Review of Belfast Battalion in The Irish News

A review of Belfast Battalion by Connla Young was published in today’s Irish News, where it is given Book of the Week. You can read the original at the link above (if you can’t access it, I’ve posted the review below).



Belfast Battalion: A History of the Belfast IRA 1922-1969 by John O’Neill, published by Litter Press, priced £14.99

IN BELFAST Battalion: A History of the Belfast IRA 1922-1969, John O’Neill presents a very readable chronology of the IRA’s activities over almost 50 years. The book provides a unique insight into how the IRA emerged from the post-treaty period to maintain a presence in Ireland’s second city. In every decade since partition militant republicans have made their presence felt and the organisation in Belfast has played a critical role. In 1969 the Provisionals would eventually emerge as the dominant force in a divided IRA as the recent conflict began to take hold. Throughout Belfast Battalion the near constant conflict between the IRA and unionist authorities at Stormont is highlighted; republicans were regularly subject to arrest and detention without trial.

O’Neill identifies several largely forgotten but key episodes including the IRA killing of Belfast man Patrick Woods in November 1925. He was suspected of providing information that led to the discovery of an arms dump the previous year and he also gave evidence in the trial of a man later linked to the weapons. His killing resulted in the arrest of 50 men, with dozens detained without charge. The mass arrests took place just before the final shape of the border was confirmed in December 1925 and the Boundary Commission’s work came to an end. While some of those arrested were released, others were detained for several weeks, ensuring high profile figures were out of circulation during a critical political period.

The author also explores the role of a rouge IRA unit known as ‘The Ginger Group’ in the 1930s. This gang was blamed for blowing up a republican monument at the Harbinson Plot in Milltown Cemetery in 1938. The group emerged as part of a bid by some hardline republicans to precipitate conflict between the IRA and the unionist regime. The unit was also accused of shooting a former prison officer before the leadership of IRA in Belfast stepped in to close it down.

In total the Harbinson monument and replacements were targeted on three other occasions between 1937 and 1939, including once at a west Belfast sculptors’ yard.

Belfast Battalion is an important addition to research into the history of the republican movement.


Connla Young

If you want to pick up your own copy see

Irish News review.png

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