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


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Death of IRA Volunteer Séamus McElwaine

seamus-turlough-mcelwaineSéamus Turlough McElwaine, a volunteer in the South Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), is killed on April 26, 1986 by the Special Air Service (SAS) while on active duty with Seán Lynch, who is seriously injured in the shooting.

McElwaine is born on April 1, 1960, the oldest of eight children, in the townland of Knockacullion, beside the hamlet and townland of Knockatallon, near the village of Scotstown in the north of County Monaghan. At the age of 14, he takes his first steps towards becoming involved in physical force republicanism when he joins Na Fianna Éireann. Two years later he turns down an opportunity to study in the United States and joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), stating “no one will ever be able to accuse me of running away.”

McElwaine becomes Officer Commanding of the IRA in County Fermanagh by the age of 19. On February 5, 1980, he kills off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) corporal Aubrey Abercrombie as he drives a tractor in the townland of Drumacabranagher, near Florencecourt. Later that year, on September 23, he kills off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston outside his home in Rosslea. He is suspected of involvement in at least ten other killings.

On March 14, 1981, a detachment of the British Army surrounds a farmhouse near Rosslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrender and are arrested. While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, McElwaine stands in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and receives 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote). In May 1982 he is convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a “dangerous killer” and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.

On September 25, 1983, McElwaine is involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. Thirty-eight republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the prison. After the escape McElwaine joins an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh. The unit targets police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.

McElwaine holds a meeting with Pádraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, members of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, in which they discuss forming a flying column aimed at destroying police stations to create IRA-controlled zones within Northern Ireland. However, this plan never materialises. McKearney and Lynagh are later themselves killed in the Loughgall ambush.

On April 26, 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Seán Lynch, are preparing to ambush a British Army patrol near Rosslea, County Fermanagh when they are ambushed themselves by a detachment from the Special Air Service Regiment. Both are wounded but Lynch manages to crawl away. A January 1993 inquest jury returns a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury rules the soldiers had opened fire without giving him a chance to surrender, and that he was shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requests a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but no one has been prosecuted for McElwaine’s death.

McElwaine is buried in Scotstown, with his funeral attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gives an oration describing McElwaine as “a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country” and “an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists.”

In 1987 McElwaine’s father, Jimmy, a longtime member of Monaghan County Council, became the chairman of the Séamus McElwain Cumann of Republican Sinn Féin.

On April 1, 1990 a monument to McElwaine is erected in Corlat, County Monaghan. The oration is given by a Catholic priest, Father Piaras Ó Dúill, who compares McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle. The inscription on the monument is a quote from Patrick Pearse: “As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.” A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans is erected in Rosslea in 1998, and unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.


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Birth of Mairéad Farrell, Provisional IRA Member

mairead-farrellMairéad Farrell, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on March 3, 1957. She is shot dead by the British Army in Gibraltar on March 6, 1988.

Farrell is born into a middle-class family with no link to militant Irish republicanism other than a grandfather who had been interned during the Irish War for Independence. She is educated at Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast. At the age of 14 she is recruited into the Provisional IRA by Bobby Storey. After leaving school at the age of 18, she is hired as a clerical worker for an insurance broker’s office.

On March 1, 1976, the British government revokes Special Category Status for prisoners convicted from this date under anti-terrorism legislation. In response, the IRA instigates a wave of bombings and shootings across Northern Ireland and younger members such as Farrell are asked to participate. On April 5, 1976, along with Kieran Doherty and Sean McDermott, she attempts to plant a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry, as that hotel had often been used by British soldiers on temporary duty in Northern Ireland. She is arrested by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers within an hour of planting the bomb. McDermott, her boyfriend, is shot dead by a RUC reservist at a nearby housing estate.

At her trial, Farrell refuses to recognise the court as it is an institution of the British state. She is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for explosives offences, firearms offences, and belonging to an illegal organisation.

When Farrell arrives at Armagh Prison, she refuses to wear a prison uniform in protest at the designation of republican prisoners as criminals and becomes the official Officer Commanding of the female IRA prisoners. After 13 months, she, along with Mary Doyle and Mairead Nugent, begin a hunger strike to coincide with the one already taking place in Long Kesh Prison. It ends on December 19, a day after the men’s strike. In March 1981 the prisoners’ rights campaign is focused on the hunger strike being undertaken by Bobby Sands, leader of IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks. She was one of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners to stand for election in the Republic of Ireland in the 1981 Irish general election, standing in Cork North-Central and polling 2,751 votes (6.05%).[17]

Upon her release from prison in October 1986, Farrell enrolls at Queen’s University, Belfast for a course in Political Science and Economics. However, she drops out to re-engage in IRA activity. The IRA sends her with Seán Savage and Daniel McCann to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a car bomb in a heavily populated town area. The target is the band and guard of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment during a weekly ceremonial changing of the guard in front of Governors’ residence, on March 8, 1988. According to interrogated IRA members, Gibraltar is selected as a target because it is a British possession that is in dispute, and that it is an area with lighter security measures than had become endemic at British military installations elsewhere due to the IRA’s campaign.

The British Government’s domestic intelligence service MI5 becomes aware of their plan and a detachment from the British Army is specifically deployed to Gibraltar to intercept the IRA team and prevent the attack. Farrell, Savage and McCann are confronted by plainclothes soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment while they are engaged in a reconnaissance in Gibraltar pending the delivery of the car bomb. Farrell is shot three times in the back and once in the face. Her two accomplices are also killed in an operation code-named Operation Flavius by the British Government. Some witnesses to the shooting state that Farrell and McCann were shot while attempting to surrender, and while lying wounded on the ground. The three IRA members are all found afterwards to be unarmed.

Keys to a hire car found in Farrell’s handbag lead the Spanish Police to the discovery across the border in Spain of five packages totaling 84 kg of Semtex explosive in a car which the IRA team intended to subsequently drive into Gibraltar for the attack. These packages have four separate detonators attached. Around this is packed 200 rounds of ammunition as shrapnel. There are two timers but they were not primed or connected.

At the funeral of the ‘Gibraltar Three’ on March 16, three mourners are killed in a gun and grenade attack by loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone in the Milltown Cemetery attack.


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Birth of Provisional IRA Member Seán Savage

sean-savageSeán Savage, Provisional Irish Republican Army member who is shot dead by the British Army while attempting to plant a car bomb in Gibraltar, is born in Belfast on January 26, 1965.

Born into an Irish Republican family in the Kashmir area of Belfast, Savage is educated at St. Gall’s Primary School, and at St. Paul’s Secondary School in the Falls Road area of West Belfast.

In 1987 Savage and Daniel McCann shoot and kill two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers at Belfast docks. He is also the leader of an IRA attack that places a car bomb beneath the car of John McMichael, an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, in Lisburn in December 1987. McMichael dies of his injuries two hours after the blast.

In March 1988, Savage and McCann, along with another Provisional IRA member, Mairéad Farrell, are sent to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a bomb in the town area targeting a British Army band which parades weekly in front of The Convent, the official Governors’ residence. However, the British Government acquires information about the intended attack and specially dispatches a British Army detachment there to intercept it, in an operation that it code-names Operation Flavius.

On March 6, 1988 Savage, McCann and Farrell enter Gibraltar from across the Spanish border to carry out a reconnaissance of the target. Having conducted it, they are leaving Gibraltar on foot approaching the Spanish border in two separate parties, when Savage sees McCann and Farrell up ahead being confronted and shot dead by soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment. He turns around and flees, running back into Gibraltar town, closely pursued on foot by another SAS soldier. After a 300-yard chase the soldier catches up with Savage and shoots him dead beneath a beech tree in Smith Dorrien Avenue. Civilian witnesses to the incident state afterwards that Savage is repeatedly fired upon by the soldier that had run him down while he is lying on the ground seemingly incapacitated.

The IRA team is subsequently found to be unarmed at the time of their deaths. A hire car rented by them, converted into a car bomb containing 140 lbs. of Semtex, with a device timed to go off during the changing of the guard ceremony in Gibraltar, is found two days later by the Spanish Police, who had assisted the British Government in tracking the IRA team’s movements in its territory before it had entered Gibraltar.

The bodies of Savage, Farrell and McCann are repatriated to Northern Ireland, where a collective IRA-sponsored funeral is held for them on March 16, 1988 at the IRA plot in Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast. As the coffins are being lowered into the ground Michael Stone, an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, stages a single-handed attack upon the ceremony, throwing grenades and firing a handgun at mourners. The funeral immediately descends into chaos. One group of mourners pursues the retreating attacker, who continues to throw grenades and fire bullets, through the cemetery grounds. Three of the unarmed mourners are killed and scores are injured. Stone retreats onto the adjoining M1 motorway, where he is arrested.

A Gibraltar inquest into the deaths of Savage, McCann and Farrell concludes the three had been lawfully killed. In 1995, the European Court of Human Rights rules that the human rights of the three were infringed, and criticizes the British authorities for lack of control in the arrest operation. They also rule that the three had been engaged in an act of terrorism, and consequently dismissed unanimously the applicants’ claims for damages, for costs and expenses incurred in the Gibraltar Inquest and the remainder of the claims for just satisfaction.

A British television documentary, Death on the Rock (1988), is produced and broadcast about the failed IRA operation in Gibraltar, examining the details of the events, and raising doubts about aspects of the British Government’s statements about the circumstances of the shootings of the IRA team, and questioning whether excessive force had been used in the confrontation in line with persistent rumours in the British media at that time of a “Shoot to Kill” strategy being used against the Provisional IRA by the British Government.


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The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


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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 Milltown Cemetery Attack

milltown-cemetery-attackThe Milltown Cemetery attack, also known as the Milltown Cemetery killings or the Milltown Massacre, takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional Irish Republican Army members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three were allegedly preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but their deaths outrage republicans as the three are unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes.

The “Gilbraltar Three” are scheduled to be buried in the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery on March 16. For years, republicans had complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which had led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) would instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Present at the funeral are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead.

Michael Stone, a loyalist and member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), learns there are to be no police or armed IRA members at the cemetery. As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones.

As Stone runs towards the nearby motorway, a large crowd begins chasing him and he continues shooting and throwing grenades. Some of the crowd catches Stone and begin beating him, but he is rescued by the police and arrested. Three people are killed and more than 60 wounded in the attack. The “unprecedented, one-man attack” is filmed by television news crews and causes shock around the world.

Three days later, two British Army corporals drive into the funeral procession of one of the Milltown victims. The non-uniformed soldiers are dragged from their car by an angry crowd, beaten and then shot dead by the IRA, in what becomes known as the corporals killings.

In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

(Pictured: The funeral at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast moments before the attack by Michael Stone)


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Deportation of Joe Doherty

joseph-dohertyJoe Doherty, a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a member of the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1980, is arrested in the United States in 1983 and is deported to Northern Ireland by the U.S. government on February 19, 1992. A first season episode of Law & Order entitled “The Troubles” is based on his case.

The trial of Doherty and the other members of their four-man active service unit nicknamed the “M60 gang” begins in early May 1981, on charges including three counts of murder. On June 10, Doherty and seven other prisoners, including Angelo Fusco and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Gaol and ultimately escape in waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Doherty is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Doherty escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland, and then travels to the United States on a false passport. He lives with an American girlfriend in Brooklyn and New Jersey, working on construction sites and as a bartender at Clancy’s Bar in Manhattan, where he is arrested by the FBI on June 28, 1983. He is imprisoned in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and a legal battle ensues with the British government seeking to extradite him back to Northern Ireland. Doherty claims he is immune from extradition as the killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Captain Herbert Westmacott was a political act. In 1985 federal judge John E. Sprizzo rules Doherty can not be extradited as the killing is a “political offense.” Doherty’s legal battle continues as the United States Department of Justice then attempts to deport him for entering the country illegally.

Doherty remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and attempts to claim political asylum, and on June 15, 1988 Attorney General Edwin Meese overturns an earlier ruling by the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals that Doherty can be deported to the Republic of Ireland, and orders his deportation to Northern Ireland. In February 1989 new Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chooses not to support the decision made by his predecessor, and asks lawyers for Doherty and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to submit arguments for a review of the decision and Doherty’s claim for asylum. By this time Doherty’s case is a cause célèbre with his sympathisers including over 130 Congressmen and a son of then President of the United States George H. W. Bush. In 1990 a street corner near the Metropolitan Correctional Center is named after him.

In August 1991, Doherty is transferred to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and on January 16, 1992 the Supreme Court of the United States overturns a 1990 Federal Appeals Court ruling by a 5-to-3 decision, paving the way for his deportation. On February 19, 1992 Doherty is deported to Northern Ireland, despite pleas to delay the deportation from members of Congress, Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor.

Doherty is returned to Crumlin Road Gaol before being transferred to HM Prison Maze. He is released from prison on November 6, 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release Doherty becomes a community worker specialising in helping disadvantaged young people. In 2006, he appears in the BBC television show Facing the Truth opposite the relatives of a soldier killed in the Warrenpoint ambush.