seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of IRA Blanket Protester Kieran Nugent

kieran-nugentKieran Nugent, volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies from a heart attack on May 4, 2000. He is best known for being the first person to start the blanket protest against the British Government’s treatment of republican prisoners.

Born in 1958, Nugent’s adolescence comes at a time when Northern Ireland is exploding into turmoil. On March 20, 1973, at the age of 15, he is standing with a friend on the corner of Merrion Street and Grosvenor Road when a car pulls up beside them and one of the occupants asks them for directions. Another occupant of the vehicle then opens fire with a submachine gun. Nugent is seriously wounded after being shot eight times in the chest, arms and back by the Ulster loyalists in the car. His friend, Bernard McErlean, aged 16, is killed.

At some point afterwards, Nugent joins the Provisional IRA. At the age of sixteen he is arrested by the British Army and spends five months on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol. When he is eventually tried, the case against him is withdrawn and he is released. He becomes an active volunteer until his arrest and internment, without trial, on February 9, 1975.

Nugent spends nine months in Cage 4 at the Long Kesh Detention Centre until November 12, 1975. He is arrested and imprisoned again on May 12, 1976, following the hijacking of a bus. On September 14, 1976 he is sentenced to three years and becomes the first Republican prisoner convicted since the withdrawal of Special Category Status for those convicted through juryless courts, due to the new British policy of ‘criminalisation’ introduced that March. Among other things, this change in policy means convicted paramilitaries can no longer wear their own clothes. Viewing himself as a political prisoner and not a criminal, he refuses to wear the uniform saying the prison guards would have to “…nail it to my back.” This begins the blanket protest.

Nugent is soon joined by Jackie McMullan, the next prisoner to don the blanket, followed by six more Irish republican prisoners from the Beechmount area of Belfast. By Christmas 1976 the number of participants has risen to over forty prisoners. Most incoming republican prisoners emulate Nugent and this starts five years of prison protests in pursuit of political status, which culminates in the 1981 Irish hunger strike and the death of eleven, including seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army prisoners.

Nugent, the father of four, is found dead of a heart attack at his home in Anderstown, Belfast on May 4, 2000.


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Death of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Mob Hitman

vincent-mad-dog-collVincent “Mad Dog” Coll, born Uinseann Ó Colla, Irish American mob hitman in the 1920s and early 1930s in New York City, dies on February 8, 1932.

Coll is born in Gweedore, County Donegal, on July 20, 1908. When he is not quite one year old, the Coll family emigrates to New York in search of a better life. At age 12, he is sent to a reform school. After being expelled from multiple Catholic reform schools, he joins The Gophers street gang. He joins up with Dutch Schultz‘s gang and quickly rises through the ranks. By the late 1920s he is working as an armed guard for the illegal beer delivery trucks of Schultz’s mob.

Coll is a loose cannon, and Schultz soon grows tired of his reckless behavior. In 1929, Coll robs a dairy in the Bronx of $17,000 without Schultz’s permission. When Schultz confronts him about the robbery, rather than being apologetic, Coll demands he be made an equal partner.

By January 1930 Coll has formed his own gang and is engaged in a shooting war with Schultz. One of the earliest victims is Peter Coll, shot dead on May 30, 1931, while driving down a Harlem street. Coll goes into a rage of grief and vengeance. Over the next three weeks he guns down four of Schultz’s men. In all, around 20 men are killed in the bloodletting. The exact figure is hard to pin down as New York is also in the midst of the vicious Castellammarese War at the same time. It is mayhem on the streets of Manhattan and the police often have difficulty in deciding which corpse belongs to which war.

On July 28, 1931, Coll allegedly participates in a kidnapping attempt that results in the shooting death of a child. His target is bootlegger Joseph Rao, a Schultz underling who is lounging in front of a social club. Several children are playing outside a nearby apartment house. A large touring car pulls up to the curb, and several men point shotguns and submachine guns towards Rao and start shooting. Rao throws himself to the sidewalk, however, and four young children are wounded in the attack. One of them, five-year-old Michael Vengalli, later dies at Beth David Hospital. After the Vengalli killing, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker dubs Coll a “Mad Dog”.

On October 4, 1931, after an extensive manhunt, New York police arrest Coll at a hotel in the Bronx. He surrenders peacefully. On October 5, a grand jury in New York city indicts Coll in the Vengalli murder. The trial begins in December 1931. He retains famed defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. The prosecution case soon falls apart. At the end of December, the judge issues a directed verdict of not guilty.

It was said that both Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden put a $50,000 bounty on Coll’s head. On February 1, 1932, four or five gunmen invade a Bronx apartment which Coll is rumored to frequent and open fire with pistols and submachine guns. Three people, Coll gangsters Patsy Del Greco and Fiorio Basile and bystander Emily Tanzillo, are killed. Three others are wounded. Coll himself does not show up until 30 minutes after the shooting.

At 12:30 AM on February 8, one week after the Bronx shootings, Coll is using a phone booth at a drug store at Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan. He is reportedly talking to Madden, demanding $50,000 from the gangster under the threat of kidnapping his brother-in-law. Madden keeps Coll on the line while it is traced. Three men in a dark limousine soon arrive at the drug store. While one waits in the car, two others step out. One man waits outside while the other walks inside the store. The gunman tells the cashier to stay calm, draws a Thompson submachine gun from under his overcoat and opens fire on Coll in the glass phone booth. He dies instantly. The killers take off in their car and are chased unsuccessfully up Eighth Avenue.

A total of 15 bullets are removed from Coll’s body at the morgue and even more may have passed through him. He is buried next to his brother Peter at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx. Dutch Schultz sends a floral wreath bearing a banner with the message, “From the boys.”