seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Crumlin Road Gaol Escape

crumlin-road-jail-escapeEight Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners escape from Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, one of the most heavily guarded prisons in Europe, on June 10, 1980. Using handguns that had been smuggled into the prison, they take prison officers hostage and shoot their way out of the building and exit through the front gate.

The regime inside Crumlin Road Gaol on that day is just like any other. The prison had been the scene of several protests regarding strip-searching shortly beforehand, but the rules had been somewhat relaxed. On A and C Wings the remand prisoners are outside in the yard for exercise. As usual, several men from each wing are called for visits. Some of these visits are from solicitors and an area of the prison is set aside to allow legal teams and the accused a place to discuss their business in private.

When warders come to return one set of prisoners to their wing, the operation begins. One of the Volunteers produces a gun, forces the warders to release the other prisoners and then locks about ten warders in the cell. They then make their way to B wing’s visiting area and arrest all the warders, visitors and solicitors who are there, before locking about thirty up in a room. One warder named Killen reaches for his baton, is disarmed and hit over the head.

Two warders and a solicitor are ordered to strip and three of the IRA Volunteers, dress in two uniforms and a suit respectively, calmly walk to the main gate which is opened for them. They then pull guns on the real warders in this key security area and make them lie on the ground until their five comrades run across a small courtyard to join them.

Once outside however, the alarm is set off and British Army sentries pour a hail of automatic fire at the prisoners from a watch tower before they are able to reach the front gate. Undeterred, the prisoners dash through the bullets, weaving from side to side to throw off their attackers.

As the men make their escape, clearly visible to republican prisoners in cells on the top landing of A wing, loud cheers go up and makeshift flags are flown from the windows.

Outside the prison, cars have been parked by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade in the car park of the health clinic beside the courthouse, their ignition keys hidden under the floor mats. The prisoners run across the road towards the health centre, dodging bullets as they run. The escapees head towards the loyalist Shankill area where they commandeer cars to help their getaway.

Stunned by the daring escapees, the crown forces erect checkpoints across Belfast and along all border routes.

Seven of the escapees, known as the “M60 gang,” are brothers Tony and Gerry Sloan, Gerard McKee, Joe Doherty, Angelo Fusco, Paul ‘Dingus’ Magee and Tony Campbell. All are from Belfast and charged in connection with either an M60 machine gun attack in 1980 on a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol in Andersonstown, or with the siege on the Antrim Road in May 1980, when a Special Air Service (SAS) captain is killed. The eighth escapee is Pete Ryan from Ardboe, County Tyrone who had been charged with killing an RUC Reservist and an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier.

All eight men reach safe houses within an hour and, after a lying low for a short while, are spirited over the border to begin new lives “on the run.”

One week later, at the annual pilgrimage to the graveside of Wolfe Tone, the father of republicanism, which is always a source of renewed strength for its participants, the crowd is given an added morale boost when at the closing ceremony, one of the escapees, Paul ‘Dingus’ Magee, makes a dramatic appearance on the platform.

There are many more attempts to break free from Crumlin Road Gaol before it finally closes its doors in April 1995, having being used as a weapon in the attempted suppression of the Irish freedom struggle for 151 years.

(From: An Phoblacht Magazine, http://www.anphoblacht.com, June 15, 2006 edition)

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The 1994 Shankill Road Killings

trevor-king-muralThe 1994 Shankill Road killings take place on June 16, 1994. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) shoot dead Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members Trevor King, Colin Craig and David Hamilton on the Shankill Road in Belfast, close to the UVF headquarters.

On June 16, 1994, high-ranking UVF Commander volunteer Trevor King is standing on the Shankill Road about one hundred yards from “The Eagle,” the UVF’s Belfast GHQ, talking to fellow UVF members David Hamilton and Colin Craig. A car drives past them and as it does so Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) gunmen inside the vehicle open fire on the three men. The car is later found burning close to Divis Tower.

David Lister and Hugh Jordan claim that Gino Gallagher, who is himself shot dead in 1996 during an internal dispute, is the main gunman in the attack. However, Henry McDonald and Jack Holland say that Gallagher is inside the car which is scouting the area for UVF members, and not one of the gunmen.

Colin Craig is killed on the spot. King and David Hamilton lay in the street, seriously wounded as panic and chaos erupt on the Shankill in the wake of the shooting. Presbyterian minister Roy Magee is in “The Eagle” discussing an upcoming Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) meeting and the possibility of a loyalist ceasefire with the UVF Brigade Staff when the attack takes place. He and the others race out of the building after hearing the gunfire.

King is rushed to the hospital where he is put on a life-support machine. The shooting has left him paralysed from the neck down. He dies on July 9 with Reverend Magee at his bedside. According to Magee, King himself makes the decision to turn off the machine.

The killings are a blow for the Northern Ireland peace process and a morale boost for the INLA. The attack is the INLA’s most notorious since the Droppin Well bombing in 1982 which killed seventeen people, eleven British soldiers and 6 civilians.

The following day, the UVF launches two retaliatory attacks. In the first, UVF members shoot dead a Catholic civilian taxi driver in Carrickfergus. In the second, they shoot dead two Protestant civilians in Newtownabbey, whom they believe to be Catholics. Two days after the killings the UVF decide to launch another revenge attack when they kill six Catholic civilians in a bar while they are watching the Ireland vs. Italy 1994 FIFA World Cup game opener in what becomes known as the Loughinisland massacre. The tit-for-tat attacks continue during the spring and summer of 1994 until the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire of August 31, 1994 and the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in October. The attacks on the Shankill are the INLA’s deadliest attacks of the 1990s.

When interviewed for Boston College for research on the conflict, Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine suggests the INLA might have been working in cahoots with the Provisional IRA in targeting prominent Loyalists, as the month after the Provisional IRA kill three leading Ulster Defence Association (UDA) men.

(Pictured: Trevor King mural, Disraeli Street, May 2012)


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The Balmoral Furniture Company Bombing

balmoral-furniture-showroom-bombingThe Balmoral Furniture Company bombing, a paramilitary attack, takes place on December 11, 1971 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The bomb explodes without warning outside a furniture showroom on the Shankill Road in a predominantly unionist area, killing four civilians, two of them babies.

At 12:25 PM on December 11, 1971, when the Shankill Road is packed with Saturday shoppers, a green car pulls up outside the Balmoral Furniture Company at the corner of Carlow Street and Shankill Road. The shop is locally known as “Moffat’s” although Balmoral Furniture Company is its official name. One of the occupants gets out of the car and leaves a box containing a bomb on the step outside the front door. The person gets back into the car and it speeds away. The bomb explodes moments later, bringing down most of the building on top of those inside the shop and on passersby outside.

Four people are killed as a result of the massive blast, including two babies, Tracey Munn (age 2 years) and Colin Nichol (age 17 months), who both die instantly when part of the wall crashes down upon the pram they are sharing. Two employees working inside the shop are also killed, Hugh Bruce (age 70 years) and Harold King (age 29 years). Unlike the other three victims, who are Protestant, King is a Catholic. Bruce, a former soldier and a Corps of Commissionaires member, is the shop’s doorman and is nearest to the bomb when it explodes. Nineteen people are injured in the bombing, including Tracey’s mother. The building, which was built in the Victorian era, has load-bearing walls supporting upper floors on joists. It is unable to withstand the blast and collapses, adding to the devastation and injury count.

The bombing causes bedlam in the crowded street. Hundreds of people rush to the scene where they form human chains to help the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary  (RUC) free those trapped beneath the rubble by digging with their bare hands. Peter Taylor describes the scene as “reminiscent of the London Blitz” in World War II .

It is widely believed that the bombing is carried out by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in retaliation for the McGurk’s bar bombing one week earlier, which killed 15 Catholic civilians. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had carried out the McGurk’s bombing.

The Balmoral Furniture Company bombing is one of the catalysts that spark the series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists, republicans and the security forces that make the 1970s the bloodiest decade in the 30-year history of The Troubles .

(Pictured: Fireman is shown removing the body of one of the victims of the bombing at the Balmoral Furniture Showroom, December 11, 1971)