seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Gough Barracks Raid

gough-barracksThe Irish Republican Army (IRA) makes an audacious raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on June 12, 1954. It marks the re-awakening of IRA activity in Northern Ireland and a re-arming that leads eventually to the 1956-1962 border campaign.

In January 1954, Leo McCormick, the Training Officer for the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, is on a visit to Armagh. As he passes Gough Barracks, the home of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, he notices that the guard on duty outside the barracks is armed with a Sten gun without a magazine. He concludes rightly that Gough Barracks is in effect being guarded by an unarmed guard.

On his return to Dublin, McCormick informs the Dublin Brigade of his chance observation. Alas, he does not see the end result of his information, as he is arrested soon after and receives four years for possession of a document.

By April, the General Head Quarters decides that they will raid Gough Barracks for arms. But first, they need more information. Eamonn Boyce, the Intelligence Officer of the Dublin Brigade, is asked to travel to Armagh and check out the barracks. He makes several trips to Armagh and soon has a detailed account of life outside the barracks. But GHQ wants more inside details. Charlie Murphy gets over this problem by asking Seán Garland to go to Armagh and enlist in the British Army. Not long after Garland’s enlistment, a stream of maps, documents, time schedules and photographs flow into GHQ for processing.

Finally, a last intelligence coup is arranged. Using Garland’s information, the IRA gets inside the barracks to have a look around. On a Saturday night in May, Boyce and Murphy slip into the barracks as “guests” at a weekly dance. With them they bring a girl, Mae Smith, who is later to become chairperson of Sinn Féin. After a few dances, Garland takes Mae outside for what his fellow soldiers assume is an hour of light passion but is in fact a detailed tour of the entire barracks.

The operation is launched on June 12, 1954, from a farm just outside Dundalk. A large red cattle truck is commandeered at the last moment and nineteen IRA men, about half of the Dublin Brigade, climb in and are informed as to what their target is. It is almost 3:00 on a busy Saturday afternoon when the cattle truck and a car drive into Armagh.

Paddy Ford gets out of the car and walks over to the sentry and asks him about enlisting in the British Army. While the sentry is dissuading Ford of what he considers a foolish course of action, he looks down into the barrel of a .45 caliber Colt revolver in the perspective recruit’s hand. As the sentry is held at gunpoint, three IRA men pass him into the guardhouse. The sentry is then brought in after them. While the sentry is being tied up, a new IRA sentry, complete with British uniform, white webbing belt, regimental cap and sten gun with magazine steps out to stand guard over Gough Barracks.

As soon as the IRA sentry appears, the cattle truck drives through the gate and comes to a halt outside the arsenal door. After fumbling through 200 keys, Eamonn Boyce finds the right one and opens the armoury. Murphy races up the stairs and in the first room two British soldiers demand to know what a civilian wants inside the barracks. Murphy has some trouble getting his revolver out of his pocket and is further embarrassed when the two soldiers refuse to put up their hands. However, another IRA man arrives carrying a Thompson submachine gun, which quickly convinces them to do as they are told. Posting a Bren gun at the armoury window to command the barracks square, the IRA begins stripping the armoury.

During the course of the raid a woman, noticing something is wrong, stops a British officer in the street and urges him into the barracks to investigate. Once inside the gate the officer is taken under control and, protesting that he is an officer and a gentleman, refuses to be tied until a gun is put to his head.

An NCO then notices what is happening, gets into a lorry and drives for the gate, intending to block the exit. An IRA man stands at the gate brandishing a revolver and shouts “Back.” He forces the NCO to reverse the lorry. The NCO is placed under arrest in the guard room. By the end of the raid, the IRA has tied up 19 British soldiers and one civilian.

In less than 20 minutes the job is done. The truck carrying 340 rifles, 50 Sten guns, 12 Bren guns, and a number of small arms drives out of the barrack gates and rumbles through Armagh in the direction of the border. Eamonn Boyce and the group in the car follow after locking every gate and door for which they can find keys. At 3:25 PM the first alarm in the barracks is given but it is not until 5:00 that the general alarm is given and by that time the big red truck is long gone.

The raid for arms in Gough Barracks gains international attention. The IRA, which has been described by some as moribund since the ’40s campaign, has once more risen from its slumber to strike a blow against the forces of occupation. The raid awakes a calling in many to join the IRA and take part in the Border Campaign, which keeps alive the flame of republicanism through to the present time.

(From: “The Gough Barracks raid – Remembering the Past” by Shane Mac Thomáis, anphoblacht.com, June 9, 2005)


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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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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.”


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Four Courts Bombardment, Civil War Begins

four-courts-bombingOn June 28, 1922 the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State bombards the Four Courts in Dublin, which anti-Treaty forces had taken by force, and the Irish Civil War begins.

On April 14, 1922 a column of 200 men led by Rory O’Connor occupies the Four Courts, hoping to provoke an armed confrontation with British forces which are in the process of evacuating from Ireland following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty the previous winter which had split the Irish Republican Army (IRA) into two opposing factions. The occupation is a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the Provisional government who seeks a smooth transition to a viable independent Irish state in the 26 counties of southern Ireland.

On June 22 Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson is gunned down by two IRA assassins and on June 26, the Free State Army Deputy Chief of Staff General J.J. O’Connell is kidnapped by the Four Courts IRA garrison. Michael Collins has also shipped guns issued by the British to arm the new Irish Army to Northern IRA units to defend themselves from Ulster loyalists.

Collins, no longer able to resist British pressure, receives two 18-pounder artillery guns and a stock of 200 artillery shells from the store at Kilmainham. The guns are set up at Parliament Street and Winetavern Street and Bridgefoot Street and Usher’s Quay across the River Liffey from the facade of the heavily fortified Four Courts where the Anti-Treaty IRA has barricaded themselves. Free State troops establish a cordon around the building, closing streets with riflemen and machine gunners occupying windows and rooftops. Among the IRA leaders inside are Chief-of-Staff Joe McKelvey, Director of Engineering Rory O’Connor, Quarter Master General Liam Mellows, commander of the IRA’s 2nd Southern Division Ernie O’Malley, Commandant Paddy O’Brien, Commandant Tom Barry and many others. The IRA mostly drawn from 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 1st Dublin Brigade are armed with rifles, five Thompson submachine guns and two Lewis machine guns as well as an armoured car nicknamed “The Mutineer.”

The bombardment begins on June 28 as artillery guns supervised by Emmet Dalton begin blasting the Four Courts at point blank range every fifteen minutes from across the River Liffey. The complex of buildings also comes under a hail of rifle and machine gun fire. However the strong stone walls of the 18th century Four Courts hold out. A number of the shells overshoot their target and land near General McCready’s British Army headquarters. IRA leader Ernie O’Malley later claims to have witnessed a gun crew fighting a duel with a sniper in the dome of the courts. The failures of the first day lead the impatient British to offer two more 18-pounders as well as heavy howitzers and aircraft in order to destroy the Four Courts once an for all.

On the 29th, Free State troops storm the eastern wing of the Four Courts, suffering three fatalities, 14 wounded and taking 33 prisoners. The republicans’ armored car, “The Mutineer,” is disabled and abandoned by its crew. Early the following day Paddy O’Brien is injured by shrapnel and Ernie O’Malley takes over military command in the Four Courts. By this time the shelling has caused the Four Courts to catch fire. In addition, orders arrive from Oscar Traynor, the anti-treaty IRA commander in Dublin, for the Four Courts garrison to surrender, as he is unable to reach their position to help them. At 3:30 PM on June 30, O’Malley surrenders the Four Courts to Brig. Gen. Paddy Daly of the Free State’s Dublin Guard unit.


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Oscar Traynor Leads Anti-Treaty IRA Occupation of O’Connell Street

On June 29, 1922 during the Irish Civil War, Oscar Traynor leads Anti-Treaty members of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) 1st Dublin Brigade to occupy O’Connell Street in order to help the Four Courts garrison. His men also take up positions in York Street, South Circular Road, Capel Street, Parnell Square, and Dolphin’s Barn.

Traynor is an Irish politician and republican born into a strongly nationalist family in Dublin on March 21, 1886. He serves in a number of cabinet positions, most notably as the country’s longest-serving Minister for Defence. He is educated by the Christian Brothers in Dublin. In 1899 he is apprenticed to John Long, a famous wood-carver. As a young man he is a noted footballer and tours Europe as a goalkeeper with Belfast Celtic F.C. whom he plays with from 1910 to 1912.

Traynor joins the Irish Volunteers and takes part in the Easter Rising in 1916, following which he is interned in Wales. During the Irish War of Independence he is brigadier of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. He leads the attack on The Custom House in 1921 and an ambush on the West Kent Regiment at Claude Road, Drumcondra on June 16, 1921 when the Thompson submachine gun is fired for the first time in action. When the Irish Civil War breaks out in June 1922, Traynor takes the republican side.

The Dublin Brigade is split however, with many of its members following Michael Collins in taking the pro-Treaty side. On June 29, 1922, Traynor and his supporters occupy O’Connell Street in an attempt to help the republicans who have occupied the Four Courts but are under attack by Free State forces. Traynor and his men hold out for a week of street fighting before making their escape. He organises guerilla activity in south Dublin and County Wicklow, before being captured by Free State troops in September. He is then imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

On March 11, 1925 Traynor is elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North constituency, though he does not take his seat due to the abstentionist policy of Sinn Féin. He is re-elected as one of eight members for Dublin North in the June 1927 general election but just one of six Sinn Féin TDs. Once again he does not take his seat. He does not contest the second general election called that year but declares his support for Fianna Fáil. He stands again in the 1932 general election and is elected as a Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin North.

In 1936 Traynor is first appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. In September 1939 he is appointed Minister for Defence and holds the portfolio until February 1948. In 1948 he becomes President of the Football Association of Ireland, a position he holds until his death. He serves as Minister for Defence in several Fianna Fáil governments and as Minister for Justice, where he is undermined by his junior minister, and later Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, before he retires in 1961.

Oscar Traynor dies on December 15, 1963, in Dublin at the age of seventy-seven. He has a road named in his memory on the Coolock to Santry stretch in North Dublin.

(Pictured: Oscar Traynor in Dublin in July 1922)