Map of IRA and Cumann na mBan suspects in Belfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominic Adams, 15 Abercorn Street

Patrick Adams, 15 Abercorn Street

R Anderson, 14 Roumania Street

Lawrence Bannon, 135 New Lodge Road

William Barret, 65 Whiterock Gardens

William Barrett, 51 Mary Street

Joe Boles, 80 Seaforde Street

Joseph Bowman, 40 Boundary Street

Charles P Boyle, 4 Lancaster Street

Leo Boyle, 133 New Lodge Road

Margaret Boyle, 54 Raglan Street

Patrick Boyle, 54 Raglan Street

John Bradley, 33 Arnon Street

William Bradley, 33 Arnon Street

J Brady, 1 Jude Street

Jack Brady, 71 Ladbrook Drive

Mary Brady, 45 Raglan Street

Phillip Brammold, 51 Whiterock Gardens

Mary Brennan, 47 Brookfield Street

Frank Broderick, 63 Durham Street

George Broderick, 250 Falls Road

John Brown, 17 Baker Street

Joseph Brown, 40 Upton Street

Sarah Brunton, 63 Vere Street

John Bunting, 37 Theodore Street

Liam Burke, 38 Locan Street

Brian Burns, 19 Linden Street

Dan Burns, 1 Highbury Gardens

Pete Burns, 19 Linden Street

Thomas Burns, 42 New Lodge Road

? Burrows, Lady Street

David Butler, 68 Raglan Street

Kathleen Cairns, 36 Clondara Street

Bella Campbell, 14 Upton Street

Francis Campbell, 38 Chemical Street

James Campbell, 2 Galway Street

Mary Campbell, 9 Rockmount Street

Peter Campbell, 1 Milan Street

Saida Campbell, 17 Malcolmson Street

Thomas Carabine, 135 Cavendish Street

Daniel Carberry, 9 Lower Clonard Street

Bernadetta Carbery, 61 Dunmore Street

Brendan Carey, 43 Dunmore Street

Patrick Carey, 8 Linden Street

Thomas Carey, 9 Carntall Street

Paul Carleton, 61 Whiterock Road

Peter Carleton, 10 Brittons Drive

Vincent Carley, 24 Lady Street

James Carlin, 15 Sevastopol Street

John Carmichael, 12 Mary Street

Charles Casey, 14 Brighton Street

Michael Casey, 14 Brighton Street

Martin Clarke, 20 Heathfield Street

Patrick Clarke, 98 Locan Street

Patrick Clarke, 4 Springfield Avenue

Sean Clarke, 4 Ross Place

Annie Collins, 16 St James Crescent

Joan Collins, 16 St James Crescent

Charles Connolly, 13 Joy Street

Patrick Connolly, 20 Leoville Street

William Connolly, 16 Panton Street

Francis Connor, 19 Jamaica Street

John Connor, 25 John Street

Mary Cooke, 8 Iveagh Parade

Gerry Cooper, 48 Nansen Street

Joseph Cooper, 48 Nansen Street

Arthur Corr, 76 Vere Street

Pearse Corry, 16 Hawthorne Street

Norah Costello, 65 Alexander Street West

James Crawford, 25 Getty Street

Nellie Crawford, 80 North Queen Street

Gerald Cullen, 8 Chief Street

Joe Cullen, 51 Rockmore Road

Gerald Curran, 205 Mountpottinger Road

Kevin Curran, 205 Mountpottinger Road

Patrick Daly, 3 Dunmore Street

Joseph Davey, 4 Concord Street

Gerard Deans, 124 Ardilea Street

Alice Deeds, 71 Brookfield Street

James Delaghan, 12 Upton Street

Peter Delaney, 13 Currie Street

Con Deveney, 903 Crumlin Road

Charles Devine, 9 Brae Fort Cottages

Felix Devlin, 13 Lowry Street

James Devlin, 26 Oranmore Street

John Devlin, 13 Lowry Street

John Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Sarah Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Teresa Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Teresa Devlin, 26 Springview Street

Joe Dickey, 20 Glenview Street

Patrick Dignan, 30 Anderson Street

Dan Doherty, 47 Sheriff Street

Michael Doherty, 67 Theodore Street

P Doherty, 17 Herbert Street

Terence Doherty, 37 Dunmore Street

Bridget Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Christina Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Margaret Dolan, 22 Durham Street

Robert Donald, 80 Sultan Street

Terence Donegan, 30 Milan Street

Bernard Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

John Donnelly, 10 Brighton Street

Lily Donnelly, 571 Donegall Road

Mary Donnelly, 26 Unity Street

Owen Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

Patrick Donnelly, 702 Shore Road

Robert Downey, 17 Clonard Gardens

Sarah Doyle, 10 Brittons Drive

Joseph Drummond, 36 Kent Street

E Duffy, 1 Milton Street

Francis Duffy, 127 Jamaica Street

John Duffy, 248 Grosvenor Road

M Duffy, 1 Pinkerton Street

Stephen Duffy, 10 Thompson Street

Dickie Dunne, 26 Valentine Street

Robert Dunne, 15 Whiterock Crescent

Hugh Edmond, 24 Rockville street

Peter Fanning, 41 Fallswater Street

James Farrell, 99 McDonnell Street

James Farrelly, 31 Vulcan Street

John Farrelly, 55 Vulcan Street

Bernard Fee, 65 Sheriff Street

John Fegan, 16 Panton Street

James Ferran, 19 Beechmount Street

John Ferran, 19 Locan Street

Thomas Ferran, 82 Beechmount Street

Robert Finnegan, Englishtown Hannahstown

Daniel Fitzpatrick O’Reilly, 13 Ardmore Avenue

J. Fitzsimons, 122 Divis Street

Desmond Flanagan, 496 Doengall Road

Thomas Flanagan, 14 McQuillan Street

Hugh Flavell, 32 Alexander Street West

Angelo Forte, 176 Tates Avenue

Jack Gaffney, 9 St James Place

James Gallery, 13 Herbert Street

John Gettings, 70 Beechfield Street

Joe Gilhooley, 10 Cyprus Street

Arthur Gillen, 10 College Court

J. Gillen, 27 Andersonstown Road

Patrick Gillen, 10 College Court

William Gillen, 10 College Court

Desmond Gillespie, 17 Wandsworth Road

Alexander Gilmore, 5 Teresa Street

John Girvan, 7 McMullan’s Place

Jean Goodfellow, 45 Crumlin Street

George Goodman, 75 Stanfield Street

Joseph Gorman, 20 Balaclava Street

Margaret Gough, 58 Clowney Street

Kathleen Graham, 71 Upton Street

Liam Graham, 62 Beechmount Avenue

Charles Gray, 33 Rockmore Street

Gerard Greenan, 18 Saul Street

Patrick Grimley, 75 Ardilea Street

John Hall, 5 College Place North

J.M. Halligan, 24 Plevna Street

Annie Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

James Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

Sean Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

Jim Hamilton, 5 Dimsdale Street

Jim Harvey, 34 Kilmood Street

Jimmy Hasty, 63 Stanfield Street

Patrick Hayes, 22 McQuillan Street

William Headley, 25 Leoville Street

Jim Heaney, 2 Edward Street

Richard Heaney, 23 Havana Street

Nora Hegarty, 32 Clowney Street

Joe Henderson, 109 Balkan Street

Catherine Hendron, 18 Altcar Street

William Henry, 33 Columbus Street

Joseph Hewitt, 18 Boomer Street

Patrick Hickey, 5 Upton Street

Bob Hicks, 132 Glenard Gardens

Patsy Hicks, 5 Alma Street

Sean Hicks, 5 Alma Street

Doris Hill, 8 Beechmount Avenue

? Hillen, 10 Garnet Street

Thomas Hodgkinson, 9 Brighton Street

Mrs R Hope, 59 Andersonstown Park

James Hughes, 81 Hawthorne Street

John Hughes, 4 Masseren e Street

Joseph Hughes, 48 Butler Street

Joseph Hughes, 23 Plevna Street

Patrick Hughes, 8 Gortfin Street

Mollie Hurson, 2 St Paul’s Terrace

Anthony Irvine, 42 Alton Street

George Irvine, 4 Gracehill Street

Samuel Irvine, 23 Majorca Street

John Jackson, 32 Rockmore Street

Mary Jordan, 89 Albert Street

Jim Kane, 28 Milan Street

Robert Kavanagh, 100 Divis Street

Frank Kearney, 14 Odessa Street

James Kearney, 14 Odessa Street

Hugh Keenan, 32 Short Strand

Joe Keenan, 33 Falls Road

John Keenan, 43 Short Strand

Malachy Keenan, 33 Falls Road

Michael Keenan, 43 Short Strand

Sean Keenan, 28 California Street

Agustine Kelly, 168 Oldpark Road

Billy Kelly, 18 Frere Street

Dominic Kelly, 39 Upton Street

Frank Kelly, 11 Little Patrick Street

James Kelly, 18 Campbell’s Row

John Kelly, 10 Iris Drive

Kathleen Kelly, 57 Brookfield Street

Rose Kelly, 57 Brookfield Street

Susan Kelly, 18 Beechmount Parade

Francis Kennedy, 18 Jude Street

Gerry Kerr, 67 Vere Street

James Kerr, 58 Ardilea Street

James Kerr, 17 Oakfield Street

John Kerr, 27 Whiterock Drive

Patrick Kerr, 54 Durham Street

William Killen, 11 Brook Street

James Kinnaird, 12 Lemon Street

James Kinney, 11 Colinpark Street

Willie Largey, 36 California Street

Hannah Lavery, 5 Whiterock Drive

Paddy Lavery, 22 Lincoln Street

Tony Lavery, 39 Balkan Street

James Lecky, 45 Mary Street

Charles Leddy, Mooreland Park

Christopher Lee, no address

Thomas Locke, 10 Elizabeth Street

J. Logan, 34 Steam Mill Lane

Terence Loughlin, 53 Mary Street

Dan Loughran, 42 Garmoyle Street

Thomas Loughrey, 19 Sidney Street

Patrick Lowe, 10 Ward Street

Matthew Lundy, 35 Forfar Street

Marcus Lynn, 10 Milan Street

Jackie Mackin, 36 Ton Street

James Magee, 48 Leeson Street

Patrick Magee, 52 Dunmore Street

Rosaleen Magee, 52 Dunmore Street

Hannah Magennis, The Cottages Glen Road

Joe Maguiness, 24 Milner Street

Thomas Maguinness, 137 New Lodge Road

Annie Maguire, 33 Abercorn Street North

J. Maguire, 55 Theodore Street

Lily Maguire, 25 Crocus Street

Charles Mahony, 52 Glenview Street

John Mallon, 9 Garnet Street

Michael Malone, 10 Thomas Street

Mrs Manning, 4 Forfar Street

John Markey, 24 Steam Mill Lane

Thomas Marley, 63 Bombay Street

Hugh Martin, 20 Glenpark Street

Leo Martin, 27 Rockville Street

Hugh Matthews, 11 Albert Street

James Matthews, 53 Masserene Street

Joe Matthews, 32 Regent Street

James McAleese, 16 Milan Street

Dan McAllister, 81 Lincoln Street

Joe McAllister, 10 Islandbawn Street

Patrick McArdle, 44 Bow Street

Sean McArdle, 39 Beechmount Street

Hugh McAreavey, 74 Raglan Street

Hugh McAreavey, 74 Raglan Street

Alex McAtamney, 56 Fleet Street

John McAvoy, 25 Sheriff Street

Joe McBrine, 13 Colin Street

Patrick McBrine, 13 Colin Street

John McCabe, 55 Springview Street

Chris McCann, 24 Garnet Street

Dan McCann, 71 Albert Street

Ed McCann, 8 Jude Street

Edward McCann, 24 Garnet Street

Kathleen McCann, 10 Norfolk Street

Patrick McCann, 57 Locan Street

? McCartney, 2 Oranmore Street

Sean McCaughey, 15 Heathfield Road

Thomas McClarnon, 128 Cavendish Street

Gerry McClinton, 41 Madrid Street

Hugh McCloskey, 8 Islandbawn Street

Hugh McCloskey, 8 Islandbawn Street

Jack McCloskey, 47 Beechmount Crescent

John McCloskey, 50 Elizabeth Street

Edward McCluskey, 90 Raglan Street

Hugh McConnell, 20 Pound Street

W.J. McCorry, 81 Sultan Street

Pat McCotter, 6 Sevastopol Street

Matthew McCrory, 44 Balkan Street

Charles McCrystal, 28 Willowfield Gardens

J McCullough, 48 Amcomri Street

J. McCullough, 12 Frere Street

Lily McCullough, 43 Brookfield Street

Norah McCullough, 26 Iveagh Parade

Patrick McCullough, 131 North Queen Street

Ellen McCurry, 81 Sultan Street

John McCurry, 81 Sultan Street

Willie McCurry, 53 St James Road

Frank McCusker, 40 Servia Street

Jim McDermot, 49 Lady Street

Richard McDermott, 49 Kilmood Street

James McDonnell, 81 Locan Street

Jim McDonnell, 61 Vere Street

Peter McDonnell, 28 Parkview Street

William McDonnell, 80 Sultan Street

Margaret McFadden, 21 Waterville Street

Charles McGahey, 1a Herbert Street

Vincent McGarhavan, 53 Rockville Street

Liam McGarrity, 14 Artillery Street

Thomas McGarrity, 13 Fallswater Street

Thomas McGeown, 4 Inkerman Street

Francis McGibbon, Beech Cottage

James McGinley, 28 Rodney Parade

Bridget McGinn, 10 Parkview Street

John McGinty, 32 North Queen Street

Charles McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

Frank McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

John McGoldrick, 51 Cawnpore Street

Sam McGoldrick, 51 Cawnpore Street

James McGovern, 35 Winetavern Street

James McGowan, 24 Parkview Street

Peter McGowan, 38 Dunmore Street

Violet McGowan, 25 Parkview Street

Charles McGrath, 33 Rodney Drive

Hugh McGrath, 27 Dunmore Street

Lucy McGrath, 20 College Square North

Norah McGrath, 20 College Square North

John McGrillen, 34 McAuley Street

Frank McGrogan, 72 North Queen Street

Thomas McGrogan, 36 Rockdale Street

R McGuckian, 13 St James Drive

Mary McGuigan, 86 Clowney Street

John McGuinness, 31 Hamill Street

Joe McGurk, 115 Durham Street

Sarah McGurk, 115 Durham Street

Charles McHugh, 15 Garnet Street

Murty McIlduff, 17 Gamble Street

Chris McKay, 34 Milan Street

Frank McKearney, 14 Odessa Street

James McKearney, 14 Odessa Street

Bernadette McKee, 40 Sevastopol Street

Teresa McKee, 9 Springview Street

John McKeever, 6 Beechmount Parade

Ambrose McKenna, 11 Beechmount Drive

Elizabeth McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Francis McKenna, 240 Falls Road

Jean McKenna, 50 Forest Street

John McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Mary McKenna, 37 Fort Street

Patrick McKenna, 10 Foundry Street

Patrick McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Rose McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

William McKenna, 10 Foundry Street

P McKeown, 17 Beechfield Street

Robert McKnight, 32 McAuley Street

Brian McLaughlin, Longwood Terrace Whitehouse

Patrick McLaughlin, 36 Library Street

Mary McLaughln, 10 Galway Street

Alex McLoughlin, 15 McQuillan Street

Chris McLoughlin, 54 Vere Street

Mary McLoughlin, 4 McCleery Street

Frank McMahon, 12 Dimsdale Street

Peggy McMahon, 46 Lincoln Street

Jock McManus, 458 Donegall Road

Matilda McMillen, 13 Cavendish Street

Richard McMillen, 20 Moira Street

John McMullan, 5 Abercorn Street North

J. McMurray, 35 Balkan Street

Sandy McNabb, Elmwood Avenue

Jack McNally, 21 Ardliea Street

Denis McNamee, 23 John Street

Henry McNamee, 23 John Street

Hubert McNearney, 77 Herbert Street

Billy McNeill, 34 Bond Street

Henry McNeilly, 65 Thompson Street

Francis McNellis, 10 Scotland Street South

Thomas McNulty, 7 Dunsdale Street

Martin McParland, 57 Lincoln Street

James McPartland, 2 Frere Street

Patrick McPhillips, 45 Ross Street

John McQuillan, 46 Lepper Street

Andrew McRoberts, 6 Conway Street

? McShane, 60 Balkan Street

Liam McStravick, 16 Little Donegall Street

Eileen McTaggart, 86 Eskdale Gardens

Phil McTaggart, 134 Ardilea Street

Joe McVarnock, 40 Stanhope Street

Mary Meleady, 203 Falls Road

Nellie Meleady, 203 Falls Road

Richard Menagh, 23 Springfield Road

James Mennan, 16 Crumlin Street

Frank Milne, 58 Chatham Street

Henry Mohan, 67 New Lodge Road

James Monaghan, 26 Colligan Street

Marie Moone, 8 McQuillan Street

William Mooney, 4 O’Neill Street

James Morgan, 22 Lancaster Street

Murtagh Morgan, 27 Quadrant Street

Thomas Morris, 184 Ardglen Park

Patrick Morrison, 25 Violet Street

Annie Morrissey, 9 Tyrone Street

Joe Morrow, 7 Woodstock Road

Francis Moyna, 31 Bombay Street

Josephine Moyna, 41 Bombay Street

James Mulholland, 50 Chemical Street

Liam Mulholland, 83 Gracehill Street

Joe Mullen, 12 Upton Street

James Mulligan, 81 Forfar Street

John Mulligan, 5 Madrid Street

John Mulligan, 219 Mountpottinger Road

Patrick Mulligan, 58 Madrid Street

Thomas Murphy, 27 Sydney Street

Gerry Murray, 101 Joy Street

Gerry Murray, 67 Mountpottinger Road

Joe Murray, 67 Mountpottinger Road

Thomas Murray, 5 Sorella Street

William Murray, 66 Chemical Street

George Nash, 52 Gibson Street

Mary Nash, 4 Abercorn Street

Gerry Neeson, Hannahstown

John Noad, 56 Clyde Street

Kevin Nolan, 1 Ton Street

Margaret Nolan, 93 McDonnell Street

Seamus Nolan, 17 McCleery Street

Gerry Nugent, 84 Balkan Street

Bridget O’Boyle, 18 Colinpark Street

Bridie O’Boyle, 129 Brompton Park

Dan O’Boyle, 13 Regent Street

Thomas O’Boyle, 76 Ardilea Street

John O’Brien, 26 Eliza Street

Sarah O’Brien, 9 Kildare Street

Frank O’Connor, 19 Jamaica Street

Gerry O’Connor, 182 Nelson Street

John O’Connor, 182 Nelson Street

Mary O’Donnell, 29 Whiterock Crescent

Mary O’Farrell, 10 Albert Street

Hugh O’Hagan, 18 Rockville Street

James O’Hanlon, 43 New Dock Street

William O’Hanlon, 13 Woodstock Street

Cassie O’Hara, 135 Castle Street

Charles O’Hara, 15 Thomas Street

Con O’Hara, 15 Thomas Street

Mary O’Hara, 40 Amcomri Street

John O’Hare, 1 Jamaica Street

Hugh O’Kane, 27 Rosevale Street

Michael O’Kane, 40 Abercorn Street North

Thomas O’Malley, 14 Norfolk Street

Charles O’Neill, 6 Parkview Street

Chris O’Neill, 17 Milan Street

Dominic O’Neill, 16 Norfolk Parade

Frank O’Neill, 6 Parkview Street

Joe O’Neill, 52 Marine Street

Patrick O’Neill, 30 Kilmood Street

Patrick O’Neill, 37 Lincoln Street

John O’Rawe, 35 Oakman Street

Richard O’Rawe, 51 Oakman Street

Ambrose O’Reilly, 2 Oranmore Street

John O’Reilly, 38 Beechmount Street

Albert Owens, 8 Brighton Street

Frank Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

Isaac Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

James Pimley, 14 College Street West

Joe Pimley, 10 Divis Drive

Albert Price, 122 Percy Street

? Privilege, Garden Square Greencastle

Edward Quinn, 12 Arnon Street

James Quinn, 57 Grove Street

Kathleen Quinn, 57 Grove Street

Matthew Quinn, 21 Rodney Drive

Patrick Quinn, 118 Glenard Drive

Thomas Quinn, 19 Upton Street

John Quinnn, 57 Grove Street

Bernard Rafferty, 93 Butler Street

Peggy Rafferty, 2 Rockville Street

Sean Rafferty, 2 Rockville Street

John Rainey, 33 Cape Street

Thomas Ratican, 17 North Queen Street

Joe Reid, 19 Milan Street

Patrick Reid, 19 Milan Street

Thomas Reid, 61 Fredrick Street

? Reilly, 31 New Dock Street

Ed Reilly, 51 Clonard Gardens

Gerry Rice, 11 Balkan Street

Joe Rice, 5 Herbert Street

Liam Rice, 36 Merrion Street

J. Roberts, 49 New Lodge Road

Bernard Rooney, 71 Thompson Street

D Rooney, 101 Cyprus Street

Patrick Rooney, 45 Thompson Street

William Rooney, 23 Leoville Street

? Russell, 39 Raglan Street

Hugh Russell, 32 Plevna Street

James Ryder, 31 Rodney Drive

Mary Sands, 25 Servia Street

Michael Sands, 25 Servia Street

James Savage, 2 Burke Street

John Scullion, 76 Harcourt Drive

Susan Shannon, 25 Falls Road

James Sharpe, 9 Alton Street

John Sherry, 30 Servia Street

Joe Sloan, 41 Grosvenor Place

William Sloan, 28 Rodney Parade

J. Smith, 67 Forfar Street

Mules Smith, 29 Sheriff Street

William Smith, 8 Malcolmson Street

Jimmy Steele, 70 North Queen Street

James Stewart, 12 Rockdale Street

Jim Straney, 57 Thompson Street

Jim Sullivan, 89 Sussex Street

Henry Taylor, 46 Chatham Street

Peggy Taylor, 22 Servia Street

John Teague, 45 Springview Street

Mary Teague, 57 Mary Street

James Thompson, 13 Andersonstown Park

Patrick Thompson, 8 Arran Street

Margaret Thornbury, 22 Clondara Street

Michael Tohill, 19 Hardinge Street

Denis Toner,  14 Malcolmson Street

Joe Toner, 89 Ardliea Street

Dan Trainor, 32 Nelson Street

James Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

John Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

Michael Trainor, 66 Rockmore Road

William Tully, 4 Quadrant Street

Liam Tumelty, 11 Little York Street

Ellen Tumulty, 11 Little York Street

Eileen Walker, 42 Bombay Street

Joe Walker, 42 Bombay Street

John Walsh, 38 Glenpark Street

Michael Walsh, 30 Chemical Street

Liam Watson, 8 Malcolmson Street

Denis Whelan, 97 Bridge End

Thomas Whinery, 24 Chemical Street

Harry White, 72 Andersonstown Park

Liam Wiggins, 22 Torrens Road

Isabella Wilkens, 1 Strathroy Park

John Wilson, 57 Norfolk Street

Eugene Wright, 28 Hasting Street

Malachy Wylie, Graham’s Cottage Ligoniel

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William Harbinson: a New Lodge ‘Fenian’

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUC list of IRA suspects

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

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

A District

Gerry Murray, 101 Joy Street

Joe Keenan, 33 Falls Road

B District

James Monaghan, 26 Colligan Street

Liam McAllister, 81 Lincoln Street

Jock McManus, 458 Donegall Road

Sean McArdle, 39 Beechmount Street

Hughie Matthews, 11 Albert Street

James Ryder, 31 Rodney Drive

Henry McNamee, 23 John Street

Pat McCotter, 6 Sevastopol Street

Albert Owens, 8 Brighton Street

Harry White, 78 Anderstown Park

Dan McCann, 71 Albert Street

Pat McKenna, 10 Irish Drive

John J. Teague, 45 Springview Street

John McKenna, 10 Iris Drive

Michael Doherty, 67 Theodore road

Peter Fanning, 41 Fallswater Street

John Rainey, 33 Cape Street

Liam Watson, 8 Malcolmson Street

John McCurry, 81 Sultan Street

John McGoldrick, 51 Cawnpore Street

Hugh Flavelle, 5 Amcomri Street

Sean Hamill, 12 Shiels Street

C District

Charles Mahoney, 52 Glenview Street

Richard Heaney, 23 Havana Street

Hubert McNearney, 77 Herbert Street

Patrick McAleer, 45 Glenard Park

Gerry Cullen, 26 Chief Street

Sean McCaughey, 18 Heathfield Road

Frank O’Neill, 6 Parkview Street

Phil McTaggart, 132 Ardliea Street

Patsy Quinn, 110 Ardildea Street

Jack McNally, 21 Ardilea Street

Charlie McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

Liam Mulholland, 83 Gracehill Street

Frank McGlade, 126 Ardilea Street

D District

Joe McGurk, 115 Durham Street

Joe Davey, 31 Alton Street

Frank McGrogan, 72 North Queen Street

Joe Brown, 40 Upton Street

Jimmy Steele, 70 North Queen Street

Sean Keenan, 28 California Street

E District

William Murray, 66 Chemical Street

Joe Bole, 80 Seaforde Street

Dan Doherty, 47 Sheriff Street

Liam McKenna, 49 Seaforde Street

Denis Whelan, 97 Bridge End

F District

Samuel Irvine, 23 Majorca Street

Dan O’Reilly Fitzgerald, 13 Ardmore Avenue

G District

Seamus Nolan, 17 McCleery Street

James Trainor, 32 Nelson Street

Chris McLaughlin, 54 Vere Street

Gerry O’Connor, 182 Nelson Street

Dickie Dunne, 26 Valentine Street

Tom Williams, 75 years on

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tom Williams

Time must pass as years roll by

But in memory I shall keep

Of a night in Belfast Prison

Unshamefully I saw men weep.

But a time was fast approaching,

A lad lay sentenced for to die,

And on the 2nd of September

He goes to meet his God on high.

To the scaffold now he’s marching

Head erect he shows no fear

And while standing on that scaffold

Ireland’s Cause he holds more dear

Now the cruel blow has fallen

For Ireland he has given his all,

He who at the flower of boyhood

Answered proudly to her call.

Brave Tom Williams we salute you.

And we never shall forget

Those who planned your cruel murder

We vow to make them all regret.

Now I saw to all you Irish soldiers

If from this path you chance to roam

Just remember of that morn

When Ireland’s Cause was proudly borne

By a lad who lies within a prison grave.

 

Interview with Ivor Bell

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

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

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

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

You can read the interview with Ivor Bell here:

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

Jimmy Steele, 1907-70.

Jimmy Steele was born on 8th August 1907 in Artillery Street in the North Queen Street area of Belfast. When his mother, Catherine, died from tuberculosis on 3rd March 1912, Jimmy was just four years old. His younger brother, Dan, was two weeks short of his first birthday. Jimmy, Dan and their three older brothers were mainly brought up by their aunt Mary Ellen in her small shop on the New Lodge Road, rather than by their father, Arthur, a fitter originally from Randalstown (an older sister, Mary Ellen, had died as a baby).

IMG_0012

Jimmy was later to write of hearing politics discussed as a child, of Home Rule, Joe Devlin, John Redmond, the Hibernians, Connolly and Larkin. He also recorded how he remembered hearing someone whistling ‘A Soldiers Song’ and graffiti on a wall in the street after the Easter Rising and of “…the wounded Connolly, idol of the Belfast dockers and mill girls being shot to death as he sat strapped to his chair”.

Arthur remarried in October 1919 to Sarah Scullion, who owned a pub on the New Lodge Road. Even before Catherine had died Arthur already had a reputation of being overly fond of drink (Jimmy was to be a lifelong teetotaller). Arthur’s drinking led his eldest brother, Charlie, to emigrate to New York in April 1920. His brother Arthur emigrated too. Jimmy was attending school in Hardinge Street where he apprenticed as a plasterer. He got involved in gaelic games there and played on the school’s hurling team.

The Steele’s came to the attention of the RIC in July 1920 when a revolver was found during a search of Mary Ellen’s shop. By then Jimmy and his older brother Bill were active in Fianna Eireann’s North Queen Street sluagh and D Company of the IRA’s 2nd Battalion in Belfast. Raids and arrests were to become a constant feature of Jimmy’s life. In 1921 the RIC came looking for Bill as his handcart had no light on it. As he wasn’t at home, they arrested Jimmy instead. North Queen Street saw some of the most intense violence of 1920 to 1922. His father’s brother James received serious head wounds in a grenade attack in August 1921 and other relatives were injured in the violence.

As a Fianna officer, Jimmy had dual rank and was also attached to B Company of the 1st Battalion of the IRA. He remained active after the split in 1922. He and Bill kept a small arms dump stored on waste ground behind Mary Ellen’s shop which was given away by a tip-off to the RUC in September 1923. At that time Charlie was home from New York and he and Jimmy were arrested as the RUC could not find Bill. While Charlie was quickly released, Jimmy was to spend three weeks in Crumlin Road. When Charlie returned to New York, he and Arthur repeatedly offered to pay for Jimmy and Bill to join them. Jimmy was to be arrested and imprisoned for a while again in 1924, with Mary Donnelly of Cumann na mBan.

By now he was part of an independent unit in the Belfast Battalion that covered north Belfast, under Jack McNally. He avoided the round-up of IRA suspects that coincided with the news of the failure of the Boundary Commission in November 1925, but was detained in January 1926 following the discovery in the postal sorting office of a package of 110 copies of An Phoblacht addressed to him (the paper had been banned the same month). The unionist government struggled to find scope in the Special Powers Act to prosecute him and he escaped with a fine for possession of a banned edition of An Phoblacht that was found in Mary Ellen’s shop.

He was involved in the setting up of Joe McKelvey’s GAA club by members of the Belfast IRA in 1925. Throughout the late 1920s and into the 1930s he was to be an active playing member for the club in both hurling and football, mainly in the half forward line. He won South Antrim junior and senior football championship, league, South Antrim Cup and Madigan Cup medals. He also played in a number of junior and senior hurling finals. The pinnacle of his sporting career was probably 1931 when, as South Antrim champions, McKelveys played in the Antrim Senior Football Championship final against the North Antrim Senior Football champions Cuchullains, from Dunloy, eventually losing a replay 1-4 to 0-3. The next week McKelveys lost the South Antrim Senior Hurling Championship final to O’Connells. He played in all three matches.

In 1927 he and Tony Lavery had been tasked by the Belfast Battalion O/C, Davy Matthews, with rebuilding the Fianna organisation in Belfast. This led to a tripling in size of the Belfast IRA by the early 1930s as individuals progressed from one organisation to the other. This was accompanied by more arrests and detentions. In 1928 he was arrested with posters that were to inform people of an Easter commemoration but again the authorities found that their intended charges were not covered by the Special Powers Act. Arrested yet again with posters that were deemed ‘illegal’ in 1929, the unionist government had its prosecution thrown out of court as it transpired that no prohibited organisations were actually mentioned on the posters. Documents reportedly found on him during one 1929 arrest showed he was then learning Irish and writing poetry.

As sectarian tensions began to simmer in Belfast again in the early 1930s, the Belfast Battalion staff began to fight a running battle with IRA GHQ in Dublin over how to confront the issue. The Battalion staff refused to get visibly involved at an organisational level in the Outdoor Relief strike in October 1932 as it would give the authorities a pretext to put it down violently. Many IRA volunteers were actively involved as individuals, though. As the suppression happened anyway, the Battalion got officially involved in the railway workers strike in January 1933, carrying out bomb and gun attacks at the request of the unions. This wasn’t sufficient to placate those in IRA GHQ who were trying to leverage the Belfast Battalion so that the IRA would more fully engage in political activity. By various means over 1933 and 1934, existing Battalion staff like Davy Matthews, George Nash and Dan Turley were forced or pushed out and Tony Lavery and Jimmy then took over as Battalion O/C and Adjutant.

The IRA had increasingly come in to conflict with the RUC during 1933 and RUC constables were killed during confrontations in January and October 1933. The latter led to widespread arrests of IRA suspects, including Jimmy and he spent several months in prison. He was to take over as Battalion Adjutant on his release in 1934. Protests over the arrests and a huge election rally in support of republican candidates in the November 1933 election saw the IRA candidate run Joe Devlin close in Belfast (the unionist government response was to introduce a non-abstention oath for candidates). During the election campaign the Belfast IRA also began to produce its own occasional newspaper, An Síol to which Jimmy began to contribute (particular from 1935 when it began to appear weekly). He also continued to play for McKelveys although the club was struggling due to the repeated arrests of its players.

The formation of Republican Congress in 1934 took some of the IRA GHQ opponents of the previous Belfast Battalion staff out of the IRA. In Belfast sectarian violence was now leading to occasional deaths and the growing threat of a sustained assault on Catholic districts such as had happened in 1920-22. Drawing on its experience of 1920-22, the IRA tried to replenish its stock of rifles and train its members as preparation for defence of threatened districts, leading to further confrontations with the RUC as it intercepted drilling parties and searched for weapons. Jimmy was arrested again in late 1934, with habeas corpus suspended the unionist government denied it was even holding him as a prisoner. His treatment was bad enough to require medical assistance on his release in January 1935.

Despite increasing street violence, the Belfast Battalion agreed to attend a training camp at Gyles Quay Louth in July 1935. As violence erupted in North Queen Street on the 12th July, Free State forces swooped on the Belfast Battalion’s training camp, confiscating weapons and imprisoning twelve of those present. On the 13th, Jimmy managed to disentangle enough volunteers to return and take over the defence of the North Queen Street district where violence continued until late summer.

In November, Jimmy acted as Director of Elections to Charlie Leddy (who had been imprisoned over Gyles Quay) in West Belfast during the general election. In December, the Belfast battalion ambitiously tried to clear out the two hundred rifles of the OTC armoury in Campbell College. Instead, it was surprised by the RUC and fought a running gun battle in which one volunteer was captured (Jimmy and Tony Lavery had to go to the scene to call off the operation). The aftermath saw a wave of arrests and the Battalion investigated whether there was an informer among the staff.

Jimmy acted as Battalion O/C when Tony Lavery was ordered to a courtmartial for having some of those arrested defended in court (against GHQ orders). On 30th March, he lined out at centre half forward for McKelveys as they won the Biggar Cup final. He was the only remaining player from the team that had played in the 1931 senior county final. Lavery’s court martial in Crown Entry the next month, which was doubling up as a conference of senior IRA commanders in the north, was given away by the same informer and Jimmy and most of the IRA northern leadership were arrested. They were charged with treason felony and given varying sentences in Crumlin Road (Jimmy got five years penal servitude). He had been preparing to marry his childhood sweetheart, Anna Crawford, prior to his arrest. Prior to the sentencing he wrote a poem called ‘A Prayer From My Prison Cell’ that was to be published in the Wolfe Tone Weekly on September 11th 1937. During that summer he also wrote ‘Belfast Graves’ which was to be a popular song among Belfast republicans. Lines from the song are quoted in Brendan Behan’s novel Borstal Boy (Behan later recalled Jimmy staying with his family when visiting Dublin).

The treason felony prisoners demanded they get recognised as political prisoners (there were twenty-three long and short-term republican prisoners in Crumlin Road by August 1936). After several clashes with the prison authorities a hunger and thirst strike began on 18th August, although they began taking water again by the sixth day. By the 1st September only Jimmy remained on hunger strike. Weakened by the initial thirst strike, he became weak on the 3rd and Bill was called into the prison to see him. A supposed deal was brokered by the 5th and Jimmy ended his hunger strike only to restart it on 17th and continue to the end of the month (by now the authorities had at least agreed to deal with a nominated O/C of the republican prisoners). This protest took a long term physical toll on his health as it damaged his lungs.

Jimmy was forced to observe the unfolding of the IRA’s English campaign from inside Crumlin Road, only to be released in May 1940, immediately reporting back for active service (on 1st August he was also to finally marry Anna). Assigned as Director of Training to the Northern Command, he took over as O/C Belfast around September 1940 having been involved in disciplinary proceedings against members of the Belfast Battalion who were believed to have had ‘fascist’ leanings. He also appears to have edited the Belfast edition of War News (the forerunner of Republican News). At the start of December he was arrested in the backyard of Anna’s father’s house on North Queen Street. A revolver and cash found in his coat were used as a pretext to later give him a ten year prison sentence and was he returned to Crumlin Road. The expanding number of republicans in Crumlin Road had saw the internees and sentenced men divided into two battalion structures, with Jimmy as O/C in A Wing. He continued to write poetry and articles that were smuggled out and published anonymously in War News, An tÓglach and The Critic. Like the other prisoners, he was confined to Crumlin Road during the blitz when bombs fell around the prison (his cousin James O’Boyle and Mary Donnelly, who had been arrested with him in the 1920s, were both killed during the German bombing in April 1941). The authorities also identified him as having a role in procuring equipment for the escape of five prisoners in June 1941 but they made no attempt to punish him. During 1941 and 1942 relations were strained within the prison when the IRA killed a prison warder in February 1942 and Tom Williams was hung there in September the same year.

The latter was followed, on 15th January 1943, by the escape of Jimmy, Hugh McAteer (the recently arrested IRA Chief of Staff), Ned Maguire (brother of the Belfast IRA O/C) and Pat Donnelly from Armagh. They had accessed the roof space over A wing and broke through the roof, climbed down a rope made of sheets and scaled the outer wall. The unionist government was severely embarrassed at its inability to recapture the escapees. This became even more acute when twenty one prisoners tunnelled out of Derry jail in March (Jimmy was involved in the operation on the outside). In between, Jimmy had taken over as the IRA’s Belfast O/C and Adjutant of Northern Command and also edited Republican News. In April, when Liam Burke was arrested, he took over as Adjutant General of the IRA. At the end of the month, he and McAteer further embarrassed the unionist government by staging a public Easter Rising commemoration in Broadway cinema in Belfast. Within a week the northern government’s Prime Minister, J.M. Andrews, resigned.

The intense searches that followed saw Jimmy re-arrested in Amcomri Street in May and he was returned to Crumlin Road (this time with a further twelve years added to his sentence). His seventeen year old nephew, Arthur, received a ten year sentence the same day. On returning to A wing he immediately joined the blanket protest taking place at the increasing harshness of the prison regime which ended in September. After the blanket protest ended he received a beating in his cell at the hands of prison staff. Although the women in Armagh Jail had shown up the difficulties in mounting a hunger strike in late 1943, the men in Crumlin Road didn’t heed the lessons and began their own hunger strike in February 1944. Starved of publicity and looking increasingly likely to lead to fatalities, the strike was ended by orders of the IRA Chief of Staff on 6th April. Jimmy had spent forty days on hunger strike. Beatings and violence from warders continued to be a feature of prison life until the end of the war in May 1945 and the release of internees in August that year. However, despite the demonstrably political nature of sentencing policy, the unionist government was slow to accept that it had also to release the sentenced prisoners and Jimmy was the last to be released, in September 1950. Earlier that year, he had been stood as the Sinn Féin candidate in West Belfast in the general election but had polled poorly.

After his release he was given work doing deliveries for Hughes Bakery and he and Anna tried to settle into some sort of married life. In April 1951 his father, Arthur, died at the age of 81 (his second wife, Sarah, had died in 1948). He and Anna had their own child, a son called Colm, in 1952. On his release Jimmy had also reported back for duty to the IRA and took over again as O/C Belfast. Much of the Belfast Battalion’s energy and resources were taken up with the publication of a newspaper, Resurgent Ulster (from November 1951), but there were still occasional confrontations with the authorities and periods of detention for Jimmy. Much of the early 1950s was taken up with re-establishing the Belfast IRA as the pre-eminent republican organisation in the city. Jimmy began to be publicly involved with the National Graves Association in Belfast and more openly associated with political activity with Sinn Féin. The Battalion didn’t seem to fully engage with IRA GHQ’s emerging plans for a border campaign though. By the time the campaign started Jimmy had stood down as Belfast O/C in favour of Paddy Doyle (an organiser sent up by GHQ). Doyle’s arrest on the eve of the campaign meant that Belfast never fully participated as subsequent swoops by the RUC detained many active republicans. Jimmy avoided arrest until 1957 but was to be held until 1960, spending much of the time as O/C of the internees and famously rallying them following mass beatings after a failed escape attempt.

By the end of his time in Crumlin Road, his health had begun to suffer and on his release, while he was re-employed by Hughes Bakery, he eventually had to take up work in the Bakery shop rather than carry out deliveries.

In October 1961 tragedy struck when Colm was knocked down and killed in a hit-and-run incident at a pedestrian crossing on the Falls Road. Although the driver was eventually caught, the inquest in December 1961 returned an open verdict on Colm’s death.

On his release from Crumlin Road Jimmy had again reported for duty to the IRA. The Belfast IRA resumed publishing its own newspaper, Tírghrá, in December 1962 and tried to rebuild some sort of capacity under Billy McKee. Over the next couple of years, Jimmy worked closely with National Graves in developing the republican memorials in Milltown which coincided with the Wolfe Tone commemorations of 1963 and then the Easter Rising commemorations in 1966 by which time Jimmy had published Antrim’s Patriot Dead and Belfast and nineteensixteen. In so far as the state organised the 1966 commemorations in Dublin, the IRA largely organised those in Belfast, with Jimmy as President of Directorate of the Commemoration Committees.

As with the Wolfe Tone societies set up earlier in the 1960s, all of these coalesced groups into the organised ‘Republican Clubs’ which the IRA saw as an outlet for political activity. Jimmy continued as President of the Directorate of Republican Clubs. Over the course of the 1960s, the Divis Street riots and UVF attacks in 1966 had become reminiscent of the 1930s with the threat of intensifying violence against Catholic districts. Billy McKee had resigned as Belfast O/C in 1963, to be replaced by Billy McMillen. Throughout the rest of the 1960s the IRA concentrated on political activity with little emphasis on procuring arms or carrying out training. Publication of Tírghrá ceased by 1965 as control centralised in Dublin and considerable disaffection was growing among republicans in Belfast over IRA policy. Jimmy’s continued involvement in the Republicans Clubs into 1967 to some extent validated the policy, but he began to make muted statements criticising the direction the IRA was taking at the Manchester Martyrs centenary events in Manchester in November 1967. He made a nuanced comparison with the ‘New Departure’ initiative of John Devoy in which leading IRB figures pursued a personal initiative to break with abstentionism as policy when it was not official IRB policy. Late the next year, Cathal Goulding, the IRA’s Chief of Staff, pushed through changes to the IRA that expanded membership of the Army Council which would have a majority of Goulding supporters until the next Army Convention when the membership would have to be re-elected.

With unrest growing on the streets of Belfast and the IRA totally unprepared to offer any defence to districts likely to face violent attacks, Jimmy decided to make his criticisms of the IRA leadership public at the reburial of Peter Barnes and James McCormack in July 1969. His words were aimed directly at Goulding: “There comes a time in every generation when men try to re-direct the republican movement along a different road to that upon which our freedom fighters trod… And Connolly’s words on this matter should give us all food for thought when he said, “Unity is a word used by many with ulterior motives, to achieve political ambition, or ultimately, to seek power and control in a united movement.” Therefore in striving for genuine unity we must be careful that such efforts may not lead to that seizure of power and control by the wrong people as defined by Connolly.

Within days, Goulding had Jimmy immediately dismissed from the IRA without courtmartial. Within weeks, the unionist government had interned McMillen and much of the IRA leadership just before the widespread attacks on Catholic districts on 15th August. The parlous state the Belfast IRA had reached was illustrated by Broadway being defended by Jimmy and Joe Cullen, another 1920-22 IRA veteran.

In the immediate aftermath of the August violence, Jimmy and many others immediately returned to service with the IRA. Jimmy chaired a meeting a week later to try and backfill some structure where the IRA had all but disappeared. Districts were visited and organised, parties were dispatched to recover long forgotten arms dumps and distribute them to areas where they would be needed. When McMillen was freed a month later, Jimmy joined a deputation that went to where he was meeting the Belfast Battalion staff with demands on changes that had to be implemented. McMillen agreed to break communications with IRA GHQ until changes were made, including Goulding’s removal. The next day, McMillen resumed communications and the Belfast IRA divided into individuals and units willing to recognise Goulding’s authority and others, like Jimmy, who wanted a new leadership elected.

As the split in the IRA formalised in 1970, Jimmy was reputedly offered the role of Chief of Staff and Adjutant General but turned down both. He did help restart publication of Republican News by the summer of 1970, alongside the likes of Hugh McAteer. McAteer, whose health had been weakened by long years in prison died in June 1970 at the young age of 53. Jimmy gave the oration at his funeral. Rather than take that as a warning that he needed to slow down, Jimmy continued to edit Republican News and be active for long hours every single day. Then on 9th August 1970, Jimmy’s poor health also gave way and he died of heart failure. It was the day after his sixty-third birthday.

Here is a poem he wrote in 1946.

REMINISCING

(A Prison Poem 1946)

 

The whitewashed cell is cold and bare,

As perished with the chilly air,

I sit and muse on times long past.

To feel the melancholy blast

Of longing, for the day I knew,

When sorrows with me then were few.

The home where all my youth was spent,

Advice and counsel kindly meant

From those dear ones, who felt for me

And sought to guard and keep me free

From every trouble, pain and care,

A wicked world gives as its share.

The pleasant nights of dance and song

Has set me reminiscing long.

To hear the voice of colleen sweet

The rhythm of the dancers feet,

The lilting tune of jig and reel,

That made our aching feet e’er feel.

The urge to dance and be so gay

And all our worries to relay.

The tramp o’er mountain, road and hill,

Or sitting in the quiet still

Of some lone glen; while someone there

Would speak or sing of Ireland fair.

The story of her ancient right.

The struggle ‘gainst usurper’s might;

Her sons who served and fought and died

In her just cause so sanctified,

And thus our hearts with pride, we’d lace

With love for our unconquered race.

 

The haunting sound of Gaelic tongue,

Enchantingly around us clung;

The hours we spent to win its fame,

And preach our gospel in its name,

The grip of caman in my hand,

Amidst a stalwart hurling band,

To glory in the rugged play,

Enthusiastic in the play.

Whilst in my ears the roars still clung

As eager fans made welkin ring.

The joy and fervour of it all,

E’en yet I feel it in recall.

More poignant thoughts seep through my mind,

And comrades faces there I find,

Who entered through the door of death

With martyred step and patriot breath,

Brave heroes in our country’s fight,

God grant them heaven’s place tonight.

What joy ‘twould give to wander back,

Along that old familiar track;

To greet old friends – old scenes again,

To shelter from the prison rain;

That soaks me with its sombre showers,

And turns the minutes into hours.