seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Ballygawley Barracks Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches an assault on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on December 7, 1985. Two RUC officers are shot dead and the barracks are raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a bomb, which wounds an additional three officers.

In 1985, Patrick Kelly becomes leader of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He, along with East Tyrone Brigade members Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, advocate using flying columns to destroy isolated British Army and RUC bases and stop them from being repaired. The goal is to create and hold “liberated zones” under IRA control that will be gradually enlarged. Although IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna turns down the flying column idea, IRA Northern Command approves the plan to destroy bases and prevent their repair. In 1985 alone there are 44 such attacks. Among the most devastating is the mortar attack on Newry RUC barracks in March.

The Ballygawley attack involves two IRA active service units from the East Tyrone Brigade: an armed assault unit and a bomb unit. There are also several teams of IRA observers in the area. The assault team is armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, while the bombing unit is responsible for planting and detonating a 100-pound (45 kg) bomb. Both units are commanded by Patrick Kelly.

The assault is launched on Saturday, December 7, at 6:55 PM, when the handful of RUC officers manning the base are getting ready to hand over to the next shift. In the first burst of automatic fire, the two guards at the entrance are killed, Constable George Gilliland and Reserve Constable William Clements. Constable Clements’s Ruger Security-Six revolver is taken by the attackers. The base is then raked with gunfire. Another three RUC officers who are inside run out to the back of the base, where they hope the walls might offer some cover. IRA members go into the building and take documents and weapons. The bomb is placed inside and, upon detonation, destroys the entire base, injuring three officers.

The republican IRIS Magazine (#11, October 1987) describes the attack as follows:

“One volunteer took up a position close to the front gate. Two RUC men opened the gate and the volunteer calmly stepped forward, shooting them both dead at point blank range. Volunteers firing AK-47 and Armalite rifles moved into the barracks, raking it with gunfire. Having secured the building they planted a 100-lb. bomb inside. The bomb exploded, totally destroying the building after the volunteers had withdrawn to safety.”

The first British Army unit to arrive at the base in the wake of the attack is X Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The attack is one of the Provisional IRA’s biggest during this period. Twelve days later the same IRA brigade mortar the RUC station at Castlederg badly damaging the base and injuring four people. The Ballygawley base is rebuilt by the Royal Engineers in 1986.

The East Tyrone IRA launches two similar attacks in the following years: the successful attack on the Birches base in 1986, and the ill-fated attack on the Loughgall base in 1987, in which eight IRA members are killed. Ballygawley itself had seen conflict before with the Ballygawley land mine attack in 1983, and would see more violence in 1988 with the Ballygawley bus bombing, that cost the lives of eight British soldiers. The gun taken from Constable Clements is found by security forces after the SAS ambush at Loughgall.

The RUC base at Ballygawley is once again targeted by the East Tyrone Brigade on December 7, 1992, in what becomes the debut of the IRA’s brand new Mark-15 improvised mortar, better known as “Barrack Buster.” Another attack with a horizontal mortar occurs on April 30, 1993, when a RUC mobile patrol leaving Ballygawley compound is targeted. According to an IRA statement, the projectile misses one of the vehicles, hits a wall and explodes.

(Pictured: A Provisional Irish Republican Army badge, with the phoenix symbolising the origins of the Provisional IRA)


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Birth of Richard Sankey, Officer in the Madras Engineer Group

Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Hieram Sankey KCB, officer in the Madras Engineer Group in the East India Company‘s army in British India, is born on March 22, 1829 at Rockwell Castle, County Tipperary.

Sankey is the fourth son of Eleanor and Matthew Sankey. His mother is herself from a family of military men, her father being Colonel Henry O’Hara, J.P of O’Hara Broom, County Antrim. His father is a barrister at Bawnmore, County Cork and Modeshil, County Tipperary. He does his schooling at Rev. Flynn’s School on Harcourt Street in Dublin and enters the East India Company’s Addiscombe Military Seminary at Addiscombe, Surrey in 1845. At Addiscombe he is awarded for his excellence at painting.

Sankey is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Madras Engineer Group in November 1846, and is then trained in military engineering with the Royal Engineers at Chatham, Kent from January 1, 1847, holding temporary rank as an ensign in the British Army. He then arrives in India in November 1848. After two years of service at Mercatur, he officiates in 1850 as Superintending Engineer at Nagpur. During this time he makes a small collection of fossils of Glossopteris from the Nagpur district and writes a paper on the geology of the region in 1854. The collection is moved from the Museum of Practical Geology to the British Museum in 1880.

In 1856, Sankey is promoted as the Superintendent of the East Coast Canal at Madras. In May 1857, he is promoted Under-Secretary of the Public Works Department under Col. William Erskine Baker in Calcutta. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, he is commissioned as the Captain of the Calcutta Cavalry Volunteers, but is soon despatched to Allahabad where he leads the construction of several embankments and bridges across the Yamuna and Ganges. He is involved in the construction of shelters to advancing troops along the Grand Trunk Road to aid the quelling of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He arrives in course of this work at Cawnpore (now Kanpur) a day before the Second Battle of Cawnpore. He also is involved in crucial civil works that aid the quelling of the rebellion by bridging the Ghaghara and Gomti rivers at Gorakhpur and Phulpur that enable the Gurkha regiment to cross these rivers.

Sankey receives several commendations from his commanders here and later in the taking of the fort at Jumalpur, Khandua nalla and Qaisar Bagh, vital actions in the breaking of the Siege of Lucknow. For his actions at Jumalpur he is recommended for the Victoria Cross, although he does not receive this honour. He receives a medal for the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and is promoted to second captain on August 27, 1858, and given brevet promotion to major the following day for his services in the quelling of the rebellion. He is sent to the Nilgiris due to ill-health during this time.

Sankey spends a year in Burma as the executive engineer and Superintendent of the jail at Moulmein. On June 29, 1861, he is promoted to substantive captain and is posted as the Garrison Engineer at Fort William, Calcutta and later as the assistant to Chief Engineer, Mysore until 1864, when he is made the Chief Engineer. During this period he creates a system within the irrigation department to deal with old Indian water catchment systems, surveying the catchment area and determining the area drained and the flows involved. Due to the reorganisation of the armed forces following the assumption of Crown rule in India he is transferred to the Royal Engineers on April 29, 1862.

In 1870, at the request of the Victorian Colonial Government in Australia, in view of his experience with hydrological studies in Mysore, Sankey is invited to be Chairman of the Board of Enquiry on Victorian Water Supply. During this visit, he also gives evidence to the Victorian Select Committee on Railways, as well as reports on the Yarra River Floods, and the Coliban Water Supply, and later contributes to the report on the North West Canal. While in Australia, he is also invited to the colony of South Australia to report on the water supply of Adelaide.

Sankey is appointed as an under-secretary to the Government of India in 1877, which earns him the Afghanistan Medal. In 1878, he is promoted as the Secretary in the public works department at Madras, and is promoted substantive colonel on December 30. He is appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath on July 25, 1879, and also commands the Royal Engineers on the advance from Kandahar to Kabul during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. For about five years he is in Madras where he becomes a member of the legislative council in Madras and is elected as a Fellow of the University of Madras. He also helps in the creation and improvements of the Marina, the gardens and the Government House grounds. He is promoted major general on June 4, 1883, and retires from the army on January 11, 1884 with the honorary rank of lieutenant general. He also receives the distinguished service award in India.

After retirement, Sankey returns to Ireland, where he becomes the Chairman of the Board of Works. He is promoted Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on May 25, 1892 for his work in Ireland. He also undertakes projects in Mexico. Later he settles in London where he dies at St. George’s Hospital on November 11, 1908 and is interred at Hove, East Sussex.

Sankey is memorialised in Phoenix Park, Dublin. A circle of trees bears the name Sankey’s Wood. A plaque dated 1894 lies half-hidden in the undergrowth there.


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The Assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs

christopher-ewart-biggs-assassinationChristopher Thomas Ewart Ewart-Biggs, British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, author and senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6, is killed in Sandyford, Dublin on July 21, 1976 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine.

Ewart-Biggs is born in the Thanet district of Kent, South East England to Captain Henry Ewart-Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He is educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and serves in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during World War II. At the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 he loses his right eye and as a result he wears a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.

Ewart-Biggs joins the Foreign Service in 1949, serving in Lebanon, Qatar and Algiers, as well as Manila, Brussels and Paris.

Ewart-Biggs is 55 when he is killed by a land mine planted by the IRA on July 21, 1976. He had been taking precautions to avoid such an incident since coming to Dublin only two weeks earlier. Among the measures he employs is to vary his route many times a week however, at a vulnerable spot on the road connecting his residence to the main road, there is only a choice between left or right. He chooses right and approximately 150 yards from the residence he hits a land mine that is later judged to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Ewart-Biggs and fellow passenger and civil servant Judith Cooke (aged 26) are killed. Driver Brian O’Driscoll and third passenger Brian Cubbon (aged 57) are injured. Cubbon is the highest-ranking civil servant in Northern Ireland at the time.

The Irish government launches a manhunt involving 4,000 Gardaí and 2,000 soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declares that “this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame.” In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemns the assassins as a “common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by.” Thirteen suspected members of the IRA are arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempt to apprehend the criminals, but no one is ever convicted of the killings. In 2006, released Foreign and Commonwealth Office files reveal that the Gardaí had matched a partial fingerprint at the scene to Martin Taylor, an IRA member suspected of gun running from the United States.

Ewart-Biggs’s widow, Jane Ewart-Biggs, becomes a Life Peer in the House of Lords, campaigns to improve Anglo-Irish relations and establishes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for literature.

(Pictured: The twisted remains of the car lie upended beside a huge crater after the explosion that killed Christopher Ewart-Biggs and civil servant Judith Cooke)


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Birth of John Pitt Kennedy, Engineer & Agricultural Reformer

john-pitt-kennedy-gravesiteLieutenant-Colonel John Pitt Kennedy, British military engineer, agricultural reformer and civil servant, is born at Carndonagh, County Donegal on May 8, 1796.

Kennedy is educated at Foyle College, Derry, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, becoming lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in 1815. Four years afterwards, he is sent to Malta, and thence to Corfu. He superintends the construction of a canal at Lefkada in 1820, serves next under Sir Charles James Napier at Cephalonia building lighthouses, roads, and quays, and is sub-inspector of militia in the Ionian Islands (1828–31).

During a period in India Kennedy meets Sir Charles James Napier and when he returns to Ireland he sets up agricultural schools designed to improve the economy of the country. One is at Cloghan near Ballybofey, and another at Eglinton near Derry. He becomes a farm manager and marries Anna, daughter of Sir Charles Styles, who owns large estates around Ballybofey, in 1838. Kennedy′s methods of improving the condition of the agricultural classes are indicated by the title of his work, Instruct; Employ; Don’t Hang Them: or Ireland Tranquilized without Soldiers and Enriched without English Capital (1835). He writes several others of similar nature, and as inspector general for Irish education (1837), as secretary to the Devon Commission (1843), and to the Famine Relief Committee (1845), his labours are unceasing in behalf of his native land.

Kennedy returns to the army in 1849 as military secretary to Sir Charles Napier and accompanies him to India, where he builds the military road named after him and extending from Kalka via Shimla to Kunawur and Tibet. He publishes British Home and Colonial Empire (1865–69), as well as a number of technical works relating to his Indian career. He also serves as District Grandmaster of Bengal.

John Pitt Kennedy dies in 1879 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery (East) in Highgate, London Borough of Camden, Greater London, England.

(Pictured: John Pitt Kennedy gravesite in Highgate Cemetery, London)


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Birth of Fighter Pilot George Edward Henry McElroy

Captain George Edward Henry McElroy, a leading Irish-born fighter pilot of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during World War I, is born at Donnybrook, County Dublin, on May 14, 1893. He is credited with 47 aerial victories.

McElroy enlists promptly at the start of World War I in August 1914, and is shipped out to France two months later. He is serving as a corporal in the Motor Cyclist Section of the Royal Engineers when he is first commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 9, 1915. While serving in the Royal Irish Regiment he is severely affected by mustard gas and is sent home to recuperate. He is in Dublin in April 1916, during the Easter Rising, and is ordered to help quell the insurrection. McElroy refuses to fire upon his fellow Irishmen, and is transferred to a southerly garrison away from home.

On June 1, 1916 McElroy relinquishes his commission in the Royal Irish Regiment when awarded a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which he graduates on February 28, 1917, and is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

McElroy is promptly seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, being trained as a pilot at the Central Flying School at Upavon, and is appointed a flying officer on June 28. On July 27 his commission is backdated to February 9, 1916, and he is promoted to lieutenant on August 9. On August 15 he joins No. 40 Squadron RFC, where he benefits from mentoring by Edward “Mick” Mannock. He originally flies a Nieuport 17, but with no success in battle. By the year’s end McElroy is flying Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s and claims his first victory on December 28.

An extremely aggressive dog-fighter who ignores often overwhelming odds, McElroy’s score soon grows rapidly. He shoots down two German aircraft in January 1918, and by February 18 has run his string up to eleven. At that point, he is appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of captain and transferred to No. 24 Squadron RFC. He continues to steadily accrue victories by ones and twos. By March 26, when he is awarded the Military Cross, he is up to 18 “kills.” On April 1, the Army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) are merged to form the Royal Air Force, and his squadron becomes No. 24 Squadron RAF. McElroy is injured in a landing accident on April 7 when he brushes a treetop while landing. By then he has run his score to 27. While he is sidelined with his injury, on April 22, he is awarded a bar to his Military Cross. Following his convalescence, McElroy returns to No. 40 Squadron in June, scoring three times, on the 26th, 28th, and 30th. The latter two triumphs are observation balloons. That runs his tally to thirty.

In July, he adds to his score almost daily, a third balloon busting on the 1st, followed by one of the most triumphant months in the history of fighter aviation, adding 17 victims during the month. His run of success is threatened on the 20th by a vibrating engine that entails breaking off an attack on a German two seater and a rough emergency landing that leaves him with scratches and bruises. There is a farewell luncheon that day for his friend Gwilym Hugh “Noisy” Lewis. Their mutual friend Edward “Mick” Mannock pulls McElroy aside to warn him about the hazards of following a German victim down within range of ground fire.

On July 26, Mannock is killed by ground fire. Ironically, on that same day, “McIrish” McElroy receives the second Bar to his Military Cross. He is one of only ten airmen to receive the second Bar.

McElroy’s continues apparent disregard for his own safety when flying and fighting can have only one end. On July 31, 1918, he reports destroying a Hannoversche Waggonfabrik C for his 47th victory. He then sets out again. He fails to return from this flight and is posted missing. Later it is learned that McElroy has been killed by ground fire. He is 25 years old. McElroy is interred in Plot I.C.1 at the Laventie Military Cemetery in La Gorgue, northern France.

McElroy receives the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously on August 3, citing his shooting down 35 aeroplanes and three observation balloons. The Bar arrives still later, on September 21, and lauds his low-level attacks. In summary, he shoots down four enemy aircraft in flames and destroys 23 others, one of which he shares with other pilots. He drives down 16 enemy aircraft “out of control” and out of the fight. He also destroys three balloons.