seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Donegall Street Bombing

The Donegall Street bombing takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 20, 1972 when, just before noon, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a car bomb in Lower Donegall Street in Belfast City Centre when the street is crowded with shoppers, office workers, and many schoolchildren.

Seven people are killed in the explosion, including two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), who say they had evacuated people to what was considered to have been a safe area following misleading telephone calls, which had originally placed the device in a nearby street. The Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade admits responsibility for the bomb, which also injures 148 people, but claims that the security forces had deliberately misrepresented the warnings in order to maximise the casualties. This is one of the first car bombs the IRA uses in their armed campaign.

On Monday, March 20, 1972, at 11.45 a.m., a local carpet dealer receives a telephone call warning that a bomb will explode in Belfast city centre’s Church Street which is crowded with shoppers, office workers on lunch breaks, and schoolchildren. British Army troops and the RUC are alerted and immediately begin to evacuate the people into nearby Lower Donegall Street. The second call to The Irish News newspaper seven minutes later also gives Church Street as the location for the device. A final call comes at 11:55 a.m. advising The News Letter newspaper that the bomb is instead placed outside its offices in Lower Donegall Street where the crowds have being sent. Thus, the warning arrives too late for the security forces to clear the street. Staff working inside The News Letter building are told by the caller that they have 15 minutes in which to leave the building, but they never have a chance to evacuate.

At 11:58 a.m. a 100-pound gelignite bomb explodes inside a green Ford Cortina parked in the street outside the offices of The News Letter, shaking the city centre with the force of its blast, and instantly killing the two RUC constables, Ernest McAllister (31) and Bernard O’Neill (36), who had been examining the vehicle. The remains of the two policemen are allegedly found inside a nearby building. Minutes earlier they had been helping to escort people away from Church Street.

The explosion sends a ball of flame rolling down the street and a pall of black smoke rising upward. The blast wave rips into the crowds of people who had run into Donegall Street for safety, tossing them in all directions and killing another four men outright: Ernest Dougan (39), James Macklin (30), Samuel Trainor (39) and Sydney Bell (65). Trainor is also an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier and a member of the Orange Order. A seriously wounded pensioner, Henry Miller (79) dies in hospital on April 5. Most of the dead are mutilated beyond recognition. With the exception of Constable O’Neill, who is a Catholic, the other six victims are Protestants.

The explosion blows out all the windows in the vicinity, sending shards of glass into people’s bodies as they are hit by falling masonry and timber. The ground floor of The News Letter offices and all buildings in the area suffer heavy damage. The News Letter library in particular sustains considerable damage with many priceless photographs and old documents destroyed. Around the blast’s epicentre, the street resembles a battlefield. About one hundred schoolgirls lay wounded on the rubble-strewn, bloody pavement covered in glass and debris, and screaming in pain and fright. A total of 148 people are injured in the explosion, 19 of them seriously. Among the injured are many of The News Letter staff.

One of the wounded is a child whose injuries are so severe a rescue worker at the scene assumes the child has been killed. A young Czech art student, Blanka Sochor (22), receives severe injuries to her legs. She is photographed by Derek Brind of the Associated Press as a British Paratrooper holds her in his arms. Passerby Frank Heagan witnesses the explosion and comes upon what is left of two binmen who had been “blown to pieces.” He adds that “there was blood everywhere and people moaning and screaming. The street was full of girls and women all wandering around.” The injured can be heard screaming as the ambulances transport them to hospital. Emergency amputations are performed at the scene.

While the security forces and firemen pull victims from the debris in Donegall Street, two more bombs go off elsewhere in the city centre, however, nobody is hurt in either attack. On the same day in Derry, a British soldier, John Taylor, is shot dead by an IRA sniper. In Dublin, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army, Seán Mac Stíofáin, suffers burns to his face and hands after he opens a letter bomb sent to him through the post. Cathal Goulding, head of the Official Irish Republican Army, also receives a letter bomb but escapes injury by having dismantled the device before it exploded.

This is amongst the first car bombs used by the Provisional IRA during The Troubles in its militant campaign to force a British military withdrawal and reunite the six counties of Northern Ireland with the rest of the island of Ireland. It is part of the IRA’s escalation of violence to avenge the Bloody Sunday killings in which 13 unarmed Catholic civilian men were killed by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment when the latter opened fire during an anti-internment demonstration held in Derry on January 30, 1972.

The bombing is carried out by the North Belfast unit of the Provisional IRA’s Third Battalion Belfast Brigade. The OC of the Brigade at that time is the volatile Seamus Twomey, who orders and directs the attack.

On March 23, the IRA admits responsibility for the bomb with one Belfast Brigade officer later telling a journalist, “I feel very bad when the innocent die.” The IRA, however, tempers the admission by claiming that the caller had given Donegall Street as the correct location for the bomb in all the telephone calls and that the security forces had deliberately evacuated the crowds from Church Street to maximise the casualties. The IRA’s official statement claiming responsibility for the blast is released through the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau.

The IRA follows the Donegall Street attack two days later with a car bomb at a carpark adjacent to the Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station and close to the Europa Hotel. Seventy people are treated in hospital for injuries received mainly by flying glass, but there are no deaths. The blast causes considerable damage to two trains, parked vehicles, the hotel, and other buildings in the area.

Although many members of the Provisional IRA are rounded up by police in the wake of the Donegal Street attack, none of the bombers are ever caught nor is anyone ever charged in connection with the bombing.


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The Downing Street Mortar Attack

The Downing Street mortar attack was carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 7, 1991. The IRA launches three homemade mortar shells at 10 Downing Street, London, the headquarters of the British government in an attempt to assassinate prime minister John Major and his war Cabinet, who were meeting to discuss the Gulf War.

During the Troubles, as part of its armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, the Provisional Irish Republican Army repeatedly uses homemade mortars against targets in Northern Ireland. The IRA carries out many attacks in England, but none involve mortars. In December 1988, items used in mortar construction and technical details regarding the weapon’s trajectory are found during a raid in Battersea, South West London, by members of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch. In the late 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is top of the IRA’s list for assassination, following the failed attempt on her life in the Brighton hotel bombing.

Security around Downing Street is stepped up following increased IRA activity in England in 1988. Plans to leave a car bomb on a street near Downing Street and detonate it by remote control as Thatcher’s official car is driving by had been ruled out by the IRA Army Council owing to the likelihood of civilian casualties.

The Army Council instead sanctions a mortar attack on Downing Street and, in mid-1990, two IRA members travel to London to plan the attack. One is knowledgeable about the trajectory of mortars and the other, from the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, is familiar with their manufacture. An active service unit (ASU) purchases a Ford Transit van and rents a garage and an IRA co-ordinator procures the explosives and materials needed to make the mortars. The IRA unit begins making the mortars and cutting a hole in the roof of the van for the mortars to be fired through. Once preparations are complete, the two IRA members return to Ireland, as the IRA leadership considers them valuable personnel and does not wish to risk them being arrested in any follow-up operation by the security services. In November 1990, Thatcher unexpectedly resigns from office, but the Army Council decides the planned attack should still go ahead, targeting her successor John Major. The IRA plans to attack when Major and his ministers are likely to be meeting at Downing Street and wait until the date of a planned cabinet meeting is publicly known.

On the morning of February 7, 1991, the War Cabinet and senior government and military officials are meeting at Downing Street to discuss the ongoing Gulf War. As well as the Prime Minister, John Major, those present include politicians Douglas Hurd, Tom King, Norman Lamont, Peter Lilley, Patrick Mayhew, David Mellor and John Wakeham, civil servants Robin Butler, Percy Cradock, Gus O’Donnell and Charles Powell, and Chief of the Defence Staff David Craig. As the meeting begins, an IRA member is driving the van to the launch site at the junction of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall, about 200 yards from Downing Street.

On arrival, the driver parks the van and leaves the scene on a waiting motorcycle. Several minutes later, at 10:08 AM, as a policeman is walking towards the van to investigate it, three mortar shells are launched from a Mark 10 homemade mortar, followed by the explosion of a pre-set incendiary device. This device is designed to destroy any forensic evidence and set the van on fire. Each shell is four and a half feet long, weighs 140 pounds, and carries a 40-pound payload of the plastic explosive Semtex. Two shells land on Mountbatten Green, a grassed area near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. One explodes and the other fails to detonate. The third shell explodes in the back garden of 10 Downing Street, 30 yards from the office where the cabinet is meeting. Had the shell struck 10 Downing Street itself, it is likely the entire cabinet would have been killed. On hearing the explosion, the cabinet ducks under the table for cover. Bomb-proof netting on the windows of the cabinet office muffle the force of the explosion, which scorches the back wall of the building, smashes windows and makes a crater several feet deep in the garden.

Once the sound of the explosion and aftershock has died down, the room is evacuated and the meeting reconvenes less than ten minutes later in the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR). No members of the cabinet are hurt, but four people receive minor injuries, including two police officers injured by flying debris. Immediately after the attack, hundreds of police officers seal off the government district, from the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square. Until 6:00 PM, civilians are kept out of the area as forensic experts combed the streets and government employees are locked in behind security gates.

The IRA claims responsibility for the attack with a statement issued in Dublin, saying, “Let the British government understand that, while nationalist people in the six counties [Northern Ireland] are forced to live under British rule, then the British Cabinet will be forced to meet in bunkers.” John Major tells the House of Commons that “Our determination to beat terrorism cannot be beaten by terrorism. The IRA’s record is one of failure in every respect, and that failure was demonstrated yet again today. It’s about time they learned that democracies cannot be intimidated by terrorism, and we treat them with contempt.” Leader of the Opposition Neil Kinnock also condemns the attack, stating, “The attack in Whitehall today was both vicious and futile.” The head of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch, Commander George Churchill-Coleman, describes the attack as “daring, well planned, but badly executed.”

A further statement from the IRA appears in An Phoblacht, with a spokesperson stating “Like any colonialists, the members of the British establishment do not want the result of their occupation landing at their front or back doorstep … Are the members of the British cabinet prepared to give their lives to hold on to a colony? They should understand the cost will be great while Britain remains in Ireland.” The attack is celebrated in Irish rebel culture when the band The Irish Brigade releases a song titled “Downing Street,” to the tune of “On the Street Where You Live,” which includes the lyrics “while you hold Ireland, it’s not safe down the street where you live.”


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Birth of Joe Doherty, Former Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Joe Doherty, former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on January 20, 1955 in New Lodge, Belfast.

The son of a docker, Doherty is born into an Irish republican family, his grandfather being a member of the Irish Citizen Army which fought against British rule in the 1916 Easter Rising. Doherty leaves school at the age of 14 and begins work on the docks and as an apprentice plumber, before being arrested in 1972 on his seventeenth birthday under the Special Powers Act. He is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone and at Long Kesh Detention Centre, and while interned hears of the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry, where 14 civil rights protesters were shot dead by the British Army. This leads to him joining the IRA after he is released in June 1972. In the mid-1970s he is convicted of possession of explosives and sentenced to six years imprisonment in Long Kesh. He is released in December 1979.

After his release, Doherty becomes part of a four-man active service unit nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 heavy machine gun, along with Angelo Fusco and Paul Magee. On April 9, 1980 the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing one constable and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the Special Air Service (SAS) arrive in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit the car, the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder. Westmacott, who is killed instantly, is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members at the front, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene and, after a brief siege, the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Doherty and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, on charges including three counts of murder. On June 10, Doherty and seven other prisoners, including Angelo Fusco and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Gaol. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight wear officers’ uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves towards the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint, and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving towards the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire and the prisoners return fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Doherty is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Doherty escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland, and then travels to the United States on a false passport. He lives with an American girlfriend in Brooklyn and New Jersey, working on construction sites and as a bartender at Clancy’s Bar in Manhattan, where he is arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on June 28, 1983. He is imprisoned in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and a legal battle ensues with the British government seeking to extradite him back to Northern Ireland. Doherty claims he is immune from extradition as the killing of Westmacott was a political act, and in 1985 federal judge John E. Sprizzo rules Doherty cannot be extradited as the killing was a “political offense.” His legal battle continues as the United States Department of Justice then attempts to deport him for entering the country illegally.

Doherty remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and attempts to claim political asylum, and June 15, 1988 the United States Attorney General Edwin Meese overturns an earlier ruling by the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals that Doherty can be deported to the Republic of Ireland, and orders his deportation to Northern Ireland. In February 1989 new Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chooses not to support the decision made by his predecessor, and asks lawyers for Doherty and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to submit arguments for a review of the decision and Doherty’s claim for asylum. By this time Doherty’s case is a cause célèbre with his sympathisers including over 130 Congressmen and a son of then President of the United States George H. W. Bush, and in 1990 a street corner near the Metropolitan Correctional Center is named after him.

In August 1991, Doherty is transferred to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and on January 16, 1992 the Supreme Court of the United States overturns a 1990 Federal Appeals Court ruling by a 5-to-3 decision, paving the way for his deportation. On February 19, 1992 he is deported to Northern Ireland, despite pleas to delay the deportation from members of Congress, Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor. He is returned to Crumlin Road Gaol before being transferred to HM Prison Maze, and is released from prison on November 6, 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release he becomes a community worker specialising in helping disadvantaged young people. In 2006, he appears in the BBC television show Facing the Truth opposite the relatives of a soldier killed in the Warrenpoint ambush.


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The Shankill Road Bombing

The Shankill Road bombing is carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on October 23, 1993 and is one of the most notorious incidents of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

During the early 1990s, loyalist paramilitaries drastically increase their attacks on the Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist community and, for the first time since the beginning of the Troubles, are responsible for more deaths than the republicans. The Ulster Defence Association‘s (UDA) West Belfast brigade, and its commander, Johnny Adair, play a key role in this. Adair had become the group’s commander in 1990.

The UDA’s Shankill headquarters is above Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road. The UDA’s Inner Council and West Belfast brigade regularly meets there on Saturdays. Peter Taylor says it is also the office of the Loyalist Prisoners’ Association (LPA), and on Saturday mornings is normally crowded, as that is when money is given to prisoners’ families. According to Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack, the IRA have had the building under surveillance for some time. They say that the IRA decides to strike when one of their scouts spots Adair entering the building on the morning of Saturday, October 23, 1993. Later, in a secretly-recorded conversation with police, Adair confirms that he had been in the building that morning.

The IRA’s Belfast Brigade launches an operation to assassinate the UDA’s top commanders, whom it believes are at the meeting. The plan allegedly is for two IRA members to enter the shop with a time bomb, force out the customers at gunpoint and flee before it explodes, killing those at the meeting. As they believe the meeting is being held in the room above the shop, the bomb is designed to send the blast upwards. IRA members maintain that they would have warned the customers as the bomb was primed. It has an eleven-second fuse, and the IRA state that this would allowed just enough time to clear the downstairs shop but not enough for those upstairs to escape.

The operation is carried out by Thomas Begley and Seán Kelly, two IRA members in their early twenties from Ardoyne. They drive from Ardoyne to the Shankill in a hijacked blue Ford Escort, which they park on Berlin Street, around the corner from Frizzell’s. Dressed as deliverymen, they enter the shop with the five-pound bomb in a holdall. It is shortly after 1:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon and the area is crowded with mostly women and children. While Kelly waits at the door, Begley makes his way through the customers towards the counter, where the bomb detonates prematurely. Forensic evidence shows that Begley had been holding the bomb over the refrigerated serving counter when it exploded. Begley is killed along with nine other people, two of them children. They are the owner John Frizzell (63), his daughter Sharon McBride (29), Leanne Murray (13), UDA member Michael Morrison (27), his partner Evelyn Baird (27) and their daughter Michelle (7), George Williamson (63) and his wife Gillian (49), and Wilma McKee (38). The force of the blast causes the old building to collapse into a pile of rubble. The upper floor comes down upon those inside the shop, crushing many of the survivors under the rubble, where they remain until rescued some hours later by volunteers and emergency services. About 57 people are injured. At the scene during the rescue operation are several senior loyalists, including Adair and Billy McQuiston. The latter had been in a pub on the nearest corner when the bomb went off. Among those rescued from the rubble is the badly-wounded Seán Kelly.

Unknown to the IRA, if a UDA meeting had taken place, it had ended early and those attending it had left the building before the bomb exploded. McDonald and Cusack state that Adair and his men had stopped using the room for important meetings, allegedly because a sympathiser within the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) told Adair that the police had it bugged.

There was great anger and outrage in the Shankill in the wake of the bombing. Billy McQuiston tells journalist Peter Taylor that “anybody on the Shankill Road that day, from a Boy Scout to a granny, if you’d given them a gun they would have gone out and retaliated.” Many Protestants see the bombing as an indiscriminate attack on them. Adair believes that the bomb was meant for him. Two days after the bombing, as Adair is driving away from his house, he stops and tells a police officer, “I’m away to plan a mass murder.”

In the week following the bombing, the UDA and UVF launch a wave of “revenge attacks,” killing 14 civilians. The UDA shoots a Catholic delivery driver in Belfast after luring him to a bogus call just a few hours after the bombing. He dies on October 25. On 26 October, the UDA shoots dead another two Catholic civilians and wounds five in an indiscriminate attack at a Council Depot on Kennedy Way, Belfast. On October 30, UDA members enter a pub in Greysteel frequented by Catholics and again open fire indiscriminately. Eight civilians, six Catholics and two Protestants, are killed and 13 are wounded. This becomes known as the Greysteel massacre. The UDA states it is a direct retaliation for the Shankill Road bombing.

Seán Kelly, the surviving IRA member, is badly wounded in the blast, having lost his left eye and is unable to move his left arm. Upon his release from hospital, however, he is arrested and convicted of nine counts of murder, each with a corresponding life sentence. In July 2000, he is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. In an interview shortly after his release, he says he had never intended to kill innocent people and regrets what happened.


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Death of Kieran Doherty, Irish Republican Hunger Striker

Kieran Doherty, Irish republican hunger striker and politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency from June 1981 to August 1981, dies on August 2, 1981 in HM Prison Maze (known to republicans as Long Kesh) on the 73rd day of his hunger strike. He is a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Doherty is the third son in a family of six. He is born on October 16, 1955 in the Andersonstown area of Belfast and is educated at St. Theresa’s Primary School and Glen Road Christian Brothers School (CBS). The Doherty brothers are known cyclists and sportsmen in the Andersontown area. He wins an Antrim Gaelic football medal at minor level in 1971.

Doherty joins Fianna Éireann in 1971 and is interned by the British Government between February 1973 and November 1975. His brothers Michael and Terence are interned between 1972 and 1974.

Doherty works as an apprentice heating engineer. His girlfriend is Geraldine Scheiss and, although they never become formally engaged, they become very close toward the end of his life. Before his arrest, she had not known that he is in the IRA.

In August 1976, while he is out to set a bomb, the van in which he is riding is chased by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). During the chase Doherty manages to leave the van and hijack a car. He later ditches the car and is found one mile away from the car. He is convicted and sentenced to 18 years for possession of firearms and explosives, with another four years for the hijack.

Doherty starts his hunger strike on May 22, 1981. While on hunger strike he is elected as an Anti H-Block TD for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency at the 1981 Irish general election, which is held on June 11. He receives 9,121 (15.1%) first preference votes and is elected on the fourth count. The two seats gained by Anti H-Block candidates denies Taoiseach Charles Haughey the chance to form a government, and the 22nd Dáil Éireann sees a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government come to office, with Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

Doherty dies at the age of 25 on August 2, 1981. He lasts 73 days on hunger strike, the longest of the 1981 hunger strikers, and only one day short of Terence MacSwiney. He is the shortest-serving Dáil deputy ever, serving as a TD for only two months.

Doherty is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia. In October 2016, a painting of him is unveiled in Leinster House by Sinn Féin.


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Birth of Joe McDonnell, Irish Hunger Striker

joseph-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951. He dies after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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Death of Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell

 

joe-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on July 8, 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951 as one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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The Crumlin Road Gaol Escape

crumlin-road-jail-escapeEight Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners escape from Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, one of the most heavily guarded prisons in Europe, on June 10, 1980. Using handguns that had been smuggled into the prison, they take prison officers hostage and shoot their way out of the building and exit through the front gate.

The regime inside Crumlin Road Gaol on that day is just like any other. The prison had been the scene of several protests regarding strip-searching shortly beforehand, but the rules had been somewhat relaxed. On A and C Wings the remand prisoners are outside in the yard for exercise. As usual, several men from each wing are called for visits. Some of these visits are from solicitors and an area of the prison is set aside to allow legal teams and the accused a place to discuss their business in private.

When warders come to return one set of prisoners to their wing, the operation begins. One of the Volunteers produces a gun, forces the warders to release the other prisoners and then locks about ten warders in the cell. They then make their way to B wing’s visiting area and arrest all the warders, visitors and solicitors who are there, before locking about thirty up in a room. One warder named Killen reaches for his baton, is disarmed and hit over the head.

Two warders and a solicitor are ordered to strip and three of the IRA Volunteers, dress in two uniforms and a suit respectively, calmly walk to the main gate which is opened for them. They then pull guns on the real warders in this key security area and make them lie on the ground until their five comrades run across a small courtyard to join them.

Once outside however, the alarm is set off and British Army sentries pour a hail of automatic fire at the prisoners from a watch tower before they are able to reach the front gate. Undeterred, the prisoners dash through the bullets, weaving from side to side to throw off their attackers.

As the men make their escape, clearly visible to republican prisoners in cells on the top landing of A wing, loud cheers go up and makeshift flags are flown from the windows.

Outside the prison, cars have been parked by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade in the car park of the health clinic beside the courthouse, their ignition keys hidden under the floor mats. The prisoners run across the road towards the health centre, dodging bullets as they run. The escapees head towards the loyalist Shankill area where they commandeer cars to help their getaway.

Stunned by the daring escapees, the crown forces erect checkpoints across Belfast and along all border routes.

Seven of the escapees, known as the “M60 gang,” are brothers Tony and Gerry Sloan, Gerard McKee, Joe Doherty, Angelo Fusco, Paul ‘Dingus’ Magee and Tony Campbell. All are from Belfast and charged in connection with either an M60 machine gun attack in 1980 on a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol in Andersonstown, or with the siege on the Antrim Road in May 1980, when a Special Air Service (SAS) captain is killed. The eighth escapee is Pete Ryan from Ardboe, County Tyrone who had been charged with killing an RUC Reservist and an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier.

All eight men reach safe houses within an hour and, after a lying low for a short while, are spirited over the border to begin new lives “on the run.”

One week later, at the annual pilgrimage to the graveside of Wolfe Tone, the father of republicanism, which is always a source of renewed strength for its participants, the crowd is given an added morale boost when at the closing ceremony, one of the escapees, Paul ‘Dingus’ Magee, makes a dramatic appearance on the platform.

There are many more attempts to break free from Crumlin Road Gaol before it finally closes its doors in April 1995, having being used as a weapon in the attempted suppression of the Irish freedom struggle for 151 years.

(From: An Phoblacht Magazine, http://www.anphoblacht.com, June 15, 2006 edition)


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Deportation of Joe Doherty

joseph-dohertyJoe Doherty, a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a member of the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1980, is arrested in the United States in 1983 and is deported to Northern Ireland by the U.S. government on February 19, 1992. A first season episode of Law & Order entitled “The Troubles” is based on his case.

The trial of Doherty and the other members of their four-man active service unit nicknamed the “M60 gang” begins in early May 1981, on charges including three counts of murder. On June 10, Doherty and seven other prisoners, including Angelo Fusco and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Gaol and ultimately escape in waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Doherty is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Doherty escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland, and then travels to the United States on a false passport. He lives with an American girlfriend in Brooklyn and New Jersey, working on construction sites and as a bartender at Clancy’s Bar in Manhattan, where he is arrested by the FBI on June 28, 1983. He is imprisoned in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and a legal battle ensues with the British government seeking to extradite him back to Northern Ireland. Doherty claims he is immune from extradition as the killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Captain Herbert Westmacott was a political act. In 1985 federal judge John E. Sprizzo rules Doherty can not be extradited as the killing is a “political offense.” Doherty’s legal battle continues as the United States Department of Justice then attempts to deport him for entering the country illegally.

Doherty remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and attempts to claim political asylum, and on June 15, 1988 Attorney General Edwin Meese overturns an earlier ruling by the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals that Doherty can be deported to the Republic of Ireland, and orders his deportation to Northern Ireland. In February 1989 new Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chooses not to support the decision made by his predecessor, and asks lawyers for Doherty and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to submit arguments for a review of the decision and Doherty’s claim for asylum. By this time Doherty’s case is a cause célèbre with his sympathisers including over 130 Congressmen and a son of then President of the United States George H. W. Bush. In 1990 a street corner near the Metropolitan Correctional Center is named after him.

In August 1991, Doherty is transferred to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and on January 16, 1992 the Supreme Court of the United States overturns a 1990 Federal Appeals Court ruling by a 5-to-3 decision, paving the way for his deportation. On February 19, 1992 Doherty is deported to Northern Ireland, despite pleas to delay the deportation from members of Congress, Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor.

Doherty is returned to Crumlin Road Gaol before being transferred to HM Prison Maze. He is released from prison on November 6, 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release Doherty becomes a community worker specialising in helping disadvantaged young people. In 2006, he appears in the BBC television show Facing the Truth opposite the relatives of a soldier killed in the Warrenpoint ambush.