seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of Martin McGuinness, Irish Republican Sinn Féin Politician

Martin McGuinness, former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Army Council and Sinn Féin‘s chief negotiator in the peace process, dies on the morning of March 21, 2017 at Derry‘s Altnagelvin Area Hospital with his family by his bedside. He had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease in December 2016. In 2011, McGuinness contests the presidential election which is won by Michael D. Higgins.

McGuinness is born James Martin Pacelli McGuinness on May 23, 1950 in Derry. He attends St. Eugene’s Primary School and later the Christian Brothers technical college, leaving school at the age of 15.

McGuinness joins the IRA about 1970, and by 1971 he is one of its leading organizers in Derry. In 1973 a Special Criminal Court in the Republic of Ireland sentences him to six months in prison after he is caught in a car containing large quantities of explosives and ammunition. Although the IRA keeps secret the membership of its seven-person Army Council, few doubt that McGuinness is one of its most important members from the 1970s through the 1990s. Even while reportedly planning attacks on civilians in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland, McGuinness is involved in spasmodic secret talks with British government ministers and officials to end the conflict. In 1972 McGuinness, with fellow IRA leader Gerry Adams, privately negotiates with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw, but these and other talks over the next two decades are unsuccessful.

McGuinness contests seats in the British House of Commons on several occasions, losing in 1983, 1987, and 1992. However, in 1997 he is elected to the House of Commons to represent the constituency of Mid Ulster and, in line with party policy, he does not take his seat. He subsequently wins reelection to the seat in 2001, 2005, and 2010.

McGuinness is the IRA’s chief negotiator in the deliberations, also secret at first, that culminate in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This pact finally ends the conflict and eventually brings Sinn Féin into a coalition government to rule Northern Ireland. He is elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly and in 1999 is appointed Minister of Education. In this post he eliminates the controversial eleven-plus examination, which determines which type of secondary school a child should attend. The test had been abolished in most of the rest of the United Kingdom more than 25 years earlier.

Disagreements over such issues as policing and the decommissioning of arms causes Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly to be suspended for some years, but a fresh agreement in 2006 paves the way for them to be revived. In elections in March 2007, both Sinn Féin and the antirepublican Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gain seats, becoming the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. McGuinness becomes Deputy First Minister, working with First Minister Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP. The two men, previously bitter enemies, perform so well together that they are dubbed the “Chuckle brothers.”

When Paisley retires in 2008, he is succeeded by the DUP’s Peter Robinson, who is considered to be even more militantly antirepublican. Once again, however, a shared need to rebuild the economy and attract international investment leads to cooperation between former opponents. In 2009 their government is in jeopardy as Sinn Féin and the DUP argue over the devolution of the police and justice system in Northern Ireland. McGuinness and Robinson are involved in the ensuing negotiations, and in February 2010 an agreement is reached for the transfer of powers from Britain to Northern Ireland in April.

In the Assembly elections in May 2011, McGuinness and Robinson are a formidable pair, and voters respond to their call for stability in a time of economic uncertainty. Sinn Féin gains an additional seat and increases its overall share of the vote, and McGuinness is assured an additional term as Deputy First Minister. In the autumn he steps down to run as Sinn Féin’s candidate for the presidency of Ireland. After finishing third in the election held on October 28, he returns to the position of Deputy First Minister a few days later. On June 27, 2012, in an event widely seen as having great symbolic importance for the ongoing reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland, McGuinness and Elizabeth II shake hands twice, once in private and again in public, during a visit by the British monarch to Belfast.

In January 2017 McGuinness resigns as Deputy First Minister in response to First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to temporarily step down from her position during the investigation of a scandal relating to the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a mishandled program under which large amounts of state funds allegedly had been squandered. Foster had served as head of the department that oversaw the RHI before becoming First Minister. Under the power-sharing agreement the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister constitute a single joint office so that the resignation of one minister results in termination of the other’s tenure. When Sinn Féin chooses not to nominate a replacement for McGuinness within the required seven-day period, authority reverts to the British government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in advance of a snap election on March 2.

Even before McGuinness’s resignation there had been speculation late in 2016 that he might step down for health reasons, and soon after resigning he confirms that he is suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease brought about by deposits of abnormal protein in organs and tissue. With McGuinness removing himself from “frontline politics,” Michelle O’Neill leads Sinn Féin into the election. The disease claims McGuinness’s life only months later on March 21, 2017.


Leave a comment

Donal Billings Convicted of Possession of Explosives

Donal Billings of St. Bridget’s Court in Drumlish, County Longford, a 66-year-old man who put a bomb on a bus during Britain’s Queen Elizabeth‘s visit to Ireland in May 2011, is convicted on December 15, 2016 at the Special Criminal Court of possessing explosives and is sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison.

Justice Tony Hunt describes it as an outrageous, dangerous and highly irresponsible act, which recklessly exposed the 31 people on the bus, as well as the emergency services, to the very significant risk of injury or death. He says it was no thanks to Billings that this did not occur.

Billings is also found guilty of four counts of making bomb threats, including one claiming there were two mortars in Dublin Castle during the State banquet for the queen.

The court hears that on May 16, 2011, following a phone call to Longford Garda station, gardaí stopped a bus travelling from Ballina to Dublin at Maynooth. They find a well-made bomb in a bag in the luggage hold with gunpowder, petrol, a timing power unit, battery and a fuse, which if it had exploded could have caused seriously injured or killed the passengers and driver. Threats were also made that there were bombs on another bus and at the Sinn Féin headquarters in Dublin but none were found.

Billings is identified as the caller though phone records, notes, a SIM card and a mobile phone. Two days later he makes another call saying that two mortars have been left in Dublin Castle set for 8:00 PM, during the State banquet for the queen. “I am a member of the Republican Brotherhood Squad A”, he says. “This is for the Queen of Blood, War in Iraq.” Because of the first bomb, the threat is taken very seriously, but no more explosive devices are found.

Two days later a third call threatens there are two more bombs in the toilets in Cork Airport, but again nothing is found.

Billings is identified as a suspect that day and put under surveillance before being arrested at a supermarket car park in Longford. He tells gardaí he had found the SIM card in the car park.

Following the trial, during which interpreters are used to translate proceedings into Irish, Billings is convicted of making bomb threats and possessing explosives. He has previous convictions for possessing explosives in Northern Ireland in 1973 and is sentenced to eight years in prison. He also spent four years in Libya.

(From: “Man sentenced over bomb on bus during Queen Elizabeth’s visit,” RTÉ.ie, the website of Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Thursday, December 15, 2016)


Leave a comment

The Beginning of the IRA’s Border Campaign

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) begins what it calls “The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation” on December 12, 1956. Also known as the “Border Campaign,” it is a guerrilla warfare campaign carried out by the IRA against targets in Northern Ireland, with the aim of overthrowing British rule there and creating a united Ireland. Although the campaign is a military failure, but for some of its members, the campaign is justified as it keeps the IRA engaged for another generation.

The border campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the 1940s, when the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it. In 1939 the IRA tries a bombing campaign in England to try to force British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. From 1942 to 1944 it also mounts an ineffective campaign in Northern Ireland. Internment on both sides of the border, as well as internal feuding and disputes over future policy, all but destroy the organisation. These campaigns are officially called off on March 10, 1945. By 1947, the IRA has only 200 activists, according to its own general staff.

Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Tony Magan sets out to create “a new Army, untarnished by the dissent and scandals of the previous decade.” Magan believes that a degree of political mobilization is necessary and the relationship with Sinn Féin, which had soured during the 1930s, is improved. At the 1949 IRA Convention, the IRA orders its members to join Sinn Féin, which partially becomes the “civilian wing” of the IRA.

By the mid-1950s, the IRA has substantially re-armed. This is achieved by means of arms raids launched between 1951 and 1954, on British military bases in Northern Ireland and England. By 1955, splits are occurring in the IRA, as several small groups, impatient for action, launch their own attacks in Northern Ireland. In November 1956, the IRA finally begins planning its border campaign.

On December 12 the campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by around 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt by a unit led by an 18-year-old Seamus Costello, as is a B-Specials post near Newry and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.

The IRA issues a statement announcing the start of the campaign, “Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.”

The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. The most dramatic attack of the whole campaign takes place on January 1 when fourteen IRA volunteers, including Séan Garland, Alan O Brien and Dáithí Ó Conaill plan an attack on a joint Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)/B-Specials barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, though they attack the wrong building. On 11 November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth, which explodes prematurely. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.

By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated. Certain IRA activities produce public hostility and, by 1958, there are already many within the IRA in favour of calling off the campaign. The Cork IRA, for instance, has effectively withdrawn. By mid-1958, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned, North and South.

The period after the summer of 1958 sees a steep drop in the intensity of the IRA campaign. That the IRA’s campaign had run its course by 1960 is testified by the fact that the Republic of Ireland’s government closes the Curragh Camp, which housed internees in the South, on March 15, 1959, judging them to be no further threat. The Northern Irish government follows suit on April 25, 1961.

In November 1961 a RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh. This is the final fatality of the conflict. Minister for Justice Charles Haughey reactivates the Special Criminal Court, which hands down long prison sentences to convicted IRA men.

Although it had petered out by the late 1950s, by late 1961 the campaign is over and is officially called off on February 26, 1962 in a press release issued that day, drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who consults with several other persons including members of the IRA Army Council. The campaign costs the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during this period and another 150 or so in the Republic. Of those in Northern Ireland, 89 sign a pledge to renounce violence in return for their freedom.

(Pictured: A group of IRA men before embarking on an operation in the 1950s | Photo credited to http://laochrauladh.blogspot.ie/)


Leave a comment

The Hanging of Irish Republican Charlie Kerins

Charlie Kerins, a physical force Irish Republican and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged on December 1, 1944 at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin by the English hangman Albert Pierrepoint.

Kerins is born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry and attends Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he wins a Kerry County Council scholarship and completes his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1930, he passes the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the National University of Ireland (NUI). He later does a commercial course and takes up employment in a radio business in Tralee.

In 1940, Kerins is sworn into the IRA and is appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera is determined to preserve Irish neutrality during World War II. Therefore, the IRA’s bombing campaign in England, its attacks against targets in Northern Ireland, and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany are regarded as severe threats to Ireland’s national security. IRA men who are captured by the Gardaí are interned for the duration of the war by the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.

On the morning of September 9, 1942, Garda Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien is leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He is between his front gate and his car when he is cut down with Thompson submachine guns. O’Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He is one of the most effective Detectives of the Special Branch division, which has its headquarters at Dublin Castle. The shooting greatly increases public feeling against the IRA, particularly as the murder is carried out in full view of his wife.

Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins is named Chief of Staff of the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, he remains at large for two years. He stays at a County Waterford home for two weeks while he is on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He is captured several months after he leaves the home.

Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell’s house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephones the house, as he intends to retrieve them. However, Farrell’s telephone had been tapped by the Gardaí. On June 15, 1944, he is arrested in an early morning raid. He is sleeping when the Gardaí enter his bedroom and does not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which is hidden under his bed.

At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins is formally charged on October 2, 1944 for the “shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien.” At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delays sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wishes, to make an application whereby he might avoid a capital sentence. When the court resumes, he says, “You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same.” He thus deprives himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross-examination, or to call witnesses.

Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refuses to issue a reprieve. On December 1, 1944 in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins is hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who is employed by the Irish Government for such occasions.

Kerins is the last IRA member to be executed in the Republic of Ireland. He is buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains are exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, County Kerry.


Leave a comment

The Sallins Train Robbery

The Sallins Train robbery occurs on March 31, 1976 when the Cork to Dublin mail train is robbed near Sallins in County Kildare. Approximately £200,000 is stolen. Five members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, Mick Plunkett, and John Fitzpatrick, are arrested in connection with the robbery.

After the failure of the authorities to produce a “book of evidence” against them, the four are released but are immediately re-arrested. During interrogation in Garda Síochána custody, all except Plunkett sign alleged confessions, presenting with extensive bruising and injuries they claim are inflicted by members of the Gardaí.

While awaiting trial, Fitzpatrick jumps bail and leaves the country. The trial of McNally, Kelly, and Breatnach in the Special Criminal Court becomes the longest-running trial in Irish criminal history, at 65 days, before it collapses due to the death of one of the three judges, Judge John O’Connor of the Circuit Court.

Medical evidence of beatings is presented to the court, both during the initial trial and the second trial. The court rejects this evidence, finding that the beatings have been self-inflicted or inflicted by the co-accused. Anticipating a conviction, Kelly flees before the conclusion of the second trial. The three are found guilty, solely on the basis of their confessions, and sentenced to between nine and twelve years in prison. Kelly is sentenced in absentia.

In May 1980, Breatnach and McNally are acquitted on appeal on the grounds that their statements had been taken under duress. The same month, the Provisional Irish Republican Army claims responsibility for the robbery. Kelly returns to Ireland from the United States in June 1980, expecting to be acquitted. Instead he is incarcerated in the maximum-security Portlaoise Prison and spends the next four years proclaiming his innocence, including a 38-day period on hunger strike.

After a campaign by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, and others and a song, Wicklow Boy, by the popular folk singer Christy Moore, Kelly is eventually released on “humanitarian grounds” in 1984. He is given a presidential pardon in 1992 and receives £1,000,000 in compensation. Breatnach and McNally are also given compensation.