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


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Birth of Seamus Twomey, Two Time Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA

Seamus Twomey (Irish: Séamus Ó Tuama), Irish republican activist, militant, and twice chief of staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on November 5, 1919 on Marchioness Street in Belfast.

Twomey lives at 6 Sevastopol Street in the Falls district. Known as “Thumper” owing to his short temper and habit of banging his fist on tables, he receives little education and is a bookmaker‘s “runner.” His father is a volunteer in the 1920s. In Belfast he lives comfortably with his wife, Rosie, whom he marries in 1946. Together they have sons and daughters.

Twomey begins his involvement with the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s and is interned in Northern Ireland during the 1940s on the prison ship HMS Al Rawdah and later in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. Rosie, his wife, is also held prisoner at the women prison, Armagh Jail, in Northern Ireland. He opposes the left-wing shift of Cathal Goulding in the 1960s, and in 1968, helps set up the breakaway Andersonstown Republican Club, later the Roddy McCorley Society.

In 1969, Twomey is prominent in the establishment of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. By 1972, he is Officer Commanding (OC) of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade when it launches its bomb campaign of the city, including Bloody Friday when nine people are killed. During the 1970s, the leadership of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA is largely in the hands of Twomey and Ivor Bell.

In March 1973, Twomey is first appointed IRA Chief of Staff after the arrest of Joe Cahill. He remains in this position until his arrest in October 1973 by the Garda Síochána. Three weeks later, on October 31, 1973, the IRA organises the helicopter escape of Twomey and his fellow IRA members J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon, when an active service unit hijacks and forces the pilot at gunpoint to land the helicopter in the training yard of Mountjoy Prison. After his escape, he returns to his membership of IRA Army Council.

By June/July 1974, Twomey is IRA Chief of Staff for a second time. He takes part in the Feakle talks between the IRA and Protestant clergymen in December 1974. In the IRA truce which follows in 1975, he is largely unsupportive and wants to fight on in what he sees as “one big push to finish it once and for all.”

IRA informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that on January 5, 1976, Twomey and Brian Keenan give the go-ahead for the sectarian Kingsmill massacre, when ten unarmed Ulster Protestant workmen are executed by the Provisional IRA in retaliation for a rash of loyalist killings of Catholics in the area. It is Keenan’s view, O’Callaghan claims, that “The only way to knock the nonsense out of the Prods is to be ten times more savage.”

Twomey is dedicated to paramilitarism as a means of incorporating Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. In an interview with French television on July 11, 1977, he declares that although the IRA had waged a campaign for seven years at that point, it can fight on for another 70 against the British state in Northern Ireland and in England. He supports the bombing of wealthy civilian targets, which he justifies on class lines. On October 29, 1977, for example, a no-warning bomb at an Italian restaurant in Mayfair kills one diner and wounds 17 others. Three more people are killed in similar blasts in Chelsea and Mayfair the following month. He says, “By hitting Mayfair restaurants, we were hitting the type of person that could bring pressure to bear on the British government.”

In December 1977, Twomey is captured in Sandycove, Dublin, by the Garda Síochána, who had been tipped off by Belgian police about a concealed arms shipment, to be delivered to a bogus company with an address in the area. They swoop on a house in Martello Terrace to discover Twomey outside in his car, wearing his trademark dark glasses. After a high-speed pursuit, he is recaptured in the centre of Dublin. The Gardaí later find documents in his possession outlining proposals for the structural reorganisation of the IRA according to the cell system. His arrest ends his tenure as IRA chief of staff. In the 1986 split over abstentionism, Twomey sides with the Gerry Adams leadership and remains with the Provisionals.

After a long illness from a heart condition, Twomey dies in Dublin on September 12, 1989. He is buried in the family plot in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast. His funeral is attended by about 2,000 people.


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The Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape

The Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape occurs on October 31, 1973 when three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escape from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which briefly lands in the prison’s exercise yard. The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government of the time, led by Fine Gael‘s Liam Cosgrave, which is criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil. A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána is launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, is not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones write a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which tops the Irish Singles Chart.

Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.

The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.

Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.

The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.

The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.

Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.

In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.


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Birth of Declan Arthurs, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Declan Arthurs, a Volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) East Tyrone Brigade in the mid-1980s, is born in Galbally, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on October 28, 1965.

Arthurs is one of six children, and the fourth of Paddy and Amelia Arthurs. He works on the family farm learning how to drive diggers. He works as an agricultural contractor for the farm. He has one young daughter.

Arthurs joins the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional IRA in 1982 in the wake of Martin Hurson‘s death on the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Hurson is also from Galbally like Arthurs, and Arthurs and his friends look up to Hurson. At the time he joins so do other young men from the same area, like Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Seamus Donnelly and Martin McCaughey.

Over a year and a half year period in the mid-1980s the East Tyrone Brigade attacks and bombs Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks and stations in Ballygawley, Tynan, The Birches, Coalisland, Dungannon, Carrickmore and Castlederg. They bomb hotels and other businesses in Kildress, Ballyronan, Dungannon and Cookstown.

Arthurs takes part in two of the IRA’s biggest attacks of the 1980s. At the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985 and the attack on the RUC Birches barracks in August 1986, Arthurs is a key member of the team who drives a digger past a security fence, stops it outside the barracks, lights a fuse, runs to safety and wrecks the barracks with a 200-pound bomb in the JCB Digger.

Arthurs is killed along with seven other IRA Volunteers who are ambushed by the Special Air Service (SAS) during the Loughgall Ambush on May 8, 1987. Before the SAS fires he lights the 40-second fuse on the bomb and it destroys most of the station, injuring a number of British decoys inside. The Loughgall ambush is supposed to be a carbon copy attack of the bombing of The Birches barracks, with the IRA expecting no resistance. One of the photos of the aftermath of the ambush shows that Arthurs died with the Zippo lighter he used to light the fuse still in his hand.

Amelia Arthurs, Declan’s mother, says of the ambush in an interview to journalist Peter Taylor, “He was mowed down. He could have been taken prisoner. They knew that the ‘boys’ were coming and they lay in wait. The SAS never gave them a chance. Declan died for his country and I’m very proud of him. He was caught up in a war and he died.”

Arthurs is buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Galbally, beside IRA Volunteer Seamus Donnelly who also died in the Loughgall ambush.


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Patrick Maher’s Remains Returned to County Limerick

The dying wish of Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer Patrick Maher is fulfilled on October 19, 2001, when his remains are brought from Dublin to his native County Limerick for burial the following day with full military honours. He is executed in Mountjoy Prison on June 7, 1921 following his alleged part in the rescue of IRA man Seán Hogan from a heavily guarded train in Knocklong, County Limerick, in May 1919, which results in the death of two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers. Maher always protests his innocence. He is 32 years old at the time of his death.

Maher, a native of County Limerick born around 1889, is hanged along with Edmond Foley for his alleged involvement in the rescue of Seán Hogan at Knocklong Railway Station on May 13, 1919 in which two RIC officers are killed.

Unlike Foley, Maher has no direct involvement in the rescue. He merely works at the station grading poultry and eggs and he is at a crossroads three miles away at the time of the ambush. He strongly protests his innocence. Two civilian juries fail to reach a verdict. He is finally convicted of involvement by a military court-martial and sentenced to death.

In a final message to other members of the IRA, Foley and Maher write:

“Fight on, struggle on, for the honour, glory and freedom of dear old Ireland. Our hearts go out to all our dear old friends. Our souls go to God at 7 o’clock in the morning and our bodies, when Ireland is free, shall go to Galbally. Our blood shall not be shed in vain for Ireland, and we have a strong presentiment, going to our God, that Ireland will soon be free and we gladly give our lives that a smile may brighten the face of ‘Dear Dark Rosaleen.’ Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!”

Maher is one of a group of men hanged and buried in Mountjoy in the period 1920–21, commonly referred to as the Forgotten Ten. In 2001 Maher and the other nine, including Kevin Barry, are exhumed and given a full State funeral. He is the only one of the Ten not to be buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. In accordance with his wishes and those of his family, he is buried at Ladywell Graveyard in Ballylanders, County Limerick.


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State Funeral in Honour of the “Forgotten Ten”

On October 14, 2001, the first multiple state funeral is held in honour of the “Forgotten Ten,” a term applied to ten Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers who were executed by British forces in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, following courts martial for their role in the Irish War of Independence.

Based upon military law at the time, they are buried within the prison precincts, their graves unmarked in the unconsecrated ground. The names of the Forgotten Ten are Kevin Barry, Thomas Whelan, Patrick Moran, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan, Thomas Bryan, Frank Flood, Thomas Traynor, Edmond Foley, and Patrick Maher. The hangman is John Ellis.

Following the Irish War of Independence, Mountjoy Prison is transferred to the control of the Irish Free State, which becomes the State of Ireland in 1937. In the 1920s, the families of the dead men request their remains be returned to them for proper burial. This effort is joined in the later 1920s by the National Graves Association. Through the efforts of the Association, the graves of the men are identified in 1934, and in 1996 a Celtic cross is erected in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, to commemorate them.

The campaign to rebury the men drags on for 80 years from their deaths. Following an intense period of negotiations, the Irish government relents. Plans to exhume the bodies of the ten men are announced on November 1, 2000, the 80th anniversary of the execution of Kevin Barry. On October 14, 2001, the Forgotten Ten are afforded full state honours, with a private service at Mountjoy Prison for the families of the dead, a Requiem Mass at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.

According to The Guardian, some criticise the event as glorifying militant Irish republicanism. It coincides with the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis. The progress of the cortège through the centre of Dublin is witnessed by crowds estimated as being in the tens of thousands who break into spontaneous applause as the coffins pass. On O’Connell Street, a lone piper plays a lament as the cortège pauses outside the General Post Office (GPO), the focal point of the 1916 Easter Rising. In his homily during the Requiem Mass, Cardinal Cahal Daly, a long-time critic of the IRA campaign in Northern Ireland, insists that there is a clear distinction between the conflict of 1916–22 and the paramilitary-led violence of the previous 30 years:

“The true inheritors today of the ideals of the men and women of 1916 to 1922 are those who are explicitly and visibly committed to leaving the physical force tradition behind… Surely this state funeral can be an occasion for examination of conscience about the ideals of the men who died, and about our responsibility for translating those ideals into today’s realities.”

In his graveside oration Taoiseach Bertie Ahern echoes these sentiments and also pays tribute to the Ten:

“These 10 young men were executed during the War of Independence. The country was under tremendous pressure at the time. There was a united effort. Meanwhile, elected by the people, Dáil Éireann was developing, in spite of a war going on. Democracy was being put to work. Independent civic institutions, including the Dáil courts, were beginning to function. Before their deaths, the ten had seen the light of freedom. They understood that Ireland would be free and independent.”

The state funeral, broadcast live on national television and radio, is only the 13th since independence. Patrick Maher is not reburied with his comrades. In accordance with his wishes, and those of his family, he is reinterred in Ballylanders, County Limerick.

A feature length Irish language documentary on the re-interments, An Deichniúr Dearmadta (The Forgotten Ten) airs on TG4 on March 28, 2002.

(Pictured: The grave of nine of the Forgotten Ten in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin)


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The North King Street Ambush

Three British soldiers are killed, the first in the city since the Easter Rising of 1916, and two more wounded in a short exchange of gunfire with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit on the morning of September 20, 1920, at the corner North King Street and Church Street in Dublin.

Just before 11 o’clock, fifteen soldiers of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment arrive in a motor lorry at Monks’ Bakery, North King Street, to acquire a supply of bread for Collinstown aerodrome. What happens next is disputed. Soldiers involved in the incident testify later that the volunteers began the shooting, after shouting “Hands Up!” and demanding they hand over their rifles.

Two key testimonies tally. The driver of the truck, Private C. Barnes, testifies at IRA volunteer Kevin Barry‘s court martial that he had been looking under the bonnet of the vehicle when he saw a civilian carrying a pistol walk up, shout “Hands Up!,” and fire a single round into the air. Decades later, the officer commanding the IRA unit that day, Seamus Kavanagh, tells the Bureau of Military History that it was indeed one of his men, but not Barry, that had fired the first shot, perhaps due to “overanxiety.”

Kavanagh sees the soldiers in the truck immediately rise to their feet, rifles in hand. The plan has fallen apart at the first hurdle, the element of surprise is lost, and there are no guns captured that day. He says he then gives the order to open fire, and retreat from the bakery. The exchange lasts four or five minutes.

In the last seconds of the ambush, Barry is in trouble. His gun has jammed twice, and has only fired two shots. Trying to clear the second jam, he fails to realise the rest of the unit has retreated, leaving him alone. He rolls under the lorry to hide, but a woman in the crowd of onlookers points him out to the soldiers, actually out of concern that he might be run over. He is taken prisoner and brought to the nearest base, at the North Dublin Union.

One reporter who attends the scene counts 22 bullet marks on walls, doors and windows in nearby homes and shops and adds that the military lorry is also riddled with bullet holes.

The three dead soldiers are identified as 18 year-old Private Harold Washington, who is found dead at the scene, Private Marshall Whitehead and Private Thomas Humphries who both die subsequently in King George V Hospital in Stoneybatter. The two wounded are Private William Smith and Private Frank Noble, neither of whom is armed.

It is rumoured that one or two of the attackers are killed, but this is not confirmed. Several volunteers are slightly wounded, but get away. Bob Flanagan’s wound is the most serious, a bullet literally parting his scalp. One onlooker expresses disbelief that the episode did not result in further fatalities given how close the soldiers and their assailants were to each other.

One person is understood to have been arrested in connection with the incident, however, according to eyewitnesses, the civilian in question has nothing to do with the attack and is taking shelter under a dray when arrested.

(Pictured: The funeral of the soldiers killed in the North King Street ambush, Irish Life, October 1, 1920)


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Birth of Angelo Fusco, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Angelo Fusco, former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a Special Air Service (SAS) officer in 1980, is born in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 2, 1956.

Fusco is born to a family with an Italian background who owns a fish and chip shop. He joins the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and is part of a four-man active service unit (ASU), along with Joe Doherty and Paul Magee, which operates in the late 1970s and early 1980s nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 heavy machine gun.

On April 9, 1980, the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing one constable and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the SAS arrive in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit their car the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder, killing him instantly. He is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene, and after a brief siege the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Fusco and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, with them facing charges including three counts of murder. On June 10 Fusco and seven other prisoners, including Joe Doherty and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Jail. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight are wearing officer’s uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves towards the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint, and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving towards the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire, and the prisoners returned fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Fusco is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Fusco escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland before being arrested in January 1982, and is sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the escape and firearms offences under extra-jurisdictional legislation. A further three years are added to his sentence in 1986 after he attempts to escape from Portlaoise Prison, and he is released in January 1992. Upon his release, he is immediately served with extradition papers from the British government for his return to the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for the murder conviction. The extradition is granted by a District Court but Fusco appeals, and in 1995 he wins a legal victory when a judge at the High Court in Dublin rules it would be “unjust, oppressive and invidious” to order his extradition due to the time lag involved. Fusco settles in Tralee with his wife and three children until February 1998, when the Supreme Court of Ireland brings an end to the six-year legal battle by ordering his extradition, but he has already fled on bail and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

Fusco is arrested at a Garda checkpoint in Castleisland, County Kerry, on January 3, 2000. The following day he is being escorted back to Northern Ireland to be handed over to the RUC, when his handover is halted by a successful court appeal by Sinn Féin. The arrest and abortive return of Fusco undermines the Northern Ireland peace process, with Unionist politicians including Ken Maginnis criticising the extradition being halted. Republicans are critical of Fusco’s arrest, with leading Sinn Féin member Martin Ferris stating, “The Irish government should immediately move to rescind the warrant against Angelo Fusco. The action will cause great anger and resentment within the nationalist community,” and graffiti in one republican area reads “Extradite Bloody Sunday war criminals, not Fusco.” On January 6 Fusco is refused bail and remanded to prison in Castlerea, County Roscommon, to await a legal review of his extradition, prompting scuffles outside the court between police and Sinn Féin supporters.

Fusco is freed on bail on March 21 pending the outcome of his legal challenge, and in November 2000 the Irish government informs the High Court that it is no longer seeking to return him to Northern Ireland. This follows a statement from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson saying that “it is clearly anomalous to pursue the extradition of people who appear to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original prison sentence to serve.” After the court hearing Fusco states, “I’m relieved it’s over,” and that he will continue to live in Tralee with his family and work for Sinn Féin.

In December 2000 Fusco and three other IRA members, including two other members of the M60 gang, are granted a royal prerogative of mercy which allows them to return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution.


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The Great Portlaoise Escape

Nineteen republican prisoners blast their way out of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois on August 18, 1974.

The escape is a timely reminder of the determination, tenacity and ingenuity with which Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers throughout the country fight against British rule in Ireland. It is also a reminder to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government in Leinster House that their collaboration with the British and their attempts to defeat republicanism will not be an easy task.

The determination of republicans to escape from Portlaoise is demonstrated by the escape. In May 1974, an underground escape was planned but the 80-foot tunnel was uncovered and the prisoners’ hopes were dashed. However, almost immediately plans swung into place for a more daring escape operation.

A member of the Escape Committee spots a weakness in the jail security in the area of the prison where the laundry house is situated. The laundry leads to an outside stairway and down into the courtyard, where the Governor’s House and Warders’ Mess are located.

The prisoners discover that they can gain access to the laundry area quite easily. It is a doorway at the top of the courtyard which leads out onto the streets of Portlaoise town itself that give the prisoners hope that their plan will work. However, the Escape Committee decides that they need explosives to get through this gate and send word outside to this effect. The IRA on the outside, agreeing that the plan is “viable,” send in the materials and the plan is on.

The date for the escape is set for August 18, 1974 and planning proceeds inside the prison. The prisoners set themselves to work making prison guard uniforms. The idea is that when the escapees are running through the courtyard, the troops on the roof of the jail will not be able to distinguish between the escapees and the real guards and so will not open fire. This pre-planning proves to be a brilliant ploy as it gives those escaping vital seconds to clear the courtyard and make good their escape.

On the Friday before the plan is to proceed, a number of republicans are arrested in Portlaoise. This seems a bad omen and raises questions as to whether the authorities are suspicious that an escape is planned. However, the Escape Committee and those involved in the operation decide to press ahead with the plan anyway.

Sunday, August 18 duly arrives. According to prisoners who are in Portlaoise Prison at the time, no one can eat anything that day as the tension is unbearable. At 12:30 p.m., the designated time to put the plan into action, arrives and Liam Brown approaches the guard at the gate of the lower landing and asks to be let in. This is the signal for the first team of escapees to rush forward and get the key to the laundry. The guard is quickly overpowered and gives up the key with little resistance.

With this first stage of the plan successfully completed, the escapees open the door to the stairwell and rush through to the courtyard, followed by up to 25 other prisoners. As the prisoners race to the top of the yard to place the bomb at the outside gate, the soldiers on the roof are confused by the uniforms and cannot open fire.

The bomb then explodes, blasting the door to pieces. As the prisoners make the final dash for freedom, the soldiers fire warning shots over the heads of the fleeing republicans. Some of the prisoners drop to the ground fearing the worst but as the guards race from their mess they call on the soldiers to stop firing.

Those who are captured are brought into the Wing again and the governor demands a head count. The prisoners, however, refuse to comply, adding to the confusion and thwarting the prison authorities’ attempts to identify the escapees. It is only after the guards threaten to send in the riot squad several hours later that the prisoners allow a head count to be taken. When they realise that 19 men had escaped, the joy the prisoner experience is immense as they thought only 14 had got away.

In an attempt to capture the escapees, the Dublin Government launches a statewide search operation. Every outhouse in County Wexford is searched. The Irish Naval Service is even called in and put on the alert. The searches go on for over a week but to no avail. The nineteen men had gotten clean away.

Those who escape are Liam Brown, Paddy Devenny and Micky Nolan from Belfast; Tom McFeely and Ian Milne from County Derry; Thomas McGinty and Eddie Gallagher from County Donegal; Patrick Thornberry, Kevin McAllister and Martin McAllister from County Armagh; Francis Hughes and Kevin Mallon from County Tyrone; Oliver McKiernan from County Fermanagh; Bernard Hegarty and Sam O’Hare from County Louth; Michael Kinsella and Seán Kinsella from County Monaghan; Seán Morris from County Meath; and Tony Weldon from Dublin.

(From: “30 years on: The Great Portlaoise Escape,” An Phoblacht, http://www.anphoblacht.com, August 26, 2004)


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Death of 1981 Hunger Striker Thomas McElwee

Thomas McElwee, Irish republican volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on August 8, 1981 at the age of 23 after 62 days on hunger strike at Long Kesh Prison.

McElwee, the sixth of twelve children, is born on November 30, 1957, into the small, whitewashed home built by his father, along the Tamlaghtduff Road in Bellaghy, County Derry, Northern Ireland. He attended St. Mary’s primary in Bellaghy, and then Clady intermediate. After leaving school he goes to Magherafelt technical college for a while, but later changes his mind and goes to Ballymena training centre to begin an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. Harassment from loyalist workers there forces him to leave and he then goes to work with a local mechanic.

McElwee and his cousin Francis Hughes form an independent Republican unit, which for several years carries out ambushes on British Army patrols as well as bomb attacks in neighbouring towns such as Magherafelt, Castledawson, and Maghera.

In October 1976, McElwee takes part in a planned bombing blitz on the town of Ballymena. Along with several colleagues, he is transporting one of the bombs, which explodes prematurely and blinds him in his right eye. He is transferred from the Ballymena hospital to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for emergency surgery to save his remaining eye. It is three weeks before he is able to see at all.

After six weeks McElwee is transferred again, this time to the military wing of the Musgrave Park Hospital. One week before Christmas, he is charged and sent to Crumlin Road Gaol.

At McElwee’s subsequent trial in September 1977, having spent over eight months on remand in Crumlin Road, he is charged and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for possession of explosives and the murder of Yvonne Dunlop, who is killed when one of the firebombs destroys the shop where she is employed. His murder charge is reduced to manslaughter on appeal, although the original jail term stands. He returns to the blanket protest he had joined immediately after his trial, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.

Imprisonment is particularly harsh for McElwee and his brother Benedict who are frequently singled out for brutality by prison warders, outraged at the stubborn refusal of the two to accept any form of criminal status. On one occasion he is put on the boards for fourteen days for refusing to call a prison warder ‘sir.’ In a letter smuggled out to his sister Mary, Benedict writes of the imprint of a warder’s boot on his back and arms after a typical assault. However, throughout the brutality and degradation they have to endure serves only to deepen yet further, and harder, their resistance to criminalisation.

McElwee joins the 1981 Irish hunger strike on June 7, 1981 and died on August 8, 1981, after 62 days on the strike. Indicative of the callousness of the British government towards prisoners and their families alike, he is denied the comfort of his brother’s presence at that tragic moment. He dies after 62 days of slow agonising hunger strike with no company other than prison warders – colleagues of those who had brutalised, degraded and tortured him for three-and-a-half years.

In 2009, Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) name their Waterford cumann after McElwee, replacing that of George Lennon, O/C of the Waterford Flying Column who led the IRA anti-Treaty Republicans into Waterford City in March 1922. The Waterford RSF had adopted the Lennon name without the permission of his son who noted that his father had, in later years, become a committed pacifist and opponent of the Vietnam War.

McElwee is the main subject of the song Farewell to Bellaghy, which also mentions his cousin Francis Hughes, other members of the independent Republican unit and deceased volunteers of the South Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA. He is also the subject of The Crucifucks‘ song The Story of Thomas McElwee.


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Birth of Bobby Storey, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Robert “Bobby” Storey, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on April 11, 1956. Prior to an 18-year conviction for possessing a rifle, he also spends time on remand for a variety of charges and in total serves 20 years in prison. He also plays a key role in the Maze Prison escape, the biggest prison break in British penal history.

The family is originally from the Marrowbone area, on the Oldpark Road in North Belfast. The family has to move when Storey is very young due to Ulster loyalist attacks on the district, moving to Manor Street, an interface area also in North Belfast. His uncle is boxing trainer Gerry Storey and his father, also called Bobby, is involved in the defence of the area in the 1970s when Catholics are threatened by loyalists.

Storey is one of four children. He has two brothers, Seamus and Brian, and a sister Geraldine. Seamus and his father are arrested after a raid on their home which uncovers a rifle and a pistol. While his father is later released, Seamus is charged. He escapes from Crumlin Road Prison with eight other prisoners in 1971, and they are dubbed the Crumlin Kangaroos.

On his mother Peggy’s side of the family there is also a history of republicanism, but Storey says the dominant influences on him are the events happening around him. These include the McGurk’s Bar bombing in the New Lodge, some of those killed being people who knew his family, and also Bloody Sunday. This then leads to his attempts to join the IRA. He leaves school at fifteen and goes to work with his father selling fruit. At sixteen, he becomes a member of the IRA.

On April 11, 1973, his seventeenth birthday, Storey is interned and held at Long Kesh internment camp. He had been arrested 20 times prior to this but was too young for internment. In October 1974 he takes part in the protest at Long Kesh against living conditions where internees set fire to the “cages” in which they are being held. He is released from internment in May 1975. He is arrested on suspicion of a bombing at the Skyways Hotel in January 1976 and a kidnapping and murder in the Andersonstown district of Belfast in March 1976, but is acquitted by the judge at his trial. He is arrested leaving the courthouse and charged with a shooting-related incident. He is released after the case cannot be proven, only to be charged with shooting two soldiers in Turf Lodge. Those charges are dropped in December 1977. The same month he is arrested for the murder of a soldier in Turf Lodge, but the charges are again dropped. In 1978 he is charged in relation to the wounding of a soldier in Lenadoon, but is acquitted at trial due to errors in police procedure.

On December 14, 1979, he is arrested in Holland Park, London, with three other IRA volunteers including Gerard Tuite, and charged with conspiring to hijack a helicopter to help Brian Keenan escape from Brixton Prison. Tuite escapes from the same prison prior to the trial, and the other two IRA volunteers are convicted, but Storey is acquitted at the Old Bailey in April 1981. That August, after a soldier is shot, he is arrested in possession of a rifle and is convicted for the first time, being sentenced to eighteen years’ imprisonment.

Storey is one of the leaders of the Maze Prison escape in 1983, when 38 republican prisoners break out of the H-Blocks, the largest prison escape in British penal history and the largest peacetime prison escape in Europe. He is recaptured within an hour, and sentenced to an additional seven years imprisonment. Released in 1994, he is again arrested in 1996 and charged with having personal information about a British Army soldier, and Brian Hutton, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. At his trial at Crumlin Road Courthouse in July 1998, he is acquitted after his defence proves the personal information had previously been published in books and newspapers.

Having spent over twenty years in prison, much of it on remand, Storey’s final release is in 1998, and he again becomes involved in developing republican politics and strategy, eventually becoming the northern chairman of Sinn Féin.

On January 11, 2005, Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament for South Antrim David Burnside tells the British House of Commons under parliamentary privilege that Storey is head of intelligence for the IRA.

On September 9, 2015, Storey is arrested and held for two days in connection with the killing of former IRA volunteer Kevin McGuigan the previous month. He is subsequently released without any charges, and his solicitor John Finucane states Storey will be suing for unlawful arrest.

Storey dies in England on June 21, 2020 following an unsuccessful lung transplant surgery. Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald describes him as “a great republican” in her tribute. His funeral procession in Belfast on June 30 is attended by over 1,500 people including McDonald, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, but is criticised for breaking social distancing rules implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which, at the time operating in Northern Ireland, limited funeral numbers to no more than 30 mourners.

In the 2017 film Maze, dramatising the 1983 prison break, directed by Stephen Burke, Storey is portrayed by Irish actor Cillian O’Sullivan.