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


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The Execution of Tom Williams, IRA Volunteer

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vol._Tom_Williams.jpgThomas Joseph Williams, a volunteer in C Company, 2nd Battalion of the Belfast Brigade in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged in the Crumlin Road Gaol on September 2, 1942 for his involvement in the killing of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police officer Patrick Murphy during the Northern campaign.

Williams is born in the Beechmount area of Belfast on May 12, 1923. He is the third child in a family of six. After the death of his mother, he and his brother go to live with their grandmother at 46 Bombay Street in the Clonard area of Belfast. The Williams family has to leave the small Catholic enclave in the Shore Road area of Belfast after their house is attacked and burned.

As a child, Williams suffers from asthma and as a result is often very ill. He attends St. Gall’s Primary School but leaves at an early age to obtain work, which at the time is difficult due to discrimination. His work therefore consists of labouring and as a delivery boy.

As soon as Williams is old enough, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, the republican Scout Organisation founded by Constance Markievicz in 1909, becoming a member of the Con Colbert slua in the Clonard area. Alfie Hannaway, a friend of Williams, is his OC in Na Fianna, and assigns him to the rank of Quartermaster for the company. He takes his role in Na Fianna very seriously and all who came to know him are struck by his dedication and maturity, even at this early age.

At the age of 17, Williams is old enough to become a volunteer and joins C Company of the IRA in the Clonard area where he lives. Due to his “dedication and his remarkable ability” he is appointed to the role of Adjutant of C Company.

At Easter 1942 the government of Northern Ireland bans all parades to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising. An IRA unit of six men and two women stage a diversionary action against the RUC to allow three parades to take place in West Belfast, but in this clash a RUC officer is killed and the six IRA men are captured. The RUC officer, Constable Patrick Murphy, a father of nine children, from the Falls Road area of Belfast, is one of a minority of Catholics serving in the RUC.

There is debate over the years about who actually fired the fatal shot. The six IRA members are convicted and sentenced to death for murder under the law of common purpose. Five have their sentences commuted. The sentence of Williams, who acknowledges that he is the leader of the IRA unit involved and takes full responsibility for the actions of his men, is not commuted.

Williams is hanged in Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast on the morning of September 2, 1942. The executioner is the official English hangman Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrepoint. Afterwards Williams’ body is interred in unhallowed ground in an unmarked grave within the grounds of the prison. His remains are only released in January 2000 after the closure of the prison in 1996 and a lengthy campaign by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

Williams’s funeral is held on January 19, 2000 and is attended by thousands, with burial at Milltown Cemetery. Joe Cahill, Williams’s cell mate, and John Oliver, sentenced to death with Williams but later reprieved, as well as Madge McConville, who had been arrested with Williams, Greta McGlone, Billy McKee, Eddie Keenan and perhaps least known, Nell Morgan, Williams’s girlfriend at the time of his death, are all present. Six senior Sinn Féin members including Gerry Adams are also present in St. Paul’s Church on the Lower Falls Road for the Mass.

Williams is remembered in a ballad Tom Williams. Various recordings have been made, most notably by the Flying Column and Éire Óg, who preamble their version with the story of the campaign to release his body. The now disbanded, Volunteer Tom Williams Republican Flute Band from Glasgow, Scotland is named in his memory as is the Tom Williams Camogie Club in Belfast.

(Pictured: Tom Williams’ headstone at Milltown Cemetery after being reinterred)


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Operation Banner Ends in Northern Ireland

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityOperation Banner, the operational name for the British Armed Forces‘ operation in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007 as part of the Troubles, ends at midnight on July 31, 2007. It is one of the longest continuous deployments in British military history.

The British Army is initially deployed, at the request of the unionist government of Northern Ireland, in response to the August 1969 riots. Its role is to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and to assert the authority of the British government in Northern Ireland. At the peak of the operation in the 1970s, about 21,000 British troops are deployed, most of them from Great Britain. As part of the operation, a new locally-recruited regiment is also formed, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). After the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the operation is gradually scaled down and the vast majority of British troops are withdrawn.

In August 2005, it is announced that in response to the Provisional IRA declaration that its campaign is over, and in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement provisions, Operation Banner would end by August 1, 2007. This involves troops based in Northern Ireland being reduced to 5,000, and only for training purposes. Security is entirely transferred to the police. The Northern Ireland Resident battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, which had grown out of the Ulster Defence Regiment, stand down on September 1, 2006. The operation officially ends at midnight on July 31, 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army’s history, lasting over 38 years.

While the withdrawal of troops is welcomed by the nationalist parties Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin, the unionist Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party oppose the decision, which they regard as premature. The main reasons behind their resistance are the continuing activity of republican dissident groups, the loss of security-related jobs for the protestant community and the perception of the British Army presence as an affirmation of the political union with Great Britain.

According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,441 serving British military personnel die in Operation Banner, 722 of whom are killed in paramilitary attacks and 719 of whom die as a result of other causes. The British military kills 307 people during the operation, about 51% of whom are civilians and 42% of whom are members of republican paramilitaries.

(Pictured: Two British soldiers on duty at a vehicle checkpoint near the A5 Omagh/Armagh road junction)

 


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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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Birth of RUC Chief Constable Hugh Annesley

hugh-annesleySir Hugh Norman Annesley, retired Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Chief Constable, is born in Dublin on June 22, 1939. He serves as Chief Constable of the RUC from June 1989 to November 1996.

Annesley is educated at St. Andrew’s Preparatory School and the Avoca School for Boys in Blackrock. He joins the Metropolitan Police in London as a constable in 1958. Rising through the ranks to chief superintendent in 1974, he attends the Special Course (1963), Intermediate Command Course (1971) and Senior Command Course (1975) at the Police Staff College, Bramshill, before transferring to Sussex Police as Assistant Chief Constable (Personnel & Operations) in 1976.

Annesley attends the Royal College of Defence Studies in 1980 and the following year returns to the Metropolitan Police as Deputy Assistant Commissioner (Central & North West London). In 1983 he becomes Deputy Assistant Commissioner (Personnel) and in 1984 is director of the Force Re-organisation Team.

In April 1985, under the new organisational structure, Annesley is appointed Assistant Commissioner Personnel and Training (ACPT) and in 1987 becomes Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations (ACSO). In 1986 he graduates from the FBI National Executive Institute in the United States. In 1989 he takes up command of the RUC, despite the post being widely expected to go to Geoffrey Dear. He holds the post until his retirement in 1996.

Annesley is awarded the Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) in the 1986 New Year Honours and is knighted in the 1992 New Year Honours.


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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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The 1979 Bessbrook Bombing

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coalisland.jpgThe Bessbrook bombing takes place on the April 17, 1979 when four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers are killed when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) explodes an estimated 1,000 pound roadside van bomb at Bessbrook, County Armagh.

The bombing occurs during a period of heightened IRA activity. The previous two years are some of the less active and less violent years during the Troubles. The British policy of criminalization seems to be working but the IRA is gearing up for a new offensive. In 1976, 295 people are killed compared with 111 in 1977 and 80 in 1978 but in 1979 the number increases to 120 with 76 being British security force members compared to just 34 in 1978. The entire IRA “battalion structure” has been reconstructed using more smaller, tight knit cells making the IRA more secretive, harder to infiltrate and makes them much more effective at carrying out larger operations. The only brigade area which does not go under this reconstruction is the South Armagh Brigade which is viewed by the IRA Army Council as an independent Republic. In fact, by the mid-1970s South Armagh has become so dangerous for the British security forces, who are snipped at and have bombs thrown at them whenever they enter the area on foot, they have to be airlifted into the area and ground patrols are stopped altogether effectively giving up the ground to the South Armagh PIRA.

While the four Protestant members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are on an evening patrol, they are all killed when a Provisional IRA unit detonates a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a parked van. The IRA unit detonates the well hidden bomb at the exact second the RUC mobile patrol is passing giving the officers no chance of survival. The dead RUC men are, Paul Gray (25), Robert Lockhart (44), Richard Baird (28) and Noel Webb (30). The bomb is estimated at 1,000 lbs. and is believed to be the largest bomb used by the IRA up to that date.

In January 1981, Patrick Joseph Traynor (27) from Crossmaglen is found guilty of the four murders and a range of other charges. He is jailed for life on each of the four murder charges and is sentenced to 12 years for the related crimes.

The IRA continues to intensify their campaign. On August 29, 1979 the IRA carries out two separate attacks in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that shock the world and give huge media coverage to their campaign. The first is the killing of Lord Mountbatten and his grandson when the boat they are on off the Sligo coast is blown up by a remote controlled bomb. The second is the Warrenpoint Ambush where the IRA kills 18 British soldiers in a double bomb attack, the highest loss of life for the British Army during the Troubles. The IRA carries out several of these type of large attacks against the British forces throughout the 1980s like the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack which kills four soldiers, the 1988 Lisburn van bombing which kills six soldiers and the Ballygawley bus bombing also carried out in 1988 which kills eight soldiers and injures 28.


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The Funeral of Rosemary Nelson, Human Rights Lawyer

rosemary-nelsonThe funeral of murdered human rights lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, takes place at St. Peter’s Church in Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on March 18, 1999.

Rosemary Nelson, née Magee, obtains her law degree at Queens University Belfast. She works with other solicitors for a number of years before opening her own practice. She represents clients in a number of high-profile cases, including Michael Caraher, one of the South Armagh Snipers, as well as a republican paramilitary accused of killing two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. She also represents the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition in nearby Portadown in the long-running Drumcree conflict against the Orange Order and RUC.

Nelson claims she has received death threats from members of the RUC as a result of her legal work. Some RUC officers make abusive and threatening remarks about her to her clients, which become publicly known. In 1998, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Solicitors, Param Cumaraswamy, notes these threats in his annual report, and states in a television interview that he believes her life could be in danger. He makes recommendations to the British government concerning threats from police against Solicitors, which are not acted upon. Later that year, Nelson testifies before a committee of the United States Congress investigating human rights in Northern Ireland, confirming that death threats have been made against her and her three children.

Nelson is assassinated, at the age of 40, by a car bomb outside her home in Lurgan on March 15, 1999. A loyalist paramilitary group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders claim responsibility for the killing. She is survived by her husband and their three children.

In 2004, the Cory Collusion Inquiry recommends that the UK Government hold an inquiry into the circumstances of Nelson’s death. She is posthumously awarded the Train Foundation‘s Civil Courage Prize, which recognises “extraordinary heroes of conscience.”

The resulting inquiry into her assassination opens at the Craigavon Civic Centre, Craigavon, County Armagh, in April 2005. In September 2006 the British Security Service MI5 announces it would be represented at the inquiry. This move provokes criticism from Nelson’s family, who reportedly express concerns that MI5 would remove sensitive or classified information.

The results of the inquiry are published on May 23, 2011. The inquiry finds no evidence that state agencies (the RUC, British Army and MI5) had “directly facilitated” her murder, but “could not exclude the possibility” that individual members had helped the perpetrators. It finds that state agencies had failed to protect her and that some RUC intelligence about her had been leaked. Both of these, it says, increased the danger to her life. The report also states that RUC officers had publicly abused and assaulted her in 1997, and made threatening remarks about her to her clients, which became publicly known. It concludes that this helped “legitimise her as a target in the eyes of loyalist terrorists.”