seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Seán Doherty, Fianna Fáil Politician

sean-dohertySeán Doherty, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann from 1989 to 1992 and Minister for Justice from March 1982 to December 1982, is born on June 29, 1944 in Cootehall near Boyle, County Roscommon. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1977 to 1989 and 1992 to 2002 and is a Senator for the Administrative Panel from 1989 to 1992.

Doherty is educated at national level in County Leitrim and then at University College Dublin and King’s Inns. In 1965, he becomes a member of the Garda Síochána and serves as a detective in Sligo before joining the Special Detective Unit in Dublin in the early 1970s. In 1973, he takes a seat on the Roscommon County Council, which had been vacated after the death of his father.

After serving for four years on the Roscommon County Council, Doherty is elected as a Fianna Fáil TD for the Roscommon–Leitrim constituency at the 1977 general election.

In 1979, Doherty is a key member of the so-called “gang of five” which supports Charles Haughey‘s attempt to take over the leadership of the party. The other members are Albert Reynolds, Mark Killilea Jnr, Tom McEllistrim and Jackie Fahey. Haughey is successful in the Fianna Fáil leadership election and Doherty is rewarded by being appointed Minister of State at the Department of Justice from 1979 to 1981. In the short-lived 1982 Fianna Fáil government he enters the Cabinet as Minister for Justice. In this post he becomes involved in a series of controversies.

Doherty’s brother-in-law, Garda Thomas Nangle, is charged with assaulting James McGovern, a native of County Fermanagh, in a public house in December 1981. On September 27, 1982, hours before the case is due to be heard in District Court in the small village of Dowra, County Cavan, McGovern is arrested by the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) on the basis of entirely false Garda intelligence that he is involved in terrorism. The case against Nangle is dismissed because the principal witness, McGovern, fails to appear in court. The solicitor representing Nangle is Kevin Doherty, Seán Doherty’s brother. This questionable use of Garda/RUC Special Branch liaison, set up under the 1985 Hillsborough Anglo-Irish Agreement, prevents meetings between the Garda commissioner and the RUC chief constable for almost three years.

After Doherty leaves office it is revealed in The Irish Times that he ordered the tapping of three journalists home telephones. The newspaper also discloses that he has been interfering in the workings of the Garda and the administration of justice for both political and personal reasons. He immediately resigns from the party only to rejoin it in 1984.

At the 1989 general election his loses his seat in Dáil Éireann to the independent candidate Tom Foxe. He is also an unsuccessful candidate in the elections on the same day to the European Parliament, but he is later elected instead to the Seanad on the Administrative Panel and becomes the Cathaoirleach (Chairman) of the 19th Seanad.

In January 1992 the phone tapping scandal returns to haunt Fianna Fáil. Doherty announces in a television interview that he had shown transcripts of the conversations to Charles Haughey while Haughey was Taoiseach in 1982 although he had previously denied this. Haughey denies the claim also, but is forced to resign from the government, and then resigns as leader of Fianna Fáil. Doherty then regains his seat at the 1992 general election and holds it until his retirement at the 2002 general election.

Seán Doherty dies at Letterkenny General Hospital of a brain hemorrhage on June 7, 2005 while on a family holiday in County Donegal.


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The Headford Ambush

headford-ambushThe Headford Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 21, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The battle lasts almost an hour and fourteen people are killed – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

The guerrilla war in County Kerry escalates rapidly in the spring of 1921. The county is occupied by the British Army, Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans paramilitary police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). For the previous several months they have been burning suspected Republicans’ property and shooting suspected IRA sympathisers. By early 1921, they have begun rounding up male inhabitants of nearby towns and villages and searching for IRA suspects.

On January 23, in response to the IRA’s assassination of RIC District Inspector Sullivan, 1,000 soldiers and armed police surround Ballymacelligott, arrest 240 men and march them to Tralee for questioning. British forces, especially the Auxiliaries, also carry out a number of reprisal shootings of local civilians. The IRA sets up full-time guerrilla units, known as flying columns, to avoid arrest and to assemble units capable of taking on British patrols. IRA GHQ in Dublin also sends an organizer, Andy Cooney, to Kerry to oversee the setting up of flying columns. On March 2, under Cooney’s direction, the 2nd Kerry Brigade sets up its own flying column under Dan Allman and Tom McEllistrim. On March 5, McEllistrim leads 20 volunteers from the column to a successful ambush at Clonbanin, in which they co-operate with Cork IRA units, killing four British soldiers including Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. Buoyed by their success in Cork, the 2nd Kerry Brigade tries on a number of occasions to ambush British forces in Kerry itself.

On March 21, an IRA party of the 2nd Kerry Brigade is billeted about four miles from the Headford railway junction when they hear that British troops are returning by train from Kenmare to Tralee. As the train does not go directly to Tralee, the British have to change trains at Headford, making them vulnerable to ambush. Allman, commanding 30 volunteers, reaches the junction only 12 minutes before the train, which is carrying 30 soldiers of the 1st Royal Fusiliers. The railway staff just has time to flee before the train pulls into the platform, where its passengers have to change trains for Tralee. Alongside the soldiers, the train is packed with cattle and pig farmers on their way back from the market in Kenmare. Most of the civilians have already got off when the British soldiers begin to disembark. Allman himself tries to disarm a Fusilier but shoots him when he resists. This is the signal for the IRA to open fire on the British troops.

One of the first British casualties is Lieutenant CE Adams DCM, who is shot dead when he appears at the carriage door, as are several other soldiers who are standing in front of the engine. The surviving British troops open fire from the train while those who have got off scramble underneath it for cover. In the ensuing close-quarter firefight, conducted at a range of just 20 yards, three civilians and two IRA volunteers, including Allman, are killed. Two-thirds of the British force is estimated to have been killed or wounded. Most of those killed are hit in the initial firing. Afterwards, the IRA gunmen have no direct field of fire into the troops who are hidden under the train.

MacEllistrim calls on the survivors to surrender and when they refuse, the IRA begins to move in to finish off those who keep shooting by throwing hand grenades under the train. Just as they are doing so, another train pulls into the junction carrying another party of British troops. The IRA column has used most of its ammunition and is forced to retreat, escaping toward the hills in the south.

(Pictured: British soldiers searching a train in County Kerry, 1921)