seamus dubhghaill

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


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Operation Banner Ends in Northern Ireland

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityOperation Banner, the operational name for the British Armed Forces‘ operation in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007 as part of the Troubles, ends at midnight on July 31, 2007. It is one of the longest continuous deployments in British military history.

The British Army is initially deployed, at the request of the unionist government of Northern Ireland, in response to the August 1969 riots. Its role is to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and to assert the authority of the British government in Northern Ireland. At the peak of the operation in the 1970s, about 21,000 British troops are deployed, most of them from Great Britain. As part of the operation, a new locally-recruited regiment is also formed, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). After the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the operation is gradually scaled down and the vast majority of British troops are withdrawn.

In August 2005, it is announced that in response to the Provisional IRA declaration that its campaign is over, and in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement provisions, Operation Banner would end by August 1, 2007. This involves troops based in Northern Ireland being reduced to 5,000, and only for training purposes. Security is entirely transferred to the police. The Northern Ireland Resident battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, which had grown out of the Ulster Defence Regiment, stand down on September 1, 2006. The operation officially ends at midnight on July 31, 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army’s history, lasting over 38 years.

While the withdrawal of troops is welcomed by the nationalist parties Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin, the unionist Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party oppose the decision, which they regard as premature. The main reasons behind their resistance are the continuing activity of republican dissident groups, the loss of security-related jobs for the protestant community and the perception of the British Army presence as an affirmation of the political union with Great Britain.

According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,441 serving British military personnel die in Operation Banner, 722 of whom are killed in paramilitary attacks and 719 of whom die as a result of other causes. The British military kills 307 people during the operation, about 51% of whom are civilians and 42% of whom are members of republican paramilitaries.

(Pictured: Two British soldiers on duty at a vehicle checkpoint near the A5 Omagh/Armagh road junction)

 

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The Crumlin Road Gaol Escape

crumlin-road-jail-escapeEight Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners escape from Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, one of the most heavily guarded prisons in Europe, on June 10, 1980. Using handguns that had been smuggled into the prison, they take prison officers hostage and shoot their way out of the building and exit through the front gate.

The regime inside Crumlin Road Gaol on that day is just like any other. The prison had been the scene of several protests regarding strip-searching shortly beforehand, but the rules had been somewhat relaxed. On A and C Wings the remand prisoners are outside in the yard for exercise. As usual, several men from each wing are called for visits. Some of these visits are from solicitors and an area of the prison is set aside to allow legal teams and the accused a place to discuss their business in private.

When warders come to return one set of prisoners to their wing, the operation begins. One of the Volunteers produces a gun, forces the warders to release the other prisoners and then locks about ten warders in the cell. They then make their way to B wing’s visiting area and arrest all the warders, visitors and solicitors who are there, before locking about thirty up in a room. One warder named Killen reaches for his baton, is disarmed and hit over the head.

Two warders and a solicitor are ordered to strip and three of the IRA Volunteers, dress in two uniforms and a suit respectively, calmly walk to the main gate which is opened for them. They then pull guns on the real warders in this key security area and make them lie on the ground until their five comrades run across a small courtyard to join them.

Once outside however, the alarm is set off and British Army sentries pour a hail of automatic fire at the prisoners from a watch tower before they are able to reach the front gate. Undeterred, the prisoners dash through the bullets, weaving from side to side to throw off their attackers.

As the men make their escape, clearly visible to republican prisoners in cells on the top landing of A wing, loud cheers go up and makeshift flags are flown from the windows.

Outside the prison, cars have been parked by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade in the car park of the health clinic beside the courthouse, their ignition keys hidden under the floor mats. The prisoners run across the road towards the health centre, dodging bullets as they run. The escapees head towards the loyalist Shankill area where they commandeer cars to help their getaway.

Stunned by the daring escapees, the crown forces erect checkpoints across Belfast and along all border routes.

Seven of the escapees, known as the “M60 gang,” are brothers Tony and Gerry Sloan, Gerard McKee, Joe Doherty, Angelo Fusco, Paul ‘Dingus’ Magee and Tony Campbell. All are from Belfast and charged in connection with either an M60 machine gun attack in 1980 on a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol in Andersonstown, or with the siege on the Antrim Road in May 1980, when a Special Air Service (SAS) captain is killed. The eighth escapee is Pete Ryan from Ardboe, County Tyrone who had been charged with killing an RUC Reservist and an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier.

All eight men reach safe houses within an hour and, after a lying low for a short while, are spirited over the border to begin new lives “on the run.”

One week later, at the annual pilgrimage to the graveside of Wolfe Tone, the father of republicanism, which is always a source of renewed strength for its participants, the crowd is given an added morale boost when at the closing ceremony, one of the escapees, Paul ‘Dingus’ Magee, makes a dramatic appearance on the platform.

There are many more attempts to break free from Crumlin Road Gaol before it finally closes its doors in April 1995, having being used as a weapon in the attempted suppression of the Irish freedom struggle for 151 years.

(From: An Phoblacht Magazine, http://www.anphoblacht.com, June 15, 2006 edition)


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Assassination of Billy “King Rat” Wright

billy-wrightBilly “King Rat” Wright, prominent Ulster loyalist death squad leader during the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, is murdered on December 27, 1997 in HM Prison Maze by three members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) who manage to smuggle guns into the prison.

William Stephen “Billy” Wright, named after his grandfather, is born in Wolverhampton, England on July 7, 1960 to David Wright and Sarah McKinley, Ulster Protestants from Portadown, Northern Ireland. The family returns to Northern Ireland in 1964. While attending Markethill High School, Wright takes a part-time job as a farm labourer where he comes into contact with a number of staunchly unionist and loyalist farmers who serve with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve or the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The conflict known as the Troubles has been raging across Northern Ireland for about five years by this stage, and many young men such as Wright are swept up in the maelstrom of violence as the Provisional Irish Republican Army ramps up its bombing campaign and sectarian killings of Catholics by loyalists continue to escalate. During this time his opinions move towards loyalism and soon he gets into trouble for writing the initials “UVF” on a local Catholic primary school wall. When he refuses to clean off the vandalism, he is transferred from the area and sent to live with an aunt in Portadown.

Wright joins the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1975. After spending several years in prison and becoming a born again Christian, he resumes his UVF activities and becomes commander of its Mid-Ulster Brigade in the early 1990s, taking over from Robin “the Jackal” Jackson. According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, he is involved in the sectarian killings of up to 20 Catholics, although he is never convicted for any. It is alleged that Wright, like his predecessor, is an agent of the RUC Special Branch.

Wright attracts considerable media attention during the Drumcree standoff, when he supports the Protestant Orange Order‘s desire to march its traditional route through the Catholic/Irish nationalist area of his hometown of Portadown. In 1994, the UVF and other paramilitary groups call ceasefires. However, in July 1996, Wright’s unit breaks the ceasefire and carries out a number of attacks, including a sectarian killing. For this, Wright and his Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade are stood down by the UVF leadership. He is expelled from the UVF and threatened with execution if he does not leave Northern Ireland. He ignores the threats and, along with many of his followers, defiantly forms the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), becoming its leader.

The LVF carries out a string of killings of Catholic civilians. In March 1997 Wright is sent to the HM Prison Maze for having threatened the life of a woman. While imprisoned, Wright continues to direct the LVF’s activities. On the morning of December 27, 1997 he is assassinated inside the prison by three INLA volunteers – Christopher “Crip” McWilliams, John “Sonny” Glennon and John Kennaway – armed with two smuggled pistols, a FEG PA-63 semi-automatic and a .22 Derringer. The LVF carries out a wave of sectarian attacks in retaliation. There is speculation that the authorities collude in his killing as he is a threat to the peace process. An inquiry finds no evidence of this, but concludes there are serious failings by the prison authorities.

Owing to his uncompromising stance as an upholder of Ulster loyalism and opposition to the Northern Ireland peace process, Wright is regarded as a cult hero, icon, and martyr by hardline loyalists. His image adorns murals in loyalist housing estates and many of his devotees have tattoos bearing his likeness. His death is greeted with relief and no little satisfaction, however, from the Irish nationalist community.


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The La Mon Entertainment Complex Bombing

la-mon-bombingA Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) incendiary device explodes at the La Mon entertainment complex in Comber, County Down, on February 17, 1978, killing twelve people and injuring thirty others. The blast has been described as “one of the worst atrocities” of the Troubles.

Since the beginning of its campaign, the IRA has carried out numerous attacks on economic targets, killing many members of the public in the process. The IRA’s goal is to harm the economy and cause disruption, which will put pressure on the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

On February 17, 1978, an IRA unit plants an incendiary device attached to petrol-filled canisters on meat hooks outside the window of the Peacock Room in the restaurant of the La Mon House Hotel. The IRA often give bomb warnings in advance of destroying property but never when targeting the police or military. After planting the bomb, the IRA members attempt to send a warning from the nearest public telephone, but find that it has been vandalised. On the way to another telephone they are delayed again when forced to stop at an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) checkpoint. By the time they are able to send the warning, only nine minutes remain before the bomb detonates at 21:00. The blast creates a fireball, killing twelve people and injuring thirty more, many of whom are severely burned. Many of the injured are treated in the Ulster Hospital in nearby Dundonald. A 2012 news article claims that the IRA were targeting Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers they believed were meeting in the restaurant that night. The article claims that the IRA had gotten the wrong date and that the meeting of RUC officers had taken place exactly one week earlier.

The day after the explosion, the IRA admits responsibility and apologises for the inadequate warning. The hotel had allegedly been targeted by the IRA as part of its firebomb campaign against commercial targets. However, the resulting carnage brings quick condemnation from other Irish nationalists, with one popular newspaper comparing the attack to the 1971 McGurk’s Bar bombing. Sinn Féin president Ruairí Ó Brádaigh also strongly criticises the operation. In consequence of the botched attack, the IRA Army Council gives strict instructions to all units not to bomb buses, trains, or hotels.

A team of 100 RUC detectives is deployed in the investigation. As part of the investigation, 25 people are arrested in Belfast, including Gerry Adams. Adams is released from custody in July 1978. Two prosecutions follow. One Belfast man is charged with twelve murders but is acquitted. He is convicted of IRA membership but successfully appeals. In September 1981, another Belfast man, Robert Murphy, is given twelve life sentences for the manslaughter of those who died. Murphy is freed on licence in 1995. As part of their bid to catch the bombers, the RUC passes out leaflets which display a graphic photograph of a victim’s charred remains.

In 2012, a news article claims that two members of the IRA bombing team, including the getaway driver, are British double agents working for MI5. According to the article, one of the agents is Denis Donaldson. That year, Northern Ireland’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) completes a report on the bombing. It reveals that important police documents, including interviews with IRA members, have been lost. A number of the victims’ families slam the report and call for a public inquiry. They claim the documents had been removed to protect certain IRA members. Unionist politician Jim Allister, who has been supporting the families, says, “There is a prevalent belief that someone involved was an agent and that is an issue around which we need clarity.”


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The Remembrance Day Bombing

remembrance-day-bombingThe Remembrance Day bombing, also known as the Enniskillen bombing or Poppy Day massacre, takes place on November 8, 1987 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb explodes near the town’s war memorial during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony, which is being held to commemorate British military war dead. Eleven people, many of them old age pensioners, are killed and 63 are injured.

The bomb explodes as a parade of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers is making its way to the memorial and as people wait for the ceremony to begin. It blows out the wall of the Reading Rooms, where many of the victims are standing, burying them under rubble and hurling masonry towards the gathered crowd. Bystanders rush to free those trapped in the rubble.

Eleven people, all Protestant, are killed by the Provisional IRA that day, including three married couples. The dead are Wesley and Bertha Armstrong, Kitchener and Jessie Johnston, William and Agnes Mullan, John Megaw, Georgina Quinton, Marie Wilson, Samuel Gault, and Edward Armstrong. Armstrong is a serving Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer and Gault has recently left the force. Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie dies in the blast and who is himself injured, goes on to become a peace campaigner and member of Seanad Éireann. The twelfth fatality, Ronnie Hill, dies after spending 13 years in a coma. Sixty-three people are injured, including thirteen children. Ulster Unionist politicians Sam Foster and Jim Dixon are among the crowd. Dixon receives extensive head injuries but recovers. A local businessman captures the immediate aftermath of the bombing on video camera. His footage, showing the effects of the bombing, is broadcast on international television.

A few hours after the blast, the IRA calls a radio station and says it has abandoned a 150-pound bomb in Tullyhommon, twenty miles away, after it failed to detonate. That morning, a Remembrance Sunday parade, which includes many members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, has unwittingly gathered near the Tullyhommon bomb. Soldiers and RUC officers were also there, and the IRA says it attempted to trigger the bomb when soldiers were standing beside it. The bomb is defused by security forces and is found to have a command wire leading to a “firing point” across the border.

The IRA apologises, saying it had made a mistake and that the target had been the UDR soldiers who were parading to the memorial. The bombing leads to an outcry among politicians in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says, “It’s really desecrating the dead and a blot on mankind.” The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, denounces the “outrage” in the House of Commons, as does the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Lenihan, in Dáil Éireann. Seanad Éireann Senator Maurice Manning speaks of people’s “total revulsion.” It also facilitates the passing of the Extradition Act, which makes it easier to extradite IRA suspects from the Republic of Ireland to the United Kingdom.

The bombing is seen by many Northern Irish Protestants as an attack on them, and loyalist paramilitaries ″retaliate″ with attacks on Catholic civilians. The day after the bombing, five Catholic teenagers are wounded in a shooting in Belfast, and a Protestant teenager is killed by the Ulster Defence Association after being mistaken for a Catholic. In the week after the bombing, there are fourteen gun and bomb attacks on Catholics in Belfast.

The Remembrance Day bombing has been described as a turning point in the Troubles and an incident that shook the IRA “to its core.”


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Edward Martin Hurson Dies on Hunger Strike

edward-martin-hursonEdward Martin Hurson, a volunteer in the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on July 13, 1981, after 46 days on hunger strike.

Hurson, from Cappagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, is one of nine children born to Johnnie and Mary Ann Hurson. He is educated to a primary level at Crosscavanagh Primary School in Galbally and at secondary level in St. Patrick’s, Galbally.

After leaving school, he works as a welder for a while before going to England where he stays for eighteen months with his brother Francis and works in the building trade. Returning to County Tyrone at the end of 1974, both he and his brother spend time in Bundoran, County Donegal, a known IRA training and supply centre.

In November 1976, Hurson, together with Kevin O’Brien, Dermot Boyle, Peter Kane, and Pat O’Neill are arrested. Hurson is tried and convicted of involvement in three IRA landmine incidents, one at Cappagh in September, one at Galbally, County Tyrone in November 1975 and a third at Reclain in February 1976, when several members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment narrowly escape being killed. He receives concurrent sentences of twenty, fifteen, and five years for these convictions.

Hurson becomes engaged to his long-term girlfriend, Bernadette Donnelly, while in prison. He is part of the blanket protest and joins the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike on May 28, replacing Brendan McLaughlin who withdraws following a perforated stomach ulcer.

He loses the ability to hold down water after about 40 days on hunger strike, and dies of dehydration after only 46 days, considerably shorter than any other hunger striker (the next shortest is Francis Hughes at 59 days). Near the end, his family considers the possibility of intervening to save his life, but they are told that he would probably have permanent brain damage.