seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Seán Mac Stíofáin, Irish Republican Army Commander

sean-mac-stiofainSeán Mac Stíofáin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander and a founding member of the Provisional IRA and its first chief of staff, is born in Leytonstone, London on February 17, 1928.

Mac Stíofáin is born John Stephenson, the son of Protestant parents. He claims Irish ancestry on his mother’s side although the validity of this is uncertain. He leaves school at sixteen, working as a labourer and converting to Catholicism. He also serves in the Royal Air Force during World War II, working as a storeman. After the war, he becomes involved and obsessed with Irish republicanism. He joins the Irish Republican Army in 1949 and helps organise an IRA unit in London.

In 1953, Stephenson leads a raid that steals rifles and mortars from a cadet school armoury in Essex. He is stopped randomly by police, arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. He serves more than three years behind bars, using this time to learn Irish Gaelic. Released in 1956, he marries an Irish woman, moves to Dublin and changes his name to Seán Mac Stíofáin, the Gaelic form of his birth name.

Mac Stíofáin gradually ascends through the ranks of the IRA, becoming its director of intelligence. The outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 opens up divisions in the IRA over strategy and tactics. While Cathal Goulding and other leaders want to use violence carefully, Mac Stíofáin and his supporters urge open warfare with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

In August 1969, Mac Stíofáin leads a raid on the RUC station at Crossmaglen, in defiance of IRA orders. In December, he and four others form a Provisional Army Council. This splinter group becomes the nucleus of the Provisional IRA.

Mac Stíofáin becomes the Provisional IRA’s first chief of staff. He also oversees its rearming and the escalation of its military campaign in Northern Ireland. In July 1972, he represents the Provisional IRA in secret talks with the British government in London. When these talks collapse he orders an increase in Provisional IRA operations, beginning with the mass bombing of Belfast on July 21, 1972.

Mac Stíofáin remains in charge until November 1972, when a controversial television interview leads to his arrest, imprisonment and removal from the Provisional IRA leadership. He is released the following year but is no longer prominent in the Provisional IRA. He spends the rest of the 1970s working for a Sinn Féin newspaper.

Mac Stíofáin died on May 18, 2001 in Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, County Meath, after a long illness. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Navan. His funeral is attended by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.


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Assassination of Activist Miriam Daly

miriam-dalyMiriam Daly, Irish republican activist and university lecturer, is assassinated by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) on June 26, 1980.

Daly is born in the Curragh Irish Army camp, County Kildare in 1928. She grows up in Hatch Street, Dublin and attends Loreto College on St. Stephen’s Green and University College, Dublin, graduating in history. She goes on to teach economic history in UCD for some years before moving to Southampton University with her husband, Joseph Lee. Two years after her first husband dies, she marries James Daly and returns to Ireland with him in 1968. They both are appointed lecturers in Queen’s University Belfast.

Daly soon becomes an activist in the civil rights movement, particularly following the introduction of internment without trial by the Government of Northern Ireland. She is active in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the Northern Resistance Movement.

Daly is a militant member of the Prisoners’ Relatives Action Committee and the national Hunger Strike Committee. In that campaign, she works with Seamus Costello and soon joins him in the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). After Costello is assassinated, she becomes chairperson, leading the party for two years. During this time she and her husband are instrumental in opposing Sinn Féin‘s drift towards federalism.

On June 26, 1980, Daly is shot dead at her home in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast. At the time of her assassination, she is in charge of the IRSP prisoners’ welfare.

According to reports in The Irish Times, members of the Ulster Defence Association gain entry to her home with the intention of killing her husband, who is also a republican activist. Daly is captured and tied up while they wait for him to return home. However, he is in Dublin at the time and so does not arrive. After a considerable time, the UDA men decide to kill Daly instead. Muffling the sound of the gun with a cushion, they shoot her in the head and cut the phone lines before fleeing. Her body is discovered when her ten-year-old daughter arrives home from school.

Daly is buried in Swords, County Dublin. Mourners at her funeral, which features the firing of a volley of shots over her coffin, includes Seán Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. She is included as a volunteer on the INLA monument in Milltown Cemetery and is one of several commemorated by an IRSP mural on the Springfield Road, Belfast.


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Death of IRA Chief of Staff Cathal Goulding

cathal-gouldingCathal Goulding, former Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and the Official IRA, dies in Dublin on December 26, 1998.

Goulding is born on January 2, 1923, one of seven children born on East Arran Street, north Dublin to an Irish republican family. As a teenager Goulding joins Fianna Éireann, the youth wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He joins the IRA in 1939. In December of that year, he takes part in a raid on Irish Army ammunition stores in Phoenix Park, Dublin. In November 1941 he is gaoled for a year in Mountjoy Prison for membership in an unlawful organisation and possession of IRA documents. Upon his release in 1942, he is immediately interned at the Curragh Camp, where he remains until 1944.

In 1945, he is involved in the attempts to re-establish the IRA which has been badly affected by the authorities in both the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. He is among twenty-five to thirty men who meet at O’Neill’s Pub, Pearse Street, to try to re-establish the IRA in Dublin. He organises the first national meeting of IRA activists after the World War II in Dublin in 1946 and is arrested along with John Joe McGirl and ten others and sentenced to twelve months in prison when the gathering is raided by the Garda Síochána.

Upon his release in 1947, Goulding organises IRA training camps in the Wicklow Mountains and takes charge of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade in 1951. In 1953, Goulding, along with Seán Mac Stíofáin and Manus Canning, is involved in an arms raid on the Officers Training Corps armoury at Felsted School, Essex. The three are arrested and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, but are released in 1959 after serving only six years at Pentonville, Wakefield, and Stafford prisons. During his time in Wakefield prison, he befriends EOKA members and Klaus Fuchs, a German-born spy who has passed information about the U.S. nuclear programme to the Soviet Union, and becomes interested in the Russian Revolution.

In 1959, Goulding is appointed IRA Quartermaster General and in 1962 he succeeds Ruairí Ó Brádaigh as IRA Chief of Staff. In February 1966, together with Sean Garland, he is arrested for possession of a revolver and ammunition. In total, Goulding spends sixteen years of his life in British and Irish jails.

Goulding is instrumental in moving the IRA to the left in the 1960s. He argues against the policy of abstentionism and develops a Marxist analysis of Irish politics. He believes the British state deliberately divides the Irish working class on sectarian grounds to exploit them and keep them from uniting and overthrowing their bourgeois oppressors. This analysis is rejected by those who later go on to form the Provisional IRA after the 1969 IRA split.

Goulding remains chief of staff of what becomes known as the Official IRA until 1972. Although the Official IRA, like the Provisional IRA, carries out an armed campaign, Goulding argues that such action ultimately divides the Irish working class. After public revulsion regarding the shooting death of William Best, a Catholic from Derry who is also a British soldier, and the bombing of the Aldershot barracks, the Official IRA announces a ceasefire in 1972.

Goulding is prominent in the various stages of Official Sinn Féin‘s development into the Workers’ Party. He is also involved in the anti-amendment campaign in opposition to the introduction of a constitutional ban on abortion along with his partner, Dr. Moira Woods. However, in 1992, he objects to the political reforms proposed by party leader Proinsias De Rossa and remains in the Workers’ Party after the formation of Democratic Left. He regards the Democratic Left as having compromised socialism in the pursuit of political office.

In his later years, Goulding spends much of his time at his cottage in Raheenleigh near Myshall, County Carlow. He dies of cancer in his native Dublin and is survived by three sons and a daughter. He is cremated and his ashes scattered, at his directive, at the site known as “the Nine Stones” on the slopes of Mount Leinster.


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Founding of the Gaelic League

conradh-na-gaeilge-logoThe Gaelic League (Irish: Conradh na Gaeilge), a social and cultural organisation which promotes the Irish language in Ireland and worldwide is founded in Dublin on July 31, 1893.

Conradh na Gaeilge is founded by Douglas Hyde, the son of a Church of Ireland rector from Frenchpark, County Roscommon, with the aid of Eugene O’Growney, Eoin MacNeill, Thomas O’Neill Russell, and others. The organisation develops from Ulick Bourke‘s earlier Gaelic Union and becomes the leading institution promoting the Gaelic Revival, carrying on efforts like the publishing of the Gaelic Journal. The League’s first newspaper is An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light) and its most noted editor is Patrick Pearse. The motto of the League is Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin amháin (Ourselves, Ourselves alone).

The League encourages female participation from the start and a number of women play a prominent role. They are not restricted to subordinate roles, but play an active part in leadership, although males are in the overwhelming majority. Local notables, such as Lady Gregory in Galway, Lady Esmonde in County Wexford, and Mary Spring Rice in County Limerick, and others such as Norma Borthwick, found and lead branches in their communities. At the annual national convention in 1906 women are elected to seven of the forty-five positions on the Gaelic League executive. Executive members include Máire Ní Chinnéide, Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh (who writes pamphlets on behalf of the League), Bean an Doc Uí Choisdealbha, Máire Ní hAodáin, Máire de Buitléir, Nellie O’Brien, Eibhlín Ní Dhonnabháin, and Eibhlín Nic Néill.

Though apolitical, the organisation attracts many Irish nationalists of different persuasions, much like the Gaelic Athletic Association. It is through the League that many future political leaders and rebels first meet, laying the foundation for groups such as the Irish Volunteers. However, Conradh na Gaeilge does not commit itself entirely to the national movement until 1915, causing the resignation of Douglas Hyde, who feels that the culture of language should be above politics. Most of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation are members. It still continues to attract many Irish Republicans. Seán Mac Stíofáin, the first chief of staff of the Provisional IRA was a prominent member in his later life.

After the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the organisation has a less prominent role in public life as Irish is made a compulsory subject in state-funded schools. It does unexpectedly bad in the Irish Seanad election of 1925, when all the candidates it endorses are defeated, including Hyde.


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Bloody Friday in Belfast

bloody-friday-1972At least twenty Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombs explode in Belfast on July 21, 1972, during the Troubles in what has become known as “Bloody Friday.” Most of the bombs are car bombs and most target infrastructure, especially the transport network. Nine people are killed, including two British soldiers and five civilians, while 130 are injured.

In late June and early July 1972, a British government delegation led by William Whitelaw holds secret talks with the Provisional IRA leadership. As part of the talks, the IRA agrees to a temporary ceasefire beginning on June 26. The IRA leaders seek a peace settlement that includes a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland by 1975 and the release of republican prisoners. However, the British refuse and the talks break down. The ceasefire comes to an end on July 9.

Bloody Friday is the IRA’s response to the breakdown of the talks. According to the IRA’s Chief of Staff, Seán Mac Stíofáin, the main goal of the bombing operation is to wreak financial harm. It is a “message to the British government that the IRA could and would make a commercial desert of the city unless its demands were met.” Some also see it as a reprisal for Bloody Sunday in Derry six months earlier. The attack is carried out by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade and the main organiser is Brendan Hughes, the brigade’s Officer Commanding.

The bombings occur during an 80-minute period on the afternoon of Friday, July 21. At least 24 bombs are planted. At least 20 explode and the rest fail to detonate or are defused. At the height of the bombing, the middle of Belfast “resembled a city under artillery fire; clouds of suffocating smoke enveloped buildings as one explosion followed another, almost drowning out the hysterical screams of panicked shoppers.” According to The Guardian, “for much of the afternoon, Belfast was reduced to near total chaos and panic. Thousands streamed out of the stricken city…and huge traffic jams built up. All bus services were cancelled, and on some roads hitch-hikers frantically trying to get away lined the pavements.”

Nine people are killed and 130 are injured, some of them horrifically mutilated. Of those injured, 77 are women and children. All of the deaths are caused by two of the bombs – at Oxford Street bus depot and at Cavehill Road. The Oxford Street bomb kills two British soldiers and four Ulsterbus employees. One employee is a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) reservist, one is an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, and the other two are civilians. The Cavehill Road bomb kills three civilians.

The IRA’s Belfast Brigade claims responsibility for the bombings and says that it had given warnings to the security forces before the bombs exploded. It says that the Public Protection Agency, the Samaritans and the press “were informed of bomb positions at least 30 minutes to one hour before each explosion.” Mac Stíofáin says, “It required only one man with a loud hailer to clear each target area in no time” and alleged that the warnings for the two bombs that claim lives are deliberately ignored by the British for “strategic policy reasons.”


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Sinn Féin Splits in 1970

sinn-feinOn January 11, 1970, at Sinn Féin‘s Ard Fheis at the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin, the proposal to end abstentionism and take seats, if elected, in the Dáil, the Northern Ireland Parliament, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom is put before the members. A similar motion had been adopted at an Irish Republican Army (IRA) convention the previous month, leading to the formation of a Provisional Army Council by Seán Mac Stíofáin and other members opposed to the leadership.

There are allegations of malpractice and that some supporters cast votes to which they are not entitled. In addition, the leadership has also refused voting rights to a number of Sinn Féin cumainn (branches) known to be in opposition, particularly in the north and in County Kerry. The motion is debated all of the second day, and when it was put to a vote at 5:30 PM the result is 153:104 in favour of the motion, failing to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority.

The Executive attempts to circumvent this by introducing a motion in support of the IRA Army Council, led by Tomás Mac Giolla, which only requires a simple majority. In protest of the motion, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and his minority group walks out of the meeting. These members reconvene at a hall in 44 Parnell Square, which they had already booked in anticipation of the move by the leadership. They appoint a Caretaker Executive, and pledged allegiance to the Provisional Army Council.

The Caretaker Executive declares itself in opposition to the ending of abstentionism, the drift towards irish-republican-armyMarxism, the failure of the leadership to defend the nationalist people of Belfast during the 1969 Northern Ireland riots, and the expulsion of traditional republicans by the leadership during the 1960s. At the October 1970 Ard Fheis, it is announced that an IRA convention has been held and has regularised its structure, bringing the “provisional” period to an end.

At the end of 1970 the terms “Official IRA” and “Regular IRA” are introduced by the press to differentiate the two factions. During 1971, the rival factions play out their conflict in the press with the Officials referring to their rivals as the Provisional Alliance, while the Provisionals refer to the Officials (IRA and Sinn Féin) as the National Liberation Front (NLF).

The Falls Road Curfew, coupled with internment in August 1971, and Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972, boosts the Provisionals in Belfast. These events produce an influx into the Provisionals on the military side, making them the dominant force and finally eclipsing the Officials everywhere. Despite becoming the dominant group and the dropping of the word “provisional” at the convention of the IRA Army Council in September 1970, they are still known to the mild irritation of senior members as Provisionals, Provos, or Provies.