A brief history of Cumann na mBan in Belfast from the 1920s to 1960s

This is a short history of Cumann na mBan in Belfast from the end of the civil war through to the 1960s. Obviously, anyone with information that enhances the story or adds further details is more than welcome to share it in the comments section.

Jack McNally (in his 1989 autobiography, Morally Good, But Politically Bad) names those prominent in Cumann na mBan towards the end of the civil war and into the mid-1920s and later. He includes Mary Donnelly, Sally Griffen, Kitty Hennessy, Kitty Kellet, Maggie Kelly (née Magennis), May Laverty, Margaret McGrath, Sally McGurk (née Ward), Miss McKeever, Mrs McLoughlin, Mrs Muldoon, Bridie O’Farrell, Cassie O’Hara, May O’Neill (née Dempsey), Mary Rafferty, Susan Rafferty and Mrs (Annie) Ward. Annie Ward had succeeded Norah Connolly as head of the Belfast Battalion of Cumann na mBan and led the organisation through into the 1920s.

Cumann na mBan in Belfast, as elsewhere, largely staffed the web that linked the various republican organisations together, collecting and moving intelligence and clandestine communications between IRA, Cumann na mBan and Fianna units and officers, assisting in moving weapons and establishing networks of dumps and safe houses. While Cumann na mBan also fundraised to support prisoner’s dependents and distributed republican newspapers, that was not the limit of its activities. The likes of May Laverty and Mary Donnelly are both known to have participated in IRA operations, such as helping move and plant explosive devices.

As one of the key republican organisations Cumann na mBan attended meetings and participated in restructuring alongside the Belfast IRA and Fianna Éireann in the late 1920s. Generally, as with Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan was organised in two units, one covering the Falls and surrounding districts and one covering north Belfast, the Markets and Ballymacarrett. In 1926 a batch of An Phoblacht intended for Cumann na mBan was intercepted in the post. It contained 110 copies which suggests that this was the membership around this time (by the late 1930s the RUC believed membership to be around 60). By the early 1930s, May Laverty and Mary Donnelly were still prominent Cumann na mBan leaders in Belfast. Another was Cassie O’Hara, who had been engaged to Joe McKelvey and her continued support, like that of the likes of Bridie O’Farrell, maintained the Belfast unit’s sense of continuity and legitimacy.


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A reunion of 1920s and 1930s, and later, Belfast Cumann na mBan volunteers (taken in 1971 and reproduced in Ray Quinn’s A Rebel Voice)

Cumann na mBan also prominently supported left wing initiatives (particularly stressed by the likes of May Laverty). In 1932, it held a flag day all over Ireland in October to raise funds to support those involved in the Outdoor Relief Riots in Belfast. The northern government response was predictable as, in the next month, two Belfast members, Mary Donnelly (Unity Street) and Sarah Grimley (North Queen Street), were given prison sentences for posting ‘seditious’ hand bills in Vulcan Street on the eve of a British royal visit in Belfast. Donnelly spent three months and Grimley two months in Armagh Jail (see Irish Press, December 17th 1932). Donnelly also allegedly had Cumann na mBan documents in her possession that stated that its aims were: “…(a) Complete separation of Ireland from all foreign Powers, (b) Unity of Ireland, (c) Gaelicisation of Ireland.” Speaking from the dock after refusing to recognise the court, Mary Donnelly said: “…We will carry on to the end until we get a Republic.

In 1933, under Eithne Ni Chumhail’s leadership, Cumann na mBan reviewed its relationship with the Second Dáil organisation (composed of those members elected to the second Dáil who maintained that it was the legitimate source of authority in Ireland). Up to then, Article 1 of the Cumann na mBan constitution required members to recognise the continued existence and authority of the Second Dáil. This limited it’s capacity to attract new members. Miss MacSwiney and two others resigned when the proposed change that only required members to “…never render allegiance to any Government but a Republican Government for all Ireland…” was passed at the convention in Dublin in June (the IRA had broken its link with the Second Dáil by 1926). At the same convention, the Cumann na mBan executive also announced the formation of Cumann na gCailíní, for girls aged 8 to 16. This facilitated an influx of new members later in the 1930s. The convention additionally agreed to embark on a campaign to propagate social reconstruction on the lines laid down by James Connolly and for an intensive campaign in the north (see Irish Press, June 14th, 1933). May Laverty was prominent in this campaign.

Following the mass arrests of Belfast republicans that October (1933), Cumann na mBan again raised funds to support the dependents of those who had been imprisoned. In June 1934, Belfast contingents from the IRA, Fianna, Cumann na mBan and Cumann na gCailíní had marched in uniform in Dublin prior the annual IRA ceilí in the Mansion House. Leading Cumann na mBan figures like Eithne Ni Chumail had supported Republican Congress but returned to Cumann na mBan when Congress began attacking the IRA.

In 1936, May Laverty again took a lead role in the public protests against de Valera’s government. In June, Cumann na mBan demanded entry to the meeting in St Mary’s Hall where the Anti-Partition League was founded (initially called the ‘Reunion of Ireland Organisation’). The meeting was chaired by ex-Belfast IRA O/C Hugh Corvin and while the likes of Padraig MacLogain attended, Cumann na mBan was refused entry and the IRA did not support the project. In 1937, as part of the Military Pensions Act, an ‘Old Cumann na mBan’ Association was formed in Belfast from members who had been active up to 1922. As with similar associations, it was boycotted by many who refused to endorse the Free State government.

Prominent members of Cumann na mBan in Belfast in the mid to late 1930s included Una Burke, Bridie Dolan, Crissie Dolan, Bridget Hannon, Dorrie Hill, May Laverty, Violet McGowan and Maggie Nolan. A Cumann na mBan and a Cumann na gCailíni contingent had participated in the funeral procession for veteran Fenian and IRB organiser Robert Johnston (also the father of poet and author Eithne Carberry), in March 1937, in Greencastle.

Dorrie Hill and Madge Nolan were present, representing Cumann na mBan, in Pearse Hall in King Street in October 1937 when a Belfast Brigade Council meeting was interrupted by the RUC and all those present had their names taken (despite the Belfast IRA staff being present the RUC thought it was a meeting of Joe McKelvey GAA club).  The likes of Josephine Brady and Mary McAreavey both received significant sentences for possession of weapons or documents in the late 1930s, while Bridie Dolan was badly injured in a premature explosion. Bridie O’Hara and Mary Hewitt were both expelled from Britain during the Sabotage Campaign of 1939. Cumann na mBan was prominent in the very public demonstrations of republican strength in Belfast in the late 1930s, such as the burning of gas masks in May 1939.

In September 1939, there were forty-eight members of the Belfast contingent at the Cumann na mBan conference in Dublin (Eithne Ni Chumail was still the leader at this time). The RUC believed that Cumann na mBan in Belfast was divided into two companies. Peggy Rafferty led the Belfast Cumann na mBan contingent at the infamous 1939 Bodenstown commemoration. At the time, Annie Hamill was in charge of Cumann na gCailíní in Belfast. Many of those involved in Cumann na mBan  were relatives of prominent IRA members, such as Bridget Corr (sister of Arthur), Mary McLaughlin (sister of Chris) and Ellen McCurry (sister of Willie John).

In October 1940, Isobel Murphy, Mary and Bridget O’Hare and Elizabeth O’Toole got two years each for distributing Cumann na mBan leaflets outside a cinema on the Crumlin Road. Cassie O’Hara was one of the first Cumann na mBan member to interned in the 1940s and was soon followed by others. Mary Donnelly, though, was killed when a German bomb destroyed her family home in Unity Street on 16th April 1941. The same night, Bridget Corr’s mother and brother were killed by another bomb at their family home in Vere Street.

Prison conditions in Armagh were very bit as bad as those that the men had to endure. Those imprisoned in Armagh included Madge Burns, Nora McDowell (the only one who had children), her daughter Una, Teresa Donnelly, Bernadette Masterson, Mary McDonald, Nora McKearney, Cassie O’Hara (O/C of the Armagh prisoners) and Nancy Ward. In the autumn of 1943, the Cumann na mBan members in Armagh Jail decided to embarked on a hunger strike. You can read more about the hunger strike here, but briefly, the women joined en masse on 21st November, although by the time Therese Donnelly was given the last rites after twenty-two days it was apparent that the protest was being robbed of publicity and it was decided to call it off (it was a lesson ignored by the men who went on hunger strike the next March). The same pressures and family hardships bore down on the women as the men and inevitably some had to sign out.

The last Belfast Cumann na mBan prisoners were among the eight released in July 1945 (including Cassie O’Hara), but like the IRA itself, the organisation was slow to rebuild in Belfast. Joe Cahill records that, by 1956, Bridie O’Neill was O/C of Cumann na mBan in Belfast (and apparently had been for some time). As in previous eras, Cumann na mBan looked after much of the transportation of weapons to and from dumps. In the lead up to the campaign, O’Neill had organised her units to collect and move weapons from Belfast to the border where they would be used during the campaign. Arrests during the Border Campaign also showed that Cumann na mBan continued to collect funds (officially these were for the ‘Freedom Fighters Fund’ – see Fermanagh Herald, October 18th 1958). O’Neill was the only women interned during the 1956-62 campaign (she interned for seven months). Again, as in 1945, Cumann na mBan was largely intact due to the low number of imprisonments but was slow to re-engage its membership.

By the time the early 1970s, the IRA was directly admitting women as members presenting a different challenge to the rationale for Cumann na mBan to continue to exist (it largely supported Cathal Goulding in 1970 and later).


List of commandants of Belfast IRA, 1924-1969 (updated)

The following is an updated version of the previously posted list of officers commanding the IRA’s Belfast battalion (the name normally given to its structures in the city for most of this time) from 1924 to 1969. The list is based on a variety of sources. Despite the revisions and corrections there are still gaps and may well also contain omissions since those listed are those named in accounts of different events over 1924-1969. Some of the published also contain (eg Anderson, in Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA names Jimmy Steele as O/C in 1969 when it was Billy McMillen), in others an inference is taken, such as in 1934 when Jack McNally had to form a staff (it is implied he was O/C but not stated). I have also noted where the commandant was arrested or imprisoned since IRA volunteers automatically lost rank on imprisonment. In each instance, presumably, someone was O/C of Belfast in an acting capacity.

As ever any corrections or suggestions can be added in the comments section.

1924-26 Hugh Corvin

Former Quartermaster of the IRA’s 3rd Northern Division. As a Belfast Brigade IRA delegate Corvin had supported the Executive against GHQ over the Treaty in 1922. Subsequently interned, he stood for election in North Belfast for Sinn Féin in 1924. Corvin acted as O/C of the Belfast Brigade during the re-organisation that followed after Joe McKelvey’s re-burial in Milltown on 30th October 1924. He continued as O/C until April 1926 when he resigned citing business reasons (he had set up an accountancy firm). He had been arrested in November 1925 and held until the end of January 1926 along with twenty others following the shooting of an informer.

He was to remain a prominent public figure, through involvement in the GAA and as secretary of the Gaelic League in Belfast. He publicly participated in fund-raising for Fianna Fáil in Belfast in the early 1930s and when he stood as an ‘independent republican’ in West Belfast in February 1943 he was largely portrayed by the IRA as a proxy for Fianna Fáil. His later political activity and the coincidence of the Fianna Fáil split suggest it may have been a motive in his resignation.


Hugh Corvin

1926-7 Dan Turley

In Belfast IRB Circle with 1916 leader Sean McDermot as early as 1907, Turley mobilised at Easter in 1916, was director of elections for Sinn Féin in Belfast at the 1918 elections and was Head of Intelligence in 3rd Northern Division. He was interned on the prison ship Argenta. He took over from Corvin but, apparently clashing with personalities at GHQ, he was portrayed as being difficult to get on with and unpopular. He remained active as Belfast Adjutant and in other staff posts, although he was a recurring target in clashes between the Belfast IRA and GHQ. The RUC used this tension to conspire against him and he was courtmartialled and expelled from the IRA in 1933, then later shot dead in 1936 (his innocence was effectively admitted by the IRA in 1944-45 when it pursued those involved in allegations made against him in 1933).


Dan Turley

1927-33 Davy Matthews

From Albert Street. A former O/C of C Company, 1st Battalion in the 1920-23 campaigns, including the Raglan Street ambush, and a former internee on the Argenta. Took over from Dan Turley who remained as part of his staff. Instigated re-organisation of the Belfast IRA in 1929, including training camps, Irish language classes and recruitment to Na Fianna. Described by Bob Bradshaw as having a ‘heart of gold and head of ivory’. Also active in Sinn Féin at a time when there were internal divisions within the IRA over whether to co-operate with Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil or a left-wing political project (or if they were to co-operate with anyone at all). In November 1933, Matthews was arrested in possession of IRA documents and received a short sentence. So many other senior Belfast staff were arrested, including Jimmy Steele, Charlie Leddy, George Nash, Tom O’Malley and Jack Gaffney that a temporary staff was formed, including Jack McNally, Jim Johnstone and Sean Carmichael.

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Davy Matthews

1933-34 Jack McNally

From the Bone. Another 1920-23 campaign veteran. Appears to have taken over as O/C while Davy Matthews served a short sentence in 1933-34 (this is implied but not explicitly stated in his memoir Morally Good, Politically Bad). While he was in prison Matthews decided to sign an undertaking that he would cease his IRA membership if he was released just before Christmas. So too did another veteran, George Nash. Whether Matthews intended to honour the commitment or not, he was courtmartialled in January 1934 and dismissed from the IRA. McNally only stayed as O/C for a number of months but remained active on the IRA’s GHQ staff until his arrest at Crown Entry in 1936. He was interned in December 1938 and was to later be active in the Anti-Partition League.

Jack McNally

Jack McNally

1934-36 Tony Lavery

From Balkan Street, a Fianna veteran of the 1920s, took over role as O/C Belfast (at the time designated Ulster Area No 1). Despite an order from Army Council not to, he instructed those charged by the northern government over the Campbell College raid to be defended in court. After they were acquitted, the Army Council charged Lavery with disobeying a direct order and was to be courtmartialled in Crown Entry on 25th April 1936 (although it was expected, unlike Matthews, he would merely get a slap on the wrists). Crown Entry was raided just as the courtmartial was to take place and all those present were arrested including the IRA’s Adjutant-General, Jim Killeen, GHQ staff and senior members of the northern and Belfast leadership of the IRA including Lavery’s Adjutant, Jimmy Steele, and other staff members like Liam Mulholland and Mick Traynor.

1936-38 Sean McArdle

Took on role of O/C Belfast after the loss of Lavery and other Belfast staff members at Crown Entry. By early 1937, McArdle had also been arrested and sentenced to a brief term in Crumlin Road. It is not clear from existing sources as to who took on the role of O/C Belfast while McArdle was in prison. On his release he remained as O/C Belfast until he was interned in December 1938.

1938-39 Charlie McGlade

Arrested in Crown Entry, Charlie McGlade was not long out of Crumlin Road when he was sent as an organiser to England as part of the S-Plan campaign. He took over as O/C Belfast from Sean McArdle following McArdle’s internment in December 1938. Apparently influenced by Jim Killeen, McGlade was responsible for developing the Northern Command concept that was put in place in late 1939, with McGlade as Adjutant and Sean McCaughey as O/C. He edited the Belfast edition of War News and remained as O/C Belfast until 1940 (Jimmy Steele was also to be simultaneously Adjutant Northern Command and O/C Belfast).

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Charlie McGlade

1940 Jimmy Steele

A Fianna and IRA veteran of 1920-23, Steele had been imprisoned since the Crown Entry raid, only being released in May 1940. For some time there had been unease at reports that were coming in to the IRA prisoners in Crumlin Road about disciplinary procedures being applied by the Belfast IRA staff. On his release, Steele was appointed to the IRA’s Northern Command staff. He had a dossier on the activities of the Belfast staff and following an investigation they were courtmartialled and reduced to the ranks. No-one names the staff involved (and Tim Pat Coogan, who recorded the episode, does not remember if he was ever told). It may be that McGlade was O/C but was busy elsewhere and this was his staff who were reduced to the ranks. Either way, Steele took over the role as O/C Belfast until his arrest in December 1940.

Jimmy Steele

1941 Liam Rice

Bowyer Bell (in The Secret Army) implies Liam Rice was O/C Belfast in May 1941, when he then left for Dublin to assist in the investigation into Stephen Hayes. Rice had been arrested in Crown Entry and also spent time in prison in the south. He was wounded and arrested in Dublin and spent time on the blanket in Portlaoise during the 1940s. It seems likely that Rice took over from Steele as O/C in December 1940.

Liam Rice

Liam Rice

1941 Pearse Kelly

When Rice left for Dublin, Bowyer Bell states that Pearse Kelly took over as O/C Belfast in May. Kelly too left for Dublin in July to take part in the investigations into Chief of Staff Stephen Hayes. Kelly was eventually to become Chief of Staff himself and ended up in the Curragh. Afterwards he went on to a senior role in RTE as Head of News.

Pearse Kelly

Pearse Kelly

1941-42 Hugh Matthews

During 1941 Hugh Matthews, brother of Davy Matthews and another 1920-24 veteran, took over as O/C in Belfast, and was O/C during the Army Conference in Belfast in February 1942 (according to Bowyer Bell in The Secret Army). Ray Quinn (in A Rebel Voice) says he took over from Jimmy Steele but dates it to a later Army Convention in Belfast in February 1943. It is not particularly clear from surviving accounts, but Matthews appears to have been O/C as further disputes arose about disciplinary practices of his Belfast staff members (but not direct criticism of Matthews himself).

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Hugh Matthews

1942 John Graham

There was a confrontation between the IRA’s Northern Command staff and the Belfast staff in November 1941, again over the disciplinary practices of the Belfast staff. Graham was O/C of an independent unit, mostly made up of Protestant IRA men. This unit was mobilised by the Northern Command staff during the confrontation and ultimately the Belfast staff stepped back in line. Graham took on the role of Director of Intelligence for the Northern Command and (according to Joe Cahill), was also O/C Belfast. This was presumably after Hugh Matthews although the timing is unclear. He was arrested along with David Fleming in the Belfast HQ on Crumlin Road on 3rd October 1942, where printing presses and radio broadcasting equipment were also recovered. Graham, a divinity student in the 1930s, on his release he was to become a noted professional golfer. He died in 1997.

John Graham playing golf in the 1930s.

1942-43 Rory Maguire

Maguire was O/C Belfast in the autumn of 1942, apparently following Graham’s capture in October.

1943 Jimmy Steele

Escaping from Crumlin Road prison on 15th January 1943, Steele re-joined the Northern Command staff as Adjutant and took over the role of O/C Belfast from Rory Maguire (Maguire’s brother, Ned, had escaped with Steele). He remained O/C Belfast when he took over as IRA Adjutant General after Liam Burke’s arrest.

1943-44 Seamus Burns

Following Jimmy Steele’s arrest in May, Seamus ‘Rocky’ Burns took over as O/C Belfast. Burns had been imprisoned as a 17 year old in 1938, interned in 1939. He took part in the mutiny in Derry jail and was moved to Crumlin Road prison, only to be returned to Derry from where he escaped with 20 others through a tunnel in March 1943. Recaptured in Donegal, he was interned in the Curragh. Harry White had Burns resign from the IRA, sign out of the Curragh, then rejoin the IRA and return north (when he took over as O/C Belfast). He was shot trying to escape from RUC officers in Chapel Lane in February 1944 and died the next day.

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Seamus ‘Rocky’ Burns

I’ve since revised the next sections (see here)

1944-45 Harry White

Harry White was O/C of the Northern Command at the time of Burns’ death. He was also on the run continuously. He seems to have taken on the role of O/C Belfast for much of the time and also delegated it to others like Harry O’Rawe, Albert Price and Patsy Hicks on an intermittent basis. By the end of 1944, White was Chief of Staff of the IRA but living under an assumed name in Altaghoney on the Tyrone/Derry border. He had first gone to Altaghoney in March 1944. He returned to Belfast briefly, then went back to Altaghoney from around April to August 1944 when he again returned to Belfast (his memoir Harry seems to imply that he had O’Rawe act as Belfast O/C in his absence). From the spring of 1945 White moved for good to Altaghoney. His cover was eventually blown in October 1946 and he was driven to the border and handed over to the Free State government who (it was assumed) would quickly try him in a military court and execute him. White’s luck held and he avoided execution, only to be sent to Portaoise for a number of years. On his release, he was active in the Wolfe Tone Socieites in the early 1960s.

Harry White

Harry White

1945-4? There are gaps here for the years around 1945-47 that have yet to be filled in. A profile of Seamus Twomey (in The Irish Press on 15th July 1972) states that he was O/C Belfast in 1945 after his release from internment. Johnny Murphy, John Bradley and Barney Boswell are also believed to have served on the Battalion staff at this time, from 1945 to 1947 and Murphy may have also been O/C Belfast for a time. Based on Harry White’s movements, it seems likely that White took on role as Belfast O/C in February 1944 following Burns’ death. O’Rawe acted as O/C from in White’s absence and may have taken over the role from then until his arrest on March 6th 1945 (this appears to have prompted White’s final move to Altaghoney). It is possible that Johnny Murphy, having been told to sign out from internment in late 1944, then took over as O/C, followed later that year by Seamus Twomey. It may be more likely that Twomey took over in October 1946, while Murphy replaced White as O/C Northern Command.

Johnny Murphy

194?-49 Seamus McCallum

Richard English names McCallum as O/C when Des O’Hagan joined the IRA in 1949 (it is unclear if this is meant to be Seamus ‘McCallum’ or the Seamus ‘McCollum’ who was arrested in England in the 1950s). As Frank McKearney was O/C when Joe Cahill was released in November 1949, I’m listing them in that order. As noted above, it is unclear who (if anyone) was in charge of what was left of the Belfast IRA between early 1945 and 1949.

1949-50 Frank McKearney

By the late 1940s, Frank McKearney had taken over as O/C Belfast. He had received a six year term for possession of a revolver in 1939. He appears to have taken over as O/C during 1949, at least until the release of Jimmy Steele in 1950.

1950-56 Jimmy Steele

On release from Crumlin Road in 1950, Jimmy Steele again returned to active service with the IRA and once more took over as O/C Belfast while remaining prominent in other organisations such as the National Graves Association and also Sinn Féin. Stayed as O/C until 1956, when he stepped down (Steele was to remain an active republican until his death in 1970).

1956 Paddy Doyle

Took over as O/C in Belfast in preparation for the coming campaign in December, dubbed Operation Harvest. Doyle was highly thought of at GHQ but, due to suspicions about an informer, did not disclose planned operations in Belfast to his own Belfast staff. Doyle spent his time in Crumlin Road completing his education, later qualifying as an accountant, and didn’t get involved in republican activities again on his release.

1956-57 Joe Cahill

Cahill, who had a death sentence commuted in 1942, had been released in 1949 from Crumlin Road. He took over from Paddy Doyle on his arrest in December 1956 until Cahill himself was interned in July 1957. Cahill was to remain an active republican for the rest of his life.

Joe Cahill

1957-60 There is a gap in available information from mid-1957 until about 1960.

1961-63 Billy McKee

On his release from internment in 1961, Billy McKee took on the role of O/C Belfast re-building the battalion effectively from scratch. He had been imprisoned in the 1930s and 1940s and was to remain active in republican circles ever afterwards. During the Wolfe Tone commemorations of 1963 he got involved in a dispute with Billy McMillen, eventually resigned first as O/C Belfast and then from the IRA.

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Billy McKee

1963-69 Billy McMillen

Following the argument over the Wolfe Tone commemorations in June 1963, McMillen took over as O/C Belfast. Having earlier been associated with unofficial bombings in 1950, McMillen had left the IRA in the mid-1950s following an argument and linked up with Saor Uladh. After his release from internment in 1961, he first went to England then returned to Belfast and rejoined the IRA. He remained O/C through the 1960s and was interned just before the pogrom in mid-August 1969. He was imprisoned for a number of brief periods, such as 1966, when he was presumably replaced by an acting O/C by the likes of Jim Sullivan, who was his Adjutant. As part of the fallout over the failure of the Belfast IRA to adequately prepare to defend areas during the pogrom, McMillen was forced to restructure his staff and withdraw its supports for the Goulding leadership on 22nd September 1969. Later killed during an internal feud.

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Billy McMillen

Thanks to all those who have supplied further information, photographs etc.

The Belfast IRA and politics, up to 1969

The recent release of the film 66 Days about the hunger strike of IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands in 1981 has attracted considerable publicity. One of the notable things about the commentary around the film is the received wisdom that the 1981 hunger strike set the IRA on the road to politicisation (or words to that effect). Yet repeatedly, in the period from 1922 to the 1960s, the IRA had participated in a variety of political projects. The 1980-81 hunger strike and the blanket protest that began with Kieran Nugent in 1976 started barely twelve years after Billy McMillen, then Belfast Battalion O/C, stood in West Belfast in the 1964 general election (the ‘Tricolour Riots’).

Republican election headquarters, Belfast, 1964

Political projects supported by the IRA didn’t usually extend to officially supporting candidates in elections to either local authorities or the northern parliament. Yet, paradoxically, the IRA usually stood candidates in elections to the Westminster parliament (which it explicitly wasn’t going to attend). After 1981, the IRA extended the range of elections in which it participated and ultimately loosened its abstentionist policy, however, the impetus was no different to previous initiatives where the concern within the IRA was that political gains would be made by others attempting to cash in on momentum achieved by what it saw as the sacrifices made by IRA volunteers.

In 1933, in the aftermath of the Outdoor Relief and rail strikes of 1932-33, the IRA had supported four candidates in the general election to the northern parliament. Again, in the aftermath of the violence of 1935, the IRA stood (among others) a Belfast Battalion staff officer, Charlie Leddy, in the Westminster election that November (while Leddy was imprisoned in Arbour Hill in Dublin). Leddy polled more than 20,000 votes in West Belfast but still lost to his unionist opponent. Leddy’s Director of Elections was the Belfast Battalion Adjutant, Jimmy Steele, while in 1933 it had been the Belfast O/C Davy Matthews. Prior to 1933, while officially supporting IRA initiatives like Saor Éire and Comhairle na Poblachta, the IRA didn’t stand a candidate in Belfast after the 1924 election (when Hugh Corvin and Paddy Nash stood in Belfast).

The departure of serial political intriguers like Sean McBride from the Army Councill and GHQ in the late 1930s, coincided with both the expansion of the Belfast IRA and a disengagement from electoral politics. During this same period, in 1936 and the mid-1940s, the Belfast IRA absorbed key lessons in the interaction of publicity and prison protests such as hunger strike. These lessons were to be applied with increasing effectiveness from 1972 onwards, with 1940s prisoners like Billy McKee and Joe Cahill now in senior command positions within the IRA. Again, by the late 1940s, perceiving advances being made by various left and ‘republican’ candidates, the IRA co-operated with Sinn Féin in contesting (and outside Belfast), winning electoral contests. During this period, the Anti-Partition League (to some extent a McBride vehicle), the Nationalists (loosely aligned with Fianna Fáil) and a variety of left republicans created a series of dynamics that gave added imperative for the IRA to support candidates in elections. Senior IRA figures, like Jimmy Steele, Frank McGlade and Billy McMillen, continued to be put forward as candidates in Belfast.

Although candidates were stood in Westminster elections up to 1964, no real inroads were made in Belfast. Again, little has been made of the limited military capacity developed by the Belfast Battalion in this period particularly given it’s apparent indifference to the 1956-62 ‘Border’ campaign. Arguably, the Belfast IRA, through a focus on publicity and some limited electoral activity, was beginning to explore political alternatives in the 1950s and 1960s. Mostly, conventional histories view IRA strategy through the prism of its Dublin-based leadership. A recurring friction, though, is almost always evident in the relationship between the Belfast IRA and Dublin throughout this period. The failure of this dynamic was probably more important in 1969 than any dispute over politicisation, militarisation or a leftward trend in IRA strategy and policy. No candidate was put forward in 1966 or 1970, while Albert Price and John Brady (Republican Clubs) stood in 1974. While the Republican Clubs continued to run candidates, the IRA did not support candidates again in Belfast until the 1982 Assembly election.

By the late 1970s many influential voices within the IRA and wider republican community would have been keenly aware of lessons learnt about politicisation, publicity and prison protests in the previous decades. Subsequently the role this learning played in the development of strategy in 1981 seems to have been forgotten or overlooked.

From Belfast Town, 1916-2016

From Belfast Town

by Jimmy Steele (as published in 1916-66: Belfast and ninteensixteen,followed by a list of republican dead, 1916-2016)


A Cause was born upon Cave-Hill.

For it men vowed their blood to spill,

And Belfast Town answered the Call,

“Break the Connection with the Gall.”

On Antrim Town they marched with pride

To fight and die by McCracken’s side;

Or on the scaffold met their fate,

Our martyred Dead of Ninety-eight.


The flame they kindled blazed anew,

In hearts, where Fenianism grew.

On them Co-ercions laws were plied,

In Belfast jail, Harbinson died.

When up to ‘Sixteen’s Glorious Week,

Our foes had deemed us slaves and meek.

The first to win a martyr’s crown,

Was Monaghan from Belfast Town.


McCartney fell in war’s grim fray,

McAstocker died from Sniper’s play:

The Midnight murd’rers took their toll,

And new names graced our Honour’s roll.

Trodden, O’Carroll, Gaynor brave,

With the Duffins found a Martyr’s grave

In Mountjoy Jail McKelvey died,

To join our Country’s glorified.


For County and for comrades sake,

‘Fore death Sean Martin did not quake:

And on Al Rawdah’s Prison ship,

Sean Gaffney felt death’s icy grip.

Within an English Prison Cell,

Malone and Perry heard Death’s Bell:

O’Callaghan, courage, true,

His young life gave for Roisin Dubh.


Tom Williams walked with steps so proud.

To don the Patriot’s martyred shroud:

And Seamus Burns with gun in hand,

A Soldier’s death, died for Ireland.

Along the torturous hunger trail,

Brave Sean McCaughey did not quail:

His Body starved, wasted away,

And o’er his head a Halo lay.


In accident some met death’s fate,

Young DoyleO’Boyle passed through that gate:

They too had joined that faithful band,

Who vowed to free their native Land.

The Prison scars and hardships load,

Soon told on some who trod that road,

Nash, DohertyO’Malley brave,

‘Mongst others found an early grave.


That seed which on Cave-Hill was sown,

O’er Belfast Town its fruit has grown:

And they who served, suffered and died,

Their blood our Cause has sanctified.

Be proud of them – Our martyred Dead …

And in their footsteps let us tread:

They died for us, that we might see



List of the dead, 1916-2016

Charlie Monaghan, April 21st 1916
Bernard MacMackin, May 29th 1917
James Johnston 1917
Joseph Giles, July 20th 1920
John Murray, August 28th 1920
Edward Trodden, September 26th 1920
John McFadden, September 26th 1920
Sean Gaynor, September 26th 1920
Sean O’Carroll, November 30th 1920
Dan Duffin, April 23rd 1921
Pat Duffin, April 23rd 1921
Sean McCartney, May 8th 1921
Alexander McBride, June 11th 1921
Alexander Hamilton, July 11th 1921
James Ledlie, July 12th 1921
Freddie Fox, August 15th 1921
Murt McAstocker, September 25th 1921
Bernard Shanley, December 16th 1921
David Morrison, December 27th 1921
Patrick Flynn, December 28th 1921
Joseph Burns, January 20th 1922
Frank McCoy, February 14th 1922
James Morrison, February 14th 1922
Thomas Gray, February 16th 1922
Thomas Heathwood, March 6th 1922
Andrew Leonard, March 13th 1922
Augustine Orange, March 18th 1922
Edward McKinney, March 24th 1922
James McGee, March 26th 1922
John Walker, April 20th 1922
J.P. Smyth, May 11th 1922
William Toal, May 25th 1922
William Thornton, June 18th 1922
Joseph Hurson, June 23rd 1922
Leo Rea, June 23rd 1922
Edward McEvoy, August 9th 1922
Joe McKelvey, December 8th 1922
Pat Nash, January 31st 1925
Francis Doherty, January 13th 1936
Dan Turley, December 4th 1936
Liam Tumilson, March 14th 1937
Jim Stranney, July 31st 1938
Sean Martin, April 25th 1940
Jack Gaffney, November 18th 1940
Joseph Rooney, May 5th 1941
Joe Malone, January 21st 1942
Terence Perry, July 7th 1942
Gerard O’Callaghan, August 31st 1942
Tom Williams, September 2nd 1942
Richard Magowan 1943
Tom Graham 1944
Seamus Burns, February 12th 1944
Sean Doyle, April 10th 1944
Dickie Dunn, February 27th 1945
Sean McCaughey, May 11th 1946
Brendan O’Boyle, July 2nd 1955
Tommy O’Malley, December 10th 1959
Patrick McLogan, July 21st 1964
Gerald McAuley August 15th, 1969
Liam McParland November 6th, 1969
Jimmy Steele August 9th, 1970
Michael Kane September 4th, 1970
Peter Blake October 27th, 1970
Tom McGoldrick October 27th, 1970
James Saunders February 6th, 1971
Charles Hughes March 8th, 1971
Tony Henderson April 4th, 1971
Billy Reid May 15th, 1971
Patrick McAdorey August 9th, 1971
Séamus Simpson August 11th, 1971
Rose Curry September 23rd 1971
Gerard O’Hare September 23rd 1971
Terence McDermott October 2nd, 1971
Dorothy Maguire October 23rd, 1971
Maura Meehan October 23rd, 1971
Martin Forsythe October 24th, 1971
Tony Nolan December 8th, 1971
Gerald McDade December 21st, 1971
Danny O’Neill January 7th, 1972
Michael Sloan January 11th, 1972
Eamon McCormick January 16th, 1972
Gerry Donaghy January 30th, 1972
Joseph Cunningham February 10th, 1972
David McAuley February 19th, 1972
Gerard Bell February 21st, 1972
Gerard Steele February 21st, 1972
Robert Dorrian February 21st, 1972
Joseph Magee February 21st, 1972
Albert Kavanagh March 4th, 1972
Gerard Crossan March 9th, 1972
Tony Lewis March 9th, 1972
Seán Johnston March 9th, 1972
Tom McCann March 9th, 1972
Seán O’Riordan March 23rd, 1972
Patrick Campbell March 25th, 1972
Samuel Hughes April 7th, 1972
Charles McCrystal April 7th, 1972
John McErlean April 7th, 1972
Joe McCann April 15th 1972
Michael Magee May 13th, 1972
Edward McDonnell May 28th, 1972
Jackie McIlhone May 28th, 1972
Joseph Fitzsimmons May 28th, 1972
Martin Engelen May 28th, 1972
Joseph Campbell June 11th, 1972
Tony Jordan June 28th, 1972
John Finucane June 28th, 1972
David McCafferty July 9th 1972
Gerard Gibson July 11th 1972
Edward Brady July 14th 1972
Louis Scullion July 14th, 1972
James Reid July 15th, 1972
John Dougal July 9th, 1972
Tobias Molloy July 16th, 1972
Joseph Downey July 21st, 1972
Séamus Cassidy July 28th, 1972
Robert McCrudden August 3rd, 1972
Michael Clarke August 11th, 1972
Anne Parker August 11th, 1972
Joseph McComiskey September 20th, 1972
Jimmy Quigley September 29th, 1972
Patricia McKay September 30th 1972
Daniel McAreavey October 6th, 1972
Patrick Maguire October 10th, 1972
John Donaghy October 10th, 1972
Joseph McKinney October 10th, 1972
Stan Carberry November 13th, 1972
Bernard Fox December 4th, 1972
Seán Hughes December 4th, 1972
Francis Liggett January 18th, 1973
James Sloan February 3rd, 1973
Tony Campbell February 4th, 1973
James McCann February 4th, 1973
Patrick McCabe March 27th, 1973
Edward O’Rawe April 12th, 1973
Robert Millen April 14th, 1973
Brian Smyth April 17th, 1973
Joseph McKenna May 16th, 1973
Seán McKee May 18th, 1973
Patrick Bracken July 6th, 1973
Francis Hall August 30th, 1973
Patrick Mulvenna August 31st, 1973
Anne Marie Petticrew September 1st, 1973
James Bryson September 22nd, 1973
Michael Marley November 24th, 1973
Daniel Burke April 9th, 1974
Frederick Leonard May 7th, 1974
Martin Skillen August 3rd, 1974
Patrick McGreevy September 18th, 1974
Gerard Fennell November 8th, 1974
John Rooney November 15th, 1974
John Kelly January 21st, 1975
John Stone January 21st, 1975
Bridie Dolan February 9th, 1975
Hugh Ferguson February 20th, 1975
Sean Fox February 25th, 1975
Robert Allsopp March 23rd, 1975
Danny Loughran April 6th, 1975
Paul Crawford April 12th, 1975
Liam McMillen April 28th, 1975
Brendan McNamee June 6th, 1975
James Templeton August 29th, 1975
Robert Elliman October 29th, 1975
Thomas Berry October 31st, 1975
Séamus McCusker October 31st, 1975
Kevin McAuley November 6th, 1975
John Kelly November 9th, 1975
John Brown November 11th, 1975
Paul Fox December 1st, 1975
Laura Crawford December 1st, 1975
Ronnie Trainor December 15th, 1975
Rosemary Bleakley January 13th, 1976
James O’Neill February 12th, 1976
Seán Bailey February 13th, 1976
James McGrillen February 15th, 1976
Paul Best February 18th, 1976
Seán McDermott April 5th, 1976
Thomas Kane July 6th, 1976
Gerard Gilmore July 13th, 1976
Danny Lennon August 10th, 1976
Martin McDonagh January 13th, 1976
Colm Mulgrew June 5th, 1976
Frank Fitzsimmons October 16th, 1976
Joseph Surgenor October 16th, 1976
Paul Marlowe October 16th, 1976
Maire Drumm October 28th, 1976
Trevor McKibbin April 17th, 1977
Brendan O’Callaghan April 23rd, 1977
Trevor McNulty July 27th, 1977
Tommy Tolan July 27th, 1977
Paul McWilliams August 9th, 1977
Jackie McMahon January 18th, 1978
Jackie Mailey June 21st, 1978
Denis Brown June 21st, 1978
Jim Mulvenna June 21st, 1978
Laurence Montgomery January 5th, 1979
Frankie Donnelly January 5th, 1979
Billy Carson April 25th, 1979
Joseph McKee June 9th, 1979
Martin McKenna October 23rd, 1979
Kevin Delaney January 17th, 1980
Miriam Daly June 26th, 1980
Terence O’Neill July 1st, 1980
Ronnie Bunting October 15th, 1980
Noel Lyttle October 15th, 1980
Liam Hannaway February 2nd, 1981
James Burns February 23rd, 1981
Bobby Sands May 5th, 1981
Jim Power May 7th, 1981
Emmett McClarnon May 12th, 1981
Joe McDonnell July 8th, 1981
John Dempsey July 8th, 1981
Kieran Doherty August 2nd, 1981
Eamon Kerr March 11th, 1983
Dan Turley June 9th, 1983
David Nocher Octber 29th, 1983
Joe Craven December 5th, 1983
Paul McCann June 15th, 1984
Tony Campbell August 4th, 1985
Tom McGill February 28th, 1986
Jim McKernan September 14th, 1986
Brian Dempsey June 25th, 1986
John O’Reilly January 20th, 1987
Thomas ‘Ta’ Power January 20th, 1987
Mickey Kearney February 18th, 1987
Thomas Maguire March 7th 1987
Gerard Steenson March 15th, 1987
Kevin Barry Duffy March 21st, 1987
Emmanuel Gargan March 21st, 1987
Laurence Marley April 2nd, 1987
Finbarr McKenna May 2nd, 1987
Margaret McArdle June 7th, 1987
Colm Maguire October 10th 1987
James McPhilemy August 10th 1988
Mairéad Farrell March 6th, 1988
Dan McCann March 6th, 1988
Seán Savage March 6th, 1988
Kevin McCracken March 14th, 1988
Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh March 16th, 1988
Brendan Davison July 25th, 1988
Séamus Twomey September 12th, 1989
Seán Bateson June 7th, 1990
Alex Patterson November 12th 1990
Martin ‘Rook’ O’Prey August 16th 1991
Patricia Black November 15th, 1991
Frankie Ryan November 15th, 1991
Proinsias Mac Airt January 8th, 1992
Pat McBride February 4th, 1992
Paddy Loughran February 4th, 1992
Jimmy Brown August 18th, 1992
Conor Maguire April 29th, 1992
Hugh McKibben August 27th, 1992
Pearse Jordan November 25th, 1992
Alan Lundy May 1st, 1993
Thomas Begley October 23rd, 1993
John O’Rawe April 4th, 1994
Gino Gallagher January 30th 1996
John Fennell March 5th, 1996
Dessie McCleery May 25th, 1996
Francis Shannon June 9th, 1996
Jimmy Roe August 12th, 1996
Hugh Torney September 3rd, 1996
Pat McGeown October 1st, 1996
Harry Burns February 3rd, 1999
Patrick Campbell October 10th, 1999
Joseph O’Connor October 13th, 2000
Gregory Fox November 13th, 2012
Tommy Crossan April 18th, 2014
Gerard Davison May 5th, 2015
Kevin McGuigan August 12th, 2015

McArts Fort and Cave Hill Country park, Belfast - geograph.org.uk - 957637

Roll of Honour, Belfast, 1916-1966

The current County Antrim Memorial contains a number of panels listing those considered to have given their lives in pursuit of an Irish Republic in the period from 1916 to 1966. A review of those listed for Belfast appears relatively incomplete when set against the various criteria that appear to have been applied to identify individuals who merited inclusion on the memorial, including those killed in action, accidental deaths on active service, murdered while active and those who died as a result of imprisonment or protest. While the County Antrim Memorial lists some names, it possible to suggest quite a further names for inclusion based on the same criteria.
I have included this list with names only below for anyone wishing to quickly scan through it. Names in bold are those already listed on the County Antrim Memorial in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast. The discrepancies are interesting and I’ll post a bit more about what it tells us about commemoration and republicanism at a later date.
I have added notes on some individual cases underneath. In some instances it is not immediately possible to pinpoint the date of death since that detail isn’t accessible. In other cases inclusion may not be merited, for various reasons of geography or association.
Please use the comments section to update details where appropriate, suggest further omissions, or give reasons for removing individuals from this list. With that in mind, I’d like to put a time limit on this, so there is an agreed list that can be posted up by Easter Sunday.

You can view the names on the County Antrim Memorial here and here.


Sean McCaughey







Roll of Honour, Belfast, 1916-1966

Charlie Monaghan, IRB, 21/04/1916

James Johnston, IRB, 1917

Bernard MacMackin, IRB, 29/5/1917

Vol. Joseph Giles, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 20/7/1920

Fian John Murray, Fianna, 28/8/1920

Edward Trodden, IRB, 26/9/1920

Vol. John McFadden, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 26/9/1920

Vol. Sean Gaynor, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 26/9/1920

Vol. Sean O’Carroll, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 30/11/1920

Vol. Dan Duffin, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 23/4/1921

Vol. Pat Duffin, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 23/4/1921

Vol. Sean McCartney, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 8/5/1921

Alexander McBride, Sinn Féin, 11/6/1921

Vol. Alexander Hamilton, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 11/7/1921

Vol. James Ledlie, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 12/7/1921

Vol. Freddie Fox, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 15/8/1921

Vol.Murt McAstocker, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 25/9/1921

Vol. Bernard Shanley, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 16/12/1921

Vol. David Morrison, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 27/12/1921

Vol. Patrick Flynn, Óglaigh na hÉireann, December 1921

Vol. James Morrison, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 14/2/1922

Vol. Thomas Gray, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 16/2/1922

Fian Thomas Heathwood, Fianna, 6/3/1922

Vol. Frank McCoy, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 14/2/1922

Vol. Andrew Leonard, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 13/3/1922

Vol. Augustine Orange, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 18/3/1922

Vol. Edward McKinney, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 24/3/1922

Fian Joseph Burns, Fianna, 18/4/1922

Fian J.P. Smyth, Fianna, 18/4/1922

Fian William Toal, Fianna, 25/5/1922

Vol. William Thornton, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 18/6/1922

Fian Joseph Hurson, Fianna, 23/6/1922

Fian Leo Rea, Fianna, 23/6/1922

Vol. Edward McEvoy, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 9/8/1922

Vol. Joe McKelvey, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 8/12/1922

Vol. Pat Nash, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 31/1/1925

Vol. Francis Doherty, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 1933?

Vol. Dan Turley, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 4/12/1937

Vol. Liam Tumilson, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 14/3/1937

Vol. Jim Stranney, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 31/7/1938

Vol. Sean Martin, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 25/4/40

Vol. Jack Gaffney, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 18/11/1940

Vol. Joe Malone, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 21/1/1942

Vol. Terence Perry, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 7/7/1942

Vol. Gerard O’Callaghan, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 31/8/1942

Vol. Tom Williams, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 2/9/1942

Vol. Richard Magowan, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 1943

Vol. Seamus Burns, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 12/2/1944

Fian Sean Doyle, Fianna, 10/4/1944

Vol. Tom Graham, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 1944

Vol. Dickie Dunn, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 1945?

Vol. Sean McCaughey, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 11/5/1946

Brendan O’Boyle, Laochra Uladh, 2/7/1955

Vol. Tommy O’Malley, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 10/12/1959

Vol. Patrick McLogan, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 21/7/1964


Notes on some individual entries:

Johnston and McMackin both had their health broken by their internment in Frongoch, both died immediately after release (see Belfast and nineteensixteen). In Johnston’s case it isn’t clear if he was directly involved with the IRB.

John Murray, 20 years old, from Glenview Street, who was shot in the abdomen on the night of 28th August 1920. Was dead before he reached the Mater Hospital. Address given as 11 Glenview Street in Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom, where the head of household is given in the 1918 Belfast Street Directory as John Murray (the father of the deceased). Included on County Antrim Memorial.

Augustine Orange, Castlereagh Road, was found shot dead in Clermont Lane during the night of 18th March 1922, reputedly after returning from a St Patrick’s Ball. He is named in a list of those who served in republican forces at the back of Antrim’s Patriot Dead but no further detail is included. His older brother worked as a telegraphist and he may have been involved in intelligence work.

Joseph Burns, 18th April 1922, listed as accidentally shot. Not reported in newspapers. Not listed in Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom. Included on County Antrim Memorial, inclusion suggests there were republican casualties in 1920-22 that were either not conventionally reported or disguised through circumstances.

J.P. Smyth is listed as ‘shot dead’ on 18th April 1922. Not reported in the newspapers although The Irish Times carries an account of a sniper shot dead in the Bone by an army patrol who had not been identified. Not listed in Facts and Figures. Similar case to Burns, above.

William Toal, 17, of 42 Mayfair Street, was wounded during the night of Thursday 25th May. He died in hospital the next day. Facts and Figures gives a date of 26th May 1922. Included on County Antrim Memorial, date of death given as May 1922.

Thomas Heathwood, Upton Street, killed on 6th March 1922. Listed as ‘Thomas Eastwood’ killed on 6th March 1922 in Facts and Figures but described as a Fianna member in the press in March 1922.

Joseph Hurson, 15, an apprentice cabinet maker of 87 Unity Street and a second lieutenant in A Company, 2nd Battalion. Listed as killed on 23rd June 1922 in Facts and Figures but was actually killed on 4th July 1922 when he was shot through the eye at his own front door.

Leo Rea, 16. 107 Leeson Street a shop assistant and Fian in A Company, 1st Battalion, and also listed as attached to E Company and Engineers. Listed as killed on 23rd June 1922 in Facts and Figures. Shot dead at 8.30 am on Merrion Street, off the Grosvenor Road and died an hour later in the Mater Hospital.

William Thornton, Catherine Street (IRA section leader, C Company, 3rd Battalion), shot dead by RUC in Gloucester Street. 18 June 1922. For more see here.

Bernard Shanley, C Company (also listed as Engineering Company), 2nd Battalion. Killed on picket duty, 15th December 1921. Not listed in Facts and Figures. On picket duty in Bankmore Street, when he was attacked by a mob. Revolver ammunition proved defective and he was shot . Died a few hours later in Mater Hospital on 16th December.

James Morrison, 126 Sultan Street and E Company, 1st Battalion. Killed 14th February 1922. His company had fired on loyalists who were using workmen on the tramway track as cover close to Dunville Park. When one, Thomas Blair, was killed, Specials carried out a reprisal and James Morrison was wounded and died later that day in the Royal Victoria Hospital. Listed as killed on 15th February 1922 in Facts and Figures.

Andrew Leonard, 53 Mary Street, A Company, 4th Battalion. Wounded in the neck during fighting in Townsend Street on 6th March 1922 and died on the 13th March. Listed as killed on 13th March 1922 in Facts and Figures (and his address given as Duffy Street). He is listed as killed in action, A Company, 4th Battalion.

Alexander Hamilton, Plevna Street shot dead during trouble on the Springfield Road on the early morning of 11th July 1921 (listed as KIA, A Company, 4th Battalion).

Edward McKinney, was a barman who worked with the McMahon family and was killed along with many of the family on 24th March 1922. Known to have been a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Joseph Giles, shot dead in Bombay Street on 22nd July 1920. An ex-soldier. Believed to have been an IRA volunteer (see Northern Divisions by Jim McDermot).

Frank McCoy, Forfar Street. Section leader, A Company, 4th Battalion. Died on 14th February 1922.

Edward McEvoy, Kerrara Street, Ardoyne, killed in an attack by Free State troops at Ferrycarrig in Wexford, 9th August 1922.

Pat Nash 31st January 1925, veteran republican. Health broken by prison protests, was released from internment to die at home. This was typical of the northern government, and a similar fate befell other republicans like Francis Doherty (in 1933), Joe Malone (1942), Terence Perry (1942), Richard Magowan (1943), Tom Garham (1944), Dickie Dunn (1945) and Tommy O’Malley (1959). Other internees who died in the 1940s and may be from Belfast include Cathal Kerr, J. Rooney, Joe McGinley, Seamus Keenan and Mickey McErlean.

Dan Turley was shot in error in 1936 after a dubious court martial in 1933. Harry White, as Chief of Staff, appears to have informally recognised Turley’s innocence by 1944.

Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney had went to Spain from Óglaigh na hÉireann where they were killed in action fighting fascism. Others generally listed as Belfast republicans are Dick O’Neill, Danny Boyle and Thomas Kerr.

Brendan O’Boyle was the leading figure in the Laochra Uladh group.

Patrick McLogan had a long republican career, but did command D Company, 1st Battalion, Belfast Brigade from July 1919 to April 1920 and so could arguably be listed with the Belfast Roll of Honour. He was killed when a gun accidentally discharged.

The Organisation of the Belfast IRA from 1917 to 1970

On formation of the IRA in 1919-20, the existing Irish Volunteer Companies of the Belfast Battalion simply became A and B Company of the IRA’s Belfast Battalion, with a C Company and D Company added in early 1919. It isn’t clear now whether each Company had strict catchment areas. The city’s IRA units were then re-organised, beginning in September 1920, when the companies were divided into a 1st and 2nd Battalion and by March 1921, officers and experienced members from the four existing Companies had been used to staff Companies in each of the two Battalions, which now formed part of the 1st (Belfast) Brigade of the 3rd Northern Division. The 1st Battalion had Companies A to E and an Engineering Company. While C Company was centred on Carrickhill, the other Companies covered the Falls Road (again demarcation lines appear vague). The Companies of the 2nd Battalion each had a geographic focus, with A Company in Ardoyne and the Bone, B Company in Ballymacarrett, C Company in the Markets and D Company in North Queen Street. By April 1921, Na Fianna and Cumann na mBán structures were been aligned onto the IRA’s Divisional command structure.

In August 1921, two additional Battalions were created under the 1st (Belfast) Brigade, as 3rd and 4th Battalion and the Engineering Company of 1st Battalion effectively became a distinct Engineering Battalion in its own right. The new Battalions were created from the existing companies, such as the 3rd Battalion’s B Company which was based on the New Lodge Road. Many of those who joined the 3rd and 4th Battalions enlisted after the Truce and were derided as Trucileers by pre-July 1921 veterans.

The status of the 1st Belfast Brigade from 1922 is complex. As it mounted an offensive against the northern government from May 1922, it continued to remain in contact with both the Army Executive and Free State government until formal liaison with Headquarters ended around October 1922. It also appears that most of the 2nd Battalion and all the 3rd and 4th Battalion Companies did not recognise the authority of the Free State government by July 1922.

The 1st (Belfast) Brigade command structures were, effectively, autonomous until the end of 1924 when the re-interment of Joe McKelvey’s remains in Belfast became the catalyst for the Belfast command to re-establish formal links to the IRA’s GHQ in Dublin. It was apparent, by this time, that the obsolete Divisional structure that had been put in place in 1920 needed to be replaced with something more suitable for the post-Civil War IRA.

The newly created Belfast Battalion had a staff with elected representatives of the Falls, Ardoyne, Bone, Carrick Hill, North Queen Street, Greencastle, Markets and Ballymacarret. It reported directly to GHQ in Dublin through a Communications Officer, in the absence of a middle-ranking regional command structure although it is often formally referred to as Ulster No. 1 Divisional Area. The Belfast Battalion was now organised into two Companies, both located on the Falls Road and an independent unit that covered Ardoyne, the Bone and North Queen Street. Volunteers from Greencastle joined the independent unit, while those from the Markets and Ballymacarret joined the Falls Road unit that covered the city centre.

Following the De Valera split, there was a further consolidation with Cumann na mBán, the IRA, Na Fianna and Sinn Féin that took place before the middle of 1928. The Belfast Battalion now undertook an expansion programme including a renewed focus on Na Fianna as a source of recruits.  District-based Companies were formally re-established beginning with Ballymacarrett. In the short term, there was a decline in strength between 1926 and 1930, from 242 to 177. Ulster No. 1 Area now had Companies A to G, with A Company covering North Queen Street, Carrickhill and the Docks, B Company covering Ballymacarrett and the Markets, C Company based in Ardoyne and the Bone, D Company on the Falls and F Company centred on the Pound. The other companies (E and G) covered from Clonard out to the Whiterock, Hannahstown and Andersonstown. The throughput of recruits from Na Fianna saw the Belfast IRA Companies expand in size to 564 members by 1932.

The Belfast IRA retained this structure through the 1930s, reporting directly to GHQ, until the beginning of the English Campaign in 1939, at which time regional commands were created as a response to pressures restricting the ability of GHQ to exercise control on activity in other districts. This was particularly the case in the north, where a Northern Command that was set up and then re-organised under Charlie McGlade in the summer of 1939 to include Donegal. The Northern Command included representatives from each local IRA unit, with the likes of the officer commanding (O/C) of the Belfast IRA concurrently holding a staff position on Northern Command (often the Adjutant of the Northern Command was O/C Belfast). By 1941, the internees and sentenced prisoners in the jails in Belfast, the Al Rawdah, Derry and Armagh also reported directly to the Northern Command via the Adjutant, with the internees in D wing in Belfast organised as Battalion No. 1 and the sentenced prisoners as Battalion No. 2.

A H Company was added secretly to the Belfast Battalion during 1941, which was a special section of mainly Protestant IRA volunteers which carried out particular tasks and roles. By the start of 1942, arrests and internment had led to a complete re-organisation of the Battalion back into four Companies (once again labelled A-D). For the remainder of the mid-1940s, these survived in a skeletal form and the Northern Command and GHQ both became inactive due to arrests and defections.

By the time the internees and sentenced prisoners had been released, the Belfast Battalion was effectively reduced to a single company. This remained the case until 1956 when, as part of the pre-amble to the Border Campaign, the Belfast Battalion was re-organised into two Companies. One was made up of veterans and others who were likely to be known to the RUC. The other was made up of younger, unknown Volunteers who were unknown to the RUC (and possibly also an informer who was believed to be active among the Belfast Battalion staff). Despite the widespread belief that Belfast was to play no part in the Border Campaign, Paddy Doyle, the Belfast Battalion O/C was fully aware of plans and operations to be carried out in Belfast (such as cutting the cable to Britain on the night of December 11th /12th 1956). As he had kept all the operational details to himself, the Belfast Battalion wasn’t able to re-organise in time after Doyle’s arrest to carry out the action.

The Belfast IRA was decimated by internment in 1956 and 1957 and was rebuilt by Billy McKee after his release. By 1961 the concept of a Northern Command had arisen again but not adopted. The Belfast IRA was to remain small until the changes that occurred in 1969-70 when, following internal upheavals, it broke connection with the then GHQ staff and leadership.

A brief history of Belfast IRA newspapers, part 2 (1946-1970)

This is the second part of an introduction to the newspapers published by the Belfast IRA from the 1920s to 1970. You can read part one, covering the period to 1945, here.

After the demise of Republican News in 1946, a monthly publication was resumed in November 1951, called Resurgent Ulster, deliberately referencing the newspaper produced by the Belfast Battalion in the 1930s, An Síol, the Voice of the Resurgent North. Resurgence was also the name of a short-lived newspaper published in Dublin in 1946 by Cumann Séain Mhic Eochaidh of Sinn Féin, which was largely made up of Belfast republicans living in the city (and pre-figured the IRA and Sinn Féin re-aligning in the late 1940s).
For Volume 1, published monthly from November 1951, Resurgent Ulster was very much a do-it-yourself production in the style of War News, being typed on a stencil then reproduced using a Gestetner machine. The front page was printed onto a prepared letterhead in red which said Resurgent Ulster and a large red hand, with the phrase Ní Síocháin Gan Saoirse (there is no peace without freedom) in old Irish type.

Resurgent Ulster, Volume 1 format

Resurgent Ulster was edited and largely written by Jimmy Steele, who had been released from Crumlin Road in September 1950. He was involved in re-organising the Belfast IRA, of which he was the O/C, with Joe Cahill as Adjutant. Publication of The United Irishman, the Sinn Féin newspaper, had begun in 1948.
The low production quality of Volume 1 was to continue until April 1953 and each issue cost 3 pence (the print run was similar to that of Republican News, at 5,000 copies and generally sold out). Volume 2 began with the November 1952 edition. This contained a brief justification of the publicity strategy of the Belfast IRA:

Twelve months ago the first issue of our little paper appeared as a tiny spark in an Ireland infested with a spineless Anti-Extreme, so-called National Republican Press – a Press controlled by the Political Groups existing in Ireland today. But that spark has since burst into a bright flame over a wide area, and over all-Ireland, parts of England, Scotland and America …. The true message of sincere Republican Ireland.

The January 1953 issue expanded on this, saying the aim was to:

”…to propagate like Tone the cause of unity among our people, not only to endeavour to unite Orange and Green but to strive for a return to that splendid unity which animated the nation in those glorious years up to the signing of the treaty.”

The low quality production of the first volume of Resurgent Ulster was superseded in April 1953 (Volume 2, Number 5) by a more professionally produced newspaper, with the May 1953 edition indicating that it was printed by ‘Clólann Chromaic, 45 Mhic Amhlaoidh, Béal Feirsde’ (Cromac Printers, McAuley St, Belfast) and issued by the Republican Publicity Bureau. The correspondence address given for Resurgent Ulster and Glór Uladh was almost invariably 37 Institution Place, Joe McGurk’s home address. The transition from essentially hand-produced to high quality printing is mentioned in an article in the May 1953 edition of Resurgent Ulster where an Irish language article points out that any typos and mistakes in the previous issue were down to time constraints in proof-reading the April issue.

The higher quality production of Volume 2 of Resurgent Ulster

The switch to the higher publication quality also appears to coincide with the inclusion of poetry (although this is solely based on the surviving issues. Easter Morn (by Jimmy Steele) and Maura O’Kelly (a Civil War song from Galway) were included in the April 1953 issue, the first to be produced in the new format. The poetry was mostly included without identifying the author. Although Resurgent Ulster wasn’t (as yet) banned, the assumption probably was that it soon would be and that previous contributions could be considered as ‘acts preparatory to’ a breach in the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act and so lead to a term of imprisonment. In some cases, the anonymous poems were reproduced in later publications by Jimmy Steele (eg Antrim’s Patriot Dead and 1916-66: Belfast and nineteensixteen) and had been written by Steele.
The change in print quality also took place as republican candidates prepared to stand in election for Sinn Féin in the summer of 1953, with endorsements appearing in Resurgent Ulster. This coincided with internal rifts within the Belfast IRA and the departure of some individuals, including Billy McMillen, that autumn. Articles about the 1943 strip strike in Resurgent Ulster, early in 1954, clearly appear to be part of a process of reconciling differences over the progress of the strike. Clearly Resurgent Ulster provided a forum within which Belfast republicans addressed current issues.
There was also the usual housekeeping associated with running a newspaper. There were regular requests for agents to clear up outstanding accounts, particularly in 1954. At the same time, distribution of Resurgent Ulster was clearly under surveillance as some issues, such as June 1954, carry a notice apologising to subscribers who did not receive their copies and confirming they had been posted and must have been confiscated by the authorities. By October 1954 issues of Resurgent Ulster were appearing as Ulaidh ag Aiséirghe, the Irish language translation of the title. That October 1954 issue also carried a warning about censorship saying:

We would wish to remind our readers that all correspondence coming to this office is censored by the Stormont authorities before it reaches us.”

The paper was then re-branded as Glór Uladh in May 1955 and numbering restarted with the May edition appearing as Volume 1, Number 1. Sinn Féin had just, successfully, fielded candidates in the UK general election and Glór Uladh gave its full support to the political campaigns. By the end of 1955, Glór Uladh and the Resurgent Ulster title were both banned under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act. Issues of Glór Uladh no longer appeared monthly, with more erratic publication in 1956 (eg there was combined April/May issue and then the June issue was Volume 2, Number 6 while the November issue was Volume 2, Number 9).

The format of Glór Uladh, continuing that from Resurgent Ulster and continued in later issues of Tírghrá

During 1956 other tensions were evident on the pages of Glór Uladh. The March 1956 issue criticised certain individuals who were planning to carry out actions that would be blamed on republicans but which were in direct conflict with the policy and programme of the republican movement at that time. Since late 1954 Resurgent Ulster had been critical of Liam Kelly who was building his own organisation in east Tyrone. In the April/May issue of Glór Uladh, 1956, it was also implied that Sinn Féin was being controlled by Dublin-based republicans. This seems to reflect contemporary tensions inside Crumlin Road (and pre-figures the split in the IRA in the late 1960s). The November issue of 1956, though, was much more favourable to Sinn Féin and hinted at the upcoming IRA campaign. That campaign and internment, including that of editor and chief writer Jimmy Steele, finished off publication of Resurgent Ulster/Glór Uladh.
Inside Crumlin Road during internment, Jimmy Steele published a handwritten paper in D wing (where the internees were held) called The Internee, while Daithi O Conaill produced a handwritten paper for the sentenced paper in A wing, titled Saoirse.


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Publication of Resurgent Ulster/Glór Uladh restarted in December 1962, again under the editorship of Jimmy Steele. The new paper was entitled Tírghrá. Just as Billy McKee had to effectively re-build the Belfast IRA after 1961, the first volume of Tírghrá, the Voice of the Republican North was closer in quality and style to An Síol or Republican News in having a stencilled masthead and being duplicated on a Gestetner. By 1964, though, it was being produced in a much more professional format similar to the later editions of Resurgent Ulster and Glór Uladh. This was to be relatively short-lived as publication of Tírghrá appears to have ceased completely by 1965, following McKee’s resignation as O/C of the Belfast IRA. The demise of Tírghrá also appears to be one of the factors in what some saw as the side-lining of Jimmy Steele, editor of Glór Uladh, by those around Cathal Goulding, at the time Chief of Staff. That the Belfast IRA no longer had an independent voice, in the form of its own journal, seems consistent with the centralising tendency of Goulding’s leadership. Again this was to be a factor in the split in the IRA that became formalised in late 1969. When the Belfast IRA re-established its own newspaper, it was to resume publication of Republican News, again under the editorship of Jimmy Steele in 1970 who died as the third issue was going to press. I’ll write more about Republican News at a future date.

Images from various sources including An Phoblacht and the Irish Republican Papers blog.