seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Shankill Butchers First “Cut-Throat Killing”

The Shankill Butchers, an Ulster loyalist gang, undertakes its first “cut-throat killing” on November 25, 1975. Many of the members of the gang are members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) that is active between 1975 and 1982 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Shankill Butchers gang is based in the Shankill area and is responsible for the deaths of at least 23 people, most of whom are killed in sectarian attacks. The gang is notorious for kidnapping, torturing and murdering random or suspected Catholic civilians. Each victim is beaten ferociously and has their throat hacked with a butcher knife. Some are also tortured and attacked with a hatchet. The gang also kills six Ulster Protestants over personal disputes, and two other Protestants mistaken for Catholics.

The commander of the Shankill Butchers gang is Lenny Murphy. He is the youngest of three sons of Joyce (née Thompson) and William Murphy from the loyalist Shankill Road area of Belfast. At school he is known as a bully and threatens other boys with a knife or with retribution from his two older brothers. Soon after leaving school at 16, he joins the UVF. He often attends the trials of people accused of paramilitary crimes, to become well acquainted with the laws of evidence and police procedure.

On September 28, 1972, Murphy shoots and kills William Edward “Ted” Pavis at the latter’s home in East Belfast. Pavis is a Protestant whom the UVF say has been selling weapons to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Murphy and an accomplice, Mervyn Connor, are arrested shortly afterwards and held on remand in Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol. After a visit by police to Connor, fellow inmates suspect that he might cut a deal with the authorities with regard to the Pavis killing. On April 22, 1973, Connor dies by ingesting a large dose of cyanide. Before he dies, he writes a confession to the Pavis murder, reportedly under duress from Murphy. Murphy is brought to trial for the Pavis murder in June 1973. The court hears evidence from two witnesses who had seen Murphy pull the trigger and had later picked him out of an identification parade. The jury acquits him due in part to Murphy’s disruption of the line-up. His freedom is short-lived as he is arrested immediately for a number of escape attempts and imprisoned, then interned, for three years.

In May 1975, Murphy is released from prison. He spends much of his time frequenting pubs on the Shankill Road and assembling a paramilitary team that will enable him to act with some freedom at a remove from the UVF leadership (Brigade Staff). His inner circle consists of two “personal friends.” These are a “Mr. A” and John Murphy, one of Lenny’s brothers, referred to as “Mr. B.” Further down the chain of command are his “sergeants,” William Moore and Bobby “Basher” Bates, a UVF man and former prisoner.

Moore, formerly a worker in a meat-processing factory, had stolen several large knives and meat-cleavers from his old workplace, tools that are later used in more murders. Another prominent figure is Sam McAllister, who uses his physical presence to intimidate others. On October 2, 1975, the gang raids a drinks premises in nearby Millfield. On finding that its four employees, two females and two males, are Catholics, Murphy shoots three of them dead and orders an accomplice to kill the fourth. By now Murphy is using the upper floor of the Brown Bear pub, at the corner of Mountjoy Street and the Shankill Road near his home, as an occasional meeting-place for his unit.

On November 25, 1975, using the city’s sectarian geography to identify likely targets, Murphy roams the areas nearest the Catholic New Lodge in the hope of finding someone likely to be Catholic to abduct. Francis Crossen, a 34-year-old Catholic man and father of two, is walking towards the city centre at approximately 12:40 a.m. when four of the Butchers, in Moore’s taxi, spot him. As the taxi pulls alongside Crossen, Murphy jumps out and hits him with a lug wrench to disorient him. He is dragged into the taxi by Benjamin Edwards and Archie Waller, two of Murphy’s gang. As the taxi returns to the safety of the nearby Shankill area, Crossen suffers a ferocious beating. He is subjected to a high level of violence, including a beer glass being shoved into his head. Murphy repeatedly tells Crossen, “I’m going to kill you, you bastard,” before the taxi stops at an entry off Wimbledon Street. Crossen is dragged into an alleyway and Murphy, brandishing a butcher knife, cuts his throat almost through to the spine. The gang disperses. Crossen, whose body is found the following morning by an elderly woman, is the first of three Catholics to be killed by Murphy in this “horrific and brutal manner.” “Slaughter in back alley” is the headline in the city’s major afternoon newspaper that day. A relative of Crossen says that his family was unable to have an open coffin at his wake because the body was so badly mutilated.

Most of the gang are eventually caught and, in February 1979, receive the longest combined prison sentences in United Kingdom legal history. However, gang leader Lenny Murphy and his two chief “lieutenants” escape prosecution. Murphy is murdered in November 1982 by the Provisional IRA, likely acting with loyalist paramilitaries who perceive him as a threat. The Butchers brought a new level of paramilitary violence to a country already hardened by death and destruction. The judge who oversaw the 1979 trial describes their crimes as “a lasting monument to blind sectarian bigotry.”


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Ulster Volunteer Force Attacks Across Northern Ireland

On October 2, 1975, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, carries out a wave of shootings and bombings across Northern Ireland. Six of the attacks leave 12 people dead (mostly civilians) and around 45 people injured. There is also an attack in the small village of Killyleagh, County Down. There are five attacks in and around Belfast which leave people dead. A bomb which explodes near Coleraine leaves four UVF members dead. There are also several other smaller bombs planted around Northern Ireland, sixteen in total, but other than causing damage they do not kill or injure anyone.

There is a rise in sectarian killings during the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) truce with the British Army, which begins in February 1975 and officially lasts until February 1976. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/Irish nationalists. Loyalists kill 120 Catholics in 1975, the vast majority civilians. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

The first attack of the day takes place at Casey’s Bottling Plant in Belfast. The UVF group, which is alleged to have been led by Shankill Butchers leader Lenny Murphy, enters the premises by pretending to have an order to be filled before launching the attack. Four employees are shot and killed in the attack, sisters Frances Donnelly (35), Marie McGrattan (47) and Gerard Grogan (18) all die that day, with a fourth, Thomas Osborne (18), dying of his wounds three weeks later. Murphy personally shoots all except Donnelly who is killed by his accomplice William Green. The two sisters are forced to kneel on the ground and are shot in the back of the head.

In the next attack Thomas Murphy (29), a Catholic photographer from Belfast, is killed in a booby-trap bomb and gun attack, when two UVF gunmen enter his premises on Carlisle Circus (close to both the loyalist Shankill Road and republican New Lodge areas of Belfast) and shoot him in the chest, before planting a duffel bag bomb in his shop. The resulting explosion injures several people including a female passer-by who loses her leg.

Next the UVF carries out a gun and bomb attack on McKenna’s Bar near Crumlin, County Antrim, which kills a Catholic civilian John Stewart (35) and injures scores of people.

In Killyleagh, County Down, a no-warning bomb explodes outside a Catholic-owned bar, The Anchor Inn. Irene Nicholson (37), a Protestant woman, is killed as she is passing by while the attack is being carried out. Three UVF members are later arrested for this attack in Bangor and one of them claims the attack was “a small one to scare them.”

Next Ronald Winters (26), a Protestant civilian, is shot dead by the UVF in his parents’ house on London Road, Belfast.

Later that night four UVF members are killed as they drive along a road in Farrenlester, near Coleraine, when the bomb they are transporting explodes prematurely.

The following day, October 3, the UVF is once again made a proscribed terrorist organisation. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees had unbanned the UVF in May 1974, the same day the ban on Sinn Féin was lifted, a move never extended to the IRA. Despite this the UVF are still able to kill Catholic civilians at will for the remainder of 1975 and for most of 1976 also.


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Gerry Adams Announces Re-election Bid as Sinn Féin President

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams announces on September 5, 2017, he will seek re-election as the party president in November and then outline his own future intentions as the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) prepares to complete a generational shift in its leadership.

Adams, Sinn Féin leader for over thirty years, will seek re-election to the one-year post at the party’s annual conference and set out his future plans at that time. “I will be allowing my name to go forward for the position of Uachtaran Shinn Féin (President of Sinn Féin),” Adams says in a speech at a meeting of the party’s lawmakers. “And if elected I will be setting out our priorities and in particular our planned process of generational change, including my own future intentions.”

“We have no ambition to be part of the system. Our ambition is to change it. That means we must be in government – North and South,” Adams says.

Reviled by many as the face of the IRA during its campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, Adams reinvented himself as a peacemaker in the troubled region and then as a populist opposition lawmaker in the Irish Republic. Around 3,600 people were killed during Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” three decades of sectarian bloodshed between pro-British Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists seeking a united Ireland that was ended by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Whenever Adams decides to step down, he will almost certainly hand over to a successor with no direct involvement in the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, say political analysts, making Sinn Féin a more palatable coalition partner in the Irish Republic where it has never been in power. Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who has been at the forefront of a new breed of Sinn Féin politicians transforming the left-wing party’s image, is the clear favorite to take over. Michelle O’Neill, another Sinn Féin lawmaker in her 40s, succeeded Martin McGuinness as leader in Northern Ireland shortly before the former IRA commander’s death in March 2017.

With McGuinness, Adams turned Sinn Féin into the dominant nationalist party in Northern Ireland and the third largest party south of the border. Adams said the previous month that he intended to lead the party into the next parliamentary election in the Irish republic where suspicion of Sinn Féin’s role in the Northern Ireland troubles still runs deep among the main political parties.

The far larger ruling Fine Gael and main opposition Fianna Fáil, a more natural ally, have ruled out governing with Sinn Féin but analysts say a change of leader could soften that stance. The next election is expected in the next 12 months.

(From: “Sinn Féin’s Adams to outline succession plan in November” by Padraic Halpin | Photo: Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaks at an event in Gormanstown, Ireland, September 5, 2017, REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)


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Birth of Bill Graham, Rock Journalist & Author

Bill Graham, Irish rock journalist and author, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on August 29, 1951. He attends Blackrock College and Trinity College, Dublin. In addition to authoring several books, he writes for Hot Press magazine from its founding.

Graham’s long time colleague and Hot Press editor Niall Stokes describes him, “In many ways, he was a founding father of modern Irish music. He inspired a whole generation of Irish fans and musicians to look at the world in a different and broader light. And he was good on more than music too. He felt a kinship with Northern Ireland and the people on both sides of the sectarian and political divide there that was unusual in those who were brought up within the narrow confines of the culture of Ireland in the ‘60s and ‘70s – and his political writing reflected this. And he was also ahead of the game in terms of his appreciation of the importance of the politics of food and the position of the developing world in the new era.”

Graham is instrumental in the formation of Irish rock band U2, having brought them to the attention of their manager Paul McGuinness. At an exhibition of early group photos, McGuinness remembers the role Graham played by introducing him to the band. Despite being widely known as the man who “discovered” U2, it is a title he disavowed. He writes enthusiastically about the band, giving them their first exposure. Both guitarist The Edge and Bono have explained Graham’s role in the band’s development.

John Waters observes that “It is often said that Bill ‘discovered’ U2. This is untrue. Bill created U2, through his enthusiasm for them. He gave them a reflection of their own possibilities and they only looked back that once.” Graham has a deep knowledge of virtually every form of popular and roots music. Waters goes on to credit him as “the first Irish writer to write about the connection between Irish political culture and Irish rock ‘n’ roll.”

A number of music critics/journalists have cited Graham as a primary influence, in some cases suggesting they got into the field as a direct result of his writing.

Graham dies of a heart attack at the age of 44 at his home in Howth, County Dublin, on May 11, 1996. His funeral draws many of the biggest bands from the world of Irish music including Clannad, Altan, U2, and Hothouse Flowers, along with singers Simon Carmody and Gavin Friday.


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Birth of Cornelius Denvir, Mathematician & Lord Bishop of Down and Connor

Cornelius Denvir, Roman Catholic Prelate, mathematician, natural philosopher and Lord Bishop of Down and Connor, is born on August 13, 1791, at Ballyculter, County Down. He is noted for ministering in Belfast amidst growing sectarian tension, taking a moderate and non-confrontational stance, to the annoyance of his pro-Catholic followers. He is also a professor at Maynooth College as well as Down and Connor Diocesan College, and is active in the local scientific community.

Denvir is educated at Dr. Nelson’s Classical School in Downpatrick, being described by peers as an enthusiastic child with a love for sight-seeing. According to one biographer, young Denvir also shows interest in the catechism by attending local visits from the then Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr. Patrick MacMullan, who is resident in Downpatrick. In September 1808, he enrolls at Maynooth College, and is appointed chair of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics there in August 1813.

As chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Maynooth College, Denvir is noted for changing the style of education at the college from pure logic-based reasoning in Mathematics to a more holistic, topical approach. He is also noted for emphasising experimentation and the importance of the scientific method in teaching natural philosophy, with several sources noting his well-stocked labs.

While at Maynooth College Denvir teaches both Nicholas Callan, the inventor and physicist, and Dominic Corrigan, the noted Irish physician. According to several accounts, both speak fondly of their old professor, to the point of Callan gifting Denvir one of his induction coils in thanks.

Denvir is ordained first as deacon in June 1813, then a priest in May 1814, performing his liturgical duties in conjunction with his academic ones. In 1826, he leaves Maynooth College to become the parish priest of Downpatrick. In 1833 he becomes a professor at the newly founded St. Malachy’s College, teaching classes in Latin, Greek and Mathematics. He continues his duties as parish priest and professor until 1835, when he is appointed Bishop of Down and Connor in succession to Dr. William Crolly.

As 22nd Lord Bishop of Down and Connor, Denvir emphasises the teaching of the Catechism to youth as well as emphasising the importance of scripture to the diocese. In 1841 he helps fund the start of construction of St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast, which is completed in 1845. In his later years, he falls under criticism by other Belfast Catholics, who claim he is neglectful of his duties, especially those relating to expanding and defending Catholicism in the face of growing Protestant influence. Some accounts attribute his shortcomings to poor health and temperament, while others suggest that he backs away from expansion to avoid conflict with Protestant groups.

Denvir suffers from personal finance problems during his time as Bishop. The construction of St. Malachy’s Church puts him into deep personal debt, which he is apparently arrested for some time after 1844. He is also criticised for selling seats in the newly constructed church to offset costs. He is also described as reluctant in asking for funds from parishioners, severely limiting his resources with which to care for the church.

Denvir is appointed Commissioner of National Education in 1853. He is noted for being supportive of non-denominational education and investigating reports of proselytism in public primary education. He later resigns this position in 1857 on request of the Holy See to focus on expanding the local Catholic school system.

In 1860, after years of illness compounded by age, Denvir is assigned Dr. Patrick Dorrian as a coadjutor bishop to assist in his episcopal duties. While ill health is said to be the predominant reason for the appointment of a coadjutor, contemporary newspaper accounts suggest there also might be an ideological reason for the appointment. In The Spectator it is noted in December 1859 “it may be, because he is too liberal for the Cullen epoch.”

In May 1865, Denvir resigns as Bishop and is succeeded by Dorrian. He dies one year later on July 10, 1866, in his residence on Donegall St., after suffering from fainting fits a few days prior. He is buried in Ballycruttle Church.


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Loyalists Protest Sinn Féin Minister’s Refusal to Fly Union Flag

On Friday, August 4, 2000, Loyalists protest after Northern Ireland health minister Bairbre de Brún, a member of Sinn Féin, refuses to fly the Union flag outside her Belfast offices to mark the 100th birthday of Britain’s Queen Mother. First Minister David Trimble had written to the Northern Ireland secretary requesting that the Union Flag should be flown on all government buildings.

About 20 people take part in the picket organised by the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) as the minister leaves the Department of Health offices on Friday morning.

In Bangor, County Down, a group of loyalist protesters put up a Union Flag outside the offices of Sinn Féin education minister Martin McGuinness at his department’s Rathgael House headquarters. Another group of PUP protesters demonstrate at government buildings in Adelaide Street in Belfast city centre, where the Union Flag is flying above two of the government buildings in the street.

Protestors hold up posters showing the faces of de Brun and McGuinness printed on a Union Flag. The posters also show the face of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) agriculture minister Bríd Rodgers.

The PUP’s Billy Hutchinson criticises Sinn Féin ministers over their refusal to fly the Union Flag. “These people cannot even recognise that we have a monarch who’s 100 years old and they can’t even fly the flag, just because they think that everything that is British is no good,” he says. “These people forget that they have lived in Britain all their lives, most of them. They weren’t even born at Partition (of Ireland).” He adds that Sinn Féin’s ministers should accept that they are “British ministers in a British state.”

However, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey condemns the protests as “intimidating and sectarian.” He says Sinn Féin’s position on the flying of flags is designed not to cause offence. “Where British cultural and political symbols are invoked in public life, equivalent Irish cultural and political symbols should be given equal prominence. Where this cannot be agreed, no such symbols should fly,” he says.

The issue of flags has been emotive and divisive in Northern Ireland. The Sinn Féin ministers anger unionists on May 2 by ordering their civil servants not to fly the flag as part of the Coronation Day celebrations. The row reaches a head when the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) attempts to guarantee the flying of the Union Flag with an assembly motion in June. However, the party fails to win enough support for their motion to be passed.

There are about 13 days in the year when the Union Flag is flown on designated government offices in the United Kingdom. Government buildings across the UK – from Whitehall ministries to town council offices are expected to raise the Union Flag on these days.

It is the second time in a week that the health minister has run into controversy. On Wednesday, August 2, she is confronted by angry loyalist protesters during an official visit to a County Antrim hospital. Around 20 demonstrators picket the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn, while she is on a visit to see a GP scheme as part of a programme to learn about aspects of the health service. The tyres on the minister’s car are let down and an egg is thrown. De Brun is forced to leave the complex by another door.

(From: “Trimble joins Union Flag row,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, Friday, August 4, 2000 | Pictured: Protesters picket the Department of Health)


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Birth of Sir Oliver Napier, First Leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party

Sir Oliver Napier, the first leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, is born in Belfast on July 11, 1935. In 1974 he serves as the first and only Legal Minister and head of the Office of Legal Reform in the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive set up by the Sunningdale Agreement.

Napier is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast and Queen’s University Belfast before starting work as a solicitor.

Napier joins the Ulster Liberal Party, rising to become Vice President by 1969. That year, he leads a group of four party members who join the New Ulster Movement, accepting the post of joint Chairman of its political committee. The Liberal Party promptly expels him, but, working with Bob Cooper, he uses his position to establish a new political party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which seeks to become a political force that can command support from across the divided communities of the province, but remain pro-union. This aims to offer an alternative to what he describes as the sectarianism of the Ulster Unionist Party. Despite his faith he is a supporter of the Union.

Napier serves as the party’s joint leader from 1970 until 1972, then as its sole leader from 1973 to 1984. Under his leadership Alliance participates in successive assemblies that seek to solve the debate on the province’s position, including the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1973 in which he is a minister in the power-sharing Executive. In 1979 he comes closer to winning a seat in the Westminster Parliament than any other Alliance candidate up to that point when he is less than a thousand votes behind Peter Robinson‘s winning total in Belfast East in a tight three-way race. This record is beaten in 2010, when Naomi Long ousts Robinson from the same seat. When Napier steps down as leader in 1984 he receives many plaudits for his work. The following year he is knighted and in 1989 he stands down from Belfast City Council, seemingly to retire.

However, in 1995 Napier returns to the political fray when he contests the North Down by-election for the Alliance, standing again in the 1997 United Kingdom general election. In 1996 he is elected to the Northern Ireland Forum for North Down. Prior to his death he is the last prominent member of the Ulster Liberal Party.

Napier serves on the Board of Governors of Lagan College, the first integrated school in Northern Ireland.

Napier dies at the age of 75 on July 2, 2011. He is survived by his wife, Briege, whom he marries in 1961, three sons and five daughters, and 23 grandchildren. A son predeceases him.


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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.