seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


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Death of Dan Keating, Last Survivor of the Irish War of Independence

dan-keatingDaniel “Dan” Keating, lifelong Irish republican and patron of Republican Sinn Féin, dies in Knockbrack, County Kerry on October 2, 2007. At the time of his death he is Ireland’s oldest man and the last surviving veteran of the Irish War of Independence.

Keating is born on January 2, 1902 in Castlemaine, County Kerry. He receives his education in local schools, including the Christian Brothers’ School in Tralee. Tralee is also the place where Keating does his apprenticeship. During this time he becomes a skillful Gaelic football player in his native Kerry.

Keating joins Fianna Éireann in 1918. In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, he joins the Boherbee B Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Kerry Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA). He first brings a firearm of a Liverpool Irish soldier of the British Army into a public house in which he works. On April 21, 1921, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Constable Denis O’Loughlin is shot dead in Knightly’s public house in Tralee. Keating, Jimmy O’Connor and Percy Hanafin are suspected of the killing and are forced to go on the run. On June 1, Keating is involved in an ambush between Castlemaine and Milltown which claims the lives of five RIC men. On July 10, a day before the truce between the IRA and British forces, his unit is involved in a gun battle with the British Army near Castleisland. This confrontation results in the deaths of four British soldiers and five IRA volunteers.

Keating opposes the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights on the anti-treaty side in the Irish Civil War. He is involved in operations in counties Kerry, Limerick, and Tipperary, before his flying column is arrested by Free State Forces. Keating spends seven months in Portlaoise Prison and the Curragh prison before being released in March 1923.

Keating remains an IRA member for a long time after the Civil War. He is arrested several times during the 1930s on various charges. He is active in London during the 1939/1940 IRA bombing campaign.

In 1933, Keating is involved in an attempt to assassinate the leader of the Irish Blueshirts, Eoin O’Duffy, during a visit to County Kerry. The attack is to happen at Ballyseedy, where Free State forces had carried out the Ballyseedy Massacre during the Irish Civil War. However, the plot fails when the person travelling with O’Duffy refuses to divulge in which car O’Duffy would be riding.

Keating subsequently returns to Dublin and works as a barman in several public houses. He retires and returns to his native Kerry in 1978, living out the rest of his life with relatives in Knockbrack. Until his death he refuses to accept a state pension because he considers the 26-county Republic of Ireland an illegitimate state which usurps the 1916 Irish Republic.

“All the talk you hear these days is of peace. But there will never be peace until the people of the 32 counties elect one parliament without British interference.”

In 2002, Keating refuses the state’s standard €2,500 award to centenarians from President Mary McAleese. After former IRA volunteer George Harrison dies in November 2004, Keating becomes patron of Republican Sinn Féin until his own death. At the time of his death at the age of 105 on October 2, 2007, he is the oldest man in Ireland. He is buried in Kiltallagh Cemetery, Castlemaine.


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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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The Sallins Train Robbery

The Sallins Train robbery occurs on March 31, 1976 when the Cork to Dublin mail train is robbed near Sallins in County Kildare. Approximately £200,000 is stolen. Five members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, Mick Plunkett, and John Fitzpatrick, are arrested in connection with the robbery.

After the failure of the authorities to produce a “book of evidence” against them, the four are released but are immediately re-arrested. During interrogation in Garda Síochána custody, all except Plunkett sign alleged confessions, presenting with extensive bruising and injuries they claim are inflicted by members of the Gardaí.

While awaiting trial, Fitzpatrick jumps bail and leaves the country. The trial of McNally, Kelly, and Breatnach in the Special Criminal Court becomes the longest-running trial in Irish criminal history, at 65 days, before it collapses due to the death of one of the three judges, Judge John O’Connor of the Circuit Court.

Medical evidence of beatings is presented to the court, both during the initial trial and the second trial. The court rejects this evidence, finding that the beatings have been self-inflicted or inflicted by the co-accused. Anticipating a conviction, Kelly flees before the conclusion of the second trial. The three are found guilty, solely on the basis of their confessions, and sentenced to between nine and twelve years in prison. Kelly is sentenced in absentia.

In May 1980, Breatnach and McNally are acquitted on appeal on the grounds that their statements had been taken under duress. The same month, the Provisional Irish Republican Army claims responsibility for the robbery. Kelly returns to Ireland from the United States in June 1980, expecting to be acquitted. Instead he is incarcerated in the maximum-security Portlaoise Prison and spends the next four years proclaiming his innocence, including a 38-day period on hunger strike.

After a campaign by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, and others and a song, Wicklow Boy, by the popular folk singer Christy Moore, Kelly is eventually released on “humanitarian grounds” in 1984. He is given a presidential pardon in 1992 and receives £1,000,000 in compensation. Breatnach and McNally are also given compensation.