seamus dubhghaill

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


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Terence O’Neill Becomes Fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Captain_Terence_O%27Neill.jpgTerence O’Neill becomes the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland on March 25, 1963 following the resignation of Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough. He plays a significant role in the first year of the Troubles, trying unsuccessfully to stem growing sectarian violence.

O’Neill is born on September 10, 1914 at 29 Ennismore Gardens, Hyde Park, London, the son of Captain Arthur O’Neill of Shane’s Castle, Randalstown, the first member of parliament (MP) to be killed in action in World War I five months later. He is educated in the English public school system at West Downs SchoolWinchester and Eton College, spending his summer holidays at the family estate in Ulster. He is later commissioned in the British Army, rising to the rank of captain and serving with the Irish Guards in World War II. He is wounded in 1944 and opts to resettle permanently in Northern Ireland.

In 1946, O’Neill is elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland, representing the Unionist stronghold of Bannside. He remains in the parliament at Stormont for almost 25 years. He becomes Northern Ireland’s Minister of Home Affairs in April 1956, Minister of Finance in September 1956 and Prime Minister in March 1963.

As Prime Minister, O’Neill introduces economic reforms to stimulate industrial growth and employment, with mixed results. He also tries narrowing the divide between Protestants and Catholics. He does this with important gestures, like visiting Catholic schools and expressing condolences on the death of Pope John XXIII.

O’Neill also seeks better relations with the Republic of Ireland, and in January 1965 invites Taoiseach Seán Lemass to Belfast. Catholics and moderate Unionists welcome this reconciliation but many conservative Loyalists, like Ian Paisley, condemn it as treachery.

When the civil rights movement erupts in the late 1960s, O’Neill offers a package of reforms and concessions, including changes to the allocation of housing. These proposals, however, anger staunch Unionists and fail to satisfy many Republicans.

In December 1969, O’Neill appears on Northern Ireland television and makes an impassioned plea for unity, warning that “Ulster stands at the crossroads.” His government is reelected in February 1969, though O’Neill himself is almost voted out of his own seat.

With the situation worsening, O’Neill is further embarrassed by Loyalist attempts to sabotage Belfast’s water supply. Fast losing the confidence of his own party, he resigns the prime ministership in April 1969. He remains in the parliament until January 1970.

O’Neill is made Baron O’Neill of the Maine and spends the last decade of his life in Britain’s House of Lords. He dies of cancer on June 12, 1990.


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Birth of Seán Mac Stíofáin, Irish Republican Army Commander

sean-mac-stiofainSeán Mac Stíofáin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander and a founding member of the Provisional IRA and its first chief of staff, is born in Leytonstone, London on February 17, 1928.

Mac Stíofáin is born John Stephenson, the son of Protestant parents. He claims Irish ancestry on his mother’s side although the validity of this is uncertain. He leaves school at sixteen, working as a labourer and converting to Catholicism. He also serves in the Royal Air Force during World War II, working as a storeman. After the war, he becomes involved and obsessed with Irish republicanism. He joins the Irish Republican Army in 1949 and helps organise an IRA unit in London.

In 1953, Stephenson leads a raid that steals rifles and mortars from a cadet school armoury in Essex. He is stopped randomly by police, arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. He serves more than three years behind bars, using this time to learn Irish Gaelic. Released in 1956, he marries an Irish woman, moves to Dublin and changes his name to Seán Mac Stíofáin, the Gaelic form of his birth name.

Mac Stíofáin gradually ascends through the ranks of the IRA, becoming its director of intelligence. The outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 opens up divisions in the IRA over strategy and tactics. While Cathal Goulding and other leaders want to use violence carefully, Mac Stíofáin and his supporters urge open warfare with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

In August 1969, Mac Stíofáin leads a raid on the RUC station at Crossmaglen, in defiance of IRA orders. In December, he and four others form a Provisional Army Council. This splinter group becomes the nucleus of the Provisional IRA.

Mac Stíofáin becomes the Provisional IRA’s first chief of staff. He also oversees its rearming and the escalation of its military campaign in Northern Ireland. In July 1972, he represents the Provisional IRA in secret talks with the British government in London. When these talks collapse he orders an increase in Provisional IRA operations, beginning with the mass bombing of Belfast on July 21, 1972.

Mac Stíofáin remains in charge until November 1972, when a controversial television interview leads to his arrest, imprisonment and removal from the Provisional IRA leadership. He is released the following year but is no longer prominent in the Provisional IRA. He spends the rest of the 1970s working for a Sinn Féin newspaper.

Mac Stíofáin died on May 18, 2001 in Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, County Meath, after a long illness. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Navan. His funeral is attended by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.


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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.)


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Inauguration of Mary McAleese as 8th President of Ireland

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Mary Patricia McAleese (née Leneghan) is inaugurated as the eighth President of Ireland on November 11, 1997. She succeeds Mary Robinson, making her the second female president of Ireland and the first woman in the world to succeed another woman as president. She is the first president to come from Northern Ireland.

Leneghan is born into a Roman Catholic family on June 27, 1951 in Ardoyne, north Belfast. The eldest of nine children, she grows up in Northern Ireland through the violent times that have come to be known as “The Troubles.” She is educated at St. Dominic’s High School, Queen’s University Belfast, from which she graduates in 1973, and Trinity College Dublin. She is called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1974, and remains a member of the Bar Council of Ireland. In 1975, she is appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin.

Leneghan marries Martin McAleese, an accountant and dentist in 1976. They have three children, Emma, born 1982, and twins Justin and SaraMai, born in 1985.

In 1987, McAleese returns to her Alma Mater, Queen’s University Belfast, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she becomes the first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the university.

McAleese defeats former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds in an internal party election in 1997, held to determine the Fianna Fáil nomination for the Irish presidency. Her opponents in the 1997 presidential election are Mary Banotti of Fine Gael, Adi Roche of the Labour Party and two Independents, Dana Rosemary Scallon and Derek Nally.

McAleese wins the presidency with 45.2% of first preference votes. In the second and final count against Banotti, McAleese wins 55.6% of preferences. Within weeks of her November 1997 inauguration she makes her first official overseas trip to Lebanon.

McAleese describes the theme of her presidency as “building bridges.” The first individual born in Northern Ireland to become President of Ireland, McAleese is a regular visitor to Northern Ireland throughout her presidency, where she is on the whole warmly welcomed by both communities, confounding critics who had believed she would be a divisive figure. While on an official visit to the United States in 1998, Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Francis Law tells her he is “sorry for Catholic Ireland to have you as President.” She tells the cardinal that she is the “President of Ireland and not just of Catholic Ireland.”

McAleese’s initial seven-year term of office ends in November 2004, but she stands for a second term in the 2004 presidential election. She is re-elected on October 1, 2004, being the only validly-nominated candidate.

McAleese is an experienced broadcaster, having worked as a current affairs journalist and presenter in radio and television with Radio Telefís Éireann. She has a longstanding interest in many issues concerned with justice, equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation.


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Hume & Trimble Receive 1998 Nobel Peace Prize

hume-trimble-noble-prize-1998The 1998 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on October 16, 1998 to John Hume and David Trimble, leaders of the largest Roman Catholic and Protestant political parties in Northern Ireland, for their efforts to bring peace to the long-polarized British province. The two men share the prize money of $960,000.

Hume, 61, the Catholic head of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, is cited by the Nobel Committee in Oslo for having been the “clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland’s political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution.”

Trimble, 54, the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, is honored for having demonstrated “great political courage when, at a critical stage in the process, he advocated solutions which led to the peace agreement.”

The leader of a third prominent party, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is not named as a prize winner. While it does not honor Adams, the committee says it wishes to “emphasize the importance of the positive contributions to the peace process made by other Northern Irish leaders.” Nor are several other figures mentioned as possibilities, including former Senator George Mitchell, who led the talks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, United States President Bill Clinton, and Mo Mowlam, the British Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The accord, signed on April 10 and known as the Good Friday Agreement, gives the 1.7 million residents of Northern Ireland a respite from the sectarian violence that has claimed more than 3,200 lives in the previous 30 years. It also opens the possibility of lasting stability for the first time since the establishment of Northern Ireland with partition from Ireland in 1921.

Forging concessions from fiercely antagonistic populations, the accord seeks to balance the Protestant majority’s wish to remain part of Britain with Catholic desires to strengthen ties to the Republic of Ireland to the south. The committee, seeing in Northern Ireland’s two warring groups a dispute with notable similarities to violent tribal confrontations elsewhere, expresses the hope that the accord will serve “to inspire peaceful solutions to other religious, ethnic and national conflicts around the world.”

Adams, in New York on a fund-raising trip for Sinn Féin, welcomes the Oslo announcement and particularly praises Hume, who is widely seen as having helped persuade the IRA to adopt a cease-fire and having eased Sinn Féin’s entry into the talks. “Indeed, there would be no peace process but for his courage and vision,” Adams says, adding, “No one deserves this accolade more.” He also wishes Trimble well and says the prize imposes on everyone the responsibility to “push ahead through the speedy implementation of the agreement.”

In the unforgiving politics of Northern Ireland, the Unionist dissidents and members of other Protestant parties who do not join in the peace talks attack both Trimble and Hume. Ian Paisley Jr., son of the head of the Democratic Unionist Party, calls the Nobel Committee’s decision a “farce” and says of the winners, “These people have not delivered peace, and they are not peacemakers.”

Trimble says he is “slightly uncomfortable” with the award because so many other people have been involved beside him in reaching the settlement and much remains to be done to put it in place. “We know that while we have the makings of peace, it is not wholly secure yet,” he tells the BBC from Denver, where he is on an 11-city North American tour to spur foreign investment in Ulster. “I hope it does not turn out to be premature.”

Hume receives word of the prize at his home in Londonderry and terms it “an expression of the total endorsement of the work of very many people.” He adds, “This isn’t just an award to David Trimble and myself. It is an award to all the people in Northern Ireland.”

In Washington, D.C., President Clinton says “how very pleased” he is, “personally and as President, that the Nobel Prize Committee has rewarded the courage and the people of Northern Ireland by giving the Nobel Peace Prize to John Hume and to David Trimble.” He adds “a special word of thanks” to George Mitchell, who issues a statement praising Hume and Trimble as “fully deserving of this honor.”

The peace talks began in the summer of 1996. They eventually draw the participation of 8 of the 10 Northern Irish parties, with many of the men around the table convicted murderers and bombers who had emerged from prison with a commitment to peaceful resolution to what for nearly a century have been referred to wearily as “the Troubles.” The paramilitary groups had also made the tactical decision that violence would not secure their goals, a shared conviction that gives these talks a chance for success that past fitful attempts at settlement lacked.

The peace talks move in a desultory manner until Blair takes office in May 1997 and highlights the cause of peace in Northern Ireland as an early commitment. At his and Ahern’s urging, the IRA declares a cease-fire in July, and by September Sinn Féin is permitted to join the talks.

Blair also gives Trimble and Adams unprecedented access to 10 Downing Street, and the Ulster Protestants report that they obtained from Clinton the most sympathetic hearing they ever had from an American President, allaying their longtime suspicions of Washington’s bias in favor of the Catholic minority.

(From: “2 Ulster Peacemakers Win the Nobel Prize,” The New York Times, Warren Hoge, October 17, 1998)


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Irish Celtic Rock Band Horslips Disbands

horslipsHorslips, the Irish Celtic rock band regarded as the “founding fathers of Celtic rock,” disbands on October 12, 1980. The name originates from a spoonerism on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse which becomes “The Four Poxmen of The Horslypse.”

Barry Devlin, Eamon Carr and Charles O’Connor meet when they work at the Ark advertising company in Dublin. They are cajoled into pretending to be a band for a Harp Lager commercial but need a keyboard player. Devlin says he knows a Jim Lockhart who would fit the bill. The four enjoy the act so much that they decide to try being proper rock performers. They join guitarist Declan Sinnott, a colleague of Eamon Carr’s from Tara Telephone and, briefly, Gene Mulvaney to form Horslips (originally Horslypse) in 1970.

The band goes professional on St. Patrick’s Day 1972 having shed Mulvaney and released a single, “Johnny’s Wedding”, on their own record label, Oats. Declan Sinnott leaves soon after, primarily due to his annoyance at the group appearing in an advert for Mirinda orange drink. He is replaced by Gus Guest briefly, then Johnny Fean.

Following the release of six studio albums between 1972 and 1977, the ever ambitious band tries to make it in the United States. In 1977 they produce Aliens, about the experience of the Irish in nineteenth-century America, which includes very little folk music. The Man Who Built America (1978), produced by Steve Katz of Blood, Sweat & Tears and The Blues Project fame, concerns Irish emigration to the United States and is commercially their most successful album. The heavier sound does bring some acceptance in America but they lose their folk base and their freshness. Short Stories, Tall Tales (1979) is their last studio album and is panned by the record company and critics alike.

At a time when The Troubles are at its peak, Horslips plays gigs in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland without prejudice and are accepted everywhere. Their last recordings are from live performances at the Whitla Hall at Queen’s University Belfast in April and May 1980. A few months later, on October 12, 1980 they play their final gig in the Ulster Hall. They make no public announcement. They simply give an encore, The Rolling Stones‘ song “The Last Time,” and the final act is Charles O’Connor throwing his mangled fiddle into the audience. Ten years after they formed, they disband.

Although Horslips has limited commercial success when the band is playing in the 1970s, there is a revival of interest in their music in the late 1990s and they come to be regarded as one of the defining bands of the Celtic rock genre. There have since been small scale reunions including appearances on The Late Late Show and RTÉ‘s Other Voices. The band reforms for two Irish shows in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast and the 3Arena in Dublin at the end of 2009, and have continued to play shows since then.