McKearney joins the Provisional IRA and is first arrested in 1972 on charges of blowing up the post office in Moy. He spends six weeks on remand, but is released due to insufficient evidence. In December 1973 he is arrested again and later sentenced to seven years for possession of a rifle. He is imprisoned in Long Kesh Detention Centre and later in Magilligan Prison. During this time, a younger brother, Seán, also an IRA paramilitary, is killed on May 13, 1974. He is released in 1977 but is sentenced to 14 years in August 1980 after being caught by the British Army with a loaded Sten gun along with fellow IRA member Gerard O’Callaghan. That same year an older brother, Tommy McKearney, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier who worked as a postman in 1977, nearly dies on hunger strike after refusing food for 53 days. Another brother, Kevin, and an uncle, Jack McKearney, are both murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries in revenge attacks upon the family.
On September 25, 1983 McKearney takes part in the Maze Prison escape along with 37 other prisoners. At the beginning of 1984 he rejoins IRA activity in his native East Tyrone with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He advocates the commencement of the “third phase” of the armed struggle, the ‘strategic defensive,’ in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Ulster Defence Regiment and British Army would be denied all support in selected areas following repeated attacks on their bases. In 1985 Patrick Kelly becomes commander of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade and it is under his leadership that this strategy is pursued. Remote Royal Ulster Constabulary bases are attacked and destroyed, and building contractors who try to repair them are targeted and sometimes murdered, as occurs with the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985, which results in the death of two policemen, and The Birches police station in August 1986.
McKearney is shot dead by the British Army on May 8, 1987 during an IRA attack that he is taking part in upon Loughgall police station, which also claims the lives of seven other IRA members. His body is buried at his hometown of Moy.
Through planning and participating in raids and gunrunning episodes, Barrett comes into close contact with many GHQ staff during the Irish War of Independence, thereby ensuring his own rapid promotion. He is an active Irish Republican Army (IRA) brigade staff officer and occasionally acts as commandant of the West Cork III Brigade. He also organises fundraising activities for the purchase of weapons and for comrades on the run. In July 1920, following the arrest of the Cork III Brigade commander Tom Hales and quartermaster Pat Harte, he is appointed its quartermaster. He is arrested on March 22, 1921 and imprisoned in Cork jail, later being sent to Spike Island, County Cork.
As one of the senior officers held in Spike Island, Barrett is involved in many of the incidents that occur during his time there. After the truce is declared on July 11, 1921, some prisoners go on hunger strike but he calls it off after a number of days on instructions from outside as a decision had been made that able-bodied men are more important to the cause. In November, Barrett escapes by row boat alongside Moss (Maurice) Twomey, Henry O’Mahoney, Tom Crofts, Bill Quirke, Dick Eddy and Paddy Buckley.
Following the Irish War of Independence, Barrett supports the Anti-Treaty IRA‘s refusal to submit to the authority of Dáil Éireann (civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919). He is opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and calls for the total elimination of English influence in Ireland. In April 1922, under the command of Rory O’Connor, he, along with 200 other hardline anti-treaty men, take over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them. They hope this will restart the war with Britain and reunite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to vacate the building. However, on June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison had kidnapped J. J. O’Connell, a general in the new National Army, Collins’s soldiers shell the Four Courts with British artillery to spark off what becomes known as the Battle of Dublin. O’Connor surrenders following two days of fighting, and Barrett, with most of his comrades, is arrested and held in Mountjoy Gaol. This incident marks the official outbreak of the Irish Civil War, as fighting escalates around the country between pro- and anti-treaty factions.
After the death of Michael Collins in an ambush, a period of tit-for-tat revenge killings ensues. The government implements martial law and enacts the necessary legislation to set up military courts. In November, the government begins to execute Anti-Treaty prisoners, including Erskine Childers. In response, Liam Lynch, the Anti-Treaty Chief of Staff, gives an order that any member of the Dáil who had voted for the ‘murder legislation’ is to be shot on sight.
On December 7, 1922, Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales is killed by anti-Treaty IRA men as he leaves the Dáil. Another TD, Pádraic Ó Máille, is also shot and badly wounded in the incident. An emergency cabinet meeting is allegedly held the next day to discuss the assassination of Hales. It is proposed that four prominent members of the Anti-Treaty side currently held as prisoners be executed as a reprisal and deterrent. The names put forward were Barrett, O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey. It is alleged that the four are chosen to represent each of the four provinces – Munster, Connacht, Leinster and Ulster respectively, but none of the four is actually from Connacht. The executions are ordered by Minister for JusticeKevin O’Higgins. At 2:00 AM on the morning of December 8, 1922, Barrett is awoken along with the other three and informed that they are all to be executed at 8:00 that morning.
Ironies stack one upon the other. Barrett is a member of the same IRA brigade as Hales during the Anglo-Irish War, and they were childhood friends. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’ wedding a year earlier. The rest of Sean Hales’ family remains staunchly anti-Treaty, and publicly denounces the executions. In reprisal for O’Higgins’ role in the executions, the Anti-Treaty IRA kills his father and burns his family home in Stradbally, County Laois. O’Higgins himself dies by an assassin’s hand on July 10, 1927.
The executions stun Ireland, but in terms of halting the Anti-Treaty assassination policy, they have the desired effect. The Free State government continues to execute enemy prisoners, and 77 official executions take place by the end of the war.
Barrett is now buried in his home county, Cork, following exhumation and reinternment by a later government. A monument is erected by old comrades of the West Cork Brigade, the First Southern Division, IRA, and of the Four Courts, Dublin, garrison in 1922 which is unveiled on December 13, 1952 by the TánaisteSeán Lemass.
In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at BirminghamCrown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell is given twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.
Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this, he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end of the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. He is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.
In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, he embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. His demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands and Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.
Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy. Republicans and two of his brothers seek to have him buried in the republican plot in Ballina beside the grave of Michael Gaughan, in accordance with his wishes. His widow, his brother Emmet Stagg and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral.
In order to prevent the body from being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. Local Gardaí keep an armed guard by the grave for six months. However, unknown to them, the plot beside the grave is available for purchase. Stagg’s brother George purchases the plot and places a headstone over it, with it declaring that the “pro-British Irish government” had stolen Frank’s body. In November 1977, a group of republicans dig down into the plot that George had purchased, then dig sideways and recover Stagg’s coffin from the adjacent plot under cover of darkness, before reburying it in the republican plot beside the body of Michael Gaughan. The Republicans hold their own version of a funeral ceremony before disappearing back into the night.
The blast engulfs a carriage of the train in flames, killing three and injuring five others. One of the dead and the most seriously injured survivor are volunteers of the IRA. After the blast, the organisation issues a statement acknowledging responsibility, apologising to those who were harmed and state that it was ‘grave and distressing’ but an ‘accident’ caused by the ‘war situation.’
The train is a Northern Ireland Railways afternoon service carrying passengers between Ballymena railway station and Belfast Central railway station. The train is largely empty as it leaves Dunmurry railway station and enters the outskirts of Belfast, crossing under the M1 motorway on its way to Finaghy railway station shortly before 4:55 PM. A large fireball erupts in the rear carriage, bringing the train to a standstill and forcing panicked passengers to evacuate urgently as the smoke and flames spread along the train. The survivors then move down the track in single file to safety while emergency services fight the blaze. After several hours and combined efforts from fire, police and military services the blaze is contained. One fireman is treated for minor injuries. The two damaged carriages are transported to Queen’s Quay in Belfast for forensic examination and are subsequently rebuilt, one remaining in service until 2006 and the other until 2012.
Of the four persons occupying the carriage, three are killed with burns so severe that it is not possible to identify them by conventional means. Rail chief Roy Beattie describes the human remains as “three heaps of ashes.” The fourth, later identified as Patrick Joseph Flynn, is an IRA member and one of the men transporting the bombs. He suffers very serious burns to his face, torso and legs, and is reported to be close to death upon arrival at the hospital. Of the dead, two are eventually named as 17-year-old Protestant student Mark Cochrane from Finaghy and the other a 35-year-old Belfast-based accountant and recent immigrant from Lagos, Nigeria, Max Olorunda, who had been visiting a client in Ballymena. The identity of the third is harder to ascertain, but it is eventually confirmed by the IRA by their statement that he is 26-year-old IRA member Kevin Delaney. In addition to the fireman, four people are injured, including Flynn, two teenagers treated for minor injuries and an older man who suffers much more serious burns.
Further bomb alerts are issued across the region and two similar devices are discovered on trains, at York Road railway station in Belfast and at Greenisland railway station. Both are removed safely and control detonated. The devices are simple incendiary bombs similar to that which exploded south of Befast, consisting of a 5-lb. block of explosives attached to a petrol can with a simple time device intended to delay the explosion until the train is empty that evening. Later testimony indicates that Delaney armed the first of two bombs and placed it beside him as he picked up the second one. As he arms this device, the first bomb suddenly detonates for reasons that remain unknown. Delaney is killed instantly and his accomplice, Patrick Joseph Flynn, is forced to leap from the train in flames. Flynn is guarded by police in hospital and arrested once his wounds heal sufficiently.
The IRA releases a lengthy statement about the event, terming it a ‘bombing tragedy,’ blaming the Royal Ulster Constabulary for their ‘sickening and hypocritical … collective activity of collaboration with the British forces.’ In Britain, ConservativeMPWinston Churchill calls for the death penalty to be reinstated for terrorists as a result of the incident.
Patrick Flynn is tried at Belfast Crown Court for double manslaughter and possession of explosives after he recovers from his injuries. He is severely disfigured and badly scarred from the extensive burns the incendiary device had inflicted upon him. The judge is asked and agrees to take this into account for sentencing after reviewing the evidence and finding Flynn guilty due to his proximity to the explosion, his known IRA affiliation and the discovery of telephone numbers for the Samaritans and Belfast Central railway station in his jacket, to be used to telephone bomb warnings. Justice Kelly sentences Flynn to ten years in prison for each manslaughter as well as seven years for the explosives offences, to be served concurrently.
Morrison is the son of Daniel and Susan Morrison. His father works as a painter at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in East Belfast. His uncles, including Harry White, had been jailed for their part in the IRA‘s Northern Campaign in the 1940s. He joins Sinn Féin in 1966 and helps to organise 50th anniversary commemorations of the Easter Rising in Belfast. At this time, he later recalls, “as far as we were concerned, there was absolutely no chance of the IRA appearing again. They were something in history books.”
After the 1969 Northern Ireland riots, in which nationalist areas of Belfast are attacked and burned, Morrison joins the newly formed Provisional IRA. After this, he is engaged in clandestine republican activities, but as late as 1971, is still attending Belfast College of Business Studies and editing a student magazine there. He is interned in Long Kesh Detention Centre in 1972.
Morrison’s talents for writing and publicity are quickly recognised within the republican movement and after his release in 1975 he is appointed editor of Republican News. In this journal, he criticises many long-standing policies of the movement. At this time, he becomes associated with a grouping of young, left-wing Belfast based republicans, led by Gerry Adams, who want to change the strategy, tactics and leadership of the IRA and Sinn Féin.
Morrison is director of publicity for Sinn Féin from 1979 until 1990, when he is charged with false imprisonment and conspiracy to murder a British informer in the IRA, Sandy Lynch. He is sentenced to eight years in prison and is released in 1995.
Since 1989, Morrison has published several novels and plays on themes relating to republicanism and events in the modern history of Belfast. His latest play, The Wrong Man, opens in London in 2005. It is based on his 1997 book of the same name and deals with the career of an IRA man who is suspected by his colleagues of working for the police.
The Bobby Sands Trust (BST) is formed after the 1981 Hunger Strike where ten republican prisoners die due to their hunger strike protest against the UK Government. The legal firm Madden & Finucane continues to act for the Trust whose original members are Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Tom Cahill, Marie Moore and Danny Devenny. For a time Bobby’s two sisters, Marcella and Bernadette, are members of the Trust. Current members still include Adams, Morrison and Hartley. The BST claims to hold copyright to all the written works of Bobby Sands. The family of Sands has been critical of the BST and they have called for it to disband.
Morrison lives in West Belfast with his Canadian-born wife, Leslie. He has two sons from his first marriage.
McMahon plants a bomb in Shadow V, a 27-foot fishing boat belonging to Mountbatten at Mullaghmore, near Donegal Bay. Lord Mountbatten and the others are killed on August 27, 1979 when the bomb detonates. The other victims are Doreen Knatchbull, Baroness Brabourne, Mountbatten’s elder daughter’s mother-in-law, his grandson Nicholas Knatchbull and 15-year-old crewmember Paul Maxwell.
McMahon is arrested by the Garda, the Republic of Ireland‘s police force, two hours before the bomb detonates at a Garda checkpoint between Longford and Granard on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle.
The IRA claims responsibility for the act in a statement released immediately afterwards. In the statement from the organisation they say, “This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country.”
McMahon is tried for the assassinations in the Republic of Ireland, and convicted by forensic evidence supplied by Dr. James O’Donovan that shows flecks of paint from the boat and traces of nitroglycerine on his clothes. He is sentenced to life imprisonment for murder on November 23, 1979, but is released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Following his release, Toby Harnden in Bandit Country: The IRA & South Armagh (1999) reports that McMahon is holding a tricolour in the first rank of the IRA colour party at a 1998 IRA meeting in Cullyhanna. However, according to a BBC report, McMahon says that he left the IRA in 1990.
McMahon twice refuses to meet John Maxwell, the father of Paul Maxwell, who seeks him out to explain the reasons for his son’s death. In a May 2011 interview for The Telegraph, Maxwell states that he had “made two approaches to McMahon, the first through a priest, who warned me in advance that he thought there wouldn’t be any positive response. And there wasn’t. I have some reservations about meeting him, obviously – it might work out in such a way that I would regret having made the contact. On the other hand, if we met and I could even begin to understand his motivation. If we could meet on some kind of a human level, a man to man level, it could help me come to terms with it. But that might be very optimistic. McMahon knows the door is open at this end.”
McMahon likewise refuses requests from Nicholas Knatchbull’s twin brother, who lost an eye in the same explosion. The latter, however, has forgiven McMahon and other members of the IRA who committed the act.
McMahon’s wife has stated, “Tommy never talks about Mountbatten, only the boys who died. He does have genuine remorse. Oh God yes.”
McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestanthousing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.
McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.
Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.
McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”
On March 14, 1981, a detachment of the British Army surrounds a farmhouse near Rosslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrender and are arrested. While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, McElwaine stands in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and receives 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote). In May 1982 he is convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a “dangerous killer” and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.
On September 25, 1983, McElwaine is involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. Thirty-eight republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the prison. After the escape McElwaine joins an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh. The unit targets police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.
On April 26, 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Seán Lynch, are preparing to ambush a British Army patrol near Rosslea, County Fermanagh when they are ambushed themselves by a detachment from the Special Air Service Regiment. Both are wounded but Lynch manages to crawl away. A January 1993 inquest jury returns a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury rules the soldiers had opened fire without giving him a chance to surrender, and that he was shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requests a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but no one has been prosecuted for McElwaine’s death.
McElwaine is buried in Scotstown, with his funeral attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gives an oration describing McElwaine as “a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country” and “an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists.”
On April 1, 1990 a monument to McElwaine is erected in Corlat, County Monaghan. The oration is given by a Catholic priest, Father Piaras Ó Dúill, who compares McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle. The inscription on the monument is a quote from Patrick Pearse: “As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.” A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans is erected in Rosslea in 1998, and unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.
Tibble sees Quinn fleeing from the police after he has been noticed acting suspiciously near a house in which Quinn and fellow members of the Balcombe Street Gang are later found to have been preparing bombs. Tibble chases Quinn on his motorbike and, while attempting to stop him, is fatally shot twice in the chest.
Quinn escapes to Dublin in the aftermath of the shooting and serves a short prison sentence after his arrest for assaulting a police officer there. After his release in 1978 he returns to his hometown of San Francisco but is arrested in 1981 and later extradited to England in February 1988 where he is convicted of murder and jailed for life with a recommended minimum term of 35 years.
Quinn serves eleven years before he is released in April 1999, aged 51, along with the rest of the Balcombe Street Gang, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. While with the IRA, Quinn adopts an Irish accent and is tagged with the nickname “Yankee Joe” because of his American origins.
Williams is born in the Beechmount area of Belfast on May 12, 1923. He is the third child in a family of six. After the death of his mother, he and his brother go to live with their grandmother at 46 Bombay Street in the Clonard area of Belfast. The Williams family has to leave the small Catholic enclave in the Shore Road area of Belfast after their house is attacked and burned.
As a child, Williams suffers from asthma and as a result is often very ill. He attends St. Gall’s Primary School but leaves at an early age to obtain work, which at the time is difficult due to discrimination. His work therefore consists of labouring and as a delivery boy.
As soon as Williams is old enough, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, the republican Scout Organisation founded by Constance Markievicz in 1909, becoming a member of the Con Colbert slua in the Clonard area. Alfie Hannaway, a friend of Williams, is his OC in Na Fianna, and assigns him to the rank of Quartermaster for the company. He takes his role in Na Fianna very seriously and all who came to know him are struck by his dedication and maturity, even at this early age.
At the age of 17, Williams is old enough to become a volunteer and joins C Company of the IRA in the Clonard area where he lives. Due to his “dedication and his remarkable ability” he is appointed to the role of Adjutant of C Company.
At Easter 1942 the government of Northern Ireland bans all parades to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising. An IRA unit of six men and two women stage a diversionary action against the RUC to allow three parades to take place in West Belfast, but in this clash a RUC officer is killed and the six IRA men are captured. The RUC officer, Constable Patrick Murphy, a father of nine children, from the Falls Road area of Belfast, is one of a minority of Catholics serving in the RUC.
There is debate over the years about who actually fired the fatal shot. The six IRA members are convicted and sentenced to death for murder under the law of common purpose. Five have their sentences commuted. The sentence of Williams, who acknowledges that he is the leader of the IRA unit involved and takes full responsibility for the actions of his men, is not commuted.
Williams is hanged in Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast on the morning of September 2, 1942. The executioner is the official English hangman Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrepoint. Afterwards Williams’ body is interred in unhallowed ground in an unmarked grave within the grounds of the prison. His remains are only released in January 2000 after the closure of the prison in 1996 and a lengthy campaign by the National Graves Association, Belfast.
Williams’s funeral is held on January 19, 2000 and is attended by thousands, with burial at Milltown Cemetery. Joe Cahill, Williams’s cell mate, and John Oliver, sentenced to death with Williams but later reprieved, as well as Madge McConville, who had been arrested with Williams, Greta McGlone, Billy McKee, Eddie Keenan and perhaps least known, Nell Morgan, Williams’s girlfriend at the time of his death, are all present. Six senior Sinn Féin members including Gerry Adams are also present in St. Paul’s Church on the Lower Falls Road for the Mass.
Williams is remembered in a ballad Tom Williams. Various recordings have been made, most notably by the Flying Column and Éire Óg, who preamble their version with the story of the campaign to release his body. The now disbanded, Volunteer Tom Williams Republican Flute Band from Glasgow, Scotland is named in his memory as is the Tom Williams Camogie Club in Belfast.
(Pictured: Tom Williams’ headstone at Milltown Cemetery after being reinterred)