seamus dubhghaill

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


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Garrett FitzGerald Becomes 8th Taoiseach of Ireland

garret-fitzgeraldGarret FitzGerald succeeds Charles Haughey to become the eighth Taoiseach of Ireland on June 30, 1981. He serves in the position from June 1981 to March 1982 and December 1982 to March 1987.

FitzGerald is born into a very politically active family in Ballsbridge, Dublin on February 9, 1926, during the infancy of the Irish Free State. His father, Desmond FitzGerald, is the free state’s first Minister for External Affairs. He is educated at the Jesuit Belvedere College, University College Dublin and King’s Inns, Dublin, and qualifies as a barrister. Instead of practicing law, however, in 1959 he becomes an economics lecturer in the department of political economy at University College, Dublin, and a journalist.

FitzGerald joins Fine Gael, attaching himself to the liberal wing of the party. and in 1969 is elected to Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. He later gives up his university lectureship to become Minister for Foreign Affairs in the coalition government of Liam Cosgrave (1973–1977). When the coalition government is resoundingly defeated in the 1977 Irish general election, Cosgrave yields leadership of Fine Gael to FitzGerald. In his new role as Leader of the Opposition and party leader, he proceeds to modernize and strengthen the party at the grass roots. He briefly loses power in 1982 when political instability triggers two snap elections.

By the time of the 1981 Irish general election, Fine Gael has a party machine that can easily match Fianna Fáil. The party wins 65 seats and forms a minority coalition government with the Labour Party and the support of a number of Independent TDs. FitzGerald is elected Taoiseach on June 30, 1981. To the surprise of many FitzGerald excluded Richie Ryan, Richard Burke and Tom O’Donnell, former Fine Gael stalwarts, from the cabinet.

In his prime ministry, FitzGerald pushes for liberalization of Irish laws on divorce, abortion, and contraception and also strives to build bridges to the Protestants in Northern Ireland. In 1985, during his second term, he and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sign the Anglo-Irish (Hillsborough) Agreement, giving Ireland a consultative role in the governing of Northern Ireland. After his party loses in the 1987 Irish general election, he resigns as its leader and subsequently retires in 1992.

On May 5, 2011, it is reported that FitzGerald is seriously ill in a Dublin hospital. Newly-elected Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny sends his regards and calls him an “institution.” On May 6 he is put on a ventilator. On May 19, after suffering from pneumonia, he dies at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin at the age of 85.

In a statement, Irish President Mary McAleese hails FitzGerald as “a man steeped in the history of the State who constantly strove to make Ireland a better place for all its people.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny pays homage to “a truly remarkable man who made a truly remarkable contribution to Ireland.” Henry Kissinger, the former United States Secretary of State, who serves as an opposite number to FitzGerald in the 1970s, recalls “an intelligent and amusing man who was dedicated to his country.”

FitzGerald’s death occurs on the third day of Queen Elizabeth II‘s state visit to the Republic of Ireland, an event designed to mark the completion of the Northern Ireland peace process that had been “built on the foundations” of FitzGerald’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher in 1985. In a personal message, the Queen offers her sympathies and says she is “saddened” to learn of FitzGerald’s death.

On his visit to Dublin, United States President Barack Obama offers condolences on FitzGerald’s death. He speaks of him as “someone who believed in the power of education; someone who believed in the potential of youth; most of all, someone who believed in the potential of peace and who lived to see that peace realised.”

FitzGerald is buried at Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill, Dublin.

FitzGerald is the author of a number of books, including Planning in Ireland (1968), Towards a New Ireland (1972), Unequal Partners (1979), All in a Life: An Autobiography (1991), and Reflections on the Irish State (2003).


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Belfast’s Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday or Belfast’s Bloody Sunday is a day of violence in Belfast, Ireland (present-day Northern Ireland) on July 10, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

Belfast sees almost 500 people die in political violence between 1920 and 1922. Violence in the city breaks out in the summer of 1920 in response to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Detective Oswald Swanzy after Sunday services outside a Protestant church in nearby Lisburn. Seven thousand Catholics and some Protestant trade unionists are driven from their jobs in the Belfast shipyards and over 50 people are killed in rioting between Catholics and Protestants.

Violence in Belfast wanes until the following summer of 1921. At the time, Irish republican and British authorities are negotiating a truce to end the war, but fighting flares up in Belfast. On June 10, an IRA gunman, Jack Donaghy, ambushes three RIC constables on the Falls Road, fatally wounding one, Thomas Conlon, a Roman Catholic from County Roscommon, who, ironically, is viewed as “sympathetic” to the local nationalists. Over the following three days, at least 14 people lose their lives and 14 are wounded in fighting in the city, including three Catholics who are taken from their homes and killed by uniformed police.

Low-level attacks continue in the city over the next month until another major outbreak of violence that leads to “Bloody Sunday.” On July 8, the RIC attempt to carry out searches in the mainly Catholic and republican enclave around Union Street and Stanhope Street. However, they are confronted by about fifteen IRA volunteers in an hour-long firefight.

On July 9, a truce to suspend the war is agreed in Dublin between representatives of the Irish Republic and the British government, to come into effect at noon on July 11. Many Protestants/unionists condemn the truce as a “sell-out” to republicans.

On the night of July 9/10, hours after the truce is announced, the RIC attempt to launch a raid in the Lower Falls district of west Belfast. Scouts alert the IRA of the raid by blowing whistles, banging dustbin lids and flashing a red light. On Raglan Street, a unit of about fourteen IRA volunteers ambush an armoured police truck, killing one officer and wounding at least two others.

This sparks an outbreak of ferocious fighting between Catholics and Protestants in west Belfast the following day, Sunday July 10, in which 16 civilians lose their lives and up to 200 houses are destroyed. Of the houses destroyed, 150 are owned by Catholics. Most of the dead are civilians and at least four of the Catholic victims are ex-World War I servicemen.

Protestants, fearful of absorption into a Catholic Ireland and blindly angered by the presence of heresy and treason in their midst, strike at the Catholic community while vengeful Catholics strike back with counter-terror. Gun battles rage all day along the sectarian “boundary” between the Catholic Falls and Protestant Shankill districts and rival gunmen use rifles, machine guns and grenades in the clashes. Gunmen are seen firing from windows, rooftops and street corners. A loyalist mob, several thousand strong, attempt to storm the Falls district, carrying petrol and other flammable materials.

A tram travelling from the Falls into the city centre is struck by snipers’ bullets, and the service has to be suspended. Catholics and republicans claim that police, mostly from the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), drive through Catholic enclaves in armoured cars firing indiscriminately at houses and bystanders. The police return to their barracks late on Sunday night, allegedly after a ceasefire has been agreed by telephone between a senior RIC officer and the commander of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, Roger McCorley.

The truce is due to come into effect at midday on Monday, July 11, but violence resumes that morning. Three people are shot dead that day, including an IRA volunteer who is shot minutes before midday. In the north the official truce does not end the fighting. While the IRA is involved in the violence, it does not control the actions of the Catholic community. Tuesday July 12 sees the Orange Order‘s annual Twelfth marches pass off peacefully and there are no serious disturbances in the city. However, sporadic violence resumes on Wednesday, and by the end of the week 28 people in all have been killed or fatally wounded in Belfast.

The violence of the period in Belfast is cyclical, and the events of July 1921 are followed by a lull until a three-day period beginning on August 29, when another 20 lives are lost in the west and north of the city. The conflict in Belfast between the IRA and Crown forces and between Catholics and Protestants continues until the following summer, when the northern IRA is left isolated by the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in the south and weakened by the rigorous enforcement of internment in Northern Ireland.

At the time the day is referred to as “Belfast’s Bloody Sunday.” However the title of “Bloody Sunday” is now more commonly given in Ireland to events in Dublin in November 1920 or Derry in January 1972.


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The McGurk’s Bar Bombing

mcgurks-bombingThe Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) explodes a bomb at McGurk’s Bar, an Irish Catholic-owned pub in Belfast, on December 4, 1971, killing fifteen Catholic civilians including two children and wounding seventeen others. This is the highest death toll from a single incident in Belfast during the Troubles. The bombing sparks a series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists and republicans, which help make 1972 the bloodiest year of the conflict.

On the evening of Saturday, December 4, 1971, a four-man UVF team meets in the Shankill area of Belfast and are ordered to bomb a pub on North Queen Street. According to the only convicted bomber, Robert Campbell, they are told not to return until the job is done. Campbell says that their target had not been McGurk’s, but another pub nearby. It is believed this is a pub called The Gem, which is allegedly linked to the Official Irish Republican Army (IRA). The 50-pound bomb is disguised as a brown parcel, which they place in a car and drive to their target. Campbell says they stop near The Gem at about 7:30 PM, but are unable to gain access to it because there are security guards outside. After waiting for almost an hour, they drive a short distance to McGurk’s. At about 8:45 PM, one of them places the bomb in the porch entrance on Great George’s Street and rushes back to the car. It explodes just moments after they drive off. Campbell implies that McGurk’s had been chosen only because it was “the nearest Catholic pub.”

The blast causes the building to collapse. Bystanders immediately rush to free the dead and wounded from the rubble. Firefighters, paramedics, police, and soldiers are quickly on the scene. Fifteen Catholic civilians are killed, including two children, and an additional seventeen are wounded. The rescue effort lasts many hours.

Within two hours of the blast, a sectarian clash erupts nearby at the New LodgeTiger’s Bay interface. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) move in and a gun battle develops. A British Army officer, Major Jeremy Snow, is shot by the IRA on New Lodge Road and dies of his wounds on December 8. Two RUC officers and five civilians are also wounded by gunfire. Eventually, five companies of troops are sent into the district and they search almost 50 houses.

Meanwhile, the UVF team has driven to a nearby pickup point where they dump their car. They walk to the area of St. Anne’s Cathedral and are picked up by another car. They are driven back to the Shankill area and meet the man who had ordered the attack in an Orange Hall, telling him that “the job has been done.”

Among those killed are Philomena and Maria McGurk, wife and 12-year-old daughter of pub owner Patrick McGurk. Patrick and his three sons are seriously injured. Shortly after the attack, McGurk appears on television calling for no retaliation, “It doesn’t matter who planted the bomb. What’s done can’t be undone. I’ve been trying to keep bitterness out of it.”

In March 1976, the RUC receives intelligence that links UVF member Robert Campbell and four others to the McGurk’s bombing. Campbell is arrested on July 27, 1977 and held at Castlereagh RUC base. He admits his part in the bombing but refuses to name the others.

On July 29, 1977, Campbell is charged with 15 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. On September 6, 1978, he pleads guilty to all charges and receives life imprisonment with “a recommendation to serve no less than 20 years,” in part for a separate conviction for the murder of a Protestant delivery driver in 1976. He is the only person to have been charged for the bombing. He eventually serves fifteen years in prison and is released on September 9, 1993.