seamus dubhghaill

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


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The McMahon Murders

The McMahon murders occur on March 24, 1922 when six Catholic civilians are shot dead at the home of the McMahon family in Belfast. Police officers break into their house at night and shoot all eight males inside, in an apparent sectarian attack. The victims are businessman Owen McMahon, four of his sons, and one of his employees. Two others are shot but survive, and a female family member is assaulted. The survivors say that most of the gunmen wore police uniforms and it is suspected that they were members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). It is believed to be a reprisal for the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of two policemen the previous day.

Following the end of the Irish War of Independence in July 1921 and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the new unionist Government of Northern Ireland establishes the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve police force to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), to counter the IRA.

The McMahon killings are believed to be a reprisal for the IRA’s killing of two USC policemen in Belfast. On March 23, 1922, USC officers Thomas Cunningham and William Cairnside are patrolling Great Victoria Street in the city centre when they are approached by a group of IRA members and shot dead. Two Catholics, Peter Murphy (61) and Sarah McShane (15), are shot dead in a suspected reprisal attack several hours later in the Catholic Short Strand area by unidentified gunmen. The McMahon family has no connection to any paramilitary violence.

At about 1:00 a.m. on March 24, 1922, two men wearing police uniforms seize a sledgehammer from a Belfast Corporation workman, who is guarding a building site at Carlisle Circus. A curfew is in place at the time, due to the daily violence in the city. At nearby Clifton Avenue they meet three other men and the party of five proceed to the home of Owen McMahon. Eight males and three females are in the house that night. The males are Owen, his six sons, and Edward McKinney, a parish just north of Buncrana in Inishowen, County Donegal. He works for the McMahons as a barman. The women are Owen’s wife Eliza, her daughter and her niece. At about 1:20 a.m., the gang uses the sledgehammer to break down the door of the McMahon residence.

Owen’s wife, Eliza, says that four of the men wore police caps and carried revolvers while another wore civilian clothes. John McMahon, one of Owen’s sons, says, “Four of the five men were dressed in the uniform of the RIC but, from their appearance, I know they are Specials, not regular RIC.” All of the men hide their faces. The four men in police uniform rush up the stairs and herd the males into the dining room. The women are taken into another room. When Owen asks why his family is being singled-out, one of the gunmen says it is because he is “a respected papist.” The gunmen say “you boys say your prayers,” before opening fire. The shooting continues for five minutes. Five of the men are killed outright and two are wounded, one fatally.

Owen McMahon (50), Gerard McMahon (15), Frank McMahon (24), Patrick McMahon (22) and Edward McKinney (25) are killed outright while Bernard McMahon (26) dies later. The youngest McMahon son, 12-year-old Michael, survives the attack by hiding behind furniture and pretending to be hit. John McMahon (30) survives despite serious gunshot wounds. Eliza McMahon raises the alarm by opening the drawing room window and shouting “Murder! Murder!” A matron at an adjoining nursing home is alerted and phones the police and an ambulance.

It is alleged that a group of policemen operating out of Brown Square Barracks in the Shankill Road area are behind the killings. This has never been proved, but historian Eamon Phoenix, of Stranmillis University College in Belfast, has said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that District Inspector John Nixon was responsible. Historian Tim Pat Coogan believes the police were responsible. An inquiry is carried out by the Department of Defence of the Irish Free State, but not by the Northern Irish authorities. A 1924 Free State report alleges that twelve policemen, whom the report identifies by name, had carried out the McMahon murders, as well as several other attacks on Catholics.

The killings cause outrage among Belfast’s Catholic population and over 10,000 people attend the funerals of those killed.

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, worried that the violence could collapse the new Northern Ireland administration, organise a meeting in London between Irish republican leader Michael Collins and Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, both to try to stop the IRA violence which Collins has been tacitly encouraging and supporting, and to pressure Craig to provide more protection for Catholics. Craig denies the nationalist assertion that the McMahon killings were part of an anti-Catholic pogrom on behalf of state forces.

No one is ever prosecuted for the killings but District Inspector John Nixon of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is strongly suspected of being responsible. Nixon is later forced to step down from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the force that succeeds the RIC in June 1922, albeit on full pension, in 1924 after being heard giving (in breach of police regulations) a political speech to an Orange Order meeting saying that, “not an inch of Ulster should be yielded” to the Free State.


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Birth of Brian Faulkner, Sixth & Last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

Arthur Brian Deane Faulkner, Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick, the sixth and last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is born on February 18, 1921, in Helen’s Bay, County Down.

Faulkner is the elder of two sons of James, owner of the Belfast Collar Company, and Nora Faulkner. His younger brother is Colonel Sir Dennis Faulkner. He is educated initially at Elm Park preparatory school, Killylea, County Armagh, but at 14, preferring to stay in Ireland, is sent to the Church of Ireland-affiliated St. Columba’s College at Whitechurch, County Dublin, although he is Presbyterian. His best friend at the school is Michael Yeats, son of W. B. Yeats. He enters Queen’s University Belfast in 1939 to study law, but, with the advent of World War II, he quits his studies to work full-time in the family shirt-making business. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to have been educated in the Irish Free State and one of only two to have been educated in Ireland.

Faulkner becomes involved in unionist politics, the first of his family to do so, and is elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland as the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of East Down in 1949. His vociferous traditional unionist approach to politics ensures him a prominent backbench position. He is, at the time, the youngest ever MP in the Northern Irish Parliament. He is also the first Chairman of the Ulster Young Unionist Council in 1949. In 1956 he is offered and accepts the job of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, or Government Chief Whip.

In 1959, Faulkner becomes Minister of Home Affairs and his handling of security for most of the Irish Republican Army‘s border campaign of 1956–62 bolsters his reputation in the eyes of the right wing of Ulster unionism.

When Terence O’Neill becomes Prime Minister in 1963 he appoints Faulkner, his chief rival for the job, as Minister of Commerce. He resigns in 1969 over the technicalities of how and when to bring in the local government reforms which the British Labour government is pushing for. This is a factor in the resignation of O’Neill, who resigns as Prime Minister in the aftermath of his failure to achieve a good enough result in the 1969 Northern Ireland general election.

In the ensuing leadership contest, Faulkner loses out again when O’Neill gives his casting vote to his cousin, James Chichester-Clark. In 1970, he becomes the Father of the House. He comes back into government as Minister of Development under Chichester-Clark and in a sharp turn-around, begins the implementation of the political reforms that were the main cause of his resignation from O’Neill’s cabinet. Chichester-Clark himself resigns in 1971 as the political and security situation and the more intensive British interest proves difficult.

Faulkner is elected leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and Prime Minister. In his initial innovative approach to government, he gives a non-unionist, David Bleakley, a former Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) MP, a position in his cabinet as Minister for Community Relations. In June 1971, he proposes three new powerful committees at Stormont which would give the opposition salaried chairmanships of two of them.

However, this initiative (radical at the time) is overtaken by events. A shooting by soldiers of two nationalist youths in Derry causes the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the main opposition, to boycott the Stormont parliament. The political climate deteriorates further when, in answer to a worsening security situation, Faulkner introduces internment on August 9, 1971. This is a disaster and causes the situation to worsen.

Despite this, Faulkner continues his radical approach to Northern Irish politics and, following Bleakley’s resignation in September 1971 over the internment issue, appointes Dr. G. B. Newe, a prominent lay Catholic, as Minister of State in the Cabinet Office. His administration staggers on through the rest of 1971, insisting that security is the paramount issue.

In January 1972, an incident occurs during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Derry, during which paratroopers shoot and killed thirteen unarmed civilians. A fourteenth civilian dies later. What history has come to know as Bloody Sunday is, in essence, the end of Faulkner’s government. In March 1972, he refuses to maintain a government without security powers which the British government under Edward Heath decides to take back. The Stormont parliament is subsequently prorogued, initially for a period of one year, and following the appointment of a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, direct rule is introduced.

In June 1973, elections are held to a new devolved parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly. The elections split the UUP. Faulkner becomes chief executive in a power-sharing executive with the SDLP and the centre-ground Alliance Party, a political alliance cemented at the Sunningdale Conference that year. The power-sharing Executive lasts only six months and is brought down by a loyalist Ulster Workers’ Council strike in May 1974. In 1974, he loses the leadership of the UUP to anti-Sunningdale elements led by Harry West. He subsequently resigns from the Ulster Unionist Party and forms the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI).

The UPNI fares badly in the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention elections of 1975, winning only five out of the 78 seats contested. Faulkner wins the final seat. In 1976 he announces that he is quitting active politics. He is elevated to the House of Lords in the 1977 New Year Honours list, being created Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick on February 7, 1977.

Faulkner, a keen huntsman, dies on March 3, 1977 following a riding accident while hunting with the County Down Staghounds at the Ballyagherty/Station Road junction near Saintfield, County Down. He is riding at full gallop along a narrow country road when his horse slips, throwing him off and killing him instantly. He is laid to rest at Magherahamlet Presbyterian Church near Spa, County Down where he had been a regular member of the congregation. His twenty-four-day life peerage is thus the shortest-lived until the death of Lord Heywood of Whitehall in 2018 just nine days after ennoblement.


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Birth of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon & First Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon PC PC (NI) DL, prominent Irish unionist politician, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 until his death in 1940, is born at Sydenham, Belfast, on January 8, 1871.

Craig is the seventh of nine children of James Craig (1828–1900), a wealthy whiskey distiller who had entered the firm of Dunville & Co. as a clerk and by age 40 is a millionaire and a partner in the firm. Craig Snr. owns a large house called Craigavon, overlooking Belfast Lough. His mother, Eleanor Gilmore Browne, is the daughter of Robert Browne, a prosperous man who owned property in Belfast and a farm outside Lisburn. Craig is educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, Scotland. After school he begins work as a stockbroker, eventually opening his own firm in Belfast.

Craig enlists in the 3rd (Militia) battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles on January 17, 1900 to serve in the Second Boer War. He is seconded to the Imperial Yeomanry, a cavalry force created for service during the war, as a lieutenant in the 13th battalion on February 24, 1900, and leaves Liverpool for South Africa on the SS Cymric in March 1900. After arrival he is soon sent to the front and is taken prisoner in May 1900, but released by the Boers because of a perforated colon. On his recovery he becomes deputy assistant director of the Imperial Military Railways, showing the qualities of organisation that are to mark his involvement in both British and Ulster politics. In June 1901 he is sent home suffering from dysentery, and by the time he is fit for service again the war is over. He is promoted to captain in the 3rd Royal Irish Rifles on September 20, 1902, while still seconded to South Africa.

On his return to Ireland, having received a £100,000 legacy from his father’s will, Craig turns to politics, serving as Member of the British Parliament for East Down from 1906 to 1918. From 1918 to 1921 he represents Mid Down, and serves in the British government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Pensions (1919–20) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1920–21).

Craig rallies Ulster loyalist opposition to Irish Home Rule in Ulster before World War I, organising the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers (UVF) and buying arms from Imperial Germany. The UVF becomes the nucleus of the 36th (Ulster) Division during World War I. He succeeds Edward Carson as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in February 1921.

In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the first ever, Craig is elected to the newly created House of Commons of Northern Ireland as one of the members for Down.

On June 7, 1921, Craig is appointed the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The House of Commons of Northern Ireland assembles for the first time later that day.

Craig is made a baronet in 1918, and in 1927 is created Viscount Craigavon, of Stormont in the County of Down. He is also the recipient of honorary degrees from Queen’s University Belfast (1922) and the University of Oxford (1926).

Craig had made his career in British as well as Northern Irish politics but his premiership shows little sign of his earlier close acquaintance with the British political world. He becomes intensely parochial, and suffers from his loss of intimacy with British politicians in 1938, when the British government concludes agreements with Dublin to end the Anglo-Irish trade war between the two countries. He never tries to persuade Westminster to protect Northern Ireland‘s industries, especially the linen industry, which is central to its economy. He is anxious not to provoke Westminster, given the precarious state of Northern Ireland’s position. In April 1939, and again in May 1940 during World War II, he calls for conscription to be introduced in Northern Ireland (which the British government, fearing a backlash from nationalists, refuses). He also calls for Winston Churchill to invade Ireland using Scottish and Welsh troops in order to seize the valuable ports and install a Governor-General at Dublin.

While still prime minister, Craig dies peacefully at his home at Glencraig, County Down at the age of 69 on November 24, 1940. He is buried on the Stormont Estate on December 5, 1940, and is succeeded as the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Minister of Finance, J. M. Andrews.

(Pictured: James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, bromide print by Olive Edis, National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Death of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

William Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, dies on February 5, 1820 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast, the son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies in Belfast on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’


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Birth of John Miller Andrews, 2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

john-miller-andrewsJohn Miller Andrews, the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is born in Comber, County Down on July 17, 1871. He is the eldest child in the family of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, and his wife Eliza Pirrie, a sister of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is named after his maternal great-uncle, John Miller of Comber (1795–1883).

Andrews is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In business, Andrews is a landowner, a director of his family linen-bleaching company and of the Belfast Ropeworks. His younger brother, Thomas Andrews, who dies in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, served as managing director of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Another brother, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, was Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

In 1902 Andrews marries Jessie, eldest daughter of Bolton stockbroker Joseph Ormrod at Rivington Unitarian Chapel, Rivington, near Chorley, Lancashire, England. They have one son and two daughters. His younger brother, Sir James, marries Jessie’s sister.

Andrews is elected as a member of parliament in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, sitting from 1921 until 1953 (for Down from 1921–29 and for Mid Down from 1929–1953). He is a founder member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, which he chairs, and is Minister of Labour from 1921 to 1937. He is Minister of Finance from 1937 to 1940, succeeding to the position on the death of Hugh MacDowell Pollock. Upon the death of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon in 1940, he becomes leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

In April 1943 backbench dissent forces Andrews from office. He is replaced as Prime Minister by Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough. He remains, however, the recognised leader of the UUP for a further three years. Five years later he becomes the Grand Master of the Orange Order. From 1949, he is the last parliamentary survivor of the original 1921 Northern Ireland Parliament, and as such is recognised as the Father of the House. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland not to have been granted a peerage. His predecessor and successor receive hereditary viscountcies, and later prime ministers are granted life peerages.

Throughout his life Andrews is deeply involved in the Orange Order. He holds the positions of Grand Master of County Down from 1941 and Grand Master of Ireland (1948–1954). In 1949 he is appointed Imperial Grand Master of the Grand Orange Council of the World.

Andrews is a committed and active member of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He regularly attends Sunday worship, in the church built on land donated by his great-grandfather, James Andrews, in his hometown Comber. He serves on the Comber Congregational Committee from 1896 until his death on August 5, 1956, holding the position of Chairman from 1935 onwards. He is buried in the small graveyard adjoining the church.


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Resignation of John Miller Andrews, 2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

john-miller-andrewsJohn Miller Andrews, the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, resigns on April 28, 1943 and is succeeded by Sir Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough.

Andrews is born in Comber, County Down, on July 17, 1871, the eldest child in the family of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, and his wife Eliza Pirrie, a sister of William Pirrie, 1st Viscount Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is named after his maternal great-uncle, John Miller of Comber (1795–1883). As a young man, with his parents and family, he is a committed and active member of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. He regularly attends Sunday worship in the church built on land donated by his great-grandfather James Andrews in his home town Comber.

Andrews is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In business, he is a landowner, a director of his family linen-bleaching company and of the Belfast Ropeworks. His younger brother, Thomas Andrews, who dies in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, is managing director of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Another brother, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, is Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

In 1902 Andrews marries Jessie Ormrod, eldest daughter of Bolton stockbroker Joseph Ormrod at Rivington Unitarian Chapel, Rivington, near Chorley, Lancashire, England. They have one son and two daughters. His younger brother, Sir James, marries Jessie’s sister.

Andrews is elected as a member of parliament in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, sitting from 1921 until 1953 (for Down from 1921–1929 and for Mid Down from 1929–1953). He is a founder member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, which he chairs, and is Minister of Labour from 1921 to 1937. He is Minister of Finance from 1937 to 1940, succeeding to the position on the death of Hugh MacDowell Pollock. On the death of James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, in 1940, he becomes leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the second Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

In April 1943 backbench dissent forces him from office. He is replaced as Prime Minister by Sir Basil Brooke. Andrews remains, however, the recognised leader of the UUP for three more years. Five years later he becomes the Grand Master of the Orange Order.  Throughout his life he is deeply involved in the Orange Order. He holds the positions of Grand Master of County Down from 1941 and Grand Master of Ireland (1948–1954). In 1949 he is appointed Imperial Grand Master of the Grand Orange Council of the World.

From 1949, he is the last parliamentary survivor of the original 1921 Northern Ireland Parliament, and as such is recognised as the Father of the House. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland not to have been granted a peerage. His predecessor and successor received hereditary viscountcies, and later prime ministers are granted life peerages.

Andrews serves on the Comber Congregational Committee from 1896 until his death, holding the position of Chairman from 1935 onward. He dies in Comber on August 5, 1956 and is buried in the small graveyard adjoining the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.


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Formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association

northern-ireland-civil-rights-associationThe Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), an organisation that campaigns for civil rights in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s and early 1970s, is formed in Belfast on April 9, 1967. The civil rights campaign attempts to achieve reform by publicising, documenting, and lobbying for an end to discrimination in areas such as elections (which are subject to gerrymandering and property requirements), discrimination in employment, in public housing and alleged abuses of the Special Powers Act.

Since Northern Ireland’s creation in 1922, the Catholic minority suffers from varying degrees of discrimination from the Protestant and Unionist majority. Many nationalist historians regard the ethos of Northern Ireland as unambiguously sectarian, however, academic and author Senia Paseta posits that discrimination was never as calculated as republicans maintained nor as fictional as unionists claimed. In fact, laws against religious discrimination are enshrined in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Northern Ireland’s constitution. No government of Northern Ireland, even if they want to, can create laws which overtly discriminated against any religious body of peoples.

The genesis of NICRA lay in a meeting in Maghera in August 1966 between the Wolfe Tone Societies which is attended by Cathal Goulding, then chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). During its formation, NICRA’s membership extends to trade unionists, communists, liberals, socialists, with republicans eventually constituting five of the thirteen members of its executive council. The organisation initially also has some unionists, with Young Unionist Robin Cole taking a position on its executive council. Official Sinn Féin and Official Irish Republican Army influence over NICRA grows in later years, but only as the latter’s importance declines, when violence escalated between late 1969 until 1972, when NICRA ceased its work.

Events escalate in Northern Ireland until August 1969, when the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry march is attacked as it marches through the city’s walls and past a perimeter with the nationalist Bogside. Initially some loyalist supporters throw pennies down from the walls onto Catholics in the Bogside. Catholics then throw nails and stones at loyalists leading to an intense confrontation. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) intervenes, and a three-day riot known as the Battle of the Bogside ensues. Rioting quickly spreads throughout nationalist areas in Northern Ireland, where at least seven are killed and hundreds wounded. Thousands of Catholics are driven from their homes by loyalists. These events are often seen as the start of the Troubles.

In a subsequent official inquiry, Lord Leslie Scarman concludes, “We are satisfied that the spread of the disturbances [in Derry in August 1969] owed much to a deliberate decision of some minority groups to relieve police pressure on the rioters in Londonderry. Amongst these groups must be included NICRA, whose executive decided to organise demonstrators in the Province so as to prevent reinforcement of the police in Londonderry.” In December 1969 and January 1970, both Sinn Féin and the IRA split into “Official” and “Provisional” wings, with the “Official” wings retaining influence in NICRA.

The British government introduces internment on August 9, 1971 at the request of Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner. The British Army, in co-operation with the RUC, intern 342 people. One hundred sixteen of those interned are innocent of involvement with the IRA and are quickly released.

The introduction of internment is not a closely guarded secret, with newspaper editorials appearing and discussion on television. The IRA goes underground or flees across the border. As a result, fewer than 100 arrests are from the IRA. By this stage, support for NICRA begins to wane, however NICRA continues to organise anti-internment marches. In Derry on January 30, 1972 NICRA takes part in a mass anti-internment march which had also been banned. Fourteen unarmed demonstrators are shot and killed by British troops during the march which becomes known as Bloody Sunday.


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Terence O’Neill Becomes Fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Captain_Terence_O%27Neill.jpgTerence O’Neill becomes the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland on March 25, 1963 following the resignation of Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough. He plays a significant role in the first year of the Troubles, trying unsuccessfully to stem growing sectarian violence.

O’Neill is born on September 10, 1914 at 29 Ennismore Gardens, Hyde Park, London, the son of Captain Arthur O’Neill of Shane’s Castle, Randalstown, the first member of parliament (MP) to be killed in action in World War I five months later. He is educated in the English public school system at West Downs SchoolWinchester and Eton College, spending his summer holidays at the family estate in Ulster. He is later commissioned in the British Army, rising to the rank of captain and serving with the Irish Guards in World War II. He is wounded in 1944 and opts to resettle permanently in Northern Ireland.

In 1946, O’Neill is elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland, representing the Unionist stronghold of Bannside. He remains in the parliament at Stormont for almost 25 years. He becomes Northern Ireland’s Minister of Home Affairs in April 1956, Minister of Finance in September 1956 and Prime Minister in March 1963.

As Prime Minister, O’Neill introduces economic reforms to stimulate industrial growth and employment, with mixed results. He also tries narrowing the divide between Protestants and Catholics. He does this with important gestures, like visiting Catholic schools and expressing condolences on the death of Pope John XXIII.

O’Neill also seeks better relations with the Republic of Ireland, and in January 1965 invites Taoiseach Seán Lemass to Belfast. Catholics and moderate Unionists welcome this reconciliation but many conservative Loyalists, like Ian Paisley, condemn it as treachery.

When the civil rights movement erupts in the late 1960s, O’Neill offers a package of reforms and concessions, including changes to the allocation of housing. These proposals, however, anger staunch Unionists and fail to satisfy many Republicans.

In December 1969, O’Neill appears on Northern Ireland television and makes an impassioned plea for unity, warning that “Ulster stands at the crossroads.” His government is reelected in February 1969, though O’Neill himself is almost voted out of his own seat.

With the situation worsening, O’Neill is further embarrassed by Loyalist attempts to sabotage Belfast’s water supply. Fast losing the confidence of his own party, he resigns the prime ministership in April 1969. He remains in the parliament until January 1970.

O’Neill is made Baron O’Neill of the Maine and spends the last decade of his life in Britain’s House of Lords. He dies of cancer on June 12, 1990.


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Death of Robert Curtis, First Fatality of The Troubles

robert-curtisRobert George Curtis, officially the first military fatality during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 6, 1971, becoming the first British soldier to die in the line of duty in Ireland since 1921. The gunman responsible is believed to be Provisional IRA member Billy Reid, who is killed later that year in a gunfight. A total of 705 British soldiers are killed during the Troubles.

156 (Inkerman) Battery, 94 Locating Regiment, Royal Artillery is deployed to Northern Ireland on January 5, 1971 under the command of the 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery. During the first week of February 1971, there is major violence in many Irish republican areas of Belfast when the British Army launches a series of searches for IRA arms. Rioting in the republican area of the New Lodge escalates and reinforcements are summoned. 156 Battery is ordered into the area. Because mobs of rioters are threatening the bordering unionist Tiger’s Bay area, the Battery is deployed along the interface to block them.

A large crowd gathers at the junction of New Lodge Road and Lepper Street. A troop of soldiers from 156 Battery, including Gunner Rob Curtis, are deployed to disperse the crowd. As the troops move to the junction they are attacked with a barrage of stones and bottles by the mob and deploy in “riot-formation” with shields as protection. Subsequently, a nail bomb is thrown at the troops. In the aftermath of the blast the crowd splits allowing a gunman to fire a long burst of automatic fire from a Sterling submachine gun, probably from the base of Templar House. The crowd then reforms, allowing the gunman to escape. Gunner Curtis is hit by a ricochet which passes through the shoulder opening of his flak jacket, penetrating his heart. He dies almost instantly. Four other troop members are wounded, one seriously.

Curtis is, at the time of his death, 20 years old and married for just over a year. His wife is expecting their first child and had just informed him in a letter that he was to become a father. He is laid to rest in West Road Cemetery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He is the first officially recognised fatality that the army suffers as a direct result of IRA actions. Unofficially 21 other military personnel died or were killed before his death. On the morning after his death Sir James Chichester-Clark, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, announces that “Northern Ireland is at war with the Irish Republican Army Provisionals.”

Some sources claim the shots were fired from a Thompson submachine gun, but some eyewitnesses are sure that it was a Sterling submachine gun that was fired. Curtis’s wife is later compensated to the sum of £6500 together with £1500 for her daughter. His daughter is married wearing her father’s wedding ring and later names her son Robert in honour of his grandfather.


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Birth of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

william-drennanWilliam Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’