seamus dubhghaill

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


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Founding of Clan na Gael in New York City

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90The Clan na Gael, an Irish republican organization in the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries, is founded by John Devoy, Daniel Cohalan, and Joseph McGarrity in New York City on June 20, 1867. It is the successor to the Fenian Brotherhood and a sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). It has shrunk to a small fraction of its former size in the 21st century.

As Irish immigration to the United States begins to increase in the 18th century many Irish organizations are formed. In the later part of the 1780s, a strong Irish patriot character begins to grow in these organizations and amongst recently arrived Irish immigrants.

In 1858, the IRB is founded in Dublin by James Stephens. In response to the establishment of the IRB in Dublin, a sister organization is founded in New York City, the Fenian Brotherhood, led by John O’Mahony. This arm of Fenian activity in America produces a surge in radicalism among groups of Irish immigrants, many of whom had recently emigrated from Ireland during and after the Great Famine.

In October 1865, the Fenian Philadelphia Congress meets and appoints the Irish Republican Government in the United States. Meanwhile in Ireland, the IRB newspaper The Irish People is raided by the police and the IRB leadership is imprisoned. Another abortive uprising occurs in 1867, but the British remain in control.

After the 1865 crackdown in Ireland, the American organization begins to fracture over what to do next. Made up of veterans of the American Civil War, a Fenian army is formed. While O’Mahony and his supporters want to remain focused on supporting rebellions in Ireland, a competing faction, called the Roberts, or senate wing, wants this Fenian Army to attack British bases in Canada. The resulting Fenian raids strain U.S.–British relations. The level of American support for the Fenian cause begins to diminish as the Fenians are seen as a threat to stability in the region.

After 1867, the Irish Republican Brotherhood headquarters in Manchester chooses to support neither of the existing feuding factions, but instead promotes a renewed Irish republican organization in America, to be named Clan na Gael.

According to John Devoy in 1924, Jerome James Collins founds what is then called the Napper Tandy Club in New York on June 20, 1867, Wolfe Tone‘s birthday. This club expands into others and at one point at a picnic in 1870 is named the Clan na Gael by Sam Cavanagh. This is the same Cavanagh who killed the informer George Clark, who had exposed a Fenian pike-making operation in Dublin to the police.

Collins, who dies in 1881 on the disastrous Jeannette Expedition to the North Pole, is a science editor on the New York Herald, who had left England in 1866 when a plot he was involved in to free the Fenian prisoners at Pentonville Prison was uncovered by the police. Collins believes at the time of the founding in 1867 that the two feuding Fenians branches should patch things up.

The objective of Clan na Gael is to secure an independent Ireland and to assist the Irish Republican Brotherhood in achieving this aim. It becomes the largest single financier of both the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence.

Clan na Gael continues to provide support and aid to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) after it is outlawed in Ireland by Éamon de Valera in 1936 but becomes less active in the 1940s and 1950s. However the organization grows in the 1970s. The organization plays a key part in NORAID and is a prominent source of finance and weapons for the Provisional Irish Republican Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1969–1998.

The Clan na Gael still exists today, much changed from the days of the Catalpa rescue. In 1987 the policy of abstentionism is abandoned. As recently as 1997 another internal split occurs as a result of the IRA shift away from the use of physical force as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The two factions are known to insiders as Provisional Clan na Gael (allied to Provisional Sinn Féin/IRA) and Republican Clan na Gael (associated with both Republican Sinn Féin/Continuity IRA and 32 County Sovereignty Movement/Real IRA, though primarily the former). These have been listed as terrorist organizations at various times by the UK Government.

(Pictured: Clan na Gael marching in the 1970 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Philadelphia, photograph by John Hamilton)


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Birth of Irish Journalist Mary Holland

mary-hollandMary Holland, Irish journalist who specialises in writing about Ireland and in particular Northern Ireland, is born in Dover, Kent, South East England on June 19, 1935. She is raised in Ireland and married a British diplomat, Ronald Higgins. They lived in Indonesia but the marriage is annulled.

Holland originally works in fashion for Vogue magazine and then The Observer. She comes to prominence as one of the first Irish journalists to report on the rise of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and becomes an increasingly prominent commentator on the affairs of the region.

In 1977 Conor Cruise O’Brien is appointed editor-in-chief of The Observer. He is a writer and politician who serves as a government minister in the Irish Parliament, Oireachtas. He is often criticized for his uncompromising opposition to “physical force Irish republicanism,” and his actions to that end during Liam Cosgrave‘s tenure as Taoiseach are labelled as censorship by some. Shortly after starting as editor, he sends a memo to Holland:

“It is a very serious weakness of your coverage of Irish affairs that you are a very poor judge of Irish Catholics. That gifted and talkative community includes some of the most expert conmen and conwomen in the world and I believe you have been conned.”

Holland subsequently leaves The Observer and joins The Irish Times as their Northern Ireland correspondent. In 1988, she witnesses the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) Corporals killings.

Holland’s awards include the Prix Italia award for her television documentary on the Creggan in Derry (Creggan, 1980) and, in 1989, the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for the promotion of peace and understanding in Ireland. She writes and campaigns for abortion rights in Ireland and admits, in an article on the topic of abortion, that she had had one.

Holland dies from scleroderma on June 7, 2004, just twelve days before her 69th birthday. She is survived by her children with fellow journalist Eamonn McCann. Daughter Kitty is now a journalist for The Irish Times, and son Luke works for the United States-based human rights think tank, the Center for Economic and Social Rights.


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The Coagh Ambush

coagh-county-tyroneThe Coagh ambush takes place in Coagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on June 3, 1991, during The Troubles, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) active service unit from its East Tyrone Brigade is ambushed by the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) while on its way to kill a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The ambush results in the deaths of all three IRA men involved.

The series of killings which lead to the Coagh ambush begin on April 26 1988, when a 23-year-old UDR soldier from Coagh, Edward Gibson, is shot dead by an IRA unit at Ardboe while at work for Cookstown Council on a bin lorry. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by murdering Phelim McNally, brother of local Sinn Féin councillor Francie McNally, on November 24, 1988. This is followed by an IRA attack upon a car maintenance garage business owned by retired UDR soldier Leslie Dallas on March 7, 1989, in which Dallas, along with two civilian pensioners that are in the premises at the time of the attack, are all murdered by machine gun fire from a passing vehicle, the IRA attackers driving off afterwards cheering as reported by eyewitnesses in the vicinity.

The tit-for-tat campaign around Coagh continues on November 29 1989, when UVF gunmen attack a pub owned by IRA member Liam Ryan, shooting Ryan dead. A customer in the premises is also killed in the incident. On March 8, 1990, part-time UDR soldier and construction worker Thomas Jamison is killed by the IRA in a gun and grenade ambush attack on a lorry he is driving near Donaghmore, while delivering concrete to a British Army base. On March 3, 1991, the Ulster Volunteer Force carries out an attack at the village of Cappagh, killing three IRA members. On April 9, 1991, the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade shoots dead Derek Ferguson in Coagh, a cousin of local Member of Parliament Reverend William McCrea, stating afterward that he was a paramilitary with the Ulster Volunteer Force. Ferguson’s family subsequently refutes that he had anything to do with Loyalist paramilitarism.

At 7:30 AM on June 3, 1991, three Tyrone IRA paramilitaries, Tony Doris (21), Michael “Pete” Ryan (37) and Lawrence McNally (39), drive a stolen Vauxhall Cavalier from Moneymore, County Londonderry to the village of Coagh, crossing the border of counties Londonderry and Tyrone, to kill a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, who is in his civilian life a contractor that works with the security forces. Their intent, however, is known to the British security forces, having been revealed by either a Crown agent within the IRA itself or from covert technical surveillance. In consequence a detachment from the British Army’s Special Air Service is lying in wait on both sides of Coagh’s main street, and also in a red Bedford lorry at the scene.

The stolen car is driven by Doris towards the centre of the village, its journey from Moneymore being tracked on the ground and in the air. At the scene of the ambush the British Army has set up a “decoy” target for the IRA to go for in the form of an SAS trooper who is pretending to be their intended victim, sitting in his car at a regular spot while waiting to pick up a friend on their way to work, which IRA intelligence had established as a behavioral pattern of their intended victim. When the stolen car carrying the IRA men approaches the scene, the Special Air Service detachment opens sustained automatic fire upon it from close range. Doris is immediately hit and the out-of-control car crashes into two nearby parked cars. The shooting continues until the car explodes in flames. According to an eyewitness, one of the IRA men in the car returns fire from within the vehicle after the crash.

Some reports claim at least two of the IRA men attempt to exit the crashed car and are subsequently found lying half out of its doors by the later police investigation of the scene. Relatives of the IRA men subsequently state that they had received information from the scene that two of the IRA attackers had fled on foot from the car after the crash, but had been pursued after and shot down by the British Army in the vicinity, with their bodies being taken back to the car, which is subsequently reported to be riddled with over 200 bullet holes. A Royal Ulster Constabulary crime-scene report states that a balaclava belonging to one of the IRA men is found some distance away from the vehicle.

The bodies of Doris, Ryan and McNally are badly burned and have to be identified by police using their dental records. Two rifles are recovered from within the burned-out stolen car and subsequent police forensic examination reveals that they had both been used in the multiple murders at Leslie Dallas’s garage in March 1989.

(Pictured: Looking towards Coagh village, from the County Londonderry side)


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RAF Chinook Helicopter Crash on Mull of Kintyre

1994-chinook-crash-memorialA Chinook helicopter of the Royal Air Force (RAF) crashes on the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland, in foggy conditions on June 2, 1994. The crash results in the deaths of all twenty-five passengers and four crew on board. Among the passengers are almost all the United Kingdom‘s senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts who are travelling from Belfast to a security conference in Inverness. The accident is the RAF’s worst peacetime disaster.

Earlier in the day, the helicopter and crew carry out a trooping flight, as it is considered to be unsafe for British troops to move around in certain parts of Northern Ireland using surface transport at the time due to the threat posed by Provisional Irish Republican Army attacks. This mission is safely accomplished and they return to Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station Aldergrove at 3:20 PM. The helicopter takes off for Inverness at 5:42 PM. Weather en route is forecast to be clear except in the Mull of Kintyre area. The crew makes contact with military air traffic control (ATC) in Scotland at 5:55 PM.

Around 6:00 PM, the helicopter flies into a hillside in dense fog. The pilots are Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper, 28, and Richard Cook, 30, both United Kingdom Special Forces pilots. There are two other crew. The helicopter is carrying 25 British intelligence experts from MI5, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army, from RAF Aldergrove (outside Belfast, Northern Ireland) to attend a conference at Fort George, near Inverness, Scotland. At the time of the accident Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten calls it “the largest peacetime tragedy the RAF had suffered.”

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, one commentator states that the loss of so many top level Northern Ireland intelligence officers in one stroke is a huge blow to the John Major government, “temporarily confounding” its campaign against the IRA. That the crash kills so many British intelligence experts, without any witnesses in the foggy conditions, leads to considerable speculation and conspiracy theories being devised on the issue on the potential of a cover-up having been performed. Among these are accusations that wake turbulence from a top-secret hypersonic U.S. aircraft had been responsible for the crash, while another postulates that it is a deliberate assassination of the intelligence operatives on board in connection with the then on-going Northern Ireland peace process.

In 1995, an RAF board of inquiry rules that it is impossible to establish the exact cause of the accident. This ruling is subsequently overturned by two senior reviewing officers, who state the pilots were guilty of gross negligence for flying too fast and too low in thick fog. This finding proves to be controversial, especially in light of irregularities and technical issues surrounding the then-new Chinook HC.2 variant which were uncovered. A Parliamentary inquiry conducted in 2001 finds the previous verdict of gross negligence on the part of the crew to be “unjustified.” In 2011, an independent review of the crash clears the crew of negligence.

(Pictured: Memorial on Mull of Kintyre, Scotland to the crash victims of the 1994 RAF Chinook crash)


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Founding of the Royal Ulster Constabulary

royal-ulster-constabulary-badgeThe Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the police force in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 2001, is founded on June 1, 1922 as a successor to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

At its peak the force has around 8,500 officers with a further 4,500 who are members of the RUC Reserve. During the Troubles (late 1960s-1998), 319 members of the RUC are killed and almost 9,000 injured in paramilitary assassinations or attacks, mostly by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which by 1983 makes the RUC the most dangerous police force in the world in which to serve. During the same period, the RUC kills 55 people, 28 of whom are civilians.

The RUC is superseded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001. The former police force is renamed and reformed, as is provided for by the final version of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. The RUC has been accused by republicans and Irish nationalists of one-sided policing and discrimination, as well as collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. Conversely, it is praised as one of the most professional policing operations in the world by British security forces.

Allegations regarding collusion prompt several inquiries, the most recent of which is published by Police Ombudsman For Northern Ireland Nuala O’Loan on January 22, 2007. The report identifies police, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Special Branch collusion with loyalist terrorists under 31 separate headings, in her report on the murder of Raymond McCord, Jr. and other matters, but no member of the RUC has been charged or convicted of any criminal acts as a result of these inquiries. Ombudsman O’Loan states in her conclusions that there is no reason to believe the findings of the investigation were isolated incidents.


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Official Irish Republican Army Declares Ceasefire

official-ira-ceasefire-1972The Official Irish Republican Army (IRA) announces a ceasefire on May 29, 1972. This marks the end of the Official IRA’s paramilitary campaign. The organization, however, reserves the right of self-defence against attacks by the British Army and sectarian groups. The Provisional Irish Republican Army dismisses the truce as having “little effect” on the situation.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, welcomes the move and a spokesperson says it is “a step in the right direction.”

A statement is read out from Dublin after the previous night’s meeting of the executive of the Northern Republican Clubs, a political movement allied to the IRA. It states, “The overwhelming desire of the great majority of all the people of the north is for an end to military actions by all sides.”

It goes on to say that a suspension of activities will be a chance to prevent all-out civil war in Ulster. The group insists it will continue a campaign of civil disobedience and the political struggle until its demands are met, namely:

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army are the first to benefit from such a ceasefire as they have been the primary targets of the IRA. Residents of Belfast in particular have been worn down by the four-year campaign of violence and this news is very welcome there.

Father Hugh O’Neill, who leads a Londonderry peace movement, says, “Please God, everyone will now sit down and begin to talk.”


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Birth of Irish Republican Joe Cahill

joe-cahillJoe Cahill, a prominent figure in the Irish Republican movement in Northern Ireland and former Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on May 19, 1920.

Cahill is educated at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School. At age 14 he leaves school to assist in his father’s print shop. Soon after, he joins the Catholic Young Men’s Society, which campaigns on social issues with a focus on eradicating moneylenders from working-class areas of Belfast, as they often charge usurious interest rates. At the age of seventeen, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, a republican-orientated Scouting movement. Na Fianna Eireann is regarded as the “Junior Irish Republican Army.”

Cahill joins the local Clonard-based ‘C’ Company of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army in 1938. Four years later, during an anniversary march by the IRA for the Easter Rising, he gets into a shootout with five other IRA men against four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. Several men are wounded and Constable Patrick Murphy is killed. Cahill and four of the other men spend time in prison in Belfast. The IRA declares a formal ceasefire in 1945. Afterwards, republican prisoners begin to be released. Cahill is released in October 1949.

The IRA launches a new campaign in 1956. The IRA border campaign attacks ten targets in six counties, damaging bridges, courthouses and border roads. By 1957, three RUC officers and seven republicans have been killed during the campaign. Cahill is arrested and interned in January 1957 with several other republicans. He is released from internment in April 1961. Following his release from prison, he is disappointed at the direction of the IRA and resigns from the organisation around 1962.

In 1969, Cahill is a key figure in the founding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. During his time in the Provisional IRA, he helps import weapons and raise financial support. He serves as the chief of staff in 1972, but is arrested the following year when a ship importing weapons was intercepted.

After his release, Cahill continues to serve on the IRA Army Council and leads all financial dealings for Sinn Féin. In the 1990s, the IRA and Sinn Féin begin to work on seeking peace. Cahill serves on the council that calls a cessation on July 21, 1996. He attends several of the talks that finally lead to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998. Shortly after the agreement is made, he resigns as treasurer of Sinn Féin. To honour his service, he is made honorary Sinn Féin Vice-President for life. He serves the Republican movement in Ireland all his life, as one of the longest-serving political activists in Ireland of any political party.

Cahill dies at age 84 in Belfast on July 23, 2004. He had been diagnosed with asbestosis, which he probably developed while working at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in his twenties. He and several other former shipyard workers later sue the company for their exposure to the dangerous substances but only win minimal compensation.


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The Battle at Springmartin

kelly-bar-bombingThe Battle at Springmartin, a series of gun battles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, begins on May 13, 1972 and continues into the following day. It involves the British Army, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The night before the bombing, snipers from the UVF West Belfast Brigade take up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of flats at the edge of the Ulster Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly World War II stock, are ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill Road.

The violence begins shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday, May 13, 1972, when a car bomb, planted by Ulster loyalists, explodes without warning outside the crowded Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub is in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area of Ballymurphy and most of its customers are from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub is crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Following the blast the UVF snipers open fire on the survivors. This begins the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London.

Sixty-three people are injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran, age 19, who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, dies of his injuries on May 23.

For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fight gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting takes place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster Protestant Springmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sits between them. Five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section are killed in the violence. Four of the dead are teenagers.

At first, the British Army claims that the blast had been an “accident” caused by a Provisional IRA bomb. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, tells the House of Commons on May 18 that the blast is caused by a Provisional IRA bomb that exploded prematurely. However, locals suspect that the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources say that IRA volunteers would not risk storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerges that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.

A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads:

This plaque marks the spot
where Kelly’s Bar once stood
and here on 13th May 1972
a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded.
As a result, 66 people were injured
and three innocent members of staff
of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives.
They were:
Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972)
John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972)
Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989)
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a namacha”


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Death of IRA Blanket Protester Kieran Nugent

kieran-nugentKieran Nugent, volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies from a heart attack on May 4, 2000. He is best known for being the first person to start the blanket protest against the British Government’s treatment of republican prisoners.

Born in 1958, Nugent’s adolescence comes at a time when Northern Ireland is exploding into turmoil. On March 20, 1973, at the age of 15, he is standing with a friend on the corner of Merrion Street and Grosvenor Road when a car pulls up beside them and one of the occupants asks them for directions. Another occupant of the vehicle then opens fire with a submachine gun. Nugent is seriously wounded after being shot eight times in the chest, arms and back by the Ulster loyalists in the car. His friend, Bernard McErlean, aged 16, is killed.

At some point afterwards, Nugent joins the Provisional IRA. At the age of sixteen he is arrested by the British Army and spends five months on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol. When he is eventually tried, the case against him is withdrawn and he is released. He becomes an active volunteer until his arrest and internment, without trial, on February 9, 1975.

Nugent spends nine months in Cage 4 at the Long Kesh Detention Centre until November 12, 1975. He is arrested and imprisoned again on May 12, 1976, following the hijacking of a bus. On September 14, 1976 he is sentenced to three years and becomes the first Republican prisoner convicted since the withdrawal of Special Category Status for those convicted through juryless courts, due to the new British policy of ‘criminalisation’ introduced that March. Among other things, this change in policy means convicted paramilitaries can no longer wear their own clothes. Viewing himself as a political prisoner and not a criminal, he refuses to wear the uniform saying the prison guards would have to “…nail it to my back.” This begins the blanket protest.

Nugent is soon joined by Jackie McMullan, the next prisoner to don the blanket, followed by six more Irish republican prisoners from the Beechmount area of Belfast. By Christmas 1976 the number of participants has risen to over forty prisoners. Most incoming republican prisoners emulate Nugent and this starts five years of prison protests in pursuit of political status, which culminates in the 1981 Irish hunger strike and the death of eleven, including seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army prisoners.

Nugent, the father of four, is found dead of a heart attack at his home in Anderstown, Belfast on May 4, 2000.


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Death of IRA Volunteer Séamus McElwaine

seamus-turlough-mcelwaineSéamus Turlough McElwaine, a volunteer in the South Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), is killed on April 26, 1986 by the Special Air Service (SAS) while on active duty with Seán Lynch, who is seriously injured in the shooting.

McElwaine is born on April 1, 1960, the oldest of eight children, in the townland of Knockacullion, beside the hamlet and townland of Knockatallon, near the village of Scotstown in the north of County Monaghan. At the age of 14, he takes his first steps towards becoming involved in physical force republicanism when he joins Na Fianna Éireann. Two years later he turns down an opportunity to study in the United States and joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), stating “no one will ever be able to accuse me of running away.”

McElwaine becomes Officer Commanding of the IRA in County Fermanagh by the age of 19. On February 5, 1980, he kills off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) corporal Aubrey Abercrombie as he drives a tractor in the townland of Drumacabranagher, near Florencecourt. Later that year, on September 23, he kills off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston outside his home in Rosslea. He is suspected of involvement in at least ten other killings.

On March 14, 1981, a detachment of the British Army surrounds a farmhouse near Rosslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrender and are arrested. While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, McElwaine stands in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and receives 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote). In May 1982 he is convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a “dangerous killer” and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.

On September 25, 1983, McElwaine is involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. Thirty-eight republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the prison. After the escape McElwaine joins an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh. The unit targets police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.

McElwaine holds a meeting with Pádraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, members of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, in which they discuss forming a flying column aimed at destroying police stations to create IRA-controlled zones within Northern Ireland. However, this plan never materialises. McKearney and Lynagh are later themselves killed in the Loughgall ambush.

On April 26, 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Seán Lynch, are preparing to ambush a British Army patrol near Rosslea, County Fermanagh when they are ambushed themselves by a detachment from the Special Air Service Regiment. Both are wounded but Lynch manages to crawl away. A January 1993 inquest jury returns a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury rules the soldiers had opened fire without giving him a chance to surrender, and that he was shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requests a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but no one has been prosecuted for McElwaine’s death.

McElwaine is buried in Scotstown, with his funeral attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gives an oration describing McElwaine as “a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country” and “an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists.”

In 1987 McElwaine’s father, Jimmy, a longtime member of Monaghan County Council, became the chairman of the Séamus McElwain Cumann of Republican Sinn Féin.

On April 1, 1990 a monument to McElwaine is erected in Corlat, County Monaghan. The oration is given by a Catholic priest, Father Piaras Ó Dúill, who compares McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle. The inscription on the monument is a quote from Patrick Pearse: “As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.” A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans is erected in Rosslea in 1998, and unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.