seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of IRA Hunger Striker Michael Gaughan

michael-gaughanMichael Gaughan, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, dies on hunger strike on June 3, 1974 in HM Prison Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, England.

Gaughan, the eldest of six children, is born in Ballina, County Mayo, on October 5, 1949. He grows up at Healy Terrace and is educated at St. Muredach’s College, Ballina. After finishing his schooling, he emigrates from Ireland to England in search of work.

While in London, Gaughan becomes a member of the Official Irish Republican Army through Official Sinn Féin‘s English wing Clann na hÉireann and becomes an IRA volunteer in a London-based Active Service Unit. In December 1971, he is sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years imprisonment for his part in an IRA fundraising mission to rob a bank in Hornsey, north London, which yields just £530, and for the possession of two revolvers.

Gaughan is initially imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs, where he spends two years before being transferred to the top security HM Prison Albany on the Isle of Wight. While at Albany Prison, he requests political status, which is refused, and he is then placed in solitary confinement. He is later transferred to Parkhurst Prison, where four of the Belfast Ten are on hunger strike for political status.

On March 31, 1974, Gaughan, along with current Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, Paul Holme, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg, go on hunger strike to support the fight of Dolours and Marion Price to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The prisoners demands are as follows:

  • The right to political status
  • The right to wear their own clothes
  • A guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement
  • The right to educational facilities and not engage in penal labour
  • The setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison

British policy at this time is to force-feed hunger strikers. According to the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee, “six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between his or her teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.”

After visiting Gaughan in jail, his brother John describes his condition, “His throat had been badly cut by force feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about six stone.”

During his hunger strike, Gaughan’s weight drops from 160 lbs. to 84 lbs. He is force-fed for the first time on April 22 and this occurs 17 times during course of his hunger strike. The last time he is force-fed is the night before his death. After a hunger strike that lasts 64 days, Michael Gaughan dies on Monday, June 3, 1974, at the age of 24.

The cause of Gaughan’s death is disputed. The British government states that he died of pneumonia. The Gaughan family state that he died after prison doctors injured him fatally when food lodged in a lung punctured by a force-feeding tube. His death causes controversy in English medical circles, as some forms of treatment can be classed as assault if given without the express permission of the patient.

The timing of Gaughan’s death comes just one week after the British Government had capitulated to the demands of Ulster loyalist hunger strikers. After his death, the British government’s policy of force-feeding ends and the remaining hunger strikers are given assurances that they will be repatriated to Irish prisons. However, these promises are reneged on by the British government.

Gaughan’s body is initially removed from London and on June 7-8 over 3,000 mourners line the streets of Kilburn and march behind his coffin, which is flanked by an IRA honour guard, to a Requiem Mass held in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Following the Requiem Mass, his body is transported to Dublin, where again it is met by mourners and another IRA honour guard who bring it to the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands file past as it lay in state. The following day, his body is removed to Ballina, County Mayo. A funeral mass takes place on June 9, at St. Muredach’s Cathedral, and the procession then leads to Leigue Cemetery. Gaughan is given a full IRA funeral and is laid to rest in the republican plot, where Frank Stagg would join him after being reburied in November 1976. His funeral is attended by over 50,000 people and is larger than the funeral of former president Éamon de Valera the following year.

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The Funeral of Rosemary Nelson, Human Rights Lawyer

rosemary-nelsonThe funeral of murdered human rights lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, takes place at St. Peter’s Church in Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on March 18, 1999.

Rosemary Nelson, née Magee, obtains her law degree at Queens University Belfast. She works with other solicitors for a number of years before opening her own practice. She represents clients in a number of high-profile cases, including Michael Caraher, one of the South Armagh Snipers, as well as a republican paramilitary accused of killing two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. She also represents the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition in nearby Portadown in the long-running Drumcree conflict against the Orange Order and RUC.

Nelson claims she has received death threats from members of the RUC as a result of her legal work. Some RUC officers make abusive and threatening remarks about her to her clients, which become publicly known. In 1998, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Solicitors, Param Cumaraswamy, notes these threats in his annual report, and states in a television interview that he believes her life could be in danger. He makes recommendations to the British government concerning threats from police against Solicitors, which are not acted upon. Later that year, Nelson testifies before a committee of the United States Congress investigating human rights in Northern Ireland, confirming that death threats have been made against her and her three children.

Nelson is assassinated, at the age of 40, by a car bomb outside her home in Lurgan on March 15, 1999. A loyalist paramilitary group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders claim responsibility for the killing. She is survived by her husband and their three children.

In 2004, the Cory Collusion Inquiry recommends that the UK Government hold an inquiry into the circumstances of Nelson’s death. She is posthumously awarded the Train Foundation‘s Civil Courage Prize, which recognises “extraordinary heroes of conscience.”

The resulting inquiry into her assassination opens at the Craigavon Civic Centre, Craigavon, County Armagh, in April 2005. In September 2006 the British Security Service MI5 announces it would be represented at the inquiry. This move provokes criticism from Nelson’s family, who reportedly express concerns that MI5 would remove sensitive or classified information.

The results of the inquiry are published on May 23, 2011. The inquiry finds no evidence that state agencies (the RUC, British Army and MI5) had “directly facilitated” her murder, but “could not exclude the possibility” that individual members had helped the perpetrators. It finds that state agencies had failed to protect her and that some RUC intelligence about her had been leaked. Both of these, it says, increased the danger to her life. The report also states that RUC officers had publicly abused and assaulted her in 1997, and made threatening remarks about her to her clients, which became publicly known. It concludes that this helped “legitimise her as a target in the eyes of loyalist terrorists.”


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Death of William III, King of England, Scotland & Ireland

Kneller, Godfrey, 1646-1723; King William III (1650-1702)William III, also widely known as William of Orange, dies at Kensington Palace on March 8, 1702 following a fall from his horse when it stumbles on a molehill. Upon his death, Anne accedes to the throne of Britain and Ireland.

William is sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as “King Billy.”

William is born on November 4, 1650 at Binnenhof, The Hague, Dutch Republic. He inherits the Principality of Orange from his father, William II, who dies a week before William’s birth. His mother, Mary, is the daughter of King Charles I of England. In 1677, William marries his fifteen-year-old first cousin, Mary, the daughter of his maternal uncle James, Duke of York.

A Protestant, William participates in several wars against the powerful Catholic King of France, Louis XIV, in coalition with Protestant and Catholic powers in Europe. Many Protestants herald him as a champion of their faith. In 1685, William’s Catholic uncle and father-in-law, James, becomes king of England, Scotland and Ireland. James’s reign is unpopular with the Protestant majority in Britain. William, supported by a group of influential British political and religious leaders, invades England in what becomes known as the Glorious Revolution. On November 5, 1688, he lands at the southern English port of Brixham. James is deposed and William and his wife become joint sovereigns in his place.

William’s reputation as a staunch Protestant enables him to take power in Britain when many are fearful of a revival of Catholicism under James. William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is still commemorated by loyalists in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

William and Mary reign together until Mary’s death from smallpox on December 28, 1694, after which William rules as sole monarch. Despite his conversion to Anglicanism, his popularity plummets during his reign as a sole monarch. His reign in Britain marks the beginning of the transition from the personal rule of the House of Stuart to the more Parliament-centred rule of the House of Hanover.

On March 8, 1702, William dies of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone following a fall from his horse, Sorrel. The horse had been confiscated from Sir John Fenwick, one of the Jacobites who had conspired against William. Because his horse had stumbled into a mole’s burrow, many Jacobites toast “the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat.” Years later, Winston Churchill, in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, states that the fall “opened the door to a troop of lurking foes.” William is buried in Westminster Abbey alongside his wife. His sister-in-law, Anne, becomes queen regnant of England, Scotland and Ireland.

William’s death means that he would remain the only member of the Dutch House of Orange to reign over England.


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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.


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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 Falls Curfew

falls-curfewThe Falls Curfew, also called the Battle of the Falls, a British Army operation in the Falls Road district of Belfast, Northern Ireland takes place on July 3-5, 1970.

The Northern Ireland riots of August 1969 mark the beginning of the Troubles. In Belfast, Catholic Irish nationalists clash with Protestant Ulster loyalists and the mainly-Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland’s police force. Hundreds of Catholic homes and businesses are burned and more than 1,000 families, mostly Catholics, are forced to flee. The rioting ends with Operation Banner, the deployment of British troops.

A week before the Falls Curfew, on Saturday, June 27, 1970, there is severe rioting in Belfast following marches by the Protestant/unionist Orange Order. At the Short Strand, a Catholic enclave in a Protestant part of the city, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) fights a five-hour gun battle with loyalists. Three people are killed and the loyalists withdraw. The Provisional IRA presents itself as having successfully defended a vulnerable Catholic enclave from armed loyalist mobs.

Meanwhile, the Official IRA arranges for a large number of weapons to be brought into the mainly nationalist and Catholic Lower Falls area for distribution. The area is a stronghold of the Official IRA.

The operation begins at about 4:30 PM on Friday, July 3, as a search for weapons in the staunchly Irish nationalist district. As the search ends, local youths attack the British soldiers with stones and petrol bombs and the soldiers respond with CS gas. This quickly develops into gun battles between British soldiers and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After four hours of continuous clashes, the British commander seals off the area, which comprises 3,000 homes, and imposes a curfew which lasts 36 hours. Thousands of British troops move into the curfew zone and carry out house-to-house searches for weapons, while coming under intermittent attack from the IRA and rioters. The searches cause much destruction, and a large amount of CS gas is fired into the area. Many residents complain of suffering abuse at the hands of the soldiers. On July 5, the curfew is brought to an end when thousands of women and children from Andersonstown march into the curfew zone with food and groceries for the locals.

During the operation, four civilians are killed by the British Army, at least 78 people are wounded and 337 are arrested. Eighteen soldiers are also wounded. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition are captured. The British Army admits afterwards that some of its soldiers had been involved in looting.

The Falls Curfew is a turning point in the Troubles. It is seen as having turned many Catholics/Irish nationalists against the British Army and having boosted support for the IRA.

(Pictured: British soldiers on the Falls Road during the 1970 curfew)


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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.