seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Hanging of Peter Barnes & James Richards

peter-barnes-and-james-mccormackIrish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers Peter Barnes and James Richards are hanged in Winston Green Prison in Birmingham, England on February 7, 1940 for their involvement in a bombing in Coventry the previous year which killed five people.

Barnes and Richards (also known as James McCormack) are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and participate in the August 25, 1939 Coventry bombing which kills five people. Although they both admit to constructing the bomb, which is intended to be used to destroy a power station, they claim not to be involved in planting the bomb.

Seán MacBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish barrister, attempts to secure their release claiming they are being illegally held without a writ of habeas corpus. However, both are charged with murder on December 12 along with Brigid O’Hara and Joseph and Mary Hewitt. All five plead not guilty before the court at Birmingham Assizes.

Brigid O’Hara issues statements between August 28 and September 4 to Scotland Yard and Birmingham City Police denying any knowledge of the bombings and later provides evidence for the prosecution. Found guilty of murder on December 15, Barnes and Richards are hanged at Winston Green Prison in Birmingham on February 7, 1940. Their remains are returned to Dublin in 1969.

The reinterment in Mullingar, County Westmeath is attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Mass is said in Irish in the Cathedral before the funeral to Ballyglass Cemetery. Among those attending are three brothers of Peter Barnes and a sister and brother of McCormack.

The trial and execution results in a public outcry in Ireland against Neville Chamberlain and the British Government as Peadar O’Donnell and other prominent Irish writers sign a petition campaigning for leniency towards the condemned men.


Leave a comment

The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


Leave a comment

Paddington & Victoria Stations Bombings

london-victoria-stationThe Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) explodes two bombs at London mainline stations on February 18, 1991, one at Victoria station and the other at Paddington station, killing one person and injuring 38 others all at Victoria station. It is the IRA’s second major attack in London in February 1991 after the Downing Street mortar attack eleven days earlier which is an attempt to wipe out the British war cabinet and British prime minister John Major. It is also the first IRA attack on civilians since the 1983 Harrods bombing, marking a strategic change in their bombing campaign.

The Paddington bomb, which goes off at 4:20 AM, is much smaller than the second bomb at Victoria and is designed to make sure the security services will take the Victoria bomb seriously and not as a hoax. There are no deaths or injuries at Paddington but the roof is badly damaged.

Some time before 7:00 AM, a caller with an Irish accent says, “We are the Irish Republican Army. Bombs to go off in all mainline stations in 45 minutes.” The Victoria station bomb, which is hidden in a rubbish bin inside the station, goes off at 7:40 AM. Despite a 45-minute warning and the Paddington bomb three hours earlier, the security services are slow to act. The bomb kills one person instantly and injures 38 others from flying glass and other debris. This is the worst attack suffered by civilians in England by the IRA since the 1983 Harrods bombing which killed three policemen, three civilians and injured 50 people. All London’s rail terminals are closed, disrupting the journeys of almost half a million commuters and bringing chaos to London, which is the IRA’s intended goal. There is also a hoax call made to Heathrow Airport, causing the airport’s closure.

That night the Provisional IRA claims responsibility for the bombings but blames the British police for the casualties. A statement from the Provisional IRA GHQ says, “The cynical decision of senior security personnel not to evacuate railway stations named in secondary warnings, even three hours after the warning device had exploded at Paddington in the early hours of this morning was directly responsible for the casualties at Victoria.” The statement goes on, “All future warnings should be acted upon.” The main purpose of the bombings in the overall IRA strategy is to keep pressure up on John Major, his Government and to make sure he acts on the Irish Troubles.

Police defend the decision not to close all stations after receiving warning that bombs had been planted. Commander George Churchill-Coleman, head of Scotland Yard‘s anti-terrorist squad, says that dozens of hoax calls are received every day. “It is very easy with hindsight to be critical.” Churchill-Coleman also says that the bomb was “quite deliberately intended to maim and kill.”

A year later, a French TV crew interviews an IRA Commander who says he speaks on behalf of the IRA’s GHQ Staff. The commander of the unit says of the Victoria station bombing that warnings were given by telephone naming nine railroad stations in London and that a 50-minute warning was given. He goes on to say that the attack was not aimed at hurting anybody but to disrupt the British transport system.

This bombing marks the IRA’s shift to targeting civilian areas following the July 1990 London Stock Exchange bombing. It is also the first IRA attack on the London transport system since 1976. The IRA keeps bombing targets in England for the remainder of the year.

(Pictured: London Victoria Station – The main station building for this terminus, with trains servicing the south and south-eastern destinations, as well as Gatwick. In front is the bus station.)


Leave a comment

Irish Republican Army Bombings in Central London

regent-street-london-1977At least seven bombs explode in Central London on January 29, 1977. One person is injured. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) later claims responsibility.

Hundreds of police seal off the Oxford Street area as Selfridges department store is set ablaze and one man is injured. The explosions occur over a two-mile area within 50 minutes. The bombs wreck buildings in Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Wardour Street, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage and burying a taxi under the rubble, injuring the driver. Another man is trapped in a basement in Selfridges after the blast.

The attacks come less than 72 hours before the IRA commemoration of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Londonderry and, according to the police, bear all the hallmarks of the IRA. The bombs, left in doorways of shops and offices, are similar to those used in fire bomb attacks on the centre of Belfast and Londonderry over the previous four years.

Hundreds of police are drafted into the Oxford Street area within minutes of the first blast, shortly after midnight. Police using sniffer dogs examine hundreds of cars stretched along Oxford Street and residents are warned to evacuate by police and fire officers using bullhorns. Dozens of fire engines respond to the resulting blaze in the huge department store.

A two-mile area around Oxford Street is cordoned off by police road-blocks shortly after the first explosions. Scotland Yard and the Fire Brigade are unable to keep pace with the bombs and fires as news reports flood in.

The first explosions occur in Wardour Street where two bombs blow out the front of a publishing office and a travel agency, hurling glass and furniture into the street. Within 20 minutes, three other bombs explode in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Poland Street and in the side-streets of Soho. The fire brigade simultaneously fights two major fires within a mile of each other, in Selfridges and in a building in Berwick Street, Soho. Debris from the bombs is littered around as bomb squad officers and police patrols begin examining all suspicious cars and packages in the area. Several bomb squad officers are standing within yards of a building when the fourth bomb, fortunately a small one, goes off.

The Assistant Commissioner for Crime, Jock Wilson, joins Bomb Squad officers in a special mobile control unit. A senior police officer says that many of the bombs are crammed through letter-boxes in the business premises. However, the bomb at Selfridges is placed in the basement, police believe, on previous afternoon.

(Pictured: Police cordon off Regent Street following IRA bombs in the West End, London, January 1977. Photograph: ANL/REX/Shutterstock)


Leave a comment

The Theft of the Irish Crown Jewels

irish-crown-jewels-rewardThe theft from Dublin Castle of the Irish Crown Jewels, the heavily jeweled star and badge regalia of the Sovereign and Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick, as well as the collars of five knights of the Order is discovered on July 6, 1907. The theft has never been solved and the jewels have never been recovered.

Prior to 1903, the insignia of the Sovereign and those of deceased Knights are in the custody of the Ulster King of Arms, the senior Irish officer of arms, and are kept in a bank vault. In 1903, the jewels are transferred to a safe, which is to be placed in the newly constructed strongroom in Dublin Castle beside the Ulster King of Arms’ office. The new safe is too large for the doorway to the strongroom and Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms, instead stores it in his office. Seven latch keys to the door of the Office of Arms are held by Vicars and his staff, and two keys to the safe containing the insignia are both in the custody of Vicars. Vicars is known to regularly get drunk on overnight duty and he once awoke to find the jewels around his neck. It is not known whether or not this is a prank or a practice for the actual theft.

The insignia are last worn by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, on March 15, 1907, at a function to mark Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17. They are last known to be in the safe on June 11, when Vicars shows them to a visitor to his office. The jewels are discovered to be missing on July 6, four days before the start of a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to the Irish International Exhibition, at which it is planned to invest Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown, into the Order. The theft reportedly angers the King but the visit goes on as scheduled, however, the investiture ceremony is cancelled.

A police investigation is conducted by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). Posters issued by the DMP depict and describe the missing jewels. Detective Chief Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard arrives on July 12 to assist. His report, which is never released, is said to name the culprit but is suppressed by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

Vicars refuses to resign his position, and similarly refuses to appear at a Viceregal Commission into the theft. Vicars argues for a public Royal Commission instead, which has the power to subpoena witnesses. He publicly accuses his second in command, Francis Shackleton, of the theft. Kane explicitly denies to the Commission that Shackleton, brother of the explorer Ernest Shackleton, is involved. Shackleton is exonerated in the Commission’s report, and Vicars is found to have “not exercise[d] due vigilance or proper care as the custodian of the regalia.” Vicars is compelled to resign, as are all the staff in his personal employ.