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


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Belfast’s Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday or Belfast’s Bloody Sunday is a day of violence in Belfast, Ireland (present-day Northern Ireland) on July 10, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

Belfast sees almost 500 people die in political violence between 1920 and 1922. Violence in the city breaks out in the summer of 1920 in response to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Detective Oswald Swanzy after Sunday services outside a Protestant church in nearby Lisburn. Seven thousand Catholics and some Protestant trade unionists are driven from their jobs in the Belfast shipyards and over 50 people are killed in rioting between Catholics and Protestants.

Violence in Belfast wanes until the following summer of 1921. At the time, Irish republican and British authorities are negotiating a truce to end the war, but fighting flares up in Belfast. On June 10, an IRA gunman, Jack Donaghy, ambushes three RIC constables on the Falls Road, fatally wounding one, Thomas Conlon, a Roman Catholic from County Roscommon, who, ironically, is viewed as “sympathetic” to the local nationalists. Over the following three days, at least 14 people lose their lives and 14 are wounded in fighting in the city, including three Catholics who are taken from their homes and killed by uniformed police.

Low-level attacks continue in the city over the next month until another major outbreak of violence that leads to “Bloody Sunday.” On July 8, the RIC attempt to carry out searches in the mainly Catholic and republican enclave around Union Street and Stanhope Street. However, they are confronted by about fifteen IRA volunteers in an hour-long firefight.

On July 9, a truce to suspend the war is agreed in Dublin between representatives of the Irish Republic and the British government, to come into effect at noon on July 11. Many Protestants/unionists condemn the truce as a “sell-out” to republicans.

On the night of July 9/10, hours after the truce is announced, the RIC attempt to launch a raid in the Lower Falls district of west Belfast. Scouts alert the IRA of the raid by blowing whistles, banging dustbin lids and flashing a red light. On Raglan Street, a unit of about fourteen IRA volunteers ambush an armoured police truck, killing one officer and wounding at least two others.

This sparks an outbreak of ferocious fighting between Catholics and Protestants in west Belfast the following day, Sunday July 10, in which 16 civilians lose their lives and up to 200 houses are destroyed. Of the houses destroyed, 150 are owned by Catholics. Most of the dead are civilians and at least four of the Catholic victims are ex-World War I servicemen.

Protestants, fearful of absorption into a Catholic Ireland and blindly angered by the presence of heresy and treason in their midst, strike at the Catholic community while vengeful Catholics strike back with counter-terror. Gun battles rage all day along the sectarian “boundary” between the Catholic Falls and Protestant Shankill districts and rival gunmen use rifles, machine guns and grenades in the clashes. Gunmen are seen firing from windows, rooftops and street corners. A loyalist mob, several thousand strong, attempt to storm the Falls district, carrying petrol and other flammable materials.

A tram travelling from the Falls into the city centre is struck by snipers’ bullets, and the service has to be suspended. Catholics and republicans claim that police, mostly from the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), drive through Catholic enclaves in armoured cars firing indiscriminately at houses and bystanders. The police return to their barracks late on Sunday night, allegedly after a ceasefire has been agreed by telephone between a senior RIC officer and the commander of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, Roger McCorley.

The truce is due to come into effect at midday on Monday, July 11, but violence resumes that morning. Three people are shot dead that day, including an IRA volunteer who is shot minutes before midday. In the north the official truce does not end the fighting. While the IRA is involved in the violence, it does not control the actions of the Catholic community. Tuesday July 12 sees the Orange Order‘s annual Twelfth marches pass off peacefully and there are no serious disturbances in the city. However, sporadic violence resumes on Wednesday, and by the end of the week 28 people in all have been killed or fatally wounded in Belfast.

The violence of the period in Belfast is cyclical, and the events of July 1921 are followed by a lull until a three-day period beginning on August 29, when another 20 lives are lost in the west and north of the city. The conflict in Belfast between the IRA and Crown forces and between Catholics and Protestants continues until the following summer, when the northern IRA is left isolated by the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in the south and weakened by the rigorous enforcement of internment in Northern Ireland.

At the time the day is referred to as “Belfast’s Bloody Sunday.” However the title of “Bloody Sunday” is now more commonly given in Ireland to events in Dublin in November 1920 or Derry in January 1972.


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The Ballyturin House Ambush

In what is known as the Ballyturin House Ambush, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit in County Galway ambushes a motor car as it leaves Ballyturin House near Gort on May 15, 1921.

The IRA gets into position at about 1:00 PM. They see Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Cecil Blake arrive, as they have positively identified him through prior reconnaissance. They take over the gatehouse, and make any passersby prisoner in it, seventeen in all, until Blake’s car is seen about 8:30 PM. Passengers in the car with Blake include his wife Eliza, Captain Cornwallis of the 17 Lancers, Lieutenant McCreery of the 17 Lancers, and the daughter-in-law of Lady Gregory of Coole Park.

The car drives down the long drive to the gate. When they get there, one of the gates is closed, unbeknown to them a ploy by the IRA ambushers to force the car to stop. The car stops and Captain Cornwallis gets out to open the gate. It is at this point that they are ambushed by a group of twenty IRA men.

One of the IRA men in the bushes to the right shouts, “Hands up.” Cornwallis dashes outside the gate to protect himself from the men in the bushes, and fires a couple of revolver shots at the group. He is completely protected from them by the wall, but completely exposed to the men in the gatehouse and is shot and killed.

Mrs. Gregory gets out of the car on the side facing the IRA ambushers, which is believed to have saved her life, as they leave her alone. She works her way around to the back of the car and is led back towards the house by some of the IRA men after the firing stops.

Blake, Mrs. Blake, and Lt. McCreery are apparently killed without firing a shot. The IRA men then move in and remove the guns of their victims.

John and Anna Bagot, who are the owners of Ballyturin House, run down the long drive to the gate when they hear the shooting. Mrs. Gregory was handed over to Miss Molly Bagot. She tells the inquiry that she does not recognise any of the men. John Bagot is held at gunpoint and handed a note which apparently reads, “Volunteer HQ. Sir, if there is any reprisals after this ambush, your house will be set on fire as a return. By Order IRA.”

John Bagot dies on the April 27, 1935. His wife, Anna, lives until January 17, 1963. She dies in London at the age of 96 and is buried at Gresford Church near Wrexham, North Wales. Ballyturin House is abandoned and falls into a total ruin.

The ambush is believed to be in retaliation for an incident in which soldiers or police had tortured three local men for information by forcing them to dig their own graves and then threatening to bury them alive. It is also rumoured in the vicinity, although unsubstantiated, that Lady Gregory conspires with the IRA in planning the ambush which is why her daughter-in-law survives.

(Pictured: Death on a Summer’s evening: The deadly ambush at Ballyturin House on May 15 1921. London Illustrated News May 28 1921)


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Birth of Irish Republican Tom Maguire

Tom Maguire, Irish republican who serves as commandant-general in the Western Command of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and leads the South Mayo flying column, is born on March 28, 1892.

On September 18, 1920, the Mayo Brigade of the IRA is reorganized and spilt up into four separate brigades. Tom Maguire is appointed commander of the South Mayo brigade.

Maguire leads an ambush on a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) patrol in Toormakeady, County Mayo, on May 3, 1921, killing four. Maguire’s flying column then heads for the Partry Mountains. According to one account, the column is surrounded by many soldiers and policemen guided by aeroplanes. Maguire is wounded and his adjutant is killed, but the column manages to escape with no further casualties. Maguire is involved in numerous other engagements including the Kilfall ambush.

At the 1921 election to Dáil Éireann, Maguire is returned unopposed as Teachta Dála (TD) for Mayo South–Roscommon South as a Sinn Féin candidate. He opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and apart from voting against the treaty when the vote is called, does not participate in any substantial way in the Dáil treaty debates. He is returned unopposed at the 1922 general election. At the 1923 general election, Maguire faces a contest and succeeds in securing the second of five seats in the Mayo South constituency.

Maguire is a member of the anti-Treaty IRA executive which commands rebel troops during the Irish Civil War. Maguire is captured by the National Army while in bed and is told that he would be executed, but his life is spared. While in prison his brother, Sean Maguire, aged 17, is executed by the government.

Maguire remains a TD until 1927. He initially indicates a willingness to contest the June 1927 general election as a Sinn Féin candidate but withdraws after the IRA threatens to court-martial any member under IRA General Army Order 28, which forbids its members from standing in elections.

Maguire subsequently drifts out of the IRA. In 1932, a Mayo IRA officer reports that Maguire, now firmly aligned with Sinn Féin, refuses to call on men to join the IRA when speaking at republican commemorations. When challenged on this, Maguire claims that, as the IRA “were no longer the same as they used to be,” he disagrees with the organisation.

In December 1938, Maguire is one of a group of seven people, who had been elected to the Second Dáil in 1921, who meet with the IRA Army Council under Seán Russell. At this meeting, the seven sign over what they contend is the authority of the Government of Dáil Éireann to the Army Council. Henceforth, the IRA Army Council perceives itself to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic and, on this basis, the IRA and Sinn Féin justify their rejection of the states of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and political abstentionism from their parliamentary institutions.

When the majority of IRA and Sinn Féin decide to abandon abstentionism in the 1969–1970 split, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill seek and secure Maguire’s recognition of the Provisional IRA as the legitimate successor to the 1938 Army Council. Of the seven 1938 signatories, Maguire is the only one still alive at the time.

Likewise, in the aftermath of the 1986 split in the Republican Movement, both the Provisional IRA and the Continuity IRA seek Maguire’s support. Maguire signs a statement which is issued posthumously in 1996. In it, he confers legitimacy on the Army Council of the Continuity IRA. In The Irish Troubles, J. Bowyer Bell describes Maguire’s opinion in 1986, “abstentionism was a basic tenet of republicanism, a moral issue of principle. Abstentionism gave the movement legitimacy, the right to wage war, to speak for a Republic all but established in the hearts of the people.”

Tom Maguire dies on July 5, 1993, and is buried in Cross, County Mayo. Republican Sinn Fein have held multiple commemorations by his graveside.


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Death of Dan Breen, Irish Patriot & Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969. In later years, he was a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on October 10, 1894. His father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séamus Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.


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Execution of IRA Officer Joe McKelvey

joe-mckelveyJoe McKelvey, Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer, is executed by firing squad along with three other Anti-Treaty militants, on December 8, 1922, during the Irish Civil War.

McKelvey is born into a nationalist family in Stewartstown, County Tyrone. He has a keen interest in the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Irish language. He studies as an accountant and gains some of the qualifications necessary for this profession, but never fully qualifies. He works for a time at the Income Tax Office on Queen’s Square in Belfast and later finds work in Belfast’s engineering industry with Mackies on Springfield Road. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers, which after 1919, become known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He is a founding member of the O’Donovan Rossa Club, Belfast, founded in 1916 on the Falls Road. Each year the club honours him with a juvenile hurling blitz, an invitational competition which is participated in by clubs throughout Ireland.

McKelvey participates in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) against the British, in which he commands the IRA’s Belfast Brigade. On August 22, 1920, he helps to organise the killing of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Detective Oswald Swanzy in Lisburn. The killing itself is carried out by IRA men from Cork, but McKelvey arranges a taxi to carry the assassins to and from the scene and disposes of their weapons. In reprisal for this shooting, 300 Catholic homes in Lisburn are burned out. McKelvey is forced to lie low in Dublin for some time after these events.

In March 1921, the IRA is re-organised by its leadership in Dublin into Divisions and McKelvey is appointed commander of the Third Northern Division, responsible for Belfast and the surrounding area. In May 1921, McKelvey’s command suffers a severe setback, when fifty of his best men are sent to County Cavan to train and link up with the IRA units there, only to be surrounded and captured by the British Army on Lappanduff hill on May 9. In most of Ireland, hostilities are ended with a truce declared on July 11, 1921.

McKelvey is alone among the leadership of the Belfast IRA in going against the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Most of his comrades support Michael Collins‘ assurances that, although the Treaty accepts the partition of Northern Ireland from the rest of the country, this is only a temporary concession which will be dealt with later. McKelvey does not accept this. As a result, he leaves his command as head of the IRA Third Northern Division and joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in Dublin.

In March 1922, McKelvey participates in the anti-Treaty IRA‘s repudiation of the authority of the Dáil, the civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919, and is elected to the IRA Army Executive. In April 1922 he helps command the occupation of the Four Courts in defiance of the new Irish Free State. This action helps to spark the civil war between pro- and anti-Treaty factions. McKelvey is among the most hardline of the anti-Treaty republicans and briefly, in June 1922, becomes IRA Chief of Staff, replacing Liam Lynch.

On June 28, 1922, the new Irish Free State government shells the Four Courts to assert its authority over the militants defending it. The Republicans in the Four Courts surrender after two days of fighting and McKelvey is captured. He is held for the following five months in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

On December 8, 1922, Joe McKelvey is executed by firing squad along with three other Anti-Treaty militants, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, and Richard Barrett. The executions are ordered in reprisal for the Anti-Treaty IRA’s murder of Sean Hales, a Pro-Treaty member of the Third Dáil.


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Disappearance of Father Michael Griffin

father-michael-griffinFather Michael Griffin, a Catholic priest, disappears on November 14, 1920 after he leaves his residence at St. Joseph’s Church, in Galway. His housekeeper hears him talking to someone at the door and assumes that Fr. Griffin is going to visit a sick parishioner. He never returns.

Griffin is born in Gurteen, East Galway and ordained at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth in 1917. A priest of the Diocese of Clonfert, he serves in the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora. In June 1918, the curate is transferred from the parish of Ennistymon, County Clare, to Rahoon, Galway City.

Fr. Griffin is known to the Crown Forces as a republican sympathiser. On the night of September 8, 1920, he is called out to attend Seamus Quirke, a First-Lieutenant in the local Irish Republican Army (IRA) after he is shot seven times at the docks. He also takes part in the funeral mass of Michael Walsh of the Old Malt House following his murder on the night of October 19, 1920.

On November 14, Fr. Griffin is lured from the presbytery by British forces. He is taken to Lenaboy Castle where he is questioned. After being interrogated, he is shot through the head and his body is taken away by lorry and buried in an unmarked grave at Cloghscoltia near Barna. His disappearance is reported to the police the following day.

Fr. Griffins’ remains are discovered by a local man, William Duffy, while he is attending cattle on November 20.

Frank Percy Crozier, commander of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, travels to Galway on November 22 and finds that Fr. Griffin has been murdered by his men, and that a plot is afoot to murder Dr. Michael Fogarty, Bishop of Killaloe. Crozier writes in Ireland For Ever:

“I found out that the military inquiry into the murder of Father Griffin (held in lieu of an inquest) was fast with a ‘frame up’ and that a verdict of murder against persons, or somebody ‘unknown’ would result. I told the military commander this and the name of the real murderer, but was informed that a senior official of Dublin Castle had been to Galway in front of me to give instructions as to ‘procedure’ in this murder investigation. At Killaloe next day I received further evidence that the hidden hand was still at work, and was told in confidence that instructions had been received to kill Dr. Fogarty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Killaloe, by drowning him in a sack from the bridge over the River Shannon, so as to run no further risk of detection by having his body found.”

On November 23, Fr. Griffin’s funeral mass takes place at St. Joseph’s Church, Presentation Road. The funeral cortege moves through the streets of Galway, with three bishops, 150 priests, and in excess of 12,000 mourners participating. The priest is buried in the grounds of Loughrea Cathedral.

A group of enthusiasts gather together in Galway in the spring of 1948 to form a football club and they decide unanimously to name the club “Father Griffins” and they grow and flourish to be a major force in Galway football. There is also a road in Galway City called “Father Griffin Road.”


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Assassination of Sinn Féin County Councilor John Lynch

cairo-gangSinn Féin County Councilor John Lynch of Kilmallock, County Limerick, is assassinated by British agents at the Exchange Hotel in Dublin on September 23, 1920.

Captain Geoffrey Thomas Baggallay, a “one-legged” courts-martial officer, phones Dublin Castle at 1:15 AM telling of John Lynch’s presence at the Exchange Hotel. A group of 12 soldiers, believed to be members of the Cairo Gang, enter the hotel wearing military caps and long black Burberry coats. They hold the hotel porter, William Barrett, at gunpoint. After consulting the register they proceed to Lynch’s room on the third floor, where Lynch has been staying since September 12.

They shoot Lynch and then leave, claiming that Lynch had fired a shot at them when they attempted to arrest him. The military reports a death at the hotel at 2:15 AM. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) arrives after the military reports the death to them. The coroners verdict is that Lynch is shot by a soldier in self-defence. No evidence is given by any soldiers at the inquiry. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) believe that the actual murder is carried out by Henry James Angliss and Charles Ratsch Peel working undercover. The group of khaki-clad men who shoot Lynch number about twelve, and the IRA certainly believes that Angliss and Peel are among them based on inside information received from “Lt G” at Dublin Castle. Lt G is believed to be Lily Mernin who works as a typist at army headquarters.

Michael Collins believes that many of the British officers that are later killed on “Bloody Sunday” shot John Lynch in the Exchange Hotel. Lynch is the local Sinn Féin organiser of a loan and is in Dublin to hand over £23,000 in subscriptions to Collins. Altogether £370,163 is raised in the loan effort in Ireland by September 1920 when it closes down.

It is impossible to know who the twelve men of the raiding party are, however, apparently Lt. Angliss, under the influence of drink, divulges his participation in the shooting to a girl who passes this information on to an Irish Intelligence Service informant. Peel escapes death on “Bloody Sunday” by barricading himself in his room. George Osbert Smyth is understood to have been part of the raiding party, from information given to his family on a visit home. Osbert Smyth is shot dead in October 1920 while trying to arrest IRA suspects Dan Breen and Sean Treacy at a house in Drumcondra.

(Pictured: The Cairo Gang)