seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Robert Curtis, First Fatality of The Troubles

robert-curtisRobert George Curtis, officially the first military fatality during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 6, 1971, becoming the first British soldier to die in the line of duty in Ireland since 1921. The gunman responsible is believed to be Provisional IRA member Billy Reid, who is killed later that year in a gunfight. A total of 705 British soldiers are killed during the Troubles.

156 (Inkerman) Battery, 94 Locating Regiment, Royal Artillery is deployed to Northern Ireland on January 5, 1971 under the command of the 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery. During the first week of February 1971, there is major violence in many Irish republican areas of Belfast when the British Army launches a series of searches for IRA arms. Rioting in the republican area of the New Lodge escalates and reinforcements are summoned. 156 Battery is ordered into the area. Because mobs of rioters are threatening the bordering unionist Tiger’s Bay area, the Battery is deployed along the interface to block them.

A large crowd gathers at the junction of New Lodge Road and Lepper Street. A troop of soldiers from 156 Battery, including Gunner Rob Curtis, are deployed to disperse the crowd. As the troops move to the junction they are attacked with a barrage of stones and bottles by the mob and deploy in “riot-formation” with shields as protection. Subsequently, a nail bomb is thrown at the troops. In the aftermath of the blast the crowd splits allowing a gunman to fire a long burst of automatic fire from a Sterling submachine gun, probably from the base of Templar House. The crowd then reforms, allowing the gunman to escape. Gunner Curtis is hit by a ricochet which passes through the shoulder opening of his flak jacket, penetrating his heart. He dies almost instantly. Four other troop members are wounded, one seriously.

Curtis is, at the time of his death, 20 years old and married for just over a year. His wife is expecting their first child and had just informed him in a letter that he was to become a father. He is laid to rest in West Road Cemetery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He is the first officially recognised fatality that the army suffers as a direct result of IRA actions. Unofficially 21 other military personnel died or were killed before his death. On the morning after his death Sir James Chichester-Clark, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, announces that “Northern Ireland is at war with the Irish Republican Army Provisionals.”

Some sources claim the shots were fired from a Thompson submachine gun, but some eyewitnesses are sure that it was a Sterling submachine gun that was fired. Curtis’s wife is later compensated to the sum of £6500 together with £1500 for her daughter. His daughter is married wearing her father’s wedding ring and later names her son Robert in honour of his grandfather.


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Annie’s Bar Massacre

annies-bar-memorialThe Annie’s Bar massacre, a mass shooting incident in Derry‘s Top of the Hill, takes place on December 20, 1972 during the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles. The bar is located in a small Catholic enclave of the majority Protestant Waterside area of Derry. Five civilians are shot dead by Loyalist paramilitaries from a unit of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) which is a part of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The shooting is also known as the “Top of the Hill bar shooting.”

The UDA is formed in September 1971 during one of the most violent phases of The Troubles right after internment without trial is introduced when a number of Loyalist Defense groups combine together. They form a paramilitary wing, the UFF, in 1972 so the organisation can use the UFF name to carry out violent acts and kill people while keeping the UDA name legal by not involving the UDA name with attacks.

The UDA/UFF claim to be combating the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) but approximately 85% of its victims are innocent Catholic civilians. The UDA carries out its first killing on April 20, 1972 when they shoot dead taxi driver Gerard Donnelly in Ardoyne, Belfast. In October, the group is responsible for the deaths of two small girls when they detonate a car bomb outside an Irish nationalist pub in Sailortown, Belfast. The girls killed are Clare Hughes, age 4, and Paula Strong, age 6.

On December 20, 1972 along the Strabane Old Road, Annie’s Bar is packed with customers watching a football match. At about 10:30 PM two men from the UDA burst into the bar, one of them carrying a Sterling submachine gun and the other holding a pistol. Both are wearing hoods to disguise their identities. The men instantly and indiscriminately spray the main room in the bar with bullets. The attack is reported to have lasted less than a minute but it still manages to leave five people dead and four others wounded. Those killed in the attack are all males and include, Charlie McCafferty (31), Frank McCarron (58), Charles Moore (31), Barney Kelly (26) and Michael McGinley (37). At the time this is the largest and most deadly attack carried out by the UDA. They do not carry out another attack of this size until February 1992, when they shoot dead five civilians and injure nine in the Sean Graham bookmakers’ shooting on the Ormeau Road in Belfast.

The year 1972 in Derry begins with the Bloody Sunday shooting which occurs in the Bogside area and ends with the Annie’s Bar shooting. Nobody is ever charged in connection with the Annie’s Bar murders, although in recent years relatives of those murdered have been calling for a fresh investigation to take place.

The attack is carried out by members from the UDA’s “North Antrim & Londonderry Brigade.” Although this is one of the UDA’s smaller brigades it also carries out the October 1993 Greysteel massacre which is the UDA’s worst ever attack, in which eight people are killed and 19 others are injured. The Greysteel shooting happens about 9-10 miles away from Annie’s Bar.

(Pictured: Annie’s Bar Memorial stone located at Strabane Old Road, Top of the Hill, Waterside, Derry, County Derry, Northern Ireland. Annie’s Bar is in the background. Photo taken by Martin Melaugh, November 20, 2008.)