seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Paul “Dingus” Magee, Volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army

Paul “Dingus” Magee, a former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, on January 30, 1948.

Magee joins the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and receives a five-year sentence in 1971 for possession of firearms. He is imprisoned in Long Kesh, where he holds the position of camp adjutant. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he is part of a four-man active service unit, along with Joe Doherty and Angelo Fusco, nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 general-purpose machine gun. On April 9, 1980, the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing Constable Stephen Magill and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) arrives in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit the car the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder. Westmacott is killed instantly and is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members at the front of the house, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene, and after a brief siege the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Magee and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, with them facing charges including three counts of murder. On June 10 Magee and seven other prisoners, including Joe Doherty, Angelo Fusco and the other member of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Jail. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight wear officer’s uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves toward the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving toward the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire, and the prisoners return fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Magee is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Magee escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland. Eleven days after the escape he appears in public at the Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown Graveyard, County Kildare, where troops from the Irish Army and the Garda‘s Special Branch attempt to arrest him but fail after the crowd throws missiles and lay down in the road blocking access. He is arrested in January 1982 along with Angelo Fusco and sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the escape under extra-jurisdictional legislation. Shortly before his release from prison in 1989, he is served with an extradition warrant, and he starts a legal battle to avoid being returned to Northern Ireland. In October 1991, the Supreme Court of Ireland in Dublin orders his return to Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for the murder of Captain Westmacott, but Magee jumps bail and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

Magee flees to England, where he is part of an IRA active service unit. On June 7, 1992, Magee and another IRA member, Michael O’Brien, are traveling in a car on the A64 road between York and Tadcaster, when they are stopped by the police. Magee and O’Brien are questioned by the unarmed police officers, who become suspicious and call for back-up. Magee shoots Special Constable Glenn Goodman, who dies later in hospital, and then shoots the other officer, PC Kelly, four times. Kelly escapes death when a fifth bullet ricochets off the radio he is holding to his ear, and the IRA members drive away. Another police car begins to follow the pair, and comes under fire near Burton Salmon. The lives of the officers in the car are in danger, but Magee and O’Brien flee the scene after a member of the public arrives. A manhunt is launched, and hundreds of police officers, many of them armed, search woods and farmland. Magee and O’Brien evade capture for four days by hiding in a culvert, before they are both arrested in separate police operations in the town of Pontefract.

On March 31, 1993, Magee is found guilty of the murder of Special Constable Goodman and the attempted murder of three other police officers and sentenced to life imprisonment. O’Brien is found guilty of attempted murder and receives an eighteen-year sentence. On September 9, 1994, Magee and five other prisoners, including Danny McNamee, escape from HM Prison Whitemoor. The prisoners, in possession of two guns that had been smuggled into the prison, scale the prison walls using knotted sheets. A guard is shot and wounded during the escape, and the prisoners are captured after being chased across fields by guards and the police. In 1996 Magee stages a dirty protest in HM Prison Belmarsh, in protest at glass screens separating prisoners from their relatives during visits. He has refused to accept visits from his wife and five children for two years, prompting Sinn Féin to accuse the British government of maintaining “a worsening regime that is damaging physically and psychologically.”

In January 1997, Magee and the other five escapees from Whitemoor are on trial on charges relating to the escape for a second time, as four months earlier the first trial had been stopped because of prejudicial publicity. Lawyers for the defendants successfully argued that an article in the Evening Standard prejudiced the trial as it contained photographs of Magee and two other defendants and described them as “terrorists,” as an order had been made at the start of the trial preventing any reference to the background and previous convictions of the defendants. Despite the judge saying the evidence against the defendants was “very strong”, he dismisses the case stating, “What I have done is the only thing I can do in the circumstances. The law for these defendants is the same law for everyone else. They are entitled to that, whatever they have done.”

On May 5, 1998, Magee is repatriated to the Republic of Ireland to serve the remainder of his sentence in Portlaoise Prison, along with Liam Quinn and the members of the Balcombe Street Gang. He is released from prison in late 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and returns to live with his family in Tralee, County Kerry. On March 8, 2000, he is arrested on the outstanding Supreme Court extradition warrant from 1991 and remanded to Mountjoy Prison. The following day he is granted bail at the High Court in Dublin, after launching a legal challenge to his extradition. In November 2000 the Irish government informs the High Court that it is no longer seeking to return him to Northern Ireland. This follows a statement from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson saying that “it is clearly anomalous to pursue the extradition of people who appear to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original prison sentence to serve.” In December 2000 Magee and three other IRA members, including two other members of the M60 gang, are granted a Royal Prerogative of Mercy which allows them to return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution.


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The Murder of IRA Volunteer Eamon Collins

Eamon Collins, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is beaten and stabbed to death by an unidentified assailant(s) in the early morning hours of January 27, 1999, in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Collins is born in 1954 in Camlough, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, the son of Brian Collins, a farmer, livestock trader, and cattle smuggler, and Kathleen Collins (née Cumiskey). His extended family has no history of political involvement, though his upbringing is fervently Catholic and nationalist. He leaves secondary school at age 16 and briefly works as a clerk in the Ministry of Defence in London. He returns home for family reasons and resumes his education in 1971 through a scholarship to St. Colman’s College, Newry, County Down. In 1973 he goes to Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) to study law.

Collins develops ultra-leftist political beliefs in his late teens and supports the Northern Ireland civil rights movement but retains reservations about the use of violence. He is further radicalised by being beaten up by soldiers searching his family’s farm at Easter 1974 and by the downfall of the power sharing executive. He loses interest in his studies, leaves QUB in 1976 without completing his degree, and drifts for two years, joining an anarchist collective in Belfast. He comes back into contact with the republican movement through the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates; he had known hunger striker Raymond McCreesh as a teenager. In 1978 he joins the customs service in Newry and begins to pass information to the IRA, which he joins in 1979. He is central to IRA recruitment and intelligence in Newry and south Down. Without firing a shot himself he facilitates at least five murders, including that of a customs colleague.

In 1982 Collins marries and the couple has four children. By 1984 he has developed doubts about his activities. He antagonises the Belfast leadership, which is moving towards political engagement and away from the all-out revolutionary violence that he favours, and while he admires the hardline South Armagh IRA for its military professionalism, he regards its members as political primitives. On February 28, 1985, he is arrested after an IRA mortar attack in which nine Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) members are killed. He breaks down after six days of interrogation and is recruited as a “supergrass,” but retracts his evidence a fortnight later and is held on remand on the basis of his confessions.

In January–February 1987 Collins is tried for murder but acquitted after the judge rules his statements inadmissible. He completes an Open University degree while awaiting trial. After his release he is ostracised and is interrogated by the IRA, which in July 1987 orders him to leave Northern Ireland. He engages in youth work in Dublin from 1987 to 1990, taking a diploma in community work at Maynooth. His wife and children remain in Newry and he visits them regularly in defiance of the expulsion order. In 1990 he returns to live in Newry and teaches at the Ulster People’s College in Belfast. From 1992–94 he is a community worker in Edinburgh. His wife and children continue to live on the Barcroft Park estate in Newry.

In 1994 Collins returns permanently to Northern Ireland after securing a job at a youth club in Armagh. In April 1995 he describes his career in a television documentary, admitting the murders for which he had been tried. In 1997 he publishes a memoir, Killing Rage, a powerful account of life as a paramilitary, although it is not entirely reliable. After the 1995 documentary he experiences verbal and physical harassment. This intensifies after May 1998 when he testifies for The Sunday Times in a libel action by Thomas Murphy, whom the paper accuses of being a leading IRA member. Four months after Murphy loses the case, the family farmhouse in Camlough, which Collins is renovating, is burned down. After the Omagh bombing he publishes several articles denouncing the Real IRA, several of whose activists he had recruited into the IRA from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in the early 1980s. Graffiti regularly appears outside his home in Newry denouncing him as a British agent.

Early in the morning of January 27, 1999, Collins paints out the latest graffiti, and is walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill, just within sight of Sliabh gCuircin (Camlough Mountain). His body also bears marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest comments upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder are that Collins had returned to Northern Ireland in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish Republican paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the Provisional IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy. Gerry Adams states the murder was “regrettable,” but adds that Collins had “many enemies in many places.”

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated due to the damage to his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Dominican Church in Newry, Collins’ body is buried at the city’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he helped to organise in 1982.

In January 2014 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) releases a statement that a re-examination of the evidence from the scene of the 1999 murder had revealed new DNA material of a potential perpetrator’s presence, and makes a public appeal for information, detailing the involvement of a specific car model, a white coloured Hyundai Pony, and a compass pommel that had broken off a hunting knife during the attack and had been left behind at the scene. In February 2014 detectives from the Serious Crime Branch arrest a 59-year-old man at an address in Newry in relation to the murder, but he is subsequently released without charge. In September 2014 the police arrest three men, aged 56, 55 and 42, in County Armagh in relation to inquiries into the murder, all of whom are subsequently released without charges after questioning. In January 2019 the police release a statement regarding the murder that one of the assailants had been seriously injured by an accidentally sustained knife wound during the attack, and had left traces of his own blood at the scene, and that recent scientific advances in DNA evidence had increased the possibility of his identification. In May 2019, three men aged 60 to 62 are arrested and questioned, but then released unconditionally.


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Recruitment Begins for the Black and Tans

Recruitment begins for the Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh), Britain’s unofficial auxiliary army, on January 2, 1920. They are constables recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as reinforcements during the Irish War of Independence. Recruitment begins in Great Britain and about 10,000 men enlist during the conflict. The vast majority are unemployed former British soldiers who had fought in World War I. Some sources count a small number of Irishmen as Black and Tans.

The British administration in Ireland promotes the idea of bolstering the RIC with British recruits. They are to help the overstretched RIC maintain control and suppress the Irish Republican Army (IRA), although they are less well trained in ordinary policing. The nickname “Black and Tans” arises from the colours of the improvised uniforms they initially wear, a mixture of dark green RIC (which appears black) and khaki British Army. They serve in all parts of Ireland, but most are sent to southern and western regions where fighting is heaviest. By 1921, Black and Tans make up almost half of the RIC in County Tipperary, for example.

The Black and Tans gain a reputation for brutality and become notorious for reprisal attacks on civilians and civilian property, including extrajudicial killings, arson and looting. Their actions further sway Irish public opinion against British rule and draw condemnation in Britain.

The Black and Tans are sometimes confused with the Auxiliary Division, a counterinsurgency unit of the RIC, also recruited during the conflict and made up of former British officers. However, sometimes the term “Black and Tans” covers both groups. The Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) is founded to reinforce the RIC in Northern Ireland.

More than a third leave the service before they are disbanded along with the rest of the RIC in 1922, an extremely high wastage rate, and well over half receive government pensions. Over 500 members of the RIC die in the conflict and more than 600 are wounded. Some sources state that 525 police, including 152 Black and Tans and 44 Auxiliaries, are killed in the conflict.

Many Black and Tans are left unemployed after the RIC is disbanded and about 3,000 are in need of financial assistance after their employment in Ireland is terminated. About 250 Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, among over 1,300 former RIC personnel, join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Another 700 join the Palestine Police Force which is led by former British Chief of Police in Ireland, Henry Hugh Tudor. Others are resettled in Canada or elsewhere by the RIC Resettlement branch. Those who return to civilian life sometimes have problems re-integrating. At least two former Black and Tans are hanged for murder in Britain, and another wanted for murder commits suicide before the police can arrest him.

Due to the Tans’ behaviour in Ireland, feelings continue to run high regarding their actions. The term can still stir bad reactions because of their remembered brutality. One of the best-known Irish Republican songs is Dominic Behan‘s “Come Out, Ye Black and Tans.” The Irish War of Independence is sometimes referred to as the “Tan War” or “Black-and-Tan War.” This term is preferred by those who fought on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War and is still used by Republicans today. The “Cogadh na Saoirse” (“War of Independence”) medal, awarded since 1941 by the Irish government to IRA veterans of the War of Independence, bears a ribbon with two vertical stripes in black and tan.

Some sources say the Black and Tans were officially named the “RIC Special Reserve”, but this is denied by other sources, which say they were not a separate force but “recruits to the regular RIC” and “enlisted as regular constabulary.” Canadian historian D. M. Leeson has not found any historical documents that refer to the Black and Tans as the “Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve.”

(Pictured: A group of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries outside the London and North Western Hotel in Dublin following an attack by the IRA, April 1921)


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Death of IRA Volunteer Fergal O’Hanlon

Fergal O’Hanlon (Irish: Feargal Ó hAnnluain), a volunteer in the Pearse Column of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is killed on January 1, 1957, while taking part in an attack on Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks.

Born into a staunchly republican family on February 2, 1936, in Ballybay, County Monaghan, O’Hanlon is a draughtsman employed by Monaghan County Council. He is a Gaelic footballer and a keen Irish language activist. A devout Catholic, he considers becoming a priest and spends one year at the seminary in St. Macartan’s. He joins the IRA in 1956.

At the age of 20, O’Hanlon is killed on January 1, 1957, along with Seán South while taking part in an attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, during the border campaign. Several other IRA members are wounded in the botched attack. The IRA flees the scene in a dumper truck. They abandon it near the border. They leave South and O’Hanlon, both then unconscious, in a cow byre, and crossed into the Republic of Ireland on foot for help for their comrades. The wounded IRA men are treated as “car crash victims” by sympathetic staff in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin.

The events and personalities are sympathetically recalled in Dominic Behan‘s ballad “The Patriot Game.” O’Hanlon is mentioned in the song “Seán South of Garryowen” (“Brave Hanlon by his side”).

O’Hanlon’s mother remains firmly committed to the IRA and is hurt by the suggestion that there was an alternative to IRA activity or that her son was anything other than an Irish hero.

A marble monument now stands at the spot where South and O’Hanlon lost their lives. An annual lecture has been held in memory of O’Hanlon since 1982, and approximately 500 people attended a 50th commemoration of the men’s deaths in January 2007 in Limerick.

In 1971, a monument is unveiled to O’Hanlon in his hometown on a hill overlooking the Clones Road on which he had made his last journey home. A Gaelic football team is founded in Monaghan in 2003 and called the Fergal O’Hanlons.

O’Hanlon’s brother, Eighneachán Ó hAnnluain, is elected a Sinn Féin abstentionist TD in the 1957 Irish general election to Dáil Éireann. His sister, Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha, is a Sinn Féin Councillor on Monaghan Urban Council.


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Birth of Peter Robinson, Northern Irish Politician

Peter David Robinson, retired Northern Irish politician, is born on December 29, 1948, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He serves as First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2008 until 2016 and Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from 2008 until 2015. Until his retirement in 2016, he is involved in Northern Irish politics for over 40 years, being a founding member of the DUP along with Ian Paisley.

Robinson is the son of Sheila and David McCrea Robinson. He is educated at Annadale Grammar School and Castlereagh College, now part of the Belfast Metropolitan College. In 1966 he first hears Ian Paisley speak at a rally at Ulster Hall and shortly afterwards leaves school to devote himself to the Protestant fundamentalist cause. He considers joining the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) but instead joins the Lagan Valley unit of the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), a paramilitary organisation tied to Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He also joins the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee. As a young man he embraces a populist anti-Catholic fundamentalism. A former classmate alleges Robinson and a friend harassed a pair of Catholics nuns in the street in Portrush, County Antrim, yelling “Popehead, Popehead.” He initially gains employment as an estate agent for R.J. McConnell & Co. and later with Alex, Murdoch & Deane in Belfast.

Robinson serves in the role of General Secretary of the DUP from 1975, a position he holds until 1979 and which affords him the opportunity to exert unprecedented influence within the fledgeling party. In 1977, he is elected as a councillor for the Castlereagh Borough Council in Dundonald, County Down, and in 1979, he becomes one of the youngest Members of Parliament (MP) when he is narrowly elected for Belfast East. He holds this seat until his defeat by Naomi Long in 2010, making him the longest-serving Belfast MP since the Acts of Union 1800.

In 1980, Robinson is elected as the deputy leader of the DUP. Following the re-establishment of devolved government in Northern Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, he is elected in 1998 as the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Belfast East. He subsequently serves as Minister for Regional Development and Minister of Finance and Personnel in the Northern Ireland Executive. He is elected unopposed to succeed Ian Paisley as leader of the DUP on April 15, 2008, and is subsequently confirmed as First Minister of Northern Ireland on June 5, 2008.

In January 2010, following a scandal involving his wife Iris (née Collins), Robinson temporarily hands over his duties as First Minister to Arlene Foster under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 2006. Following a police investigation, which recommends that he should not be prosecuted following allegations made by the BBC in relation to the scandal, he resumes his duties as First Minister. The Official Assembly Commissioner’s Investigation and Report clears Robinson of any wrongdoing.

In September 2015, Robinson again stands aside to allow Arlene Foster to become acting First Minister after his bid to adjourn the assembly is rejected. His action is a response to a murder for which a member of Sinn Féin, a party in the Northern Ireland Executive, had been questioned. He resumes his duties on October 20, 2015. On November 19, 2015, he announces that he will be stepping down as First Minister and as leader of the DUP. He subsequently steps down as First Minister on January 11, 2016 and is now fully retired from frontline politics.

Robinson is the author of a number of books and pamphlets on local politics and history including: Capital Punishment for Capital Crime (1974), Savagery and Suffering (1975), Ulster the Facts (1981), Self-Inflicted (1981), A War to be Won (1983), It’s Londonderry (1984), Carson – Man of Action (1984), Ulster in Peril (1984), Their Cry was no Surrender (1986), Hands Off the UDR (1990), Sinn Féin – A Case for Proscription (1993), The Union Under Fire (1995), Give Me Liberty (no date), Ulster—the Prey (no date).


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Founding of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA, Irish: Arm Saoirse Náisiúnta na hÉireann), an Irish republican socialist paramilitary group, is founded at the Spa Hotel in Lucan, Dublin, on December 10, 1974, during the 30-year period of conflict known as “the Troubles.” The group seeks to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and create a socialist republic encompassing all of Ireland. With membership estimated at 80–100 at their peak, it is the paramilitary wing of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), which is founded the same day. The IRSP’s foundation is made public but the INLA’s is kept a secret until the group can operate effectively.

The INLA is founded by former members of the Official Irish Republican Army who oppose that group’s ceasefire. It is initially known as the “People’s Liberation Army” or “People’s Republican Army.” The INLA wages a paramilitary campaign against the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Northern Ireland. It is also active to a lesser extent in the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and Continental Europe. High-profile attacks carried out by the INLA include the Droppin Well bombing (1982), the Shankill Road killings (1994) and the assassinations of Airey Neave (1979) and Billy Wright (1997). However, the INLA is smaller and less active than the main republican paramilitary group, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). It is also weakened by feuds and internal tensions. Members of the group use the covernames People’s Liberation Army, People’s Republican Army, and Catholic Reaction Force for attacks its volunteers carry out but for which the INLA does not want to claim responsibility. The INLA becomes a proscribed group in the United Kingdom on July 3, 1979, under the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act.

After a 24-year armed campaign, the INLA declares a ceasefire on August 22, 1998. In August 1999, it states that “There is no political or moral argument to justify a resumption of the campaign.” On October 11, 2009, speaking at the graveside of its founder Seamus Costello in Bray, the INLA formally announces an end to its armed campaign, stating the current political framework allows for the pursuit of its goals through peaceful, democratic means and begins decommissioning its weapons.

The IRSP supports a “No First Strike” policy, that is allowing people to see the perceived failure of the Northern Ireland peace process for themselves without military actions.

The INLA is a proscribed organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000 and an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland.

(Pictured: INLA logo consisting of the Starry Plough and the Flag of Ireland with a red star and a fist holding an AK-47-derivative rifle)


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Birth of Archie Doyle, Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army Member

Archie Doyle, one of three anti-Treaty members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who assassinated the Irish Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins, is born on September 29, 1903. He has a long subsequent career in the organisation’s ranks.

Doyle fights in the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) and takes the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is subsequently interned among numerous others. Together with two fellow-detainees, Timothy Coughlin and Bill Gannon, he takes part in forming a secret “vengeance grouping.” The three vow that once free of imprisonment they will take revenge on their opponents, whom they consider traitors to the Irish cause.

Most such private revenge pacts are broken up by the IRA leadership when it reorganises following 1924, but Doyle and his two fellow conspirators persist and carry through their deadly aim. On July 10, 1927, the three surprised O’Higgins on his way to Mass at the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Blackrock, Dublin, and shoot him down.

O’Higgins is especially hated by IRA members for having ordered the executions of seventy-seven of their fellows during the Civil War, an act for which he outspokenly takes responsibility and refuses to express any remorse. Moreover, he is a dominant member of the Irish Free State government and the conspirators have good reasons to believe that his death would weaken it.

The three make their escape and are not apprehended. However, Timothy Coughlin is shot to death by police informer Sean Harling on the night of January 28, 1928, on Dublin’s Dartry Road, under circumstances which remain controversial up to the present. A second IRA man is known to have been with Coughlin that night, in surveillance of Harling’s home, and escapes unharmed. It is believed that Doyle is that second man, though this point, as many other details of this still rather mysterious affair, remains not quite certain.

Doyle is among the beneficiaries of the amnesty issued by Éamon de Valera when he comes to power in 1932, under which numerous IRA men are released from prison and the charges against others dropped. In later times Doyle openly admits his part in the killing of O’Higgins, and indeed takes pride in it, without fear of prosecution.

With the end of the IRA’s alliance with de Valera and the increasing confrontation between them, Doyle, now a veteran highly respected in the IRA circles, becomes deeply involved in the organisation’s 1940s campaigns. Harry, the memoirs of IRA man Harry White, make repeated admiring references to “Archie Doyle of Dublin, the Tan War veteran who had fought through it all.”

During the IRA’s Northern campaign, Doyle is said to have participated in the abortive raid on the British barracks at Crossmaglen, County Armagh, on September 2, 1942, in retaliation for the execution of Tom Williams earlier that morning. The IRA unit, some twenty men in a commandeered lorry and accompanying car, is discovered by a passing Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol near the village of Cullaville. Doyle is mentioned in White’s memoirs as having “jumped out of the car, Thompson in hand, and started shooting at the RUC.” Since the element of surprise is lost, the attack on the barracks has to be cancelled.

A week later, on September 9, White mentions Doyle as having commanded the assassination of Sergeant Denis O’Brien, Irish Special Branch detective and himself a former IRA man, near Dublin. It is a highly controversial affair, opposed by the IRA GHQ in Belfast as damaging to the Northern campaign, and precipitates a massive manhunt by the Irish police. It is IRA Chief of Staff Charlie Kerins who is caught two years later, charged with the O’Brien assassination and eventually executed for it. White, however, claims that it is Doyle who actually commands that action, on Kerins’s orders. Doyle, who openly spoke of his part in killing O’Higgins, seems far more reticent about this part of his career.

In 1943 Doyle is assigned as the IRA’s Quartermaster General in Belfast.

On July 1, 1943, Doyle is mentioned as having participated, together with Kerins and with Jackie Griffith, in an operation of “fund-raising” for the hard-pressed IRA (i.e., robbery). The three men arrive on bikes at the gates of Player Wills factory on the South Circular Road, Dublin, and with scarves around their faces stop at gunpoint a van loaded with some £5,000 for wages, and drive away with the van and the money.

Griffith is shot down by the police in Dublin less than a week later, in what is charged to be an extrajudicial assassination, and Kerins is caught in 1944 and executed, becoming a major IRA martyr. Doyle, however, continually survives decades of a very dangerous way of life and manages to die of old age. He dies in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin in 1980.


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Birth of Angelo Fusco, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Angelo Fusco, former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a Special Air Service (SAS) officer in 1980, is born in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 2, 1956.

Fusco is born to a family with an Italian background who owns a fish and chip shop. He joins the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and is part of a four-man active service unit (ASU), along with Joe Doherty and Paul Magee, which operates in the late 1970s and early 1980s nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 heavy machine gun.

On April 9, 1980, the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing one constable and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the SAS arrive in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit their car the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder, killing him instantly. He is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene, and after a brief siege the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Fusco and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, with them facing charges including three counts of murder. On June 10 Fusco and seven other prisoners, including Joe Doherty and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Jail. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight are wearing officer’s uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves towards the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint, and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving towards the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire, and the prisoners returned fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Fusco is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Fusco escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland before being arrested in January 1982, and is sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the escape and firearms offences under extra-jurisdictional legislation. A further three years are added to his sentence in 1986 after he attempts to escape from Portlaoise Prison, and he is released in January 1992. Upon his release, he is immediately served with extradition papers from the British government for his return to the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for the murder conviction. The extradition is granted by a District Court but Fusco appeals, and in 1995 he wins a legal victory when a judge at the High Court in Dublin rules it would be “unjust, oppressive and invidious” to order his extradition due to the time lag involved. Fusco settles in Tralee with his wife and three children until February 1998, when the Supreme Court of Ireland brings an end to the six-year legal battle by ordering his extradition, but he has already fled on bail and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

Fusco is arrested at a Garda checkpoint in Castleisland, County Kerry, on January 3, 2000. The following day he is being escorted back to Northern Ireland to be handed over to the RUC, when his handover is halted by a successful court appeal by Sinn Féin. The arrest and abortive return of Fusco undermines the Northern Ireland peace process, with Unionist politicians including Ken Maginnis criticising the extradition being halted. Republicans are critical of Fusco’s arrest, with leading Sinn Féin member Martin Ferris stating, “The Irish government should immediately move to rescind the warrant against Angelo Fusco. The action will cause great anger and resentment within the nationalist community,” and graffiti in one republican area reads “Extradite Bloody Sunday war criminals, not Fusco.” On January 6 Fusco is refused bail and remanded to prison in Castlerea, County Roscommon, to await a legal review of his extradition, prompting scuffles outside the court between police and Sinn Féin supporters.

Fusco is freed on bail on March 21 pending the outcome of his legal challenge, and in November 2000 the Irish government informs the High Court that it is no longer seeking to return him to Northern Ireland. This follows a statement from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson saying that “it is clearly anomalous to pursue the extradition of people who appear to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original prison sentence to serve.” After the court hearing Fusco states, “I’m relieved it’s over,” and that he will continue to live in Tralee with his family and work for Sinn Féin.

In December 2000 Fusco and three other IRA members, including two other members of the M60 gang, are granted a royal prerogative of mercy which allows them to return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution.


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The Warrenpoint Ambush

The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, the Warrenpoint massacre or the Narrow Water massacre, is a guerrilla attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on August 27, 1979. The IRA’s South Armagh Brigade ambushes a British Army convoy with two large roadside bombs on the A2 road at Narrow Water Castle, just outside Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

The road and castle are on the northern bank of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic’s side of the river, the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, is an ideal spot from which to launch an ambush. It is thickly wooded, which gives cover to the ambushers, and the river border prevents British forces from giving chase.

On the afternoon of August 27, a British Army convoy of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries carrying soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment is driving from Ballykinlar Barracks to Newry. The British Army is aware of the dangers of using the stretch of road along the Newry River and often declares it out of bounds. However, they sometimes use it to avoid setting a pattern. At 4:40 p.m., as the convoy is driving past Narrow Water Castle, an 800-pound fertiliser bomb, hidden among bales of straw on a parked flatbed trailer, is detonated by remote control by IRA members watching from across the border in County Louth. The explosion catches the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it onto its side and instantly killing six paratroopers, whose bodies are scattered across the road. There are only two survivors amongst the soldiers traveling in the lorry, both of whom receive serious injuries. The lorry’s driver, Anthony Wood (19), is one of those killed. All that remains of his body is his pelvis, welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast.

According to the soldiers, immediately after the blast they are targeted by rifle fire from the woods on the Cooley Peninsula on the other side of the border, with this view supported by two part-time firefighters assisting the wounded. Shortly afterwards, the two IRA members arrested by the Garda Síochána and suspected of being behind the ambush, are found to have traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and on the motorbike they are riding. The IRA’s first statement on the incident, however, denies that any shots had been fired at the troops, and according to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers might have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. Nevertheless, at the official inquiry the soldiers declare on oath that they had been fired on.

The surviving paratroopers radio for urgent assistance, and reinforcements are dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit is sent by Gazelle helicopter, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel David Blair, commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, his signaler Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, and army medics. Another helicopter, a Wessex, lands to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumes command once at the site.

William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, is killed by the British Army and his cousin Barry Hudson, a 25-year-old native of Dingle, is wounded when shots are fired across the Newry River into the Republic of Ireland about 3 km from the village of Omeath, County Louth.

The pair are partners in ‘Hudson Amusements’ and had been operating their amusements in Omeath for the duration of the Omeath Gala. When the first explosion is heard across the Lough, the pair go down to the shore to see what is unfolding. The pair makes their way to Narrow Water on the southern side of the border to get a better view of what is happening on the northern side. Barry Hudson is shot in the arm and as he falls to the ground he sees his cousin, who is the son of a coachman at Buckingham Palace, fall to the ground, shot in the head. He dies almost immediately.

The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaves after a bombing and correctly predicts that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 5:12 p.m., thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb hidden in milk pails explodes at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonates as the Wessex helicopter is taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter is damaged by the blast but does not crash.

The second explosion kills twelve soldiers, ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Lieutenant Colonel Blair is the second Lieutenant Colonel to be killed in the Troubles up until then, following Lieutenant Colonel Corden-Lloyd of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets in 1978. Only one of Colonel Blair’s epaulettes remains to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. The epaulette is taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to “illustrate the human factor” of the attack. Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, is at the scene soon after the second explosion and later describes seeing human remains scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He is asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers.

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrives at the scene after the first explosion, comes close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who sees him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier is tackled by his comrades. Molloy says, “I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas’ lives and taken pictures of it.”

The Warrenpoint ambush is a victory for the IRA. It is the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment’s biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later says it was “arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign.” The ambush happens on the same day that Lord Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British royal family, is killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, along with three others.

Republicans portray the attack as retaliation for Bloody Sunday in 1972 when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Derry. Graffiti appears in republican areas declaring “13 gone and not forgotten, we got 18 and Mountbatten.” The day after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast‘s New Lodge estate. Hardy is targeted in the mistaken belief that he is an IRA member.

Very shortly after the ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan are arrested by the Gardaí. They are stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They are later released on bail due to lack of evidence. Burns dies in 1988 when a bomb he is handling explodes prematurely. In 1998, former IRA member Eamon Collins claims that Burns had been one of those who carried out the Warrenpoint ambush. No one has ever been criminally charged.

According to Toby Harnden, the attack “drove a wedge” between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggests to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claims instead that the British Army practice, since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in south County Armagh by helicopter gives too much freedom of movement to the IRA. One result is the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role is to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. Another is the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the deaths of the 18 soldiers hastens the move to Ulsterisation.

Lieutenant Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley College, Oxfordshire.


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The Birches RUC Base Attack

The East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at The Birches near Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on August 11, 1986. The unmanned base is raked with gunfire before being destroyed by a 200-pound (91 kg) bomb, which is driven through the gate of the base in the bucket of a JCB digger.

In 1985 the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade, commanded by Patrick J. Kelly, begins a campaign of destroying remote RUC stations and preventing anyone from rebuilding them, to create no-go zones. On December 7, 1985 it launches an attack on the RUC barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, destroying the base and killing two RUC officers.

On January 22, 1986 the East Tyrone Brigade fires mortars at the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) base in Dungannon, County Tyrone, injuring two UDR soldiers and damaging the base. Just over a week later, on February 1, it carries out a large van bomb attack on the RUC base at Coalisland, County Tyrone, damaging the base and several houses and shops.

The Birches base attack is a complex attack that involves several units, including teams of lookouts, an armed team and bomb-makers as well as a team to carry out a diversionary attack. A diversionary bomb attack is staged at Pomeroy to draw security forces away from the real target at the Birches. Another team hijacks a JCB digger, getaway vehicles and scout cars at Washing Bay.

The digger is used to deliver the bomb to its target. The IRA does not expect any resistance as the RUC station is unmanned at the time of the attack. The IRA first rakes the base with automatic gunfire while the digger, with the bomb in its bucket, is driven through the high wire perimeter fence which had been constructed to protect the base from grenade or mortar attack. The digger is most likely driven by young IRA volunteer Declan Arthurs from Galbally, County Tyrone, who has experience driving diggers on his family’s farm. A volunteer then lights a fuse and the bomb explodes after the IRA hads retreated to safety in a waiting van. The blast destroys most of the base and also damages nearby buildings, blowing the roof off a pub across the road. The IRA team then makes its getaway. According to journalist Mark Urban, the armed members of the unit evade British security force roadblocks by escaping in a boat across Lough Neagh.

About 35 people are reportedly involved in the Birches attack, from planning, executing the attack and creating an escape route. A partially-disabled American tourist and six local civilians are slightly injured in the blast.

A member of the British security forces tells Mark Urban of the attack: “The Birches RUC station was destroyed by the bomb, creating problems for the authorities about how to re-build it. The Tyrone IRA was able to combine practical skills such as bomb-making and the welding needed to make mortars with considerable resources. Its members went on operations carrying the latest assault rifles and often wore body-armour similar to that used by the security forces, giving them protection against pistol or sub-machine-gun fire. By 1987 they had also succeeded in obtaining night-sights, allowing them to aim weapons or observe their enemy in darkness.”

The IRA unit’s next major target is the RUC station at Loughgall, which is attacked in the same manner. This operation is a disaster for the IRA as the IRA unit is ambushed by the Special Air Service (SAS). The entire IRA unit of eight, along with a Catholic civilian, are shot dead. Many of those IRA volunteers killed at Loughgall had taken part in the Birches attack, like Pádraig McKearney, Jim Lynagh and Patrick J. Kelly.