Roll of Honour, Belfast, 1916-1966 (update)

Roll of Honour, Belfast, 1916-1966

The following is a first update on a roll of honour for Belfast 1916-66 as posted previously. Please add any further information, comments or suggestions.

Original republican monument in Harbinson plot), Milltown cemetery
Original republican monument in Harbinson plot, Milltown cemetery

Charlie Monaghan, IRB, 21/04/1916

James Johnston, IRB, 1917 (date of death not established)

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

Pat Duffin, Sinn Féin, 23/4/1921 (previously listed as Óglaigh na hÉireann, various sources clearly state he was not a member but as he was politically active he was included on the County Antrim Memorial and so is listed here as Sinn Féin)

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 (given full military funeral on 1st January 1922, cause and date of death not clear)

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

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

Vol. Augustine Orange, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 18/3/1922 (named in Antrim’s Patriot Dead but no further details supplied, assumed to be a Volunteer in Óglaigh na hÉireann but may have been in Sinn Féin)

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

Vol. James McGee, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 26/3/1922 (information supplied by Kieran Glennon)

Fian Joseph Burns, Fianna, 18/4/1922 (listed on County Antrim Memorial but not identified in contemporary records)

Fian J.P. Smyth, Fianna, 18/4/1922 (listed on County Antrim Memorial but not identified in contemporary records)

Vol. John Walker, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 20/4/1922 (information supplied by Kieran Glennon)

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 (killed in action against Free State forces, Ferrycarrig, Wexford)

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

Vol. Pat Nash, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 31/1/1925 (died after becoming ill in prison)

Fian. Francis Doherty, Fianna, 1933 (date of death not established, appears to have died after becoming ill in prison)

Vol. Dan Turley, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 4/12/1936

Vol. Liam Tumilson, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 14/3/1937 (died with republican forces in Spain)

Vol. Jim Stranney, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 31/7/1938 (died with republican forces in Spain)

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 (date of death not established, recorded as having died after contracting TB in prison)

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

Fian Sean Doyle, Fianna, 10/4/1944

Vol. Tom Graham, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 1944, (date of death not established, recorded as having died after contracting pleurisy in prison)

Vol. Dickie Dunn, Óglaigh na hÉireann, 1945? (date of death not established, recorded as having died after becoming ill in prison)

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 (died after becoming ill in prison)

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

Belfast men in the Pro-Treaty IRA

Who from Belfast joined the Free State Army and fought on the Pro-Treaty side in the Civil War?

In numerical terms, at least 216 men from the general Belfast area are listed in the Free State Army census of November 1922 (you can see them here). A total of 366 Belfast men were  also recorded as having been supplied with pensions information in 1926 (thus indicating ‘service’ in the Free State Army after July 1922). That would not include those still active in 1926, including many former 3rd Northern Division officers who made careers in the Free State Army. Kieran Glennon’s excellent From Pogrom to Civil War contextualises one such officer, Tom Glennon’s, experience in the complex political environment of post-truce Belfast. Similarly, Jim McDermot’s (equally excellent) Northern Divisions shows that Glennon’s story was, in many ways, typical of the Division’s officers.

Glennon also makes it clear that there was a complicated matrix of motivations that led Belfast men to take the Pro-Treaty side, or at least not be actively anti-Treaty. Loyalty, politics and events influenced individual choices, alongside the prospect of a regular pay packet or relief from the intense violence in Belfast.

In the first half of 1922 alone, around 15% of the total of all fatalities of the War of Independence in Ireland had occurred in Belfast. The IRA had around 800 men in the  3rd Northern Division, 1st (Belfast) Brigade in July 1922, split into the five Battalions (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and Engineering). By the summer, the Divisional staff of the 3rd Northern Division were struggling with the Pro-Treaty GHQ’s attitude towards the north (the background to this is detailed in From Pogrom to Civil War). With confusion over their attitudes towards the Pro-Treaty GHQ and IRA Executive forces, at the end of August 1922 it was agreed that IRA operations would cease in the north and a percentage of officers and volunteers would go to the Curragh for a rest and to train. They were allocated their own barrack in the Curragh to rest and train in anticipation of renewing the campaign in the north. It was also agreed that they would not be asked to participate in activity in the south.

According to Joe Murray by September 1922 this had depleted the Belfast IRA, although this does not seem borne out by the numbers involved (see Military Archives, WS0412). Certainly some went south, but clearly not all (Murray may really mean the Pro-Treaty units were depleted by September). According to Murray, the first groups to go to the Curragh were “…officers and men who were harassed by the enemy and in need of rest.” Joe Murray’s claim that those who left Belfast did so to get relief from the violence is illustrated by where they came from in the city. Based on the geographic focus of the Belfast IRA’s 1st and 2nd Battalions (up to late 1921), the number of men recorded in the 1922 census that were drawn from each unit (centre of district in brackets) was: A Company (Leeson Street), 1st Batt. – 26, B Company (Pound/Cullingtree Road), 1st Batt. – 23, C Company (Carrickhill/Smithfield), 1st Batt. – 26, D Company (Clonard), 1st Batt. – 10, E Company (Upper Falls), 1st Batt. – 7, A Company (Bone/Ardoyne), 2nd Batt. – 12, B Company (Ballymacarrett), 2nd Batt. – 26, C Company (Markets), 2nd Batt. – 22, D Company (North Queen Street/York Street), 2nd Batt. – 44. The units with the highest numbers, C Company, 1st Battalion and B and D Companies, 2nd Battalion are those districts which saw the highest fatalities and most intense violence in 1920-22.

What is also interesting is comparing men identifiable on the census and on the lists for each unit reported by the Brigade Committees in the 1930s. Of these, only 40 can be identified in the 3rd Northern Division, 1st (Belfast) Brigade company lists as prepared for June 1921 and July 1922. Of the 40 listed in the Belfast Brigade, the numbers from each unit were: A Company, 1st Batt. – 6, B Company, 1st Batt. – 4, C Company, 1st Batt. – 17, D Company, 1st Batt. – 1, E Company, 1st Batt. – 2, A Company, 2nd Batt. – 4, B Company, 2nd Batt. – 0, C Company, 2nd Batt. – 3, D Company, 2nd Batt. – 0 and the (5th) Engineering Battalion – 3. This suggests that there was either a significant turnover of personnel in the Belfast IRA units, or that the lists are substantially incomplete. There is also an odd discrepancy here between the high figure for Carrickhill (C/1st) and the lack of volunteers listed in Ballymacarret  (B/2nd) and York Street/North Queen Street (D/2nd). Does it just reflect the lists recorded in the 1930s?

This raises questions about the detail and accuracy of the 1921-1922 lists produced by the Brigade Committees in the 1930s (see militaryarchives.ie). The 1st (Belfast) Brigade Committee in the 1930s was largely composed of those who had taken the Pro-Treaty side. The surviving records from the Belfast Brigade Committee claims that the 3rd and 4th Battalions were constituted after July 1921 and non-existent by July 1922. Yet, they list Battalion staffs for the 3rd and 4th Battalions and at least one personnel list survives, from A Company, 4th Battalion. Joe Murray also records that, as Battalion O/C, he supervised the dumping of arms of the 3rd Battalion on 31st October 1922. This suggests that there are considerable problems with the information supplied by the Belfast Brigade Committee.

According to the A Company, 4 Battalion list (see militaryarchives.ie, MA_MSPC_RO_406), the unit had originally been E Company of the 1st Battalion, but was reorganised into the 4th Battalion. It was later re-organised as D Company, 1st Battalion of the Pro-Treaty IRA in Belfast. This last re-organisation must have occurred between July and October 1922 and is largely undocumented. The re-organisation of Pro-Treaty units may reflect the ‘depletion’ mentioned by Joe Murray.

A list of those who had been issued with forms to apply for pensions in 1926, includes 366 from the 1st (Belfast) Brigade area ((Military Archives, ref WM_MSP_10). The RUC estimated that a total of 1,685 men left the six counties to join or train with the Free State Army during 1922 (see PRONI HA/32/1/257). A proportion of these must have been individuals who joined the Free State Army of their own volition, presumably for financial as well as political reasons. It is clear from the witness statements (see bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie) that initially, personal allegiances and trust in individuals such as Michael Collins clearly influenced some 3rd Northern Division officers in supporting (or at least not opposing) the IRA’s Pro-Treaty GHQ. Collins death severed some of those ties, but the circumstances of it strengthened others.

With 3rd Northern men in camps in the south, the Pro-Treaty Belfast officers in the Free State Army wrote to Richard Mulcahy, its Chief of Staff, at the end of September asking what the plans were for the north. The letter was unanswered yet they had to attend meetings in Belfast in early October with those opposed to the Treaty. At a meeting of both sides of the IRA in Belfast on the 4th October, the issue was raised of recognising the northern government (a Mulcahy proposal). The Anti-Treaty officers dismissed the idea and walked out. At a second meeting in the Boys Hall on the Falls Road on the 6th October went even worse. Those present included Dinny McCullough, President of the Supreme Council of the IRB at the time of the Easter Rising and a brother-in-law of Mulcahy. The 3rd Northern Division officers who had moved to the south were slammed by those opposed to the Treaty for taking comfortable paid positions while Belfast was still under pressure. It was an accusation that stubbornly followed many of them around for the rest of their lives.

By October, it is clear that there was also discontent among those in the Curragh. Since it was recognised that continuing the northern campaign was futile, and following instructions from Dublin, the officers on the Divisional Staff in Belfast that still supported GHQ placed some arms in dumps, destroyed files and left for the south. According to Tom Fitzpatrick, those who couldn’t return home were transferred to Dundalk (where 134 are listed in the November 1922 census as part of the 5th Northern Division) or to the 3rd Northern Division reserve in the Curragh (71 were listed in the November census).

In overall terms, there are appear to have been three discrete groups of Belfast men who joined the ProTreaty forces. The first were the units which moved south after August 1922, on instruction from GHQ but likely remained neutral on the treaty itself (and strictly speaking, never really joined the Free State Army). The next group were those who chose to join the Free State Army either for political reasons or purely for the pay. The third group were officers bound by ties to Michael Collins and others. While not necessarily ideologically bound to the treaty, many did not reconcile to their former Belfast colleagues for decades (if ever).

You can view the Free State Army census of November 1922 here.

Some of the Belfast men in that census are listed here.

The 366 Belfast men sent pension applications are listed here.



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.

IMG_1015-0
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.

Rocky Burns, 1921-44

Rocky Burns was the 23 year old O/C of the Belfast IRA who was shot dead in February  1944.
Jim Burns, also known as Seamus and, more commonly, Rocky, had first been imprisoned as a seventeen year old Fianna member in April 1938, for possession of a banned publication.
Released that September he joined the IRA, only to get picked up in the September 1939 internment sweep that coincided with the outbreak of World War 2. He was brought to Springfield Road barracks along with Liam Burke and 32 others. There Rocky confronted the B Specials rather than be pushed around, as he was well able to look after himself, but Liam Burke records that while there was some bad language from the Specials and RUC, there were no serious physical assaults.
Burns, Burke and the others were first interned in Crumlin Road, then moved to Derry Jail just before Christmas 1939. The internees in Derry mutinied on Christmas Day, seizing a wing. When the B Specials, RUC and fire brigade were trying to break into the wing, they used a battering ram on the barricaded steel door, accompanied by Rocky singing ‘Who’s That Knocking At My Door?’ Like the rest, Rocky was subject to indiscriminate beatings by the Specials, RUC and British soldiers when the internees lost control of the wing again.
Rocky was then sent back to Crumlin Road. Eamon Ó Cianáin was to describe him as the sort of person everyone needed to help them do their time, particularly when it was open-ended like internment. According to Ó Cianáin, Rocky almost made internment bearable. Tarlach Ó hUid also recounts stories of Burns’ antics in Crumlin Road (in Faoi Ghlas), describing his comic routines and practical jokes. A fad at the time was to refer to people as ‘Bores’ based on their interests. To Rocky and Seamus McKearney, Ó Cianáin was the Singing Bore, others were Gaelic Bores, Chess Bores, Physical Culture Bores, Football Bores, Music Bores etc. To Ó Cianáin and others, Burns was the Messing Bore. He also had a more serious side and, despite his youth, was considered a proficient Gaelic speaker and teacher. He also acted in a number of plays put on by the internees.
In October 1942, Rocky had again been moved back to Derry prison due to the overcrowding in Crumlin Road (September 1942, after Tom William’s execution, had saw a big upsurge in arrests and internment). He arrived in time to take part in the escape bid in March 1943. To be part of the official escape team you had to be willing to report back for duty immediately on release. Harry White (in his biography Harry) recounts stories of Rocky in Derry Jail, where he was in the cell next to Joe McGurk. McGurk had experienced prison at various times in the 1920s and 1930s (and was to again in the 1950s) and had learnt how to cope with imprisonment. Howeverm he hadn’t previously had to cope with having the Messing Bore, Rocky, as a neighbour.
Rocky would put on a female voice and call through his cell window: “I say, is that you Mrs Donaghy, did you hear that poor man McGurk was lifted again?
He would then provide the response too, “Oh dear, oh dear.
He also had another routine where he pretended a B Special was battering on his cell door, shouting “Get down, get down from that winda ya bastard.
Burns would then respond in his own voice, “Oh is it me? Mind ye wouldn’t talk like that to Joe McGurk.
Like most of the other escapers he got picked up and ended up in the Curragh, although, like Jimmy Drumm and others, he had intended to go back to Belfast. Pat Hannon, who was in the Curragh with Rocky also remembered him as full of fun. Under instructions from Harry White, he resigned from the IRA, signed out from the Curragh, then rejoined the IRA and returned to Belfast in May where he became O/C of the Belfast Battalion after Jimmy Steele was arrested in Amcomri Street.
When his sister Madge was a prisoner in Armagh Gaol, the warders were nervous that Rocky was on the loose and might try and break her out. They were so apprehensive that one night, they were convinced Rocky was coming down the chimney. She was to be refused parole to attend Rocky’s funeral.
He had several narrow shaves once he was back in Belfast. On one occasion, he was sat on a trolley bus when an RUC man told him there was a problem with his identity card. As Rocky gripped his revolver he asked the RUC what he thought he should do with it. The RUC man advised him to get it changed. In early February 1944, Burns was using safe houses in Ballymacarrett and Ardoyne. He left Albert Price in Ardoyne on the morning of the 10th February en route to meeting Billy Perry, Harry O’Rawe and Harry White in a bar on Francis Street that evening. But that afternoon, about 5.50 pm Rocky was picked up as suspicious by two RUC detectives leaving the Continental Café on Castle Street, although initially it didn’t appear that they knew who they were detaining. As they were walking along Chapel Lane on the way to Queen Street barracks, Rocky broke away from the two detectives accompanying him and, drawing a revolver, tried to make good his escape, not realising a third policeman was behind them. He received four bullet wounds to his stomach and chest and died on the Saturday.
Burns was such a larger than life figure that his death was keenly felt. Jimmy Steele was to write new words to the tune of The West’s Awake and titled it ‘Seamus Burns‘:
His youthful years for thee he spent
Within the prisons of the foe,
Until their prison bars he rent
To serve you still in weal and woe ;
They tracked him with their might and power,
These human blood hounds crossed his way ;
Dear Ireland this was but the hour
You asked of him death’s price to pay.

Rocky Burns is buried in the Harbinson plot in Milltown cemetery.

Notes
1
There is a brief biography of Rocky by Jimmy Steele in Antrim’s Patriot Dead and MacEoin’s Harry p142-43.s
2
MacEoin 1997, 443.
3
Quinn 1998, 104 and see McNally 1989, 111.
4
MacEoin 1997, 603.
5
Resigning, signing out and re-joining was how IRA volunteers justified signing out, as they didn’t then sign out as members of the IRA.

Awful Bomb Outrage on Belfast Children

The bombing of Weaver Street on 13th February 1922 marked a particular low in the violence in Belfast in 1920-22. What hasn’t immediately been recognised is the extent to which it resonates deeply with more recent cases. The Special Constabulary and police are both implicated in colluding with the bombers, forensic evidence was misrepresented and not properly secured, witness statements were not collected, the police refused to take witness statements in some instances, the police failed to identify individuals of significance to the investigation, disinformation was put out by the media, misleading evidence was given to the inquest and when an official inquiry was requested, the request was ignored.

IrishNewsWeaver

I’ve reconstructed the bombing from the evidence given to the inquest before the City Coroner held on 3rd March 1922. This was reported in most of the contemporary papers at some level of detail. I’ve supplemented this with reports from the days after the bombing. Where the detail conflicts (particularly in the press of 14th February), I’ve used the version given to the inquest.

Weaver Street, 8.30 pm, 13th February 1922

It had already been a violent day in Belfast. Catherine McNeill, who lived at number 6 Weaver Street, saw two Special Constables chase children from the Milewater Street corner of Weaver Street down to the other end of Weaver Street. One Special Constable was brandishing a revolver. And one  of them reportedly told the children to go and ‘play with their own’. The children moved part of the way down into Weaver Street. Around twenty children were in the street, the girls mostly jumping with a skipping rope (which was tied to a lamp-post) and the boys playing marbles on the footpath beside them. Prior to the intervention of the Special Constables, they had been scattered across the two streets. They were now gathered in two groups in front of 20 and 22 Weaver Street.

8.32 pm

A few minutes later, Agnes O’Neill left her house on Weaver Street to look for her younger children. She saw three uniformed police constables coming down North Derby Street from the direction of York Road. At a small gateway on the right hand side of North Derby Street, the three constables met two men in civilian clothing. They stood and talked for some minutes.  Mrs McCaffrey, from Shore Street, was out at the corner of Shore Street and talking to two young men who were neighbours. The young men had been watching two men they thought were very suspicious looking. So when they saw the three constables approach the two men they hoped they would stop and question them. Instead all five appeared to have a conversation. The constables had their backs to Mrs McCaffrey. When they left towards the Black Path at the other end of North Derby Street, they walked so fast Mrs McCaffrey didn’t get a good view of them. She thought nothing of seeing police constables walking around as there was a barracks on York Road (between Milewater Street and North Derby Street, on the opposite side of the road). Despite the fact that there had been significant violence across Belfast already that day, it was later claimed that the local police constables were confined to their barracks that evening.

Weaver St map.png

8.35 pm

The three constables continued down the right hand side of North Derby Street to the end of the road and seemed to continue on towards the Black Path (which ran parallel to Weaver Street behind the houses). The two men in civilian clothes crossed over then continued down the left hand side of the road, passed the end of Weaver Street and went as far as Jennymount Mill (at the end of North Derby Street), turned and came back to the Weaver Street corner). John Pimley, who had been out in Weaver Street since 6 pm, also saw the movements of the five men. He said that two of the constables had long coats and capes, while the third had only a long coat. The tallest was about 5 foot 8 inches in height. Pimley saw the men walk up and down past the corner of Weaver Street.

8.37 pm

Patrick Kennedy, who lived at 25 Weaver Street, had noticed the two men walking up and down past the end of Weaver Street. He thought they were acting suspicious and so went in to tell Joseph Maguire. They both went to the door to observe the two men.

8.40 pm

All this time, the large group  of children were playing in two groups about 25 metres up from the North Derby Street end of Weaver Street, in front of numbers 20 and 22. Ellen Rafferty, who also lived in Weaver Street, saw one of the two men crouch down and throw something towards the group of children. Patrick Kennedy didn’t see the bomb being thrown but saw one of the men put his hand to his hip pocket. On hearing a huge explosion, he slammed the front door. The windows and furniture in Weaver Street shook with the force of the blast, as it did in many of the surrounding streets off the York Road. The sound of the bomb exploding was heard all across Belfast.

The bomb had landed in the middle of the group of girls playing with the skipping rope. The explosion threw out shrapnel in every direction. The girls took the main force of the blast, and almost all were wounded by shrapnel and flying metal. Many of the boys were injured too as were a number of adults who happened to be standing in doorways nearby. Immediately after the bomb exploded, heavy gunfire from revolvers was directed down Weaver Street from North Derby Street, pinning down the injured and preventing residents coming to the aid of those injured in the blast. When the gunfire finally stopped, people rushed from their houses. Some residents claimed that it had been two of the three constables that had re-appeared and opened fire with their revolvers down Weaver Street.

Patrick Kennedy’s sister Catherine had been hit in the head and body by large pieces of shrapnel. She was covered in blood and unconscious. She was carried into 22 Weaver Street. Their mother Mary Jane had gone out onto the street after the shooting stopped. Another one of her children, 13 year old Barney, had been wounded in the arm. She was then told Catherine was injured and was brought to her. Catherine was only 15, but already worked in the nearby mill. Like the Kennedy’s, Jennie Johnston lived on the other side of Weaver Street to the blast. When the gunfire stopped she ran out onto the street and found her 11 year old sister Ellen lying on the footpath. A boy helped her carry Ellen into a house. She had also received horrific head, torso and limb injuries in the blast. Catherine McNeill had also rushed out onto the street after the firing stopped, to find her daughter Rose Ann lying in the middle of the street. Francis Pimley carried Rose Ann into his house (20 Weaver Street). Elizabeth O’Hanlon had been thrown across the street by the blast and was badly injured in the blast (as were two of her brothers, John and Murtie). She was carried into 21 Weaver Street, where her mother found her.

Annie Pimley, Mary Clinton, Mary Kerr, Susannah Laverty and Kate O’Neill had been around the skipping rope with Catherine Kennedy, Rose Ann McNeill, Ellen Johnston and Elizabeth O’Hanlon. All were injured in the blast. The two O’Hanlon boys and Barney Kennedy had been playing with Willie John Dempsey, John McCluskey, George O’Connor, Joseph Conway, Patrick Maguire, Robert McBirney and William Connolly. They also received injuries in the blast. Three women who happened to be out on the street at the time were also critically injured, Grace Kelly, Mary Owens and Maggie Smith.

Sergeant Beattie and Constable Boyd, from the York Road barracks, came out onto the road after the explosions and gunfire. After the gunfire ended they went down into Weaver Street. They called for ambulances to come. When two arrived as many of the children as possible were squeezed in and rushed to the Mater Hospital. After the day’s violence, the hospital was already at full stretch as, in great distress, critically wounded children began to arrive on stretchers and in their parents’ arms. The ambulance men carried Catherine Kennedy straight into theatre and told the doctor and nurse in charge that they would need everyone. Quickly Dr Wright, Dr Morris, Dr Robinson, Dr Cavanagh and the nursing staff got to work. The hospital was so crowded that most of the nineteen children who were hospitalised by their injuries had to be put two to a bed (there were also the three women injured).  Fr Clenaghan, President of St Malachy’s College, and Fr Black, from St Patricks, both arrived and gave last rites to those that were most seriously injured and tried to comfort the parents.

Catherine Kennedy couldn’t be saved and died from her injuries almost immediately. By 9.40 pm, Eliza O’Hanlon had also died, followed a couple of hours later by Ellen Johnston.

The next day, the Belfast Telegraph implied that shots had been fired at an armoured car in Weaver Street, before the bomb had been thrown although this incident was not documented anywhere else. The Irish News described it as an ‘Awful Bomb Outrage on Belfast Children’ and said ‘…Last night’s shocking affair appears to have been a part of the plan of campaign carried out throughout the city for the extermination of the catholic population.’ James Craig’s statement on the bombing during the day stated that “…the indiscriminate throwing of bombs over a wall into Weaver Street, a Sinn Fein area, which resulted in the death of two children and the wounding of fourteen others.’ This was sufficiently vague that some press reported it as an attack on Protestants by the IRA. At 3.45 pm that afternoon, Rose Anne McNeill also died from her injuries.

The inquest, before a jury and the City Coroner, James Graham, was heard on the 3rd March. District Inspector Lynn observed on behalf of the police, while a solicitor, Bernard Campbell, represented the families. Two police witnesses, Sergeant Beattie and Constable Boyd were also present. Boyd implied that the gunfire after the blast was directed towards the police and came from the North Derby Street corner of Weaver Street. Lynn then asked Beattie if anyone had told him that there had been shots fired into Weaver Street after the bomb and he said no. Beattie brought along splinters and pieces of the bomb recovered from the scene and empty bullet cartridges from the corner of Weaver Street and North Derby Street. The empty bullet cartridges implied that they had found the position the guns were fired from (but not the bullets which would be found at the target). However, Campbell then produced spent Webley revolver bullets (and more bomb fragments) recovered from the street and houses in Weaver Street, to prove they were the target. Campbell also stated, in response to a question from a juror, that the reason why the police had no record of the actions of the three constables in North Derby Street was because they had refused to take statements from a number of the witnesses. The police were unable to identify the three constables or produce them to give evidence. At this point Lynn denied that they could have been police constables as he revealed that the constables in York Road had been confined to barracks that evening. Why they were confined to barracks during so much violence was not stated.

The jury brought in a verdict that the deaths had been caused by a bomb ‘…wilfully thrown by some person unknown.’ The City Coroner then adjourned the inquest for two weeks and requested that the Minister for Home Affairs in the northern government, Dawson Bates hold an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Catherine Kennedy, Ellen Johnston, Eliza O’Hanlon and Rose Ann McNeill.

The northern government didn’t even discuss it at its next cabinet meeting (although it did discuss the site for a Stormont egg-laying competition). In a telegram to Michael Collins, Churchill (then Colonial Secretary) called it “…the worst thing to have happened in Ireland in the last three years“. Edward Carson wrote in his diary that there was no evidence the bomb was purposely thrown at the children. But his attitude was clear, as he wrote that even if it was it was only “…one among how many on the other side?“.

The only inquiry Dawson Bates called was into the shooting of a Special Constable by the military. By next month, the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act was passed allowing Dawson Bates almost unlimited powers. Margaret Smith had died from the injuries she sustained in the blast on the 23rd March. On 6th April, the day before Dawson Bates’ Special Powers Act came in to force, Mary Owens also died from her wounds.

By the 21st May 1922 the Catholic residents of Weaver Street and the surrounding streets had been forcibly evicted from their homes.

Catholic districts, Belfast, 1922

  
This is part of a map showing, in green, what were considered as areas which had mainly Catholic residents in 1922 (and so were regarded as politically nationalist or republican). Most are instantly recognisable, as the Falls and Carrickhill, although in 1922, the Smithfield district was heavily populated linking the two together. The (Low) Markets are visible below May Street. While the area between the bottom of Great Patrick Street and Little Patrick Street seems to cover the Half Bap and the Docks. North Queen Street (but not so much the New Lodge) is shown as is the former location of Weaver Street. The Bone district is also included (Ardoyne not really being built up at the time). Other districts are shown on the full map, including the likes of Ballymacarret.

The map is from Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogroms 1920-22 which was first published by the O’Connell publishing company in Dublin in 1922. The book was withdrawn on the day of publication and pulped with only a handful of copies surviving until a reprint in 1997. It is believed that the Catholic church authorities in Ireland and the pro-Treaty Government of the Irish Free State feared the impact the book would have on public opinion if the scale of violence against northern Catholics was revealed.

The authors name ‘G B Kenna’ is a pseudonym for Fr. James Hassan, curate in St. Mary’s Church in Chapel Lane, Belfast during the years of the pogrom. Hassan was active in nationalist politics which is reflected in the tone of the book.   The original edition can be viewed here on archive.org. Once the centenary of 1916 has passed and focus shifts to the period from 1919 onwards, the anxieties around commemorating the Easter Rising will seem mild in comparison. No doubt a further reprint of Facts and Figures will follow.

Hassan’s book, while it has flaws, is uncompromising in its detailing of sectarian violence in Belfast, largely fomented and controlled by the unionist government. If its subject matter had been properly and openly debated and the book itself had not been suppressed by the Catholic Church and pro-Treaty government in 1922, one wonders how differently history might have unfolded.

The Weaver Street bombing and not dealing with the past

In Belfast, on 13th February 1922, some children playing in Milewater Street, at the corner of Weaver Street, off the York Road, were approached by two Special Constables and told to go and “play with their own” (Special Constables invariably being Protestant, the children were Catholics in a largely Protestant district). They joined other children in the mainly Catholic-occupied Weaver Street and played on a swing attached to a lamp-post. Ten minutes later, two men came to the North Derby Street end of Weaver Street (one eye witness claimed one Special Constable had just spoken to the same two men). They were about 20 metres away from where the children were playing. One of the men then threw a bomb into the middle of the children. As the bomb exploded, gunfire directed into Weaver Street from North Derby Street, covered the two men’s retreat.

Weaver St map
Map showing Weaver Street running from North Derby Street to Milewater Street (which isn’t named on the map)

The explosion killed or injured Mary Johnson (13), Catherine Kennedy (14), W.J. Dempsey (13), Annie Pimley (16), John O’Hanlon (16), Elizabeth O’Hanlon (11), Murtie O’Hanlon (16), Barney Kennedy (10), John McCluskey (12), Rose Ann McNeill (13), Mary McClinton (18), Mary Kerr (6), Susanne Lavery (14), George O’Connor (16), Joseph Conway (12), Patrick Maguire (14), Kate O’Neill (14), Robert McBirney (16) and William Connolly (13). All lived in Weaver Street. Adults standing in their doorways were also badly injured.

The force of the blast threw the children up into the air and caused catastrophic injuries, maiming many of those who survived. Mary Johnson and Catherine Kennedy died immediately. Eliza O’Hanlon died the next day. Statements made in the press and in Westminster indicate that three of those injured had died by the next day, the third being O’Hanlon. By the time the inquest was held on 3rd March, a fourth girl had died from the blast. Two adults were to succumb to their injuries. Margaret Smith died on the 23rd March, while Mary Owens (who lived in nearby Shore Street) died from injuries sustained in the blast on the 6th April.

This was not the first bombing of its kind. On September 25th the previous year, a bomb had been thrown into a group of Catholic children on Milewater Street, injuring nine, including four under six years of age. One man, George Barry, died from injuries he received. The bomb had such force that two houses were wrecked. A bomb had also been thrown by loyalists into a group of school children in Herbert Street on 12th January, injuring six (the Belfast Telegraph erroneously reported it as an IRA attack). The same month, a bomb had been thrown into Weaver Street from a passing taxi.

The Belfast Telegraph claimed the 13th February bomb was one of the largest ever used in the city. It also implausibly offered justification for the bomb attack, saying shots had earlier been fired at an armoured car in Weaver Street. In retrospect, the Belfast Telegraph’s link to an attack of an armoured car merely ties the Special Constabulary closer to the bombing (the ‘Specials’, created at roughly the same time, performed the Black and Tans roles in repression and reprisals in the north).

James Craig also included a reference to the bomb in a report sent to the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill and read in Westminster the next day. It stated that there had been…

..the indiscriminate throwing of bombs over a wall into Weaver Street, a Sinn Fein area, which resulted in the death of two children and the wounding of fourteen others. These outrages are greatly deplored by my Government, especially the latter dastardly deed, involving the lives of children.

Craig was more concerned about a gun battle in Clones between republican forces and Special Constables travelling to Enniskillen the day before the Weaver Street bombing. Joe Devlin fumed that Craigs wording was deliberately vague and that some international press had been led to believe that the bomb was thrown by republicans.

As sectarian attacks continued through 1921 and 1922, and even after the 13th February bomb, the (relatively) safe places for Catholic families to live in that part of the York Road had shrank to the area around Weaver Street. The attacks continued to intensify in early summer. On 18th May Thomas McCaffrey from Shore Street was killed. On the night of 20th May, Thomas McShane from Jennymount Street was killed. That same night the remaining Catholic residents of Weaver Street, Milewater Street, North Derby Street, Shore Street and Jennymount Street, some one hundred and forty-eight families, were forced from their homes at gunpoint. By the 21st May 1922 the Catholic community that had established itself around Weaver Street had fled. The 1924 street directory only shows one household remaining from the 1918 directory (in comparison, nearby Seaview Street had two thirds of the same households). Houses in Weaver Street remained occupied until the 1960s as Unilever and the Associated Feed Mills bought up property around Shore Street, Weaver Street and Milewater Street eventually enclosing all but the York Road end of Milewater Street.

 
The view today of where Weaver Street met North Derby Street. This is more or less where the bomb was thrown from.

Today, Shore Street and Weaver Street are gone, no longer visible on the streetscape of Belfast. Patiently neglected over the decades after 1922, their former occupants were dispersed around other districts of the city. Similarly, the detail of its own particular sadness, sectarianism and savagery are now, largely, long forgotten. The memory of the violence of 1920-22, mostly unarticulated, was indelibly etched into the psyche of the Catholic residents of Belfast.

Some 20-25% of those killed in the 1920-22 conflict died in Belfast but, with few notable exceptions, little was written or said about it over the decades that followed (even today only a handful of books have been written about it). So despite what has happened since 1969, few have considered how the memory of 1920-22 influenced communities. Even fewer have considered the role an absence of public discourse around the violence of 1920-22 may have had in later outbreaks of sectarian violence in the 1930s and 1960s.

Today, the very obliteration of Weaver Street from the streetscape of Belfast, somehow elevates it as an appropriate metaphor for the eclipse of public discourse on the violence of 1920-22.

Pat Nash, 1916 veteran

Pat Nash, O/C Belfast Brigade (taken from Belfast and nineteensixteen).

Pat Nash of Belfast was the first Belfast soldier of the Republic to be arrested before 1916 and sent to prison for trying to buy a rifle from a British Soldier. He with his brother George later went with the Belfast contingent to Coalisland to take part in the Easter manoeuvres arranged for Easter Sunday 1916.

On being ordered back to Belfast on Easter Sunday night he took it very badly. He was arrested the following week and interned in Frongoch.

On his release he again became active in the movement and was again interned in Ballykinlar. Released from internment again he threw himself wholeheartedly into the movement and he became a great guerilla fighter and leader in the Leeson Street and “Loney” area of the Falls Road, right up to the signing of the Treaty in 1921.

He was again arrested and interned in Belfast Jail, Derry Jail, Larne Workhouse and the Prison Ship S.S. Argenta.

During his internment he became a great Prison fighter and endured hunger-strikes which had their effect on his health. About a month after his release he died on the 31st January 1925 – and was buried in Milltown Cemetery.

Nash had been Vice O/C of the Brigade earlier in 1922, having been involved with the Irish Volunteers in Belfast since before 1916 (as mentioned in Belfast and nineteensixteen).

Belfast Easter Commemoration, 1917

Easter Sunday 1917 dawned bright and clear over the Falls Road, Belfast. In the Irish Ireland Club which stood on the site of what is now Barrack Street School, the Irish Volunteers made last minute plans for the first Easter Commemoration Parade to honour those comrades who had given their lives in the Rising of the previous Easter.

The Irish Volunteers had been formed at an inaugural meeting on 25th November, 1913 in Dublin at a meeting chaired by Eoin McNeill. They were re-organised in the North after the Rising.

The enrollment form of the Irish Volunteers put forth the objectives clearly:-

“I the undersigned, desire to be enrolled in the Irish Volunteers founded to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland without distinction of creed, class or politics.”

Easter Sunday 1917 evoked bitter-sweet memories of the Glorious stand in Dublin. The Volunteers from Belfast had assembled at Coalisland on Easter Monday 1916 and had formed a junction with Volunteers from Tyrone and other areas. Now, the leaders Pearse, Connolly, Clarke, McDonagh, Plunkett, Ceannt and MacDiarmada were all dead, and other leading Republicans had also been summarily executed. Two of these leaders had associations with Belfast. James Connolly organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union had lived at 420 Falls Road from 1910 to 1913. Sean MacDiarmada, a native of Leitrim, lived in Butler Street, Ardoyne, prior to 1916. He was employed as a tram driver with Belfast Corporation.

Republicanism in the North was at a low ebb, and whilst the citizens of Dublin made a show of strength in their new found aspirations to Liberty by hoisting the Tricolour over the G.P.O. the ripples on the pool barely reached Belfast. Belfast was a long way from Dublin in 1917.

It was in these circumstances that Sam Herron mustered his party of about 150 men in Divis Street. At 11 o’clock the order rang out and the gallant band of Irish Volunteers which included Mick Carlin, Cathal Bradley, Senior, Pat Nash and Sean Malone, started out on the march to Clonard Monastery for an Anniversary Mass, which was to be celebrated at Noon.

The March proceeded peacefully enough along the Falls Road. It is recorded that the people came to gaze with something akin to astonishment at this small party of men who dares to challenge the might of the British Empire, by proclaiming openly their allegiance to their beloved Irish Republic. No women took part in this match, no bands played, no emblems were worn, no banners were carried, save at the head of this gallant company, a lightening breeze rippled the folds of the National Flag.

The march is over, the Mass is said, and the men dispersed. All appears to be the same on the Falls Road, yet it is not – unseen the men on the 1917 Easter Commemoration March had down the seeds of Freedom as they went along, soon the Tree of Liberty would put forth a profusion of blossoms.

The British Occupation Forces recognized the danger – and a few days later nearly all those who had taken part were arrested. The people of Belfast made no protests at the arrests and the following year the Falls Road was bedecked with Union Jacks to welcome home the troops from the 1914/18 War. Belfast was not yet ready…

Who will measure the passionate bravery which impelled the men on the 1917 march to seek to attain what seemed to many the unattainable Freedom. Who will measure the passionate bravery of those who gave their lives in the Rising, and whose blood sweetened the arid ground where it fell. Liberty might well hide her head and blush at the gifts her Irish Patriot Sons have showered on Her.

By Sarah Murphy

This article was published in Republican News in the 1973 Easter Commemoration issue (21st April). This may be a reprint from an earlier publication (possibly Wolfe Tone Monthly). The language, such as ‘Irish Ireland’ suggests a date in the 1930s or 1940s. Some of the detail may also be inaccurate. Enough of those who mobilized in Belfast in 1916 were Protestant, like Sam Heron himself and Herbert Pim, that the idea of a march to an anniversary mass in 1917 reads more like a vision of 1917 seen through the prism of the conservatism of the 1930s.

According to Roger McCorley, in a memoir, in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising and the releases from Frongoch that autumn, the Sinn Féin movement was re-organised in Belfast in early 1917 and the Sean McDermot branch of the Irish Volunteers was re-established in February/March 1917. This was followed in May by the formal re-structuring of the units in the city (including, for a time, a political commissar). As Easter was on 8th April, the 1917 Easter Rising commemoration took place between these two events.

Story of a song: Belfast Graves

From Republican News, 12th January 1973.

  

That Jimmy Steele wrote the song was also recorded by Tarlach Ó hUid in Faoi Ghlas (he heard it sung in Crumlin Road in 1941). According to Billy McKee, a couple of others have claimed to have written it, but he remembered that it was widely sung at republican functions in Belfast in the late 1930s (before the time of later claimants). The sixth verse features in a key early scene in Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy (published in 1958).

As to the last line of the introduction:  “It is time that the Movement made arrangements for his life story to be written.” I don’t think it ever happened (although anyone who knows better can let me know). As far as I know, Chris McLoughlin (formerly of McCleery Street), published a biographical article in an Irish-American paper in the 1970s, although I’ve not tracked it down yet (his son, Chris Jr, has been a great help here but we can’t work out the paper or the date). It’s been 43 years since that suggestion in Republican News, hopefully I’ll get finished this year before it turns to 44.

And a recording of the song itself (the link isn’t currently working so I’ll add a recording instead):

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