seamus dubhghaill

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


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Palmerstown House Burned by the IRA

palmerstown-housePalmerstown House in Johnstown, County Kildare, the home of Dermot Bourke, 7th Earl of Mayo, is burned and destroyed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on January 29, 1923.

The destruction of country houses in Ireland is a phenomenon of the Irish revolutionary period (1919–1923), which sees at least 275 country houses deliberately burned down, blown up, or otherwise destroyed by the Irish Republican Army.

The vast majority of the houses, known in Ireland as Big Houses, belong to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy of the Protestant Ascendancy. The houses of some Roman Catholic unionists, suspected informers, and members or supporters of the new Irish Free State government are also targeted. Although the practice by the IRA of destroying country houses begins in the Irish War of Independence, most of the buildings are destroyed during the Irish Civil War (1922–23).

Attacks are planned and organised, and generally focused on Irish peers who have sat in the House of Lords, members of the Senate of the Irish Free State and former Irish Unionist Party politicians. The assault on the “Big Houses” is part of a wider campaign against Free State supporters as a reprisal for the executions policy of the Government.

At least 76 country houses are destroyed in the War of Independence as thirty “Big Houses” are burned in 1920 and another 46 in the first half of 1921, mostly in the conflict’s Munster heartland which includes counties Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Clare and Limerick. It is believed that 199 country houses are destroyed during the Irish Civil War. Some houses are destroyed in the fighting of the early months of the war, but the campaign against them begins in earnest in late 1922.

In most cases, no one is injured during the destruction of the house. It is recorded that in several cases, members of the IRA help the targeted family to remove their possessions from the house before it is destroyed. When Dermot Bourke’s house is attacked on January 29, 1923, he describes the IRA guerrillas as being “excessively polite” and apologetic. Nonetheless, there are incidents of violence and deaths in such attacks. The Church of Ireland Gazette records numerous instances of Unionists and Loyalists being shot, burned out or otherwise forced from their homes during the early 1920s.

Today, most of the targeted buildings are in ruins or have been demolished. Some have been restored by their owners, albeit often smaller in size, or have been rebuilt and are now used for other purposes.

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The Omagh Car Bombing

The Omagh bombing, a car bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, takes place on August 15, 1998. It is carried out by a group calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) splinter group who opposes the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement.

On the day of the bombing, the bombers drive a car, loaded with 230 kilograms (510 lb) of fertiliser-based explosives, across the Irish border. At approximately 2:19 PM they park the vehicle outside S.D. Kells’ clothes shop in Omagh’s Lower Market Street, on the southern side of the town centre, near the crossroads with Dublin Road. They are unable to find a parking space near the intended target, the Omagh courthouse. The two male occupants arm the bomb and, upon exiting the car, walk east down Market Street towards Campsie Road.

Three telephone calls are made warning of a bomb in Omagh, using the same codeword that had been used in the Real IRA’s bomb attack in Banbridge two weeks earlier. At 2:32 PM, a warning is telephoned to Ulster Television saying, “There’s a bomb, courthouse, Omagh, Main Street, 500 lb., explosion 30 minutes.” One minute later, the office receives a second warning saying, “Martha Pope (which is the RIRA’s code word), bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes.” The caller claims the warning on behalf of “Óglaigh na hÉireann.” One minute later, the Coleraine office of the Samaritans receives a call stating that a bomb will go off on “Main Street” about 200 yards (180 m) from the courthouse. The recipients pass the information on to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), but are claimed to be inaccurate and police inadvertently move people towards the bomb.

The car bomb detonates at 3:10 PM in the crowded shopping area. The bombing kills 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injures some 220 others. Twenty-one people who are in the vicinity of the vehicle die at the scene. Eight more people die on the way to or in the hospital. The death toll is higher than that of any single incident during what are considered “the Troubles.”

The bombing causes outrage both locally and internationally, spurs on the Northern Ireland peace process, and deals a severe blow to the Dissident republican campaign. The Real IRA apologises and declares a ceasefire shortly afterwards. The victims include people from many backgrounds: Protestants, Catholics, a Mormon teenager, five other teenagers, six children, a mother pregnant with twins, two Spanish tourists, and others on a day trip from the Republic of Ireland. Both unionists and Irish nationalists are killed and injured.

It is alleged that the British, Irish and U.S. intelligence agencies have information which could have prevented the bombing, most of which comes from double agents inside the Real IRA. This information is not given to the local police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 2008 it is revealed that British intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters, was monitoring conversations between the bombers as the bomb was being driven into Omagh.

A 2001 report by the Police Ombudsman says that the RUC Special Branch failed to act on prior warnings and slammed the RUC’s investigation of the bombing. The RUC has obtained circumstantial and coincidental evidence against some suspects, but it has not come up with anything to convict anyone of the bombing. Colm Murphy is tried, convicted, and then released after it is revealed that Garda Síochána forged interview notes used in the case. Murphy’s nephew, Sean Hoey, is also tried and found not guilty.

In June 2009, the victims’ families win a GB£1.6 million civil action against four defendants. In April 2014, Seamus Daly is charged with the murders of those killed, however, the case against him is withdrawn in February 2016.


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Belfast’s Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday or Belfast’s Bloody Sunday is a day of violence in Belfast, Ireland (present-day Northern Ireland) on July 10, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

Belfast sees almost 500 people die in political violence between 1920 and 1922. Violence in the city breaks out in the summer of 1920 in response to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Detective Oswald Swanzy after Sunday services outside a Protestant church in nearby Lisburn. Seven thousand Catholics and some Protestant trade unionists are driven from their jobs in the Belfast shipyards and over 50 people are killed in rioting between Catholics and Protestants.

Violence in Belfast wanes until the following summer of 1921. At the time, Irish republican and British authorities are negotiating a truce to end the war, but fighting flares up in Belfast. On June 10, an IRA gunman, Jack Donaghy, ambushes three RIC constables on the Falls Road, fatally wounding one, Thomas Conlon, a Roman Catholic from County Roscommon, who, ironically, is viewed as “sympathetic” to the local nationalists. Over the following three days, at least 14 people lose their lives and 14 are wounded in fighting in the city, including three Catholics who are taken from their homes and killed by uniformed police.

Low-level attacks continue in the city over the next month until another major outbreak of violence that leads to “Bloody Sunday.” On July 8, the RIC attempt to carry out searches in the mainly Catholic and republican enclave around Union Street and Stanhope Street. However, they are confronted by about fifteen IRA volunteers in an hour-long firefight.

On July 9, a truce to suspend the war is agreed in Dublin between representatives of the Irish Republic and the British government, to come into effect at noon on July 11. Many Protestants/unionists condemn the truce as a “sell-out” to republicans.

On the night of July 9/10, hours after the truce is announced, the RIC attempt to launch a raid in the Lower Falls district of west Belfast. Scouts alert the IRA of the raid by blowing whistles, banging dustbin lids and flashing a red light. On Raglan Street, a unit of about fourteen IRA volunteers ambush an armoured police truck, killing one officer and wounding at least two others.

This sparks an outbreak of ferocious fighting between Catholics and Protestants in west Belfast the following day, Sunday July 10, in which 16 civilians lose their lives and up to 200 houses are destroyed. Of the houses destroyed, 150 are owned by Catholics. Most of the dead are civilians and at least four of the Catholic victims are ex-World War I servicemen.

Protestants, fearful of absorption into a Catholic Ireland and blindly angered by the presence of heresy and treason in their midst, strike at the Catholic community while vengeful Catholics strike back with counter-terror. Gun battles rage all day along the sectarian “boundary” between the Catholic Falls and Protestant Shankill districts and rival gunmen use rifles, machine guns and grenades in the clashes. Gunmen are seen firing from windows, rooftops and street corners. A loyalist mob, several thousand strong, attempt to storm the Falls district, carrying petrol and other flammable materials.

A tram travelling from the Falls into the city centre is struck by snipers’ bullets, and the service has to be suspended. Catholics and republicans claim that police, mostly from the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), drive through Catholic enclaves in armoured cars firing indiscriminately at houses and bystanders. The police return to their barracks late on Sunday night, allegedly after a ceasefire has been agreed by telephone between a senior RIC officer and the commander of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, Roger McCorley.

The truce is due to come into effect at midday on Monday, July 11, but violence resumes that morning. Three people are shot dead that day, including an IRA volunteer who is shot minutes before midday. In the north the official truce does not end the fighting. While the IRA is involved in the violence, it does not control the actions of the Catholic community. Tuesday July 12 sees the Orange Order‘s annual Twelfth marches pass off peacefully and there are no serious disturbances in the city. However, sporadic violence resumes on Wednesday, and by the end of the week 28 people in all have been killed or fatally wounded in Belfast.

The violence of the period in Belfast is cyclical, and the events of July 1921 are followed by a lull until a three-day period beginning on August 29, when another 20 lives are lost in the west and north of the city. The conflict in Belfast between the IRA and Crown forces and between Catholics and Protestants continues until the following summer, when the northern IRA is left isolated by the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in the south and weakened by the rigorous enforcement of internment in Northern Ireland.

At the time the day is referred to as “Belfast’s Bloody Sunday.” However the title of “Bloody Sunday” is now more commonly given in Ireland to events in Dublin in November 1920 or Derry in January 1972.


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Northern Ireland Falls Under Direct Rule from Westminster

Northern Ireland is brought under direct rule from Westminster on May 29, 1974 following the collapse of Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing assembly the previous day.

The power-sharing assembly’s leader, Brian Faulkner, and fellow members resign on May 28. The collapse follows a seven-day general strike organised by militant unionists opposed to the Sunningdale Agreement. Over the week leading up to the collapse industrial production comes to a halt with power cuts of up to eighteen hours. Rubbish is not collected and there are reports that undertakers refuse to bury the dead.

In 1973, the British Government under Edward Heath held talks at Sunningdale in Berkshire with the government of the Irish Republic and three political parties – the Official Unionists led by Faulkner, the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and the non-sectarian Alliance Party. They agree to set up a power-sharing executive for Northern Ireland and, eventually, a Council of Ireland involving the Republic with limited jurisdiction over issues of joint concern between north and south.

The declaration also recognises the wishes of unionists to remain within the United Kingdom and nationalists for a united Ireland. Both sides agreed the will of the majority should be respected. But hardline loyalists, led by Harry West, Ian Paisley and William Craig, do not attend most of the talks at Sunningdale, and when the proposals are announced, they criticise them strongly.

The new executive formally comes into power on January 1, 1974 but soon runs into trouble. Anti-power sharing unionists do their best to disrupt proceedings and eighteen members including Paisley are forcibly removed by the police.

In February, a general election sees Labour returned to power in Westminster and eleven of the twelve seats in Northern Ireland won by unionists opposed to the deal under the umbrella of the United Ulster Unionist Council. Of those supporting the executive, only Gerry Fitt is elected as the UUUC wins more than 50% of the vote.

With the Sunningdale executive teetering on the edge, the coup de grâce is delivered by the loyalist Ulster Workers’ Council, which organises a seven-day strike after the assembly approves the agreement in the week prior to the collapse of the power-sharing assembly. Devolved government is not re-established in Northern Ireland until 1998.

(Pictured: Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) strike outside the Northern Ireland Parliament Buildings, commonly known as Stormont)


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Ahern & Blair Conduct Talks at Hillsborough Castle

ahern-blair-hillsboroughTaoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair conduct talks at Hillsborough Castle on March 3, 2003, in the latest bid to salvage the floundering Good Friday Agreement. The negotiations last eight hours.

This meeting is very important, as it is Tony Blair’s last chance at intensive negotiation before his attention is totally caught up in the Iraq War. Progress cannot afford to slip further as the Stormont Assembly election has to be formally declared by March 21 if it is to take place as scheduled on May 1.

David Trimble, representing the unionists, has said the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must “go out of business” before his party will re-enter a coalition government with Sinn Fein. In late 2002, he uses the word “disbandment” but he is now careful to avoid being overly prescriptive.

He wants visible, verifiable decommissioning to restore unionist confidence, severely damaged by the IRA spy ring allegations which led to the collapse of devolution in October 2002. Trimble is also urging sanctions to punish republican politicians if the Provisionals renege.

The key demands of the republicans are demilitarisation, guarantees that unionists cannot pull down the Stormont Assembly again, devolution of policing and criminal justice, further police reforms, and a dispensation for 30-40 fugitive IRA members to go back to Northern Ireland without prosecution.

Republicans insist discussions must not revolve around getting rid of the IRA. They prefer to interpret the prime minister’s talk of “acts of completion” as an admission of failure to implement his obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, shortcomings they outlined in a 57-page dossier handed in to Downing Street.

Tony Blair claims he does not want to get involved in a bartering game – but in fact the government is prepared make major moves in return for IRA concessions. The prime minister is offering a radical three-year plan to withdraw 5,000 of the 13,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and tear down a large number of border watchtowers and military bases.

Sinn Fein wants written guarantees on troop withdrawal and police reform, criminal justice and on-the-run terrorists. But important details need ironing out.

Policing and the return of fugitive paramilitaries are extremely sensitive issues for both republicans and unionists. A balance must be struck so that on-the-runs, mostly republican, are freed on licence after some sort of judicial process but not given amnesty, unacceptable to unionists.

Government sources claim Sinn Fein is poised to join the policing board, endorsing the police service for the first time, but this too will require delicate handling to ensure unionists don’t walk away.

One British government source states, “Everybody knows what has to be done, the question is if the will is there to achieve it. One of the problems is no one is absolutely clear what the IRA is prepared to do.”


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Dáil Éireann Approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty

second-all-ireland-dailDáil Éireann votes to approve the Anglo-Irish Treaty on January 7, 1922, following a debate through late December 1921 and into January 1922. The vote is 64 in favour, 57 against, with the Ceann Comhairle and three others not voting. The Sinn Féin party splits into opposing sides in the aftermath of the Treaty vote, which leads to the Irish Civil War from June 1922 until May 1923. The treaty is signed in London on December 6, 1921.

Two elections take place in Ireland in 1921, as a result of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 to establish the House of Commons of Northern Ireland and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. The election is used by the Irish Republic as the basis of membership of the Second Dáil. The general election to the Northern Ireland House of Commons occurs on May 24, 1921. Of 52 seats, forty are won by unionists, six by moderate Irish nationalists, and six by Sinn Féin. No actual polling takes place in the Southern Ireland constituencies, as all 128 candidates are returned unopposed. Given the backdrop of the increasingly violent War of Independence, any candidates opposed to Sinn Féin and their supporters can expect to be harassed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Supporters of the Irish Labour Party stand aside to allow the constitutional situation to run its course. Of these 128, 124 are won by Sinn Féin, and four by independent unionists representing the University of Dublin constituency. Only the Sinn Féin candidates recognise the Second Dáil and five of these have been elected in two constituencies, one in each part of Ireland, so the total number of members who assemble in the Second Dáil is 125.

During the Second Dáil, the government of the Irish Republic and the British government of David Lloyd George agree to hold peace negotiations. On September 14, 1921 the Dáil ratifies the appointment of Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan, and George Gavan Duffy as envoys plenipotentiary for the peace conference in England. These envoys eventually sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6. After almost a month of acrimonious debate the treaty is formally ratified by Dáil Éireann on January 7, 1922.

To satisfy the requirements of the British constitution, the treaty also has to be ratified by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Thus Irish nationalists end their boycott of the home rule parliament to attend the southern House of Commons as MPs. This they do alongside the four Unionist MPs who had refused to recognise the Dáil. In this way the treaty is ratified a second time in Dublin, this time unanimously as the anti-Treaty TDs refuse to attend.

Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty a provisional parliament, considered by nationalists to be the Third Dáil, is elected in the 1922 general election on June 16. Collins and Éamon de Valera agree a pact between the pro- and anti-Treaty wings of Sinn Féin and this pact and the elections are endorsed by the Second Dáil. The new assembly is recognised both by nationalists and the British Government and so replaces both the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the Second Dáil with a single body. The anti-Treaty groups of IRA members, TDs, and their supporters are still bitterly opposed the settlement, despite the election result, and this leads to the Irish Civil War.

(Pictured: Second All-Ireland Dáil Éireann, elected in 1921)


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Free State Government Purchases Copyright to “The Soldiers Song”

amhran-na-bhfiannThe Irish Free State government purchases the copyright of Peadar Kearney‘s The Soldiers Song on October 20, 1933, which becomes the Irish national anthem Amhrán na bhFiann. The song has three verses, but only the choral refrain is officially designated the national anthem.

A Soldiers’ Song is composed in 1907, with words by Peadar Kearney and music by Kearney and Patrick Heeney. The text is first published in Irish Freedom by Bulmer Hobson in 1912. It is used as a marching song by the Irish Volunteers and is sung by rebels in the General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising of 1916. Its popularity increases among rebels held in Frongoch internment camp after the Rising, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, a large proportion of the IRA’s men and apparatus become the National Army. The Soldiers’ Song remains popular as an Army tune, and is played at many military functions.

The Free State does not initially adopt any official anthem. The delicate political state in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War provokes a desire to avoid controversy. Ex-Unionists continue to regard God Save the King as the national anthem, as it has been for the rest of the British Empire. W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State expresses opposition to replacing The Soldiers’ Song, which is provisionally used within the State.

There is concern that the lack of an official anthem is giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with God Save the King. The Soldiers’ Song is widely if unofficially sung by nationalists. On July 12, 1926, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decides to adopt it as the National Anthem, with Cosgrave the driving force in the decision. However, this decision is not publicised.

In 1928, the Army band establishes the practice of playing only the chorus of the song as the Anthem, because the longer version is discouraging audiences from singing along.

The anthem is played by Radio Éireann at closedown from its inception in 1926. Cinemas and theatres do so from 1932 until 1972. Peadar Kearney, who has received royalties from publishers of the text and music, issues legal proceedings for royalties from those now performing the anthem. He is joined by Michael Heeney, brother of Patrick Heeney, who had died in 1911. In 1934, the Department of Finance acquires the copyright of the song for the sum of £1,200. Copyright law changes in 1959, such that the government has to reacquire copyright in 1965, for £2,500. As per copyright law, the copyright expires in December 2012, following the 70th anniversary of Kearney’s death. In 2016, three Fianna Fáil senators introduce a private member’s bill intended to restore the state’s copyright in the anthem.