seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell

joe-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on July 8, 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951 as one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

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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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Roger Casement Hanged for Treason

roger-casementSir Roger David Casement, Irish diplomat who is knighted by King George V in 1911, is executed on August 3, 1916 for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Casement is an Irish Protestant who serves as a British diplomat during the early part of the 20th century. He wins international acclaim after exposing the illegal practice of slavery in the Congo and parts of South America. Despite his Ulster Protestant roots, he becomes an ardent supporter of the Irish independence movement and, after the outbreak of World War I, travels to the United States and then to Germany to secure aid for an Irish uprising against the British.

Germany, which is at war with Great Britain, promises limited aid, and Casement is transported back to Ireland in a German submarine. On April 21, 1916, just a few days before the outbreak of the Easter Rising in Dublin, he lands in County Kerry and is picked up by British authorities almost immediately. By the end of the month, the Easter Rising has been suppressed and a majority of its leaders executed.

Casement is tried separately because of his illustrious past but nevertheless is found guilty of treason on June 29. On August 3, he is hanged by John Ellis and his assistants at Pentonville Prison in London. Casement is the last to be executed as a result of the Easter Rebellion.