seamus dubhghaill

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

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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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Funeral of Loyalist Billy Wright

billy-wright-funeralThousands of Ulster loyalists pack the streets of Portadown, County Armagh, on December 30, 1997 for the funeral of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) commander William Stephen “Billy” Wright.

Wright, born in Wolverhampton, England on July 7, 1960, is a prominent Ulster loyalist paramilitary during the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles. He joins the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1975 and becomes commander of its Mid-Ulster Brigade in the early 1990s, taking over from Robin “The Jackal” Jackson. According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Wright is involved in the sectarian killings of up to 20 Catholics, although he is never convicted for any. It is alleged that Wright, like his predecessor, serves as a double agent of the British security forces.

Wright attracts considerable media attention at the Drumcree standoff, where he supports the Orange Order‘s desire to march its traditional route through the Catholic/Irish nationalist area of Portadown. In 1994, the UVF and other paramilitary groups call ceasefires. However, in July 1996, Wright’s unit breaks the ceasefire and carries out a number of attacks, including a sectarian killing. For this, Wright and his Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade are stood down by the UVF leadership. He is expelled from the UVF and threatened with execution if he does not leave Northern Ireland. Wright ignores the threats and, along with many of his followers, defiantly forms the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

In March 1997 Wright is sent to the HM Maze Prison for having threatened the life of a woman. While imprisoned, Wright continues to direct the LVF’s activities. On December 27 of that year, he is assassinated at the prison by Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners as he is led out to a van for a visit with his girlfriend. The LVF carries out a wave of sectarian attacks in retaliation.

Owing to his uncompromising stance as an upholder of Ulster loyalism and opposition to the Northern Ireland peace process, Wright is regarded as a cult hero, cultural icon, and martyr figure by hardline loyalists. His image adorns murals in loyalist housing estates and many of his devotees have tattoos bearing his likeness.

Wright’s funeral procession moves at a snail’s pace on a grey and windy day. Groups of mourners take turns carrying the coffin. Women carry a wreath that simply says “Billy.” Twenty men with tight haircuts and white shirts with black armbands flank the cortège. There is heavy security. Troops stand guard on bridges and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Land Rovers prowl the housing estates. A spotter plane flies overhead. A lone piper plays “Abide With Me” before a banner bearing the letters “LVF.”

Wright is buried at Seagoe Cemetery, Portadown, Northern Ireland.

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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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Demolition of HM Prison Maze Begins

maze-prisonBulldozers begin demolishing Northern Ireland‘s notorious HM Prison Maze, previously known as Long Kesh Detention Centre, on October 31, 2006. The prison once housed the most dangerous guerrillas from both sides of the province’s sectarian conflict.

Among the inmates at Maze are ten Irish nationalist hunger strikers who starved themselves to death in 1981. The prison has been empty since 2000, after the release of most guerrilla prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement, which ushered in relative peace after 30 years of fighting in which 3,600 people died.

A sports stadium, equestrian center, hotel, and shopping center are originally proposed for the 360-acre site in County Antrim. In January 2009, however, Sports Minister Gregory Campbell rules out the plan for a multi-sports stadium which has divided political and sporting opinion, opting instead to explore alternatives with the soccer, rugby, and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) authorities.

Northern Ireland first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, announce in 2010 that an agreement has been reached on building a peace and conflict resolution facility at the Maze site. It will also host the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society’s annual show. On February 2, 2012, European funding of £18m is approved for building the contentious conflict resolution centre.

Planning permission for the peace centre on the site of the former prison is granted on April 18, 2013. However, in June the Orange Order calls on unionist politicians to halt the peace centre plan, objecting to its location on the former prison site.

On August 15, 2013, Peter Robinson calls a halt to the peace centre plan. In a letter to Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members, he says it would be wrong to proceed without a consensus about how it will operate. As a result, in October 2013 the European Union funding programme withdraws its £18m offer in financial support for the Maze peace centre.

That the Maze Prison development remains unrealised 16 years after the site’s closure testifies to the complexities involved. That the prospect of redevelopment has never been taken off the table affirms the ineluctable power ideas of profit still hold.

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Twelfth of July

the-twelfthThe Orange Order holds its first “Twelfth of July” marches in Portadown, Lurgan and Waringstown on July 12, 1796. The Twelfth marches celebrate the Glorious Revolution (1688) and victory of Protestant king William of Orange over Catholic king James II at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), which begins the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.

On and around the Twelfth, large parades are held by the Orange Order and Ulster loyalist marching bands, streets are bedecked with British flags and bunting, and large towering bonfires are lit. Today the Twelfth is mainly celebrated in Northern Ireland, where it is a public holiday, but smaller celebrations are held in other parts of the world where Orange lodges have been set up, including the Canadian province of Newfoundland where it is a provincial holiday. The Twelfth involves thousands of participants and spectators, although not all Protestants celebrate it.

In Northern Ireland, where almost half the population is from an Irish Catholic background, The Twelfth is a tense time. Orange marches through Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist neighbourhoods are usually met with opposition from residents, sometimes leading to violence. Public disorder during The Twelfth parades of the early 19th century led to them being banned in the 1830s and 1840s.

Many Catholics and Irish nationalists see the Orange Order and its marches as sectarian, triumphalist, and supremacist. The Order is also politically a unionist/loyalist organization. Violence related to the Twelfth in Northern Ireland worsens during the 30-year ethno-political conflict known as The Troubles. The Drumcree conflict is the most well-known dispute involving Orange marches.

Attempts have recently been made to downplay the political aspects of the marches and present the Twelfth as a cultural, family-friendly event at which tourists are welcome. Although most events pass off peacefully, some continue to result in violence.