The Shankill Butchers, a gang of eleven Ulster loyalists, are sentenced to life imprisonment on February 20, 1979, for 112 offences including nineteen murders. Many of the gang are members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) that is active between 1975 and 1982 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The gang is based in the Shankill area and is responsible for the deaths of at least 23 people, most of whom are killed in sectarian attacks. The gang is notorious for kidnapping, torturing and murdering random or suspected Catholic civilians. Each is beaten ferociously and has their throat hacked with a butcher’s knife. Some are also tortured and attacked with a hatchet. The gang also kills six Ulster Protestants over personal disputes, and two other Protestants mistaken for Catholics.
Most of the Butchers are eventually captured and eleven of them come to trial during 1978 and early 1979. On February 20, 1979, the eleven men are convicted of a total of nineteen murders, and the 42 life sentences handed out are the longest combined prison sentences in United Kingdom legal history.
William Moore pleads guilty to eleven counts of murder and Bobby “Basher” Bates pleads guilty to ten counts. The trial judge, Lord Justice Turlough O’Donnell, says that he does not wish to be cast as “public avenger” but feels obliged to sentence the two to life imprisonment with no chance of release. Gang leader Lenny Murphy and his two chief “lieutenants,” however, escape prosecution.
In summing-up, Lord Justice O’Donnell states that their crimes, “a catalogue of horror”, are “a lasting monument to blind sectarian bigotry.” After the trial, Detective Chief Inspector Jimmy Nesbitt, head of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Murder Squad in Tennent Street Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base and the man charged with tracking down the Butchers, comments, “The big fish got away,” a reference to Murphy (referred to in court as “Mr. X” or the “Master Butcher”) and to Messrs “A” and “B.”
Lenny Murphy is assassinated by a Provisional Irish Republican Army hit squad early in the evening of November 16, 1982, outside the back of his girlfriend’s house in the Glencairn estate. The IRA is likely acting with loyalist paramilitaries who perceive him as a threat.
The first of the Butchers to be released from prison is John Townsley, who had been only fourteen when he became involved with the gang and sixteen when arrested. Bobby Bates is released in October 1996, two years after the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994. He reportedly “found religion” behind bars. He is shot and killed in the upper Shankill area on June 11, 1997, by the son of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) man he had killed in the Windsor Bar. “Mr. B”, John Murphy, dies in a car accident in Belfast in August 1998. William Moore is the final member of the gang to be released from prison in August 1998, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, after over twenty-one years behind bars. He dies on May 17, 2009, from a suspected heart attack at his home.
The investigations by Martin Dillon, author of The Shankill Butchers: A Case Study of Mass Murder (1989 and 1998), suggests that a number of other individuals (whom he is unable to name for legal reasons) escape prosecution for participation in the crimes of the Butchers and that the gang are responsible for a total of at least thirty murders.
The Butchers brought a new level of paramilitary violence to a country already hardened by death and destruction.
On March 6, 1988, Provisional IRA members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three had allegedly been preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but the deaths outrage republicans as the three were unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes. Tensions are high as the security forces flood the neighbourhoods where they had lived, to try to prevent public displays honouring the dead. For years, republicans have complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which have led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) will instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.
Michael Stone is a loyalist, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) who had been involved in several killings and other attacks, and who describes himself as a “freelance loyalist paramilitary.” He learns that there will be little security force presence at the funerals, and plans “to take out the Sinn Féin and IRA leadership at the graveside.” He says his attack is retaliation for the Remembrance Day bombing four months earlier, when eleven Protestants had been killed by an IRA bomb at a Remembrance Sunday ceremony. He claims that he and other UDA members considered planting bombs in the graveyard, but abandon the plan because the bombs might miss the republican leaders.
The funeral service and Requiem Mass go ahead as planned, and the cortege makes its way to Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road. Present are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead. Stone claims that he entered the graveyard through the front gate with the mourners and mingled with the large crowd, although one witness claims to have seen him enter from the M1 motorway with three other people.
As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones. Stone begins jogging toward the motorway, several hundred yards away, chased by dozens of men and youths. He periodically stops to shoot and throw grenades at his pursuers.
Three people are killed while pursuing Stone – Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean (20) and John Murray (26), and IRA member Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (30), also known as Kevin Brady. During the attack, about 60 people are wounded by bullets, grenade shrapnel and fragments of marble and stone from gravestones. Among those wounded is a pregnant mother of four, a 72-year-old grandmother and a ten-year-old boy. Some fellow loyalists say that Stone made the mistake of throwing his grenades too soon. The death toll would likely have been much higher had the grenades exploded in mid-air, “raining lethal shrapnel over a wide area.”
A white van that had been parked on the hard shoulder of the motorway suddenly drives off as Stone flees from the angry crowd. There is speculation that the van is part of the attack, but the RUC says it was part of a police patrol, and that the officers sped off because they feared for their lives. Stone says he had arranged for a getaway car, driven by a UDA member, to pick him up on the hard shoulder of the motorway, but the driver allegedly “panicked and left.” By the time he reaches the motorway, he has seemingly run out of ammunition. He runs out onto the road and tries to stop cars, but is caught by the crowd, beaten, and bundled into a hijacked vehicle. Armed RUC officers in Land Rovers quickly arrive, “almost certainly saving his life.” They arrest him and take him to Musgrave Park Hospital for treatment of his injuries. The whole event is recorded by television news cameras.
That evening, angry youths in republican districts burn hijacked vehicles and attack the RUC. Immediately after the attack, the two main loyalist paramilitary groups—the UDA and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)—deny responsibility. Sinn Féin and others “claimed that there must have been collusion with the security forces, because only a small number of people knew in advance of the reduced police presence at the funerals.”
Three days later, during the funeral of one of Stone’s victims, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, two British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, in civilian clothes and in a civilian car drive into the path of the funeral cortège, apparently by mistake. Many of those present believe the soldiers are loyalists intent on repeating Stone’s attack. An angry crowd surrounds and attacks their car. Corporal Wood draws his service pistol and fires a shot into the air. The two men are then dragged from the car before being taken away, beaten and shot dead by the IRA. The incident is often referred to as the corporals killings and, like the attack at Milltown, much of it is filmed by television news cameras.
In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. Many hardline loyalists see him as a hero and he becomes a loyalist icon. After his conviction, an issue of the UDA magazine Ulster is devoted to Stone, stating that he “stood bravely in the middle of rebel scum and let them have it.” Apart from time on remand spent in Crumlin Road Gaol, he spends all of his sentence in HM Prison Maze. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.
In November 2006, Stone is charged with attempted murder of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, having been arrested attempting to enter the Parliament Buildings at Stormont while armed. He is subsequently convicted and sentenced to a further 16 years imprisonment. He is released on parole in 2021.
Since the beginning of its campaign in 1969, the Provisional IRA has launched frequent attacks on British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) bases in Northern Ireland. In August 1985 it begins targeting civilians who offer services to the security forces, particularly those employed by the security forces to maintain and repair its bases. Between August 1985 and January 1992, the IRA kills 23 people who had been working for (or offering services to) the security forces. The IRA also alleges that some of those targeted had links with Ulster loyalistparamilitaries.
On the evening of January 17, 1992, the 14 construction workers leave work at Lisanelly British Army base in Omagh. They are employees of Karl Construction, based in Antrim. They travel eastward in a Ford Transit van towards Cookstown. When the van reaches the rural Teebane Crossroads, just after 5:00 PM, IRA volunteers detonate a roadside bomb containing an estimated 600 pounds (270 kg) of homemade explosives in two plastic barrels. Later estimates report a 1,500 pound (680 kg) device. The blast is heard from at least ten miles away. It rips through one side of the van, instantly killing the row of passengers seated there. The vehicle’s upper part is torn asunder, and its momentum keeps it tumbling along the road for 30 yards. Some of the bodies of the dead and injured are blown into the adjacent field and ditch. IRA volunteers had detonated the bomb from about 100 yards away using a command wire. A car travelling behind the van is damaged in the explosion but the driver is not seriously injured. Witnesses report hearing automatic fire immediately prior to the explosion.
Seven of the men are killed outright. They are William Gary Bleeks (25), Cecil James Caldwell (37), Robert Dunseath (25), David Harkness (23), John Richard McConnell (38), Nigel McKee (22) and Robert Irons (61). The van’s driver, Oswald Gilchrist (44), dies of his wounds in hospital four days later. Robert Dunseath is a British soldier serving with the Royal Irish Rangers. The other six workers are badly injured; two of them are members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). It is the highest death toll from one incident in Northern Ireland since 1988.
The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade claims responsibility for the bombing soon afterward. It argues that the men were legitimate targets because they were “collaborators engaged in rebuilding Lisanelly barracks” and vowed that attacks on “collaborators” would continue.
Both unionist and Irish nationalist politicians condemn the attack. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, however, describes the bombing as “a horrific reminder of the failure of British policy in Ireland.” He adds that it highlights “the urgent need for an inclusive dialogue which can create a genuine peace process.” British Prime MinisterJohn Major visits Northern Ireland within days and promises more troops, pledging that the IRA will not change government policy.
As all of those killed are Protestant, some interpret the bombing as a sectarian attack against their community. Less than three weeks later, the Ulster loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) launches a ‘retaliation’ for the bombing. On February 5, two masked men armed with an automatic rifle and revolver enter Sean Graham’s betting shop on Ormeau Road in an Irish nationalist area of Belfast. The shop is packed with customers at the time. The men fire indiscriminately at the customers, killing five Irish Catholic civilians, before fleeing to a getaway car. The UDA claims responsibility using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters,” ending its statement with “Remember Teebane.” After the shootings, a cousin of one of those killed at Teebane visits the betting shop and says, “I just don’t know what to say but I know one thing – this is the best thing that’s happened for the Provos [Provisional IRA] in this area in years. This is the best recruitment campaign they could wish for.”
The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) conducts an investigation into the bombing and releases its report to the families of the victims. It finds that the IRA unit had initially planned to carry out the attack on the morning of January 17 as the workers made their way to work but, due to fog, it was put off until the afternoon. Although suspects were rounded up and there were arrests in the wake of the attack, nobody has ever been charged or convicted of the bombing.
Karl Construction erects a granite memorial at the site of the attack and a memorial service is held there each year. In January 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the attack, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA, Trevor Clarke, whose brother-in-law Nigel McKee at age 22 was the youngest person killed in the bombing, demands that republicans provide the names of the IRA bombers.
The UDA’s Shankill headquarters is above Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road. The UDA’s Inner Council and West Belfast brigade regularly meets there on Saturdays. Peter Taylor says it is also the office of the Loyalist Prisoners’ Association (LPA), and on Saturday mornings is normally crowded, as that is when money is given to prisoners’ families. According to Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack, the IRA have had the building under surveillance for some time. They say that the IRA decides to strike when one of their scouts spots Adair entering the building on the morning of Saturday, October 23, 1993. Later, in a secretly-recorded conversation with police, Adair confirms that he had been in the building that morning.
The IRA’s Belfast Brigade launches an operation to assassinate the UDA’s top commanders, whom it believes are at the meeting. The plan allegedly is for two IRA members to enter the shop with a time bomb, force out the customers at gunpoint and flee before it explodes, killing those at the meeting. As they believe the meeting is being held in the room above the shop, the bomb is designed to send the blast upwards. IRA members maintain that they would have warned the customers as the bomb was primed. It has an eleven-second fuse, and the IRA state that this would allowed just enough time to clear the downstairs shop but not enough for those upstairs to escape.
The operation is carried out by Thomas Begley and Seán Kelly, two IRA members in their early twenties from Ardoyne. They drive from Ardoyne to the Shankill in a hijacked blue Ford Escort, which they park on Berlin Street, around the corner from Frizzell’s. Dressed as deliverymen, they enter the shop with the five-pound bomb in a holdall. It is shortly after 1:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon and the area is crowded with mostly women and children. While Kelly waits at the door, Begley makes his way through the customers towards the counter, where the bomb detonates prematurely. Forensic evidence shows that Begley had been holding the bomb over the refrigerated serving counter when it exploded. Begley is killed along with nine other people, two of them children. They are the owner John Frizzell (63), his daughter Sharon McBride (29), Leanne Murray (13), UDA member Michael Morrison (27), his partner Evelyn Baird (27) and their daughter Michelle (7), George Williamson (63) and his wife Gillian (49), and Wilma McKee (38). The force of the blast causes the old building to collapse into a pile of rubble. The upper floor comes down upon those inside the shop, crushing many of the survivors under the rubble, where they remain until rescued some hours later by volunteers and emergency services. About 57 people are injured. At the scene during the rescue operation are several senior loyalists, including Adair and Billy McQuiston. The latter had been in a pub on the nearest corner when the bomb went off. Among those rescued from the rubble is the badly-wounded Seán Kelly.
Unknown to the IRA, if a UDA meeting had taken place, it had ended early and those attending it had left the building before the bomb exploded. McDonald and Cusack state that Adair and his men had stopped using the room for important meetings, allegedly because a sympathiser within the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) told Adair that the police had it bugged.
There was great anger and outrage in the Shankill in the wake of the bombing. Billy McQuiston tells journalist Peter Taylor that “anybody on the Shankill Road that day, from a Boy Scout to a granny, if you’d given them a gun they would have gone out and retaliated.” Many Protestants see the bombing as an indiscriminate attack on them. Adair believes that the bomb was meant for him. Two days after the bombing, as Adair is driving away from his house, he stops and tells a police officer, “I’m away to plan a mass murder.”
In the week following the bombing, the UDA and UVF launch a wave of “revenge attacks,” killing 14 civilians. The UDA shoots a Catholic delivery driver in Belfast after luring him to a bogus call just a few hours after the bombing. He dies on October 25. On 26 October, the UDA shoots dead another two Catholic civilians and wounds five in an indiscriminate attack at a Council Depot on Kennedy Way, Belfast. On October 30, UDA members enter a pub in Greysteel frequented by Catholics and again open fire indiscriminately. Eight civilians, six Catholics and two Protestants, are killed and 13 are wounded. This becomes known as the Greysteel massacre. The UDA states it is a direct retaliation for the Shankill Road bombing.
Seán Kelly, the surviving IRA member, is badly wounded in the blast, having lost his left eye and is unable to move his left arm. Upon his release from hospital, however, he is arrested and convicted of nine counts of murder, each with a corresponding life sentence. In July 2000, he is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. In an interview shortly after his release, he says he had never intended to kill innocent people and regrets what happened.
The three men shoot McAliskey nine times in the chest, arm and thigh as she goes to wake up one of her three children. Her husband, Michael, is also shot twice at point blank range. British soldiers are watching the McAliskey home at the time, but fail to prevent the assassination attempt. It is claimed that Devlin’s assassination was ordered by British authorities and that collusion was a factor. An army patrol of the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment enter the house and wait for half an hour. McAliskey claims they are waiting for the couple to die.
Another group of soldiers then arrive and transport them by helicopter to a nearby Dungannon hospital for emergency treatment and then to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. Their condition is initially said to be serious, but not life-threatening.
The attackers, Ray Smallwoods, Tom Graham, both from Lisburn, and Andrew Watson from Seymour Hill, Dunmurry, are captured by members of the Parachute Regiment, who are on patrol nearby when they hear the shots and are taken in for questioning by the police and subsequently jailed. All three are members of the South Belfast UDA. Smallwoods is the driver of the getaway car. Police say it is a professional attack. The gunmen cut the telephone wires to the house before breaking down the front door with a sledgehammer.
McAliskey had played a leading role in the campaign for Republican prisoners in the HM Prison Maze, who are demanding “prisoner of war” or political status. They want to be held separately from loyalist supporters in the Maze. Four other members of the campaign for the H-block inmates have been murdered.
Seven Maze prisoners went on hunger strike before Christmas in support of their demands for political status. The strike is called off on December 12 after TaoiseachCharles Haughey convinces the inmates their families want them to start eating again.
The UDA launches a number of “revenge attacks” for the bombing. Later that day, it fatally shoots a Catholic delivery driver after luring him to a bogus call at Vernon Court, Belfast. On October 26, the UDA shoots dead another two Catholic civilians and wounds five in an attack at the Council Depot at Kennedy Way, Belfast.
The massacre is carefully planned. The order for the attack comes from the UDA leadership and it is believed Greysteel is chosen partly because it is well away from Belfast, where security force activity is intense after the Shankill bombing. Those involved in planning and organising it include Billy McFarland, ‘Brigadier’ of the UDA’s North Antrim & Londonderry Brigade. Stephen Irwin, Geoffrey Deeney and Torrens Knight, all members of the brigade, are to carry out the shooting. The gunmen are first briefed on the plans for the massacre on October 27 in an office owned by the Ulster Democratic Party at Bond’s Place, Londonderry. Before the massacre, the gunmen go to the pub to familiarise themselves with the layout and choose the best positions to shoot from.
On Saturday, October 30, the gunmen drive to the pub in an Opel Kadett, with UDA member Brian McNeill driving a ‘scout car’ in front. Just before 10:00 PM the three gunmen, wearing blue boilersuits and balaclavas, enter the “Rising Sun Bar” in Greysteel. There are at least 70 people inside attending a Halloween party and at first some believe the men are playing a Halloween prank. Stephen Irwin yells “trick or treat” as he opens fire with a vz. 58 assault rifle on the packed crowd in the lounge. He keeps shooting until the magazine empties, quickly reloads and continues shooting. Geoffrey Deeney opens fire with a 9mm handgun at a fleeing woman, but it jams after one shot. Torrens Knight, armed with a shotgun, guards the entrance while the shooting is taking place. There is panic and screaming as people scramble for cover and women plead for mercy. The scene in the Rising Sun is described as “hell-like”; bodies lay everywhere and the lounge and dancefloor are covered with blood and broken glass. The gunmen, laughing, then make their escape in the Opel Kadett driven by Knight. While driving away from Greysteel, the getaway car’s wing mirror is hit by a police car speeding towards the scene. The gunmen drive the Kadett to a pick-up point near Eglinton, where they meet McNeill and burn the car.
Seven people are killed outright and nineteen are wounded, with another later dying of his wounds. The dead are Karen Thompson (19), Steven Mullan (20), Moira Duddy (59), Joseph McDermott (60), James Moore (81), John Moyne (50), John Burns (54) and Victor Montgomery (76). Six of those killed are Catholic civilians and two are Protestant civilians.
The following day, the UDA claims responsibility for the attack using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (UFF). Its statement says that the “Greysteel raid” is “the continuation of our threats against the nationalist electorate that they would pay a heavy price for last Saturday’s slaughter of nine Protestants.” A UDA West Belfast Brigade member claims that his organisation “had information that senior IRA men drank in the Rising Sun… Unfortunately they were not there on Halloween but our boys acted on the briefing they had been given.” Afterwards, the gunmen are said to have boasted about the killings.
The UDA members involved are arrested shortly after the massacre. During their first court appearance, Knight is filmed laughing, taunting and shouting abuse at the victims’ relatives as he is led from the building. In February 1995, Irwin, Deeney, Knight and McNeill are sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in the attack. Knight is also convicted for the Castlerock killings. In 2000, they are released early, along with other paramilitary prisoners, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The pub is still open in Greysteel. There is a memorial to the victims outside the building that says: “May their sacrifice be our path to peace.”
In 1975, Bunting survives an assassination attempt when he is shot in a Belfast street. In 1977, Costello is killed by an Official IRA gunman in Dublin. Bunting and his family hide in Wales until 1978, when he returns to Belfast. For the remaining two years of his life, he is the military leader of the INLA. The grouping regularly attacks the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Belfast. He calls in claims of responsibility to the media by the code name “Captain Green.”
At about 4:30 AM on October 15, 1980, several gunmen wearing balaclavas storm Bunting’s home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown. They shoot Bunting, his wife Suzanne and another Protestant INLA man and ex-member of the Red Republican Party, Noel Lyttle, who has been staying there after his recent release from detention.
Both Bunting and Lyttle are killed. Suzanne Bunting, who is shot in the face, survives her serious injuries. The attack is claimed by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), but the INLA claims the Special Air Service are involved.
The 26 year old O’Connor is shot dead as he sits in a car outside his mother’s house in Whitecliffe Parade in Ballymurphy. He comes from a well-known republican family and is understood to have been involved in welfare work for “Real IRA” prisoners. Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) sources do not suggest a motive for the shooting, except to say it is not sectarian and they believe it is a result of an inter-republican dispute. Continuity IRA sources deny their organisation is involved and the killing is condemned by Republican Sinn Féin.
O’Connor had just left his mother’s home and got into the passenger seat of a car when two hooded gunmen approach on foot and shoot him at point-blank range. He is hit in the head and dies instantly. A relative who is in the driver’s seat is uninjured.
O’Connor’s cousin, who lives nearby, says, “I heard one shot, then a silence, and then four more shots in quick succession.” Tensions between mainstream and dissident republicans at the time are high in Belfast but without serious violence.
O’Connor, who lives nearby in the Springhill Estate, is married with two young sons. His grandfather, Francisco Notarantonio, was shot dead by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in highly controversial circumstances at the same house 13 years earlier. That killing is at the centre of a legal battle between the British Ministry of Defence and the Sunday People over allegations of security force involvement.
The killing is condemned by Republican Sinn Féin. A Sinn Féin councillor, Sean McKnight, says local people are “shocked” by the killing. “We call on those responsible for this deliberate shooting to declare themselves and spell out to the people what their motives are,” a spokesman says. “Local sources indicate the deceased man was associated with the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Republican Sinn Féin has no hesitation in condemning this action and points out the obvious dangers that lie ahead.”
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) representative for Belfast West, Alex Attwood, condemns the murder as pointless but says no one should “rush to premature judgment” about who is responsible. “The overwhelming mass of political and wider opinion is determined to consolidate the political and peace process and no words, no acts and no narrow politics will destabilise it.”
(From “Leading ‘Real IRA’ member is shot dead in Ballymurphy” by Suzanne Breen, The Irish Times, October 14, 2000)
Some of the most prolific bombers and gunmen involved in the Troubles have been imprisoned in the Maze, originally called Long Kesh, since it opened in 1971.
One of the freed republicans, Seán Lynch, describes what he saw as the real and symbolic importance of the Maze. “We had achieved the status of political prisoners even if the British Government never admitted it. The prison struggle was a microcosm of the larger struggle.”
Founder member of the Ulster Defence Association, Thomas McKeown, released in 1990 is one of over 10,000 loyalists sent to the prison. He reflects, “We had it pretty easy. We made replica weapons and instruments from wood and conducted military parades and drill every morning. There were also political classes and other sorts of education.”
After the H-block hunger strikes of the 1980s there are numerous escape attempts and by 1994 the authorities have given in to many of the prisoners’ demands for freedom of association and high levels of autonomy. A total of 2,700 incidents of officers being threatened or attacked are reported. A granite memorial outside the gates bears the names of the 29 prison guards murdered since the prison opened in 1971.
On September 29, 2000, the remaining four prisoners at the Maze are transferred to other prisons in Northern Ireland and the Maze Prison is closed. Redundancy packages are arranged for staff. These are accepted by 300 who left in June 2000.
The future of the buildings is uncertain, but some republicans want it to be turned into a museum to commemorate their struggle.
A monitoring group is set up on January 14, 2003 to debate the future of the 360-acre site. There are many proposals, including a museum, a multi-purpose sports stadium and an office, hotel and leisure village. In January 2006, the government unveils a masterplan for the site incorporating many of these proposals, including a 45,000 seat national multi-sport stadium for association football, rugby and Gaelic games. In October 2006, demolition work begins in preparation for construction on the site, however, in January 2009 plans to build the new multi-purpose stadium are cancelled, with Minister of Culture, Arts and LeisureGregory Campbell citing a lack of support and concerns for a net loss to the economy.
Discussion is still ongoing as to the listed status of sections of the old prison. The hospital and part of the H-Blocks are currently listed buildings, and will remain as part of the proposed site redevelopment as a “conflict transformation centre” with support from republicans such as Martin McGuinness and opposition from unionists, who consider that this risks creating “a shrine to the IRA.”
The night before the bombing, snipers from the UVF West Belfast Brigade take up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of flats at the edge of the Ulster Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly World War II stock, are ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill Road.
The violence begins shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday, May 13, 1972, when a car bomb, planted by Ulster loyalists, explodes without warning outside the crowded Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub is in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area of Ballymurphy and most of its customers are from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub is crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Following the blast the UVF snipers open fire on the survivors. This begins the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London.
Sixty-three people are injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran, age 19, who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, dies of his injuries on May 23.
For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fight gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting takes place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster Protestant Springmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sits between them. Five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section are killed in the violence. Four of the dead are teenagers.
At first, the British Army claims that the blast had been an “accident” caused by a Provisional IRA bomb. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, tells the House of Commons on May 18 that the blast is caused by a Provisional IRA bomb that exploded prematurely. However, locals suspect that the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources say that IRA volunteers would not risk storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerges that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.
A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads:
This plaque marks the spot where Kelly’s Bar once stood
and here on 13th May 1972
a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded.
As a result, 66 people were injured
and three innocent members of staff
of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives.
Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972)
John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972)
Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989) Ar dheis Dé go raibh a namacha”