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

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Birth of UUP Politician Harold McCusker

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

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

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

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

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


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Funeral of Loyalist Billy Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Battle of the Diamond

daniel-winter-homesteadThe Battle of the Diamond, a planned confrontation between the Catholic Defenders and the Protestant Peep o’ Day Boys, takes place on September 21, 1795 near Loughgall, County Armagh. The Diamond, which is a predominantly Protestant area, is a minor crossroads in County Armagh, lying almost halfway between Loughgall and Portadown.

In the 1780s, County Armagh is the most populous county in Ireland, and the center of its linen industry. Its population is equally split between Protestants, who dominate in the northern part of the county, and Catholics, who dominate in the south. Sectarian tensions increase throughout the decade and are exacerbated by the relaxing of some of the Penal Laws, failure to enforce others, and the entry of Catholics into the linen industry at a time when land is scarce and wages are decreasing due to pressure from the mechanised cotton industry.

By 1784, sectarian fighting breaks out between gangs of Protestants and Catholics. The Protestants re-organise themselves as the Peep o’ Day Boys, with the Catholics forming the Defenders. The next decade sees an escalation in the violence between the two and the local population as homes are raided and wrecked.

On the morning of September 21, the Defenders, numbering around 300, make their way downhill from their base, occupying Daniel Winter’s homestead, which lay to the northwest of The Diamond and directly in their line of advance. News of the advance reaches the Peep o’ Day Boys who quickly form at the brow of the hill where they have made their camp. From this position, they gain three crucial advantages: the ability to comfortably rest their muskets allowing for more accurate shooting, a steep uphill location which makes it hard for attackers to scale, and a direct line-of-sight to Winter’s cottage, which the Defenders have made their rallying point.

The shooting begins and, after Captain Joseph Atkinson gives his weapon and powder to the Peep o’ Day Boys, he rides to Charlemont Garrison for troops to quell the trouble. There is no effective unit stationed in the garrison at the time, despite the fact a detachment of the North-Mayo Militia is stationed in Dungannon and a detachment of the Queen’s County Militia is at Portadown.

The battle is short and the Defenders suffer “not less than thirty” fatalities. James Verner, whose account of the battle is based on hearsay, gives the total as being nearly thirty, whilst other reports give the figure as being forty-eight, however this may be taking into account those that die afterwards from their wounds. A large amount of Defenders are also claimed to have been wounded. One of those claimed to have been killed is “McGarry of Whiterock,” the leader of the Defenders. The Peep o’ Day Boys on the other hand, in the safety of the well-defended hilltop position, suffered no casualties.

In the aftermath of the battle, the Peep o’ Day Boys retire to James Sloan’s inn in Loughgall, and it is here that James Wilson, Dan Winter, and James Sloan found the Orange Order, a defensive association pledged to defend “the King and his heirs so long as he or they support the Protestant Ascendancy.” The first Orange lodge of this new organisation is established in Dyan, County Tyrone, founding place of the Orange Boys.

(Pictured: Daniel Winter’s home near Loughgall)

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Founding of the “Belfast News-Letter”

belfast-news-letterThe Belfast News-Letter, one of Northern Ireland‘s main daily newspapers and the oldest English language general daily newspaper still in publication, is founded on September 1, 1737.

The Belfast News-Letter is originally printed in Joy’s Entry in Belfast. The Joys are a family of Huguenot descent who add much to eighteenth-century Belfast, noted for their compiling materials for its history. Francis Joy, who founds the paper, had come to Belfast early in the century from the County Antrim village of Killead. In Belfast, he marries the daughter of the town sovereign and sets up a practice as an attorney. In 1737, he obtains a small printing press which is in settlement of a debt and uses it to publish the town’s first newspaper at the sign of “The Peacock” in Bridge Street. The family later purchases a paper mill in Ballymena and are able to produce enough paper not only for their own publication but for the whole province of Ulster.

Originally published three times weekly, the Belfast News-Letter becomes a daily in 1855. The title is now located at two addresses – a news section in Donegall Square South in central Belfast, and a features section in Portadown, County Armagh. Before the partition of Ireland, the Belfast News-Letter is distributed island-wide.

The newspaper’s editorial stance and readership, while originally republican, is now strongly unionist. Its primary competitors are the Belfast Telegraph and The Irish News. The Belfast News-Letter has changed hands several times since the mid-1990s, and since 2005 is owned by the Johnston Press holding company Johnston Publishing (NI). The full legal title of the newspaper is the Belfast News-Letter, although the word “Belfast” no longer appears on the masthead.

Historical copies of the Belfast News-Letter, dating back to 1828, are available to search and view in digitised form at the British Newspaper Archive.

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Assassination of Irish Criminal Martin Cahill

martin-cahillMartin Cahill, prominent Irish criminal from Dublin, is assassinated on August 18, 1994. Cahill generates a certain notoriety in the media, which refers to him by the sobriquet “The General.” During his lifetime, Cahill takes particular care to hide his face from the media and is rarely photographed.

At age 16, Cahill is convicted of two burglaries and sentenced to an industrial school run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Daingean, County Offaly. With his brothers, he continues to commit multiple burglaries in the affluent neighbourhoods nearby, at one point even robbing the Garda Síochána depot for confiscated firearms.

In 1983, Cahill and his gang famously steal gold and diamonds with a value of over €2.55 million from O’Connor’s jewelers in Harolds Cross. The jewelers subsequently is forced to close, with the loss of more than one hundred jobs. He is also involved in stealing some of the world’s most valuable paintings from Russborough House in 1986 and extorting restaurants and hot dog vendors in Dublin’s nightclub district.

On November 1, 1993, Cahill’s gang abducts National Irish Bank CEO Jim Lacey, his wife, and four children and holds them hostage in an attempt to force the bank to hand over the estimated €10 million in cash in the bank’s vault. Ultimately, the plan fails and the gang is arrested.

With all gang members from the Lacey kidnapping released on bail, on August 18, 1994, Cahill leaves the house at which he has been staying at Swan Grove and begins driving to a local video store to return a borrowed copy of Delta Force 3: The Killing Game. Upon reaching the intersection of Oxford Road and Charleston Road he is repeatedly shot in the face and upper torso and dies almost instantly. The gunman, who is armed with a .357 Magnum revolver, jumps on a motorbike and disappears from the scene.

There are a number of theories about who murdered Martin Cahill and why. Within hours of Cahill’s murder, the Provisional Irish Republican Army claims responsibility in a press release. The reasons cited are Cahill’s alleged involvement with a Portadown unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force, which had attempted a bomb attack on a south Dublin pub which was hosting a Sinn Féin fund-raiser.

Another theory surfaces that reputedly claims that two of Cahill’s underlings, John Gilligan and John Traynor, had put together a massive drug trafficking ring. When Cahill demanded a cut of the profits, the Gardaí believe that Traynor and Gilligan approached the IRA and suggested that Cahill was importing heroin, a drug that the IRA despised and were trying to prevent from being sold in Dublin. Gilligan reputedly paid the Provisional IRA a considerable sum in exchange for Cahill’s assassination. Frances Cahill’s memoir, Martin Cahill, My Father, alleges the General detested and steered clear of the drug trade.

After a Roman Catholic requiem mass, Martin Cahill is buried in consecrated ground at Mount Jerome Cemetery. In 2001, his gravestone is vandalised and broken in two.

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Twelfth of July

the-twelfthThe Orange Order holds its first “Twelfth of July” marches in Portadown, Lurgan and Waringstown on July 12, 1796. The Twelfth marches celebrate the Glorious Revolution (1688) and victory of Protestant king William of Orange over Catholic king James II at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), which begins the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.

On and around the Twelfth, large parades are held by the Orange Order and Ulster loyalist marching bands, streets are bedecked with British flags and bunting, and large towering bonfires are lit. Today the Twelfth is mainly celebrated in Northern Ireland, where it is a public holiday, but smaller celebrations are held in other parts of the world where Orange lodges have been set up, including the Canadian province of Newfoundland where it is a provincial holiday. The Twelfth involves thousands of participants and spectators, although not all Protestants celebrate it.

In Northern Ireland, where almost half the population is from an Irish Catholic background, The Twelfth is a tense time. Orange marches through Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist neighbourhoods are usually met with opposition from residents, sometimes leading to violence. Public disorder during The Twelfth parades of the early 19th century led to them being banned in the 1830s and 1840s.

Many Catholics and Irish nationalists see the Orange Order and its marches as sectarian, triumphalist, and supremacist. The Order is also politically a unionist/loyalist organization. Violence related to the Twelfth in Northern Ireland worsens during the 30-year ethno-political conflict known as The Troubles. The Drumcree conflict is the most well-known dispute involving Orange marches.

Attempts have recently been made to downplay the political aspects of the marches and present the Twelfth as a cultural, family-friendly event at which tourists are welcome. Although most events pass off peacefully, some continue to result in violence.

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William Gladstone Introduces the First Home Rule Bill

gladstone-introduces-home-rule-bill-1886William Gladstone introduces the Government of Ireland Bill 1886, commonly known as the First Home Rule Bill, in the Parliament of England on April 8, 1886. It is the first major attempt by a British government to enact a law creating home rule for part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The bill proposes to create a devolved assembly for Ireland which will govern Ireland in specific areas. The Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell has been campaigning for home rule for Ireland since the 1870s.

The Bill, like his Landlord and Tenant Act 1870, is very much the work of Gladstone, who excludes both the Irish MPs and his own ministers from participation in the drafting.

If passed, the 1886 Bill would create a unicameral assembly consisting of two Orders which could meet either together or separately. The first Order would consist of the 28 Irish representative peers plus 75 members elected through a highly restricted franchise. It could delay the passage of legislation for up to 3 years. The second Order would consist of either 204 or 206 members. All Irish MPs would be excluded from Westminster altogether.

Executive power would be possessed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whose executive would not be responsible to either Order.

Britain would still retain control over a range of issues including peace, war, defence, treaties with foreign states, trade, and coinage. No special provision would be made for Ulster. Britain would retain control of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) until it deems it safe for control to pass to Dublin. The Dublin Metropolitan Police would pass to Irish control.

When the bill is introduced, Charles Stewart Parnell has mixed reactions. He says that it has great faults but is prepared to vote for it. In his famous Irish Home Rule speech, Gladstone beseeches Parliament to pass it and grant Home Rule to Ireland in honour rather than being compelled to one day in humiliation. Unionists and the Orange Order are fierce in their resistance. For them, any measure of Home Rule is denounced as nothing other than Rome Rule.

The vote on the Bill takes place on 8 June 1886 after two months of debate. The Government of Ireland Bill is defeated by a vote of 341-311. In the staunchly loyalist town of Portadown, the so-called “Orange Citadel” where the Orange Order is founded in 1795, Orangemen and their supporters celebrate the Bill’s defeat by “Storming the Tunnel.”

Parliament is dissolved on June 26 and the U.K. general election of 1886 is called. Historians have suggested that the 1886 Home Rule Bill was fatally flawed by the secretive manner of its drafting, with Gladstone alienating Liberal figures like Joseph Chamberlain who, along with a colleague, resigned in protest from the ministry, while producing a Bill viewed privately by the Irish as badly drafted and deeply flawed.