seamus dubhghaill

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


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The 1979 Bessbrook Bombing

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coalisland.jpgThe Bessbrook bombing takes place on the April 17, 1979 when four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers are killed when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) explodes an estimated 1,000 pound roadside van bomb at Bessbrook, County Armagh.

The bombing occurs during a period of heightened IRA activity. The previous two years are some of the less active and less violent years during the Troubles. The British policy of criminalization seems to be working but the IRA is gearing up for a new offensive. In 1976, 295 people are killed compared with 111 in 1977 and 80 in 1978 but in 1979 the number increases to 120 with 76 being British security force members compared to just 34 in 1978. The entire IRA “battalion structure” has been reconstructed using more smaller, tight knit cells making the IRA more secretive, harder to infiltrate and makes them much more effective at carrying out larger operations. The only brigade area which does not go under this reconstruction is the South Armagh Brigade which is viewed by the IRA Army Council as an independent Republic. In fact, by the mid-1970s South Armagh has become so dangerous for the British security forces, who are snipped at and have bombs thrown at them whenever they enter the area on foot, they have to be airlifted into the area and ground patrols are stopped altogether effectively giving up the ground to the South Armagh PIRA.

While the four Protestant members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are on an evening patrol, they are all killed when a Provisional IRA unit detonates a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a parked van. The IRA unit detonates the well hidden bomb at the exact second the RUC mobile patrol is passing giving the officers no chance of survival. The dead RUC men are, Paul Gray (25), Robert Lockhart (44), Richard Baird (28) and Noel Webb (30). The bomb is estimated at 1,000 lbs. and is believed to be the largest bomb used by the IRA up to that date.

In January 1981, Patrick Joseph Traynor (27) from Crossmaglen is found guilty of the four murders and a range of other charges. He is jailed for life on each of the four murder charges and is sentenced to 12 years for the related crimes.

The IRA continues to intensify their campaign. On August 29, 1979 the IRA carries out two separate attacks in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that shock the world and give huge media coverage to their campaign. The first is the killing of Lord Mountbatten and his grandson when the boat they are on off the Sligo coast is blown up by a remote controlled bomb. The second is the Warrenpoint Ambush where the IRA kills 18 British soldiers in a double bomb attack, the highest loss of life for the British Army during the Troubles. The IRA carries out several of these type of large attacks against the British forces throughout the 1980s like the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack which kills four soldiers, the 1988 Lisburn van bombing which kills six soldiers and the Ballygawley bus bombing also carried out in 1988 which kills eight soldiers and injures 28.

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The Baltic Exchange Bombing

IRA Bombing of the Baltic ExchangeThe Baltic Exchange bombing, an attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) on London‘s financial centre, takes place on April 10, 1992, the day after the General Election which re-elects John Major from the Conservative Party as Prime Minister. The one-ton bomb, concealed in a large white truck and consisting of a fertilizer device wrapped with a detonation cord made from 100 lbs. of Semtex, is the biggest detonated on mainland Britain since World War II. The bombing kills three people, injures 91 others, and causes massive damage, destroying the Baltic Exchange building and severely damaging surroundings.

Since the PIRA’s campaign in the early 1970s, many commercial targets are attacked on the mainland which cause economic damage and severe disruption. Since 1988, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party are engaged in private dialogue to create a broad Irish nationalist coalition. British Prime Minister John Major refuses to openly enter into talks with Sinn Féin until the IRA declares a ceasefire. The risk of an IRA attack on London increases due to the lack of progress with political talks, resulting in a warning being circulated to all police forces in Britain highlighting intelligence reports of a possible attack, as it is believed that the IRA has enough personnel, equipment and funds to launch a sustained campaign in England.

On April 10, 1992 at 9:20 PM, a huge bomb is detonated in front of the Baltic Exchange building at 24-28 St. Mary Axe. The façade of the offices is partially destroyed, and the rest of the building is extensively damaged. The bomb also causes heavy damage to surrounding buildings. It causes £800 million worth of damage, £200 million more than the total damage caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred during the Troubles in Northern Ireland up to that point.

The IRA gives a telephone warning twenty minutes before the explosion, saying there is a bomb inside a van outside the London Stock Exchange. This is a half mile away from the actual location by the Baltic Exchange.

The homemade explosive is inside a white Ford Transit van parked in St. Mary Axe. The components are developed in South Armagh, shipped from Ireland, and assembled in England. The attack is planned for months and marks a dangerous advance to the British of the IRA’s explosives manufacturing capabilities. The bomb is described as the most powerful to hit London since the Luftwaffe raids of World War II.

A few hours later another similarly large bomb goes off in Staples Corner in north London, also causing major damage.

The next day, the IRA claims responsibility in a statement from Dublin. It is believed the IRA are trying to send a message to the Conservative Party who won the election, which also sees Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams lose his unused seat in the Westminster Parliament.

Many of the damaged buildings are once again badly damaged by the Bishopsgate bombing the following year. Both incidents contribute to the formation of the “Ring of Steel” in the city to protect it from further terrorism.

The Exchange sells its badly damaged historic building to be redeveloped under the auspices of English Heritage as a Grade II* site. However, the City and English Heritage later allow it to be demolished, seeking instead a new landmark building. The site, together with that of the UK Chamber of Shipping at 30–32 St. Mary Axe, is now home to the skyscraper commissioned by Swiss Re commonly referred to as The Gherkin.

The stained glass of the Baltic Exchange war memorial, which suffered damage in the bomb blast, has been restored and is in the National Maritime Museum in London.

(Pictured: The scene of devastation following the IRA bomb which destroyed London’s Baltic Exchange. Image credit: Gulf News Archives)


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Passage of the Special Powers Act 1922

special-powers-act-1922The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is passed by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Northern Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. Nationalists, the much larger group, are mostly Roman Catholic, identify primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. Unionists, the smaller group, concentrates primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identify primarily as British (although many see themselves as Irish and British), and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enables the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Act is initially current only for one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent.

Despite rhetoric accompanying the Act which asserts that it is for the purpose of restoring public order, its provisions continue to be used for the entire period of the Northern Irish parliament’s existence. Because the Ulster Unionist Party is the only party ever to form a government in this parliament, the Act is used “almost exclusively on the minority population.” Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial.

After the troubles of the early 1920s dies down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s Border Campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of The Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists. Due to inadequate intelligence-gathering, many of the interned republicans are members of the Official Irish Republican Army rather than the recently formed Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which is much more heavily involved in terrorist activity at the time.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the PIRA amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.


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The Bloody Sunday Inquiry

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 75The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, also known as the Saville Inquiry or the Saville Report after its chairman, Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate, is launched on April 3, 1998 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The inquiry follows campaigns for a second inquiry by families of those killed and injured in Derry on Bloody Sunday during the peak of ethno-political violence known as The Troubles. The inquiry is set up to establish a definitive version of the events of Sunday, January 30, 1972, superseding the tribunal set up under John Widgery, Baron Widgery that had reported on April 19, 1972, eleven weeks after the events, and to resolve the accusations of a whitewash that had surrounded it.

The inquiry takes the form of a tribunal established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, and consists of Lord Saville, the former Chief Justice of New Brunswick William L. Hoyt and John L. Toohey, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia.

The judges finish hearing evidence on November 23, 2004, and reconvene once again on December 16 to listen to testimony from another witness, known as Witness X, who had been unavailable earlier.

The report is published on June 15, 2010. That morning thousands of people walk the path that the civil rights marchers had taken on Bloody Sunday before fourteen were killed, holding photos of those who had been shot. The families of the victims receive advance copies of the report inside the Guildhall.

Then British prime minister David Cameron addresses the House of Commons that afternoon where he describes what British soldiers had done as “both unjustified and unjustifiable, it was wrong.” He acknowledges, among other things, that the paratroopers had fired the first shot, had fired on fleeing unarmed civilians, and shot and killed one man who was already wounded. He then apologises on behalf of the British Government by saying he is “deeply sorry.”

(Pictured: Lord Saville and his colleagues visit the Bogside during their first day in the city on April 3, 1998. Credit: Derry Journal)


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Neil Jordan Receives Silver Bear for Best Director

neil-patrick-jordan

Neil Patrick Jordan, director of  The Butcher Boy (1997), is awarded a Silver Bear for Best Director at the 48th Berlin International Film Festival on February 22, 1998.

Jordan is born in County Sligo on February 25, 1950. His first book, Night in Tunisia, wins a Somerset Maugham Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1979. He also wins an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Crying Game (1992).

Jordan is educated at St. Paul’s College, Raheny. Later, Jordan attends University College Dublin, where he studies Irish history and English literature. He is raised a Catholic and is quite religious during the early stages of his life. Regarding his current beliefs, he states that “God is the greatest imaginary being of all time. Along with Einstein‘s General Theory of Relativity, the invention of God is probably the greatest creation of human thought.”

When John Boorman is filming Excalibur in Ireland, he recruits Jordan as a “creative associate.” A year later Boorman is executive producer on Jordan’s first feature, Angel, a tale of a musician caught up in the Troubles, starring Stephen Rea who subsequently appears in almost all of Jordan’s films to date. During the 1980s, he directs films that win him acclaim, including The Company of Wolves and Mona Lisa, both made in England. The Company of Wolves becomes a cult favorite.

As a writer/director, Jordan has a highly idiosyncratic body of work, ranging from mainstream hits like Interview with the Vampire to commercial failures like We’re No Angels to a variety of more personal, low-budget arthouse pictures. He is also the driving force behind the cable TV series The Borgias.

Unconventional sexual relationships are a recurring theme in Jordan’s work, and he often finds a sympathetic side to characters that audiences would traditionally consider deviant or downright horrifying. His film The Miracle, for instance, follows two characters who struggle to resist a strong, incestuous attraction, while The Crying Game makes complicated, likable characters out of an IRA volunteer and a transgender woman. Interview with the Vampire, like the Anne Rice book it is based on, focuses on the intense, intimate interpersonal relationship of two undead men who murder humans nightly, accompanied by an equally lusty vampire woman who is eternally trapped in the body of a little girl. While Lestat (Tom Cruise) is depicted in an attractive but villainous manner, his partner Louis (Brad Pitt) and the child vampire Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) are meant to capture the audience’s sympathy despite their predatory nature.

In addition to the unusual sexuality of Jordan’s films, he frequently returns to the Troubles of Northern Ireland. The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto both concern a transgender character, both concern the Troubles, and both feature frequent Jordan leading man Stephen Rea. The two films, however, are very different, with The Crying Game being a realistic thriller/romance and Breakfast on Pluto a much more episodic, stylized, darkly comic biography. Jordan also frequently tells stories about children or young people, such as The Miracle and The Butcher Boy. While his pictures are most often grounded in reality, he occasionally directs more fantastic or dreamlike films, such as The Company of Wolves, High Spirits, Interview with the Vampire, and In Dreams.

The critical success of Jordan’s early pictures lead him to Hollywood, where he directs High Spirits and We’re No Angels. Both are critical and financial disasters. He later returns home to make the more personal The Crying Game, which is nominated for six Academy Awards. Jordan wins the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film. Its unexpected success leads him back to American studio filmmaking, where he directs Interview with the Vampire. He also directs the crime drama The Brave One starring Jodie Foster.

Jordan also writes and directs the Irish-made film Ondine (2009), starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda-Curuś. He also directs Byzantium, an adaptation of the vampire play of the same name starring Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, and Jonny Lee Miller.

Jordan lives in Dalkey, which is a part of the larger town of Dún Laoghaire.


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Paddington & Victoria Stations Bombings

london-victoria-stationThe Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) explodes two bombs at London mainline stations on February 18, 1991, one at Victoria station and the other at Paddington station, killing one person and injuring 38 others all at Victoria station. It is the IRA’s second major attack in London in February 1991 after the Downing Street mortar attack eleven days earlier which is an attempt to wipe out the British war cabinet and British prime minister John Major. It is also the first IRA attack on civilians since the 1983 Harrods bombing, marking a strategic change in their bombing campaign.

The Paddington bomb, which goes off at 4:20 AM, is much smaller than the second bomb at Victoria and is designed to make sure the security services will take the Victoria bomb seriously and not as a hoax. There are no deaths or injuries at Paddington but the roof is badly damaged.

Some time before 7:00 AM, a caller with an Irish accent says, “We are the Irish Republican Army. Bombs to go off in all mainline stations in 45 minutes.” The Victoria station bomb, which is hidden in a rubbish bin inside the station, goes off at 7:40 AM. Despite a 45-minute warning and the Paddington bomb three hours earlier, the security services are slow to act. The bomb kills one person instantly and injures 38 others from flying glass and other debris. This is the worst attack suffered by civilians in England by the IRA since the 1983 Harrods bombing which killed three policemen, three civilians and injured 50 people. All London’s rail terminals are closed, disrupting the journeys of almost half a million commuters and bringing chaos to London, which is the IRA’s intended goal. There is also a hoax call made to Heathrow Airport, causing the airport’s closure.

That night the Provisional IRA claims responsibility for the bombings but blames the British police for the casualties. A statement from the Provisional IRA GHQ says, “The cynical decision of senior security personnel not to evacuate railway stations named in secondary warnings, even three hours after the warning device had exploded at Paddington in the early hours of this morning was directly responsible for the casualties at Victoria.” The statement goes on, “All future warnings should be acted upon.” The main purpose of the bombings in the overall IRA strategy is to keep pressure up on John Major, his Government and to make sure he acts on the Irish Troubles.

Police defend the decision not to close all stations after receiving warning that bombs had been planted. Commander George Churchill-Coleman, head of Scotland Yard‘s anti-terrorist squad, says that dozens of hoax calls are received every day. “It is very easy with hindsight to be critical.” Churchill-Coleman also says that the bomb was “quite deliberately intended to maim and kill.”

A year later, a French TV crew interviews an IRA Commander who says he speaks on behalf of the IRA’s GHQ Staff. The commander of the unit says of the Victoria station bombing that warnings were given by telephone naming nine railroad stations in London and that a 50-minute warning was given. He goes on to say that the attack was not aimed at hurting anybody but to disrupt the British transport system.

This bombing marks the IRA’s shift to targeting civilian areas following the July 1990 London Stock Exchange bombing. It is also the first IRA attack on the London transport system since 1976. The IRA keeps bombing targets in England for the remainder of the year.

(Pictured: London Victoria Station – The main station building for this terminus, with trains servicing the south and south-eastern destinations, as well as Gatwick. In front is the bus station.)


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Murder of Patrick Finucane, Human Rights Lawyer

patrick-finucanePatrick Finucane, Irish human rights lawyer, is killed on February 12, 1989 by loyalist paramilitaries acting in collusion with the British government intelligence service MI5. His killing is one of the most controversial during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Finucane is born into a Roman Catholic family on the Falls Road, Belfast on March 21, 1949. At the start of the Troubles, his family is forced out of their home. He graduates from Trinity College, Dublin in 1973. He comes to prominence due to successfully challenging the British government in several important human rights cases during the 1980s.

Finucane is shot fourteen times and killed at his home in Fortwilliam Drive, north Belfast, by Ken Barrett and another masked man using a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol and a .38 revolver respectively. The two gunmen knock down the front door with a sledgehammer and enter the kitchen where Finucane has been having a Sunday meal with his family. They immediately open fire and shoot him twice, knocking him to the floor. Then while standing over him, the leading gunman fires twelve bullets into his face at close range. Finucane’s wife Geraldine is slightly wounded in the shooting attack which their three children witness as they hide underneath the table.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) immediately launches an investigation into the killing. The investigation, led by Detective Superintendent Alan Simpson, runs for six weeks and he later states that from the beginning, there had been a noticeable lack of intelligence coming from the other agencies regarding the killing. Finucane’s killing is widely suspected by human rights groups to have been perpetrated in collusion with officers of the RUC and, in 2003, the British Government Stevens Report states that the killing is indeed carried out with the collusion of police in Northern Ireland.

In September 2004, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, and at the time of the murder a paid informant for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ken Barrett, pleads guilty to Finucane’s murder.

The Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA/UFF) claim they killed Finucane because he was a high-ranking officer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Police at his inquest say they have no evidence to support this claim. Finucane had represented republicans in many high-profile cases, but he had also represented loyalists. Several members of his family have republican links, but the family strongly denies Finucane is a member of the IRA. Informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that he attended an IRA finance meeting alongside Finucane and Gerry Adams in Letterkenny in 1980. However both Finucane and Adams have consistently denied being IRA members.

In Finucane’s case, both the RUC and the Stevens Report find that he is not a member of the IRA. Republicans strongly criticise the claims made by O’Callaghan in his book The Informer and subsequent newspaper articles. One Republican source says O’Callaghan “…has been forced to overstate his former importance in the IRA and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans.”

In 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron meets with Finucane’s family and admits the collusion, although no member of the British security services has yet been prosecuted.