Bernadette Devlin and Gerry Fitt effigies, Shankill Road, 1969

This photograph, from September 1969, shows effigies of Bernadette Devlin and Gerry Fitt on the Shankill Road. Fitt’s is hanging by the wall while Devlin’s has the placard behind it which reads “Would anyone who knows the whereabouts of this vampire please contact the UVF.” The photo was published in the Irish Press on 10 September 1969.

This was in the run up to the publication of the Cameron Report into the violence in Derry, Belfast and elsewhere in 1968 and 1969. The report was published on 12 September 1969. This was the immediate purpose of the erection of a formal ‘peace line’ on 10 September since it was anticipated that there would be further intense violence from unionists as a response to criticisms of the Unionist Party government, its policies, civil rights abuses and the RUC.

 

The Al Rawdah prison ship, 1940-41

Here is a history of the Al Rawdah prison ship. It was in use only briefly (in 1940-41) but falls within a longer history of the use of prison ships as internment camps in Ireland, including the Postlethwaite in 1798, prison ships transporting convicts overseas, the Argenta in 1922-24 and more recently the Maidstone in 1971-72.

Al Rawdah PS
Photograph of the Al Rawdah in use as a prison ship with appears to be the barbed wire enclosures on deck (from 1985 edition of Belfast Graves).
On 2nd September 1940, 140 internees were taken from Derry Gaol at 11 am and split into batches of fourteen. Each fourteen then were handcuffed in pairs and put onto a bus with British soldiers. The buses were driven in a convoy, accompanied by Lancia armoured cars, along roads which were heavily guarded. The first destination was Ebrington Barracks in Derry where the prisoners were inspected by the commander of the British 61st Division, Major-General de Wiart. They were then handed over to the RUC. When the convoy passed through Belfast, the internees reportedly sang loudly.
Their destination turned out to be 130 miles away from Derry, at Killyleagh in County Down. Some newspapers reported that as many as 157 internees were brought on the buses from Derry. The transport from Derry left another 80 internees in on-shore prisons, all in the Belfast Prison (Crumlin Road). When the Derry internees arrived in Killyleagh at 3 pm, the pier was cordoned off by the RUC. There was then a roll call of the first batch of men off the buses. They were dressed in everything from labourers clothes to sports jackets and flannels. The men were then transferred in small groups to two waiting boats. When about thirty internees and RUC men were in each boat a motor-boat towed them out to a ship, the Al Rawdah, which was to be used as a prison ship, anchored two miles off-shore. According to the Belfast Telegraph the internees sang the ‘Volga Boatman’s Song’ on the way out. In all it took until 5 pm to transfer all the internees from the buses to the Al Rawdah. One bus load remained on the quay. It included sixteen men who had applied to sign out from internment plus Jimmy McDonnell, Jack McNally and Jim Nolan (all of whom hadn’t participated in the takeover of Derry Gaol in December 1939). Instead they were taken to Crumlin Road where those applying to sign out were placed in C Wing and McDonnell, McNally and Nolan in B Wing.

rowing-out-to-ship.png

A boat travelling between the shore and the Al Rawdah (the ship shown a couple of miles off-shore in the background). This is identical to the first view the internees got of the Al Rawdah in Killyleagh. This is a still from the 1943 film ‘We Dive at Dawn’ which featured the Al Rawdah.

composite with guns
(Above and below) Close ups of the Al Rawdah from the film ‘We Dive at Dawn’ (1943) showing the gun turrets added with other refurbishments after use as a prison ship.bows.png

The Al Rawdah was a 3,930 ton vessel built in 1911 and requisitioned by the British Ministry of Shipping from the British-India Steam Company in 1940. The decision to bring a prison ship into service for internees had become public knowledge in late July 1940. By August it’s identity and destination in Strangford Lough were both well known with the Belfast Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph referring to it as the ‘Ulster Prison Ship’ and ominously noting that it’s intended capacity was 700-800 prisoners. Significant public criticism followed, noting the experience of the Argenta prison ship anchored off Larne in 1922-24 (early in August it was rumoured that the new prison ship would also be anchored off Larne). The cramped conditions, lack of exercise spaces and even difficulty in removing sick internees had all contributed to a significant number of Argenta internees developing tuberculosis and other diseases and a number being released early when they had become terminally ill. On top of that, several weeks previously some 800 German and Italian internees had been killed when the SS Arandora Star was sank en route to an internment camp in Canada. A number of local authorities and other bodies south of the border passed motions condemning the use of a prison ship.

Nationalist politicians protested that internment without trial on a ship was both against international law and presenting a serious danger given the current threat of attack from air or sea. The Unionist Minister of Home Affairs, Dawson Bates, dismissed the claims stating that “Anyone who attacked the Al Rawdah from above or from under the sea would get an unpleasant surprise.” Dawson Bates also repeatedly avoided answering questions about the cost of the Al Rawdah.

A couple of days later, on 10th September, 72 internees were taken from Crumlin Road prison in Belfast, split into batches of around fifteen and placed on five buses for a similar journey to the Al Rawdah via Killyleagh. The number transferred on 10th September varies in different newspaper reports but a statement in Stormont in mid-October confirms it as 72. This brought the number of internees on the boat to around 212. It was also noted that some internees had previously been interned without trial on the Argenta prison ship during 1922-1924. As far as I can make out Richard Ryan definitely spent time on both the Argenta and Al Rawdah. Jack Gaffney and Thomas O’Malley possibly were on the Argenta but certainly both of them and James Doyle had been imprisoned in 1920-24. Other names that feature on the list of internees on the Argenta and Al Rawdah are James Connolly, Mick Gallagher, John Kearney, Sean Keenan, P.J. O’Hare, Patrick Quinn and James Trainor. Other people may be able to shed more light on whether these are indeed the same individuals.

This immediately presented a problem to the families of internees since Killyleagh was difficult to access. At Stormont, Labour MPs asked whether the Unionist government was prepared to provide financial assistance to the families of internees. Dawson Bates refused stating that he was unaware of any anxiety on the part of the dependents of those interned. He did note that the authorities “…would not interfere in anyway with the disbursement of funds by any body provided it was within the law.” However, money collected by various groups for the dependents of internees was to be repeatedly seized by the Unionists.

By the 19th September the Al Rawdah was joined by a Catholic priest from St Paul’s Retreat at Mount Argus, Belfast-born Fr Enda Elliott, who was to become the chaplain. Four non-Catholic internees were to have their spiritual needs met by the Protestant clergy of Killyleagh. On that day the Unionist mounted a public relations offensive, with Dawson Bates and William Lowry bringing the American Consul in Belfast (John Randolph), the chaplain of Belfast Prison (Fr. McGouran), Nationalist MP Richard Byrne and Labour MP Jack Beattie and some Stormont officials out to the Al Rawdah for lunch and to inspect its newly equipped library, indoor games room and medical and dental equipment. While the press noted their meal did have some delicacies and wine added it claimed that, otherwise, it was the standard fare prepared for prisoners by the ships ‘coloured chefs’ (some of the crew were Indians). The non-unionist visitors to the prison ship declined to make any comment to the press, although the government officials advised reporters that if those visitors were to make any comment ‘it would be favourable’.

By October, there were repeated protests at the inability of families to visit internees on the Al Rawdah (notably media reports were by then using the figure of 180 for the number of internees). Internees were permitted one visit per week from two family members (the Ministry of Home Affairs only allowed visits from two out of a panel of six close relatives which had to be vetted in advance). The authorities only provided facilities and transfers to the Al Rawdah for a limited number of visits per week meaning that after six weeks some prisoners had yet to receive a visit. The remoteness was believed to be a deliberate ploy and it often proved impossible to get internees off the ship for compassionate reasons – when Patrick Doyle’s widower father James was ill in December, although he was an only son, it proved impossible to get home to Colligan Street in time to see him before he died.

Some internees families remembered the difficulty of getting out for visits including the frightening climb up steps to get to the deck of the Al Rawdah. Even before they got there they had to brave the hostility of the locals in Killyleagh who resented the nearby presence of the Al Rawdah and the on-shore presence of armoured cars and barbed wire in their village (Frank McGlade quoted in John McGuffin’s Internment). Turlach Ó hUid (in his 1985 memoir of internment, Faoi Ghlas) says that, at the quay side, Killyleagh resident shook their fists at families visiting internees as they board the boats to take them out the Al Rawdah, shouting “Scuttle the Fenian gets.

steps

Climbing the steps to board the Al Rawdah, from ‘We Dive at Dawn’ (1943).
Al Rawdah with subs
This photograph gives a sense of the height of the Al Rawdah (for those having to climb up steps from a boat at sea level), from when it was in service with surrendered German submarines at the end of the second world war (Wikipedia).

In mid-October it was already rumoured in the press that the Al Rawdah was costing £1 per internee per day (again citing a daily cost of £180). Despite the reputed cost, the food on board was described by internees as abominable. According to Frank McGlade even when braised gosling and dry biscuits were given as a supposed treat, they were so bad even the seagulls wouldn’t eat them. The seagulls did help some internees to occasionally relieve the boredom. Bobby Devlin recounts a story about internees on the Al Rawdah. According to Devlin (in his 1982 memoir An Interlude with Seagulls), “A ploy of some men on the ‘Al Rawdah’ was to tie bits of food scraps onto cord and fling it skywards into a frenzied mass of gulls. A poor gull would grab a mouthful triumphantly then it would have its head nearly jerked off by the rigorous pulling of the men on the ship.” Another story often told about the Al Rawdah was how internees trained a mouse to bring messages between cells (as it knew it would be rewarded with food).

There was quickly speculation (and clearly briefings from Unionist government figures) that the Al Rawdah was only a temporary facility, that the Ministry of Shipping wanted it put back into service and that the internees would be moved an internment camp with the former RUC depot at Newtownards being suggested as the likely location. It was also suggested that the internees could be relocated to Belfast Prison (Crumlin Road) for a short time while a new internment camp was established.

The question of whether the Ministry of Shipping knew in advance that the Al Rawdah was to be used for internees under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act was the subject of a heated debate in Stormont on 15th October. It was claimed that the Ministry of Shipping had demanded the return of the Al Rawdah on discovering that it was to be used for internees (the Unionist government’s uses of the Special Powers Act had been the focus of significant criticism in Britain in the 1930s).

That debate was against the backdrop of internees in Crumlin Road and the Al Rawdah failing to get release after submitting an appeal and sureties to an Advisory Committee that had refused 37 of the 62 applications (applying to the Advisory Committee also caused significant tensions among internees as it was seen as giving in to the Unionist government). Twenty-five had been released. Some of the failed applicants had began a hunger strike by 15th October leading to the release of William Barrett from the Springfield Road in Belfast. He had been interned since May (1940) and his family believed it had seriously damaged his health. He and the other hunger strikers appear to have been in D wing in Crumlin Road rather than on the Al Rawdah.

During the Stormont debate William Lowry revealed that, on that date, there were 268 internees (with 193 of those on the Al Rawdah). Apparently there were roughly 70 in the Belfast Prison and the remainder on the Al Rawdah, it is implied that those in Belfast Prison were engaging with the Advisory Committee (it is possible some were also in the prison hospital there). It was also insisted that, far from being unaware of the intended use of the Al Rawdah, the British military had offered it specifically for that purpose. Not only that, it was claimed that, on hearing that they were to be moved from the Al Rawdah, William Lowry claimed the internees had unanimously petitioned to be allowed to stay. He also took the opportunity to dismiss criticisms of the use of internment, stating that “There are thankful parents in Belfast and all over the Six Counties tonight because steps were taken at the proper time and a lad was checked on a course that could only have ended in a long term of imprisonment or on the scaffold.” Many of those interned on the Al Rawdah had been arrested in December 1938 and did not get released until the summer of 1945.

On the 18th October, Nationalist Senator Thomas McLaughlin visited the ship and also declined to make any comment to the press. In Stormont a few days later he challenged the Unionist government to admit that pressure from Washington had forced London to demand the return of the ship. This was put down to a warning about the negative impact on American public opinion if the ship was attacked from the air or sea. The Unionist leader of the Senate, John Robb, instead claimed that the British authorities had asked for the ship to be evacuated once they realised they were being asked to carry the full cost themselves. The debate revealed that there had been disagreement among the Unionist government over whether to use the Al Rawdah. It transpired that the pretext for abandoning Derry Gaol had been instructions from the military to remove any internees from the prison population, meaning citizens of hostile powers (eg Germany and Italy) and prisoners of war. The Unionists had sought to use this directive to have the cost of internment transferred to the military authorities. The only cost to Stormont, as it emerged in October, were the salaries of the prison staff (one of whom, Thomas Walker, was shot dead by the IRA in February 1942 although he was mistaken for another warder).

McLaughlin also challenged Robb to read out the actual petition received from the internees on the Al Rawdah to show that they had never requested that they remain on board the ship (the internees were obviously irked by the suggestion that, as a body, they were giving in to the Unionist government). Robb first placed the petition on a table in the Senate but eventually had to read out the wording of the petition for the record: “We, the Republican internees, desire to renew our protests against the injustice of the being detained without charge or trial. We learn with resentment that, in addition to the injustice of our detention, we are to be removed from a place where at least we have the status of political prisoners to a civil prison, where there are no conveniences or amenities for political prisoners and where, we feel, the restrictions and regulations governing convicted prisoners might even, in part, apply to us.

In the Stormont Senate McLaughlin described the circumstances on board for the 183 internees. He said that it did not conform the image of a ‘luxury ship’ given by the likes of Lowry. The only available recreation space was a 160 foot walkway which could only be walked, with care, in single file as there was so much barbed wire sticking out on either side. On the 28th October, the Unionists again announced that arrangements would soon be made to transfer the internees from the Al Rawdah to an on-shore internment camp. However, it was noted that it was unlikely, with winter coming, that any new internment facility would be ready (implying they would likely be moved to a prison instead).

Despite raising the issues on the Al Rawdah, the internees were often suspicious of the motives of Nationalist politicians. The authorities regularly read the internees mail (and raided their homes to intercept any correspondence sent out illicitly). They intercepted one letter which was read out in Stormont in July 1942 to embarrass some of the Nationalists. It was written by a prominent republican, Joe McGurk, to his wife Sally when he was on the Al Rawdah and very blunt in it’s criticism of the likes of McLaughlin, Campbell and Byrne.

It read: “The common sense of the people outside would’ve told them, at any rate, that, irrespective of our Republican outlook and principle in the matter, it was very unlikely that we would petition this Northern Junta for anything after the persecution which we had to undergo several months ago, and also that we don’t give a damn where we go. We had Senator McLaughlin of Armagh on board on Friday and he was placed in a very embarrassing position, as we would not speak to him about conditions, or much more else for that matter, as he probably would have used his official position to perhaps do himself a lot of good. What takes me to the fair is the concern which T.J. Campbell and Dead-Head Byrne have for our welfare now. The ship is a Godsend for them, from a propaganda viewpoint, to ingratiate themselves with the people. It’s about time that Campbell and Byrne and that Ilk ceased to block the road of the young generation and die a natural death. They did not show much concern when we were interned in Belfast and removed to Derry. We would rather they kept away from us. as we look upon them with contempt.

The same day, some of the Indians in the crew of the Al Rawdah got into a fight that ended up in court at the Killyleagh Petty Sessions. It was claimed that Mohammed Essack had been drunk and hit Mohammed Esmail on the collar bone with an iron poker. Essack had been drunk and it had occurred during a special holy season (this isn’t specified). It was claimed that subsequently Essack had also produced a knife and told Esmail that “You kill me, or I will kill you.” Reportedly, Essack was fined £1. Court proceedings were translated into Hindi by one of the crew and some of those present were permitted to swear on the Qu’ran rather than the bible.

It was believed by the internees that the Indians were chosen to staff the ship to minimise communication between them and the internees. But contact was inevitable. Turlach Ó hUid (Faoi Ghlas 1985) records how the internees and Indian crew engaged in good natured banter, with internees typically telling the Hindus among the Indians that “Gandhi man no good. Moslem good.” and telling the Muslims among the crew that “Gandhi man good. Moslems no good.” Overall, despite the confined space, both sides got along well.

The Indians weren’t the only Al Rawdah crew members to face the courts. On the weekend of 9th-10th November, an Al Rawdah storeman, Sylvester Longstaffe, was arrested and charged with the theft of £3 worth of stores from the ship. It was claimed in court that he had just been dismissed from the ship. Evidence given during his arraignment stated that the financial arrangements under which the ship had been chartered it was still being managed by the British-India Steam Navigation Company. The Al Rawdah’s chief steward, Patrick John Connolly, was also charged with theft from the ship. As it was at an agreed rate per person, the cheaper it was run the more profit there was for the company. According to statements made by Longstaffe’s solicitor, there was a monetary incentive for the company to only provide starvation rations. However the case was never brought to court and the charges were dropped in March 1942.

Longstaffe was a married father of five from Liverpool who had been at Dunkirk. By 1943 he had been on boats that had been torpedoed three times. The charges over the Al Rawdah appear to have been dropped due to the difficulty in locating the defendants and witnesses. Longstaffe had taken on a post as a steward on ships to South Africa during 1941 and met and – bigamously – married another member of the crew in Durban for which he was prosecuted in 1943. His 4,000 mile dash to be by the bedside of his wife, Patricia, in hospital in 1947 made the newspapers. The newspapers then had to publish a clarification from his wife, Elizabeth, stating that it was not her in the photo. Neither was it Irene who he had married in South Africa. He was to feature in the press one more time, in 1958, when an Australian woman he met while working as a ship’s purser, Jean Cook, became pregnant and then tried to procure an abortion. The procedure led to kidney failure and she died a week later. Longstaffe was named as the father during the trial of two Harley Street doctors for carrying out the abortion. He gave a statement claiming he and Cook had ‘just been friends’.
Sylvester Longstaffe
Sylvester Longstaffe in the Liverpool Echo, 22nd September 1947 after his 4,000 mile dash to at the beside of Patricia.

On Monday 18th November, Jack Gaffney fell from his bunk and apparently injured his head. While the crew had a doctor, Dr John Moody, there was no doctor available for the internees. Moody examined Gaffney and he was left in his bed, then apparently brought to the ship’s hospital. He died the next day having received no treatment beyond a heart stimulant when his condition worsened. The official cause of death was described as a cerebral haemorrhage brought about by high blood pressure. In her book on the Argenta prison ship, Denise Kleinrichert lists the name ‘John Giffney’ as a prisoner on the Argenta. The surname Giffney is confined to a handful of people in Dublin and Wicklow in the 1911 census so it is possible that it should read ‘John Gaffney’ and that he spent some time on the Argenta (he was definitely imprisoned from 1921 to 1923). Gaffney’s funeral was well attended in Belfast and included the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Mageean.

jack-gaffney.png
I’d not been able to track down a photo of him, but I think this him in a photo of the McKelveys gaelic football team dating to 1931-32 (courtesy of Donal McAnallen).

Neil Gillespie, O/C of the internees on the Al Rawdah, delivered an oration to the internees at the time of Gaffney’s funeral on 20th November. “One of our number has been released, released with honour, released unconditionally into the hands of God who made him. We mourn his passing with that natural sorrow which strikes to the heart of anyone when someone dear to him, someone with whom he ahs been closely associated is suddenly called away, but we’re proud of Jack Gaffney. He was faithful and true to the end. He died for the cause for which he stood, for which he worked, struggled, planned and fought throughout his life, just as truly as if he had fallen on the hillside. At this moment his remains are being brought to their last resting place in a Belfast Graveyard. We gather with those around the grave, we salute the passing of our comrade as a true soldier of Ireland and all humility we pray that God, in his mercy, may have mercy on his soul.” (Oration as quoted by Ray Quinn in A Rebel Voice, 1998).

A Sean Gaffney GAA club was later founded in Belfast in his memory. A 1920-22 IRA veteran, he was well known in GAA circles having played for Kevin Barrys and Morans before joining the Joe McKelvey GAA club in 1927. He played a prominent role in McKelveys’ on field football successes in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The club (which was specifically a club for IRA members) had been highly political in its sponsorship of motions at Antrim and Ulster GAA conventions. Similarly, Sean Gaffneys and other GAA clubs founded by ex-internees and ex-prisoners, like Tom Williams GAC and Seamus Burns GAC promoted political motions, such as in 1947, when they demanded that existing bans by the GAA on ‘foreign games’ and dances be strictly enforced. The years around 1947 were the peak years for Sean Gaffney GAC as it was playing senior football in Antrim. By 1949 the club had been relegated to the Intermediate League and was back playing junior football by 1950.

After Gaffney’s death republicans described the Al Rawdah as the ‘ship from hell’ mimicking British depictions of the German ship Altmark in contemporary propaganda. The Altmark was a German ship carrying three hundred British prisoners of war that was intercepted and the prisoners freed in February 1940. The hardships the Altmark prisoners endured were popularised during the relative lull in the war in early 1940 and were well known to the public and those on the Al Rawdah. According to Turlach Ó hUid (in Faoi Ghlas), Gaffney’s death was compared to the experience of those on the Altmark and that this, more than the threat of any German torpedo or dive-bomber sealed the fate of the Al Rawdah’s use as a prison ship.

At the end of December 1940 it was again announced that the internees would be taken off the Al Rawdah, although in this instance it was reported that the destinations would be Derry Gaol and the Belfast Prison (Crumlin Road). However this move still didn’t transpire and at the start of February (1941) there was an attempt to escape from the Al Rawdah. There are stories about internees on the Al Rawdah making keys out of nails when they were doing arts and crafts. However the escape attempt actually involved an escape onto another boat. Three internees managed to slide down a hawser in the dark and get on to the deck of a collier which had drawn alongside and was unloading coal on to the Al Rawdah (some versions state that it was five internees, such as in McGuffin’s Internment). One of the internees that tried to escape was James O’Hagan. They were discovered trying to lower a lifeboat and after first being mistaken for Germans, there was a scuffle and all but one managed to get back to their cells. The sole internee captured by warders was quickly released when the internees advised they would set the ship on fire if he wasn’t. As it was clear that the internees would be leaving soon, Jimmy Drumm (quoted by John McGuffin in Internment) said that the captain, Watt, told the internees would have had to go soon anyway as they nearly had the ship destroyed stripping it for souvenirs.

As it happened, just over a week later, on Tuesday 11th February 1941, 100 internees were finally transferred out of the Al Rawdah to Belfast and Derry. Motor launches were used to take the men from the ship and then they were escorted in six buses to Crumlin Road by heavily armed RUC men. The remaining 90 internees were transferred to Crumlin Road on the Thursday. Sally McCann, whose husband James was one of the internees, was arrested for waving a handkerchief at a bus transferring internees from the Al Rawdah as it passed on it’s way into Crumlin Road. She was charged with conduct likely to lead to a breach of the peace although it was thrown out of Belfast Custody Court the next day and her arrested was described as “… it savours of nothing if it does not savour of Gestapo methods“.

The physical toll of internment on the Al Rawdah was never really fully documented. Bobby Devlin’s An Interlude with Seagulls account of internment, like many other similar memoirs, clearly highlight a recurring concern among internees about their mental health. Much of this was a clear result of being interned without trial and without a defined period of incarceration, with no actual release date to look forward to. Many euphemisms were used for depression and apathy, like the big ‘D’, the ‘bonk’ and ‘Bangor Reserves’ as it rhymed with ‘nerves’, with ‘bad with their nerves’ being a typical Belfast term for mental health problems. Apart from psychological scars, the constant stench of stagnant sea water and fumes that rose up through the ship created what many on the Argenta, Al Rawdah and Maidstone recalled as an unhealthy atmosphere to even have to breathe in. Given that the internee population was males, mostly in their late teens, twenties and thirties, post-internment mortality was significantly high. Joseph Rooney died in May 1941, John (Seán) Dolan died on 25th October 1941. Dolan was well known in music and Irish language circles in Derry and had been the secretary of the Derry County Board of the GAA and a playing member of the Patrick Pearses club. When it was clear that he was terminally ill, he was released into a relative’s home in July 1941. Some were interned for several more years only to die from ill-health soon after release including Dickie Dunn, Richard Ryan (who had also been interned on the Argenta), Bernard Curran, James Doyle, Michael McErlean and Henry O’Kane. In some cases, such as Michael McCaffrey, the legacy of internment on the Argenta at the age of 26 was continuous ill-health and an early death at the age of 43 in 1957.

The exact number of internees who spent time on the Al Rawdah isn’t clear but, based on the available names, is at least 207 and maybe at least 217. While only a subgroup of those who experienced internment between 1938 and 1945, the fact that ten internees died due to ill-health out of just over 200 on the Al Rawdah does seem inordinately high. This doesn’t account for non-fatal impacts on physical and mental health in the short term, where internment on the Al Rawdah is believed, like in Michael McCaffrey’s case, to have contributed to an early death years later. A number of other internees and sentenced prisoners (including those imprisoned in England) are also known to have died prematurely due to either tuberculosis of what would appear to be otherwise innocuous complaints after their release.

A list of recorded Al Rawdah internees is included on the Mapping the Belfast IRA page, in Belfast Lough (for convenience rather than off Killyleagh). As I don’t have addresses for most of them, I’ve not filtered them for Belfast/non-Belfast and so all internees are included. Anyone who knows of other internees not listed here could add the information in the comments section. Of the 217 names, 177 have assigned prisoner numbers. The highest available prisoner number is 207 (the numbers are sequential), this may mean some internees were to be transferred to the Al Rawdah but never made it that far – again some readers might be able to shed some light on this as they might recognise a name on the list as someone who was never on the Al Rawdah.

Thanks to Brendan Harper, Ciarán Ó Fearghail, Cliodhna Ní Baoghaill, Paul Tinnelly, Cathy Kelly and Gabriel McCaffrey for sharing stories about the Al Rawdah.

You can read more about the background to the Al Rawdah in Belfast Battalion.
An earlier version of this post was originally published on 1st February 2019.

Revisiting 1969: the Belfast IRA, reactions and responses

This is a brief account of IRA activity in Belfast over the course of 13-15th August 1969 and its reaction to events.

[A brief warning: I’ve included some graphic press images of the violence in Belfast below. Published images and footage of the night-time violence appear to be almost non-existent, despite the clear presence of film crews and multiple photographers.]

By 13th August, in anticipation of protests over events in Derry, the Unionists had 400 B Specials on duty in Belfast. The RUC were briefing that events in Derry and the solidarity protests elsewhere were being organised by the IRA and Sinn Féin. This included claims to have intelligence that the IRA was mobilising units in South Armagh to make a move on Newry and IRA units assembling within Newry itself.

That night violence flared after demonstrations outside Springfield Road and Hastings Street RUC stations. There was also trouble in Short Strand and in Hooker Street off the Crumlin Road. According to Billy McMillan, the Belfast O/C in August 1969, the Battalion consisted of around eighty volunteers and an auxiliary of around two hundred. The Battalion had sent all its weapons to dumps in the south in 1956 prior to the border campaign and at the time was effectively unarmed. For a number of months the Belfast IRA had been requesting it get sent arms and ammunition as it was feared that, similar to the 1920s and 1935, a fresh pogrom was imminent. According to members of his Army Council, like Roy Johnston, the IRA Chief of Staff, Cathal Goulding had deliberately left the Belfast IRA without arms. Goulding assumed violence from the RUC and B Specials would generate so much negative publicity it would lead to Stormont being closed, London taking over responsibility and beginning reforms. Bizarrely, as the crisis unfolded in Belfast Goulding was actually busy staging an ‘IRA training camp’ outside Dublin for a British television crew (for a £200 fee). On 14th August, his solution to Belfast’s problems was to ring one of the Battalion staff, Prionsias MacAirt, and order him to go out and try and reason with the rioters.

On the evening of the 13th August, the RUC had taken up positions on the roof of Hastings Street RUC station with machine guns, while Commer armoured cars drove across the Falls Road into Mary Street, Lemon Street and Peel Street where the RUC smashed windows with batons (see image below).

RTE 1969

Commer armoured cars in Divis Street on night of 13th August (RTE).

McMillan ordered a number of IRA operations to be carried out against the RUC and B Specials with whatever weapons the Battalion had available. Shots were then fired at an RUC vehicle in Leeson Street. Two grenades were also thrown but only one exploded. The RUC also reported that six shots were fired from a passing car at Andersonstown Police Station but no damage was done. Later at the Scarman Tribunal, investigating the violence, Belfast RUC Commissioner Harold Wolseley claimed that, taken together, these attacks were deemed to be the signal that an IRA insurrection was underway.

Under this pretext, Shorland armoured cars were despatched to patrol Divis Street and the adjoining areas (see photos below). At Springfield Road Barracks the RUC opened fire on the crowd wounding two men. B Specials and RUC assisted crowds who were evicting Catholic residents from their homes on the night of 13-14th August (eg see Dominic Corr’s account and Michael McCann’s book Burnt Out).

Hastings St 13.14 Aug 1969

Petrol bombs exploding in front of Hasting Street RUC Barracks on the night of 13-14th August (Belfast Telegraph)

Shorland

Mark 1 Shorland armoured car mounting a Browning machine gun (from http://www.shorland.com)

Shorlands 6 and 7

Shorlands on the move in Belfast – identification numbers feature in eye-witness accounts of shooting, particularly number 6 (from Chartres, Henshaw and Dewar, Northern Ireland Scrapbook).

The night of 13-14th August had already used up the minimal resources of the Belfast IRA. While Belfast was relatively calm during daylight the next day, it was clear that preparations were being made for concerted attacks by unionists in areas such as the Crumlin Road, Clonard and Divis Street that night. The Unionist cabinet met that afternoon and decided to intern ‘IRA agitators’ overnight and to request use of the British Army in Derry. The B Specials were also fully mobilised.

During the day, current and former members of the Belfast Battalion scraped together whatever weapons they could find as they fully expected the B Specials to lead attacks from the Shankill Road into Divis Street, Cupar Street and Ardoyne that night. The weapons they got together included any form of shotgun or hunting rifle that could be begged, borrowed or stolen. Billy McKee, a former Belfast O/C, managed to collect together bits of ammunition. Jimmy Steele, another former Belfast O/C, retrieved two revolvers from an ancient dump in his brother’s attic. Joe Cullen, O/C of the Belfast IRA’s engineering battalion in the 1920s assisted with getting the guns into shape. Around twenty-three handguns, some grenade casings and a handful of hunting rifles and shotguns were gathered together by the time darkness fell. A single Thompson submachine gun had also been found (its single magazine was fired in bursts over the head of the crowd attacking St Comgalls). That was the armament available to the IRA to face the heavy machine guns in the Shorland armoured cars, Bren guns, Sten guns, rifles and revolvers carried by 500-600 B Specials and RUC.

By late afternoon that day, houses were already being burnt out and mobs began to emerge onto Divis Street from the direction of the Shankill Road including the Shankill Defence Association, B Specials and RUC. The RUC were also using Shorland and Humber armoured cars after 10.30 pm to drive at the crowd. Armed with a variety of submachine guns, rifles and revolvers, eye witnesses recorded that the B Specials began opening fire in Divis Street. Residents responded with stones and petrol bombs. The crowd that emerged from Dover Street and Percy Street began burning and looting businesses and homes on Divis Street. After 11 pm the RUC and B Specials tried to lead baton charges into the complex around Divis flats. By now the Shorland armoured cars were firing from their heavy machine guns. There was also violence in Conway Street (the first location at which the Shorlands’ opened fire), Cupar Street and on the Crumlin Road.

After midnight the violence intensified as fighting focused on St Comgalls School, which was defended by a number of former IRA members. The Shorlands were firing tracers and it could be seen that they were raking each floor of Divis tower and shooting into side streets (this is when Patrick Rooney and Hugh McCabe were killed). There were also RUC and B Special guns on the roof of various buildings firing down into the various streets.

Falls Road 14.15 Aug AP Wirephoto

Shorland and armed B Specials with ambulance waiting behind them off the Falls Road on night of 14-15 August (AP).

Belfast 14.15 Aug 1969

Petrol bombing exploding underneath a Shorland armoured car surrounded by  B Specials, night of 14-15 August (Belfast Telegraph).

Falls Rd Indo 14869

Falls Road, armoured car and petrol bombs burning on night of 14-15 August (Irish Independent).

Belfast shot in head 14.15 Aug 1969

Un-named man wounded in head ‘by a sniper’ (possibly near Divis tower) on night of 14-15 August 1969 (Daily Mirror).

The IRA had no control over events as they happened, had no meaningful stocks of arms or ammunition and had not trained its members for the roles they now needed to fill. In the absence of any planning, current and former members organised ad hoc groups to defend the likes of St Comgalls School as they came under sustained attack, or like Cullen and Steele, were stationed on Broadway with handguns ready to delay any incursion from the Donegall Road. At the same time, the Battalion Adjutant, Jim Sullivan, though, had advised IRA members that they should only shoot over the heads of attackers. The minimal stocks of ammunition available was used up within minutes. Despite the lack of offensive capability of the IRA, the RUC issued reports saying they had to fall back and were besieged in the likes of Hasting Street Barracks.

In the early morning of 15th August, thirty men were rounded up in an internment sweep including McMillan and MacAirt (although Sullivan avoided the round-up). During the day, as the violence worsened, the IRA commandeered the Broadway cinema as people fled the mobs trying to burn them out of their homes in the streets off the likes of Divis Street and Cupar Street.

When British Army assistance was finally requested by the Unionists, it actually deployed along the Falls Road and Divis Street. The RUC had been advising that the IRA had snipers positioned along the rooftops and that the district was in the middle of an IRA insurrection. It took considerable persuasion by the likes of Fr Patrick Egan to convince the British Army to relocate to the streets, like Bombay Street which had been burned down or were under attack. Six people had been killed in Belfast and at least 133 wounded. One of those killed was Gerard McAuley, a member of Fianna Éireann, the republican youth organization.

C070B6EE-D7DD-44C0-B76A-F9E3320853FF

Billy McKee with Gerard McAuley just after he was shot in Clonard (courtesy of Pat Leahy).

Xenia Daily Gazette cablephoto Belfast Falls 15 Aug 1969

A street off the Falls Road in flames on night of 15 August 1969 (AP).

Jimmy Steele and Joe Cahill walked down the Falls Road the next day (16th August). There was a mood of despair and anger directed at the IRA for its failure to be prepared to defend the population. Both were called deserters and traitors and Cahill claims they were even spat upon (see Anderson, A Life in the IRA).

Meanwhile, besieged in Dublin by IRA officers looking for GHQ to open its dumps and distribute arms and ammunition to the north, Goulding retreated to an upstairs office with Mick Ryan and said “This is terrible, Jesus Christ, this is terrible. What am I going to do? Living Jesus, what are we going to do?” Goulding hadn’t been able to locate the IRA’s Quartermaster General, Pat Reagan, so he replaced him, on the spot, with Ryan (this is based on Ryan’s interviews in Swan’s Official Irish Republicanism). The depth of disorganisation around Goulding is shown by the fact that Ryan didn’t know Reagan had been Quartermaster and thought Goulding was filling the role himself.

A variety of meetings took place, in public and private in Dublin, and money was donated to both solidary funds (for refugees of the violence) and defence funds (basically, to purchase weapons). A meeting between IRA O/Cs and the Army Council was told by Goulding that the IRA should not respond with armed action. Meanwhile, the Unionist Prime Minister, Chichester-Clarke, blamed Catholics, the I.R.A., civil rights movement and Irish government for trying to discredit and subvert Stormont.

Amid the chaos, Goulding issued a widely-derided statement claiming that northern units of the IRA had been in action in Derry and Belfast and that the Army Council had placed “…all volunteers on full alert and has already sent a number of fully equipped units to the aid of their comrades in the Six Counties and to assist the local Defence Committees, Citizen Action Groups and other popular organisations…”. The statement noted, somewhat paradoxically, that “The people of the Falls Road area have gratefully acknowledged this assistance in the past few days and have contrasted it bitterly with the failure of the Dublin Government to act in their defence.

From Belfast, Joe Cahill, Jimmy Drumm and Leo Martin had been dispatched in three teams to bypass GHQ and make contact with IRA units in the south and retrieve any dumped weapons they could find. They drove non-stop across the south for twenty-four hours then regrouped in Dundalk before bringing the weapons to Belfast. This included a few Thompsons, some Sten guns, .303 and .22 rifles (including M1 carbines, Garand semi-automatics, bolt-action Springfields and Lee-Enfields) and revolvers. Ammunition calibres varied widely as the Thompson fired a .45 bullet, M1s and Garands a .300 and the Lee-Enfield a .303. Many younger volunteers had little expertise in using the weapons. Notably, older volunteers from the 1940s (and earlier) were required to maintain and oversee their use.

Meantime, Steele and McKee had remained in Belfast and organised a meeting to be held a couple of days later, on the return of Cahill, Martin and Drumm. The meeting was held in the social club at Casement Park on 22nd (it may have been on 24th August as exact date isn’t clear). It was attended by the likes of Daithi O Conaill (IRA O/C of Derry and Donegal), Jimmy Drumm, Joe Cahill, Billy McKee, John Kelly, Billy Kelly, Leo Martin and Seamus Twomey. Cahill, Drumm and Martin were able to report on the attitude of the IRA units, members and supporters they had encountered on their whistle-stop tours. According to Billy McKee, John Kelly and Joe Cahill, those in attendance agreed that the Battalion staff prior to August 15th had to take responsibility for the failures of mid-August and lack of preparedness of the IRA in Belfast. This failure had been compounded and confused by the direction being given by GHQ in Dublin. This included both the emphasis being placed on politicisation and the unwillingness to listen to those in Belfast who had reported that the risk of significant violence against Catholic communities was getting critical.

Those present appear to have decided not to challenge the current Belfast leadership and gave GHQ time to respond to events. The IRA’s own rules would require McMillan to need to be voted in again as O/C on his release from prison (Jim Sullivan acted in the role during his absence). The influx of new and returning members had rapidly expanded numbers in the IRA and created uncertainty over the status of individual’s who took on company and staff posts in the days after 14-15th August. In the meantime, they could just do what they could to distribute the arms and ammunition recovered by Cahill, Drumm and Martin and provide other supports to the threatened districts across the city. And they waited for Billy McMillan’s release from internment to see what would happen next.

 

You can read more about these events and the wider split in the IRA here and in the Belfast Battalion book.

Revisiting 1969: Declaration to the people of 26 Counties

Statement as published, Irish Press 18th August 1969:

We, Paddy Devlin, Paddy Kennedy and Paddy O’Hanlon, being elected representatives of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, address the people of the 26 Counties and state the Unionist Government are now pursuing a deliberate policy of genocide against the Catholic population of the six counties of Northern Ireland.

We further state that: they have armed their most fanatical supporters with automatic weapons and have acquiesed in their barbarous and brutal excesses. They have consistently refused to listen to protests, appeals or prayer to grant social justice and to put an end to the present murder, shooting, pillage and burning of Catholic homes. They have now embarked. upon a course of action similar in intent and method to that of the Hitlerite regime in its policy against the Jews.

At the moment, thousands of our families are homeless and in great physical distress. Our people are living on the charity of a dedicated few but their resources of food, clothing and medical supplies are nearly exhausted. While aid to refugees from the six counties is welcome the direct need at the moment is to get food, clothing, medical supplies and other appropriate material through to the beieagued areas in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere. If this is not done immediately the loss in life will dramatically multiply.

We appeal in desperation to the Irish people and their Government to assist us now. We implore the Government to make this aid available to our people without delay, as delay may prove fatal. We ask the people of Ireland to make representation by every means in their power to the Government and to insist that the aid we have requested be given forthwith.

Chichester-Clark’ s statement that the extremist Republican elements are responsible for the disorders in Northern Ireland is a pack of lies. His function now is reduced to deception of the British public about the murderous activities of his extremist supporters. This trouble stems not from Republicans but within his own party and is related to his efforts to retain-leadership in the Unionist Government.

Signed: Paddy Devlin, M.P. Paddy O’Hanlon, M.P. Paddy Kennedy, M.P.

The previous day Devlin, who was to later be a founding member of the SDLP, spoke at a public meeting in front of the GPO in Dublin. He told the meeting that “As we stand here tonight people are being shot down and the only way they can defend themselves is with guns. We have not got these and we need them badly.” (Sunday Independent, 17th August 1969).

Devlin was one of a number of figures who made public calls for weapons or for the Irish Army to invade the north. Here is then President of the Union of Students in Ireland and a later founder of the Peace People, Ciaran McKeown (in footage recorded by Thames TV) speaking at another rally at the GPO, this time on the 17th August 1969.

And one final clip. This time an unnamed member of the governing Fianna Fáil party speaking at the same rally outside the GPO.

If anyone knows who the speaker is, please give us some more information in the comments area!

Belfast Pogrom book on @IrishCentral

Here is piece I wrote for Irish Central on the Belfast Pogrom book (click here or paste the link below to your browser) where I raise the question (which is relevant at the minute) about whether it was a missed opportunity to learn how to deal with the legacy of violence.

https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/belfast-pogrom-book.amp

Dominic Corr on getting burned out of his home, 14th August 1969

Pogroms

As the 14th of August this year marks the 50th anniversary of the British state/unionist pogroms of 1969, I wrote this piece to remember the night our family and many other families were burnt out of our homes and the reasons why. In the hope that such pogroms should never be allowed to happen again in Ireland.

I must say our maternal Granny Nellie McDonnell had experienced this before and I believe her resilience helped our family and others through what was to come. Attempts had been made to burn her out or force her out of family homes on three occasions as a result of British state/unionist pogroms at different stages in her life. Her home and her sister Maggie’s home among others in Norfolk Street had been attacked and an attempt was made to burn them out when she was a young mother on the 10th of July 1921. This was two months after Maggie’s son Volunteer Sean McCartney had been shot and killed in action by the British army and black and tans on the Lappinduff mountain in County Cavan, where he was operating as part of a joint Belfast/County Cavan IRA flying column. A day later on 11th July a local IRA man James (Seamus) Ledlie who was on defence stand by was shot dead by a unionist sniper as he stood in Norfolk Street not long after leaving her house in the reign of terror which paved the way for the formation of the northern state in the 1920s.

Her house was attacked again in the aftermath of the outdoor relief strikes in the 1930s. When the British government again used sectarianism to divide the working classes. As Catholics and Protestants had been protesting together and even rioted together against the state. When the state decided to end payments for the unemployed and replaced them with food vouchers and other poverty inducing cuts that had families almost starved.

Then again in 1969 when she had her own children reared and was now a grandmother and great grandmother watching herself her youngest daughter, son in law and her grandchildren and some of her siblings being burned out of our family homes in Norfolk Street when the state again decided to attack Irish Catholic citizens burning their homes. On the 14th of August 1969 we were to experience the sectarian fascism our Granny had already endured twice before and was to endure again for a third time.

Our family my mother, father and their three sons were burnt out of our home as was our Granny Nellie and some of her siblings who lived in different houses a few doors away. My mother told me years later although tensions were slightly high due to certain unionists among them Ian Paisley stoking up the sectarianism with anti papist and anti Catholic rhetoric within speeches he was delivering at the time. She believed it would blow over until a short time later when an incident happened the day before loyalists burned our houses down. My mother was putting our bin out for the bin men when a few unionists from the Shankill were making there way along Norfolk Street to the Falls Road where many unionists from the Shankill worked in the 1960’s. One woman made a remark to my mother saying that she could possibly be wasting her time putting the bin out as that may be the last bin she would put out as all the dirt and rubbish would be cleared off these streets very soon.

Unionists alongside members of the RUC and B Specials entered our streets and proceeded to attack our family homes the next evening burning many homes and leaving us as homeless political refugees in our own country. As I’ve said sadly this was nothing new to Granny Nellie as this was her third time either having homes attacked or being burned out of different family homes in the Norfolk Street area by unionists and state forces.

The pogrom in which my family and our granny were burnt out of our homes in Norfolk Street was on the 14th August 1969. It was part of a systematic state-led reign of terror when loyalists, orange men and the UVF led by and under the tutelage and command of the B Specials and RUC attacked houses in streets which ran between the Falls and Shankill Roads. These streets were forcibly entered by the above gangs raking them with gunfire and then throwing sawn down lengths of scaffolding poles to break through the windows of small two up two down terraced houses. After the windows had been broken scatter cushions soaked in petrol with lengths of wire tied to them and petrol bombs were lit and tossed into the houses. The homes burned like tinder boxes. These were our homes, the homes of young families, elderly people, and some people living on their own. The common bond this community had and which made us targets was the fact we were working class Irish Catholics living in Belfast.

Almost every family in our street, Norfolk Street were burned out that night on Thursday 14th August 1969. I was too young to have any definitive memories of being burnt out in 1969 or how our family including our Granny, who moved with us every step of the way, became homeless political refugees in our own country. How we had to live in caravans in Beechmount, a school in Andersonstown or my aunt Sadie McVeigh’s house in Kinnaird Avenue, Andytown, along with her husband Tommy and their family of twelve children at the time.

We moved from pillar to post before eventually settling around 1970 in Annadale Street in the New Lodge district of north Belfast. One thing that always stuck with me was the attitude and character of our Granny Nellie. Regardless of her multiple experiences she hadn’t a sectarian bone in her body as she always maintained friendships with Protestants whom she knew a lifetime. She was shrewd enough to know and often made sure we knew that those who burned us out were in fact pawns in England’s game of divide and conquer as well as being ignorant of their own background. They themselves were in fact a residual over spill of a people once plundered and conquered by the very same imperialist racist/sectarian mindset. They were now being used as muscle and puppets. They were the total opposite of people like Theobald Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy and Mary Ann McCracken, William Drennan and other protestant Irish men and women who were the founders of the political concept known as Irish republicanism.

Shortly after 1969 a lot of people left Belfast to get some form of respite going to places in the Free State like Gormanstown army camp were they were provided with food and shelter. Our family never made that move as our Granny Nellie maintained the belief that regardless of what was happening she wasn’t for leaving Belfast. She said she wouldn’t flee south as a refugee from British state/unionist pogroms in the early 1920’s when her home was attacked and the country was partitioned or the 1930’s and she wasn’t for fleeing in 1969.

She always seemed to be adamant in seeing a difference between the evacuation of WWII, the Belfast blitz and the various pogroms and sectarian attacks by unionists and the British state. She went to Katesbridge when the Luftwaffe attacked Belfast but would never leave when unionists, British military, B Specials, RUC, armed orange men and the UVF attacked her homes at different times in her life. She maintained that she and none of her family would “never allow anybody or anything to force me from the city where I was born and raised my family”. When we moved to the New Lodge our Granny Nellie came with us as we settled in 55 Annadale Street which ran between Lepper Street and the Antrim Rd. Pinkerton Street, Carntall Street in the New Lodge and its hinterlands of North Queen Street, Vere Street, The Fenian Gut, Little Italy and Carrickhill in north Belfast is where my paternal family in Belfast all hailed from when my paternal great grandparents settled in Belfast.

Although by 1970 we were settled as I said I think it was hard for both my Granny and my mother as they were Falls Road women who had left all they’d known and the community they’d grew up in. A plus side to our moving was the fact that my mother’s sister Mary and my father’s brother Arder lived in the last house at the junction of Carntall Street and the New Lodge Road and they were closer than most in laws to an extent as two brothers had married two sisters. My Granny was a Falls Road woman born and bred, although she lived the final five years of her life in the New Lodge and died there. I don’t think her life or my mother’s life were ever the same after 1969, and to be honest, I don’t believe a lot of lives including my own were ever the same either. She always maintained it would never happen again as the people had an army (referring to the IRA) which would never allow such pogroms to be repeated.

I often thought about this throughout the last few years. That like many others I had grown up in a war zone, an unjust war which was foisted upon us in an abnormal setting which had became a normal way of life to us. Though that situation would have different effects on thousands of people as a roller coaster of emotions shaped our lives throughout those years. Emotions from being happy at times when realistically you should have probably been solemn and not knowing how to be empathetic in any meaningful way or being in a position where anger became to easy a way to deal with things. At times things happen which bring you back to things that happened which has a direct effect on you personally or others around you.

One such incident happened when I was in Krakow in a few years ago as I visited the Jewish ghetto in a square. While at a holocaust memorial which consisted of metal chairs which symbolised the furniture among other belongings which were dropped on and around that spot by Jews who had been forced to live in the ghetto as they were being rounded up to be assassinated by the Nazis. I thought of my granny McDonnell and my mother and father who had lost all their belongings as they too were burnt out by fascists who would have been happy to assassinate them. At that moment in the square I felt a tingling mixed with a shudder in my body and my eyes welled up, not with sadness or fear but with a sense of pride and gladness. Pride that no matter what my mother, father and Granny came through they would never let it define them in a negative way or turn them into hate filled beings.

I’m glad that they rose above it to still believe that equality and justice would some day be in place in an Ireland free from racist/sectarian British misrule and interference.

Revisiting 1969: armoured cars and tanks and guns

This is the latest in a series of articles reconsidering events in the summer of 1969. On this occasion looking briefly at the killing of Patrick Rooney, the use of armoured cars by the RUC, a man called Paisley and a book called Unholy Smoke.

On 14th August, 1969, the Unionist government agreed to reintroduce internment, leading to the immediate arrest of twenty three men deemed to be suspected ‘IRA agitators’. The same day, it agreed to request that the British government extend the deployment of British troops and use those on hand immediately in Derry.

Popularly, history remembers that the British Army were first used over the 14-15th August 1969 due to widespread violence. In reality, though, they had been deployed in April 1969 in the face of a UVF bombing campaign. Similarly, the mass internment sweep of 9th August 1971 it is widely remembered, but the facility to introduce internment without trial had always been available to the Unionist government, and had been utilised on 14th August 1969. As on previous occasions, it was used against ‘suspected IRA agitators’ rather than, for instance, those involved the UVF bomb campaign or those mobilising mobs to attack Catholic homes in Belfast.

During the violence of 1969 the Unionist government had the RUC and B Specials deploy alongside Shorland armoured cars, some of which mounted a Browning machine gun. Numerous eye witness accounts describe the use of the Shorlands, firing into streets and residential areas. The Shorland had been commissioned by the Unionist government in the early 1960s and was delivered in 1966. It was a direct replacement for the obsolete 1920 pattern Rolls Royce armoured cars that had mounted a Vickers machine gun.

The Mark 1 Shorland lacked the radiator armament of the 1920 Rolls Royce which largely betrayed the expectation that it would be used, as the Rolls Royce had, to provide fire support where there was no expectation it would be subject to any meaningful gunfire being returned. This was the case in August 1969 where it was deployed against crowds of rioters. The Browning machine gun it mounted was intended as an infantry support weapon, not for crowd control, but it was deployed as such in colonial policing and military operations. In the late 1960s it was widely used in that role by the British Army. In 1967 it had been used in Aden, firing thousands of rounds as ‘crowd control’ and inflicting significant casualties (the extent of casualties is difficult to assess as most accounts disregard any Arab fatalities and only record British military casualties).

Mark 1 Shorland armoured car mounting a Browning machine gun (from http://www.shorland.com)

When the Shorlands were deployed in Belfast, the RUC used them in the style of the colonial policing operations witnessed in Aden, opening fire indiscriminately into residential areas, like Divis flats. A nine year old boy, Patrick Rooney, was killed inside his family’s flat in Divis tower as was Trooper Hugh McCabe of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars who was home on leave with his family who lived in Divis tower.

Patrick Rooney

Hugh McCabe

In his 1969 book, Unholy Smoke, George Target describes McCabes death. He notes that the Unionist government had reported that McCabe had been killed lying prone with a single bullet wound to the head by a sniper on top of Divis flats implying (as Target reports was publicly rumoured) McCabe had been firing from the top of the flats. The official report stated the same. According to Target, though, those present reported that he had went out to help a man who had been shot by sniper fire. A machine gun had then opened fire on those helping the wounded man and McCabe was hit seven times in the back and died. He was the first British soldier killed in Belfast in the recent phase of the conflict.

George Target was an evangelical Protestant who had formerly served in the British infantry. He had published a number of books in the 1960s and his book, Unholy Smoke, is one of the first dedicated books about the violence that intensified in Belfast in 1969.

One figure that Target was critical of over events during 1969 was the Rev. Ian Paisley. He gives the following as a sample of Paisley’s opinions (this is the text as directly quoted by Target, Unholy Smoke, p.72-3 ): “We are at war in this Province with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church… The Jesuits are the Gestapo of the Vatican. Their purpose is to undo the Reformation and bring Protestantism and all other religions of the world under the jackboot of the Papacy… The hatred of all things British and Protestant is but the product of the diabolical and soul-destroying doctrines of the Church of Rome. The system that produced Hitler and Mussolini has given birth in the country to the hate-mongers of the Bogside… The IRA is the armed wing of the Roman Catholic Church… The age-long dream of [that Church] is an Ireland Romanised from end to end, the people of God in chains or driver forever from the land of their birth. This must never happen! We must hold Ulster by every means God lays to our hands…. Protestants of this Province must not be deceived by leading Romanists, Ecumenists, Communists and Anarchists. Their sot wards are but a Devil’s lullaby to chloroform Protestantism in order that [this] Romanist-sponsored rebellion in our midst might succeed… The belief in the good faith of the British government, which has sided with the Roman Catholic hierarchy against the Ulster Government, is the vapouring of minds drugged into abject subjection by the sops of an able and subtle for. Ulster is betrayed… if the forces of the British Crown are going to support the IRA to destroy Ulster, then we are prepared to do as our Fathers did and fight for our freedom… When the call comes we will be able to take our stand as Protestant men in the battle that is going to be waged…“.

Target notes how Paisley’s ‘Ulster Constitution Defence Committee” continually erected posters on every street corner saying: “For God and Ulster, EMERGENCY, All Protestant men who wish to help Ulster in the present crisis are urged to contact The Ulster Constitution Defence Committee“. An interesting point noted in passing in Unholy Smoke was that all the main church leaders and political leaders made it clear in public statements and interviews on the BBC during 1969 that they believed that the problems and conflict were all political in nature, not religious. Meanwhile, Ian Paisley insisted that it was a religious conflict, a theme that was subsequently given much more substance in the media.

Target began his book with a dedication to Patrick Rooney:

To the Memory of

PATRICK ROONEY

aged nine

killed by a stray bullet

Divis Street

Belfast

during the fighting 

on the night of

14th August 1969

Christ have Mercy on us