McWilliam is the son of Dr. William McWilliam, a local general practitioner. Growing up in Banbridge has a great influence on his work. He makes references to furniture makers such as Carson the Cooper and Proctors in his letters to his friend, Marjorie Burnett.
During the first year of World War II, he joins the Royal Air Force and is stationed in England for four years where he is engaged in interpreting aerial reconnaissance photographs. He is then posted to India. While there he teaches art in the Hindu Art School in New Delhi.
After his return from India, McWilliam teaches for a year at the Chelsea School of Art. He is then invited by A. H. Gerrard to teach sculpture at the Slade. He continues in this post until 1968.
Prior to becoming Stiff Little Fingers, Jake Burns (vocals and guitar), Henry Cluney (guitar), Gordon Blair (bass), and Brian Faloon (drums), are playing in a rock music cover band, Highway Star (named after the Deep Purple song), in Belfast. Upon the departure of Blair, McMordie takes over on bass. Cluney has by this time discovered punk, and introduces the rest of the band to it. They decide that Highway Star is not a punk enough name, and after a brief flirtation with the name “The Fast,” decide to call themselves Stiff Little Fingers, after The Vibrators‘ song, which appears on the album Pure Mania.
Stiff Little Fingers is formed in 1977 at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which informs much of their songwriting. They are the first punk band in Belfast to release a record – the “Suspect Device” single comes out on their own independent label, Rigid Digits. Their album Inflammable Material, released in partnership with Rough Trade Records, becomes the first independent LP to enter the UK top 20.
In the face of low sales and concert attendances, Stiff Little Fingers disbands in 1983. McMordie joins a group of Reading musicians in the newly formed dance-punk band, Friction Groove. They secure a deal with Warner label, Atlantic Records, and go on to record an album, The Black Box, in Berlin and Brussels, from which the first single, “Time Bomb,” charts very briefly.
Around 1986 McMordie provides, along with other Friction Groove members, the core band behind Sinéad O’Connor, who had just arrived in London from Dublin. He is later sacked.
Between 1992 and 1994, McMordie is executive producer for the Peace Together Irish concert events. Since 1994 he has been the tour manager for American artist Richard Hall, AKA Moby, with whose band he has sometimes played bass. He has also been used as the live bassist for Belfast singer-songwriter Dan Donnelly, having played in Dan’s live band at the Beautiful Days music festival in Devon in 2006.
In 2006, it is announced that McMordie is rejoining Stiff Little Fingers for their current tour, and subsequently he rejoins the band on a permanent basis. As of 2021, he is still playing bass with Stiff Little Fingers.
Besides being a live musician, McMordie runs Alistair McMordie Tour Management.
Adams, however, remains a polarizing figure in Ireland. Though he is a longtime figurehead of the Republican movement, he insists that he was never a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and that he played no role in the violence of the Troubles. Some people in Ireland do not actually believe this story, and, in recent years leading up to this meeting, some of his former compatriots in the Republican movement have said that he authorized a series of wartime atrocities, including the murder and secret burial of Jean McConville, a mother of ten. Adams denies these claims, and generally derides those who ask questions about his past as political foes with an agenda or opponents of the peace process.
“I remember very well when the request came, back in 1993, that my husband approve a visa for Gerry Adams,” Clinton told the crowd at the Essex House. Bill Clinton granted the visa, which was a controversial move at the time, because of Adams’s alleged association with the IRA, but also a crucial moment in the peace process, because it helped cement Adams’s transformation from a revolutionary to a statesman. “Absent that first step, that first risk, we might not have had the momentum to move forward, to get to the Good Friday accords and all that has followed,” Clinton said.
There is no way of knowing whether Clinton, dressed in Kelly green, felt any distaste at the prospect of sharing a table with Adams. There is some thirty-five million Irish Americans, a great many of whom regard Adams as a kind of Nelson Mandela, and no prospective presidential candidate can decline a Saint Patrick’s Day invitation. And to be sure, the IRA is not alone in standing accused of atrocities during the Troubles. Loyalistparamilitary groups and British government forces also perpetrated war crimes for which they have not been brought to account. But Clinton does indicate, obliquely, that the transition in Northern Ireland is not entirely complete. “There is still work to be done,” Clinton acknowledges. “You cannot bring peace and security to people just by signing an agreement.” The question for the people of Northern Ireland, and for Adams’s supporters in the United States, is whether you can bring enduring peace and security without some reckoning—by all parties in the conflict—with the crimes of the past.
(From: “Gerry Adams and Hillary Clinton in New York” by Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker, http://www.new yorker.com, March 17, 2015 | Photo: Hillary Clinton at a previous meeting with Gerry Adams at the State Department in 2009. Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty)
England had been relatively untouched by the violence up until the beginning of 1973, but the IRA Army Council draws up plans for a bombing campaign to take place in England some time early in 1973. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, loyalist paramilitaries had bombed Dublin and other parts of the Republic of Ireland a number of times before the IRA began its bombing campaign in England. Following the Dublin bombings in late 1972 and in January 1973 carried out by Loyalists which killed three people and injured over 150, the media attention these bombings received helped the IRA decide to take its campaign to Britain in return. The arrest of top IRA personnel in both the Republic and Northern Ireland like Máire Drumm, Seán Mac Stíofáin, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Martin McGuinness in late 1972 help to convince the IRA to bomb England to take the heat off of the IRA in Ireland.
The IRA selects the volunteers who constitute the Active Service Unit (ASU) for the England bombing operation, which is scheduled to take place on March 8, 1973, the same day that a border poll, boycotted by Nationalists and Roman Catholics, is being held in Belfast. Volunteers from all three of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade Battalions are selected for the bombing mission. The team includes Gerry Kelly (19), Robert “Roy” Walsh (24), an expert bomb maker from Belfast, Hugh Feeney, a Belfast-born IRA volunteer and explosives expert, and two sisters, Marian (19) and Dolours Price (22) from Belfast and are from a staunchly Republican family, along with five other lesser-known volunteers from Belfast: Martin Brady (22), William Armstrong (29), Paul Holmes (19), William McLarnon (19), and Roisin McNearney (18).
Several days before the bombing, the leaders of the IRA ASU, which includes sisters Marian and Dolours Price, go to London and pick out four targets: the Old Bailey, the Ministry of Agriculture, an army recruitment office near Whitehall and New Scotland Yard. They then report back to their Officer Commanding (OC) in Belfast, and the IRA Army Council gives the go ahead. The bombs are made in Ireland and transported to London via ferry, according to Marian Price.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) warns the British that the ASU is traveling to England, but are unable to provide specifics as to the target.
The drivers and the volunteers who are to prime the bombs wake up at 6:00 a.m. and drive the car bombs to their various targets. Gerry Kelly and Roy Walsh drive their car bomb to the Old Bailey. It is planned that by the time the bombs go off around 3:00 p.m., the ASU will be back in Ireland. The bomb at New Scotland Yard is found at 8:30 a.m. by a policeman who notices a discrepancy in the licence plate. The bomb team starts lifting out 5-pound (2.3 kg) bags of explosives and separates them, so that if the bomb does go off, the force of the explosion will be greatly reduced. The bomb squad eventually finds the detonating cord leads, which run under the front passenger seat of the car. Peter Gurney, a senior member of New Scotland Yard, cuts the detonator cord leads, defusing the bomb.
However, at the Old Bailey the bomb explodes, injuring many and causing extensive damage. Scotland Yard states it had warned the City of London police at 2:01 p.m. to search near the Old Bailey for a green Ford Cortina. The car is not located until 2:35 p.m. and explodes at 2:49 p.m. while police are evacuating the area. Several more people are injured by the car bomb near the Ministry of Agriculture, which brings the total number injured to over two hundred. A British man, Frederick Milton (60), dies of a heart attack. Dolours Price writes in her memoir, “There were warnings phoned in but people had stood about, curious to see… If people ignored the warnings and stood around gawking, they were stupid. The numbers of injured came about through curiosity and stupidity.” The ASU is caught trying to leave the country at Heathrow Airport prior to the explosions, as the police had been forewarned about the bombings and are checking all passengers to Belfast and Dublin. All ten give false names that do not match their documents and they are detained. The IRA Volunteer who gave a warning about the bombs an hour before they exploded is the only one not captured.
The IRA volunteers have to be tried at Winchester Crown court in Winchester Castle as the Old Bailey is wrecked by the car bomb. The trial takes ten weeks and is set amid extremely strict security. William McLarnon pleads guilty to all charges on the first day of the trial. On November 14, 1973, a jury convicts six men and two women of the bombings. The jury acquits Roisin McNearney in exchange for information and she is given a new identity. As her verdict is handed down, the other defendants begin to hum the “Dead March” from Saul, and one throws a coin at her, shouting, “Take your blood money with you” as she leaves the dock in tears. Six of the nine people convicted admit to Provisional IRA membership.
The judge sentences the eight to life imprisonment for the bombings and 20 years for conspiracy, while William McLarnon, whose family was forced out of their home in August 1969, is sentenced to 15 years. When his sentence is read he shouts, “Up The Provisional IRA.” As the eight are led to the cells below the court, several give raised fist salutes to relatives and friends in the public gallery. The Price sisters immediately go on hunger strike, soon followed by Feeney and Kelly, for the right not to do prison work and to be repatriated to a jail in Ireland. The bombers on hunger strike are eventually moved to jails in Ireland as part of the 1975 IRA truce agreed with the British. In 1983, Kelly escapes from Maze Prison and becomes part of an IRA ASU in the Netherlands. He is recaptured three years later by the Dutch authorities and extradited.
One of the Old Bailey bombers, Marian Price, explains the IRA’s reasoning for bombing England. “It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s Irish people dying.” So if the armed struggle was to succeed then it was necessary to “bring it to the heart of the British Establishment.” Hence symbolic targets such as the Old Bailey “were carefully chosen.”
From 1985 onwards, the IRA in East Tyrone had been at the forefront of a campaign against British state police and army facilities and their personnel. In 1987, an East Tyrone IRA unit was ambushed with eight of its members being killed by the SAS while they were making an attack on a police station in Loughgall, County Armagh. This was the IRA’s greatest loss of life in a single incident during The Troubles. Despite these losses, the IRA’s campaign continued, with it attacking nearly 100 police and military facilities over the next five years, wrecking thirty three and damaging the remainder to varying degrees. The SAS ambush has no noticeable long-term effect on the level of IRA activity in East Tyrone. In the two years before the Loughgall ambush, the IRA killed seven people in East Tyrone and North Armagh, and eleven in the two years following the ambush.
Three other IRA members – Gerard Harte, Martin Harte and Brian Mullin – had been ambushed and killed by the SAS as they tried to kill an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier near Carrickmore, County Tyrone. British intelligence identified them as the perpetrators of the Ballygawley bus bombing, which killed eight British soldiers. After that bombing, all troops going on leave or returning from leave were ferried in and out of East Tyrone by helicopter. Another high-profile attack of the East Tyrone Brigade was carried out on January 11, 1990, near Augher, where a Gazelle helicopter was shot down.
On June 3, 1991, three IRA men, Lawrence McNally, Michael “Pete” Ryan and Tony Doris, were killed at the town of Coagh, when a stolen car they were driving in on their way to kill an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment soldier was ambushed by the Special Air Service. Ryan was the same man who, according to Irish journalist and author Ed Moloney, had led an attack on Derryard checkpoint on the orders of IRA Army Council member Thomas “Slab” Murphy two years earlier.
The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade lost 53 members killed by the British Forces during the Troubles – the highest of any “Brigade areaz.” Of these, 28 were killed between 1987 and 1992.
At 10.30 p.m. on the night of February 16, 1992, a stolen car and lorry carrying multiple IRA attackers drives into the centre of the village of Coalisland and, pulling up at its fortified Royal Ulster Constabulary security base, fires 30 rounds of armour-piercing tracer ammunition into it at close range from a Soviet Union made DShK heavy machine-gun that they had mounted on the back of the lorry. The heavy machine gun is fired by IRA member Kevin O’Donnell, the rest of the unit being armed with Soviet-made AKMassault rifles. The IRA attackers then drive off at speed up Annagher hill, without any apparent pursuit from the security forces. While making their escape they drive past the home of Tony Doris, an IRA man who had been killed by the British Army the previous year, where they stop to fire into the air, shouting, “Up the ‘RA, that’s for Tony Doris!” Witnesses also report the IRA men waving Irish Tricolours from the back of the lorry. After this they drive on at speed to the car park of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in the village of Clonoe, two miles away from Coalisland police station, arriving at 10.45 p.m., where getaway cars are waiting.
Immediately on arrival, the IRA attackers are in the process of preparing to abandon the attack vehicles and dismounting the DShK to take with them when they are assailed by a British Army detachment that had been lying in wait for them in the car park’s perimeter, primarily composed of soldiers from the Special Air Service, who engage them with sustained automatic fire. Patrick Vincent, age 20, the driver of the stolen lorry, is shot dead with five bullets while still in its cab. Peter Clancy, age 19, and Kevin O’Donnell, age 21) are killed while dismounting the DShK on the back of the lorry. Sean O’Farrell, age 23, is pursued on foot across the church grounds over a distance of 100 yards before being shot dead with five bullets while trying to climb over a fence. Two other IRA men, one of them being Aidan McKeever, who are found sitting in a car in the car park with the intention of acting as getaway drivers, surrender after being wounded and are taken prisoner. The roof of the church is accidentally set on fire after a stray round hit a fuel storage tank. One British soldier is wounded during the confrontation. An IRA statement reports that another active service unit made up of at least four volunteers taking part in the operation at Coalisland “escaped unharmed” under heavy fire in other vehicles after splitting up into two teams.
Several witnesses to the ambush later claim that some of the IRA men tried to surrender to the British Army engaging unit during the ambush but were summarily executed. Justice Seamus Treacy of Northern Ireland’s High Court awards McKeever, the IRA getaway driver, £75,000 in damages in 2011. It is unclear whether or not this decision is appealed, or whether the damages are ever paid.
A local IRA source points out areas of incompetence in the attack by the IRA unit involved that leads to its destruction:
The use of a long-range weapon for a short-range shooting. The DShK can be used up to 2,000 metres from the target, and its armour-piercing capabilities at 1,500 metres are still considerable.
The use of tracer rounds is ill-judged as they easily reveal the firing location of the gun if it is not being fired from a well-hidden position.
The escape route is chosen at random, with the machine-gun in full sight and the support vehicle flashing its hazard lights.
The gathering of so many men at the same place after such an attack is another factor in the failure to escape for most of the attacking force.
During the funeral services for O’Donnell and O’Farrell in Coalisland, the parish priest criticises the security forces for what happened at Clonoe church, which had resulted in the deaths of the four IRA men. The priest, Fr. MacLarnon, then appeals to the IRA and Sinn Féin to replace “the politics of confrontation with the politics of cooperation.” While Francie Molloy, a local Sinn Féin councillor, walks out of the church in protest, leading Sinn Féin politicians Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness remain in their seats. There are hundreds of Royal Ulster Constabulary police officers outside the church during the funeral, the RUC having changed its policy after the Milltown Cemetery attack. This show of force is criticised by Sinn Féin.
This is the last occasion that IRA members are killed in a series of ambushes by the British Army, spearheaded by the Special Air Service, in Northern Ireland. Growing tension between locals and the British military foot-patrols lead to street confrontations with soldiers from the Parachute Regiment three months later.
(Pictured: The ambush scene at Clonoe, County Tyrone, where four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in February 1992)
McDonald takes the helm with a sweeping speech that touches on everything from abortion to Brexit and promises a united Ireland “in our time.”
McDonald, 48, is the first woman to lead the party, and the first Sinn Féin leader with no direct connection to Ireland’s period of violence known as the Troubles. “We must only agree that the past is never again repeated,” she says. “On other things, we can agree to disagree. The poet Maya Angelou put it well: ‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’”
Adams, who announced in November 2017 he was stepping down after almost 35 years, was the key figure in the peace process that saw the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the formation of a power sharing government between Northern Ireland’s pro-British and republican factions. But many believe Sinn Féin’s popularity among voters has been hindered by the presence of leaders linked to the Troubles, which killed over 3,600 people.
McDonald immediately puts her own stamp on the future, trying to infuse new energy into the movement that has lawmakers on both sides of the Irish border. But she also focuses on Sinn Féin’s founding principle: a united Ireland. “We are the generation of republicans who will see the rising of the moon,” she says. “Sinn Féin in government, both North and South. Irish unity in our time.”
McDonald also lays out her positions on the key issues of the day.
On the United Kingdom’s upcoming departure from the European Union, or Brexit, she says Sinn Féin will not accept any deal that reinstates border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Brexit represents a threat to the prosperity of Ireland as a whole.
McDonald also says the party will campaign for women’s right to an abortion in Ireland’s upcoming referendum on the issue and says she is committed to reaching an agreement that will restore Northern Ireland’s power sharing government on the basis of “respect and integrity for all.”
Northern Ireland’s last government collapsed more than a year earlier amid a corruption scandal.
(From: “Mary Lou McDonald takes over as Sinn Féin party leader” by Danica Kirka, AP News, apnews.com, February 10, 2018)
Aengus Fanning, Irish journalist and editor of the Sunday Independent from 1984 until his death, dies on January 17, 2012, following a battle with lung cancer. He is also a former editor of farming for the Irish Independent. He is listed at number 31 on a list of “most influential people” in Irish society compiled for Village magazine.
Fanning is born on April 22, 1944, in the family home at Cloonbeg Terrace, Tralee, County Kerry, the fourth child among five sons and one daughter of Arnold (‘Paddy’) Fanning, a teacher, and his wife Clara (née Connell). Originally from Rostrevor, County Down, his mother is born a Presbyterian and converts to Catholicism to marry his father, though neither is religious. His father is a noted organiser of local theatrical productions, having written a one-act play, Vigil, which is staged in the Abbey Theatre in 1929.
In May 1964 Fanning is hired as a reporter by his uncle, James Fanning, the owner of the Midland Tribune in Birr, County Offaly, and pursues an unglamorous beat covering court sittings, local authority meetings and GAA matches. Needing a better salary to start a family, he joins Independent Newspapers (IN) in Dublin as a general reporter in May 1969, and soon after marries Mary O’Brien from Streamstown, County Offaly. They settle in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, and have three sons.
Fanning covers the Northern Irelandtroubles during 1969–70, before reporting increasingly on farming matters, becoming the IN group’s agricultural correspondent in 1973, as Ireland’s European Economic Community (EEC) accession sparks a farming boom. He is made head of news analysis at the Irish Independent in 1982, improving the op-ed page and using it to advocate more market-driven economic policies.
Fanning is appointed editor of the mid-to-upmarket Sunday Independent in 1984 from. Under his leadership, the newspaper adopts what Irish newspaper historian John Horgan calls a “new emphasis on pungent opinion columns, gossip and fashion” which results in the paper overtaking its main rival, The Sunday Press. For a time, his deputy editor is journalist Anne Harris.
In a 1993 interview with Ivor Kenny in the book Talking to Ourselves, Fanning describes himself as a classical liberal who is opposed to both Ulster loyalist and Provisional Irish Republican Army terrorism. He also expresses a strong advocacy of the free market, arguing that the goal of a good newspaper is to be as commercially successful as possible:
“If three or four papers out of 15 are successful and the others are not, they might say they’re not driven by the market, they have some higher vocation: to serve the public interest or some pompous stuff like that. That’s how they feel good about themselves. Fair enough, if that’s how they want to explain the world. It’s a grand excuse for relative failure… I think we live or die by the market, it will always win through.”
Fanning also defends the controversial Mary Ellen Synon, who calls the Paralympics games “perverse.” One of the more bizarre incidents occurs in 2001 when he is involved in a fisticuffs with a colleague at the newspaper – operations editor Campbell Spray.
Anne Harris, Fanning’s second wife, succeeds him as editor and lasts three years. As well as pioneering changes in the domestic print media’s role, Fanning’s Sunday Independent led Irish society’s turn towards free market hedonism, catching the public mood better than its more conventionally liberal rivals by rendering this cultural transformation in an exuberant, somewhat parodied form, and without regard for lingering post-Catholic inhibitions.
After a 24-year armed campaign, the INLA declares a ceasefire on August 22, 1998. In August 1999, it states that “There is no political or moral argument to justify a resumption of the campaign.” On October 11, 2009, speaking at the graveside of its founder Seamus Costello in Bray, the INLA formally announces an end to its armed campaign, stating the current political framework allows for the pursuit of its goals through peaceful, democratic means and begins decommissioning its weapons.
The IRSP supports a “No First Strike” policy, that is allowing people to see the perceived failure of the Northern Ireland peace process for themselves without military actions.
O’Riordan joins the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and works on the communist newspaper The Irish Workers’ Voice. In 1937, following the urgings of Peadar O’Donnell, several hundred Irishmen, mostly IRA or ex-IRA men, go to fight for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War with the XVth International Brigade. They are motivated in part by enmity towards the 800 or so Blueshirts, led by Eoin O’Duffy who go to Spain to fight on the “nationalist” side in the Irish Brigade. He accompanies a party led by Frank Ryan. In the Republic’s final offensive of July 25, 1938, he carries the flag of Catalonia across the River Ebro. On August 1, he is severely injured by shrapnel on the Ebro front. He is repatriated to Ireland the following month, after the International Brigades are disbanded.
In 1938 O’Riordan is offered an Irish Army commission by the Irish Free State but chooses instead to train IRA units in Cork. As a result of his IRA activities during World War II, or the Emergency as it is known in neutral Ireland, he is interned in the Curragh internment camp from 1939 until 1943 where he is Officer Commanding of the Cork Hut and partakes in Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Gaelic League classes as well as publishing Splannc (Irish for “Spark,” named after Vladimir Lenin‘s newspaper).
In 1944 O’Riordan is founding secretary of the Liam Mellows Branch of the Labour Party and in 1945 is a founding secretary of the Cork Socialist Party, whose other notable members include Derry Kelleher, Kevin Neville and Máire Keohane-Sheehan.
In all O’Riordan runs for election five times, campaigning throughout for the establishment of a socialist republic in Ireland but given Ireland’s Catholic conservatism and fear of communism, he does so without success. He does, however, receive playwright Sean O’Casey‘s endorsement in 1951.
O’Riordan’s participation in the Spanish Civil War is always an important part of his political identity. In 1966 he attends the International Brigades’ Reunion in Berlin and is instrumental in having Frank Ryan’s remains repatriated from Germany to Ireland in 1979.
O’Riordan is a member of the Irish Chile Solidarity Committee and attends the 1st Party Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1984. He also campaigns on behalf of the Birmingham Six and attends their Appeal trial in 1990. He serves as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (1970–83) and as National Chairman of the party (1983–88). He publishes many articles under the auspices of the CPI.
O’Riordan’s last major public outing comes in 2005 at the re-dedication of the memorial outside Dublin’s Liberty Hall to the Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. He and other veterans are received by President of IrelandMary McAleese. He is also presented with Cuba’s Medal of Friendship by the Cuban Consul Teresita Trujillo to Ireland on behalf of Cuban President Fidel Castro.
In 1969, according to Soviet dissident Vasili Mitrokhin, O’Riordan is approached by IRA leaders Cathal Goulding and Seamus Costello with a view to obtaining guns from the Soviet KGB to defend Irish republican areas of Belfast during the communal violence that marks the outbreak of the Troubles. Mitrokhin alleges that O’Riordan then contacts the Kremlin, but the consignment of arms does not reach Ireland until 1972. The operation is known as Operation Splash. The IRA splits in the meantime between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA and it is the latter faction who receives the Soviet arms. Mitrokhin’s allegations are repeated in Boris Yeltsin‘s autobiography.
O’Riordan’s book, Connolly Column – The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936–1939, is published in 1979 and deals with the Irish volunteers of the International Brigade who fought in support of the Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). An updated version of the book is reprinted in 2005 and is launched by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Conaghan at a book launch at SIPTU headquarters, Liberty Hall. The book is the inspiration for Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore‘s famous song “Viva la Quinta Brigada.”
In 1991, O’Riordan’s wife dies at the age of 81 at their home. He continues to live in their family home before moving to Glasnevin in 2000 to be close to his son Manus who lives nearby. He lives there until falling ill in November 2005 and is taken to the Mater Hospital. His health rapidly deteriorates and he quickly develops Alzheimer’s disease. Soon afterwards he is moved to St. Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park where he spends the final few months of his life, before his death at the age of 88 on May 18, 2006.
O’Riordan’s funeral at Glasnevin Crematorium is attended by over a thousand mourners. Following a wake the previous night at Finglas Road, hundreds turn up outside the house of his son Manus and traffic grounds to a halt as family, friends and comrades – many of whom are waving the red flag of the Communist Party of Ireland – escort O’Riordan to Glasnevin Cemetery. A secular ceremony takes place led by Manus O’Riordan, Head of Research at SIPTU, with contributions from O’Riordan’s family, Communist Party general secretary Eugene McCartan and IBMT representative Pauline Frasier.
Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.
The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.
Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.
In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.
The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.
The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.
The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.
Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.
In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.