seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Six Charged in the Birmingham Pub Bombings

On November 24, 1974, British police charge six men in connection with the Birmingham pub bombings three days earlier. Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Robert Hunter, Noel McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker are accused of the murder of the youngest victim of the attacks, Jane Davis, age 17, who is one of 19 people killed when bombs explode on November 21 in the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda, and the Tavern in the Town, a basement pub in New Street.

A massive security operation is launched in Birmingham the following day when the six accused men appear in a hearing at the Victoria Law Courts. Assistant Chief Constable Maurice Buck, who is leading the investigation, says the six had been apprehended on the night of the attacks.

Five of the alleged bombers, who are from Northern Ireland but have been resident in England for at least eleven years, are arrested on the Belfast ferry at Heysham. Callaghan is arrested in Birmingham. All of the men had been living in the city, but Buck declines to give their addresses “for security reasons.”

The assistant chief constable tells reporters that the alleged bombers will be charged soon in connection with the deaths of the other 18 victims. “We are satisfied that we have found the men primarily responsible, but our inquiries will continue,” he says.

The so-called Birmingham Six are found guilty in August 1975 of carrying out the bombings and sentenced to life imprisonment. They are released after 16 years in jail when their convictions are quashed by the Court of Appeal in May 1991. One of the six, Paddy Hill states on his release, “The police told us from the start they knew we hadn’t done it. They didn’t care who had done it.” The real bombers have never been prosecuted and no group has ever admitted planting devices.

Three detectives are charged with perjury and conspiracy in connection with the investigation, but their trial is halted in 1993 on the grounds of prejudicial media coverage.

The six men finally agree on undisclosed compensation settlements in June 2002 – more than ten years after they had been freed.

(From: “1974: Six charged over Birmingham pub bombs” by BBC News, http://www.news.bbc.co.uk)


Leave a comment

Execution of William Orr, Member of the United Irishmen

William Orr, a member of the United Irishmen, is executed by the British on October 14, 1797 in what is widely believed at the time to be “judicial murder” and whose memory leads to the rallying cry “Remember Orr” during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He is regarded as the first United Irish martyr.

Little is known of Orr’s early life. He is born in 1766 to a Presbyterian farming family and bleach-green proprietor, at Ferranshane outside Antrim town. The family is in comfortable circumstances and, as a result, he receives a good education. His appearance and manner are at the time considered noteworthy as he stands 6′ 2″ in height and is always carefully and respectably dressed, a familiar feature in his apparel being a green necktie, which he wears “even in his last confinement.” His popularity amongst his countrymen is also noted, particularly among the Northern Presbyterian patriots. He becomes active in the Irish Volunteers and then joins the United Irishmen. Sometime in the mid-1790s, he contributes several articles to their newspaper, the Northern Star.

Orr is charged at Carrickfergus Town Hall with administering the United Irishmen oath to a soldier named Hugh Wheatly, an offence which had recently been deemed a capital charge under the 1796 Insurrection Act. The offence is aggravated from a legal point of view because of the allegation that it is a serving soldier whom he is alleged to have administered the oath to. The prosecution makes the most of this “proof” of the “treasonable” aim of the United Irishmen to “seduce from their allegiance” the “men who are the Kingdom’s only safeguard against the foreign foe.”

The United Irishmen know from the evidence of some of their own number that Orr had not administered the oath on the occasion alleged. They also have the evidence of another eyewitness, James “Jemmy” Hope. The soldier witness Wheatly perjures himself and it is proved he is of bad character. The person who did tender the oath is a well known member of the Society, William McKeever, who subsequently escapes to the United States. It is widely believed at the time that the authorities wish to make an example of Orr to act as a deterrent to potential United Irishmen recruits.

The actual case, which does not appear in the course of the proceedings but everyone, according to T. A. Jackson, is “in the know” and fully aware that the United Irishmen’s oath had been administered to a soldier “whether it was Orr or another who administered the oath was merely incidental.”

Orr is represented by John Philpot Curran, and the trial leads to a speech, which, according to T. A. Jackson, “is among the most remarkable of his many remarkable speeches.” It is a charge of libel against the Press newspaper, the journal founded by Arthur O’Connor to replace the Northern Star. The Press had published an open letter to the Viceroy, remarking scornfully on his refusal to show clemency to Orr. Curran’s defence is a counter-attack — an indictment of the Government, root and branch.

The only evidence used against Orr is the unsupported evidence of the soldier Wheatly and after hearing Curran’s defence of the prisoner, “there could be no possible doubt of his innocence.” Even the presiding judge, Barry Yelverton, 1st Viscount Avonmore, is said to have shed tears at the passing of the death sentence, although Orr’s friend, the poet and United Irishman William Drennan expresses his disgust at this display with the words “I hate those Yelvertonian tears.”

The sentence was hardly passed on Orr when regret is to seize on those who had aided in securing that verdict. The witness Wheatly, who subsequently goes insane and is believed to have died by his own hand, makes an affidavit before a magistrate admitting that he had sworn wrongly against Orr. Two members of the jury make depositions stating that they had been “induced to join in the verdict of guilty while under the influence of drink,” while two others swear that they had “been terrified into the same course by threats of violence.”

These particulars are placed before the Viceroy, but Lord Camden, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, is “deaf to all appeals” (including from his sister Lady Londonderry). “Well might Orr exclaim within his dungeon” he said “that the Government had laid down a system having for its object murder and devastation.”

Though his execution is postponed three times, Orr is hanged in the town of Carrickfergus on October 14, 1797, surrounded by an extra strong military guard. It is said that the population of the town, to express their sympathy with the “patriot” being “murdered by law,” and to mark their repugnance of the conduct of the Government towards him, quit the town on the day of his execution.

Orr’s fate “excited the deepest indignation throughout the country” and it is commented on “in words of fire” by the national writers of the period, and for many years after the rallying cry of the United Irishmen is “Remember Orr.” The journalist Peter Finnerty, who publishes an attack on Yelverton and Camden for their conduct in the matter, is later convicted of seditious libel, despite an eloquent defence by Curran.

(Pictured: William Orr from a sketch by E. A. Morrow)


Leave a comment

David Cameron Issues Formal State Apology for Bloody Sunday

cameron-bloody-sunday-apologyOn June 15, 2010, David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, issues a formal state apology for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” killing of fourteen civil rights marchers in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972. Cameron says Lord Saville inquiry’s long-awaited report shows soldiers lied about their involvement in the killings and that all of those who died were innocent.

Bloody Sunday, as the events on January 30, 1972 come to be known, is one of the most controversial moments of the Troubles. Paramilitary open fire while trying to police a banned civil rights march. They kill 13 marchers outright, and, according to Saville, wound another 15, one of whom subsequently dies later in the hospital.

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, Cameron begins his statement by saying he is “deeply patriotic” and does not want to believe anything bad about his country. Cameron says the inquiry, a 5,000-page, 10-volume report, which takes twelve years to compile at a cost of almost £191m, is “absolutely clear” and there are “no ambiguities” about the conclusions. He adds, “What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”

The report concludes there is no justification for shooting at any of those killed or wounded on the march. “None of the firing by the Support Company [Paratroopers] was aimed at people posing a threat or causing death or serious injury.” The report adds that the shootings “were not the result of any plan to shoot selected ringleaders” and that none of those killed by British soldiers was armed with firearms and no warning was given by the soldiers.

“The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces, and for that, on behalf of the government and on behalf of the country, I am deeply sorry,” says Cameron. The inquiry finds that the order sending British soldiers into the Bogside “should not have been given.” Cameron adds the casualties were caused by the soldiers “losing their self control.”

The eagerly awaited report does not hold the British government at the time directly responsible for the atrocity. It finds that there is “no evidence” that either the British government or the unionist-dominated Northern Ireland administration encouraged the use of lethal force against the demonstrators. It also exonerates the army’s then commander of land forces, Major General Robert Ford, of any blame.

Most of the damning criticism against the military is directed at the soldiers on the ground who fired on the civilians. Saville says that on Bloody Sunday there had been “a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline among the soldiers.” He concludes that many of the soldiers lied to his inquiry. “Many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing.” Under the rules of the inquiry this conclusion means that soldiers could be prosecuted for perjury.

The report also focuses on the actions of two Republican gunmen on the day and says that the Official Irish Republican Army (IRA) men had gone to a prearranged sniping position. But Saville finds that their actions did not provoke in any way the shootings by the paramilitary regiment.

Relatives cheer as they watch the statement, relayed to screens outside the Guildhall in Derry. A minute of silence is held as thousands of supporters fill the square outside, waiting to be told about the report’s contents. A representative of each of the families speaks in turn and a copy of the hated report by Lord Widgery, which in 1972 accuses the victims of firing weapons or handling bombs, is torn apart by one of the families’ representatives.

Denis Bradley, who played a key part in secret talks that brought about the IRA ceasefire of 1994 and who was on the Bloody Sunday march in 1972, welcomes the report’s findings. The former Derry priest, who narrowly escaped being shot on the day, says he is “amazed” at how damning the findings are against the soldiers. He adds, “This city has been vindicated, this city has been telling the truth all along.”

(Pictured: Family and supporters watch David Cameron’s formal state apology in Guildhall Square in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland)


Leave a comment

The Release of the Birmingham Six

birmingham-sixThe Birmingham Six – Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker – are released from jail on March 14, 1991 after their convictions for the murder of 21 people in two pubs are quashed by the Court of Appeal.

The Birmingham pub bombings take place on November 21, 1974 and are attributed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Explosive devices are placed in two central Birmingham pubs – the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda and the Tavern in the Town, a basement pub in New Street. Up until this point, the resulting explosions collectively are the most injurious attacks in Great Britain since World War II. Ten people at the Mulberry Bush and eleven at the Tavern in the Town are killed and 182 people are injured. A third device, outside a bank in Hagley Road, fails to detonate.

Five of the six are taken into custody on the evening of November 21. The men agree to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.The following morning, after the forensic tests and questioning at the hands of the Morecambe police, the men are transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. Hugh Callaghan is taken into custody on the evening of November 22.

On May 12, 1975 the six men are charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions. The trial begins on June 9, 1975 at the Crown Court sitting at Lancaster Castle. After legal arguments the statements made in November are deemed admissible as evidence. The unreliability of these statements is later established. Forensic scientist Dr. Frank Skuse uses positive Griess test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives. Callaghan, Hunter, McIlkenny and Walker all had tested negative. The jury finds the six men guilty of murder. On August 15, 1975, they are each sentenced to 21 life sentences.

In March 1976 their first application for leave to appeal is dismissed by the Court of Appeal. Their second full appeal, in 1991, is allowed. New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, the successful attacks on both the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence causes the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals. The Court of Appeal states that “in the light of the fresh scientific evidence, which at least throws grave doubt on Dr. Skuse’s evidence, if it does not destroy it altogether, these convictions are both unsafe and unsatisfactory.” On March 14, 1991 the six walk free.

In 2001, a decade after their release, the six men are awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.

The success of the appeals and other miscarriages of justice cause the Home Secretary to set up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991. The commission reports in 1993 and leads to the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 which establishes the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997. Superintendent George Reade and two other police officers are charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but are never prosecuted. During the inquest into the bombings in 2016, Hill states that he knows the identities of three of the bombers who are still “free men” in Ireland.