is the use of the police force for carrying out military style operations.

It has been argued that the USC’s failure to deal with the 1969 disturbances were due to a failure on behalf of the Northern Ireland government to modernise their equipment, weaponry, training and approach to the job. Upon the disbandment of the USC, many of its members join the newly established Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), the part-time security force which replaces the B Specials. Unlike the Special Constabulary, the UDR is placed under military control. Other B Specials join the new part-time Reserve of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The USC continues to do duties for a month after the formation of the UDR and RUC Reserve to allow both of the new forces time to consolidate.

In the final handover to the Ulster Defence Regiment, the B Specials have to surrender their weapons and uniforms. Despite the government’s concerns about the handover of weapons and equipment, every single uniform and every single weapon is surrendered.

After implementation of the Hunt report, the last night of duties for most B Men is March 31, 1970. On April 1, 1970 the Ulster Defence Regiment begins duties. Initially, the Regiment has 4,000 members who work part-time while the new special constabulary, the RUC Reserve which replaces the B-Specials, initially consists of 1,500 members.

Since disbandment the USC has assumed a place of “almost mythic proportions” within unionist folklore, whereas in the Nationalist community they are still reviled as the Protestant only, armed wing of the unionist government “associated with the worst examples of unfair treatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland by the police force.” An Orange Order lodge is formed to commemorate the disbandment of the force called “Ulster Special Constabulary LOL No. 1970.” An Ulster Special Constabulary Association is also set up soon after the disbandment.


Leave a comment

Introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Herbert Henry Asquith, a member of the Liberal Party, introduces the Third Home Rule Bill on April 11, 1912, which would provide self-government for Ireland, an apparent triumph for Nationalist leader John Redmond.

As a minority party after 1910 elections, the Liberal Party depends on the Irish vote, controlled by John Redmond. To gain Irish support for the budget and the parliament bill, Asquith promises Redmond that Irish Home Rule will be the highest priority. It proves much more complex and time-consuming than expected. Support for self-government for Ireland had been a tenet of the Liberal Party since 1886, but Asquith has not been as enthusiastic, stating in 1903 (while in opposition) that the party should never take office if that government would be dependent for survival on the support of the Irish Nationalist Party. After 1910, though, Irish Nationalist votes are essential to stay in power. Retaining Ireland in the Union is the declared intent of all parties, and the Nationalists, as part of the majority that keep Asquith in office, are entitled to seek enactment of their plans for Home Rule, and to expect Liberal and Labour support. The Conservatives, with die-hard support from the Protestant Orange Order of Ulster, are strongly opposed to Home Rule. The desire to retain a veto for the House of Lords on such bills has been an unbridgeable gap between the parties in the constitutional talks prior to the December 1910 United Kingdom general election.

The cabinet committee (excluding Asquith) that in 1911 plans the Third Home Rule Bill opposes any special status for Protestant Ulster within majority-Catholic Ireland. In 1913, Asquith writes to Winston Churchill, stating that the Prime Minister has always believed and stated that the price of Home Rule should be a special status for Ulster. In spite of this, the bill as introduced in April 1912 contains no such provision, and is meant to apply to all Ireland. Neither partition nor a special status for Ulster is likely to satisfy either side. The self-government offered by the bill is very limited, but Irish Nationalists, expecting Home Rule to come by gradual parliamentary steps, favours it. The Conservatives and Irish Unionists oppose it. Unionists begin preparing to get their way by force if necessary, prompting nationalist emulation. Though very much a minority, Irish Unionists are generally better financed and more organised.

Since the Parliament Act the Unionists can no longer block Home Rule in the House of Lords, but only delay Royal Assent by two years. Asquith decides to postpone any concessions to the Unionists until the bill’s third passage through the House of Commons, when he believes the Unionists will be desperate for a compromise. Biographer Roy Jenkins concludes that had Asquith tried for an earlier agreement, he would have had no luck, as many of his opponents wanted a fight and the opportunity to smash his government. Sir Edward Carson, MP for the University of Dublin and leader of the Irish Unionists in Parliament, threatens a revolt if Home Rule is enacted. The new Conservative leader, Bonar Law, campaigns in Parliament and in northern Ireland, warning Ulstermen against “Rome Rule,” that is, domination by the island’s Catholic majority. Many who oppose Home Rule feel that the Liberals have violated the Constitution by pushing through major constitutional change without a clear electoral mandate, with the House of Lords, formerly the “watchdog of the constitution,” not reformed as had been promised in the preamble of the 1911 Act and thus justified actions that in other circumstances might be treason.

The passions generated by the Irish question contrast with Asquith’s cool detachment, and he writes about the prospective partition of the county of Tyrone, which has a mixed population, deeming it “an impasse, with unspeakable consequences, upon a matter which to English eyes seems inconceivably small, and to Irish eyes immeasurably big.” As the House of Commons debate the Home Rule bill in late 1912 and early 1913, unionists in the north of Ireland mobilise, with talk of Carson declaring a Provisional Government and Ulster Volunteer Forces (UVF) built around the Orange Lodges, but in the cabinet, only Churchill views this with alarm.

These forces, insisting on their loyalty to the British Crown but increasingly well-armed with smuggled German weapons, prepare to do battle with the British Army, but Unionist leaders are confident that the army will not aid in forcing Home Rule on Ulster. As the Home Rule bill awaits its third passage through the House of Commons, the so-called Curragh incident occurs in March 1914. With deployment of troops into Ulster imminent and threatening language by Churchill and the Secretary of State for War, John Seely, around sixty army officers, led by Brigadier General Hubert Gough, announce that they would rather be dismissed from the service than obey. With unrest spreading to army officers in England, the Cabinet acts to placate the officers with a statement written by Asquith reiterating the duty of officers to obey lawful orders but claiming that the incident had been a misunderstanding. Seely then adds an unauthorised assurance, countersigned by Sir John French, the professional head of the army, that the government has no intention of using force against Ulster. Asquith repudiates the addition, and requires Seely and French to resign, taking on the War Office himself, retaining the additional responsibility until hostilities against Germany begin.

Within a month of the start of Asquith’s tenure at the War Office, the UVF lands a large cargo of guns and ammunition at Larne, but the Cabinet does not deem it prudent to arrest their leaders. On May 12, Asquith announces that he will secure Home Rule’s third passage through the House of Commons (accomplished on May 25), but that there will be an amending bill with it, making special provision for Ulster. But the House of Lords make changes to the amending bill unacceptable to Asquith, and with no way to invoke the Parliament Act on the amending bill, Asquith agrees to meet other leaders at an all-party conference on July 21 at Buckingham Palace, chaired by King George V. When no solution can be found, Asquith and his cabinet plans further concessions to the Unionists, but this does not occur as the crisis in Europe erupts into war.

In September 1914, after the outbreak of the conflict, Asquith announces that the Home Rule bill will go on the statute book as the Government of Ireland Act 1914 but will not go into force until after the war. He adds that in the interim a bill granting special status to Ulster will be considered. This solution satisfies neither side.

(Pictured: H.H. Asquith, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom)


Leave a comment

Introduction of the Special Powers Act 1922

The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is an Act introduced by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. The much larger group (nationalists) are mostly Roman Catholic, identified primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. The smaller group (unionists), concentrated primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identified primarily as British and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom. In the years before World War I, both groups establish armed militias intended to enforce their aims and protect their communities from the other side’s militias. The British government resolves to partition Ireland in an effort to alleviate unionists and nationalists, with the six most Protestant counties of Ulster forming Northern Ireland while the rest of Ireland achieves self-rule. This is accepted by most unionists as the best deal they are likely to get, but bitterly disappoints many nationalists, especially those who live in the six counties which become Northern Ireland. Many nationalists on both sides of the border feel that their country has been unjustly divided, and for many decades the Irish government claims that Northern Ireland is rightfully its territory.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Special Powers Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enable the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. The Minister of Home Affairs is empowered to make any regulation felt necessary to preserve law and order in Northern Ireland. Anyone who breaks these regulations can be sentenced to up to a year in prison with hard labour, and in the case of some crimes, whipping. A special summary jurisdiction is enabled to hear cases involving such crimes. The Minister of Home Affairs is also permitted to forbid the holding of inquests if he feels this is required to preserve order and peace.

The Schedule to the Act specifies actions which the government can take in order to preserve peace, although the body of the Act enables the government to take any steps at all which it thinks necessary. Actions specified in the Schedule include the closing of licensed premises, the banning in any area of meetings and parades in public places, the closing of roads, the taking of any land or property, and the destruction of any building. The Schedule also forbids the spreading by word of mouth or text any “reports or…statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to subjects of His Majesty.”

Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Special Powers Act is initially current for only one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent. According to John Whyte, this happens because, from 1925, nationalist MPs begin sitting in the Stormont parliament which they had initially boycotted. Unsurprisingly, they object strenuously to the renewal of the Act, and it is felt by the Ulster Unionist Party Minister of Home Affairs that it would be better to make the Act permanent than for Parliament annually to “wrangle” over it.

Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial, outlined in Paragraph 23 of the Schedule. In the period from May 1922 to December 1924, 700 republicans are interned under the Act.

Political violence declines dramatically by 1925, and the government gradually shifts its emphasis from broad measures designed to return civil order to the province to more preventative regulations aimed at suppressing the threat posed by republican aspirations. Regulations banning meetings and parades and restrictions on the flying of the Irish tricolour become more common. Between 1922 and 1950, the government bans nearly 100 parades and meetings, the vast majority of which are nationalist or republican. No loyalist gathering is ever directly banned under the Act, although a few are caught in blanket bans against parades or meetings in a particular area. From 1922 until 1972, 140 publications are banned, the vast majority of which express republican viewpoints.

After the troubles of the early 1920s has died down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s border campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of the Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the Provisional Irish Republican Army amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.

The Act encounters further controversy in the 1970s due to the deployment of the British Army in Northern Ireland and its role in maintaining order and similar policing-style duties. In 1972, the government is forced to amend the Act in order to legalise the detention of internees arrested by soldiers. Martin Meehan had been arrested after escaping from Crumlin Road Gaol and charged with escaping from lawful custody. At his trial he successfully argues that under the Special Powers Act a soldier has no power of arrest and, as such, he has the legal right to escape. He is awarded £800 in compensation for being illegally detained for twenty-three days.