Prayers in the rain, Milltown 1935

In 1935 the Easter Rising commemoration at Milltown cemetery was banned by the northern government as had happened in previous years. Some 200 RUC men were drafted in to seal off the cemetery and prevent any ceremony being held. In defiance of both the northern government, and the elements (it poured rain), some 2,000 republicans gathered at the cemetery gates despite the rain. Fr J Bradley, from St Patricks, gave out the Rosary as the crowd knelt in the rain (he can be seen standing in the middle of the crowd in the photo below).

Crowd kneeling in the rain outside Milltown cemetery, Easter Commemoration 1935

Crowd kneeling in the rain outside Milltown cemetery, Easter Commemoration 1935

This public show of defiance was the largest attendance at an Easter Rising commemoration in Belfast to date (and would be until the mid-1950s). The practice of saying the Rosary had become a hallmark of the Belfast commemorations in the 1930s. Since the northern government could not prevent a religious ceremony being held it had been the sole public act of commemoration that Belfast republicans could hold. Notably, this was probably the last major gathering of republicans or nationalists in Belfast prior to the pogrom that summer. Even before the Outdoor Relief Riots in October 1932, An Phoblacht had been warning that there were signs that the northern government would attempt to divide the community by initiating a pogrom. Mini outbreaks followed but a fully-blown violent assault on areas where Catholics were resident, in particular around Lancaster Street, the Docks, North Queen Street and York Street, finally came in 1935. Perhaps the northern government were spooked into action by the defiance seen at Easter in Belfast. Notably, de Valera was too, as he had a Belfast IRA training camp raided on the eve of the pogrom and detained many of the Belfast IRA volunteers who were there. The timing was not believed to be a coincidence.

Despite the apparent religious fervour of the image, republicans were in perpetual conflict with the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland and the attachment to the rosary being said at Milltown was in its symbolic defiance and resistance to the northern government rather than pious devotion. Ironic too, it was not the Catholicism of IRA members that the northern government feared but rather it’s long term co-operation on various projects with left-wing groups in Belfast (there had even been a mini-purge of senior Belfast republicans who were hostile to the left in 1932 and 1933).

In the aftermath of the 1935 pogrom, the National Council of Civil Liberties investigated both what had happened and the Unionist government’s Special Powers Acts. On the 23rd May 1936 it finally presented its report in London. According to the report, Catholics had been denied all lawful means of conducting their political activities or of advancing the cause of a United Ireland. The Commission of Inquiry reported that:

It is sad that in the guise of temporary and emergency legislation there should have been created, under the shadow of the British Constitution, a permanent machine of dictatorship – a standing temptation to whatever intolerant or bigoted section may attain power to abuse its authority at the expense of the people it rules.[1]

The report itself highlighted the origins and uses of the Special Powers Acts. It identified a constitutional irregularity between the powers conferred by the Act on the Executive (effectively the Minister of Home Affairs) and the limitations of the powers given to the northern government under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 to pass such legislation. It goes on to examine the extent to which the Special Powers Acts created new ‘offences’, removed the normal protections afforded by the law, subjected judicial process to political interference (criticising, in particular, the appointment of Resident Magistrates). It emphasised the roles played by the Orange Order and Protestant Leaguers in attacks on working-class and labour organisations (as well as on Catholics). It also highlighted how the Orders were linked to the government, judiciary and policing and never subjected to the use of the Special Powers Acts themselves. The Commission made reference to the ‘electoral reforms’ which gerrymandered various electoral bodies to guarantee a unionist majority.

It summarised this by saying that the Special Powers Acts: “…places the Executive in a position paralleled only by continental dictatorships…”. It illustrated the report with various cases to show typical ways the act was used to target and harass labour activists, Catholics and republicans.

The conclusion of the report is damning and worth quoting in full:

Through the operation of the Special Powers Acts contempt has been begotten for the representative institutions of government.

“Through the use of special powers individual liberty is no longer protected by law, but is the arbitrary disposition of the Executive. This abrogation of the rule of law has been so practised as to bring the freedom of the subject into contempt.

“The Northern Irish Government has used special powers towards securing the domination of one particular political faction, and, at the same time, towards curtailing the lawful activities of its opponents. The driving of legitimate movements underground into illegality, the intimidating or branding as law-breakers of their adherents, however innocent of crime, has tended to encourage violence and bigotry on the part of the Government’s supporters as well as to beget in its opponents an intolerance of the ‘law and order’ thus maintained. The Government’s policy is thus driving its opponents into the ways of extremists.

“The Northern Irish Government, despite its assurances that special powers are intended for use only against law-breakers has frequently employed them against innocent and law-abiding people, often in humble circumstances, whose injuries, inflicted without cause or justification have gone unrecompensed and disregarded.

“Jurists have hitherto regarded the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law as the two cardinal principles of the British Constitution. The Northern Irish Government in abrogating them has ravished the heritage for which generations of Britons have fought and suffered. The Special Powers Acts, the basis of a legal dictatorship, are a vital link in the chain which has been forged around the freedom of the community of Northern Ireland.

“The Commission expresses the belief that the operation of the Special Powers Acts has the most widespread effect upon political life in Northern Ireland. The existing conditions of rule – secured by the supercession of representative government and the abrogation of the rule of law and the liberty of the subject, the basis of Special Powers – cannot be described otherwise than as totally unBritish.

“It is clear to the Commission, that the way to the re-establishment of constitutional government, the prerequisite of law and order in democratic communities, can be paved only by the repeal of the Special Powers Acts. Where the pillars of constitutional rule, parliamentary sovereignty, and the rule of law are overthrown there exist the essential conditions of dictatorship.”

Anyone who believed that the report might have some impact either in Westminster or Belfast was quickly put straight by Lord Craigavon, Prime Minister of the northern government: “… no importance should be attached to a document containing such misrepresentations…”.[2]

You can follow the Treason Felony blog here on Facebook.

[1] For instance, see The Irish Times, 25 May 1936

[2] McEoin 1997, 372s

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The re-capture of Jimmy Steele, 28th May 1943

Having escaped from Crumlin Road prison on 15th January 1943, the northern government had offered a £3,000 reward for any information that might lead to the arrest of Jimmy Steele (or the other three escapees). Having remained at large, as IRA Adjutant General and O/C Belfast despite involvement in a number of high profile incidents, at the end of May 1943 his luck ran out and he was recaptured by the RUC. During  this time Jimmy is known to have used various safe houses, such as Trainor’s Yard in Lancaster Street, Mrs McLoughlin’s in McCleery Street, Mrs Loughran’s in Amcomri Street, with a  family called Thompson in a house off the Shankill Road and his brother Bill’s house (which had a hide in the roof) in Artillery Street. Despite the size of the reward and the levels of deprivation and poverty in the areas in which Steele usually hid, the money was never claimed.

On the night of 28th May, the RUC had cordoned off a number of houses at the top of Amcomri Street. The embarrassment felt by the northern government at the IRA, with Steele and Hugh McAteer in attendance, holding a public Easter Rising commemoration in Broadway cinema at the end of April had prompted intensive raids along the Falls Road. There were further reports of big raids on the Falls Road on Tuesday 4th May. Harry White also records Amcomri Street being sealed off during other raids around the same time (in his biography Harry). So there was nothing unusual about the raid on 28th May.

Number 98, Mrs Loughran’s house, was regularly used as a billet by senior IRA figures. Harry White includes a photograph taken inside the house in Harry, and recounts an episode that suggests that security there was fairly lax. On one occasion, Mrs Loughran’s grandson found a revolver in White’s coat pocket. White managed to convince the child that it was a prop like a popular film star, Tom Mix, would use. A few days later the child called out to him in the street asking for a lend of his ‘Tom Mix gun’. White also was advised by an RUC contact that a raid on Beechmount was imminent on Sunday 23rd May. He, Jimmy Steele and Tommy Trainor were using the house at the time. Suddenly, there was the noise of RUC tenders coming up the street and they realised the RUC had the street sealed off. Mrs Loughran left house with her grandson and locked the door. White, Steele and Trainor, all armed, took up positions to make a fight for it. The RUC arrived at the top of the street then descended on a house opposite, where a British soldier lived. They searched the house then left. Afterwards Trainor and White moved to a different location. Jimmy Steele stayed where he was.

Jimmy Steele in disguise on his Firemans Warrant card.

Jimmy Steele in disguise on his Firemans Warrant card.

Picture of Jimmy Steele (from his arrest in 1940)  as used on the January 1943 wanted poster after his escape.

Picture of Jimmy Steele (from his arrest in 1940) as used on the January 1943 wanted poster after his escape.

At the time he looked different to the photo circulated at the time of his escape. He now had a moustache and had dyed both it and his hair, and wore glasses. He was also using the name James Lockhart and had papers saying he worked in the ARP fire service. At 11.30 pm on the 28th, 70 armed RUC men under Head Constable Robert Winder sealed off the top end of Amcomri Street. They began a house-to-house search. When the search reached number 98, the door wasn’t opened to them immediately. By the time it was opened, Jimmy had slipped out of house and into the backyard. The area was swamped with heavily armed RUC men, so there was no way of knowing who or what was waiting on the other side of the back wall. As there was an outside toilet, Jimmy took his chances and went inside. He left the door open and squeezed behind. He hoped it was far enough open that a cursory search would suggest the toilet was empty. He was armed with a fully loaded mark 5 Webley .455 revolver and six extra rounds of ammunition.

Torchlight showed that the RUC were now searching the backyard. Jimmy stayed squeezed behind the toilet door. Tentatively someone pushed the door forcing it to come to rest against Jimmy.

From in the backyard a voice shouted, “Come out with your hands up”.

Jimmy made no response. He had no idea how many RUC men were in the yard or, if he shot his way through them, what was waiting for him in house, out in the street or over the back wall. He laid the Webley in the corner beside the door and opted to try and talk his way out.

The same RUC man shouted again, “Come out or I will shoot.

Jimmy then stepped out from behind the door and stood in the doorway of the toilet with his hands partly raised. RUC Constable James Newell was in the backyard with a gun trained on him. Two more RUC Constables, Brennan and Diamond, burst out of the house into the backyard as Jimmy came out the door. In their accounts of the arrest, Newell and Brennan tried to paint Jimmy as nervous and frightened. Newell made a statement in which he said Jimmy was “…pale and nervous and was apparently too afraid to show fight”. In their accounts, Diamond grabbed Jimmy by the lapels while Brennan grabbed Jimmy’s left arm. They asked him his name which he gave as McCann.

When they asked for his identity card, Jimmy replied that he did not have it. The RUC men brought him into the kitchen where Mrs Loughran’s son was standing. Jimmy told the RUC Constables, “This man has nothing to do with it. I came over the yard wall.” He sounded remarkably collected for someone who was supposed to be ‘pale’, ‘nervous’ and ‘shaking’.

In the light of the kitchen, despite the disguise, RUC Constable Brennan recognised him and the game was up. Brennan gave Jimmy a quick search then took him from Amcomri Street to Springfield Road Barracks. After he had gone, Newell discovered the Webley revolver in the toilet. In Springfield Road Barracks, Brennan gave Jimmy a more thorough search. He found six spare rounds of .455 ammunition and a number of documents. This included a National Registration Identity Card and a Fireman’s Warrant both in the name of James Lockhart, a copy of the Óglaigh na hÉireann Manual of Infantry Training and Training of Recruits and a hand-drawn map of the Cawnpore Street ambush in 1942 (after which RUC Constable Murphy had been killed in an exchange of gunfire, for which Tom Williams was eventually hung).

Map of dispositions of the IRA's C Company unit for the diversionary attack on the RUC that was to precede the 1942 Easter Rising commemoration (the map was used for IRA training in 1943 and captured on Jimmy Steele, May 1943).

Map of dispositions of the IRA’s C Company unit for the diversionary attack on the RUC that was to precede the 1942 Easter Rising commemoration (the map was used for IRA training in 1943 and captured on Jimmy Steele, May 1943).

Newell had brought the revolver from Amcomri Street to Head Constable Winder in Springfield Road Barracks. At 12.45 am on the Saturday 29th May Winder showed Jimmy the revolver and told him where he had found it. About 10 am on the Saturday morning Head Constable Winder had Jimmy brought to the Police Office and proffered charges of illegal possession of the revolver and escaping from the prison.

Jimmy replied: “Nothing to say but I accept responsibility for the revolver and ammunition.

When he was brought into the court to have the charges put to him, the RUC asked for him to be remanded until the 15th June. At the hearing, the dock was guarded by 9 RUC men, two armed with sub-machine guns. The press reported that during the proceedings Jimmy stood smartly in the dock with folded arms. Jimmy refused to recognise the court.

Before the remand hearing on 15th June, Jimmy had pre-prepared questions taken from him by the prison authorities. His suspicions that the authorities were seeking to imprison his reputation as well as himself appeared well founded when he heard the evidence given by Newell, Brennan and Diamond trying to paint him as being cowardly when arrested. It seemed the January escape, the mass Derry escape and the Easter commemoration had gotten under the skin of the northern government.

At his trial, on 29th June, Jimmy decided to have his say. He made the following statement in the court: “As a soldier of the Irish Republic I do not recognise the right of this British court to try me. Circumstances have however arisen which necessitate my having to question witnesses here today. In the official public statement the suggestion of cowardice on my part has been made that one man failed to offer any resistance to over 70 armed men strategically placed. Every effort has been made to make it appear that I was nervous and frightened. I have an answer to that. On June 15th I had a list of questions. These questions were confiscated by the prison authorities and brought back after a time and it is quite easy now to see the use that has been made of them.

Jimmy was sentenced to twelve years and was to remain in prison in Crumlin Road until 1950.

 

 

Internment during the British royal visit to Belfast, 1951

The Unionist government rarely used the  Special Powers Act to intern political opponents between 1945 and its re-introduction in 1956. One of the only occasions on which it did so was in May 1951 to coincide with a visit to Belfast by members of the British royal family. The Unionist government had used internment in a similar way on various occasions in the 1930s. The public outcry in 1951 appears to have determined that future uses of internment would be unofficial, such as during another such royal visit in May 1953, when the RUC instead questioned or put specious charges against leading republicans to detain them during the visit.

In 1951, on the night of 30th May, the RUC carried out a series of raids in which they arrested thirteen republicans and detained them under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act. Forty-eight hours beforehand, a bomb had gone off outside Cullingtree Road RUC barracks. It had not been planted by the IRA, yet those arrested were mostly involved with the IRA including the Belfast Battalion O/C Jimmy Steele and Adjutant, Joe Cahill, and other prominent members like Joe McGurk and Liam Burke. Sinn Féin in Belfast had been planning a non-violent protest against that royal visit that was to take place on the night of the 31st May.

The RUC then publicly announced that they had issued internment orders for thirteen republicans under the Special Powers Act coinciding with a visit by the British Queen to Belfast.  The RUC announced that they were going to hold the men for seven days under the Special Powers Act as a ‘security measure’ (see press on 30th May 1951).

Opposition to both the visit and the reintroduction of internment was not confined to republicans. Harry Diamond (who sat in Stormont as an MP for the Irish Labour Party) sent a statement protesting the detentions to King George saying:

In face of your Labour Government’s denunciations of Soviet tyranny will you by your presence here countenance these Totalitarian acts?

Diamond was refused permission to raise the detentions in Stormont but he interrupted another debate to say that:

This is a police state, because we have seen in the last 24 hours that there is no civil liberty here, and that men can be dragged from their beds and interned without trial.

The Belfast District Committee of the Gaelic League also protested the royal visit:

This Committee, representing 5,000 Irish speakers of all denominations in the city, wishes emphatically to protest against the visit of the Royal representative of the country that is holding part of Ireland in subjection. Furthermore we wish to reassert the inalienable right of the people of Ireland to the unfettered control of their own destinies.

There was also a statement issued under the byline of the Adjutant, Belfast HQ, IRA, that stated:

In connection with the forthcoming visits of the King and Queen, we wish to make our position clear. We resent this visit but we are not prepared to take any action at the moment. If the police carry out any further raids and arrests and give unnecessary provocation to the nationally-minded people, we shall be forced to take action to stop these raids. We call upon all Irish-minded people to boycott this proposed visit and to support us in any action we deem fit.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Steele and the other twelve republicans were brought to the prison on Crumlin Road, taken to the reception area and processed into the remand area in C wing. They were photographed and had their fingerprints taken (for some of the thirteen this was the third time this had happened since their arrest). Despite being imprisoned under an internment order, for the seven days they were held there, the republicans were subject to remand conditions. That meant taking exercise with the remand prisoners observing the ‘five yards apart’ and ‘silence’ rules, the number 2 diet and no association or other ‘privileges’. Remand prisoners were also limited to two cigarettes in the morning and two in the evening.

With so much collective experience of the various regimes including juvenile, remand, sentenced, penal and internee, Steele, McGurk, Cahill, Burke and the others quickly objected and notified the prison authorities that they wouldn’t accept the remand conditions. The response of the authorities was to inform them that, if they did not comply with the order, they would be returned to their cells. As they refused to comply with the remand regulations, they were returned to their cells and all privileges withdrawn. It had been early on Tuesday morning when they had been detained and they were to remain confined to their cells once they refused to observe the five yards apart and silence rules. The internees only got out of their cells on the Sunday morning to attend mass in the prison chapel. The next day, Monday 4th June, they were informed that they were being released again, in ten minutes time. As they walked out through the wicker gate of Crumlin Road, at about 12pm a plane bearing their royal majesties had already left the runway at Aldergrove that morning and was half way to London. That evening, Jimmy Steele and Joe Cahill issued a statement on behalf of themselves and Liam Burke, Patrick Doyle, Joe McGurk and Jack McCaffrey.

They put a direct challenge to the Unionist Minister of Home Affairs:

“We challenge you, Brian Maginness, to produce the evidence on and to state publicly:

(a) The nature of the act which you suspect was about to be committed (the Minister’s detention order stated that they were persons suspected of being about to act in a manner prejudicial to the peace and to the maintenance of order):

(b) The evidence upon which suspicion was grounded and the person or persons from whom such evidence emanated;

(c) Why, if such evidence was available, was not that specific charge framed against us?

The nature of your reply, if any, should determine not only the future of our own liberties, both physical and economic, but the liberties of all man and women working towards the ideal of a free, independent Irish Republic for the thirty-two counties.”

There was no answer forthcoming from the Unionist government.

The story of Joe McKelveys #GAA club

Founded in 1924, the Joseph McKelvey Gaelic Athletic Club was named after the executed Anti-Treaty leader, who himself had been a founder member of the O’Donovan Rossa GAA club in Belfast. The choice of the name and the founding of McKelveys GAC was linked in to the return of Lt. Gen. Joe McKelvey’s remains to Belfast from Dublin for burial in October 1924. McKelveys burial was regarded by many Belfast republicans as the event which prompted the post-war re-organisation of the IRA in Belfast.

Early photo of McKelveys team, dating to around 1926 (published in Ray Quinn's A Rebel View.

Early photo of McKelveys team, dating to around 1926 (published in Ray Quinn’s A Rebel View.

In 1925 McKelveys fielded a team in the South Antrim Junior Hurling League. A surviving line-up from a hurling league game against Sarsfields in Donegall Park in June 1926 gives a flavour of the club’s early playing members. That day the team was G. Donnelly, Davy Matthews, J. O’Boyle, Hugh Matthews, Joe McGurk, A. Johnston, Frank Pimley, J. Ralph, Hugh Corvin, F. McGoldrick, M. Maguire, O. McGeough, A. O’Donnell, J. Curran and James Thompson. The report on the games notes that regulars N. Donnelly and George Nash were both missing (McKelveys still won 2-1 to 1-0). The same year, McKelveys’ footballers beat Parnells, then lost to Stephens in the South Antrim Junior Football Championship semi-final. The Irish News report on the semi-final (which McKelveys lost 3-4 to 4-0) includes the following line-up: E. Colligan, J. Meighan, J. Dempsey, H. Laverty, J. Doherty, O. McGeough, N. Donnelly, G. Nash, J. Havlin, D. Matthews, A. O’Donnell, H. Corvin, F. Pimley, G. Donnelly and E. Quinn. McKelveys N. Donnelly also played on the Antrim team that defeated Cavan in the final of the Northern Division of the National Football League in 1926.
Hugh Corvin (the Belfast IRA O/C), Davy Matthews (who was to succeed Corvin), Hugh Matthews (Davy’s brother and another future Belfast IRA O/C) and George Nash, O/C of one of the Belfast IRA companies were all prominent Belfast IRA staff members. Others, like Joe McGurk who had been imprisoned the previous year for possession of arms and weapons, are well-known IRA men. Visibly, McKelveys was very much an IRA team drawing on the small pool of active republicans left in Belfast. It was also very much an Anti-Treaty IRA side. The O’Donovan Rossa club, which McKelvey helped found, was associated with Belfast IRA staff who had taken and, in 1924, still remained, on the Pro-Treaty side. If other prominent South Antrim clubs, like Morans, Kevin Barrys (also originally an ‘IRA club’), Stephens, Parnells and Ardoyne had any associations it could equally have been to organisations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians. In that regard, McKelveys being left as the sole IRA-sponsored GAA club may be a reflection of the political landscape of nationalist Belfast in 1924-25.
An early photograph (above) survives of a McKelveys’ football team, which appears to date around 1925-26 and must presumably be one of the first junior football teams fielded by the club. Those that can be identified in the photo include Hugh Corvin, Jack McNally, Davy and Hugh Matthews, Joe Hanna and Jimmy Steele. McNally, Hanna and Steele were also intimately involved in the IRA in Belfast from 1924. McNally dropped out of republican activities for a number of years after 1927 and doesn’t seem to feature in any recorded line-ups for McKelveys from that date onwards, suggesting this photo dates to 1927 at the latest.
The club had a base in Rockmount Street, just off the Falls Road, where an old wooden building, known as the McKelvey hut, was its base. It is also clear, from various accounts in the 1920s, that it was openly known to be a base of the Belfast IRA as individuals who wished to join the IRA went there to ask about joining. Its official name, when it is mentioned in the press, was McKelvey Hall, later (in the 1930s) being known as the McKelvey Recreation Club. By the mid-1930s McKelveys also used Pearse Hall, in the city centre, as their base.
By 1927, McKelveys had attracted a number of transfers, including Jack Gaffney from Morans and Art Thornbury from O’Connells, both of whom were closely associated with the IRA. While the McKelveys’ footballers came bottom of the South Antrim Senior Football League, they did well in the Senior Football Championship that year and came up against Jack Gaffneys former club, Morans, in the semi-final. The line-up for the semi-final in Shaun’s Park was A. O’Donnell, J. McCrealey, Jack Gaffney, P. Rafftery, M. Maguire, R. Boomer, H. Lavery, Art Thornbury, T. Carabine, D. McGregor, J. McKeown, J. Steele, Hugh Corvin, E. Quinn and A. Johnston.
Morans were too strong for McKelveys, though, winning 2-9 to 1-1. The Irish News reports that the best back was McCrealey, Corvin and Steele best of an indifferent forward line, and Thornbury was the outstanding player on the pitch. Jack Gaffney, only returned from six weeks out due to illness, was described as not fully fit. The hurlers made it to the South Antrim Junior Hurling Championship final in 1927, losing heavily to Parnells, 8-4 to 2-0, who were winning their first honours, while the footballers made it through to the South Antrim Junior Football Championship final the same year.
In 1928, McKelveys lost Art Thornbury and Jack Gaffney who were arrested along with others at an Easter Commemoration in Milltown cemetery. They also lost George Nash to a three year sentence for illegal possession of documents. But McKelveys did make the final of the South Antrim Junior Football Championship where they met Kevin Barrys on 20th May at Corrigan Park. By half-time, McKelveys were 1-4 to 0-0 ahead. They didn’t score again in the second half and two Kevin Barrys goals reduced their lead to a single point. But that was how the game ended and McKelveys survived to become South Antrim Junior Football champions. They then played Lamh Dearg, Toome a week later in Toome in the final of the Antrim Junior Football Championship. By half-time, McKelveys were 1-1 to 0-1 behind. McKelveys inched closer during a scrappy second half, trailing by 1-2 (5 points) to 0-3 (3 points) with a few minutes to go. But, a goal from Lamh Dearg put the final result beyond doubt and it ended 2-2 to 0-3.
McKelveys also made the final of the Ben Madigan Cup on the 10th June where they played O’Connells in Corrigan Park. The McKelveys’ team was A. O’Donnell in goal, D. McCann, J. McCreely and J. McKeown in the full-back line, Joe O’Neill, T. Carabine and H. Laverty in the half-back line, Frank Pimley and Davy Matthews in midfield, Hugh Corvin, Jimmy Steele and J. Conkey in the half-forward line, T. Cunningham, P. Rafferty and A. Johnston in the full-forward line. Jimmy Steele scored one of the first half goals (the Irish News describing him as a live wire during the game), as McKelveys went into a 2-2 (8 points) to 0-0 half-time lead. The second half was fairly tame and McKelveys cruised home 3-2 (11 points) to 0-1 (1 point).
By 1929 McKelveys’ players like Matthews, Boomer, Pimley, Ward and O’Neill were being called up to the Antrim county sides, both football and hurling, and in Art Thornbury, the club had a dual inter-provincial player who was the outstanding player in the county, in both codes, in the 1920s. He had won a number of Ulster Senior Hurling championships. He playing on the side that defeated Cavan 4-3 to 3-1 for the 1926 Ulster title. Cavan had led for much of the game until Thornbury set up McCarry for the crucial third goal. In the 1927 final, Thornbury also played a lead role as Antrim again overcame Cavan, this time on a score-line of 5-4 to 3-3 at Breffni Park on 3rd October. Thornbury continued to star in Antrim’s defence throughout the 1920s, and played on Antrim teams which won further Ulster titles. In mid-April 1931, when Antrim entered the National Hurling League for the first time, Thornbury was a central part of the squad (he had also played regularly in the National Football League for Antrim). Antrim filled a place in Group B in 1931 that had been vacated by Wexford’s withdrawal. The first game, on 24th May 1931, at Portlaoise, finished Laois 4-4 Antrim 0-4. The other game was played against Dublin at Corrigan Park in Belfast on 2nd August and Antrim again lost, this time on a score of 4-4 to 2-2. Antrim weren’t to re-enter the National Hurling League until 1945 (although in some seasons a Northern Division was contested by some Ulster counties).
While a lot of Belfast republicans were subjected to routine harassment by the northern government, some, including McKelveys players, were charged and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. As in 1928, Thornbury missed a portion of the 1930 season as he was arrested again at the 1930 Easter commemoration and received three months in prison, along with Hugh Matthews.
Despite the loss of players to arrest and imprisonment, by the early 1930s, the club was fielding teams in the Senior and Intermediate football, hurling and (from 1929) camogie leagues. McKelveys won the South Antrim Senior Football League in 1930-31 (the league itself was completed in November 1931) as well as the Senior Football Championship and the South Antrim Cup in football. As South Antrim champions, McKelveys contested the final of the Antrim Senior Football Championship against Cuchullains Dunloy on July 12th 1931 at Dunloy.
McKelveys were without Thornbury and Ward who had been suspended the previous week for being sent off when playing for the Antrim county side. Cuchullains, playing with a strong breeze in the first half, led 1-3 to no score at half time. McKelveys, who (The Irish News notes) also had to contend with playing uphill in the first half, began the second half strongly. As per regulations at the time, both clubs had supplied umpires to the referee, John Osborne, but on a number of occasions the umpires disagreed over scores. Carabine and Jimmy Steele were both guilty of wasting chances before Joe O’Neill got McKelveys’ first point of the game. Chances then began to come for McKelveys and Joe Pimley had a shot saved, then Finnegan had a shot deflectd wide. Carabine managed to win the ball after a placed kick from O’Neill, and directed a shot on the Cuchallains’ goal. The score was signalled with a red flag by one umpire (indicating a goal) and a white flag by the other (indicating a point). A Cuchallains’ player then pulled the red flag from the umpire and a McKelveys’ forward tried to influence the other umpire to award the goal (The Irish News, which published a report of the game on 14/7/31 diplomatically does not name those involved). The referee decided to award a point but such a heated row then followed between the spectators and umpires that the referee decided to halt the game. The County board decided the game had to be replayed.
The replay was on 10th August and was refereed by the chairman of the County Antrim board, Padraig McNamee with selected umpires. McKelveys had Thornbury back for the replayed game, although Ward was still absent. The team that started the game was A. O’Neill in goals, James Pimley, Jack Gaffney and W. Connolly in the full-back line, Joe Pimley, Art Thornbury and P. O’Neill in the half-backs, P. Boomer and Joe O’Neill in midfield, W. Cochrane, Gene Thornbury and M. Finnegan in the half-forwards and Jimmy Steele, T. Carabine and R. Boomer in the full-forward line. There was a strong cross-wind that reduced the accuracy of the passing and the game was frequently interrupted with frees for minor infringements and some bad blood that spilled over from the abandoned first game. McKelveys, playing uphill for the first half, were 0-4 to 0-0 behind at half time. Joe O’Neill then got McKelvey’s off the mark at the start of the second half but a Cuchullains goal left them 1-4 to 0-1 behind. The game then got scrappier and Gunning (Cuchullains) and P. Boomer were sent off. Joe O’Neill then gave McKelveys some hope with two further points to reduce the gap to 1-4 (7 points) to 0-3 (3 points). Cuchullains continued to break up the game and also had Dillon sent off, later followed by R. Boomer (McKelveys). But time ran out and McKelveys lost.
The season wasn’t yet over, though, as McKelveys had also reached the final of the South Antrim Senior Hurling Championship against O’Connells. This was played at Corrigan Park, and the McKelveys’ team was S. McKeown in goal, James Pimley, Davy Matthews and W. McFadden in the full-back line, Joe O’Neill, Art Thornbury and J. Walsh in the half-back line, T. Carabine and P. O’Neill in midfield, Joe Pimley, P. Boomer, and Jimmy Steele in the half-forward line, and, W. Connolly, R. Boomer and Gene Thornbury in the full-forward line. The game started up even enough, tying at 0-1 to 0-1 but O’Connells added a goal and two points before McKelveys scored again. Another goal before the break left McKelveys 2-3 (9 points) to 0-2 (2 points) down at half-time. Despite the best efforts of the Thornburys and Boomers, McKelveys couldn’t reduce the gap and a third goal for O’Connells effectively killed off the game. At the final whistle, O’Connells won by 3-5 (14 points) to 0-6 (6 points).
Hugh Corvin’s absence from the McKelveys’ teams by 1931 is interesting. In 1927, he had stepped down as O/C of the Belfast IRA but was to remain prominent in the McKelveys club for the next couple of seasons. His replacement as O/C, Davy Matthews, was one of those who represented the club at South Antrim Divisional Board. By 1930, Corvin appears to have less association with the club (and the IRA).
In 1931-32, the South Antrim Senior Football League contained nine teams, O’Connells, Rossa, McKelveys, Sarsfields, Ardoyne, St Galls, St Johns, Tir-na-nOg and Shamrocks (Aughagallon), while there were eighteen teams in the Intermediate and Junior leagues. But for the new 1931-32 season McKelveys struggled. In the same year the club also played games against clubs from outside Antrim, such as against a Lurgan team as part of a benefit tournament in January 1932, (which McKelveys lost 3-1 to 1-2). They struggled early in the league in 1932 at which time Art Thornbury and Jack Gaffney were suspended (along with two other senior players). Thornbury, along with another IRA man, was arrested over an attempted arms raid that month and subsequently sentenced to eighteen months in prison. His brother, Gene, also was dragged into the case. Other McKelveys men, such as Willie McCurry, were arrested and imprisoned over the summer (in McCurry’s case, for printing posters protesting Thornbury’s imprisonment).
McKelveys lost to Tir na nOg in January 1932,by which time they had dropped 3 points in the league, as much as in all of the previous season. They then lost to Ardoyne, although they did beat St Galls and St Johns in February. By the time the 1932 South Antrim Senior Football Championship came around in April, McKelveys were no longer contending for the league but easily beat Sarsfields in their first round tie, although eventually going out in a heavy defeat to Tir-na-nOg, 4-5 to 0-1 in October (when many IRA members in Belfast were involved, albeit unofficially, in the Outdoor Relief riots).
The political leanings of the GAA in Antrim at this time was heavily influenced by McKelveys, as can be gauged by its sponsorship of motions with regard to the status of British soldiers, sailors and police being beyond the pale of the GAA in 1930 and again, specifically proposed by McKelveys, in 1932. The later motion called for a definition of the position of the Civic Guard and Army in the Irish Free State, and specifically referred to the issue of the naming of clubs. The motion was eventually withdrawn and referred to the GAA’s Central Committee. McKelveys also had Art Thornbury proposed for position of secretary of the Ulster Council, but he lost out in a ballot.
That summer, McKelveys organised a training camp at Harp Hall near Carnlough. On July 19th, at 4 am, the RUC stormed into the camp. In the main hut, Farrell John Leddy from Rockdale Street in Belfast, a 22 year old doctor and son of a former RIC man, was detained. A bugle was reportedly found in Leddy’s bag, whilst a book with notes about the use of arms was found on a table in the hut. The twenty-five young men found at the camp had their details taken then were transport back to Belfast and released.
The camp had consisted of a wooden hut for the officers and instructors, and, four canvas tents for those attending the camp (the hut was owned by a J. McKeown of Belfast, who also happened to be secretary of the Antrim County board). A tricolour was flown from a flag pole (the flag was confiscated by the RUC). It is clear from accounts of the camp that it was an IRA training camp organised by the McKelveys club. At the start of August the wooden hut used at Harp Hall by Farrell Leddy was burnt down.
The McKelvey’s Senior Hurling team were heavily beaten in Glenarm a week after the camp was raided (they received another heavy defeated from Glenarm in October the same year – somewhat offset by beating Queens University in the Senior Football on the same day). That autumn, McKelveys fortunes were mixed, losing heavily (3-3 to 0-2) to St Galls in October, and then to O’Connells in November (2-1 to 1-2) and narrowly to O’Donnell’s in December (0-3 to 0-2), although going well in the Intermediate Football. That October, the Outdoor Relief riots saw significant street disturbances in Belfast, many involving IRA members (and McKelveys heavy loss in the championship).
Despite the distractions, McKelveys fared a bit better in the 1932-1933 league campaign, with Finnegan, O’Neill and Cochrane playing well, but were hampered by the increasingly regular loss of players to arrest and short-term detentions (as well as longer term imprisonments of a few months). When Art Thornbury was released from prison in October 1933 he was hounded by the northern government, detained again for a month, then deported to the south. This was against the backdrop of a further outbreak of violence in Belfast. It was hoped to run Thornbury as an election candidate that autumn and the RUC, expecting a selection convention to be held, raided McKelvey Hall in November 1933. The convention was held elsewhere and Thornbury was selected (although, as the prison authorities prevented Art signing the nomination papers, his brother Patrick stood in his place in the end). As the convention wasn’t taking place, the RUC arrested fifteen 14-19 year olds who were present instead. They were charged with drilling and, in the end, eight received two months including John McKenna (who got hard labour for refusing to recognise the court), Patrick Lavery, Thomas Graham, Francis Doherty, Patrick McCann, Rory Campbell, Vincent Kelly and Francis McGoldrick. In court, it was claimed that McKenna was giving words of command to the others, such as “’Shun! About turn!”, “Form fours!” and “Quick march!”.
Doherty died soon after his release from prison and was commemorated in the song Belfast Graves, the original version of which was written by Jimmy Steele. The lines of the song mentioning Doherty also feature in Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy.
As well as the youths arrested at McKelvey Hall, that November, more senior players and former players were sentenced to between one and three months in prison for refusing to answer questions put to them by a magistrate. Refusing to answer was an offence under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Acts. Those arrested included George Nash, Jimmy Steele, Jack Gaffney, Frank Pimley, William Connolly, William McCurry, Davy Matthews and Hugh Matthews. A club delegate to various county meetings, Brendan Kielty (who was later to travel to Spain with Eoin O’Duffy), was arrested for speaking at an illegal rally in support of republican detainees on 5th November 1933.

In his biography, Harry, Harry White recalls that he would drop in at the McKelveys’ base “…and look up the line-out and composition of the team only to find there were gaps – some of the lads had been arrested; they were replaced by that well-known chap, A.N. Other.”
And the arrests did not end in November. On 15th January 1934, Gerald O’Toole from Spinner Street was in the McKelvey Republican Hall in when the RUC entered. A Constable Fannin questioned O’Toole and three others about their activities and they said there were arranging football fixtures. Fannin then searched O’Toole (who he says refused to answer any more questions) and found a letter on him from a man named Crilly addressed to Jimmy Steele.
There were other problems for the club that month. Davy Matthews had taken an opportunity to sign out of prison for Christmas, as did George Nash. This was against IRA policy as it was giving recognition to the courts and prison service. Matthews was expelled from the IRA. Neither he nor Nash are mentioned again in accounts of McKelveys.
On the field the team was depleted for a visit to Aughagallon to play the Shamrocks in January 1934, where they were beaten 1-8 to 2-1, despite goals from Jack Gaffney and Maguire and a point from Joe O’Neill. That month the team continued to have ‘team troubles’ due to arrests and fielded without key men like Ward, Gene Thornbury and Pimley (although they could still rely on the likes of Jack Gaffney, McGeough, Boomer, O’Neill and Cochrane). They also lost out to Ardoyne in the Senior Football Championship in January 1934, after a replay.
The team continued to struggle, though, even when players returned. On top of being outside contention for the league, McKelveys struggled to be competitive at all in 1934, despite the likes of Gene Thornbury, Adams, Joe O’Neill, P O’Neill, Cochrane, McKeown, Pimley and Boomer doing well. They shipped heavy defeats to the likes of St Galls (3-4 to 0-1) in February and narrowly to O’Connells (1-4 to 0-5) the same month. For the next season, O’Connells also put McKelveys out of the Senior Football Championship in the first round in April.
At the end of 1934, the club proposed a motion on political prisoners that was ruled out of order at the Antrim Convention, at which there appears to have been some dispute as to the maintenance of the ‘non-political’ nature of the GAA.
The club had also continued to field a team in the senior hurling in 1933 but, paralleling the decline of the footballers, slipped down to the Intermediate League where they continued to struggle. At the end of the 1933-34 season, McKelveys’ footballers were relegated and fielded in the Intermediate and Junior Leagues in the winter of 1934 (as well as the Ben Madigan Cup instead of the South Antrim Cup). The 1934 season began equally badly as they struggled in the Intermediate League, losing to Rossa II, O’Donnells, Gaedhil Uladh and Davitts, eventually picking up points by beating St Galls II in January 1935, 2-0 to 0-1. The decline also saw the loss of the players, with the likes of Pimley moving to Gaedhil Uladh to continue playing senior football.
Further violence, including an attempted pogrom in Belfast that summer, as well as arrests at a Belfast IRA training camp in Louth further weakened the club in 1935. In the autumn resumption of the league, McKelveys began strongly in the Intermediate Football League beating O’Donnells 1-2 to 0-2 in November 1935, then St Galls 3-1 to 1-0. In February, Ardoyne were beaten 1-3 to 1-2. By late February, McKelveys were close to the top of the Intermediate League but not in contention for promotion (at the same time the junior team were struggling badly, close to the bottom of their league).
Of the McKelveys’ senior footballers who lined out against the Shamrocks in the Ben Madigan Cup in March 1936, only Jimmy Steele survived from the side who had played in the 1931 Antrim Senior Football Championship Final. The full McKelveys’ line-up was J. O’Rawe, P. Quinn, J. Kelly, J. McManus, J. McCaughan, T. Morris, P. McKenna, M.Clarke, L. Dooley, M. Higgins, J. Steele, H. White, J. Teague, J. Hamill and W. Mooney. McKelveys lost the game 0-3 to 0-0. In its report on the game, The Irish News singled out Morris, McKenna, Steele and McManus for praise. The next week, McKelvey’s made amends, winning the Biggar Cup. By May, Steele too was gone following the Crown Entry raid. By the end of 1936 the club could only field a team in the junior league.
Pearse Hall, which was also used by the McKelveys, was destroyed in a bomb explosion on May 27th 1938. On November 23rd 1938, a raid on the McKelvey Recreation Club off the Falls Road led to the detention of nineteen young men under the Special Powers Act. Those arrested included Matthew Bunting, Thomas Cairns, Kevin Barry Hughes, Michael Mullan, John O’Rawe, Thomas Gourley, David McKay, Joseph McKenna, John McKee, Billy McKee, Frank McCusker, Harry McGurk, Joseph Adams, Hugh Molloy. Most were aged 16-18 and it was claimed in court that they were members of Fianna na hÉireann and were being drilled by John McKee in the hall. All were found guilty and John McKee was given two months, while the others received fines or imprisonment.
On 28th November an attempted bomb attack on the McKelvey Hall damaged the adjoined Rockmount Social Club. By the end of the 1938, the McKelvey club was barely competing even at junior level and, in the face of the introduction of internment and the continued loss of members it eventually folded in 1939. In Antrims Patriot Dead, published in 1966, Jimmy Steele (clearly stating that McKelveys was an IRA club) says that those arrests and internment finished the club in 1939.
In 1940, McKelveys’ veteran Jack Gaffney died on the prison ship Al Rawdah. After his funeral in St Johns, his remains were brought to Milltown. At the funeral, the tricolour was produced which had been placed over Joe McKelvey’s coffin when he had been buried in Belfast in 1924. It was placed on Gaffney’s coffin in the church. It was again placed on Gaffney’s coffin when it was brought to Milltown where he was buried in the republican plot.
When the internees and sentenced prisoners, including many McKelveys’ men and women, were released after 1945 the club was not reformed, instead the main republican GAA club in Belfast was named after Tom Williams, who had been hung in 1942.

The bombing of the republican plot in Milltown

This is the story of the bombing and destruction of the original republican plot in Milltown cemetery in Belfast. When most people think of the republican plot in Milltown, they usually think of it as the County Antrim memorial erected on the Tom Williams plot in the mid-1960s. The older republican monument, though, is the one erected in 1912 on the Harbinson plot, named after William Harbinson, a Fenian who died while interned in Belfast prison in 1867. The current monument is actually a replica of the original which was destroyed by a bomb in 1937. Its replacement was also destroyed in 1938, and the monument was targeted again later the same year and yet again in 1939.

After the Harbinson plot had been acquired by local republicans in 1912, a granite memorial to the Belfast Fenians and IRB men was erected in the plot. This monument was an obelisk topped by a Celtic cross more or less identical to that standing today. The plot was enclosed by an iron-work fence with some fine Celtic art details (modelled on the Monasterevin-type discs of 1st-2nd century AD date). Two IRA men, Lieutenant General Joe McKelvey and Sectional Commander Sean McCartney were later buried within the plot. McCartney was buried there in 1921 and commemorated in a plaque placed at the foot of the obelisk. McKelvey was re-interred there in 1924 and his re-burial was a seminal moment in the re-organisation of the Belfast IRA. Jimmy Steele included a photo (below) of the original monument in Antrims Patriot Dead, issued by the National Graves Associated in 1966 (Steele also used a similar image as the front cover of Belfast Patriot Graves in 1963).

original harbinson plot

Around 11 am on the morning of the 1st July, 1937, visitors to Milltown cemetery found that the monument in the republican plot had been badly damaged by a bomb (oddly, few people, if any, heard the bomb explode during the night).

Photo of the aftermath of the bombing in Irish Independent, 2nd July 1937.

Photo of the aftermath of the bombing in Irish Independent, 2nd July 1937.

Evidently gelignite had been placed under a corner of the five ton monument and detonated by a fuse. It blew down the obelisk and the cross, tore up the iron railings from around the plinth, and scattered debris over a forty foot radius. A four foot deep crater was left by the explosion. A wreath of flowers on the monument was blown over a wall twenty-five yards away. The plaque to Sean McCartney appeared to have been taken from the plot as it could not be found during searches of the debris (it was later replaced by the stone shield that is there today).

The bombing brought an outraged reaction from the local branch of the National Graves Association, which held an emergency meeting that evening, condemning “…the wanton destruction by explosives of the memorial in the republican plot…”. The Association noted that the presence of the two graves in the plot made “…the outrage all the more dastardly, and should call for protests from every decent-minded person regardless of class or creed.

After the bombing, the Belfast Recorder awarded £75 in damages for the destruction of the monument. This was enough to allow a replica to be made which was erected in the first week of March 1938. The replacement was a twelve foot cross of Newry granite that replicated the one destroyed in 1937.

But at 1 am on the morning of the 11th March another charge of gelignite exploded, having been placed in a hole dug beneath a corner of the monument. The explosion left a two foot deep crater under a corner of the plinth, with a sizeable portion of the plinth blown out of the plot. The top half of the monument also collapsed. Nearby in the graveyard, someone had chalked graffiti on the walls “Welcome home Crown Entry ‘Victims’” (the first of those arrested in 1936 and who had received two years for treason felony were due for release during April 1938). Notably this was the only bombing around this time where the attackers left graffiti. The RUC also investigated ‘footprints’ found at the scene.

The destruction caused by the March 1938 bombing of the republican plot (Irish Independent 12th March 1938).

The destruction caused by the March 1938 bombing of the republican plot (Irish Independent 12th March 1938).

Unlike the bombing in 1937, the destruction of the monument in March 1938 was discovered to be the work of a maverick pressure group within the Belfast IRA that was trying to precipitate armed confrontation between the IRA and the northern government. In January 1938 this group had shot and wounded a former prison warder. The Milltown bombing, though, illustrated the extent of their ruthlessness. Harry White revealed that the ‘ginger group’ (the term White uses) blew up the republican monument but doesn’t give the exact date of this episode other than placing it in the time between the Smith shooting (in January 1938) and his own release from Crumlin Road in May 1938[1]. Notably, Jimmy Steele also neglects to mention the March 1938 bombing directly in a brief history of the Harbinson Plot in Antrims Patriot Dead.

Some of the maverick group are named by White as Sean McCaughey, Albert Price, Pat McCotter, Peter Farrelly and John Rainey. White too became involved with them after his release from Crumlin Road in May 1938. Oddly, the figure to the left of the RUC man in the photo above looks suspiciously like White (but may be his brother John – I’ve since been fortunate enough to get Danny Morrison, a nephew of the Whites, to look at it and he’s pretty sure it’s not either of them). Similarly, the figure behind the RUC man’s left shoulder could even be Sean McCaughey, while the man to his right looks a bit like the Belfast O/C at the time, Sean McArdle. Unfortunately the quality of the photo makes clear identification of anyone in the picture almost impossible.

White describes the March 1938 bomb as a misdirected attempt to rouse the people. The idea that some of the ‘ginger group’ hung around the damaged monument (possibly getting captured on camera), all the while talking up the outrage against the bombing to any nearby journalists, and then urging the Belfast IRA O/C to take action isn’t actually that implausible (although that is pretty speculative, all the same). The Belfast staff did temporarily give way to pressure from the ‘ginger group’ and that night a British army recruiting office in Alfred Street was bombed around 11 o’clock, doing considerable damage but causing no injuries. The IRA had bombed a naval recruiting office in Donegall Street on 10th November the previous year using largely the same tactic of breaking into the office and setting a timed bomb. This had detonated scattering glass and bricks over the street and with the buildings caretaker, James McEwan, still upstairs. He escaped unhurt, but clearly the Belfast IRA staff had clipped the wings of the IRA unit involved for risking casualties. The ‘misguided attempt’ of March 1938 seems to have been intended to give the ‘ginger group’ a pretext to carry out a further attack and demonstrate they could effectively destroy property without causing casualties.

White notes that the ‘ginger group’ was broken up by the Belfast IRA staff after they developed a plan to attempt to free a prisoner (Eddie McCartney, sentenced to 10 years after the Campbell College raid) in the summer of 1938. At some point, the Belfast IRA also became aware of who had planted the March 1938 bomb which might equally have led to the group being broken up. As it was, Sean Russell’s elevation to the IRA’s Chief of Staff in April 1938 also seemed to offer the prospect of the more militant action that the ‘ginger group’ had been demanding.

The March 1938 bomb in Albert Street also appears to have been the last such IRA action for some time. From 1937 to 1939, though, Unionists had carried out and were to continue with a series of bomb attacks on a range of targets including Catholic Churches, residential districts and other facilities such as sport clubs and AOH Halls. These took the form of placed devices that exploded during the night, bombs thrown from cars and bombs thrown over walls into residential areas.

After the March 1938 bombing, work began on another replacement for the republican monument. The work was completed in O’Neill’s sculpting yard in Divis Street. The 15th August was the day it was to be moved to replace the one blown up in Milltown. That night two men were seen at the yard, one kept watch while the other scaled the wall. He left a bomb behind the nearly completed monument which exploded damaging the top of the monument. The two other damaged monuments were also lying in O’Neill’s yard but were not damaged further. The explosion was heard for miles around. Eye-witnesses saw the perpetrators leave and run off towards Castle Junction.

Yet again, work had to begin on a replacement for the republican monument. Finally, in the last week of October (1938), having even been guarded by the RUC, the republican monument was re-erected in the Harbinson plot in Milltown cemetery.

Then, on the night of 18th January, 1939, at around 11.40 pm, residents across Belfast heard yet another loud explosion which shook windows and slates around the Falls Road. The cemetery superintendent, J. Fitzgerald, who lived in the gate lodge, went straight to the republican plot and saw figures rushing off across the Bog Meadows. A quick search revealed that a home-made canister bomb had been placed against the republican monument. Gelignite in the bomb had detonated but, on this occasion, it hadn’t been buried properly and the monument appeared to have survived intact apart from some scorching. Fragments of the iron-fencing were blown a considerable distance away. A photograph of the monument from after the bombing shows that the damage looked fairly minor. However, inspection of the monument by the Belfast Corporation Claims Department (who had paid out after the previous attacks) showed that it had been dangerously loosened and it was again removed to a sculptors yard in Divis Street for repair. This was done under RUC guard and it was finally re-erected in the plot.

Today the monument looks largely as it did when first erected apart from the plain fencing which no longer contains the fine Celtic art of the original.

RUC inspect damage after bombing (Irish Press, 20th January 1939).

RUC inspect damage after January 1939 bombing (Irish Press, 20th January 1939).

[1] See MacEoin 1986 Harry, page 51. Raymond Quinn, in A Rebel View, dates the McCartney escape plan to mid 1937, while White (in MacEoin) puts it after the shooting of Smith in January 1938. For that reason (and the fact that Jimmy Steele glosses over the March 1938 bombing in Antrims Patriot Dead), I’ve opted for Whites dates.