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 James “Jemmy” Hope, United Irishmen Leader

James “Jemmy” Hope, Society of United Irishmen leader who fights in the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803 against British rule in Ireland, dies on February 10, 1847 at his son Henry’s home, 1 Lancaster St., Belfast.

Hope is born in Templepatrick, County Antrim, on August 25, 1764 to a Presbyterian family originally of Covenanter stock. He is apprenticed as a linen weaver but attends night school in his spare time. Influenced by the American Revolution, he joins the Irish Volunteers, but upon the demise of that organisation and further influenced by the French Revolution, he joins the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795.

Hope quickly establishes himself as a prominent organiser and is elected to the central committee in Belfast, becoming close to leaders such as Samuel Neilson, Thomas Russell, and Henry Joy McCracken. He is almost alone among the United Irish leaders in targeting manufacturers as well as landowners as the enemies of all radicals. In 1796, he is sent to Dublin to assist the United Irish organisation there to mobilise support among the working classes, and he is successful in establishing several branches throughout the city and especially in The Liberties area. He also travels to counties in Ulster and Connacht, disseminating literature and organizing localities.

Upon the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion in Leinster, Hope is sent on a failed mission to Belfast by Henry Joy McCracken to brief the leader of the County Down United Irishmen, Rev. William Steel Dickson, with news of the planned rising in County Antrim, unaware that Dickson had been arrested only a couple of days before. He manages to escape from Belfast in time to take part in the Battle of Antrim where he plays a skillful and courageous role with his “Spartan Band,” in covering the retreat of the fleeing rebels after their defeat.

Hope manages to rejoin McCracken and his remaining forces after the battle at their camp upon Slemish mountain, but the camp gradually disperses, and the dwindling band of insurgents are then forced to go on the run. He successfully eludes capture, but his friend McCracken is captured and executed on July 17. Upon the collapse of the general rising, he refuses to avail of the terms of an amnesty offered by Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis on the grounds that to do so would be “not only a recantation of one’s principles, but a tacit acquiescence in the justice of the punishment which had been inflicted on thousands of my unfortunate associates.”

Hope lives the years following 1798 on the move between counties Dublin, Meath and Westmeath but is finally forced to flee Dublin following the failure of Robert Emmet‘s rebellion in 1803. He returns to the north and evades the authorities attentions in the ensuing repression by securing employment with a sympathetic friend from England. He is today regarded as the most egalitarian and socialist of all the United Irish leadership.

After suffering poor health for some years, Hope dies on February 10, 1847 at his son Henry’s home, 1 Lancaster St., Belfast. He is buried in the Mallusk Cemetery, Newtownabbey, County Antrim. The headstone is raised by his friends, Henry Joy McCracken’s sister Mary Ann, and the Shankill Road United Irishman Isreal Milliken. The historian Richard Robert Madden, who had encouraged Hope to write his memoirs, supplies the inscription. The headstone features the outline of a large dog, which supposedly brought provisions to him and his compatriots when they were hiding following the Battle of Antrim.


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The Shankill Road Bombing

The Shankill Road bombing is carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on October 23, 1993 and is one of the most notorious incidents of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

During the early 1990s, loyalist paramilitaries drastically increase their attacks on the Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist community and, for the first time since the beginning of the Troubles, are responsible for more deaths than the republicans. The Ulster Defence Association‘s (UDA) West Belfast brigade, and its commander, Johnny Adair, play a key role in this. Adair had become the group’s commander in 1990.

The UDA’s Shankill headquarters is above Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road. The UDA’s Inner Council and West Belfast brigade regularly meets there on Saturdays. Peter Taylor says it is also the office of the Loyalist Prisoners’ Association (LPA), and on Saturday mornings is normally crowded, as that is when money is given to prisoners’ families. According to Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack, the IRA have had the building under surveillance for some time. They say that the IRA decides to strike when one of their scouts spots Adair entering the building on the morning of Saturday, October 23, 1993. Later, in a secretly-recorded conversation with police, Adair confirms that he had been in the building that morning.

The IRA’s Belfast Brigade launches an operation to assassinate the UDA’s top commanders, whom it believes are at the meeting. The plan allegedly is for two IRA members to enter the shop with a time bomb, force out the customers at gunpoint and flee before it explodes, killing those at the meeting. As they believe the meeting is being held in the room above the shop, the bomb is designed to send the blast upwards. IRA members maintain that they would have warned the customers as the bomb was primed. It has an eleven-second fuse, and the IRA state that this would allowed just enough time to clear the downstairs shop but not enough for those upstairs to escape.

The operation is carried out by Thomas Begley and Seán Kelly, two IRA members in their early twenties from Ardoyne. They drive from Ardoyne to the Shankill in a hijacked blue Ford Escort, which they park on Berlin Street, around the corner from Frizzell’s. Dressed as deliverymen, they enter the shop with the five-pound bomb in a holdall. It is shortly after 1:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon and the area is crowded with mostly women and children. While Kelly waits at the door, Begley makes his way through the customers towards the counter, where the bomb detonates prematurely. Forensic evidence shows that Begley had been holding the bomb over the refrigerated serving counter when it exploded. Begley is killed along with nine other people, two of them children. They are the owner John Frizzell (63), his daughter Sharon McBride (29), Leanne Murray (13), UDA member Michael Morrison (27), his partner Evelyn Baird (27) and their daughter Michelle (7), George Williamson (63) and his wife Gillian (49), and Wilma McKee (38). The force of the blast causes the old building to collapse into a pile of rubble. The upper floor comes down upon those inside the shop, crushing many of the survivors under the rubble, where they remain until rescued some hours later by volunteers and emergency services. About 57 people are injured. At the scene during the rescue operation are several senior loyalists, including Adair and Billy McQuiston. The latter had been in a pub on the nearest corner when the bomb went off. Among those rescued from the rubble is the badly-wounded Seán Kelly.

Unknown to the IRA, if a UDA meeting had taken place, it had ended early and those attending it had left the building before the bomb exploded. McDonald and Cusack state that Adair and his men had stopped using the room for important meetings, allegedly because a sympathiser within the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) told Adair that the police had it bugged.

There was great anger and outrage in the Shankill in the wake of the bombing. Billy McQuiston tells journalist Peter Taylor that “anybody on the Shankill Road that day, from a Boy Scout to a granny, if you’d given them a gun they would have gone out and retaliated.” Many Protestants see the bombing as an indiscriminate attack on them. Adair believes that the bomb was meant for him. Two days after the bombing, as Adair is driving away from his house, he stops and tells a police officer, “I’m away to plan a mass murder.”

In the week following the bombing, the UDA and UVF launch a wave of “revenge attacks,” killing 14 civilians. The UDA shoots a Catholic delivery driver in Belfast after luring him to a bogus call just a few hours after the bombing. He dies on October 25. On 26 October, the UDA shoots dead another two Catholic civilians and wounds five in an indiscriminate attack at a Council Depot on Kennedy Way, Belfast. On October 30, UDA members enter a pub in Greysteel frequented by Catholics and again open fire indiscriminately. Eight civilians, six Catholics and two Protestants, are killed and 13 are wounded. This becomes known as the Greysteel massacre. The UDA states it is a direct retaliation for the Shankill Road bombing.

Seán Kelly, the surviving IRA member, is badly wounded in the blast, having lost his left eye and is unable to move his left arm. Upon his release from hospital, however, he is arrested and convicted of nine counts of murder, each with a corresponding life sentence. In July 2000, he is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. In an interview shortly after his release, he says he had never intended to kill innocent people and regrets what happened.


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The Greysteel Massacre

The Greysteel massacre is a mass shooting that takes place on the evening of October 30, 1993 in Greysteel, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

On October 23, 1993, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb prematurely explodes as the bombers carry it into a fishmongers on the Shankill Road in Belfast. The IRA’s intended target is a meeting of Ulster Defence Association (UDA) leaders, including brigadier Johnny Adair, which is to take place in a room above the shop. Unknown to the IRA, the meeting had been rescheduled. Eight Protestant civilians, a UDA member and one of the IRA bombers are killed in the blast. This became known as the Shankill Road bombing.

The UDA launches a number of “revenge attacks” for the bombing. Later that day, it fatally shoots a Catholic delivery driver after luring him to a bogus call at Vernon Court, Belfast. On October 26, the UDA shoots dead another two Catholic civilians and wounds five in an attack at the Council Depot at Kennedy Way, Belfast.

The massacre is carefully planned. The order for the attack comes from the UDA leadership and it is believed Greysteel is chosen partly because it is well away from Belfast, where security force activity is intense after the Shankill bombing. Those involved in planning and organising it include Billy McFarland, ‘Brigadier’ of the UDA’s North Antrim & Londonderry Brigade. Stephen Irwin, Geoffrey Deeney and Torrens Knight, all members of the brigade, are to carry out the shooting. The gunmen are first briefed on the plans for the massacre on October 27 in an office owned by the Ulster Democratic Party at Bond’s Place, Londonderry. Before the massacre, the gunmen go to the pub to familiarise themselves with the layout and choose the best positions to shoot from.

On Saturday, October 30, the gunmen drive to the pub in an Opel Kadett, with UDA member Brian McNeill driving a ‘scout car’ in front. Just before 10:00 PM the three gunmen, wearing blue boilersuits and balaclavas, enter the “Rising Sun Bar” in Greysteel. There are at least 70 people inside attending a Halloween party and at first some believe the men are playing a Halloween prank. Stephen Irwin yells “trick or treat” as he opens fire with a vz. 58 assault rifle on the packed crowd in the lounge. He keeps shooting until the magazine empties, quickly reloads and continues shooting. Geoffrey Deeney opens fire with a 9mm handgun at a fleeing woman, but it jams after one shot. Torrens Knight, armed with a shotgun, guards the entrance while the shooting is taking place. There is panic and screaming as people scramble for cover and women plead for mercy. The scene in the Rising Sun is described as “hell-like”; bodies lay everywhere and the lounge and dancefloor are covered with blood and broken glass. The gunmen, laughing, then make their escape in the Opel Kadett driven by Knight. While driving away from Greysteel, the getaway car’s wing mirror is hit by a police car speeding towards the scene. The gunmen drive the Kadett to a pick-up point near Eglinton, where they meet McNeill and burn the car.

Seven people are killed outright and nineteen are wounded, with another later dying of his wounds. The dead are Karen Thompson (19), Steven Mullan (20), Moira Duddy (59), Joseph McDermott (60), James Moore (81), John Moyne (50), John Burns (54) and Victor Montgomery (76). Six of those killed are Catholic civilians and two are Protestant civilians.

The following day, the UDA claims responsibility for the attack using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (UFF). Its statement says that the “Greysteel raid” is “the continuation of our threats against the nationalist electorate that they would pay a heavy price for last Saturday’s slaughter of nine Protestants.” A UDA West Belfast Brigade member claims that his organisation “had information that senior IRA men drank in the Rising Sun… Unfortunately they were not there on Halloween but our boys acted on the briefing they had been given.” Afterwards, the gunmen are said to have boasted about the killings.

The UDA members involved are arrested shortly after the massacre. During their first court appearance, Knight is filmed laughing, taunting and shouting abuse at the victims’ relatives as he is led from the building. In February 1995, Irwin, Deeney, Knight and McNeill are sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in the attack. Knight is also convicted for the Castlerock killings. In 2000, they are released early, along with other paramilitary prisoners, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The pub is still open in Greysteel. There is a memorial to the victims outside the building that says: “May their sacrifice be our path to peace.”


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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)


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The Battle at Springmartin

kelly-bar-bombingThe Battle at Springmartin, a series of gun battles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, begins on May 13, 1972 and continues into the following day. It involves the British Army, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The night before the bombing, snipers from the UVF West Belfast Brigade take up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of flats at the edge of the Ulster Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly World War II stock, are ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill Road.

The violence begins shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday, May 13, 1972, when a car bomb, planted by Ulster loyalists, explodes without warning outside the crowded Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub is in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area of Ballymurphy and most of its customers are from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub is crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Following the blast the UVF snipers open fire on the survivors. This begins the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London.

Sixty-three people are injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran, age 19, who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, dies of his injuries on May 23.

For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fight gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting takes place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster Protestant Springmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sits between them. Five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section are killed in the violence. Four of the dead are teenagers.

At first, the British Army claims that the blast had been an “accident” caused by a Provisional IRA bomb. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, tells the House of Commons on May 18 that the blast is caused by a Provisional IRA bomb that exploded prematurely. However, locals suspect that the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources say that IRA volunteers would not risk storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerges that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.

A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads:

This plaque marks the spot
where Kelly’s Bar once stood
and here on 13th May 1972
a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded.
As a result, 66 people were injured
and three innocent members of staff
of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives.
They were:
Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972)
John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972)
Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989)
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a namacha”


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Birth of Norman Whiteside, Northern Ireland Footballer

norman-whitesideNorman Whiteside, former Northern Ireland international footballer who played in two World Cups, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on May 7, 1965. He plays both as a midfielder and as a striker.

Whiteside grows up on Shankill Road, and because of his aggressive, physical playing style he is later nicknamed the “Shankill Skinhead” by Manchester United supporters. The family later moves to 10 Danube Street. He remains relatively unscathed by The Troubles as his Protestant parents keep a firm watch on their children to ensure that they do not stray far from home and that none of them become involved with Ulster loyalism. At around seven years of age he joins the Boys’ Brigade, and quickly shows his natural talent for football, scoring ten goals in a game against boys almost twice his age. He is educated at Cairnmartin High School, and becomes famous in the Shankill area as a footballing prodigy by the age of eleven.

Whiteside is said to have been discovered by Ipswich Town scout Jim Rodgers, who is told by manager Bobby Robson to wait until Whiteside grows older. Instead, it is Manchester United’s 80-year-old Ulster scout Bob Bishop, who previously unearthed Belfast-born George Best and Sammy McIlroy for the club, who first offers him a trial at an English club. He finds that he has been offered schoolboy terms at the club during a school trip to the United States, on which he and his classmates meet President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office, a rare and extraordinary occasion for children from a disadvantaged background.

Whiteside signs professional forms in 1982 at the age of 17 and quickly becomes a key member of the Manchester United club. He scores 68 goals in 278 league and cup appearances for the club over the next seven years, picking up two FA Cup winners medals in 1983 and 1985, as well as playing in the 1982 FA Youth Cup final, the 1983 League Cup final, and the FA Charity Shield in 1983.

Whiteside remains with United until July 1989, when he is sold to Everton F.C. for £600,000. However intense running sessions run by coach Mick Lyons take their toll on his right knee, and on September 20, 1990 he takes a knock in a practice match, which requires him to have another operation on his right knee. After the return of Howard Kendall as manager in November 1990, he manages to appear in a few reserve team games, but this only delays the inevitable, and he is forced to retire from the game at the age of 26 in June 1991.

Upon retirement, Whiteside studies to become a podiatrist, graduating with a degree from the University of Salford, and serves Northwich Victoria F.C. as their assistant manager/physio from October 1991 until March 1992. He quits the role as he does not enjoy the amount of time spent travelling between games. He instead became an after-dinner speaker and also works for the Professional Footballers’ Association, while taking a postgraduate course at Manchester Metropolitan University. He later takes up private practice as a podiatrist in Manchester. Since 1994, he has also worked at the corporate hospitality department at Old Trafford. In 2003, he releases a book entitled My Memories of Manchester United. With the help of writer Rob Bagchi, he releases his autobiography entitled Determined in August 2007, published by Headline Publishing Group, and with a foreword by actor James Nesbitt.

Whiteside holds records as the youngest player to take part in a World Cup, the youngest player to score in a League Cup and FA Cup final, and the youngest player to score a senior goal for Manchester United. Winning 38 caps for Northern Ireland, he plays at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, and also helps his country to win the last ever British Home Championship in 1983–1984.


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The Bayardo Bar Attack

bayardo-bar-attackThe Bayardo Bar attack takes place on August 13, 1975 in Belfast as a unit of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), led by Brendan McFarlane, launch a bombing and shooting attack on a pub on Aberdeen Street, in the loyalist Shankill Road area of the city.

By 1975, the conflict in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles” is more than six years old. On February 10, 1975, the Provisional IRA and the British government enter into a truce and restart negotiations. There is a rise in sectarian killings during the truce, which ‘officially’ lasts until early 1976. The truce, however, is interrupted in the early hours of July 31, 1975 by the Miami Showband killings at Buskhill outside Newry, County Down.

Two weeks later, on August 13, 1975, the Bayardo Bar is crowded with people of all ages. Shortly before closing time a stolen green Audi automobile, containing a three-man unit of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, pulls up outside. It is driven by the unit’s leader Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, a 24-year-old volunteer from Ardoyne. Volunteers Seamus Clarke and Peter “Skeet” Hamilton get out and approach the pub’s side entrance on Aberdeen Street. One of them immediately opens fire with an ArmaLite, instantly killing doorman William Gracey and his brother-in-law Samuel Gunning, with whom he had been chatting outside. The other volunteer then enters the pub, where patrons are drinking and singing, and drops a duffel bag containing a ten-pound bomb at the entrance. Both men make their getaway back to the waiting car. As panicked customers run to the toilets for safety, the bomb explodes and brings down a section of the old brick-and-plaster building upon them. The bodies of civilian Joanne McDowell and UVF member Hugh Harris are later found beneath the rubble of fallen masonry. Seventeen-year-old civilian Linda Boyle is pulled out alive, but dies of her injuries at the hospital on August 21. Over 50 people are injured in the attack.

A Belfast Telegraph article later claims that, as the IRA unit drives away down Agnes Street, they fire into a crowd of women and children queuing at a taxi rank although there are no fatalities. Within 20 minutes of the blast, the IRA unit is arrested after their car is stopped at a roadblock. The ArmaLite that had been used to kill Gracey and Gunning is found inside the car along with spent bullet casings and fingerprints belonging to the three IRA men.

The IRA does not initially claim responsibility, however, IRA members later state that the Bayardo was attacked because it was a pub where Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members met and planned terrorist assaults against nationalists. The pub is in the UVF-dominated middle Shankill Road area, and the Ulster Banner is displayed from its upper windows. A former IRA prisoner claims that fellow inmate Lenny Murphy told him he had left the Bayardo ten minutes before the attack and that the Brigade Staff had just finished holding a meeting there.

Loyalists, especially the UVF, respond with another wave of sectarian attacks against Catholics. Two days after the pub attack, a loyalist car bomb explodes without warning on the Falls Road, injuring 35 people. On 22 August, the UVF launches a gun and bomb attack on McGleenan’s Bar in Armagh. The attack is strikingly similar to that at Bayardo. One gunman opens fire while another plants the bomb, the explosion causing the building to collapse. Three Catholic civilians are killed and several more are wounded. That same night, another bomb wrecks a Catholic-owned pub in nearby Blackwatertown, although there are no injuries.

In May 1976, Brendan McFarlane, Seamus Clarke, and Peter Hamilton are convicted in a non-jury Diplock court and sentenced to life imprisonment inside the HM Prison Maze for carrying out the Bayardo murders. In 1983 McFarlane leads the Maze Prison escape, a mass break-out of 38 republican prisoners, including Clarke and Hamilton.


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2012 North Belfast Riots

belfast-violence-july-2012The first incident of the 2012 North Belfast Riots occurs on July 12, 2012 during “The TwelfthLoyalist celebrations. The sectarian disorder and rioting between loyalists and republicans takes place when rival parades, authorised by the Parades Commission, take place.

Catholic rioting has been common in recent years when the parades are forced through the mostly Irish nationalist Ardoyne in north Belfast. The local Orangemen parade down the predominantly Ulster loyalist Crumlin Road towards the loyalist Woodvale area. Before turning into the Woodvale they are met by Irish republican protesters and a nearby counter-parade organised by the Greater Ardoyne Residents Association (GARC). Nationalists then attack the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the parade with bricks, bottles and petrol bombs.

There is also violence in the Bogside area of Derry, where petrol bombs are thrown at police and a car is set afire. In south and east Belfast there are five arrests for a variety of offences including disorderly behaviour.

Prolonged attacks on the PSNI by Catholics follow the parades with missiles being thrown at police lines. Three cars are hijacked and pushed at police lines with at least one of them being set on fire, and at night ten shots are fired at police by a nationalist gunman who intends to kill police officers. On July 18, 2012, a 47-year-old man is charged with attempted murder of the police officers. The PSNI blames the violence on “thugs” and makes a further 26 arrests across Northern Ireland relating to the trouble.

In another incident during a different parade, a Shankill Road-based loyalist band “The Young Conway Volunteers” is filmed by a Sinn Féin activist playing The Famine Song outside St. Patricks Catholic Church in Ardoyne. The activist filming the incident is attacked by band members who try to snatch the phone from him. The incident brings condemnation, with Sinn Féin declaring it “provocative.” Protestant church leaders also condemn the incident as “blatantly sectarian.” It is this incident that is believed to ignite tensions in the area which continue over the next few months.

In the days that follow strong loyalist criticism is levelled at the Parades Commission blaming them for the violence. Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) accuses the Parades Commission of making a “bizarre, crazy, and mad decision” to allow the nationalist parade to coincide with the Orange parade while Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly blames the Orangemen for violating regulations set out by the Parades Commission. The Parades Commission denies responsibility, explaining “We have to balance the rights of everybody concerned in parades, not just the rights of paraders, but the rights of people who live in the areas and the rights of police officers.”


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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)