seamus dubhghaill

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


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Terence O’Neill Resigns as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Captain_Terence_O%27Neill.jpgTerence Marne O’Neill, the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, resigns on April 28, 1969. He is succeeded by James Chichester-Clark.

O’Neill is born on September 10, 1914 in London. Having served in the Irish Guards, he comes to live in Northern Ireland in 1945. He is returned unopposed for the Stormont seat of Bannside in November 1946 for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and ten years later reaches cabinet rank. When Lord Brookeborough retires as prime minister in March 1963, O’Neill succeeds as the apostle of technocratic modernization who could see off the Northern Ireland Labour Party. In community relations O’Neill is unprecedentedly liberal, visiting Catholic schools and, more dramatically, meeting with the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, Seán Lemass, at Stormont on January 14, 1964. O’Neill hopes to encourage Catholic acceptance of the state, but he more quickly aggravates suspicious unionist and loyalist opinion.

The eruption of the civil rights movement of 1968 multiplies pressures for substantive reform from the British government. O’Neill impresses on his cabinet colleagues the necessity of concessions. On November 22 he unveils a program of reforms, notably the closing down of the gerrymandered Londonderry Corporation. However, the local government’s rate-based franchise is for the time untouched. In a television broadcast on December 9, 1968, O’Neill warns that Northern Ireland stands at the crossroads. He calls for an end to street demonstrations but also promises meaningful reforms. There is a massive response from the public, but attitudes polarize again when a radical civil rights march from Belfast to Derry is attacked by loyalists at Burntollet Bridge on January 4, 1969.

O’Neill’s failure to preserve governmental authority by repression or concession leads to discontent in his party. In an attempt to regain the initiative and remake the Ulster Unionist Party, he calls for an election on February 24, 1969. He refuses to campaign for official unionist candidates opposed to his leadership and lends his support to Independent candidates who vow to support him personally. Breaking with unionist convention, O’Neill openly canvasses for Catholic votes. Such strategic innovations fail to produce a clear victory, however, and a phalanx of anti-O’Neill unionists are returned. There is little evidence that O’Neill’s re-branded unionism has succeeded in attracting Catholic votes.

From O’Neill’s point of view, the election results are inconclusive. He is humiliated by his near-defeat in his own constituency of Bannside by Ian Paisley and resigns as leader of the UUP and as Prime Minister on April 28, 1969 after a series of bomb explosions on Belfast’s water supply by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bring his personal political crisis to a head. Before leaving, he secures “one person, one vote” in place of the ratepayers’ franchise in local elections as well as the succession of the relatively loyal James Chichester-Clarke.

O’Neill retires from Stormont politics in January 1970 when he resigns his seat, having become the Father of the House in the previous year. On January 23, 1970, he is created a life peer as Baron O’Neill of the Maine, of Ahoghill in the County of Antrim. The Maine is a river which flows near Ahoghill.

O’Neill spends his last years at Lisle Court, Lymington, Hampshire, although he continues to speak on the problems of Northern Ireland in the House of Lords where he sits as a crossbencher. His Reform Policies are largely forgotten by British Unionists and Irish Nationalists in Ulster, however he is remembered by historians for his efforts to reform the discrimination and sectarianism within the Province during the 1960s. In retirement he is also a trustee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trusts.

Terence O’Neill dies at his home of cancer on June 12, 1990.

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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 1994 Shankill Road Killings

trevor-king-muralThe 1994 Shankill Road killings take place on June 16, 1994. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) shoot dead Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members Trevor King, Colin Craig and David Hamilton on the Shankill Road in Belfast, close to the UVF headquarters.

On June 16, 1994, high-ranking UVF Commander volunteer Trevor King is standing on the Shankill Road about one hundred yards from “The Eagle,” the UVF’s Belfast GHQ, talking to fellow UVF members David Hamilton and Colin Craig. A car drives past them and as it does so Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) gunmen inside the vehicle open fire on the three men. The car is later found burning close to Divis Tower.

David Lister and Hugh Jordan claim that Gino Gallagher, who is himself shot dead in 1996 during an internal dispute, is the main gunman in the attack. However, Henry McDonald and Jack Holland say that Gallagher is inside the car which is scouting the area for UVF members, and not one of the gunmen.

Colin Craig is killed on the spot. King and David Hamilton lay in the street, seriously wounded as panic and chaos erupt on the Shankill in the wake of the shooting. Presbyterian minister Roy Magee is in “The Eagle” discussing an upcoming Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) meeting and the possibility of a loyalist ceasefire with the UVF Brigade Staff when the attack takes place. He and the others race out of the building after hearing the gunfire.

King is rushed to the hospital where he is put on a life-support machine. The shooting has left him paralysed from the neck down. He dies on July 9 with Reverend Magee at his bedside. According to Magee, King himself makes the decision to turn off the machine.

The killings are a blow for the Northern Ireland peace process and a morale boost for the INLA. The attack is the INLA’s most notorious since the Droppin Well bombing in 1982 which killed seventeen people, eleven British soldiers and 6 civilians.

The following day, the UVF launches two retaliatory attacks. In the first, UVF members shoot dead a Catholic civilian taxi driver in Carrickfergus. In the second, they shoot dead two Protestant civilians in Newtownabbey, whom they believe to be Catholics. Two days after the killings the UVF decide to launch another revenge attack when they kill six Catholic civilians in a bar while they are watching the Ireland vs. Italy 1994 FIFA World Cup game opener in what becomes known as the Loughinisland massacre. The tit-for-tat attacks continue during the spring and summer of 1994 until the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire of August 31, 1994 and the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in October. The attacks on the Shankill are the INLA’s deadliest attacks of the 1990s.

When interviewed for Boston College for research on the conflict, Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine suggests the INLA might have been working in cahoots with the Provisional IRA in targeting prominent Loyalists, as the month after the Provisional IRA kill three leading Ulster Defence Association (UDA) men.

(Pictured: Trevor King mural, Disraeli Street, May 2012)


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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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Funeral of Loyalist Billy Wright

billy-wright-funeralThousands of Ulster loyalists pack the streets of Portadown, County Armagh, on December 30, 1997 for the funeral of Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) commander William Stephen “Billy” Wright.

Wright, born in Wolverhampton, England on July 7, 1960, is a prominent Ulster loyalist paramilitary during the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles. He joins the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1975 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, Wright 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, serves as a double agent of the British security forces.

Wright attracts considerable media attention at the Drumcree standoff, where he supports the Orange Order‘s desire to march its traditional route through the Catholic/Irish nationalist area 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. Wright ignores the threats and, along with many of his followers, defiantly forms the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

In March 1997 Wright is sent to the HM Maze Prison for having threatened the life of a woman. While imprisoned, Wright continues to direct the LVF’s activities. On December 27 of that year, he is assassinated at the prison by Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners as he is led out to a van for a visit with his girlfriend. The LVF carries out a wave of sectarian attacks in retaliation.

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, cultural icon, and martyr figure by hardline loyalists. His image adorns murals in loyalist housing estates and many of his devotees have tattoos bearing his likeness.

Wright’s funeral procession moves at a snail’s pace on a grey and windy day. Groups of mourners take turns carrying the coffin. Women carry a wreath that simply says “Billy.” Twenty men with tight haircuts and white shirts with black armbands flank the cortège. There is heavy security. Troops stand guard on bridges and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Land Rovers prowl the housing estates. A spotter plane flies overhead. A lone piper plays “Abide With Me” before a banner bearing the letters “LVF.”

Wright is buried at Seagoe Cemetery, Portadown, Northern Ireland.


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The Balmoral Furniture Company Bombing

balmoral-furniture-showroom-bombingThe Balmoral Furniture Company bombing, a paramilitary attack, takes place on December 11, 1971 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The bomb explodes without warning outside a furniture showroom on the Shankill Road in a predominantly unionist area, killing four civilians, two of them babies.

At 12:25 PM on December 11, 1971, when the Shankill Road is packed with Saturday shoppers, a green car pulls up outside the Balmoral Furniture Company at the corner of Carlow Street and Shankill Road. The shop is locally known as “Moffat’s” although Balmoral Furniture Company is its official name. One of the occupants gets out of the car and leaves a box containing a bomb on the step outside the front door. The person gets back into the car and it speeds away. The bomb explodes moments later, bringing down most of the building on top of those inside the shop and on passersby outside.

Four people are killed as a result of the massive blast, including two babies, Tracey Munn (age 2 years) and Colin Nichol (age 17 months), who both die instantly when part of the wall crashes down upon the pram they are sharing. Two employees working inside the shop are also killed, Hugh Bruce (age 70 years) and Harold King (age 29 years). Unlike the other three victims, who are Protestant, King is a Catholic. Bruce, a former soldier and a Corps of Commissionaires member, is the shop’s doorman and is nearest to the bomb when it explodes. Nineteen people are injured in the bombing, including Tracey’s mother. The building, which was built in the Victorian era, has load-bearing walls supporting upper floors on joists. It is unable to withstand the blast and collapses, adding to the devastation and injury count.

The bombing causes bedlam in the crowded street. Hundreds of people rush to the scene where they form human chains to help the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary  (RUC) free those trapped beneath the rubble by digging with their bare hands. Peter Taylor describes the scene as “reminiscent of the London Blitz” in World War II .

It is widely believed that the bombing is carried out by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in retaliation for the McGurk’s bar bombing one week earlier, which killed 15 Catholic civilians. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had carried out the McGurk’s bombing.

The Balmoral Furniture Company bombing is one of the catalysts that spark the series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists, republicans and the security forces that make the 1970s the bloodiest decade in the 30-year history of The Troubles .

(Pictured: Fireman is shown removing the body of one of the victims of the bombing at the Balmoral Furniture Showroom, December 11, 1971)


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Death of the Quinn Brothers in Ballymoney

Three brothers, Jason, Richard and Mark Quinn, are killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in a firebomb attack on their home in Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on July 12, 1998. The crime is committed towards the end of the three-decade period known as “The Troubles.”

The Quinn family, consisting of mother Chrissie and sons Richard, Mark and Jason, live in the Carnany estate in the predominantly Protestant town of Ballymoney. The family is of a mixed religious background. Mother Chrissie is Roman Catholic from a mixed background and the boys’ father Jim Dillon is Catholic. After separating from her estranged husband, Chrissie rears the boys as Protestant “to avoid the hassle.” Chrissie lives with her Protestant partner Raymond Craig in Carnany which is predominately Protestant, reflecting the religious make-up of Ballymoney itself. The boys, aged 9, 10 and 11, attend a local state school and on the evening before their deaths had been helping to build the estate’s Eleventh Night loyalist bonfire. A fourth brother, Lee, is staying with his grandmother in Rasharkin at the time of the attack.

The killings take place at the height of the stand-off over the Orange Order march at Drumcree, which creates a tense atmosphere in various towns across Northern Ireland. In the weeks leading up to the fatal attack, the children’s mother expresses fear that she is not welcome in the area and that there is a possibility the family home might be attacked by loyalists. The Ballymoney Times reports a story the week of the deaths, stating that a resident of the Carnany estate had called in and was concerned about tension in the area adding something serious might happen “unless Catholic residents were left alone.”

The attack occurs at approximately 4:30 in the morning as the inhabitants of the house sleep. A car containing members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary organisation, arrive at the house and throw a petrol bomb through a window at the rear of the house. The petrol bomb is made from a whiskey bottle. The sounds of the boys’ shouting wakes their mother, who finds her bedroom full of smoke. Chrissie Quinn, Raymond Craig and family friend Christina Archibald escape the resulting fire with minor injuries. Chrissie believes the boys have escaped the fire as she is unable to locate them in the dense smoke before she jumps to safety from a first floor window. Two of the brother’s bodies are found in their mother’s bedroom and the other in another bedroom. Chrissie is taken to the hospital and released the next day after receiving minor injuries and shock in the attack.

One man, Garfield Gilmour, is found guilty of murdering the three brothers fifteen months later and is sentenced to life imprisonment after admitting that he had driven three other men to the house to commit the fatal petrol-bombing. Although Gilmour names the three alleged killers, they are never charged due to a lack of concrete evidence. Gilmour’s conviction for murder is reduced to manslaughter on appeal on June 5, 2000 and he is released six years later. Nine days after his release, his life sentence is replaced by a fixed prison sentence of 14 years.

(Pictured: The Quinn brothers. Left to right: Jason, Mark, Richard)