seamus dubhghaill

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


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The McMahon Murders

The McMahon murders occur on March 24, 1922 when six Catholic civilians are shot dead at the home of the McMahon family in Belfast. Police officers break into their house at night and shoot all eight males inside, in an apparent sectarian attack. The victims are businessman Owen McMahon, four of his sons, and one of his employees. Two others are shot but survive, and a female family member is assaulted. The survivors say that most of the gunmen wore police uniforms and it is suspected that they were members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). It is believed to be a reprisal for the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of two policemen the previous day.

Following the end of the Irish War of Independence in July 1921 and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the new unionist Government of Northern Ireland establishes the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve police force to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), to counter the IRA.

The McMahon killings are believed to be a reprisal for the IRA’s killing of two USC policemen in Belfast. On March 23, 1922, USC officers Thomas Cunningham and William Cairnside are patrolling Great Victoria Street in the city centre when they are approached by a group of IRA members and shot dead. Two Catholics, Peter Murphy (61) and Sarah McShane (15), are shot dead in a suspected reprisal attack several hours later in the Catholic Short Strand area by unidentified gunmen. The McMahon family has no connection to any paramilitary violence.

At about 1:00 a.m. on March 24, 1922, two men wearing police uniforms seize a sledgehammer from a Belfast Corporation workman, who is guarding a building site at Carlisle Circus. A curfew is in place at the time, due to the daily violence in the city. At nearby Clifton Avenue they meet three other men and the party of five proceed to the home of Owen McMahon. Eight males and three females are in the house that night. The males are Owen, his six sons, and Edward McKinney, a parish just north of Buncrana in Inishowen, County Donegal. He works for the McMahons as a barman. The women are Owen’s wife Eliza, her daughter and her niece. At about 1:20 a.m., the gang uses the sledgehammer to break down the door of the McMahon residence.

Owen’s wife, Eliza, says that four of the men wore police caps and carried revolvers while another wore civilian clothes. John McMahon, one of Owen’s sons, says, “Four of the five men were dressed in the uniform of the RIC but, from their appearance, I know they are Specials, not regular RIC.” All of the men hide their faces. The four men in police uniform rush up the stairs and herd the males into the dining room. The women are taken into another room. When Owen asks why his family is being singled-out, one of the gunmen says it is because he is “a respected papist.” The gunmen say “you boys say your prayers,” before opening fire. The shooting continues for five minutes. Five of the men are killed outright and two are wounded, one fatally.

Owen McMahon (50), Gerard McMahon (15), Frank McMahon (24), Patrick McMahon (22) and Edward McKinney (25) are killed outright while Bernard McMahon (26) dies later. The youngest McMahon son, 12-year-old Michael, survives the attack by hiding behind furniture and pretending to be hit. John McMahon (30) survives despite serious gunshot wounds. Eliza McMahon raises the alarm by opening the drawing room window and shouting “Murder! Murder!” A matron at an adjoining nursing home is alerted and phones the police and an ambulance.

It is alleged that a group of policemen operating out of Brown Square Barracks in the Shankill Road area are behind the killings. This has never been proved, but historian Eamon Phoenix, of Stranmillis University College in Belfast, has said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that District Inspector John Nixon was responsible. Historian Tim Pat Coogan believes the police were responsible. An inquiry is carried out by the Department of Defence of the Irish Free State, but not by the Northern Irish authorities. A 1924 Free State report alleges that twelve policemen, whom the report identifies by name, had carried out the McMahon murders, as well as several other attacks on Catholics.

The killings cause outrage among Belfast’s Catholic population and over 10,000 people attend the funerals of those killed.

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, worried that the violence could collapse the new Northern Ireland administration, organise a meeting in London between Irish republican leader Michael Collins and Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, both to try to stop the IRA violence which Collins has been tacitly encouraging and supporting, and to pressure Craig to provide more protection for Catholics. Craig denies the nationalist assertion that the McMahon killings were part of an anti-Catholic pogrom on behalf of state forces.

No one is ever prosecuted for the killings but District Inspector John Nixon of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is strongly suspected of being responsible. Nixon is later forced to step down from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the force that succeeds the RIC in June 1922, albeit on full pension, in 1924 after being heard giving (in breach of police regulations) a political speech to an Orange Order meeting saying that, “not an inch of Ulster should be yielded” to the Free State.


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Death of Novelist Shan Fadh Bullock

Novelist Shan Fadh Bullock dies in Sutton, Surrey, on February 27, 1935. His works include fourteen novels set in Ulster and he is admired by James Matthew Barrie and Thomas Hardy.

Bullock is born on May 17, 1865 at Inisherk, County Fermanagh just outside the County Cavan border near Belturbet, in what is now Northern Ireland. His father, Thomas Bullock, is a strict man who has eleven children and drives several to emigration because of his stern demeanour. Thomas Bullock works on the Crom Castle estate which runs along the Cavan/Fermanagh border and has both Catholic and Protestant workers. Protestant workers have the prime jobs and are employed as craftsmen and supervisors while Catholics work in the outer area of the estate at unskilled jobs. Folk memories of the Battle of Newtownbutler in 1689 remain long in the memory in the area where up to 1,500 Jacobite troops are hacked down or drowned in Upper Lough Erne when pursued by the Williamite cavalry. Many of the Williamite army is drawn from the local Protestant population.

Bullock is educated at Crom estate primary school run by the Church of Ireland and Farra School near Bunbrosna, County Westmeath. He fails the entrance exams at the University of Dublin. He tries his hand at farming but finds he is not suited. He moves to London in 1883 and becomes a Civil Service clerk. He takes to journalism to supplement his salary and publishes his first book of stories, The Awkward squads, in 1893. His stories are centered on Irish Catholic and Protestant small farmers and labourers and their struggles and tensions. He marries Emma Mitchell in 1899 and they have a son and daughter.

Bullock is well respected in literary circles but his books are never successful enough for him to become a full time writer. He says that the English are not interested in Irish stories and that there is no reading public in Ireland. He dislikes Orange sectarianism and is ambivalent to Irish nationalism. His novel The Red Leaguers looks at sectarianism conflict and Robert Thorne examines the lives of London clerks which is a popular theme at the time. His last and best novel The Loughsiders is published in 1924 and is the story of a conniving smallholder based on William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Bullock’s wife dies in 1922. He spends the final years of his life in Sutton, Surrey and dies there on February 27, 1935.

Bullock’s daughter presents his literary papers, including two unpublished novels, two plays, numerous short stories and essays, and some correspondence to the Queen’s University Belfast library in the 1960s. A portrait of Bullock by Dermod O’Brien, RHA, is also at Queen’s University Belfast. His correspondence with Sir Horace Plunkett is in the archives of the Plunkett Foundation, Long Hanborough Business Park, Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Enniskillen public library has a collection of cuttings on Bullock, including some photocopied letters.


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The Teebane Bombing

The Teebane bombing takes place on January 17, 1992 at a rural crossroads between Omagh and Cookstown in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. A roadside bomb destroys a van carrying 14 construction workers who had been repairing a British Army base in Omagh. Eight of the men are killed and the rest are wounded. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) claims responsibility, saying that the workers were killed because they were “collaborating” with the “forces of occupation.”

Since the beginning of its campaign in 1969, the Provisional IRA has launched frequent attacks on British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) bases in Northern Ireland. In August 1985 it begins targeting civilians who offer services to the security forces, particularly those employed by the security forces to maintain and repair its bases. Between August 1985 and January 1992, the IRA kills 23 people who had been working for (or offering services to) the security forces. The IRA also alleges that some of those targeted had links with Ulster loyalist paramilitaries.

On the evening of January 17, 1992, the 14 construction workers leave work at Lisanelly British Army base in Omagh. They are employees of Karl Construction, based in Antrim. They travel eastward in a Ford Transit van towards Cookstown. When the van reaches the rural Teebane Crossroads, just after 5:00 PM, IRA volunteers detonate a roadside bomb containing an estimated 600 pounds (270 kg) of homemade explosives in two plastic barrels. Later estimates report a 1,500 pound (680 kg) device. The blast is heard from at least ten miles away. It rips through one side of the van, instantly killing the row of passengers seated there. The vehicle’s upper part is torn asunder, and its momentum keeps it tumbling along the road for 30 yards. Some of the bodies of the dead and injured are blown into the adjacent field and ditch. IRA volunteers had detonated the bomb from about 100 yards away using a command wire. A car travelling behind the van is damaged in the explosion but the driver is not seriously injured. Witnesses report hearing automatic fire immediately prior to the explosion.

Seven of the men are killed outright. They are William Gary Bleeks (25), Cecil James Caldwell (37), Robert Dunseath (25), David Harkness (23), John Richard McConnell (38), Nigel McKee (22) and Robert Irons (61). The van’s driver, Oswald Gilchrist (44), dies of his wounds in hospital four days later. Robert Dunseath is a British soldier serving with the Royal Irish Rangers. The other six workers are badly injured; two of them are members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). It is the highest death toll from one incident in Northern Ireland since 1988.

The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade claims responsibility for the bombing soon afterward. It argues that the men were legitimate targets because they were “collaborators engaged in rebuilding Lisanelly barracks” and vowed that attacks on “collaborators” would continue.

Both unionist and Irish nationalist politicians condemn the attack. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, however, describes the bombing as “a horrific reminder of the failure of British policy in Ireland.” He adds that it highlights “the urgent need for an inclusive dialogue which can create a genuine peace process.” British Prime Minister John Major visits Northern Ireland within days and promises more troops, pledging that the IRA will not change government policy.

As all of those killed are Protestant, some interpret the bombing as a sectarian attack against their community. Less than three weeks later, the Ulster loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) launches a ‘retaliation’ for the bombing. On February 5, two masked men armed with an automatic rifle and revolver enter Sean Graham’s betting shop on Ormeau Road in an Irish nationalist area of Belfast. The shop is packed with customers at the time. The men fire indiscriminately at the customers, killing five Irish Catholic civilians, before fleeing to a getaway car. The UDA claims responsibility using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters,” ending its statement with “Remember Teebane.” After the shootings, a cousin of one of those killed at Teebane visits the betting shop and says, “I just don’t know what to say but I know one thing – this is the best thing that’s happened for the Provos [Provisional IRA] in this area in years. This is the best recruitment campaign they could wish for.”

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) conducts an investigation into the bombing and releases its report to the families of the victims. It finds that the IRA unit had initially planned to carry out the attack on the morning of January 17 as the workers made their way to work but, due to fog, it was put off until the afternoon. Although suspects were rounded up and there were arrests in the wake of the attack, nobody has ever been charged or convicted of the bombing.

Karl Construction erects a granite memorial at the site of the attack and a memorial service is held there each year. In January 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the attack, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA, Trevor Clarke, whose brother-in-law Nigel McKee at age 22 was the youngest person killed in the bombing, demands that republicans provide the names of the IRA bombers.


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People’s Democracy March Ambush at Burntollet Bridge

On January 4, 1969, during the first stages of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the civil rights group People’s Democracy is attacked at Burntollet Bridge on the final day of a four-day march from Belfast to Derry by 200 loyalists and off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers armed with iron bars, bricks, and bottles.

The People’s Democracy organizes the four-day march from Belfast to Derry, starting on January 1, 1969. The march is to be the acid test of the government’s intentions. Either the government will face up to the extreme right of its own Unionist Party and protect the march from the ‘harassing and hindering,’ or it will be exposed as impotent in the face of sectarian thuggery, and Westminster will be forced to intervene, re-opening the whole Irish question for the first time in 50 years. The march is modelled on the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965, which had exposed the racist thuggery of America’s Deep South and forced the United States government into major reforms.

The departure on New Year’s Day 1969 of approximately 40 People’s Democracy supporters on the march to Derry is marked by a protest in Belfast by loyalists under the direction of Major Ronald Bunting, a close associate of Rev. Ian Paisley. It is the loyalist’s intention to harass the march along its entire journey.

On the first day of the march, the group makes its way unhindered towards Antrim. Just outside Antrim the marchers run into a police barricade, behind which several hundred loyalists are gathered, led by Major Bunting. The RUC refuses to remove the blockade and after a lengthy delay, and minor scuffles, the marchers are driven in police tenders to Whitehall Community Centre where they spend an unsettled night interrupted by a bomb threat.

The next day, the marchers set off for Randalstown but again find their way blocked by Major Bunting and a crowd of loyalists. Once again the RUC refuses to remove the loyalist protesters and the marchers are eventually transported to Toome by car. The marchers are welcomed at Toome and after taking lunch in the village they set out for Maghera. After 30 minutes the march is again halted and then rerouted away from the loyalist village of Knockloughlin. After two miles, loyalist protestors led by Major Bunting again halt the march. Another stand off ensues and, as locals gather to support the marchers, the RUC’s County Inspector Kerr asks the loyalists to stand aside, which they do. The marchers then make their way towards Maghera, where loyalists have gathered to await their arrival. On hearing of this ‘reception’ committee, which is armed with clubs and sticks, the marchers decide to bypass the village and spend the night at Bracaghreilly. That night Maghera witnesses considerable violence from frustrated loyalists.

On January 3, the third day of the march, the marchers set out for Dungiven and encounter little opposition. After lunch in Dungiven they travel on to Feeny. A mile outside Dungiven the marchers are halted by the RUC with reports of a loyalist protest further along the road. A civil rights supporter then arrives along the road that is allegedly blocked and reports no obstructions ahead. The marchers decide to breach police lines and encounter no protest ahead. After reaching Feeny the marchers move on to Claudy, where they receive a friendly reception and settle down for the night. That night a loyalist attack on the hall in which the marchers are staying is repulsed by locals.

The same night in Derry, a rally by Ian Paisley in the Guildhall leads to serious disorder. While those inside the hall are listening to Major Bunting call for loyalists to gather the next day at Burntollet, a crowd of nationalists gather outside the building in protest. During clashes as the rally disperses, Major Bunting’s car is destroyed. Later that night stockpiles of bottles and stones are left by loyalists in the fields at Burntollet.

On the morning of January 4, the marchers, who now number approximately 500, set out on the last league of their journey to Derry. Just before reaching Burntollet District Inspector Harrison stops the march in order to investigate reports of loyalists ahead. Harrison, together with County Inspector Kerr, speak of 50 loyalists ahead and claim to be confident that there is no danger. With the RUC leading the way the marchers advance. In the field overlooking the road the marchers observe approximately 300 loyalists, identified by white armbands and armed with cudgels. They come under a bombardment of missiles. Marchers seek to escape the bombardment by speeding up the road but there is to be no escape as they immediately encounter a second contingent of loyalists blocking their escape.

As many marchers flee into the fields they are pursued by attackers and the RUC makes no attempt to intervene. Others are thrown into the nearby River Faughan. As what is left of the marchers continue on to Derry, they are also attacked twice in Derry’s Waterside before receiving a rousing welcome in Guildhall Square.

That night clashes occur between the RUC and local people and the first “Free Derry” is born. At 2:00 AM members of the RUC attack the Bogside, running amok in the Lecky Road and St. Columbs Wells districts. Windows are broken, residents are assaulted and sectarian abuse is directed at the people of the Bogside. The reaction to this ‘invasion’ ranges from the painting of the Free Derry legend to the formation of vigilante squads in the area, based at the Foyle Harps Hall in the Brandywell and Rossville Hall in the Bogside. The barricades remain up for a number of days and relations between the community in the Bogside and the RUC, which has never been particularly good, grows steadily worse.

These events, together with the steady increase of conflict between local youths and the RUC as the year progress, is to lay the foundations for the resistance that is to take place during the Battle of the Bogside.

(From: “People’s Democracy march, January 4, 1969” by Jude Collins, http://www.judecollins.com, January 4, 2016)


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Birth of Thomas Russell, Founding Member of the Society of United Irishmen

Thomas Paliser Russell, founding member and leading organiser of the Society of United Irishmen, is born in Dromahane, County Cork, on November 21, 1767.

Born into an Anglican family with a military tradition. Russell is intended for an ecclesiastical career in the Church of Ireland, but in 1783 sails with his brother’s regiment to India and fights at the battle of Cannanore. He is, however, disgusted by what he regards as “the unjust and rapacious conduct pursued by the authorities in the case of two native women,” and returns disaffected to Ireland in 1786. After briefly studying for the church ministry, he spends the next four years as a half-pay officer in Dublin pursuing studies of science, philosophy and politics.

In 1790, Russell meets Theobald Wolfe Tone in the visitors’ gallery of the Irish House of Commons and a lifelong friendship begins. At the end of the year, he is commissioned to Belfast as an ensign in the 64th infantry regiment of foot. Being convivial, good looking, charismatic and charming, he fits quickly into Belfast society. He is deeply religious and holds strong millennialist beliefs. On the other hand, he is also of a restless nature, drinks heavily, and is highly promiscuous.

Russell becomes a founder member of the first Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791, writes for the Northern Star, and acts as secretary for the Dublin United Irishmen. He is the most socially radical of all United Irish leaders, an outspoken opponent of slavery and industrial exploitation.

Russell posts bail for a friend in order to secure his release from a debtor’s prison. When the friend defaults, Russell has to sell his ensigncy in July 1791. After several months, and to avoid further debt, he accepts the offer of Thomas Knox, 1st Viscount Northland, the father of an old army friend, to become seneschal (a kind of stipendiary magistrate) to the Northlands’ manor court at Dungannon. However, he resigns within a year, apparently disgusted by the sectarian animosities there. His financial situation worsens until he becomes librarian at the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge (the later Linen Hall Library) in 1794.

Russell is arrested on September 16, 1796, is charged with treason, and detained without trial in Newgate Prison, Dublin, until March 1799. He is then sent to Fort George in the north of Scotland. The longest serving United Irish prisoner, he is released in June 1802 on condition of exile to Hamburg. However, he soon makes his way to Paris where he meets Robert Emmet who, with William Putnam McCabe are advancing the plans for insurrection pending the French renewal of the war against England. Having little confidence in the French, however, he returns to Ireland in March 1803 to organise the North in conjunction with the veteran of the Battle of Antrim, James Hope. However he meets with little success as much of the North is subdued following the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

In 1803 Russell joins a general insurrection that is to take place throughout Ireland with blows being struck simultaneously at Dublin, Belfast, and Downpatrick. Unknown to him, Robert Emmet is unable to secure help and promised firearms. In Dublin after a brief street battle on the evening of July 23, 1803, Emmett calls off the rising.

Russell manages to hide for a number of weeks in Dublin but is caught in the authorities’ dragnet on September 9. He is sent under heavy escort to Downpatrick Gaol. There, convicted of high treason, he is hung and beheaded on October 12, 1803. His remains are buried in the graveyard of the parish church, Down Cathedral, in a grave paid for by his friend Mary Ann McCracken.


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Belfast Nationalists Vote Against Orange Parades

Nationalist residents of Belfast’s Lower Ormeau Road vote overwhelmingly on August 4, 2000 against allowing Orange Order parades through the flashpoint district. Results indicate that over 90% of those polled in a secret vote on the mainly nationalist lower Ormeau area of south Belfast want such parades rerouted.

The nationalist residents’ group, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC), which organised the ballot, says the majority of the 600 people who voted want the parades rerouted. In a statement it says it welcomes the result as “an overwhelming and democratic expression of our community’s desire to live free from sectarian harassment”.

LOCC spokesman Gerard Rice says, “We do not claim to speak for loyalist residents.” He adds that the loyal orders will now have to listen to the people of the area. “The whole point in this exercise was not to vindicate our position, but to set out clearly an informed position as to what exactly the opinion in our community is and has been for many years,” he tells BBC Radio Ulster.

“The Orange Order and other loyal institutions have said for many, many years that really people living on the Ormeau Road want parades. That they are actually a colourful event that people can enjoy. We have said that many people within our community would say parades by the loyal institutions were seen as sectarian, coat trailing exercises, the institutions were seen as anti-Catholic and sectarian organisations. Now we can actually say that 95.9% of our community believe that to be true.”

However, the Belfast County Grand Master of the Orange Order rejects the results of the poll. Dawson Baillie says the vote was unrepresentative because it did not include the staunchly loyalist Donegall Pass area and the Ballynafeigh district above the Ormeau Bridge. “We believe that it’s our right and everyone’s right to walk down a main thoroughfare. We’re not going into side streets on the right hand side of that part of the Ormeau Road or the left hand side. We go straight down the main thoroughfare. Our parade at any given point would take no more than three to four minutes to pass.”

Unionists question the validity of the poll as it excludes nearby loyalist areas. Dawn Purvis of the Progressive Unionist Party says the poll would not help to resolve the situation. “You don’t get people to enter into talks on the basis of no parade. You get people to enter into talks on the basis of an accommodation,” she says. “If that poll had been held to show what concerns the people of Lower Ormeau have over loyal order parades, that would have been better, that would have been a way forward, trying to address the concerns of the residents of the Lower Ormeau Road. LOCC have not been forthcoming with those concerns so the talks haven’t moved forward.”

Reverend Martin Smyth, the Belfast South MP, says it had been “a stage managed exercise” to show how well the group could conduct their business in that area and “to gather support from those who don’t want a procession down that road.”

However, Rice rejects the suggestions that it is unrepresentative because loyalist areas had been left out. Another LOCC representative, John Gormley, says they would welcome equivalent ballots from the loyalist part of the Ormeau area.

Local parish priest Father Anthony Curran says he is satisfied with the conduct of the vote. “A large number of people seem to have come out, a very broad section of the community, elderly young middle-aged, sick. They came free from fear and intimidation.”

A similar poll was last conducted in the Lower Ormeau area in 1995 by management consultants Coopers & Lybrand, when a large majority voted against allowing loyalist marches in the area.

The Northern Ireland Parades Commission has barred the Orange Order from marching through the Lower Ormeau area during its Twelfth of July demonstrations for the previous two years.

(From: “Poll ‘rejects’ loyal order parades” by BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk), August 4, 2000)


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Death of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

Frank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, dies of a heart attack on June 27, 2005.

Harte is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are a key to understanding the past often saying, “those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.” Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.


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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 Murder of Joseph “Jo Jo” O’Connor

Joseph “Jo Jo” O’Connor, a leading member of the Continuity Irish Republican Army according to security sources in Northern Ireland, is shot to death in west Belfast on October 13, 2000. Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) gunmen are blamed for the murder.

The 26 year old O’Connor is shot dead as he sits in a car outside his mother’s house in Whitecliffe Parade in Ballymurphy. He comes from a well-known republican family and is understood to have been involved in welfare work for “Real IRA” prisoners. Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) sources do not suggest a motive for the shooting, except to say it is not sectarian and they believe it is a result of an inter-republican dispute. Continuity IRA sources deny their organisation is involved and the killing is condemned by Republican Sinn Féin.

O’Connor had just left his mother’s home and got into the passenger seat of a car when two hooded gunmen approach on foot and shoot him at point-blank range. He is hit in the head and dies instantly. A relative who is in the driver’s seat is uninjured.

O’Connor’s cousin, who lives nearby, says, “I heard one shot, then a silence, and then four more shots in quick succession.” Tensions between mainstream and dissident republicans at the time are high in Belfast but without serious violence.

O’Connor, who lives nearby in the Springhill Estate, is married with two young sons. His grandfather, Francisco Notarantonio, was shot dead by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in highly controversial circumstances at the same house 13 years earlier. That killing is at the centre of a legal battle between the British Ministry of Defence and the Sunday People over allegations of security force involvement.

O’Connor’s killing is condemned by First Minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble. He calls on the RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, to state who he believes is responsible. “I understand a police operation is still ongoing and there may very well be further developments, but the question we will all ask is who was responsible for this murder.”

The killing is condemned by Republican Sinn Féin. A Sinn Féin councillor, Sean McKnight, says local people are “shocked” by the killing. “We call on those responsible for this deliberate shooting to declare themselves and spell out to the people what their motives are,” a spokesman says. “Local sources indicate the deceased man was associated with the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Republican Sinn Féin has no hesitation in condemning this action and points out the obvious dangers that lie ahead.”

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) representative for Belfast West, Alex Attwood, condemns the murder as pointless but says no one should “rush to premature judgment” about who is responsible. “The overwhelming mass of political and wider opinion is determined to consolidate the political and peace process and no words, no acts and no narrow politics will destabilise it.”

(From “Leading ‘Real IRA’ member is shot dead in Ballymurphy” by Suzanne Breen, The Irish Times, October 14, 2000)


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The Tricolour Riots

On the evening of the September 28, 1964, a detachment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), acting on the direct instruction of Brian McConnell, the Minister of Home Affairs, attacks the Divis Street headquarters of the Republican Party (Sinn Féin had been outlawed earlier in the year) in West Belfast. Their perilous mission is to remove an Irish Tricolour.

This takes place during a general election for Westminster. Republicans have nominated Liam McMillan to contest in West Belfast. McConnell, under pressure from Ian Paisley and other unionists, holds a conference of his senior RUC officers on the morning of September 28 and orders that the tricolour flown at Liam McMillan’s headquarters be removed. Under the Flags and Emblems Display Act of 1954, it is an offence to display the tricolour anywhere in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

That evening, when it becomes known that the RUC are coming to seize the flag, more than 2,000 republican supporters block the roadway. Scores of RUC are rushed to the scene in armoured cars. The RUC, though heavily armed with sten guns, rifles, revolvers and riot batons, are made to look ridiculous by groups of children, who run about with miniature tricolour stickers which they stick on walls and police cars.

The RUC, using pickaxes, smashes down the doors of the Republican headquarters and takes the flag. They carry it away through a hail of stones and to the prolonged jeers of the people.

The following day the RUC clears Divis Street to make way for an armoured car. Their new perilous mission is to seize a new replacement tricolour. The armoured car stops outside the Republican headquarters, eight policemen emerge and begin another attack with crowbars and pickaxes. They fail to break down the door but one of them smashes the window, reaches in and pulls out the second tricolour.

By September 30, news of the events in Divis Street have spread throughout the media. Belfast begins attracting television reporters and newspaper men from all around the world. That night, thousands of republicans, armed with petrol bombs, sticks, stones and rotten vegetables, gather outside their headquarters to defend their identity and their flag. A battle begins at 11:00 PM when the RUC tries to disperse them. The television cameras are there to record all that happens. For the first time ever, people in many parts of the world are able to watch a sectarian police force in action.

When the republicans indicate that they will stand their ground, fifty RUC men, who had been held in reserve in the small streets between Falls Road and Shankill Road, are deployed but the republicans, in accordance with a pre-arranged strategy, drive them back. By midnight, the police have succeeded in sealing off Divis Street and dispersing the crowd but thirty people, including at least eighteen members of the RUC, have been injured.

One week later, on October 5, republicans carry the tricolour at the head of a parade of 5,000 people who march from Beechmount on Falls Road, through Divis Street, to an election rally near Smithfield. RUC men line the entire route but make no attempt to seize the flag.

(From: “The Tricolour Riots,” An Phoblacht (www.anphoblacht.com), September 23, 2004 edition)