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

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

OUTRAGES IN NORTH

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

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

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

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

THE FINANCIAL BURDEN.

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

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

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

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

Chamberlain Tralee.png

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

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IRA recruiting poster, 1942

This is an IRA recruiting poster from 1942 (captured by RUC at Northern Command Publicity HQ on the Crumlin Road). Right hand edge badly frayed so text should read ‘One People. One Cause. One Country.’

Joint IRA and British Army barricades, Belfast, 1969

For a period of time in September 1969, barricades in many Belfast districts were effectively guarded jointly by the British Army and IRA, under the guise of the local Citizen’s Defence Committees (CDC). The Central CDC in Belfast was chaired by Jim Sullivan who was also acting O/C of the IRA’s Belfast Battalion. The Belfast O/C, Billy McMillen, had been  arrested prior to the August 15th attacks and interned without charge even though it had initially reported that he was being held for illegal possession of a firearm.

A CDC had been formed in Derry early in August 1969 and elsewhere later in the same month. The name mirrored the ‘Ulster Constitutional Defence Committee’, formed in 1966, and its precursors, like the ‘Omagh Citizen’s Defence Committee’ and another set up in Fermanagh in 1953-4 to co-ordinate the local unionist campaigns to prevent Catholics obtaining jobs and housing. Creation of CDCs in 1969 provided an umbrella organisation in which the likes of ex-servicemen, Catholic clergy, political representatives, former IRA volunteers and others could co-operate with each other and the IRA without having to be publicly presented as a face of the IRA, even though it was effectively led and directed by the IRA.

The use of shifting organisational identities had been pushed by Cathal Goulding and others for some time. IRA statements using names like ‘Resistance Forces’ and ‘Citizens Army’ had been appearing even before the formal end of the border campaign in 1962. This was to accelerate into the early 1970s (and later) as the Goulding-led Official IRA was to continually shift it’s identity.

When the British Army was deployed in mid-August 1969, it also brought into play a well established counter-insurgency strategy as well as its best known advocate and practitioner in Brigadier Frank Kitson. This included establishing its own intelligence gathering capabilities in the absence of any effective intelligence held or shared by the RUC, Special Branch or the unionist government.

At a high level this meant that the ongoing attempts to negotiate a removal of barricades from districts that  had been attacked in mid-August could provide a pretext to profile the CDC (and effectively IRA) leadership from close-in. On 6th September, Jim Sullivan, chair of the CDC and acting Belfast Battalion O/C, met with the Major General Tony Dyball, the British Army’s deputy director of operations in the north (revealed in that weekends Sunday papers). This happened alongside meetings with Catholic clergy and others over defence of the districts that had come under attack. Sullivan and Dyball agreed that the barricades would now be guarded by British soldiers alongside the CDC.

That weekend, three barricades in Albert Street were taken down and replaced with British Army barriers and soldiers maintained a presence at them, as had been agreed. The press was rife with rumours that the discussion where this was agreed wasn’t between the British Army and local clergy as publicly claimed, but between the British Army and IRA. But the agreement reached in Albert Street wasn’t replicated elsewhere as almost nightly attacks on isolated Catholic families continued.

That Sullivan pushed for the removal of barricades and delegating the defence of Albert Street to the British Army cut directly across the later narrative promoted by the Officials that the violence didn’t come from the communities and the general unionist population but, rather, was directed by forces from elsewhere (typified by the likes of the British Army). Sullivan personally pushed for the removal of the Albert Street barricades, certainly this is, at least, how it is represented in the contemporary press. Around 300 barricades had been erected across the city but the example of Albert Street didn’t lead to further exchanges of hastily erected barricades for British Army barriers. Within a couple of days, Sullivan was threatening to re-erect barricades if the British Army removed them without agreement. Sullivan, along with Stormont MPs Paddy Devlin and Paddy Kennedy then travelled to London to try and meet senior British government figures for discussions.

British Army preparing to erect the so-called ‘peace line’ in Cupar Street (Irish Press, 11th Sept 1969)

Meanwhile, a demarcation line was being erected by the British Army along the boundary of the most threatened areas (described as a ‘peace line’). This was continuing over the course of the next week and was mostly completed by 16th September. Pressure was growing to have the other barricades removed and the CDC organised meetings of delegates from the various districts to gauge the mood. Assurances were given by the British GOC that the army would provide adequate security and that the Special Powers Act would not be applied. Again, Jim Sullivan then pushed for the barricades to come down but often agreements had to be made on street by street basis indicating a high level of discomfort over the proposed arrangement. This was not misplaced.

Given how the British Army was aware of the limitations of the quality of the intelligence gathered by the RUC and the unionists. An agreement to jointly guard barricades with the CDC now provided the British with a pretext to create its own profile of the IRA. Kitson himself had requested a meeting with the IRA leadership (which was turned down), but John Kelly has recounted that the depth of contact between the IRA and British Army extended as far as a British officer providing a class on machine guns. Kelly suspected that this was to evaluate the level of the technical capacity of the IRA (and presumably to identify the relevant personnel). On top of the failure to have adequately prepared to defend districts from attack in mid-August, the rapprochement between his Belfast IRA leadership and the British Army was also to be held against Cathal Goulding by many in Belfast.

Peace lines in Dover Street (Irish Press. 13th Sept 1969)

One barricade that was slow to come down, was the one that had been erected at the top of the New Lodge Road, at it’s junction with the Antrim Road. This too was taken down on Tuesday 17th September. As with elsewhere, it was then replaced with a British Army barricade which was one of those jointly guarded by the 2nd Light Infantry and the CDC.

On the Saturday night, Tony McNamee, Brendy Magee, Mark O’Connor and Hugh Adams were playing cards on a windowsill outside the Duncairn Arms at the top of the New Lodge Road. As some men were seen approaching the traffic island from Hallidays Road (leading back to Duncairn Gardens), a soldier, Lance Corporal Peter Reid went to warn the four young men to withdraw behind the barrier for safety. Shots were then fired from the other side of the traffic island, at a range of about twenty metres. All five were wounded. Reid, McNamee and Magee were the most seriously injured, with Reid sustaining facial injuries. Following the shooting a local taxi firm was also attacked.

As crowds gathered at either side of the barricade, hundreds of soldiers were rushed into the area. Hallidays Road was searched and a weapon recovered in a house in Stratheden Street. Four men from the unionist Tigers Bay district, Andrew Salters, Arthur Ingram, John Strain and William Jamieson, were arrested (in the end only Jamieson was found guilty, receiving a two year sentence). The next day they were charged with possession of the shotgun used in the shooting. At their remand hearing, on the Monday morning, RUC Head Constable Thomas McCluney explained to the court that the accused fired the shots as ‘feelings had been running high’.

On the Sunday, the CDC for the New Lodge and Docks had met and agreed further security measures. This included introducing a graduated curfew for children (8 pm) and others not involved in patrols and defence (10 pm). The CDC put in place a rota and schedule of patrols for the defence of the area. Oliver Kelly (vice-chairman of the CDC) said the shooting had been a salutary lesson for all those involved. The Major in charge of the 2nd Light Infantry in the district admitted that the hadn’t believed that they would be fired upon by unionists.

But on that Sunday night, unionists left a 2lb gelignite bomb in Exchange Street in the Half Bap area (immediately to the south of the New Lodge and North Queen Street). It exploded in the middle of the street, shattering windows in thirty houses although no-one was badly injured. Immediately a barricade was re-erected at the end of Exchange Street. The same pattern was to follow over the next week as local violence prompted the return of barricades.

The same weekend, the Belfast IRA O/C, Billy McMillen, was released from internment. On the Monday, against the backdrop of the New Lodge Road shooting and the bombing of Exchange Street, McMillen called a meeting of the Belfast IRA staff in Cyprus Street. Famously, he was confronted about the rapidly changed political landscape in a meeting regarded as critical to the fragmentation of the republican movement that accelerated over the next few months.

Belfast IRA commandants from 1916 to 1969

Previously, I’d published a chronology of the Belfast IRA commandants from 1924 to 1969, including some revisions and a look at gaps in the list. As more files, mainly pension applications, have been released by the Military Archives in Dublin, it has been possible to put together a picture from the Easter Rising in 1916 through to 1969.

I’ve arranged this into a table following a rough chronology based on the main organisational unit. Since the scale varies from a Battalion to a Brigade to a Division, I’ve tried to retain the relevant information for battalion commandants after Belfast was structured into a Brigade, and I’ve added both brigade and battalion commandants when it was formed into the 3rd Northern Division.

The officer commanding each particular formation has mainly been taken from the 3rd Northern Division files, supplemented by individual pension files and witness statements. The most recent release of pension files includes a number of later applications made by republicans who had, up to that stage, refused to engage with what they saw as a Free State administration with no legitimacy. These make it possible to clarify a number of points.

Firstly, the command of the 3rd Northern Division itself is disputed after Joe McKelvey left for Dublin in March 1922. Pat Thornbury is recorded as Divisional O/C in the Belfast records reconstructed in the 1930s by the Pensions Committees (these records are indicated as representing the ‘Executive Forces’, meaning the IRA who opposed the 1922 treaty). According to his own pension applications and the accounts of other former Belfast IRA officers who had supported the treaty, Seamus Woods was the Divisional O/C. But Woods own applications show that he had already taken a commission as a Colonel in the Free State Army from 1st February 1922 and was mainly based in Dublin after that date. That the command structures in the Division were contested was publicly flagged as early as April 1922 (in an edition of An tOglach). Many of the Belfast IRA staff who supported the treaty remained in Dublin with the former GHQ staff of the IRA while holding what (to some extent) became nominal command roles in Belfast where actual command (such as existed) was exercised by IRA officers, loyal to the IRA Executive, who opposed the treaty.

The withdrawal of IRA volunteers from some Belfast units to the Curragh at the end of the summer in 1922, for a period of rest and training prior to a return to action in the north, saw the formation of a separate 3rd Northern Division Reserve, under the command of Roger McCorley and other Belfast IRA officers who had remained in Dublin with GHQ. This unit in the Curragh was disbanded in November 1922 and the Belfast IRA volunteers who wished to stay and join the Free State forces were formed into the 17th Battalion of the Free State Army. To those who had gone with the Free State side, they take this date in November as the time at which they formally relinquished their IRA commands, although even then there appear to be competing claims as to various roles (eg, both Sean O’Neill and Thomas Fitzpatrick appear to have recognised service as Belfast Brigade O/C to this date).

Obviously some of the lists of commandants in the 1916 to 1923 table below, just as for those from 1923 to 1969, are incomplete and some are surely incorrect. For instance, I have taken Thomas Fitzpatrick’s claim to recognition as the pro-Treaty Brigade O/C over Sean O’Neill’s as O’Neill’s own pension application isn’t actually clear on this point (perhaps he is simply being accorded the rank, for pay/pension purposes, rather than the formal command). There was also genuine confusion over the status of the various Battalions after March 1922, typified by the Brigade pension files that state that the 3rd and 4th Battalions were disbanded before 30th June 1922, but list Battalion staff’s (and include pension applications and witness statements) that run to November 1922. There is also a depth of animosity evident across the records, both in comments in individual witness statements (just to take one example – here is Seamus McKenna doing a hatchet job on Joe McKelvey, Jim McDermott and others) and the treatment of applications for pensions and awards from former opponents of the treaty (for instance check Patrick Thornbury’s two files here and here). This has also surely clouded some people’s memory.

After the table for 1916 to 1923, I’ve added the list of commandants from that date up to the split in the IRA in 1969 (you can find further information here on various individuals included the list).

As ever, any suggestions to fill in gaps, pointers for additional source material or corrections are most welcome.

Overall organisation and commandants of Belfast republican forces from 1916 to 1923.

1923-24 Jim O’Donnell?

1924-26 Hugh Corvin

1926-27 Dan Turley

1927-33 Davy Matthews

1933-34 Jack McNally

1934-36 Tony Lavery

1936-38 Sean McArdle

1938-40 Charlie McGlade

1940 Jimmy Steele

December 1940 to May 1941 Liam Rice

May to July 1941 Pearse Kelly

July 1941-42 Hugh Matthews

1942 John Graham

1942-43 Rory Maguire

February to May 1943 Jimmy Steele

May 1943 to Feb 1944 Rocky Burns

Feb 1944 to March 1944 Harry White

March 1944 to March 1945 Harry O’Rawe

March 1945 to October 1946 Johnny Murphy

October 1946 to ?? Seamus Twomey

?? to early 1949 Seamus McCollum 

1949-50 Frank McKearney

1950-56 Jimmy Steele

1956 Paddy Doyle

1956-57 Joe Cahill

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

1960-63 Billy McKee

1963-69 Billy McMillen

Hugh McAteer centenary

This year is the centenary of the birth of the former IRA Chief of Staff Hugh McAteer. To mark it, I’ve put together various pieces about McAteer, including a lengthy memoir he published in instalments in The Sunday Independent in 1951.

You can read it here: https://issuu.com/jjconeill/docs/hugh_mcateer_the_escape

 

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

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/