seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Irish Tenor Josef Locke

Joseph McLaughlin, Irish tenor known professionally as Josef Locke, dies in Clane, County Kildare on October 15, 1999. He is successful in the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s.

Born in Derry on March 23, 1917, McLaughlin is the son of a butcher and cattle dealer, and one of nine children. He starts singing in local churches in the Bogside at the age of seven, and as a teenager adds two years to his age to enlist in the Irish Guards, later serving abroad with the Palestine Police Force, before returning in the late 1930s to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Known as The Singing Bobby, McLaughlin becomes a local celebrity before starting to work the UK variety circuit, where he also plays summer seasons in English seaside resorts. The renowned Irish tenor John McCormack (1884–1945) advises him that his voice is better suited to a lighter repertoire than the operatic one he has in mind, and urges him to find an agent. He finds the noted impresario Jack Hylton (1892–1965) who books him, but is unable to fit his full name on the bill, thus Joseph McLaughlin becomes Josef Locke.

Locke makes an immediate impact when featured in “Starry Way,” a twenty-week summer show at the Opera House Theatre in Blackpool, Lancashire, England in 1946 and is rebooked for the following summer, then starring for three seasons at the Blackpool Hippodrome. He appears in ten Blackpool seasons from 1946 to 1969, not the nineteen seasons he later claims.

Locke makes his first radio broadcast in 1949, and subsequently appears on television programmes such as Rooftop Rendezvous, Top of the Town, All-star Bill and The Frankie Howerd Show. He is signed to the Columbia label in 1947, and his first releases are the two Italian songs “Santa Lucia” and “Come Back to Sorrento.”

In 1947, Locke releases “Hear My Song, Violetta,” which becomes forever associated with him. It is based on a 1936 tango “Hör’ mein Lied, Violetta” by Othmar Klose and Rudolf Lukesch. The song “Hör’ mein Lied, Violetta” is often covered, including by Peter Alexander and is itself based on Giuseppe Verdi‘s La traviata. His other songs are mostly a mixture of ballads associated with Ireland, excerpts from operettas, and familiar favourites.

In 1948, Locke appears in several films produced by Mancunian Films, usually as versions of himself. He plays himself in the film Holidays with Pay. He also appears as “Sergeant Locke” in the 1949 comedy What a Carry On!.

In 1958, after Locke has appeared in five Royal Variety Performance telecasts, and while he is still at the peak of his career, the British tax authorities begin to make substantial demands that he declines to meet. Eventually he flees the country for Ireland, where he lays low for several years. When his differences with the taxman are eventually settled, he relaunches his career in England with tours of the northern variety clubs and summer seasons at Blackpool’s Queen’s Theatre in 1968 and 1969, before retiring to County Kildare, emerging for the occasional concert in England. He later appears on British and Irish television, and in November 1984 is given a lengthy 90-minute tribute in honour of the award he is to receive at the Olympia theatre commentating his career in show business on Gay Byrne‘s The Late Late Show. He also makes many appearances on the BBC Television‘s long running variety show The Good Old Days.

In 1991, the Peter Chelsom film Hear My Song is released. It is a fantasy based on the notion of Locke returning from his Irish exile in the 1960s to complete an old love affair, and save a Liverpool-based Irish night-club from ruination. Locke is played by Ned Beatty, with the singing voice of Vernon Midgley. The film leads to a revival in Locke’s career. A compilation CD is released and he appears on This Is Your Life in March 1992. He performs in front of the Prince and Princess of Wales at the 1992 Royal Variety Show, singing “Goodbye,” the final song performed by his character in the film. He announces prior to the song that this will be his final public appearance.

Locke dies at the age of 82 in Clane, County Kildare on October 15, 1999, and is survived by his wife, Carmel, and a son.

On March 22, 2005, a bronze memorial to Locke is unveiled outside the City Hotel on Queen’s Quay in Derry by Phil Coulter and John Hume. The memorial is designed by Terry Quigley. It takes the form of a spiraling scroll divided by lines, representing a musical stave. The spiral suggests the flowing melody of a song, and is punctuated by images illustrating episodes in his life, including Locke in police uniform, Blackpool Tower, Carnegie Hall, and the musical notes of the opening lines of “Hear My Song.”

A biography of the singer, entitled Josef Locke: The People’s Tenor, by Nuala McAllister Hart is published in March 2017, the centenary of his birth. The book corrects many myths that the charismatic Locke circulated about his career.


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The Maze Prison Escape

The Maze Prison escape, known to Irish republicans as the Great Escape, takes place on September 25, 1983 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, is a maximum security prison considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, and holds prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles. In the biggest prison escape in UK history, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners escaped from H-Block 7 (H7) of the prison. One prison officer dies of a heart attack during the escape and twenty others are injured, including two who are shot with guns that had been smuggled into the prison. The escape is a propaganda coup for the IRA, and a British government minister faces calls to resign. The official inquiry into the escape places most of the blame onto prison staff, who in turn blame the escape on political interference in the running of the prison.

IRA volunteers regard themselves as prisoners of war with a duty to escape. During the Troubles, Irish republican prisoners escape from custody en masse on several occasions between 1971 and 1981.

Prisoners had been planning the 1983 escape for several months. Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly start working as orderlies in H7, which allows them to identify weaknesses in the security systems. Six handguns are also smuggled into the prison. Shortly after 2:30 PM on September 25, prisoners seize control of H7 by simultaneously taking the prison officers hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent them from triggering an alarm. One officer is stabbed with a craft knife, and another is knocked down by a blow to the back of the head. One officer who attempts to prevent the escape is shot in the head by Gerry Kelly, but survives. By 2:50 PM the prisoners are in control of H7 without an alarm being raised. A dozen prisoners also take uniforms from the officers, and the officers are forced to hand over their car keys and details of where their cars are, for possible later use during the escape. A rearguard is left behind to watch over hostages and keep the alarm from being raised until they believe the escapees are clear of the prison, at which time they return to their cells. At 3:25 PM, a lorry delivering food supplies arrives at the entrance to H7, whereupon Brendan McFarlane and other prisoners take the occupants hostage at gunpoint and move them inside H7. The lorry driver is told the lorry is being used in the escape, and he is instructed what route to take and how to react if challenged.

At 3:50 PM the prisoners leave H7, and the driver and a prison orderly are taken back to the lorry. Thirty-seven prisoners climb into the back of the lorry, while Gerry Kelly lay on the floor of the cab with a gun pointed at the driver, who is also told the cab has been booby trapped with a hand grenade. At nearly 4:00 PM the lorry drives toward the main gate of the prison, where the prisoners intend to take over the gatehouse. Ten prisoners dressed in guards’ uniforms and armed with guns and chisels dismount from the lorry and enter the gatehouse, where they take the officers hostage.

At 4:05 PM the officers begin to resist, and an officer presses an alarm button. When other staff respond via an intercom, a senior officer says while being held at gunpoint that the alarm had been triggered accidentally. By this time the prisoners are struggling to maintain control in the gatehouse due to the number of hostages. Officers arriving for work are entering the gatehouse from outside the prison, and each is ordered at gunpoint to join the other hostages. Officer James Ferris runs from the gatehouse toward the pedestrian gate attempting to raise the alarm, pursued by Dermot Finucane. Ferris had already been stabbed three times in the chest, and before he can raise the alarm he collapses.

Finucane continues to the pedestrian gate where he stabs the officer controlling the gate, and two officers who had just entered the prison. This incident is seen by a soldier on duty in a watchtower, who reports to the British Army operations room that he has seen prison officers fighting. The operations room telephones the prison’s Emergency Control Room (ECR), which replies that everything is all right and that an alarm had been accidentally triggered earlier.

At 4:12 PM the alarm is raised when an officer in the gatehouse pushes the prisoner holding him hostage out of the room and telephones the ECR. However, this is not done soon enough to prevent the escape. After several attempts the prisoners open the main gate, and are waiting for the prisoners still in the gatehouse to rejoin them in the lorry. At this time two prison officers block the exit with their cars, forcing the prisoners to abandon the lorry and make their way to the outer fence which is 25 yards away.

Four prisoners attack one of the officers and hijack his car, which they drive toward the external gate. They crash into another car near the gate and abandon the car. Two escape through the gate, one is captured exiting the car, and another is captured after being chased by a soldier. At the main gate, a prison officer is shot in the leg while chasing the only two prisoners who have not yet reached the outer fence. The prisoner who fires the shot is captured after being shot and wounded by a soldier in a watch tower, and the other prisoner is captured after falling. The other prisoners escape over the fence, and by 4:18 PM the main gate is closed and the prison secured, after 35 prisoners had breached the prison perimeter. The escape is the biggest in British history, and the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Outside the prison the IRA has planned a logistical support operation involving 100 armed members, but due to a miscalculation of five minutes, the prisoners find no transport waiting for them and are forced to flee across fields or hijack vehicles. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary immediately activate a contingency plan and by 4:25 PM a cordon of vehicle checkpoints are in place around the prison, and others are later in place in strategic positions across Northern Ireland, resulting in the recapture of one prisoner at 11:00 PM. Twenty prison officers are injured during the escape, thirteen are kicked and beaten, four stabbed, and two shot. One prison officer, James Ferris, who had been stabbed, dies after suffering a heart attack during the escape.

The escape is a propaganda coup and morale boost for the IRA, with Irish republicans dubbing it the “Great Escape.” Leading unionist politician Ian Paisley calls on Nicholas Scott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to resign. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement in Ottawa during a visit to Canada, saying “It is the gravest [breakout] in our present history, and there must be a very deep inquiry.” The day after the escape, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior announces an inquiry to be headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, James Hennessy. The Hennessy Report is published on January 26, 1984 placing most of the blame for the escape on prison staff, and making a series of recommendations to improve security at the prison. The report also places blame with the designers of the prison, the Northern Ireland Office and successive prison governors who had failed to improve security. Prior announces that the prison’s governor has resigned, and that there will be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report’s findings. Four days after the Hennessy Report is published, the Minister for Prisons Nicholas Scott dismisses allegations from the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers Association that the escape is due to political interference in the running of the prison.

Fifteen escapees are captured on the day, including four who are discovered hiding underwater in a river near the prison using reeds to breathe. Four more escapees are captured over the next two days, including Hugh Corey and Patrick McIntyre who are captured following a two-hour siege at an isolated farmhouse. Out of the remaining 19 escapees, 18 end up in the republican stronghold of South Armagh where two members of the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade are in charge of transporting them to safehouses, and given the option of either returning to active service in the IRA’s armed campaign or a job and new identity in the United States.

On October 25, 1984, nineteen prisoners appear in court on charges relating to the death of prison officer James Ferris, sixteen charged with his murder. A pathologist determines that the stab wounds Ferris suffered would not have killed a healthy man. The judge acquits all sixteen as he cannot correlate the stabbing to the heart attack.


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Death of Kieran Doherty, Irish Republican Hunger Striker

Kieran Doherty, Irish republican hunger striker and politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency from June 1981 to August 1981, dies on August 2, 1981 in HM Prison Maze (known to republicans as Long Kesh) on the 73rd day of his hunger strike. He is a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Doherty is the third son in a family of six. He is born on October 16, 1955 in the Andersonstown area of Belfast and is educated at St. Theresa’s Primary School and Glen Road Christian Brothers School (CBS). The Doherty brothers are known cyclists and sportsmen in the Andersontown area. He wins an Antrim Gaelic football medal at minor level in 1971.

Doherty joins Fianna Éireann in 1971 and is interned by the British Government between February 1973 and November 1975. His brothers Michael and Terence are interned between 1972 and 1974.

Doherty works as an apprentice heating engineer. His girlfriend is Geraldine Scheiss and, although they never become formally engaged, they become very close toward the end of his life. Before his arrest, she had not known that he is in the IRA.

In August 1976, while he is out to set a bomb, the van in which he is riding is chased by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). During the chase Doherty manages to leave the van and hijack a car. He later ditches the car and is found one mile away from the car. He is convicted and sentenced to 18 years for possession of firearms and explosives, with another four years for the hijack.

Doherty starts his hunger strike on May 22, 1981. While on hunger strike he is elected as an Anti H-Block TD for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency at the 1981 Irish general election, which is held on June 11. He receives 9,121 (15.1%) first preference votes and is elected on the fourth count. The two seats gained by Anti H-Block candidates denies Taoiseach Charles Haughey the chance to form a government, and the 22nd Dáil Éireann sees a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government come to office, with Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

Doherty dies at the age of 25 on August 2, 1981. He lasts 73 days on hunger strike, the longest of the 1981 hunger strikers, and only one day short of Terence MacSwiney. He is the shortest-serving Dáil deputy ever, serving as a TD for only two months.

Doherty is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia. In October 2016, a painting of him is unveiled in Leinster House by Sinn Féin.


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1990 Armagh City Roadside Bomb Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carries out an IED roadside bomb attack at the Killylea Road on the outskirts of Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on July 24, 1990. An IRA active service unit detonates a large bomb as an unmarked Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) vehicle and a civilian car pass, killing three RUC officers and a Catholic nun.

Leading up to the attack, on April 9, 1990 four Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers (Michael Adams, John Birch, John Bradley, Steven Smart) are killed in a similar attack when the IRA detonates a land mine under their patrol vehicle on Ballydugan Road, Downpatrick, County Down. The land mine contains over 1,000 lbs. of explosives.

On the afternoon of July 24, 1990, 37-year-old nun Catherine Dunne is driving an Austin Metro car with a passenger, Cathy McCann, a 25-year-old social worker. Some hours previously, members of the IRA take over a house close to Killylea Road, two miles outside Armagh, County Armagh, holding its occupants, a married couple and their children, at gunpoint.

A detonating wire is placed from the house to a 1,000 lb. bomb, placed in a culvert under Killylea Road. At approximately 2:00 PM, as Dunne’s car is driving to Armagh, a Royal Ulster Constabulary patrol car is traveling in the opposite direction. Dunne’s car passes by the patrol car just as the police drive over the culvert, at which point the IRA detonate the bomb. Constable William James Hanson (37), and reserve officers Joshua Cyril Willis (35) and David Sterritt (34), are all killed instantly. Their car is blown into the air and lands upside down. Dunne and McCann are both severely injured with Dunne later dying of her injuries.

Witness Paul Corr, owner of a petrol filling station nearby, says, “The ground shook beneath us and it was accompanied by a very large explosion. At first we did not see the police car. The whole place was a terrible mess. Then we saw two young girls in the [Austin Metro]. They were unconscious and looked in a pretty bad way. There was nothing we could do for the policemen. Nobody could have come out of that car alive. It was dreadful.”

The bomb leaves a 20-foot-diameter crater in the two-lane road.

Taoiseach Charles Haughey is quoted as saying, “I know all the people of Ireland join me in my condemnation of this atrocity.”

The IRA releases a message claiming responsibility for the attack, and calls Dunne a victim of “unforeseen and fluke circumstances.” The statement is rejected in advance by political and Catholic and Protestant leaders alike and politicians in Ireland and Great Britain.

Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness says, “Our sorrow at these deaths is genuine and profound, but will be abused by our political opponents who will cynically exploit yesterday’s events for their own political purpose.”

Pope John Paul II sends a message to be read at Dunne’s funeral in which he condemns the “grievous injustice and futility” of the murders that leave him “deeply shocked and saddened.” He implores “the men and women who espouse violence to recognise the grievous injustice and futility of terrorism.”

Two men, Henry McCartney (26) and Tarlac Connolly (29), are charged with the killings. They are later given life sentences but are released in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.


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The Holy Cross Dispute

The Holy Cross dispute begins on June 19, 2001 and continues into 2002 in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast. During the 30-year conflict known as the Troubles, Ardoyne becomes segregated – Ulster Protestants and Irish Catholics living in separate areas. This leaves Holy Cross, a Catholic primary school for girls, in the middle of a Protestant area. During the last week of school in June 2001 before the summer break, Protestant loyalists begin picketing the school, claiming that Catholics are regularly attacking their homes and denying them access to facilities.

On Tuesday, June 19, Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers have to protect children and parents entering the school after they are attacked by loyalist stone throwers. Police describe the attack as “vicious.” Following the incident, a blockade of the school develops, with loyalists standing across the road and RUC officers keeping the children and their parents away.

The following day, the school is forced to close when loyalists block the entrance. During the evening, up to 600 loyalists and nationalists clash with each other and with the police. Shots are also fired at the police and over 100 petrol bombs are thrown. During the riots the police fire a number of the new ‘L21 A1’ plastic baton rounds for the first time. Thirty-nine RUC officers are injured. Nine shots in total are fired – six from loyalists and three from republicans. The trouble comes after an explosion at the rear of Catholic homes next to a peace line. Both loyalist and nationalist politicians blame each other for the violence. This is the first of many large riots to take place in Belfast within more than a year.

The morning blockade continues on Thursday, June 21. About 60 of the school’s 230 pupils enter the school through the grounds of another school. Senior Sinn Féin member Gerry Kelly says, “It’s like something out of Alabama in the 1960s.” Three Protestant families leave their homes in Ardoyne Avenue, saying they are afraid of a nationalist attack. During the evening and night there are serious disturbances in the area around the school. Loyalists fire ten shots, and throw six blast bombs and 46 petrol bombs at police lines. Two Catholic homes are attacked with pipe bombs, and a child is thrown against a wall by one of the blasts. Twenty-four RUC officers are hurt.

On Friday, June 22, a number of schoolchildren again have to enter the school through the grounds of another school. This is the last day of school before the summer break.

Talks between the protesters and the schoolchildren’s parents take place over the summer, but no agreement is reached. On August 20, a paint bomb is thrown at the home of a Protestant man in Hesketh Park, smashing a window and causing paint damage to furniture. The man had taken part in the loyalist protest.

The picket resumes on September 3, when the new school term begins. For weeks, hundreds of loyalist protesters try to stop the schoolchildren and their parents from walking to school through their area. Hundreds of riot police, backed up by the British Army, escort the children and parents through the protest each day. Some protesters shout sectarian abuse and throw stones, bricks, fireworks, blast bombs and urine-filled balloons at the schoolchildren, their parents and the police. Death threats are made against the parents and school staff by the Red Hand Defenders, a loyalist paramilitary group. The protest is condemned by both Catholics and Protestants, including politicians. Some likened the protest to child abuse and compare the protesters to North American white supremacists in the 1950s. During this time, the protest sparks bouts of fierce rioting between Catholics and Protestants in Ardoyne, and loyalist attacks on police. On November 23, the loyalists end the protest after being promised tighter security for their area and a redevelopment scheme. The security forces remain outside the school for several months.

In January 2002, a scuffle between a Protestant and a Catholic outside the school sparks a large-scale riot in the area and attacks on other schools in north Belfast. The picket is not resumed and the situation remains mostly quiet. The following year, the BBC airs a documentary-drama about the protests.


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The Loughgall Ambush

The Loughgall ambush takes place on May 8, 1987 in the village of Loughgall, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. An eight-man unit of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launch an attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base in the village.

The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade is active mainly in eastern County Tyrone and neighbouring parts of County Armagh. By the mid-1980s it had become one of the IRA’s most aggressive formations. The British security forces receive intelligence of the IRA’s plan weeks prior to the attack and learn the target at least 10 days before the attack. It has been alleged that the security forces had a double agent inside the IRA unit, and that he was killed by the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) during the ambush. Other sources claim that the security forces had instead learned of the ambush through other surveillance methods.

Three local RUC officers work at the station, which is only open part-time, from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM, and from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM daily.The IRA’s attack involves two teams. One team is to drive a digger with a bomb in its bucket through the base’s perimeter fence and light the fuse. At the same time, another team is to arrive in a van and open fire on the base, with the intent of killing the three RUC officers as they come off duty.

The IRA unit arrives in Loughgall from the northeast shortly after 7:00 PM, when the station is scheduled to close for the night. They are armed and wearing bulletproof vests, boilersuits, gloves and balaclavas. The digger drives past the police station, turns around and drives back again with the Toyota van carrying the main IRA assault party doing the same. Not seeing any activity in the station, members of the IRA unit feel that something is amiss and debate whether to continue, but decide to go ahead with the attack. Tony Gormley and Gerard O’Callaghan get out of the van and join Declan Arthurs on the digger. At about 7:15 PM Arthurs drives the digger towards the station with the front bucket containing 300–400 lbs. of Semtex inside an oil drum, partially hidden by rubble and wired to two 40-second fuses. The other five members of the unit follow in the van with Eugene Kelly driving, unit commander Patrick Kelly in the passenger seat, with unit commander Jim Lynagh, Pádraig McKearney, and Seamus Donnelly in the back seat.

The digger crashes through the light security fence and the fuses are lit. The van stops a short distance ahead and, according to the British security forces, three of the team jump out and fire on the building with automatic weapons. At the same time, the bomb detonates, the blast destroying the digger and badly damaging the building.

Within seconds the SAS opens fire on the IRA attackers from the station and from hidden positions outside. All eight IRA members are killed in the hail of gunfire, each with multiple wounds to their bodies. Declan Arthurs is shot in a lane-way opposite Loughgall F.C. premises. Three of the IRA members are shot at close range as they lay either dead or wounded on the ground. Three other IRA members in the scout cars escape from the scene, managing to pass through British Army and RUC checkpoints set up after the ambush had been sprung. The two RUC Headquarters Mobile Support Unit (HMSU) officers are injured in the explosion and an SAS soldier receives a facial injury from glass after a window is broken by gunfire.

Two civilians, brothers Anthony and Oliver Hughes, traveling in a car that happens to drive into the scene of the ambush while it is underway are also fired upon by the British forces. Oliver is wearing overalls similar to those being worn by the IRA unit. About 130 yards from the police station, British soldiers open fire on their car from behind, killing Anthony and badly wounding Oliver. The villagers had not been told of the operation and no attempt had been made to evacuate anyone or to seal off the ambush zone, as this might have alerted the IRA.

The security forces recover eight IRA firearms from the scene. The RUC links the weapons to seven known murders and twelve attempted murders in the Mid-Ulster region. On of the weapons, a Ruger Security-Six, had been stolen from Reserve RUC officer William Clement, killed two years earlier in the IRA attack on Ballygawley RUC base. It is found that another of the guns had been used in the murder of Harold Henry, a builder employed by the British Army and RUC in facilities construction in Northern Ireland.

(Pictured: Mural commemorating the IRA members killed in the ambush)


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Disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary

The Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve special constable police force in Northern Ireland commonly called the “B-Specials” or “B Men,” is disbanded on April 30, 1970 following the release of the Hunt Report.

The USC is set up in October 1920, shortly before the partition of Ireland. It is an armed corps, organised partially on military lines and called out in times of emergency, such as war or insurgency. It performs this role most notably in the early 1920s during the Irish War of Independence (1920-22) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) Border Campaign (1956-1962).

During its existence, 95 USC members are killed in the line of duty. Seventy-two of these are killed in conflict with the IRA in 1921 and 1922. Another eight die in air raids or IRA attacks during World War II. Of the remainder, most die in accidents but two former officers are killed during the Troubles in the 1980s.

The force is almost exclusively Ulster Protestant and as a result is viewed with great mistrust by Catholics. It carries out several revenge killings and reprisals against Catholic civilians during the Irish War of Independence. Unionists generally support the USC as contributing to the defence of Northern Ireland from subversion and outside aggression.

The abolition of the B Specials is a central demand of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement in the late 1960s. On April 30, 1970, the USC is finally stood down as a result of the Hunt Report, produced by a committee headed by John Hunt, Baron Hunt in 1969. Hunt concludes that the perceived bias of the Special Constabulary, whether true or not, has to be addressed. One of his other major concerns is the use of the police force for carrying out military style operations.

It has been argued that the USC’s failure to deal with the 1969 disturbances were due to a failure on behalf of the Northern Ireland government to modernise their equipment, weaponry, training and approach to the job. Upon the disbandment of the USC, many of its members join the newly established Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), the part-time security force which replaces the B Specials. Unlike the Special Constabulary, the UDR is placed under military control. Other B Specials join the new part-time Reserve of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The USC continues to do duties for a month after the formation of the UDR and RUC Reserve to allow both of the new forces time to consolidate.

In the final handover to the Ulster Defence Regiment, the B Specials have to surrender their weapons and uniforms. Despite the government’s concerns about the handover of weapons and equipment, every single uniform and every single weapon is surrendered.

After implementation of the Hunt report, the last night of duties for most B Men is March 31, 1970. On April 1, 1970 the Ulster Defence Regiment begins duties. Initially, the Regiment has 4,000 members who work part-time while the new special constabulary, the RUC Reserve which replaces the B-Specials, initially consists of 1,500 members.

Since disbandment the USC has assumed a place of “almost mythic proportions” within unionist folklore, whereas in the Nationalist community they are still reviled as the Protestant only, armed wing of the unionist government “associated with the worst examples of unfair treatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland by the police force.” An Orange Order lodge is formed to commemorate the disbandment of the force called “Ulster Special Constabulary LOL No. 1970.” An Ulster Special Constabulary Association is also set up soon after the disbandment.


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Birth of Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland & Archbishop of Armagh

Robert Henry Alexander “Robin” Eames, Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh from 1986 to 2006, is born in Belfast on April 27, 1936, the son of a Methodist minister.

Eames spends his early years in Larne, with the family later moving to Belfast. He is educated at the city’s Belfast Royal Academy and Methodist College Belfast before going on to study at Queen’s University Belfast, graduating LL.B. (Upper Second Class Honours) in 1960 and earning a Ph.D. degree in canon law and history in 1963. During his undergraduate course at Queen’s, one of his philosophy lecturers is his future Roman Catholic counterpart, Cahal Daly.

Turning his back on legal studies for ordination in the Church of Ireland, Eames embarks on a three-year course at the divinity school of Trinity College, Dublin in 1960, but finds the course “intellectually unsatisfying.” In 1963 he is appointed curate assistant at Bangor Parish Church, becoming rector of St. Dorothea’s in Belfast in 1966, the same year he marries Christine Daly.

During his time at St. Dorothea’s, in the Braniel and Tullycarnet area of east Belfast, Eames develops a “coffee bar ministry” among young people but is interrupted by the Troubles. He turns down the opportunity to become dean of Cork and in 1974 is appointed rector of St. Mark’s in Dundela in east Belfast, a church with strong family links to C. S. Lewis.

On May 9, 1975, at the age of 38, Eames is elected bishop of the cross-border Diocese of Derry and Raphoe. Five years later, on May 30, 1980, he is translated to the Diocese of Down and Dromore. He is elected to Down and Dromore on April 23 and that election is confirmed on May 20, 1980. In 1986, he becomes the 14th Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland since the Church of Ireland’s break with Rome. It is an appointment that causes some level of astonishment among other church leaders.

Drumcree Church, a rural parish near Portadown, becomes the site of a major political incident in 1996, when the annual Orangemen‘s march is banned by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary from returning to the centre of Portadown via the nationalist Garvaghy Road after attending worship at Drumcree Church. Public unrest and violence escalates over the next three summers as other parades come under first police and later commission sanction.

Eames, as diocesan bishop and civil leader finds himself immersed in the search for a resolution to the issue. Within the wider Church of Ireland there is unease as it is a broad church in theology and politics including within its congregations nationalists in the south and unionists in the north. Eames, along with the rector of Drumcree, has to navigate this political and social controversy and seeks political assistance to diffuse tension. Some bishops in the Republic of Ireland call for Eames to close the parish church, including Bishop John Neill who later becomes Archbishop of Dublin. He refuses to do so, believing this action could precipitate greater unrest and possible bloodshed.

Eames is, for many years, a significant figure within the general Anglican Communion. In 2003, the self-styled ‘divine optimist’ is appointed Chairman of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, which examines significant challenges to unity in the Anglican Communion. The Commission publishes its report, the Windsor Report, on October 18, 2004.

At the Church of Ireland General Synod in 2006 Eames announces his intention to retire on December 31, 2006. Church law permits him to continue as primate until the age of 75 but he resigns, in good health, at the age of 69. On January 10, 2007, the eleven serving bishops of the Church of Ireland meet at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and elect Alan Harper, Bishop of Connor, as Eames’s successor.


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Assassination of Norman and James Stronge

Sir Charles Norman Lockhart Stronge and his son James, both former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Members of Parliament, are assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) at their home, Tynan Abbey, on January 21, 1981. The home is then burned to the ground.

Before his involvement in politics Stronge fights in World War I as a junior officer in the British Army. He fights in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and is awarded the Military Cross. His positions after the war include Speaker of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland for twenty-three years.

Stronge (86) and his son, James (48), are watching television in the library of Tynan Abbey when members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, armed with machine guns, use grenades to break down the locked heavy doors to the home.

The Stronge family home is then burned to the ground as a result of two bomb explosions. On seeing the explosions at the house, as well as a flare Stronge lit in an attempt to alert the authorities, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army troops arrive at the scene and establish a roadblock at the gate lodge. They encounter at least eight fleeing gunmen. A twenty-minute gunfight ensues in which at least two hundred shots are fired. There are no casualties among the security forces but the gunmen escape. The bodies of the father and son are later discovered in the library of their burning home, each with gunshot wounds in the head. It is not known who died first, Norman or James. Under the legal fiction known as the doctrine of survival, James is still listed as succeeding to the baronetcy.

The village of Tynan is crowded for the joint funeral of Stronge and his son. Mourners come from throughout the province and from England, including lords, politicians, policemen, judges and church leaders. The coffin is carried by the 5th Battalion the Royal Irish Rangers, the successors to his old regiment. The sword and cap of the Lord Lieutenant of Tyrone, Major John Hamilton-Stubber, are placed on his coffin in lieu of his own, which had been destroyed with his other possessions in the fire. During the service, a telegram sent from Queen Elizabeth II to one of Sir Norman’s daughters, is read. After the service, the chief mourners move out into the churchyard where the “Last Post” is sounded and a Royal British Legion farewell is given. The two coffins are laid in the family plot, where Lady Stronge, Sir Norman’s wife and mother of James, was buried a year previously.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, is informed by friends of the Stronge family that he would not be welcome at the funeral because of government policy on Irish border security. Atkins leaves the Northern Ireland Office later that year, to be replaced by Jim Prior. Stronge is commemorated with a tablet in the Northern Ireland Assembly Chamber in Parliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate.

The IRA releases a statement in Belfast, quoted in The Times, claiming that “This deliberate attack on the symbols of hated unionism was a direct reprisal for a whole series of loyalist assassinations and murder attacks on nationalist peoples and nationalist activities.” This follows the loyalist attempted murder of Bernadette McAliskey and her husband Michael McAliskey on January 16, and the loyalist assassinations of four republican activists (Miriam Daly, John Turnley, Noel Lyttle and Ronnie Bunting) which had taken place since May 1980.

The killings are referred to as murder by multiple media sources including The Daily Telegraph, The Scotsman, The New York Times and Time magazine, by the Reverend Ian Paisley in the House of Commons and by Alec Cooke, Baron Cooke of Islandreagh in the House of Lords.

Stronge is described at the time of his death by Social Democratic and Labour Party politician Austin Currie as having been “even at 86 years of age … still incomparably more of a man than the cowardly dregs of humanity who ended his life in this barbaric way.”

The ruins of Tynan Abbey are demolished in 1998, having stood for 249 years.


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The Dunmurry Train Bombing

The Dunmurry train bombing, a premature detonation of a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) incendiary bomb aboard a Ballymena to Belfast passenger train, takes place on January 17, 1980.

The blast engulfs a carriage of the train in flames, killing three and injuring five others. One of the dead and the most seriously injured survivor are volunteers of the IRA. After the blast, the organisation issues a statement acknowledging responsibility, apologising to those who were harmed and state that it was ‘grave and distressing’ but an ‘accident’ caused by the ‘war situation.’

The train is a Northern Ireland Railways afternoon service carrying passengers between Ballymena railway station and Belfast Central railway station. The train is largely empty as it leaves Dunmurry railway station and enters the outskirts of Belfast, crossing under the M1 motorway on its way to Finaghy railway station shortly before 4:55 PM. A large fireball erupts in the rear carriage, bringing the train to a standstill and forcing panicked passengers to evacuate urgently as the smoke and flames spread along the train. The survivors then move down the track in single file to safety while emergency services fight the blaze. After several hours and combined efforts from fire, police and military services the blaze is contained. One fireman is treated for minor injuries. The two damaged carriages are transported to Queen’s Quay in Belfast for forensic examination and are subsequently rebuilt, one remaining in service until 2006 and the other until 2012.

Of the four persons occupying the carriage, three are killed with burns so severe that it is not possible to identify them by conventional means. Rail chief Roy Beattie describes the human remains as “three heaps of ashes.” The fourth, later identified as Patrick Joseph Flynn, is an IRA member and one of the men transporting the bombs. He suffers very serious burns to his face, torso and legs, and is reported to be close to death upon arrival at the hospital. Of the dead, two are eventually named as 17-year-old Protestant student Mark Cochrane from Finaghy and the other a 35-year-old Belfast-based accountant and recent immigrant from Lagos, Nigeria, Max Olorunda, who had been visiting a client in Ballymena. The identity of the third is harder to ascertain, but it is eventually confirmed by the IRA by their statement that he is 26-year-old IRA member Kevin Delaney. In addition to the fireman, four people are injured, including Flynn, two teenagers treated for minor injuries and an older man who suffers much more serious burns.

Further bomb alerts are issued across the region and two similar devices are discovered on trains, at York Road railway station in Belfast and at Greenisland railway station. Both are removed safely and control detonated. The devices are simple incendiary bombs similar to that which exploded south of Befast, consisting of a 5-lb. block of explosives attached to a petrol can with a simple time device intended to delay the explosion until the train is empty that evening. Later testimony indicates that Delaney armed the first of two bombs and placed it beside him as he picked up the second one. As he arms this device, the first bomb suddenly detonates for reasons that remain unknown. Delaney is killed instantly and his accomplice, Patrick Joseph Flynn, is forced to leap from the train in flames. Flynn is guarded by police in hospital and arrested once his wounds heal sufficiently.

The IRA releases a lengthy statement about the event, terming it a ‘bombing tragedy,’ blaming the Royal Ulster Constabulary for their ‘sickening and hypocritical … collective activity of collaboration with the British forces.’ In Britain, Conservative MP Winston Churchill calls for the death penalty to be reinstated for terrorists as a result of the incident.

Patrick Flynn is tried at Belfast Crown Court for double manslaughter and possession of explosives after he recovers from his injuries. He is severely disfigured and badly scarred from the extensive burns the incendiary device had inflicted upon him. The judge is asked and agrees to take this into account for sentencing after reviewing the evidence and finding Flynn guilty due to his proximity to the explosion, his known IRA affiliation and the discovery of telephone numbers for the Samaritans and Belfast Central railway station in his jacket, to be used to telephone bomb warnings. Justice Kelly sentences Flynn to ten years in prison for each manslaughter as well as seven years for the explosives offences, to be served concurrently.

(Pictured: Dunmurry Railway Station)