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


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The Droppin’ Well Bombing

The Droppin’ Well bombing or Ballykelly bombing occurs on December 6, 1982, when the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) explodes a time bomb at a disco in Ballykelly, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The disco, known as the Droppin’ Well, is targeted because it is frequented by British Army soldiers from nearby Shackleton Barracks. The bomb kills eleven soldiers and six civilians and 30 people are injured, making it the most deadly attack during the INLA’s paramilitary campaign and the most deadly attack during The Troubles carried out in County Londonderry.

The bomb is manufactured by the INLA in nearby Derry. One of those involved later reveals that the INLA unit had carried out reconnaissance missions to the Droppin’ Well to see if there were enough soldiers to justify the likelihood of civilian casualties.

On the evening of December 6, 1982, an INLA member leaves a bomb inside the pub. There are about 150 people inside. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) believe that the bomb, estimated to be 5 to 10 pounds of commercial (Frangex) explosives, is small enough to fit into a handbag. It has, however, been left beside a support pillar and, when it explodes at about 11:15 PM, the blast brings down the roof. Many of those killed and injured are crushed by fallen masonry.

Following the blast, it takes a few hours to pull survivors from the rubble. The last survivor is freed at 4:00 AM, but it is not until 10:30 AM that the last of the bodies is recovered. Ultimately, 17 people die and 30 are injured, some seriously. Five of the civilians are young women and three (Alan Callaghan, Valerie McIntyre and Angela Maria Hoole) are teenagers. Angela Hoole is celebrating her engagement to one of the soldiers who survives the incident. Of the eleven soldiers who die, eight are from the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, two from the Army Catering Corps and one from The Light Infantry. One of those on the scene is Bob Stewart, then a company commander in the Cheshire Regiment. He loses six soldiers from his company and is deeply affected as he tends to the dead and injured.

Suspicion immediately falls upon the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), who denies involvement. By December 8, the British Army is blaming the INLA on grounds that the IRA, in a mixed village, would have made greater efforts not to risk killing civilians. Shortly afterwards, the INLA issues a statement of responsibility.

The INLA describes the civilians killed as “consorts.” The attack is criticised by many on both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland due to the high loss of civilian lives. Soon after the INLA had issued its statement, the government of the Republic of Ireland bans the INLA, making membership punishable by seven years imprisonment.

In an interview after the bombing, INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey says that the Droppin’ Well’s owner had been warned six times to stop offering entertainment to British soldiers. He adds that the owner, and those who socialise with the soldiers, “knew full well that the warnings had been given and that the place was going to be bombed at some stage.” It later emerges that the INLA may also have targeted Ballykelly because it believed that the military base was part of NATO‘s radar and communications network.

Six days after the bombing, RUC officers shoot dead INLA members Seamus Grew and Roddie Carroll near a vehicle checkpoint in Armagh. The officers say they believed that the two men were ferrying McGlinchey into Northern Ireland. Neither was armed, nor was McGlinchey in their car.

In June 1986, four INLA members, sisters Anna Moore and Helena Semple, Eamon Moore (no blood relation) and Patrick Shotter, receive life sentences for the attack. Anna Moore later marries loyalist Bobby Corry while both are in prison. Anna’s daughter, Jacqueline Moore, is given ten years for manslaughter as the court believes she had been coerced into involvement. She is pregnant during her arrest and later gives birth in jail. All of those convicted are from Derry.

(Pictured: The Droppin’ Well bar and disco in Ballykelly destroyed by a Irish National Liberation Army bomb in 1982. Credit: PA Wire)


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Birth of Provisional IRA Member Seán Savage

sean-savageSeán Savage, Provisional Irish Republican Army member who is shot dead by the British Army while attempting to plant a car bomb in Gibraltar, is born in Belfast on January 26, 1965.

Born into an Irish Republican family in the Kashmir area of Belfast, Savage is educated at St. Gall’s Primary School, and at St. Paul’s Secondary School in the Falls Road area of West Belfast.

In 1987 Savage and Daniel McCann shoot and kill two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers at Belfast docks. He is also the leader of an IRA attack that places a car bomb beneath the car of John McMichael, an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, in Lisburn in December 1987. McMichael dies of his injuries two hours after the blast.

In March 1988, Savage and McCann, along with another Provisional IRA member, Mairéad Farrell, are sent to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a bomb in the town area targeting a British Army band which parades weekly in front of The Convent, the official Governors’ residence. However, the British Government acquires information about the intended attack and specially dispatches a British Army detachment there to intercept it, in an operation that it code-names Operation Flavius.

On March 6, 1988 Savage, McCann and Farrell enter Gibraltar from across the Spanish border to carry out a reconnaissance of the target. Having conducted it, they are leaving Gibraltar on foot approaching the Spanish border in two separate parties, when Savage sees McCann and Farrell up ahead being confronted and shot dead by soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment. He turns around and flees, running back into Gibraltar town, closely pursued on foot by another SAS soldier. After a 300-yard chase the soldier catches up with Savage and shoots him dead beneath a beech tree in Smith Dorrien Avenue. Civilian witnesses to the incident state afterwards that Savage is repeatedly fired upon by the soldier that had run him down while he is lying on the ground seemingly incapacitated.

The IRA team is subsequently found to be unarmed at the time of their deaths. A hire car rented by them, converted into a car bomb containing 140 lbs. of Semtex, with a device timed to go off during the changing of the guard ceremony in Gibraltar, is found two days later by the Spanish Police, who had assisted the British Government in tracking the IRA team’s movements in its territory before it had entered Gibraltar.

The bodies of Savage, Farrell and McCann are repatriated to Northern Ireland, where a collective IRA-sponsored funeral is held for them on March 16, 1988 at the IRA plot in Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast. As the coffins are being lowered into the ground Michael Stone, an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, stages a single-handed attack upon the ceremony, throwing grenades and firing a handgun at mourners. The funeral immediately descends into chaos. One group of mourners pursues the retreating attacker, who continues to throw grenades and fire bullets, through the cemetery grounds. Three of the unarmed mourners are killed and scores are injured. Stone retreats onto the adjoining M1 motorway, where he is arrested.

A Gibraltar inquest into the deaths of Savage, McCann and Farrell concludes the three had been lawfully killed. In 1995, the European Court of Human Rights rules that the human rights of the three were infringed, and criticizes the British authorities for lack of control in the arrest operation. They also rule that the three had been engaged in an act of terrorism, and consequently dismissed unanimously the applicants’ claims for damages, for costs and expenses incurred in the Gibraltar Inquest and the remainder of the claims for just satisfaction.

A British television documentary, Death on the Rock (1988), is produced and broadcast about the failed IRA operation in Gibraltar, examining the details of the events, and raising doubts about aspects of the British Government’s statements about the circumstances of the shootings of the IRA team, and questioning whether excessive force had been used in the confrontation in line with persistent rumours in the British media at that time of a “Shoot to Kill” strategy being used against the Provisional IRA by the British Government.


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The Rathcoole Ambush

rathcoole-ambush-monumentThe Rathcoole Ambush, one of the largest ambushes of the Irish War of Independence, takes place at Rathcoole, County Cork on June 16, 1921.

The railway line between Banteer and Millstreet had been cut in several places so the British Auxiliary forces based at Millstreet have to travel to Banteer by road for their supplies twice a week. As a result, a combined force of 130 Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers from the Millstreet, Kanturk, Newmarket, Charleville and Mallow battalion columns are mobilised to attack the Auxiliaries as they return from Banteer. The volunteers are under the command of Paddy O’Brien from Liscarroll.

On the night before the ambush the IRA volunteers sleep at Rathcoole Wood, which overlooks the planned ambush position. Shortly after sunrise the following morning, Captain Dan Vaughan lays six land mines on the untarred road and covers them with dust. After a wait of several hours a convoy of four armour-plated lorries, each mounted with a machine gun and carrying ten men, is observed heading for Banteer.

The volunteers prepare themselves and at 6:20 in the evening, as the lorries pass through the ambush area on their return journey, three of the land mines explode with devastating results. One mine detonates as the last of the four lorries drives over it and another explodes under the leading lorry in the convoy. Both vehicles are out of action with the two other lorries trapped between them. A third mine explodes amid a party of Auxiliaries as they attempted to outflank the position. A bitter firefight develops. Each time Auxiliaries attempt to outflank the IRA they are driven back, suffering losses of more than twenty dead and over a dozen wounded.

When it becomes clear that the IRA cannot achieve a complete victory because of their limited ammunition supply, the order for withdrawal is given and the whole force retires without a single casualty. Although no arms are captured during the action, a reconnaissance party from the column returns the next day to search the ambush position and recovers 1,350 rounds of ammunition which the Auxiliaries had left behind them as they removed their dead and wounded.

The ambush at Rathcoole is one of the Irish Republican Army’s most successful actions during the War of Independence. A week after the ambush, British Forces from Kanturk, Buttevant, Ballyvonaire, Macroom, Ballincollig, Killarney and Tralee carry out a widespread search throughout the Rathcoole area. Michael Dineen, a Volunteer in Kilcorney Company is taken from his brother’s house at Ivale by a party of Auxiliaries and shot dead. On the evening of July 1, the Auxiliaries set fire to and destroy the wood at Rathcoole from where the ambush had been launched. That same day that they shoot and kill a local man, Bernard Moynihan, as he is out cutting hay.

(Pictured: Monument at the site of the Rathcoole Ambush)