seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Martin McGuinness, Irish Republican Sinn Féin Politician

Martin McGuinness, former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Army Council and Sinn Féin‘s chief negotiator in the peace process, dies on the morning of March 21, 2017 at Derry‘s Altnagelvin Area Hospital with his family by his bedside. He had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease in December 2016. In 2011, McGuinness contests the presidential election which is won by Michael D. Higgins.

McGuinness is born James Martin Pacelli McGuinness on May 23, 1950 in Derry. He attends St. Eugene’s Primary School and later the Christian Brothers technical college, leaving school at the age of 15.

McGuinness joins the IRA about 1970, and by 1971 he is one of its leading organizers in Derry. In 1973 a Special Criminal Court in the Republic of Ireland sentences him to six months in prison after he is caught in a car containing large quantities of explosives and ammunition. Although the IRA keeps secret the membership of its seven-person Army Council, few doubt that McGuinness is one of its most important members from the 1970s through the 1990s. Even while reportedly planning attacks on civilians in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland, McGuinness is involved in spasmodic secret talks with British government ministers and officials to end the conflict. In 1972 McGuinness, with fellow IRA leader Gerry Adams, privately negotiates with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw, but these and other talks over the next two decades are unsuccessful.

McGuinness contests seats in the British House of Commons on several occasions, losing in 1983, 1987, and 1992. However, in 1997 he is elected to the House of Commons to represent the constituency of Mid Ulster and, in line with party policy, he does not take his seat. He subsequently wins reelection to the seat in 2001, 2005, and 2010.

McGuinness is the IRA’s chief negotiator in the deliberations, also secret at first, that culminate in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This pact finally ends the conflict and eventually brings Sinn Féin into a coalition government to rule Northern Ireland. He is elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly and in 1999 is appointed Minister of Education. In this post he eliminates the controversial eleven-plus examination, which determines which type of secondary school a child should attend. The test had been abolished in most of the rest of the United Kingdom more than 25 years earlier.

Disagreements over such issues as policing and the decommissioning of arms causes Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly to be suspended for some years, but a fresh agreement in 2006 paves the way for them to be revived. In elections in March 2007, both Sinn Féin and the antirepublican Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gain seats, becoming the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. McGuinness becomes Deputy First Minister, working with First Minister Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP. The two men, previously bitter enemies, perform so well together that they are dubbed the “Chuckle brothers.”

When Paisley retires in 2008, he is succeeded by the DUP’s Peter Robinson, who is considered to be even more militantly antirepublican. Once again, however, a shared need to rebuild the economy and attract international investment leads to cooperation between former opponents. In 2009 their government is in jeopardy as Sinn Féin and the DUP argue over the devolution of the police and justice system in Northern Ireland. McGuinness and Robinson are involved in the ensuing negotiations, and in February 2010 an agreement is reached for the transfer of powers from Britain to Northern Ireland in April.

In the Assembly elections in May 2011, McGuinness and Robinson are a formidable pair, and voters respond to their call for stability in a time of economic uncertainty. Sinn Féin gains an additional seat and increases its overall share of the vote, and McGuinness is assured an additional term as Deputy First Minister. In the autumn he steps down to run as Sinn Féin’s candidate for the presidency of Ireland. After finishing third in the election held on October 28, he returns to the position of Deputy First Minister a few days later. On June 27, 2012, in an event widely seen as having great symbolic importance for the ongoing reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland, McGuinness and Elizabeth II shake hands twice, once in private and again in public, during a visit by the British monarch to Belfast.

In January 2017 McGuinness resigns as Deputy First Minister in response to First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to temporarily step down from her position during the investigation of a scandal relating to the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a mishandled program under which large amounts of state funds allegedly had been squandered. Foster had served as head of the department that oversaw the RHI before becoming First Minister. Under the power-sharing agreement the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister constitute a single joint office so that the resignation of one minister results in termination of the other’s tenure. When Sinn Féin chooses not to nominate a replacement for McGuinness within the required seven-day period, authority reverts to the British government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in advance of a snap election on March 2.

Even before McGuinness’s resignation there had been speculation late in 2016 that he might step down for health reasons, and soon after resigning he confirms that he is suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease brought about by deposits of abnormal protein in organs and tissue. With McGuinness removing himself from “frontline politics,” Michelle O’Neill leads Sinn Féin into the election. The disease claims McGuinness’s life only months later on March 21, 2017.


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Official Irish Republican Army Declares Ceasefire

official-ira-ceasefire-1972The Official Irish Republican Army (IRA) announces a ceasefire on May 29, 1972. This marks the end of the Official IRA’s paramilitary campaign. The organization, however, reserves the right of self-defence against attacks by the British Army and sectarian groups. The Provisional Irish Republican Army dismisses the truce as having “little effect” on the situation.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, welcomes the move and a spokesperson says it is “a step in the right direction.”

A statement is read out from Dublin after the previous night’s meeting of the executive of the Northern Republican Clubs, a political movement allied to the IRA. It states, “The overwhelming desire of the great majority of all the people of the north is for an end to military actions by all sides.”

It goes on to say that a suspension of activities will be a chance to prevent all-out civil war in Ulster. The group insists it will continue a campaign of civil disobedience and the political struggle until its demands are met, namely:

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army are the first to benefit from such a ceasefire as they have been the primary targets of the IRA. Residents of Belfast in particular have been worn down by the four-year campaign of violence and this news is very welcome there.

Father Hugh O’Neill, who leads a Londonderry peace movement, says, “Please God, everyone will now sit down and begin to talk.”


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The Battle at Springmartin

kelly-bar-bombingThe Battle at Springmartin, a series of gun battles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, begins on May 13, 1972 and continues into the following day. It involves the British Army, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The night before the bombing, snipers from the UVF West Belfast Brigade take up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of flats at the edge of the Ulster Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly World War II stock, are ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill Road.

The violence begins shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday, May 13, 1972, when a car bomb, planted by Ulster loyalists, explodes without warning outside the crowded Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub is in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area of Ballymurphy and most of its customers are from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub is crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Following the blast the UVF snipers open fire on the survivors. This begins the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London.

Sixty-three people are injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran, age 19, who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, dies of his injuries on May 23.

For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fight gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting takes place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster Protestant Springmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sits between them. Five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section are killed in the violence. Four of the dead are teenagers.

At first, the British Army claims that the blast had been an “accident” caused by a Provisional IRA bomb. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, tells the House of Commons on May 18 that the blast is caused by a Provisional IRA bomb that exploded prematurely. However, locals suspect that the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources say that IRA volunteers would not risk storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerges that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.

A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads:

This plaque marks the spot
where Kelly’s Bar once stood
and here on 13th May 1972
a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded.
As a result, 66 people were injured
and three innocent members of staff
of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives.
They were:
Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972)
John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972)
Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989)
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a namacha”


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Death of Paddy Devlin, Northern Ireland Labour Activist

paddy-devlinPaddy Devlin, Irish social democrat and Labour activist, former Stormont Member of Parliament (MP), a founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive, dies in Belfast’s Mater Hospital on August 15, 1999 after a long illness.

Devlin is born into a highly political household in the Pound Loney in the Lower Falls of West Belfast on March 8, 1925 and lives in the city for almost all his life. His early activism is confined to Fianna Éireann and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and as a result he is interned in Crumlin Road Gaol during the World War II. He leaves the republican movement upon his release.

After the war, and in search of work, he spends some time in Portsmouth working as a scaffolder and in Coventry working in the car industry. In Coventry he becomes interested in Labour and trade union politics and briefly joins the British Labour Party.

Returning to Belfast in 1948 Devlin helps establish the Irish Labour Party there after the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) splits on the issue of partition. He later beats Gerry Fitt to win a seat on the city council. Later Catholic Action claims the Irish Labour Party is infested with communists and ensures the party is effectively wiped out causing Devlin to lose his seat.

In the mid 1960s Devlin joins the revived NILP and beats Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then goes on, with Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie, and others to found the SDLP in 1970. He is later involved, at the request of William Whitelaw, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in ensuring safe passage for Gerry Adams for talks with the British government in 1973. He is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1973 and Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from January 1, 1974 to May 28, 1974.

In 1978 Devlin establishes the United Labour Party, which aims to be a broad based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stands under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but polls just 6,122 first preferences (1.1% of those cast) and thereby loses his deposit.

In 1987 Devlin, together with remnants of the NILP and others, establishes Labour ’87 as another attempt at building a Labour Party in Northern Ireland by uniting the disparate groups supporting labour and socialist policies but it too meets with little or no success. In 1985 he loses his place on Belfast City council.

Devlin suffers from severe diabetes and throughout the 1990s suffers a series of ailments as his health and sight collapse.


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Bloody Friday in Belfast

bloody-friday-1972At least twenty Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombs explode in Belfast on July 21, 1972, during the Troubles in what has become known as “Bloody Friday.” Most of the bombs are car bombs and most target infrastructure, especially the transport network. Nine people are killed, including two British soldiers and five civilians, while 130 are injured.

In late June and early July 1972, a British government delegation led by William Whitelaw holds secret talks with the Provisional IRA leadership. As part of the talks, the IRA agrees to a temporary ceasefire beginning on June 26. The IRA leaders seek a peace settlement that includes a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland by 1975 and the release of republican prisoners. However, the British refuse and the talks break down. The ceasefire comes to an end on July 9.

Bloody Friday is the IRA’s response to the breakdown of the talks. According to the IRA’s Chief of Staff, Seán Mac Stíofáin, the main goal of the bombing operation is to wreak financial harm. It is a “message to the British government that the IRA could and would make a commercial desert of the city unless its demands were met.” Some also see it as a reprisal for Bloody Sunday in Derry six months earlier. The attack is carried out by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade and the main organiser is Brendan Hughes, the brigade’s Officer Commanding.

The bombings occur during an 80-minute period on the afternoon of Friday, July 21. At least 24 bombs are planted. At least 20 explode and the rest fail to detonate or are defused. At the height of the bombing, the middle of Belfast “resembled a city under artillery fire; clouds of suffocating smoke enveloped buildings as one explosion followed another, almost drowning out the hysterical screams of panicked shoppers.” According to The Guardian, “for much of the afternoon, Belfast was reduced to near total chaos and panic. Thousands streamed out of the stricken city…and huge traffic jams built up. All bus services were cancelled, and on some roads hitch-hikers frantically trying to get away lined the pavements.”

Nine people are killed and 130 are injured, some of them horrifically mutilated. Of those injured, 77 are women and children. All of the deaths are caused by two of the bombs – at Oxford Street bus depot and at Cavehill Road. The Oxford Street bomb kills two British soldiers and four Ulsterbus employees. One employee is a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) reservist, one is an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, and the other two are civilians. The Cavehill Road bomb kills three civilians.

The IRA’s Belfast Brigade claims responsibility for the bombings and says that it had given warnings to the security forces before the bombs exploded. It says that the Public Protection Agency, the Samaritans and the press “were informed of bomb positions at least 30 minutes to one hour before each explosion.” Mac Stíofáin says, “It required only one man with a loud hailer to clear each target area in no time” and alleged that the warnings for the two bombs that claim lives are deliberately ignored by the British for “strategic policy reasons.”


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Birth of Paddy Devlin, Founder of the SDLP

paddy-devlinPaddy Devlin, Irish social democrat and Labour activist, former Stormont Member of Parliament (MP), founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive, is born in West Belfast on March 8, 1925.

Devlin lives almost all his life in Belfast and grows up in a highly political household. His early activism is confined to Fianna Éireann and later the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As a result, he is interned in Crumlin Road Gaol during World War II. He leaves the republican movement upon his release.

After the war he spends some time in Portsmouth and Coventry, where he becomes interested in Labour and trade union politics and briefly joins the British Labour Party. Devlin returns to Belfast in 1948 and helps establish the Irish Labour Party  after the split of the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP). He later defeats Gerry Fitt to win a seat on the city council. Later Catholic Action claims the Irish Labour Party is infested with communists which effectively wipes out the party and Devlin loses his seat.

In the mid 1960s, Devlin joins the revived NILP and beats Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then joins Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie, and others to found the SDLP in 1970. At the request of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw in 1973, he becomes involved in ensuring safe passage for Gerry Adams to talks with the British government.

Devlin is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 and Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from January 1, 1974 to May 28, 1974.

In 1978, Devlin establishes the United Labour Party, which aims to be a broad-based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stands under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but polls just 6,122 first preferences and thereby loses his deposit.

In 1987, Devlin and remnants of the NILP and others, establish Labour ’87 as another attempt at building a Labour Party in Northern Ireland by uniting the disparate groups supporting labour and socialist policies but it is met with little or no success. In 1985 he loses his seat on the Belfast City council.

Devlin suffers from severe diabetes and throughout the 1990s suffers a series of ailments as his health and sight collapse. Devlin dies at the age of 74 on August 15, 1999.