one of our fellows went to Australia and they got him there…

If you want to read about the IRA in Australia (or more strictly, official attitudes to the IRA in Australia), there is an interesting post here on the Irish Diaspora Histories network by Evan Smith and Anastasia Dukova. It notes that the Australian security services had monitored Irish republicans there since the Easter Rising. But in the early 1970s, fear that conflict in Ireland could spill over to Australia saw an increase in focus on Irish republicans in Australia.

The post reminded me of a throw away comment about the IRA and Australia reported in a court case in 1939. Hugh McCluskey, Thomas Magill and Robert McCann were IRA volunteers from Belfast who were involved in the sabotage campaign in England which began in January 1939. On 18th February 1939, a police raid in Wheelys Road in Edgebaston in Birmingham found all three in a house with magnesium, metallic sodium, magnesium scrapings and detonator wire. These were basic bomb-making equipment as IRA volunteers had been trained to use them to manufacture detonation charges to use with ‘paxo’ explosives (made by mixing potassium chlorate and paraffin wax). Other incriminating items were also recovered from the house, but no guns.

McCluskey and McCann had both been imprisoned in Belfast previously for offences under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act. In court, on 20th March, they received ten year sentences, while Magill received seven years. During the trial a detective claimed under oath that, when he was being arrested, McCluskey admitted to having been a member of the Belfast Battalion and said “It’s all right. We have not got a gun. If we had we should have put a bullet through all of you. You caught us napping. I am better off inside. I am shutting up, as one of our fellows went to Australia and they got him there.

The press reporting, including many Australian newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald, highlight the reference to Australia. Unfortunately, none actually explore the implications of what McCloskey is reported to have said (any speculation is obviously predicated upon the police officer truthfully repeating something that McCluskey said).

There are a number of instances of the Belfast IRA, or individuals connected to the Belfast Battalion of the IRA, killing former members or others connected to the IRA in the 1920s or 1930s, such as Patrick Woods, Joe Hanna and Dan Turley. However, there doesn’t appear to be any reference to a former member being tracked to Australia and killed there over the same time frame. A review of the Belfast Brigade lists compiled in the 1930s identifies four from Belfast with addresses in Australia in the 1930s. These are George Fitzsimons (Engineering Battalion), Henry McCollum, Thomas Corry and John Myles (all A Company, 2nd Battalion). There doesn’t appear to be anyone of the same names who died in suspicious circumstances reported in the Australian press up to 1939. The RUC suspect list from the 1930s doesn’t note anyone as having emigrated to Australia during this time.

While it may be a reference to an IRA volunteer from somewhere other than Belfast, again, this doesn’t appear to be mentioned anywhere else that I have noted up to now. One possibility is that it is a garbled version of the story of James Carey, the informer whose evidence had led to the execution of five Invincibles in 1882. Carey was spotted on a ship while emigrating to South Africa and killed by another Invincible, Patrick O’Donnell, who was subsequently executed (O’Donnell was a great grand uncle of Patsy Dougan).

Patrick O'Donnell.png

The Invincible, Patrick O’Donnell

Anyone who knows of any cases where someone from Belfast died in suspicious circumstances prior to 1939 could add some details in the comments below.

You can read more on the Belfast Battalion of the IRA here.

 

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Unveiling of headstone for Patsy Dougan in the Bronx

See here for a link to a story in the Irish Echo about the unveiling of headstone at the New York grave of Patrick Dougan, a volunteer in D Company, first Battalion, of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade during 1919-1921. On 30th May 1937 he died of pneumonia and had been buried in an unmarked grave in St Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.

Patsy Dougan

Patsy Duggan (see Irish Echo article linked at the start of the post)

Dougan was one the Belfast IRA volunteers who was arrested in Lappanduff in Cavan on 8th May 1921 while serving in a flying column. The flying column had been recruited through Seamus McGoran who had transferred from the Belfast Brigade to become O/C of the East Cavan Brigade. The thirteen strong flying column was led by Joe Magee and included Patrick Dougan, Sean McCartney and Johnny McDermott from D Company. They arrived in Cavan between the 3rd or 4th of May and the 6th (when McCartney arrived) and were to be reinforced by a further 10-12 men before going in to action. In the meantime they had cleaned up the cottages in which they were staying and began cleaning and sorting their arms and ammunition. Several of the men, including Patrick Dougan and Sean McCartney, were experienced ex-servicemen who had served in the first world war. Dougan had served under an assumed name (William Cairns).

On the night of Saturday 7th May, Magee gave permission for three of the men to visit a pub McCartney had spotted around a mile from where they were staying. According to Seamus McKenna (Magee’s second in command), the sudden appearance of Belfast men in the pub would have aroused suspicion. He also noted that two of the three were ex-servicemen saying they “…were anything but discreet and I have no doubt that their tongues wagged.” At 1 am that night McGoran arrived with another former Belfast IRA volunteer, Tom Fox, who was his Brigade engineer while some locals delivered further supplies to the flying column. They were accompanied by two local Cavan IRA leaders. Further reinforcements were also expected.

Two sentries had been posted for two hours watches through the night and at 4 am, one spotted some movement at the foot of the hill below the house. When another member of the flying column went about fifty yards from the house to get water he also some movement and waved, thinking it was the reinforcements. A number of shots fired at him made him realise it was a military party. The shots also awakened the rest of the flying column. Magee ordered the men to take up defensive positions and sent McCartney and McDermott out to reconnoitre the foot of the hill. According to the British record of the incident, soldiers and RIC constables searching for an IRA organiser stumbled upon the flying column outside a house on Lappanduff mountain.

As the British took cover around a farmhouse and the flying column took cover around the house they had been using and both sides exchanged rifle fire. McKenna observed McCartney and McDermott under heavy fire running across a field at the foot of the hill to return to their position. McCartney was shot dead and McDermott, realising he couldn’t help him, continued up towards the flying column’s position. Around their position, men began to move out and several escaped the net of soldiers, RIC and Black and Tans. McGoran, Seamus Heron and Patrick Dougan had taken up a position to the rear of Seamus McKenna. Just below him, Seamus Finn collapsed, having been wounded. Patrick Dougan volunteered to go down to assist Finn. Despite heavy gunfire he managed to crawl down to Finn who could be clearly heard moaning. With the flying column separated into groups and pinned down, eventually Seamus McKenna offered to surrender as they were unable to return fire. The gun battle had lasted around two hours. Nine of the Belfast men and two of the Cavan volunteers were captured but the others, including McGoran, Heron and Magee, had managed to escape. Patrick Dougan would probably have escaped had he stayed with Heron and McGoran rather than go to the aid of Seamus Finn.

After the surrender there was some ill-treatment as the prisoners were beaten by the RIC and Black and Tans, with Peter Callaghan received a head injury after being struck with a rifle butt. However, the British soldiers removed the prisoners who were brought to Victoria Barracks in Belfast where they were all sentence to death on 11th July 1921. As the truce came in to force the sentence wasn’t carried and Patrick Dougan was moved first to Mountjoy then released in 1922.

The Dougans had lived at Panton Street and Cupar Street but by the 1930s they had moved to Peel Street. This was the address used for Patrick when the Belfast Brigade records for 1916-1922 were compiled. His brothers Dan and James were also active in the IRA, his father John had been in the IRB and the family had a long history of involvement as republicans.

In April 1930, Patrick emigrated to the United States, taking ship to New York. His emigration papers give his occupation as ‘coal merchant’ (by this time he was living in Kane Street). As the Irish Echo article notes, he died of pneumonia on the 30th May 1937. His death wasn’t overlooked in Ireland as some of the newspapers did report it, such as the Leitrim Observer (15th May 1937).

This is merely scratching the surface of Patsy Dougan’s life. You can read more about him here in a great piece by Michael Jackson (based on research by Dougan’s nephew Tomás Ó Dubhagáin).

 

Belfast Battalion available as ebook from today…

You can now read the newly published book on the Belfast IRA (1922-1969).

Ahead of schedule, I know, but the ebook/Kindle edition of Belfast Battalion has already gone live on Amazon at the link below (where you can also get a preview).

Anyone who doesn’t use Kindle or ebooks can read a sample chapter below. The plan is to have the printed book available by 1st November (you can still add your email to get updates here). By the way – if you’re kind enough to get the ebook version – don’t forget to give it some stars or a review.

book teaser…

Coming very soon, Belfast Battalion: a history of the Belfast I.R.A. 1922-69. Likely see ebook launched in October, print copies will be available for delivery/distribution in November.

Watch this space…

You can add your email below for updates on when the book is available.

For Not One Of Which Were The Perpetrators Ever Made Amenable To The British Courts Here

A series of ongoing campaigns are trying to force the British government to fully resolve the issues raised by a significant number of killings under both the unionist Stormont regime and direct rule. Many people seem to infer that these issues should really be set aside as the circumstances of the killings were somehow peculiar to the recent conflict here. Previously, I’d noted the clear parallels in the R.U.C. investigation of the death of John Scullion in 1966 and their more recent failings. Here is another example, from an article that appeared in the Ulster Herald on 28th January 1939 (below). The text could, more or less, be reprinted today without need for much elaboration given the resonances of many of the issues raised and, arguably, is another illustration of the longevity of security policy here.

OUTRAGES IN NORTH

Whatever precautions have been taken in England to prevent further trouble of the nature experienced there last week, it will be conceded that the British authorities had ample cause for calling out their special police and asking volunteers to engage in patrol duty. A series of violent acts destructive of property and, in one sad instance, a life also, made it necessary, even imperative, that drastic measures should be taken for the public good. It has yet to be discovered who engineered the bomb explosions in England; to discover whether these were the work of Communists, foreign Continental agents, internal sabotage by discontented elements or, as is suggested, of Irish Separatist organisations in that country. Nothing has yet been proved, and the whole issue concerning the English explosions now remains sub judice.

During the week mentioned there was one bomb explosion in the Six Counties, that in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, when THE MONUMENT TO THE REPUBLICAN DEAD WAS FOULLY DESECRATED. Was it on the strength of that solitary firework, clearly directed against the Nationalist sentiment, that the ‘B’ Specials were mobilised, the R.U.C. strengthened and a campaign of inquisition and arrest pursued against the Nationalist people?

If there remains any necessity to carry the obvious further, we will point out that in the past fourteen months there have been fourteen explosions in Belfast City alone, FOR NOT ONE OF WHICH WERE THE PERPETRATORS EVER MADE AMENABLE TO THE BRITISH COURTS HERE. Those outrages included a sacrilegious attempt to destroy a new Catholic Church at Willowfield and two previous efforts to blow up the Milltown memorial.

Exclusive of what has happened in Belfast, bomb outrages were also directed against a G.A.A. hut and an A.O.H. hall in one sad instance, of life also, (more than once). No ‘Specials’ were brought out to protect a Catholic Church and other Catholic property, nor was there ever afterwards, a sequel in the Criminal Courts. So much then, for the Bates allegations that ‘ I.R.A. terrorism’ compelled the adoption of special measures.
On the subject of Orange suggestion that the Irish Republican Army have decided to inaugurate an active campaign in the North-East and that information is in the possession of the Government concerning this, it is, surely, sufficient to reply, as we have shown, that not one violent act has been committed in the North-East, nor has any information been laid before the public by Stormont of the plot alleged to have been frustrated. Unionist organs may not relish the reminder, but it is our pleasant duty to point out that the solitary explosion in this country—that at Tralee [see below] —has been officially disclaimed by Mr. Sean Russell Chief-of-Staff of the Republican Army.

THE FINANCIAL BURDEN.

Should the present disturbed atmosphere prevail throughout the Six Counties—an atmosphere created solely by Stormont’s measures to meet a politically inspired ‘menace — the taxpaying community will be called upon to shoulder a huge burden of financial commitment: Britain through its taxpayers, will have to increase the Imperial doles to keep ‘Ulster’ going, and the unfortunate citizen here will be robbed right and left on the specious argument of ‘necessity’.

Sensible men who are not being stampeded into angry passion by the alarmist and mischief provoking tactics of the Unionist Government in Belfast will view with sincere regret the action taken regarding the ‘B’ Specials, since the summoning of that body on ‘active service’ is far from being a guarantee of that peace and quietude which the great majority of the Northern people wish to see: they recognise, of course, that amity and harmony among all classes is unrealisable without a united and free Ireland. It would seem from events so far that there is a clear duty on the British Government to see that Stormont is prevented from making worse a situation already fraught with all the combustive elements of which a sectarian regime, clothed in force, is capable.

Note: Obviously the I.R.A. was behind the campaign in England in January 1939. The attack in Tralee, though, was a bomb that was exploded at the rear of a hotel in Tralee in which Frank Chamberlain was staying. He was the son of the British Prime Minister. The damage was minimal (see image below). The Kerry I.R.A. was disaffected and refused to take direction from Russell or his Adjutant-General Stephen Hayes (a reminder that the I.R.A., to use Bowyer-Bell’s analogy, is best understood as a web of locally-based organisations that are sometimes guided, at a strategic level, by a central authority).

The I.R.A.’s sabotage campaign, which was intended to be psychological more than anything else, peaked on the weekend of 4th/5th February 1939. In January 1939, Dawson Bates (the unionist Minister of Home Affairs) was forward and back to London advising that the R.U.C. had intelligence captured in Belfast that the I.R.A. were about to assassinate leading politicians and public figures including the royal family. The intelligence included that the I.R.A. was about to blow up Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Westminster and the Bank of England. This precipitated a panic in official circles as many people and buildings were rapidly put under armed guard. That weekend the sabotage campaign was complemented by cack-handed attempts by the unionists to generate some short-term political capital from the bombings. Together they generated the sort of hysteria that, if the I.R.A. had managed to harness it, would have seen events take a very different course. In March Sean Russell headed off to mobilise Irish-America not realising that he was too late and the moment had passed.

Chamberlain Tralee.png

The minor damage (stones on the ground) from a bomb planted at the Tralee hotel in which Frank Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister’s son, stayed in January 1939 (Irish Press, 21st January 1939).