Interview with John O’Neill from Treason Felony

The Chemical Elements

Belfast IRA

The following is an interview I conducted recently with John O’Neill, the author behind the excellent Treason Felony blog which covers the history of the Belfast IRA in its ‘lean years’ from the end of the War of Independence (1921) to the eruption of the Troubles in the summer of 1969.

John’s original research has uncovered a number of fascinating insights into overlooked topics in republican history including 19th century Fenianism in North Belfast; James Connolly’s time with the British Army in Ireland; the role of Belfast IRA volunteers in 1916 and on the pro-Treaty side the Civil War; and the connections between the Belfast IRA and the Communist Party in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

From a historiographical perspective, John’s fastidious and unbiased attention to the sources also illuminates the Belfast IRA’s complex political evolution over this period, running counter to certain simplistic myths about…

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Map of IRA and Cumann na mBan suspects in Belfast

suspectsmap

Here is the RUC’s complete suspect list for the IRA and Cumann na mBan in Belfast in the late 1930s, including both the IRA A list and B list. The A list largely contains those who the RUC had previously arrested and held for various periods of time. Together, the combined lists contain five hundred and thirty-five names. Estimates of IRA membership in Belfast around the end of the 1930s suggest a figure of around eight hundred, with a further one hundred and twenty in Cumann na mBanThere is a good chance that some proportion of the names on the RUC list may be false names or addresses, although it is probably only a small number. Even then the RUC suspect list would still amount to half of the projected Belfast membership of the IRA and Cumann na mBan.

So, did the RUC have the IRA and Cumann na mBan completely infiltrated or under such close observation that it had details of over half the membership in Belfast? Without some sort of corresponding membership lists from the IRA or Cumann na mBan, it isn’t possible to make a direct comparison to test either the accuracy of the RUC or identify the actual proportion known to the RUC. However, it is possible to carry out some tests on the quality of RUC intelligence gathering and, to some extent, get an insight into its capacity to deliver counter-insurgency measures against the (very) low intensity campaigns operated by the IRA between 1922 and 1969.

There are known occasions on which detailed lists of IRA membership fell into the RUCs hands. This occurred when the RUC managed to intercept large bodies of IRA members at training camps, such as near Carnlough in 1932, at meetings in Pearse Hall in King Street, and elsewhere. The Belfast Battalion volunteers arrested at Gyles Quay in Louth in 1935 also had their details passed to the northern government. Where lists of these names were published in newspapers, around two thirds appear to have made it as far as the RUC suspects lists.

Ironically, the RUC even had one simple method of collecting the names of IRA volunteers. The playing staff of the McKelvey GAA club was solely made up of IRA volunteers – joining the IRA was even a prerequisite of membership, a fact that was known to the RUC. Reports on club games, including team sheets, were regularly printed in the likes of The Irish News. Yet, again, comparison of the names of players lining out for McKelveys in the likes of 1935-36 and the suspect lists shows that the RUC did not systematically include those who were effectively advertising their IRA membership.

Similarly, the list includes individuals who were no longer involved with the IRA. Davy Matthews, the former Belfast O/C was expelled from the IRA for signing a bond to get released from prison in 1934 and his name is not included. Yet George Nash, who had signed out at the same time and left the IRA, is still included on the RUC list in the late 1930s.

The likes of Murt Morgan, James Pimley and the Carleton brothers had left to join Republican Congress in 1934, if not beforehand, but still are included on the list. Liam Tumilson, who also left to join Republican Congress, is not on the list (he was to die fighting with the International Brigades in Spain in February 1937). But Jim Straney, who had went to Spain to join the International Brigades (and was killed at Gandesa in August 1938) is on the list, as is Peter Fanning, who had went to Spain with O’Duffy to fight on the fascist side.

The overall impression of RUC intelligence gathering appears to suggest it was fairly unsystematic and the lists were erratically maintained. The period during which the lists were considered valid isn’t completely apparent although it included annotations for individuals into the 1940s. Given that a primary tool deployed by the northern government was the detention/internment instruments of the Special Powers Act, this lack of attention to detail in intelligence gathering typically led to wide trawls in which large numbers were arrested, processed and detained for a period of time. The periodic mass arrests deployed by the northern government were intended to cast a net very widely rather than be targeted. Hence its initial round of internments in 1938 largely failed to capture the Belfast IRA’s current leadership. Instead, the RUC seemed to favour the use of informers, as was seen at Campbell College and Crown Entry. This was only effective in intercepting a small proportion of IRA operations.

The map below is interactive and includes all those on the list with an address (only one, a Christopher Lee, has no assigned address). Generally, individuals are located to streets rather than trying to place them where their actual house was (most of the terraces, and often streets, in which they lived now bear no resemblance to the streetscape of the 1930s and 1940s). If you click on any individual you can see their recorded address and, if they were considered by the RUC as ‘staff officers’ on the suspect list there is an ‘x’ beside ‘staff’ in the window with the details.

The full lists are also reproduced in text below the map.

Here is the list of Belfast IRA and Cumann na mBan suspects kept by the RUC in the late 1930s/1940s, organised by surname (alphabetically), and then by street (alphabetically). Except for some well known figures, names and addresses are written as recorded by the RUC.

Dominic Adams, 15 Abercorn Street

Patrick Adams, 15 Abercorn Street

R Anderson, 14 Roumania Street

Lawrence Bannon, 135 New Lodge Road

William Barret, 65 Whiterock Gardens

William Barrett, 51 Mary Street

Joe Boles, 80 Seaforde Street

Joseph Bowman, 40 Boundary Street

Charles P Boyle, 4 Lancaster Street

Leo Boyle, 133 New Lodge Road

Margaret Boyle, 54 Raglan Street

Patrick Boyle, 54 Raglan Street

John Bradley, 33 Arnon Street

William Bradley, 33 Arnon Street

J Brady, 1 Jude Street

Jack Brady, 71 Ladbrook Drive

Mary Brady, 45 Raglan Street

Phillip Brammold, 51 Whiterock Gardens

Mary Brennan, 47 Brookfield Street

Frank Broderick, 63 Durham Street

George Broderick, 250 Falls Road

John Brown, 17 Baker Street

Joseph Brown, 40 Upton Street

Sarah Brunton, 63 Vere Street

John Bunting, 37 Theodore Street

Liam Burke, 38 Locan Street

Brian Burns, 19 Linden Street

Dan Burns, 1 Highbury Gardens

Pete Burns, 19 Linden Street

Thomas Burns, 42 New Lodge Road

? Burrows, Lady Street

David Butler, 68 Raglan Street

Kathleen Cairns, 36 Clondara Street

Bella Campbell, 14 Upton Street

Francis Campbell, 38 Chemical Street

James Campbell, 2 Galway Street

Mary Campbell, 9 Rockmount Street

Peter Campbell, 1 Milan Street

Saida Campbell, 17 Malcolmson Street

Thomas Carabine, 135 Cavendish Street

Daniel Carberry, 9 Lower Clonard Street

Bernadetta Carbery, 61 Dunmore Street

Brendan Carey, 43 Dunmore Street

Patrick Carey, 8 Linden Street

Thomas Carey, 9 Carntall Street

Paul Carleton, 61 Whiterock Road

Peter Carleton, 10 Brittons Drive

Vincent Carley, 24 Lady Street

James Carlin, 15 Sevastopol Street

John Carmichael, 12 Mary Street

Charles Casey, 14 Brighton Street

Michael Casey, 14 Brighton Street

Martin Clarke, 20 Heathfield Street

Patrick Clarke, 98 Locan Street

Patrick Clarke, 4 Springfield Avenue

Sean Clarke, 4 Ross Place

Annie Collins, 16 St James Crescent

Joan Collins, 16 St James Crescent

Charles Connolly, 13 Joy Street

Patrick Connolly, 20 Leoville Street

William Connolly, 16 Panton Street

Francis Connor, 19 Jamaica Street

John Connor, 25 John Street

Mary Cooke, 8 Iveagh Parade

Gerry Cooper, 48 Nansen Street

Joseph Cooper, 48 Nansen Street

Arthur Corr, 76 Vere Street

Pearse Corry, 16 Hawthorne Street

Norah Costello, 65 Alexander Street West

James Crawford, 25 Getty Street

Nellie Crawford, 80 North Queen Street

Gerald Cullen, 8 Chief Street

Joe Cullen, 51 Rockmore Road

Gerald Curran, 205 Mountpottinger Road

Kevin Curran, 205 Mountpottinger Road

Patrick Daly, 3 Dunmore Street

Joseph Davey, 4 Concord Street

Gerard Deans, 124 Ardilea Street

Alice Deeds, 71 Brookfield Street

James Delaghan, 12 Upton Street

Peter Delaney, 13 Currie Street

Con Deveney, 903 Crumlin Road

Charles Devine, 9 Brae Fort Cottages

Felix Devlin, 13 Lowry Street

James Devlin, 26 Oranmore Street

John Devlin, 13 Lowry Street

John Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Sarah Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Teresa Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Teresa Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Joe Dickey, 20 Glenview Street

Patrick Dignan, 30 Anderson Street

Dan Doherty, 47 Sheriff Street

Michael Doherty, 67 Theodore Street

P Doherty, 17 Herbert Street

Terence Doherty, 37 Dunmore Street

Bridget Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Christina Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Margaret Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Robert Donald, 80 Sultan Street

Terence Donegan, 30 Milan Street

Bernard Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

John Donnelly, 10 Brighton Street

Lily Donnelly, 571 Donegall Road

Mary Donnelly, 26 Unity Street

Owen Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

Patrick Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

Robert Downey, 17 Clonard Gardens

Sarah Doyle, 10 Brittons Drive

Joseph Drummond, 36 Kent Street

E Duffy, 1 Milton Street

Francis Duffy, 127 Jamaica Street

John Duffy, 248 Grosvenor Road

M Duffy, 1 Pinkerton Street

Stephen Duffy, 10 Thompson Street

Dickie Dunne, 26 Valentine Street

Robert Dunne, 15 Whiterock Crescent

Hugh Edmond, 24 Rockville street

Peter Fanning, 41 Fallswater Street

James Farrell, 99 McDonnell Street

James Farrelly, 31 Vulcan Street

John Farrelly, 55 Vulcan Street

Bernard Fee, 65 Sheriff Street

John Fegan, 16 Panton Street

James Ferran, 19 Beechmount Street

John Ferran, 19 Locan Street

Thomas Ferran, 82 Beechmount Street

Robert Finnegan, Englishtown Hannahstown

Daniel Fitzpatrick O’Reilly, 13 Ardmore Avenue

J. Fitzsimons, 122 Divis Street

Desmond Flanagan, 496 Doengall Road

Thomas Flanagan, 14 McQuillan Street

Hugh Flavell, 32 Alexander Street West

Angelo Forte, 176 Tates Avenue

Jack Gaffney, 9 St James Place

James Gallery, 13 Herbert Street

John Gettings, 70 Beechfield Street

Joe Gilhooley, 10 Cyprus Street

Arthur Gillen, 10 College Court

J. Gillen, 27 Andersonstown Road

Patrick Gillen, 10 College Court

William Gillen, 10 College Court

Desmond Gillespie, 17 Wandsworth Road

Alexander Gilmore, 5 Teresa Street

John Girvan, 7 McMullan’s Place

Jean Goodfellow, 45 Crumlin Street

George Goodman, 75 Stanfield Street

Joseph Gorman, 20 Balaclava Street

Margaret Gough, 58 Clowney Street

Kathleen Graham, 71 Upton Street

Liam Graham, 62 Beechmount Avenue

Charles Gray, 33 Rockmore Street

Gerard Greenan, 18 Saul Street

Patrick Grimley, 75 Ardilea Street

John Hall, 5 College Place North

J.M. Halligan, 24 Plevna Street

Annie Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

James Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

Sean Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

Jim Hamilton, 5 Dimsdale Street

Jim Harvey, 34 Kilmood Street

Jimmy Hasty, 63 Stanfield Street

Patrick Hayes, 22 McQuillan Street

William Headley, 25 Leoville Street

Jim Heaney, 2 Edward Street

Richard Heaney, 23 Havana Street

Nora Hegarty, 32 Clowney Street

Joe Henderson, 109 Balkan Street

Catherine Hendron, 18 Altcar Street

William Henry, 33 Columbus Street

Joseph Hewitt, 18 Boomer Street

Patrick Hickey, 5 Upton Street

Bob Hicks, 132 Glenard Gardens

Patsy Hicks, 5 Alma Street

Sean Hicks, 5 Alma Street

Doris Hill, 8 Beechmount Avenue

? Hillen, 10 Garnet Street

Thomas Hodgkinson, 9 Brighton Street

Mrs R Hope, 59 Andersonstown Park

James Hughes, 81 Hawthorne Street

John Hughes, 4 Masseren e Street

Joseph Hughes, 48 Butler Street

Joseph Hughes, 23 Plevna Street

Patrick Hughes, 8 Gortfin Street

Mollie Hurson, 2 St Paul’s Terrace

Anthony Irvine, 42 Alton Street

George Irvine, 4 Gracehill Street

Samuel Irvine, 23 Majorca Street

John Jackson, 32 Rockmore Street

Mary Jordan, 89 Albert Street

Jim Kane, 28 Milan Street

Robert Kavanagh, 100 Divis Street

Frank Kearney, 14 Odessa Street

James Kearney, 14 Odessa Street

Hugh Keenan, 32 Short Strand

Joe Keenan, 33 Falls Road

John Keenan, 43 Short Strand

Malachy Keenan, 33 Falls Road

Michael Keenan, 43 Short Strand

Sean Keenan, 28 California Street

Agustine Kelly, 168 Oldpark Road

Billy Kelly, 18 Frere Street

Dominic Kelly, 39 Upton Street

Frank Kelly, 11 Little Patrick Street

James Kelly, 18 Campbell’s Row

John Kelly, 10 Iris Drive

Kathleen Kelly, 57 Brookfield Street

Rose Kelly, 57 Brookfield Street

Susan Kelly, 18 Beechmount Parade

Francis Kennedy, 18 Jude Street

Gerry Kerr, 67 Vere Street

James Kerr, 58 Ardilea Street

James Kerr, 17 Oakfield Street

John Kerr, 27 Whiterock Drive

Patrick Kerr, 54 Durham Street

William Killen, 11 Brook Street

James Kinnaird, 12 Lemon Street

James Kinney, 11 Colinpark Street

Willie Largey, 36 California Street

Hannah Lavery, 5 Whiterock Drive

Paddy Lavery, 22 Lincoln Street

Tony Lavery, 39 Balkan Street

James Lecky, 45 Mary Street

Charles Leddy, Mooreland Park

Christopher Lee, no address

Thomas Locke, 10 Elizabeth Street

J. Logan, 34 Steam Mill Lane

Terence Loughlin, 53 Mary Street

Dan Loughran, 42 Garmoyle Street

Thomas Loughrey, 19 Sidney Street

Patrick Lowe, 10 Ward Street

Matthew Lundy, 35 Forfar Street

Marcus Lynn, 10 Milan Street

Jackie Mackin, 36 Ton Street

James Magee, 48 Leeson Street

Patrick Magee, 52 Dunmore Street

Rosaleen Magee, 52 Dunmore Street

Hannah Magennis, The Cottages Glen Road

Joe Maguiness, 24 Milner Street

Thomas Maguinness, 137 New Lodge Road

Annie Maguire, 33 Abercorn Street North

J. Maguire, 55 Theodore Street

Lily Maguire, 25 Crocus Street

Charles Mahony, 52 Glenview Street

John Mallon, 9 Garnet Street

Michael Malone, 10 Thomas Street

Mrs Manning, 4 Forfar Street

John Markey, 24 Steam Mill Lane

Thomas Marley, 63 Bombay Street

Hugh Martin, 20 Glenpark Street

Leo Martin, 27 Rockville Street

Hugh Matthews, 11 Albert Street

James Matthews, 53 Masserene Street

Joe Matthews, 32 Regent Street

James McAleese, 16 Milan Street

Dan McAllister, 81 Lincoln Street

Joe McAllister, 10 Islandbawn Street

Patrick McArdle, 44 Bow Street

Sean McArdle, 39 Beechmount Street

Hugh McAreavey, 74 Raglan Street

Hugh McAreavey, 74 Raglan Street

Alex McAtamney, 56 Fleet Street

John McAvoy, 25 Sheriff Street

Joe McBrine, 13 Colin Street

Patrick McBrine, 13 Colin Street

John McCabe, 55 Springview Street

Chris McCann, 24 Garnet Street

Dan McCann, 71 Albert Street

Ed McCann, 8 Jude Street

Edward McCann, 24 Garnet Street

Kathleen McCann, 10 Norfolk Street

Patrick McCann, 57 Locan Street

? McCartney, 2 Oranmore Street

Sean McCaughey, 15 Heathfield Road

Thomas McClarnon, 128 Cavendish Street

Gerry McClinton, 41 Madrid Street

Hugh McCloskey, 8 Islandbawn Street

Hugh McCloskey, 8 Islandbawn Street

Jack McCloskey, 47 Beechmount Crescent

John McCloskey, 50 Elizabeth Street

Edward McCluskey, 90 Raglan Street

Hugh McConnell, 20 Pound Street

W.J. McCorry, 81 Sultan Street

Pat McCotter, 6 Sevastopol Street

Matthew McCrory, 44 Balkan Street

Charles McCrystal, 28 Willowfield Gardens

J McCullough, 48 Amcomri Street

J. McCullough, 12 Frere Street

Lily McCullough, 43 Brookfield Street

Norah McCullough, 26 Iveagh Parade

Patrick McCullough, 131 North Queen Street

Ellen McCurry, 81 Sultan Street

John McCurry, 81 Sultan Street

Willie McCurry, 53 St James Road

Frank McCusker, 40 Servia Street

Jim McDermot, 49 Lady Street

Richard McDermott, 49 Kilmood Street

James McDonnell, 81 Locan Street

Jim McDonnell, 61 Vere Street

Peter McDonnell, 28 Parkview Street

William McDonnell, 80 Sultan Street

Margaret McFadden, 21 Waterville Street

Charles McGahey, 1a Herbert Street

Vincent McGarhavan, 53 Rockville Street

Liam McGarrity, 14 Artillery Street

Thomas McGarrity, 13 Fallswater Street

Thomas McGeown, 4 Inkerman Street

Francis McGibbon, Beech Cottage

James McGinley, 28 Rodney Parade

Bridget McGinn, 10 Parkview Street

John McGinty, 32 North Queen Street

Charles McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

Frank McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

John McGoldrick, 51 Cawnpore Street

Sam McGoldrick, 51 Cawnpore Street

James McGovern, 35 Winetavern Street

James McGowan, 24 Parkview Street

Peter McGowan, 38 Dunmore Street

Violet McGowan, 25 Parkview Street

Charles McGrath, 33 Rodney Drive

Hugh McGrath, 27 Dunmore Street

Lucy McGrath, 20 College Square North

Norah McGrath, 20 College Square North

John McGrillen, 34 McAuley Street

Frank McGrogan, 72 North Queen Street

Thomas McGrogan, 36 Rockdale Street

R McGuckian, 13 St James Drive

Mary McGuigan, 86 Clowney Street

John McGuinness, 31 Hamill Street

Joe McGurk, 115 Durham Street

Sarah McGurk, 115 Durham Street

Charles McHugh, 15 Garnet Street

Murty McIlduff, 17 Gamble Street

Chris McKay, 34 Milan Street

Frank McKearney, 14 Odessa Street

James McKearney, 14 Odessa Street

Bernadette McKee, 40 Sevastopol Street

Teresa McKee, 9 Springview Street

John McKeever, 6 Beechmount Parade

Ambrose McKenna, 11 Beechmount Drive

Elizabeth McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Francis McKenna, 240 Falls Road

Jean McKenna, 50 Forest Street

John McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Mary McKenna, 37 Fort Street

Patrick McKenna, 10 Foundry Street

Patrick McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Rose McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

William McKenna, 10 Foundry Street

P McKeown, 17 Beechfield Street

Robert McKnight, 32 McAuley Street

Brian McLaughlin, Longwood Terrace Whitehouse

Patrick McLaughlin, 36 Library Street

Mary McLaughln, 10 Galway Street

Alex McLoughlin, 15 McQuillan Street

Chris McLoughlin, 54 Vere Street

Mary McLoughlin, 4 McCleery Street

Frank McMahon, 12 Dimsdale Street

Peggy McMahon, 46 Lincoln Street

Jock McManus, 458 Donegall Road

Matilda McMillen, 13 Cavendish Street

Richard McMillen, 20 Moira Street

John McMullan, 5 Abercorn Street North

J. McMurray, 35 Balkan Street

Sandy McNabb, Elmwood Avenue

Jack McNally, 21 Ardliea Street

Denis McNamee, 23 John Street

Henry McNamee, 23 John Street

Hubert McNearney, 77 Herbert Street

Billy McNeill, 34 Bond Street

Henry McNeilly, 65 Thompson Street

Francis McNellis, 10 Scotland Street South

Thomas McNulty, 7 Dunsdale Street

Martin McParland, 57 Lincoln Street

James McPartland, 2 Frere Street

Patrick McPhillips, 45 Ross Street

John McQuillan, 46 Lepper Street

Andrew McRoberts, 6 Conway Street

? McShane, 60 Balkan Street

Liam McStravick, 16 Little Donegall Street

Eileen McTaggart, 86 Eskdale Gardens

Phil McTaggart, 134 Ardilea Street

Joe McVarnock, 40 Stanhope Street

Mary Meleady, 203 Falls Road

Nellie Meleady, 203 Falls Road

Richard Menagh, 23 Springfield Road

James Mennan, 16 Crumlin Street

Frank Milne, 58 Chatham Street

Henry Mohan, 67 New Lodge Road

James Monaghan, 26 Colligan Street

Marie Moone, 8 McQuillan Street

William Mooney, 4 O’Neill Street

James Morgan, 22 Lancaster Street

Murtagh Morgan, 27 Quadrant Street

Thomas Morris, 184 Ardglen Park

Patrick Morrison, 25 Violet Street

Annie Morrissey, 9 Tyrone Street

Joe Morrow, 7 Woodstock Road

Francis Moyna, 31 Bombay Street

Josephine Moyna, 41 Bombay Street

James Mulholland, 50 Chemical Street

Liam Mulholland, 83 Gracehill Street

Joe Mullen, 12 Upton Street

James Mulligan, 81 Forfar Street

John Mulligan, 5 Madrid Street

John Mulligan, 219 Mountpottinger Road

Patrick Mulligan, 58 Madrid Street

Thomas Murphy, 27 Sydney Street

Gerry Murray, 101 Joy Street

Gerry Murray, 67 Mountpottinger Road

Joe Murray, 67 Mountpottinger Road

Thomas Murray, 5 Sorella Street

William Murray, 66 Chemical Street

George Nash, 52 Gibson Street

Mary Nash, 4 Abercorn Street

Gerry Neeson, Hannahstown

John Noad, 56 Clyde Street

Kevin Nolan, 1 Ton Street

Margaret Nolan, 93 McDonnell Street

Seamus Nolan, 17 McCleery Street

Gerry Nugent, 84 Balkan Street

Bridget O’Boyle, 18 Colinpark Street

Bridie O’Boyle, 129 Brompton Park

Dan O’Boyle, 13 Regent Street

Thomas O’Boyle, 76 Ardilea Street

John O’Brien, 26 Eliza Street

Sarah O’Brien, 9 Kildare Street

Frank O’Connor, 19 Jamaica Street

Gerry O’Connor, 182 Nelson Street

John O’Connor, 182 Nelson Street

Mary O’Donnell, 29 Whiterock Crescent

Mary O’Farrell, 10 Albert Street

Hugh O’Hagan, 18 Rockville Street

James O’Hanlon, 43 New Dock Street

William O’Hanlon, 13 Woodstock Street

Cassie O’Hara, 135 Castle Street

Charles O’Hara, 15 Thomas Street

Con O’Hara, 15 Thomas Street

Mary O’Hara, 40 Amcomri Street

John O’Hare, 1 Jamaica Street

Hugh O’Kane, 27 Rosevale Street

Michael O’Kane, 40 Abercorn Street North

Thomas O’Malley, 14 Norfolk Street

Charles O’Neill, 6 Parkview Street

Chris O’Neill, 17 Milan Street

Dominic O’Neill, 16 Norfolk Parade

Frank O’Neill, 6 Parkview Street

Joe O’Neill, 52 Marine Street

Patrick O’Neill, 30 Kilmood Street

Patrick O’Neill, 37 Lincoln Street

John O’Rawe, 35 Oakman Street

Richard O’Rawe, 51 Oakman Street

Ambrose O’Reilly, 2 Oranmore Street

John O’Reilly, 38 Beechmount Street

Albert Owens, 8 Brighton Street

Frank Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

Isaac Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

James Pimley, 14 College Street West

Joe Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

Albert Price, 122 Percy Street

? Privilege, Garden Square Greencastle

Edward Quinn, 12 Arnon Street

James Quinn, 57 Grove Street

Kathleen Quinn, 57 Grove Street

Matthew Quinn, 21 Rodney Drive

Patrick Quinn, 118 Glenard Drive

Thomas Quinn, 19 Upton Street

John Quinnn, 57 Grove Street

Bernard Rafferty, 93 Butler Street

Peggy Rafferty, 2 Rockville Street

Sean Rafferty, 2 Rockville Street

John Rainey, 33 Cape Street

Thomas Ratican, 17 North Queen Street

Joe Reid, 19 Milan Street

Patrick Reid, 19 Milan Street

Thomas Reid, 61 Fredrick Street

? Reilly, 31 New Dock Street

Ed Reilly, 51 Clonard Gardens

Gerry Rice, 11 Balkan Street

Joe Rice, 5 Herbert Street

Liam Rice, 36 Merrion Street

J. Roberts, 49 New Lodge Road

Bernard Rooney, 71 Thompson Street

D Rooney, 101 Cyprus Street

Patrick Rooney, 45 Thompson Street

William Rooney, 23 Leoville Street

? Russell, 39 Raglan Street

Hugh Russell, 32 Plevna Street

James Ryder, 31 Rodney Drive

Mary Sands, 25 Servia Street

Michael Sands, 25 Servia Street

James Savage, 2 Burke Street

John Scullion, 76 Harcourt Drive

Susan Shannon, 25 Falls Road

James Sharpe, 9 Alton Street

John Sherry, 30 Servia Street

Joe Sloan, 41 Grosvenor Place

William Sloan, 28 Rodney Parade

J. Smith, 67 Forfar Street

Mules Smith, 29 Sheriff Street

William Smith, 8 Malcolmson Street

Jimmy Steele, 70 North Queen Street

James Stewart, 12 Rockdale Street

Jim Straney, 57 Thompson Street

Jim Sullivan, 89 Sussex Street

Henry Taylor, 46 Chatham Street

Peggy Taylor, 22 Servia Street

John Teague, 45 Springview Street

Mary Teague, 57 Mary Street

James Thompson, 13 Andersonstown Park

Patrick Thompson, 8 Arran Street

Margaret Thornbury, 22 Clondara Street

Michael Tohill, 19 Hardinge Street

Denis Toner,  14 Malcolmson Street

Joe Toner, 89 Ardliea Street

Dan Trainor, 32 Nelson Street

James Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

John Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

Michael Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

William Tully, 4 Quadrant Street

Liam Tumelty, 11 Little York Street

Ellen Tumulty, 11 Little York Street

Eileen Walker, 42 Bombay Street

Joe Walker, 42 Bombay Street

John Walsh, 38 Glenpark Street

Michael Walsh, 30 Chemical Street

Liam Watson, 8 Malcolmson Street

Denis Whelan, 97 Bridge End

Thomas Whinery, 24 Chemical Street

Harry White, 72 Andersonstown Park

Liam Wiggins, 22 Torrens Road

Isabella Wilkens, 1 Strathroy Park

John Wilson, 57 Norfolk Street

Eugene Wright, 28 Hasting Street

Malachy Wylie, Graham’s Cottage Ligoniel

William Harbinson: a New Lodge ‘Fenian’

September 11th 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the death of William Harbinson in Crumlin Road prison. On the evening of his death, Harbinson was found dead in his cell and the coroners inquiry heard he had an unexplained head wound but did not establish if it occurred prior to his death. The Head Centre of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Belfast, Harbinson lived in the cottages known as Pinkerton Row just above the junction of North Queen Street and the New Lodge Road (roughly where Pinkerton Walk is today).

Map of Belfast in 1860s showing North Queen Street, the Infantry Barracks (later Victoria Barracks) and the lower New Lodge Road. Pinkerton Row is unmarked appears to be the line of cottages just above ‘Trainfield’. The breaks in the houses on that side of the New Lodge Road roughly correspond to Bruslee Street, Carntall Street, Carnmoney Street and Pinkerton Street that all linked back to Artillery Street (which appears on the map as dotted lines). These streets were flattened in the 1960s and 1970s. The Half Bap and Little Italy districts extend from the bottom right of the map.

Harbinson was a Staff Sergeant in the Antrim Rifles and had access to the Infantry Barracks arsenal. He was one of a number of ‘Fenians’ among the serving garrison in the barracks. The IRB had consciously inserted soldiers in the British Empire’s army and used them to both cultivate further recruits and bring back a quantum of military know-how and material to the organisation. In many respects this was an expression of the complex relationship between the Empire and its Irish subjects.

Harbinson’s life is illustrative of how young men typically ended up in the British Army. Driven from his birthplace in Ballinderry to Liverpool at the height of the famine, he enlisted underage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his army service was punctuated with bouts of ill-health. The year after Harbinsons death, James Connolly was born – brought in great poverty, he too enlisted underage in the British Army and was one of a number of those who participated in 1916 that had a military background. In Belfast in 1920-22, ex-servicemen were prominent in the ad hoc defence of districts that came under attack from unionists. Many of them became involved in the IRA. In the 1970s, again in the face of unionist violence, ex-servicemen (this time, formally) grouped themselves under the banner of the Catholic (later ‘Local’) Ex-Servicemen’s Association. So, in many respects, Harbinson reflects a tradition within republicanism that is often overlooked. James Connolly rationalised the motivation behind a young Irish man joining the British Army “…let him make the best of it and learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage he can when he comes out. A well-trained soldier will always find his allotted place in the community”.

Harbinson also reflects a largely unexplored aspect of republican tradition across north Belfast. In some respects, like Harbinson, this is connected to the presence of the Infantry Barracks and Irish soldiers serving there. But he is far from the only senior IRB figure to have lived in the north of the city. Frank Roney, Head of Centre in Belfast before Harbinson, was from Carrickhill. Robert Johnston served on the Supreme Council from the 1860s, FJ Biggar was co-opted onto the Supreme Council by the end of 1870s. Henry Dobbyn was also prominent in the IRB. That generation was slowly eased out and replaced by the likes of Denis McCullough (President of the IRB’s Supreme Council in 1916). All lived in the north of the city, on of around North Queen Street or the Antrim Road. Johnston was the father of Eithne Carbery, the pre-eminent poet of the nationalist revival of the late 19th century and editor of the Shan Van Vocht newspaper. Her brother, James and cousin James were also active in the IRB (the likes of Major John McBride were also connected to north Belfast through St Malachy’s College). Another Antrim Road resident, Winifred Carbery, was Connolly’s assistant throughout the Easter Rising.

So, on the 150th anniversary of his death, it is worth remembering how William Harbinson reflects many aspects of republican history in north Belfast (and further afield) that really should warrant further exploration in the future.

RUC list of IRA suspects

The following is the RUC’s ‘A’ list of Irish Republican Army suspects in Belfast in January 1938. The list below is organised by RUC district and is an extract from a 1930s RUC Diary that is in private hands. Names and addresses are recorded (more or less) as they are listed by the RUC, although I have included the familiar version of names where the individual is well known (eg Sean McCaughey instead of John McCaughey). This is the RUC’s ‘A’ list as further lists were maintained (a ‘B’ list, other republican groups like Cumann na mBan and the Pre-Truce IRA Association).

The ‘A’ list was used to target individuals for internment later that year. It includes many individuals who had been imprisoned by the northern government (some of whom were in prison in January 1938). It also shows up some issues for the RUC as the likes of an IRA unit like the one covering the North Queen Street, Half Bap and Docks area spread into two separate RUC districts (D and G below).

A District

Gerry Murray, 101 Joy Street

Joe Keenan, 33 Falls Road

B District

James Monaghan, 26 Colligan Street

Liam McAllister, 81 Lincoln Street

Jock McManus, 458 Donegall Road

Sean McArdle, 39 Beechmount Street

Hughie Matthews, 11 Albert Street

James Ryder, 31 Rodney Drive

Henry McNamee, 23 John Street

Pat McCotter, 6 Sevastopol Street

Albert Owens, 8 Brighton Street

Harry White, 78 Anderstown Park

Dan McCann, 71 Albert Street

Pat McKenna, 10 Irish Drive

John J. Teague, 45 Springview Street

John McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Michael Doherty, 67 Theodore road

Peter Fanning, 41 Fallswater Street

John Rainey, 33 Cape Street

Liam Watson, 8 Malcolmson Street

John McCurry, 81 Sultan Street

John McGoldrick, 51 Cawnpore Street

Hugh Flavelle, 5 Amcomri Street

Sean Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

C District

Charles Mahoney, 52 Glenview Street

Richard Heaney, 23 Havana Street

Hubert McNearney, 77 Herbert Street

Patrick McAleer, 45 Glenard Park

Gerry Cullen, 26 Chief Street

Sean McCaughey, 18 Heathfield Road

Frank O’Neill, 6 Parkview Street

Phil McTaggart, 132 Ardliea Street

Patsy Quinn, 110 Ardildea Street

Jack McNally, 21 Ardilea Street

Charlie McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

Liam Mulholland, 83 Gracehill Street

Frank McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

D District

Joe McGurk, 115 Durham Street

Joe Davey, 31 Alton Street

Frank McGrogan, 72 North Queen Street

Joe Brown, 40 Upton Street

Jimmy Steele, 70 North Queen Street

Sean Keenan, 28 California Street

E District

William Murray, 66 Chemical Street

Joe Bole, 80 Seaforde Street

Dan Doherty, 47 Sheriff Street

Liam McKenna, 49 Seaforde Street

Denis Whelan, 97 Bridge End

F District

Samuel Irvine, 23 Majorca Street

Dan O’Reilly Fitzgerald, 13 Ardmore Avenue

G District

Seamus Nolan, 17 McCleery Street

James Trainor, 32 Nelson Street

Chris McLaughlin, 54 Vere Street

Gerry O’Connor, 182 Nelson Street

Dickie Dunne, 26 Valentine Street

Tom Williams, 75 years on

Early in the morning of 2nd September, 1942, seventy five years ago, prison staff moved a cupboard aside in Tom Williams’ cell in C Wing of the Belfast Prison, on the Crumlin Road. It revealed a door that led into the execution chamber. Williams was led into the chamber where he was hung at 8 am. Visitors to the prison today can visit the cell and are walked through the same doorway into the execution chamber. However, even after his execution, Williams remains were effectively imprisoned in Crumlin Road for nearly sixty years until his reburial in 2000.

Shirt in which Tom Williams was executed (in Republican Museum, Conway Mill).

Williams was executed as a reprisal for the death of an RUC Constable, Patrick Murphy, in April that year in Cawnpore Street (you can read the full story in Jim McVeigh‘s Execution: Tom Williams). Williams and Murphy were two of a handful of fatalities during the low intensity conflict between the IRA and northern government between 1938 and 1944. This included four other RUC officers, a prison warder and three IRA volunteers (a greater number died from the poor conditions in the prisons over the same period).

Only a matter of days before the execution Williams five co-accused had saw their own death sentences commuted. But a broad-based reprieve campaign (in the south) for Williams fell on deaf ears. The day of the execution was fairly chaotic. Crowds of nationalists who had gathered to pray for Williams outside the prison were jeered by unionists who sang songs and taunted them. A subsequent protest march into the city centre after the execution had led to small disturbances but these paled into significance alongside the trouble that followed a large scale swoop by the armed forces of the northern government. Large numbers of Catholics were detained, many eventually served internment notices (having no charges proferred against them). The subsequent violence and, weeks later, a number of reprisals for Williams execution led to a protracted curfew in the Falls.

There were over one hundred sentenced republican prisoners in Crumlin Road at the time of Williams’ execution and several hundred internees. They fasted on the day of Williams’ execution. Mass was to be said at 8 am and the chaplain had arranged to time a key point in the service, when he was to raise the communion host, would coincide with the exact time of Williams execution. The resonance of the symbolism of sacrifice in Catholic theology was easily understood and it broke up many of those present. One of those present, Jimmy Steele, later published a poem called ‘The Soldier’ which was dedicated to Williams. Either Steele or another sentenced prisoner who was in A wing the morning of the execution, Arthur Corr, wrote a song called ‘Tom Williams’ (early versions of it in print appear anonymously and neither were later credited with song). It was published in the Belfast IRA newspaper, Resurgent Ulster, in 1954. Steele edited the paper and usually included his own poems without any credit. Jimmy Roe, though, believed Corr, a noted singer but not known as a songwriter, composed the song. It has been subsequently recorded by various people without assigning credit to either. I’ve linked a version recorded here by the great Eamon Largey who knew both Steele and Corr and would have learned it from them (it is uncredited on the Flying Column album ‘Folk Time in Ireland‘). I have also reprinted it in full below.

Whether it was Corr or Steele (both of whom came from North Queen Street), when hearing the opening lines “Time must pass as years roll by, But in memory I shall keep, Of a night in Belfast Prison, Unshamefully I saw men weep…” it should be born in mind that both were present in A wing and in the prison chapel at the time of the execution.

 

Tom Williams

Time must pass as years roll by

But in memory I shall keep

Of a night in Belfast Prison

Unshamefully I saw men weep.

But a time was fast approaching,

A lad lay sentenced for to die,

And on the 2nd of September

He goes to meet his God on high.

To the scaffold now he’s marching

Head erect he shows no fear

And while standing on that scaffold

Ireland’s Cause he holds more dear

Now the cruel blow has fallen

For Ireland he has given his all,

He who at the flower of boyhood

Answered proudly to her call.

Brave Tom Williams we salute you.

And we never shall forget

Those who planned your cruel murder

We vow to make them all regret.

Now I saw to all you Irish soldiers

If from this path you chance to roam

Just remember of that morn

When Ireland’s Cause was proudly borne

By a lad who lies within a prison grave.

 

Interview with Ivor Bell

Interesting interview with Ivor Bell (pictured below) about 1969-70, with reference to strategy, particularly in Belfast where he was Brigade Adjutant.

Much of the analysis offered for this period is based on journalistic opinion, often heavily influenced security briefings. While Frank Kitson has become a bit of a bogeyman in writing the history of the conflict here, he features heavily in the contemporary republican press. The British brought a developed counter-insurgency game into play straight away in 1969 (Kitson himself being on the ground almost immediately). The tired and simplistic ‘mindless violence’ narratives for this period, and the conflict in general, obscures the extent to which the various players had developed a strategy and tactics to further their aims. It also limits the capacity of victims to put their loss into a context that has some sort of meaning (not that that necessarily offers any hope of them being able to deal with the loss any better, but it at least gives it a structure).

In his interview, Bell offers some insight into how the IRA intended to develop its campaign at the time (effectively before the period from July 1971 to January 1972). I had interviewed Billy McKee previously (mainly about the 1940s) and we had touched on the 1969-71 period. He had also said that, contrary to subsequent histories, the IRA had preferred to keep its size small, manageable and secure, rather than over expanding and taking in volunteers it had not had time to properly train and vet.

I’ve written before about the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association, which might have provided the defensive role that the IRA had to take on (as discussed by Bell), here.

You can read the interview with Ivor Bell here:

https://irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/p-michael-osullivan-interview-with-belfast-brigade-ira-adjutant-iver-bell-in-belfast-february-1972/