seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Shankill Butchers First “Cut-Throat Killing”

The Shankill Butchers, an Ulster loyalist gang, undertakes its first “cut-throat killing” on November 25, 1975. Many of the members of the gang are members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) that is active between 1975 and 1982 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Shankill Butchers 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 victim is beaten ferociously and has their throat hacked with a butcher 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.

The commander of the Shankill Butchers gang is Lenny Murphy. He is the youngest of three sons of Joyce (née Thompson) and William Murphy from the loyalist Shankill Road area of Belfast. At school he is known as a bully and threatens other boys with a knife or with retribution from his two older brothers. Soon after leaving school at 16, he joins the UVF. He often attends the trials of people accused of paramilitary crimes, to become well acquainted with the laws of evidence and police procedure.

On September 28, 1972, Murphy shoots and kills William Edward “Ted” Pavis at the latter’s home in East Belfast. Pavis is a Protestant whom the UVF say has been selling weapons to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Murphy and an accomplice, Mervyn Connor, are arrested shortly afterwards and held on remand in Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol. After a visit by police to Connor, fellow inmates suspect that he might cut a deal with the authorities with regard to the Pavis killing. On April 22, 1973, Connor dies by ingesting a large dose of cyanide. Before he dies, he writes a confession to the Pavis murder, reportedly under duress from Murphy. Murphy is brought to trial for the Pavis murder in June 1973. The court hears evidence from two witnesses who had seen Murphy pull the trigger and had later picked him out of an identification parade. The jury acquits him due in part to Murphy’s disruption of the line-up. His freedom is short-lived as he is arrested immediately for a number of escape attempts and imprisoned, then interned, for three years.

In May 1975, Murphy is released from prison. He spends much of his time frequenting pubs on the Shankill Road and assembling a paramilitary team that will enable him to act with some freedom at a remove from the UVF leadership (Brigade Staff). His inner circle consists of two “personal friends.” These are a “Mr. A” and John Murphy, one of Lenny’s brothers, referred to as “Mr. B.” Further down the chain of command are his “sergeants,” William Moore and Bobby “Basher” Bates, a UVF man and former prisoner.

Moore, formerly a worker in a meat-processing factory, had stolen several large knives and meat-cleavers from his old workplace, tools that are later used in more murders. Another prominent figure is Sam McAllister, who uses his physical presence to intimidate others. On October 2, 1975, the gang raids a drinks premises in nearby Millfield. On finding that its four employees, two females and two males, are Catholics, Murphy shoots three of them dead and orders an accomplice to kill the fourth. By now Murphy is using the upper floor of the Brown Bear pub, at the corner of Mountjoy Street and the Shankill Road near his home, as an occasional meeting-place for his unit.

On November 25, 1975, using the city’s sectarian geography to identify likely targets, Murphy roams the areas nearest the Catholic New Lodge in the hope of finding someone likely to be Catholic to abduct. Francis Crossen, a 34-year-old Catholic man and father of two, is walking towards the city centre at approximately 12:40 a.m. when four of the Butchers, in Moore’s taxi, spot him. As the taxi pulls alongside Crossen, Murphy jumps out and hits him with a lug wrench to disorient him. He is dragged into the taxi by Benjamin Edwards and Archie Waller, two of Murphy’s gang. As the taxi returns to the safety of the nearby Shankill area, Crossen suffers a ferocious beating. He is subjected to a high level of violence, including a beer glass being shoved into his head. Murphy repeatedly tells Crossen, “I’m going to kill you, you bastard,” before the taxi stops at an entry off Wimbledon Street. Crossen is dragged into an alleyway and Murphy, brandishing a butcher knife, cuts his throat almost through to the spine. The gang disperses. Crossen, whose body is found the following morning by an elderly woman, is the first of three Catholics to be killed by Murphy in this “horrific and brutal manner.” “Slaughter in back alley” is the headline in the city’s major afternoon newspaper that day. A relative of Crossen says that his family was unable to have an open coffin at his wake because the body was so badly mutilated.

Most of the gang are eventually caught and, in February 1979, receive the longest combined prison sentences in United Kingdom legal history. However, gang leader Lenny Murphy and his two chief “lieutenants” escape prosecution. Murphy is murdered in November 1982 by the Provisional IRA, likely acting with loyalist paramilitaries who perceive him as a threat. The Butchers brought a new level of paramilitary violence to a country already hardened by death and destruction. The judge who oversaw the 1979 trial describes their crimes as “a lasting monument to blind sectarian bigotry.”


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Ulster Volunteer Force Attacks Across Northern Ireland

On October 2, 1975, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, carries out a wave of shootings and bombings across Northern Ireland. Six of the attacks leave 12 people dead (mostly civilians) and around 45 people injured. There is also an attack in the small village of Killyleagh, County Down. There are five attacks in and around Belfast which leave people dead. A bomb which explodes near Coleraine leaves four UVF members dead. There are also several other smaller bombs planted around Northern Ireland, sixteen in total, but other than causing damage they do not kill or injure anyone.

There is a rise in sectarian killings during the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) truce with the British Army, which begins in February 1975 and officially lasts until February 1976. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/Irish nationalists. Loyalists kill 120 Catholics in 1975, the vast majority civilians. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

The first attack of the day takes place at Casey’s Bottling Plant in Belfast. The UVF group, which is alleged to have been led by Shankill Butchers leader Lenny Murphy, enters the premises by pretending to have an order to be filled before launching the attack. Four employees are shot and killed in the attack, sisters Frances Donnelly (35), Marie McGrattan (47) and Gerard Grogan (18) all die that day, with a fourth, Thomas Osborne (18), dying of his wounds three weeks later. Murphy personally shoots all except Donnelly who is killed by his accomplice William Green. The two sisters are forced to kneel on the ground and are shot in the back of the head.

In the next attack Thomas Murphy (29), a Catholic photographer from Belfast, is killed in a booby-trap bomb and gun attack, when two UVF gunmen enter his premises on Carlisle Circus (close to both the loyalist Shankill Road and republican New Lodge areas of Belfast) and shoot him in the chest, before planting a duffel bag bomb in his shop. The resulting explosion injures several people including a female passer-by who loses her leg.

Next the UVF carries out a gun and bomb attack on McKenna’s Bar near Crumlin, County Antrim, which kills a Catholic civilian John Stewart (35) and injures scores of people.

In Killyleagh, County Down, a no-warning bomb explodes outside a Catholic-owned bar, The Anchor Inn. Irene Nicholson (37), a Protestant woman, is killed as she is passing by while the attack is being carried out. Three UVF members are later arrested for this attack in Bangor and one of them claims the attack was “a small one to scare them.”

Next Ronald Winters (26), a Protestant civilian, is shot dead by the UVF in his parents’ house on London Road, Belfast.

Later that night four UVF members are killed as they drive along a road in Farrenlester, near Coleraine, when the bomb they are transporting explodes prematurely.

The following day, October 3, the UVF is once again made a proscribed terrorist organisation. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees had unbanned the UVF in May 1974, the same day the ban on Sinn Féin was lifted, a move never extended to the IRA. Despite this the UVF are still able to kill Catholic civilians at will for the remainder of 1975 and for most of 1976 also.


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The Warrenpoint Ambush

The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, the Warrenpoint massacre or the Narrow Water massacre, is a guerrilla attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on August 27, 1979. The IRA’s South Armagh Brigade ambushes a British Army convoy with two large roadside bombs on the A2 road at Narrow Water Castle, just outside Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

The road and castle are on the northern bank of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic’s side of the river, the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, is an ideal spot from which to launch an ambush. It is thickly wooded, which gives cover to the ambushers, and the river border prevents British forces from giving chase.

On the afternoon of August 27, a British Army convoy of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries carrying soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment is driving from Ballykinlar Barracks to Newry. The British Army is aware of the dangers of using the stretch of road along the Newry River and often declares it out of bounds. However, they sometimes use it to avoid setting a pattern. At 4:40 p.m., as the convoy is driving past Narrow Water Castle, an 800-pound fertiliser bomb, hidden among bales of straw on a parked flatbed trailer, is detonated by remote control by IRA members watching from across the border in County Louth. The explosion catches the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it onto its side and instantly killing six paratroopers, whose bodies are scattered across the road. There are only two survivors amongst the soldiers traveling in the lorry, both of whom receive serious injuries. The lorry’s driver, Anthony Wood (19), is one of those killed. All that remains of his body is his pelvis, welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast.

According to the soldiers, immediately after the blast they are targeted by rifle fire from the woods on the Cooley Peninsula on the other side of the border, with this view supported by two part-time firefighters assisting the wounded. Shortly afterwards, the two IRA members arrested by the Garda Síochána and suspected of being behind the ambush, are found to have traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and on the motorbike they are riding. The IRA’s first statement on the incident, however, denies that any shots had been fired at the troops, and according to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers might have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. Nevertheless, at the official inquiry the soldiers declare on oath that they had been fired on.

The surviving paratroopers radio for urgent assistance, and reinforcements are dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit is sent by Gazelle helicopter, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel David Blair, commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, his signaler Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, and army medics. Another helicopter, a Wessex, lands to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumes command once at the site.

William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, is killed by the British Army and his cousin Barry Hudson, a 25-year-old native of Dingle, is wounded when shots are fired across the Newry River into the Republic of Ireland about 3 km from the village of Omeath, County Louth.

The pair are partners in ‘Hudson Amusements’ and had been operating their amusements in Omeath for the duration of the Omeath Gala. When the first explosion is heard across the Lough, the pair go down to the shore to see what is unfolding. The pair makes their way to Narrow Water on the southern side of the border to get a better view of what is happening on the northern side. Barry Hudson is shot in the arm and as he falls to the ground he sees his cousin, who is the son of a coachman at Buckingham Palace, fall to the ground, shot in the head. He dies almost immediately.

The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaves after a bombing and correctly predicts that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 5:12 p.m., thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb hidden in milk pails explodes at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonates as the Wessex helicopter is taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter is damaged by the blast but does not crash.

The second explosion kills twelve soldiers, ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Lieutenant Colonel Blair is the second Lieutenant Colonel to be killed in the Troubles up until then, following Lieutenant Colonel Corden-Lloyd of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets in 1978. Only one of Colonel Blair’s epaulettes remains to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. The epaulette is taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to “illustrate the human factor” of the attack. Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, is at the scene soon after the second explosion and later describes seeing human remains scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He is asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers.

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrives at the scene after the first explosion, comes close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who sees him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier is tackled by his comrades. Molloy says, “I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas’ lives and taken pictures of it.”

The Warrenpoint ambush is a victory for the IRA. It is the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment’s biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later says it was “arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign.” The ambush happens on the same day that Lord Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British royal family, is killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, along with three others.

Republicans portray the attack as retaliation for Bloody Sunday in 1972 when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Derry. Graffiti appears in republican areas declaring “13 gone and not forgotten, we got 18 and Mountbatten.” The day after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast‘s New Lodge estate. Hardy is targeted in the mistaken belief that he is an IRA member.

Very shortly after the ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan are arrested by the Gardaí. They are stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They are later released on bail due to lack of evidence. Burns dies in 1988 when a bomb he is handling explodes prematurely. In 1998, former IRA member Eamon Collins claims that Burns had been one of those who carried out the Warrenpoint ambush. No one has ever been criminally charged.

According to Toby Harnden, the attack “drove a wedge” between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggests to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claims instead that the British Army practice, since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in south County Armagh by helicopter gives too much freedom of movement to the IRA. One result is the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role is to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. Another is the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the deaths of the 18 soldiers hastens the move to Ulsterisation.

Lieutenant Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley College, Oxfordshire.


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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

The Milltown Cemetery attack takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During the large funeral of three Provisional Irish Republican Army members killed in Gibraltar, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, Michael Stone, attacks the mourners with hand grenades and pistols.

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.


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Birth of Dawn Purvis, Former Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly

Dawn Purvis, former Independent Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, is born in the Donegall Pass area of Belfast on October 22, 1966. She is previously the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) until she resigns in 2010. She loses her seat in the Assembly in the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Purvis joins the Progressive Unionist Party in 1994. She stands for the party in the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum election in Belfast South and then in the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly election in Belfast South, here taking only 271 votes. By 1999, she is the Progressive Unionist Party’s Spokesperson on Women’s Affairs. She takes a degree in Women’s Studies, Social Policy and Social Anthropology and begins working full-time for the party.

Purvis stands in Belfast South in the 2001 United Kingdom general election, finishing in sixth place with a total of 1,112 votes (2.9%). In 2006, she is appointed to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Her appointment is later criticised by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), because of the Progressive Unionist Party’s links with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

In January 2007, Purvis succeeds the late David Ervine as leader of the Progressive Unionist Party and Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Belfast East. Commenting on her new role she says, “I am deeply honoured to have been made the leader of the PUP. However, this is also tinged with sadness given the huge loss of David. It is a huge challenge to step into this role, especially after the good work he did. But this gives us an opportunity to rebuild and continue to serve working class loyalists and unionist communities.”

In her maiden speech in the Assembly, Purvis says “As long as there is poverty, and as long as there is inequality in education, health and gender, it will be my duty to articulate the needs of the working and workless classes in East Belfast.”

Purvis is re-elected in the constituency at the Northern Ireland Assembly election held on March 7, 2007, on the tenth and final round of counting.

In June 2010, Purvis resigns as leader, and as a member, of the Progressive Unionist Party because of its relationship with the UVF and the murder of Bobby Moffet which is attributed to that group by the Independent Monitoring Commission.

In the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election Purvis defends her seat as an independent candidate with Progressive Unionist Party leader Brian Ervine running against her. In the end neither candidate is elected and instead the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland gains a second Belfast East seat.

Purvis is now the director of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast. In November 2014 Bernadette Smyth, founder of the Precious Life organisation, is found guilty of the harassment of Purvis, but the verdict is later quashed.


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Introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Herbert Henry Asquith, a member of the Liberal Party, introduces the Third Home Rule Bill on April 11, 1912, which would provide self-government for Ireland, an apparent triumph for Nationalist leader John Redmond.

As a minority party after 1910 elections, the Liberal Party depends on the Irish vote, controlled by John Redmond. To gain Irish support for the budget and the parliament bill, Asquith promises Redmond that Irish Home Rule will be the highest priority. It proves much more complex and time-consuming than expected. Support for self-government for Ireland had been a tenet of the Liberal Party since 1886, but Asquith has not been as enthusiastic, stating in 1903 (while in opposition) that the party should never take office if that government would be dependent for survival on the support of the Irish Nationalist Party. After 1910, though, Irish Nationalist votes are essential to stay in power. Retaining Ireland in the Union is the declared intent of all parties, and the Nationalists, as part of the majority that keep Asquith in office, are entitled to seek enactment of their plans for Home Rule, and to expect Liberal and Labour support. The Conservatives, with die-hard support from the Protestant Orange Order of Ulster, are strongly opposed to Home Rule. The desire to retain a veto for the House of Lords on such bills has been an unbridgeable gap between the parties in the constitutional talks prior to the December 1910 United Kingdom general election.

The cabinet committee (excluding Asquith) that in 1911 plans the Third Home Rule Bill opposes any special status for Protestant Ulster within majority-Catholic Ireland. In 1913, Asquith writes to Winston Churchill, stating that the Prime Minister has always believed and stated that the price of Home Rule should be a special status for Ulster. In spite of this, the bill as introduced in April 1912 contains no such provision, and is meant to apply to all Ireland. Neither partition nor a special status for Ulster is likely to satisfy either side. The self-government offered by the bill is very limited, but Irish Nationalists, expecting Home Rule to come by gradual parliamentary steps, favours it. The Conservatives and Irish Unionists oppose it. Unionists begin preparing to get their way by force if necessary, prompting nationalist emulation. Though very much a minority, Irish Unionists are generally better financed and more organised.

Since the Parliament Act the Unionists can no longer block Home Rule in the House of Lords, but only delay Royal Assent by two years. Asquith decides to postpone any concessions to the Unionists until the bill’s third passage through the House of Commons, when he believes the Unionists will be desperate for a compromise. Biographer Roy Jenkins concludes that had Asquith tried for an earlier agreement, he would have had no luck, as many of his opponents wanted a fight and the opportunity to smash his government. Sir Edward Carson, MP for the University of Dublin and leader of the Irish Unionists in Parliament, threatens a revolt if Home Rule is enacted. The new Conservative leader, Bonar Law, campaigns in Parliament and in northern Ireland, warning Ulstermen against “Rome Rule,” that is, domination by the island’s Catholic majority. Many who oppose Home Rule feel that the Liberals have violated the Constitution by pushing through major constitutional change without a clear electoral mandate, with the House of Lords, formerly the “watchdog of the constitution,” not reformed as had been promised in the preamble of the 1911 Act and thus justified actions that in other circumstances might be treason.

The passions generated by the Irish question contrast with Asquith’s cool detachment, and he writes about the prospective partition of the county of Tyrone, which has a mixed population, deeming it “an impasse, with unspeakable consequences, upon a matter which to English eyes seems inconceivably small, and to Irish eyes immeasurably big.” As the House of Commons debate the Home Rule bill in late 1912 and early 1913, unionists in the north of Ireland mobilise, with talk of Carson declaring a Provisional Government and Ulster Volunteer Forces (UVF) built around the Orange Lodges, but in the cabinet, only Churchill views this with alarm.

These forces, insisting on their loyalty to the British Crown but increasingly well-armed with smuggled German weapons, prepare to do battle with the British Army, but Unionist leaders are confident that the army will not aid in forcing Home Rule on Ulster. As the Home Rule bill awaits its third passage through the House of Commons, the so-called Curragh incident occurs in March 1914. With deployment of troops into Ulster imminent and threatening language by Churchill and the Secretary of State for War, John Seely, around sixty army officers, led by Brigadier General Hubert Gough, announce that they would rather be dismissed from the service than obey. With unrest spreading to army officers in England, the Cabinet acts to placate the officers with a statement written by Asquith reiterating the duty of officers to obey lawful orders but claiming that the incident had been a misunderstanding. Seely then adds an unauthorised assurance, countersigned by Sir John French, the professional head of the army, that the government has no intention of using force against Ulster. Asquith repudiates the addition, and requires Seely and French to resign, taking on the War Office himself, retaining the additional responsibility until hostilities against Germany begin.

Within a month of the start of Asquith’s tenure at the War Office, the UVF lands a large cargo of guns and ammunition at Larne, but the Cabinet does not deem it prudent to arrest their leaders. On May 12, Asquith announces that he will secure Home Rule’s third passage through the House of Commons (accomplished on May 25), but that there will be an amending bill with it, making special provision for Ulster. But the House of Lords make changes to the amending bill unacceptable to Asquith, and with no way to invoke the Parliament Act on the amending bill, Asquith agrees to meet other leaders at an all-party conference on July 21 at Buckingham Palace, chaired by King George V. When no solution can be found, Asquith and his cabinet plans further concessions to the Unionists, but this does not occur as the crisis in Europe erupts into war.

In September 1914, after the outbreak of the conflict, Asquith announces that the Home Rule bill will go on the statute book as the Government of Ireland Act 1914 but will not go into force until after the war. He adds that in the interim a bill granting special status to Ulster will be considered. This solution satisfies neither side.

(Pictured: H.H. Asquith, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom)


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RTÉ Television Centre Bombing

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0At the beginning of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) plants their first bomb in the Republic of Ireland, damaging the RTÉ Television Centre in Donnybrook, Dublin, on August 5, 1969. No injuries result from the bombing.

The RTÉ Television Centre is a television studio complex which is owned by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) and has been home to Ireland’s national public service broadcaster since 1961. The building houses the main production studios for RTÉ Television, the control rooms for all RTÉ’s TV channels, and RTÉ’s main newsroom.

At 1:30 AM on the morning of August 5, a bomb explodes at the RTÉ Television Centre causing damage primarily to the western end of the studios. The explosion is heard over a wide area of Dublin. Only a skeleton staff are on duty and nobody is injured. The bombing takes place during the protest campaign by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association but before the 1969 Northern Ireland riots.

The bomb, which is believed to be a time bomb placed at the rear wall of the studio building, causes no structural damage to the building but destroys the wardrobe department and shatters windows in a large section of the building, including the large structural plate glass panels which are a feature of the building.

Army explosive experts are called in to investigate the cause of the explosion and determine who planted it.


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The Loughinisland Massacre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 90The Loughinisland massacre takes place on June 18, 1994 in the small village of Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fire on the customers, killing six civilians and wounding five. The pub is targeted because it is frequented mainly by Catholics. The UVF claims the attack is retaliation for the killing of three UVF members by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) two days earlier.

About 24 people are gathered in The Heights Bar, also known as O’Toole’s Pub, watching the Republic of Ireland vs. Italy in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It is thus sometimes referred to as the “World Cup massacre.”

At 10:10 PM, two UVF members wearing boilersuits and balaclavas walk into the bar. One shouts “Fenian bastards!” and opens fire on the crowd with a vz. 58 assault rifle, spraying the small room with more than sixty bullets. Six men are killed outright and five other people are wounded. Witnesses say the gunmen then run to a getaway car, “laughing.” One witness describes “bodies … lying piled on top of each other on the floor.” The dead were Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Green (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O’Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39), all Catholic civilians. O’Hare is the brother-in-law of Eamon Byrne and Green is one of the oldest people to be killed during the Troubles.

The UVF claims responsibility within hours of the attack. It claims that an Irish republican meeting was being held in the pub and that the shooting was retaliation for the INLA attack. Police say there is no evidence the pub had links to republican paramilitary activity and say the attack is purely sectarian. Journalist Peter Taylor writes in his book Loyalists that the attack may not have been sanctioned by the UVF leadership. Police intelligence indicates that the order to retaliate came from the UVF leadership and that its ‘Military Commander’ had supplied the rifle used. Police believe the attack was carried out by a local UVF unit under the command of a senior member who reported to the leadership in Belfast.

The attack receives international media coverage and is widely condemned. Among those who send messages of sympathy are Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II and United States President Bill Clinton. Local Protestant families visit their wounded neighbours in the hospital, expressing their shock and disgust.

There have been allegations that police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) double agents or informants in the UVF were linked to the massacre and that police protected those informers by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation. At the request of the victims’ families, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigate the police. In 2011 the Ombudsman concludes that there were major failings in the police investigation, but no evidence that police colluded with the UVF. The Ombudsman does not investigate the role of informers and the report is branded a whitewash. The Ombudsman’s own investigators demand to be disassociated from it. The report is quashed, the Ombudsman replaced and a new inquiry ordered.

In 2016, a new Ombudsman report concludes that there had been collusion between the police and the UVF, and that the investigation was undermined by the wish to protect informers, but found no evidence police had foreknowledge of the attack. A documentary film about the massacre, No Stone Unturned, is released in 2017. It names the main suspects, one of whom is a member of the British Army, and claims that one of the killers was an informer.


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The Coagh Ambush

coagh-county-tyroneThe Coagh ambush takes place in Coagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on June 3, 1991, during The Troubles, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) active service unit from its East Tyrone Brigade is ambushed by the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) while on its way to kill a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The ambush results in the deaths of all three IRA men involved.

The series of killings which lead to the Coagh ambush begin on April 26 1988, when a 23-year-old UDR soldier from Coagh, Edward Gibson, is shot dead by an IRA unit at Ardboe while at work for Cookstown Council on a bin lorry. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by murdering Phelim McNally, brother of local Sinn Féin councillor Francie McNally, on November 24, 1988. This is followed by an IRA attack upon a car maintenance garage business owned by retired UDR soldier Leslie Dallas on March 7, 1989, in which Dallas, along with two civilian pensioners that are in the premises at the time of the attack, are all murdered by machine gun fire from a passing vehicle, the IRA attackers driving off afterwards cheering as reported by eyewitnesses in the vicinity.

The tit-for-tat campaign around Coagh continues on November 29 1989, when UVF gunmen attack a pub owned by IRA member Liam Ryan, shooting Ryan dead. A customer in the premises is also killed in the incident. On March 8, 1990, part-time UDR soldier and construction worker Thomas Jamison is killed by the IRA in a gun and grenade ambush attack on a lorry he is driving near Donaghmore, while delivering concrete to a British Army base. On March 3, 1991, the Ulster Volunteer Force carries out an attack at the village of Cappagh, killing three IRA members. On April 9, 1991, the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade shoots dead Derek Ferguson in Coagh, a cousin of local Member of Parliament Reverend William McCrea, stating afterward that he was a paramilitary with the Ulster Volunteer Force. Ferguson’s family subsequently refutes that he had anything to do with Loyalist paramilitarism.

At 7:30 AM on June 3, 1991, three Tyrone IRA paramilitaries, Tony Doris (21), Michael “Pete” Ryan (37) and Lawrence McNally (39), drive a stolen Vauxhall Cavalier from Moneymore, County Londonderry to the village of Coagh, crossing the border of counties Londonderry and Tyrone, to kill a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, who is in his civilian life a contractor that works with the security forces. Their intent, however, is known to the British security forces, having been revealed by either a Crown agent within the IRA itself or from covert technical surveillance. In consequence a detachment from the British Army’s Special Air Service is lying in wait on both sides of Coagh’s main street, and also in a red Bedford lorry at the scene.

The stolen car is driven by Doris towards the centre of the village, its journey from Moneymore being tracked on the ground and in the air. At the scene of the ambush the British Army has set up a “decoy” target for the IRA to go for in the form of an SAS trooper who is pretending to be their intended victim, sitting in his car at a regular spot while waiting to pick up a friend on their way to work, which IRA intelligence had established as a behavioral pattern of their intended victim. When the stolen car carrying the IRA men approaches the scene, the Special Air Service detachment opens sustained automatic fire upon it from close range. Doris is immediately hit and the out-of-control car crashes into two nearby parked cars. The shooting continues until the car explodes in flames. According to an eyewitness, one of the IRA men in the car returns fire from within the vehicle after the crash.

Some reports claim at least two of the IRA men attempt to exit the crashed car and are subsequently found lying half out of its doors by the later police investigation of the scene. Relatives of the IRA men subsequently state that they had received information from the scene that two of the IRA attackers had fled on foot from the car after the crash, but had been pursued after and shot down by the British Army in the vicinity, with their bodies being taken back to the car, which is subsequently reported to be riddled with over 200 bullet holes. A Royal Ulster Constabulary crime-scene report states that a balaclava belonging to one of the IRA men is found some distance away from the vehicle.

The bodies of Doris, Ryan and McNally are badly burned and have to be identified by police using their dental records. Two rifles are recovered from within the burned-out stolen car and subsequent police forensic examination reveals that they had both been used in the multiple murders at Leslie Dallas’s garage in March 1989.

(Pictured: Looking towards Coagh village, from the County Londonderry side)


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The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

dublin-and-monaghan-bombingsThe Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 17, 1974 are a series of co-ordinated bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, Ireland. Three car bombs explode in Dublin at Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street during the evening rush hour and a fourth car bomb explodes in Monaghan, just south of the border with Northern Ireland, almost ninety minutes later. The bombs kill 33 civilians and a full-term unborn child, and injure almost 300. The bombings are the deadliest attack of the conflict known as the Troubles, and the deadliest attack in the Republic of Ireland‘s history. Most of the victims are young women, although the ages of the dead range from pre-born up to 80 years.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, claims responsibility for the bombings in 1993. It has launched a number of attacks in the Republic since 1969. There are allegations taken seriously by inquiries that elements of the British state security forces help the UVF carry out the bombings, including members of the Glenanne gang. Some of these allegations have come from former members of the security forces. The Irish parliament‘s Joint Committee on Justices calls the attacks an act of international terrorism involving British state forces. The month before the bombings, the British government lifts the UVF’s status as a proscribed organisation.

The bombings happen during the Ulster Workers’ Council strike. This is a general strike called by hardline loyalists and unionists in Northern Ireland who oppose the Sunningdale Agreement. Specifically, they oppose the sharing of political power with Irish nationalists and the proposed role for the Republic in the governance of Northern Ireland. The Republic’s government had helped bring about the Agreement. The strike brings down the Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly on May 28.

No one has ever been charged with the bombings. A campaign by the victims’ families leads to an Irish government inquiry under Justice Henry Barron. His 2003 report criticises the Garda Síochána‘s investigation and says the investigators stopped their work prematurely. It also criticises the Fine Gael/Labour Party government of the time for its inaction and lack of interest in the bombings. The report says it is likely that British security force personnel or MI5 intelligence is involved but has insufficient evidence of higher-level involvement. However, the inquiry is hindered by the British government’s refusal to release key documents. The victims’ families and others are continuing to campaign to this day for the British government to release these documents.

(Pictured: Some of the damage caused by the second car bomb on Talbot Street, Dublin)