Joe McKelvey GAC: the IRA’s own GAA club

This is the story of Joe McKelvey GAC, a GAA club formed by the IRA in Belfast. Founded in 1924, the Joseph McKelvey Gaelic Athletic Club was named after the executed former commandant of the IRA’s 3rd Northern Division. McKelvey had been a founder member of the O’Donovan Rossa GAA club in Belfast. The choice of the name and the founding of McKelveys GAC followed the return of Lt. Gen. Joe McKelvey’s remains to Belfast from Dublin for burial in October 1924.

McKelveys burial was regarded by many Belfast republicans as the event which prompted the post-Civil War re-organisation of the IRA in Belfast. Clearly many in the Belfast IRA saw echoes (or wanted to see echoes) in the parallels with the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa. That funeral had catalysed republicans prior to the declaration of a republic in April 1916. The Belfast IRA, including McKelvey, had formed the O’Donovan Rossa GAA club in his memory. At the time the symbolism of forming a club in McKelvey’s name was no doubt well understood. In case it wasn’t, McKelveys GAC made it explicit: while Rossa played in white jerseys with a tricolour panel on the front, McKelveys played in a black jersey with a tricolour panel on the front.

Early photo of McKelveys team, dating to around 1926 (published in Ray Quinn's A Rebel View.

Early photo of McKelveys team, dating to around 1926 (published in Ray Quinn’s A Rebel View.)

In 1925 McKelveys fielded a team in the South Antrim Junior Hurling League. A surviving line-up from a hurling league game against Sarsfields in Donegall Park in June 1926 gives a flavour of the club’s early playing members. That day the team was G. Donnelly, Davy Matthews, J. O’Boyle, Hugh Matthews, Joe McGurk, A. Johnston, Frank Pimley, J. Ralph, Hugh Corvin, F. McGoldrick, M. Maguire, O. McGeough, A. O’Donnell, J. Curran and James Thompson. The report on the games notes that regulars N. Donnelly and George Nash were both missing (McKelveys still won 2-1 to 1-0). The same year, McKelveys’ footballers beat Parnells, then lost to Stephens in the South Antrim Junior Football Championship semi-final. The Irish News report on the semi-final (which McKelveys lost 3-4 to 4-0) includes the following line-up: E. Colligan, J. Meighan, J. Dempsey, H. Laverty, J. Doherty, O. McGeough, N. Donnelly, G. Nash, J. Havlin, D. Matthews, A. O’Donnell, H. Corvin, F. Pimley, G. Donnelly and E. Quinn. McKelveys N. Donnelly also played on the Antrim team that defeated Cavan in the final of the Northern Division of the National Football League in 1926.
Hugh Corvin (the Belfast IRA O/C), Davy Matthews (who was later Belfast IRA O/C), Hugh Matthews (Davy’s brother and another future Belfast IRA O/C) and George Nash, O/C of one of the Belfast IRA companies were all prominent Belfast IRA staff members. Others, like Joe McGurk who had been imprisoned the previous year for possession of arms and weapons, are well-known IRA men. Visibly, McKelveys was very much an IRA team drawing on the small pool of active republicans left in Belfast. It was also very much an anti-treaty IRA side. The O’Donovan Rossa club, which McKelvey helped found, was associated with Belfast IRA staff who had taken and, in 1924, still remained, on the pro-treaty side. If other prominent South Antrim clubs, like Morans, Kevin Barrys (also originally an ‘IRA club’), Stephens, Parnells and Ardoyne had any associations it could equally have been to organisations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians or Irish National Foresters. In that regard, McKelveys being left as the sole IRA-sponsored GAA club may be a reflection of the political landscape of nationalist Belfast in 1924-25.
An early photograph (above) survives of a McKelveys’ football team, which appears to date around 1925-26 and must presumably be one of the first junior football teams fielded by the club. Those that can be identified in the photo include Hugh Corvin, Jack McNally, Davy and Hugh Matthews, Joe Hanna and Jimmy Steele. McNally, Hanna and Steele were also intimately involved in the IRA in Belfast from 1924. McNally dropped out of republican activities for a number of years after 1927 and doesn’t seem to feature in any recorded line-ups for McKelveys from that date onwards, suggesting this photo dates to 1927 at the latest.
The club had a base in Rockmount Street, just off the Falls Road, where an old wooden building, known as the McKelvey hut, was used. It is also clear, from various accounts in the 1920s, that it was openly known to be a base of the Belfast IRA as individuals who wished to join the IRA went there to ask about joining. Its official name, when it is mentioned in the press, was McKelvey Hall, later (in the 1930s) being known as the McKelvey Recreation Club. By the mid-1930s McKelveys also used Pearse Hall, in the city centre, as their base.
By 1927, McKelveys had attracted a number of transfers, including Jack Gaffney from Morans and Art Thornbury from O’Connells, both of whom were closely associated with the IRA. While the McKelveys’ footballers came bottom of the South Antrim Senior Football League, they did well in the Senior Football Championship that year and came up against Jack Gaffneys former club, Morans, in the semi-final. The line-up for the semi-final in Shaun’s Park was A. O’Donnell, J. McCrealey, Jack Gaffney, P. Rafftery, M. Maguire, R. Boomer, H. Lavery, Art Thornbury, T. Carabine, D. McGregor, J. McKeown, J. Steele, Hugh Corvin, E. Quinn and A. Johnston.
Morans were too strong for McKelveys, though, winning 2-9 to 1-1. The Irish News reports that the best back was McCrealey, Corvin and Steele best of an indifferent forward line, and Thornbury was the outstanding player on the pitch. Jack Gaffney, only returned from six weeks out due to illness, was described as not fully fit. The hurlers made it to the South Antrim Junior Hurling Championship final in 1927, losing heavily to Parnells, 8-4 to 2-0, who were winning their first honours, while the footballers made it through to the South Antrim Junior Football Championship final the same year.
In 1928, McKelveys lost Art Thornbury and Jack Gaffney who were arrested along with others at an Easter Commemoration in Milltown cemetery. They also lost George Nash to a three year sentence for illegal possession of documents. But McKelveys did make the final of the South Antrim Junior Football Championship where they met Kevin Barrys on 20th May at Corrigan Park. By half-time, McKelveys were 1-4 to 0-0 ahead. They didn’t score again in the second half and two Kevin Barrys goals reduced their lead to a single point. But that was how the game ended and McKelveys survived to become South Antrim Junior Football champions. They then played Lamh Dearg, Toome a week later in Toome in the final of the Antrim Junior Football Championship. By half-time, McKelveys were 1-1 to 0-1 behind. McKelveys inched closer during a scrappy second half, trailing by 1-2 (5 points) to 0-3 (3 points) with a few minutes to go. But, a goal from Lamh Dearg put the final result beyond doubt and it ended 2-2 to 0-3.
McKelveys also made the final of the Ben Madigan Cup on the 10th June where they played O’Connells in Corrigan Park. The McKelveys’ team was A. O’Donnell in goal, D. McCann, J. McCreely and J. McKeown in the full-back line, Joe O’Neill, T. Carabine and H. Laverty in the half-back line, Frank Pimley and Davy Matthews in midfield, Hugh Corvin, Jimmy Steele and J. Conkey in the half-forward line, T. Cunningham, P. Rafferty and A. Johnston in the full-forward line. Jimmy Steele scored one of the first half goals (the Irish News describing him as a live wire during the game), as McKelveys went into a 2-2 (8 points) to 0-0 half-time lead. The second half was fairly tame and McKelveys cruised home 3-2 (11 points) to 0-1 (1 point).
By 1929 McKelveys’ players like Matthews, Boomer, Pimley, Ward and O’Neill were being called up to the Antrim county sides, both football and hurling, and in Art Thornbury, the club had a dual inter-provincial player who was the outstanding player in the county, in both codes, in the 1920s. He had won a number of Ulster Senior Hurling championships. He playing on the side that defeated Cavan 4-3 to 3-1 for the 1926 Ulster title. Cavan had led for much of the game until Thornbury set up McCarry for the crucial third goal. In the 1927 final, Thornbury also played a lead role as Antrim again overcame Cavan, this time on a score-line of 5-4 to 3-3 at Breffni Park on 3rd October. Thornbury continued to star in Antrim’s defence throughout the 1920s, and played on Antrim teams which won further Ulster titles. In mid-April 1931, when Antrim entered the National Hurling League for the first time, Thornbury was a central part of the squad (he had also played regularly in the National Football League for Antrim). Antrim filled a place in Group B in 1931 that had been vacated by Wexford’s withdrawal. The first game, on 24th May 1931, at Portlaoise, finished Laois 4-4 Antrim 0-4. The other game was played against Dublin at Corrigan Park in Belfast on 2nd August and Antrim again lost, this time on a score of 4-4 to 2-2. Antrim weren’t to re-enter the National Hurling League until 1945 (although in some seasons a Northern Division was contested by some Ulster counties).
A lot of Belfast republicans were subjected to routine harassment by the northern government and some, including McKelveys players, were charged and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. As in 1928, Thornbury missed a portion of the 1930 season as he was arrested again at the 1930 Easter commemoration and received three months in prison, along with Hugh Matthews.
Despite the loss of players to arrest and imprisonment, by the early 1930s, the club was fielding teams in the Senior and Intermediate football, hurling and (from 1929) camogie leagues. McKelveys won the South Antrim Senior Football League in 1930-31 (the league itself was completed in November 1931) as well as the Senior Football Championship and the South Antrim Cup in football. As South Antrim champions, McKelveys contested the final of the Antrim Senior Football Championship against Cuchullains Dunloy on July 12th 1931 at Dunloy.
McKelveys were without Thornbury and Ward who had been suspended the previous week for being sent off when playing for the Antrim county side. Cuchullains, playing with a strong breeze in the first half, led 1-3 to no score at half time. McKelveys, who (The Irish News notes) also had to contend with playing uphill in the first half, began the second half strongly. As per regulations at the time, both clubs had supplied umpires to the referee, John Osborne, but on a number of occasions the umpires disagreed over scores. Carabine and Jimmy Steele were both guilty of wasting chances before Joe O’Neill got McKelveys’ first point of the game. Chances then began to come for McKelveys and Joe Pimley had a shot saved, then Finnegan had a shot deflected wide. Carabine managed to win the ball after a placed kick from O’Neill, and directed a shot on the Cuchallains’ goal. The score was signalled with a red flag by one umpire (indicating a goal) and a white flag by the other (indicating a point). A Cuchallains’ player then pulled the red flag from the umpire and a McKelveys’ forward tried to influence the other umpire to award the goal (The Irish News, which published a report of the game on 14/7/31 diplomatically does not name those involved). The referee decided to award a point but such a heated row then followed between the spectators and umpires that the referee decided to halt the game. The County board decided the game had to be replayed.
The replay was on 10th August and was refereed by the chairman of the County Antrim board, Padraig McNamee with selected umpires. McKelveys had Thornbury back for the replayed game, although Ward was still absent. The team that started the game was A. O’Neill in goals, James Pimley, Jack Gaffney and W. Connolly in the full-back line, Joe Pimley, Art Thornbury and P. O’Neill in the half-backs, P. Boomer and Joe O’Neill in midfield, W. Cochrane, Gene Thornbury and M. Finnegan in the half-forwards and Jimmy Steele, T. Carabine and R. Boomer in the full-forward line. There was a strong cross-wind that reduced the accuracy of the passing and the game was frequently interrupted with frees for minor infringements and some bad blood that spilled over from the abandoned first game. McKelveys, playing uphill for the first half, were 0-4 to 0-0 behind at half time. Joe O’Neill then got McKelvey’s off the mark at the start of the second half but a Cuchullains goal left them 1-4 to 0-1 behind. The game then got scrappier and Gunning (Cuchullains) and P. Boomer were sent off. Joe O’Neill then gave McKelveys some hope with two further points to reduce the gap to 1-4 (7 points) to 0-3 (3 points). Cuchullains continued to break up the game and also had Dillon sent off, later followed by R. Boomer (McKelveys). But time ran out and McKelveys lost.
The season wasn’t yet over, though, as McKelveys had also reached the final of the South Antrim Senior Hurling Championship against O’Connells. This was played at Corrigan Park, and the McKelveys’ team was S. McKeown in goal, James Pimley, Davy Matthews and W. McFadden in the full-back line, Joe O’Neill, Art Thornbury and J. Walsh in the half-back line, T. Carabine and P. O’Neill in midfield, Joe Pimley, P. Boomer, and Jimmy Steele in the half-forward line, and, W. Connolly, R. Boomer and Gene Thornbury in the full-forward line. The game started up even enough, tying at 0-1 to 0-1 but O’Connells added a goal and two points before McKelveys scored again. Another goal before the break left McKelveys 2-3 (9 points) to 0-2 (2 points) down at half-time. Despite the best efforts of the Thornburys and Boomers, McKelveys couldn’t reduce the gap and a third goal for O’Connells effectively killed off the game. At the final whistle, O’Connells won by 3-5 (14 points) to 0-6 (6 points).
Hugh Corvin’s absence from the McKelveys’ teams by 1931 is interesting. In 1927, he had stepped down as O/C of the Belfast IRA but was to remain prominent in the McKelveys club for the next couple of seasons. His replacement as O/C, Davy Matthews, was one of those who represented the club at South Antrim Divisional Board. By 1930, Corvin appears to have less association with the club (and the IRA).
In 1931-32, the South Antrim Senior Football League contained nine teams, O’Connells, Rossa, McKelveys, Sarsfields, Ardoyne, St Galls, St Johns, Tir-na-nOg and Shamrocks (Aughagallon), while there were eighteen teams in the Intermediate and Junior leagues. But for the new 1931-32 season McKelveys struggled. In the same year the club also played games against clubs from outside Antrim, such as against a Lurgan team as part of a benefit tournament in January 1932, (which McKelveys lost 3-1 to 1-2). They struggled early in the league in 1932 at which time Art Thornbury and Jack Gaffney were suspended (along with two other senior players). Thornbury, along with another IRA man, was arrested over an attempted arms raid that month and subsequently sentenced to eighteen months in prison. His brother, Gene, also was dragged into the case. Other McKelveys men, such as Willie McCurry, were arrested and imprisoned over the summer (in McCurry’s case, for printing posters protesting Thornbury’s imprisonment).
McKelveys lost to Tir na nOg in January 1932, by which time they had dropped 3 points in the league, as much as in all of the previous season. They then lost to Ardoyne, although they did beat St Galls and St Johns in February. By the time the 1932 South Antrim Senior Football Championship came around in April, McKelveys were no longer contending for the league but easily beat Sarsfields in their first round tie, although eventually going out in a heavy defeat to Tir-na-nOg, 4-5 to 0-1 in October (when many IRA members in Belfast were involved, albeit unofficially, in the Outdoor Relief riots).
The political leanings of the GAA in Antrim at this time was heavily influenced by McKelveys, as can be gauged by its sponsorship of motions with regard to the status of British soldiers, sailors and police being beyond the pale of the GAA in 1930 and again, specifically proposed by McKelveys, in 1932. The later motion called for a definition of the position of the Civic Guard and Army in the Irish Free State, and specifically referred to the issue of the naming of clubs. The motion was eventually withdrawn and referred to the GAA’s Central Committee. McKelveys also had Art Thornbury proposed for position of secretary of the Ulster Council, but he lost out in a ballot.
That summer, McKelveys organised a training camp at Harp Hall near Carnlough. On July 19th, at 4 am, the RUC stormed into the camp. In the main hut, Farrell John Leddy from Rockdale Street in Belfast, a 22 year old doctor and son of a former RIC man, was detained. A bugle was reportedly found in Leddy’s bag, whilst a book with notes about the use of arms was found on a table in the hut. The twenty-five young men found at the camp had their details taken then were transport back to Belfast and released.
The camp had consisted of a wooden hut for the officers and instructors, and, four canvas tents for those attending the camp (the hut was owned by a J. McKeown of Belfast, who also happened to be secretary of the Antrim County board). A tricolour was flown from a flag pole (the flag was confiscated by the RUC). It is clear from accounts of the camp that it was an IRA training camp organised by the McKelveys club. At the start of August the wooden hut used at Harp Hall by Farrell Leddy was burnt down.
The McKelvey’s Senior Hurling team were heavily beaten in Glenarm a week after the camp was raided (they received another heavy defeated from Glenarm in October the same year – somewhat offset by beating Queens University in the Senior Football on the same day). That autumn, McKelveys fortunes were mixed, losing heavily (3-3 to 0-2) to St Galls in October, and then to O’Connells in November (2-1 to 1-2) and narrowly to O’Donnell’s in December (0-3 to 0-2), although going well in the Intermediate Football. That October, the Outdoor Relief riots saw significant street disturbances in Belfast, many involving IRA members (and McKelveys heavy loss in the championship).
Despite the distractions, McKelveys fared a bit better in the 1932-1933 league campaign, with Finnegan, O’Neill and Cochrane playing well, but were hampered by the increasingly regular loss of players to arrest and short-term detentions (as well as longer term imprisonments of a few months). When Art Thornbury was released from prison in October 1933 he was hounded by the northern government, detained again for a month, then deported to the south. This was against the backdrop of a further outbreak of violence in Belfast. It was hoped to run Thornbury as an election candidate that autumn and the RUC, expecting a selection convention to be held, raided McKelvey Hall in November 1933. The convention was held elsewhere and Thornbury was selected (although, as the prison authorities prevented Art signing the nomination papers, his brother Patrick stood in his place in the end). As the convention wasn’t taking place, the RUC arrested fifteen 14-19 year olds who were present instead. They were charged with drilling and, in the end, eight received two months including John McKenna (who got hard labour for refusing to recognise the court), Patrick Lavery, Thomas Graham, Francis Doherty, Patrick McCann, Rory Campbell, Vincent Kelly and Francis McGoldrick. In court, it was claimed that McKenna was giving words of command to the others, such as “’Shun! About turn!”, “Form fours!” and “Quick march!”.
Doherty died soon after his release from prison and was commemorated in the song Belfast Graves, the original version of which was written by Jimmy Steele. The lines of the song mentioning Doherty also feature in Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy.
As well as the youths arrested at McKelvey Hall, that November, more senior players and former players were sentenced to between one and three months in prison for refusing to answer questions put to them by a magistrate. Refusing to answer was an offence under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Acts. Those arrested included George Nash, Jimmy Steele, Jack Gaffney, Frank Pimley, William Connolly, William McCurry, Davy Matthews and Hugh Matthews. A club delegate to various county meetings, Brendan Kielty (who was later to travel to Spain with Eoin O’Duffy), was arrested for speaking at an illegal rally in support of republican detainees on 5th November 1933.

In his biography, Harry, Harry White recalls that he would drop in at the McKelveys’ base “…and look up the line-out and composition of the team only to find there were gaps – some of the lads had been arrested; they were replaced by that well-known chap, A.N. Other.”
And the arrests did not end in November. On 15th January 1934, Gerald O’Toole from Spinner Street was in the McKelvey Republican Hall in when the RUC entered. A Constable Fannin questioned O’Toole and three others about their activities and they said there were arranging football fixtures. Fannin then searched O’Toole (who he says refused to answer any more questions) and found a letter on him from a man named Crilly addressed to Jimmy Steele.
There were other problems for the club that month. Davy Matthews had taken an opportunity to sign out of prison for Christmas, as did George Nash. This was against IRA policy as it was giving recognition to the courts and prison service. Matthews was expelled from the IRA. Neither he nor Nash are mentioned again in accounts of McKelveys.
On the field the team was depleted for a visit to Aughagallon to play the Shamrocks in January 1934, where they were beaten 1-8 to 2-1, despite goals from Jack Gaffney and Maguire and a point from Joe O’Neill. That month the team continued to have ‘team troubles’ due to arrests and fielded without key men like Ward, Gene Thornbury and Pimley (although they could still rely on the likes of Jack Gaffney, McGeough, Boomer, O’Neill and Cochrane). They also lost out to Ardoyne in the Senior Football Championship in January 1934, after a replay.
The team continued to struggle, though, even when players returned. On top of being outside contention for the league, McKelveys struggled to be competitive at all in 1934, despite the likes of Gene Thornbury, Adams, Joe O’Neill, P O’Neill, Cochrane, McKeown, Pimley and Boomer doing well. They shipped heavy defeats to the likes of St Galls (3-4 to 0-1) in February and narrowly to O’Connells (1-4 to 0-5) the same month. For the next season, O’Connells also put McKelveys out of the Senior Football Championship in the first round in April.
At the end of 1934, the club proposed a motion on political prisoners that was ruled out of order at the Antrim Convention, at which there appears to have been some dispute as to the maintenance of the ‘non-political’ nature of the GAA.
The club had also continued to field a team in the senior hurling in 1933 but, paralleling the decline of the footballers, slipped down to the Intermediate League where they continued to struggle. At the end of the 1933-34 season, McKelveys’ footballers were relegated and fielded in the Intermediate and Junior Leagues in the winter of 1934 (as well as the Ben Madigan Cup instead of the South Antrim Cup). The 1934 season began equally badly as they struggled in the Intermediate League, losing to Rossa II, O’Donnells, Gaedhil Uladh and Davitts, eventually picking up points by beating St Galls II in January 1935, 2-0 to 0-1. The decline also saw the loss of the players, with the likes of Pimley moving to Gaedhil Uladh to continue playing senior football.
Further violence, including an attempted pogrom in Belfast that summer, as well as arrests at a Belfast IRA training camp in Louth further weakened the club in 1935. In the autumn resumption of the league, McKelveys began strongly in the Intermediate Football League beating O’Donnells 1-2 to 0-2 in November 1935, then St Galls 3-1 to 1-0. In February, Ardoyne were beaten 1-3 to 1-2. By late February, McKelveys were close to the top of the Intermediate League but not in contention for promotion (at the same time the junior team were struggling badly, close to the bottom of their league).
Of the McKelveys’ senior footballers who lined out against the Shamrocks in the Ben Madigan Cup in March 1936, only Jimmy Steele survived from the side who had played in the 1931 Antrim Senior Football Championship Final. The full McKelveys’ line-up was J. O’Rawe, P. Quinn, J. Kelly, J. McManus, J. McCaughan, T. Morris, P. McKenna, M. Clarke, L. Dooley, M. Higgins, J. Steele, H. White, J. Teague, J. Hamill and W. Mooney. McKelveys lost the game 0-3 to 0-0. In its report on the game, The Irish News singled out Morris, McKenna, Steele and McManus for praise. The next week, McKelvey’s made amends, winning the Biggar Cup. By May, Steele too was gone following the Crown Entry raid. By the end of 1936 the club could only field a team in the junior league.
Pearse Hall, which was also used by the McKelveys, was destroyed in a bomb explosion on May 27th 1938. On November 23rd 1938, a raid on the McKelvey Recreation Club off the Falls Road led to the detention of nineteen young men under the Special Powers Act. Those arrested included Matthew Bunting, Thomas Cairns, Kevin Barry Hughes, Michael Mullan, John O’Rawe, Thomas Gourley, David McKay, Joseph McKenna, John McKee, Billy McKee, Frank McCusker, Harry McGurk, Joseph Adams, Hugh Molloy. Most were aged 16-18 and it was claimed in court that they were members of Fianna na hÉireann and were being drilled by John McKee in the hall. All were found guilty and John McKee was given two months, while the others received fines or imprisonment.
On 28th November an attempted bomb attack on the McKelvey Hall damaged the adjoined Rockmount Social Club. By the end of the 1938, the McKelvey club was barely competing even at junior level and, in the face of the introduction of internment and the continued loss of members it eventually folded in 1939. In Antrims Patriot Dead, published in 1966, Jimmy Steele (clearly stating that McKelveys was an IRA club) says that those arrests and internment finished the club in 1939.
In 1940, McKelveys’ veteran Jack Gaffney died on the prison ship Al Rawdah. After his funeral in St Johns, his remains were brought to Milltown. At the funeral, the tricolour was produced which had been placed over Joe McKelvey’s coffin when he had been buried in Belfast in 1924. It was placed on Gaffney’s coffin in the church. It was again placed on Gaffney’s coffin when it was brought to Milltown where he was buried in the republican plot.
When the internees and sentenced prisoners, including many McKelveys’ men and women, were released after 1945 the club was not reformed, instead the main republican GAA club in Belfast was named after Tom Williams, who had been hung in 1942.

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

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

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

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

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

<

p style=”text-align:justify;”>

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The re-birth of the IRA in Belfast

On October 29th 1924 the Free State government handed back the remains of 18 men for burial. These 18 were some of the 83 or 84 ‘official’ executions by pro-Treaty forces during 1922 and 1923. One of those whose remains were handed back was Joe McKelvey (below), former O/C 3rd Northern Division and briefly Chief of Staff of the IRA. McKelvey had been executed on 8th December 1922, along with Liam Mellows, Dick Barrett and Rory O’Connor. All four had been captured in June 1922. They were suddenly charged and convicted by a military tribunal at 3.30 am on 8th December and then shot five hours later. Their execution was an open reprisal for the murder of a TD, Sean Hales, on the day before their execution (while all four were imprisoned) and rapidly intensified the bitterness of the Civil War.

Joe McK

After release, McKelvey’s remains were to be brought to Belfast for burial. They were released the same day as an election to Westminster which saw Patrick Nash stand in West Belfast and Hugh Corvin stand in North Belfast. In an election taking place in the cold shadows of the 500+ killed in the city during 1920-22, the repression of the triumphalist northern government, and, the Civil War, both candidates did poorly. The IRA in the city had also effectively lost operational contact with GHQ in Dublin in late 1922.

The Free State authorities handed over the remains at Hardwicke Street Hall on October 29th, where they briefly lay in state draped in tricolours emblazoned with an IR (for Irish Republic). From there McKelvey’s coffin was brought in a procession to Amiens Street (now Connolly) Station accompanied by Joe McKelvey’s mother and Sean MacBride. According to Leo Wilson, McKelvey’s body was guarded on the way to Belfast by both former and current volunteers . The Belfast Brigade immediately dispatched a guard of honour to join the party as it travelled up to Belfast. The Irish News reported that the remains were formally handed over to the guard of honour from Belfast at Amiens Street Station. The guard of honour were dressed in trench coats and soft black hats.

At Drogheda, Dunleer and Dundalk the train was held up as crowds came to place wreaths and a tricolour on the coffin in the mortuary car. By the time MacBride and McKelvey’s body arrived in Belfast, a large crowd had gathered at the station with the Craobh Ruadh Pipe Band. Brigade and Battalion officers from Belfast had also assembled at the station. The RUC were also present in force to try and intercept the train.

At 2.30 pm the train arrived at the Great Northern Railway Station in the centre of the city. While the train slowed to a halt at the platform, a large force of armed RUC men stepped forward and surrounded and searched the mortuary car as soon as the train stopped. Determined to prevent any public display of republican sentiment, they insisted that they remove the tricolour from McKelvey’s coffin and, so, refused to allow it to even leave the train with the flag in place. Sean MacBride, himself the son of an executed republican icon and already a senior IRA figure, tackled District Inspector Stevens who was in charge of the RUC force asking if he, Stevens, had authority from the Home Office of the northern government for the removal of the flag. Stevens confirmed that he had and proceeded to remove the flag.

With the flag removed from the coffin, the RUC permitted it to leave the station. The bearer party carried the coffin on their shoulders out of the station and into Glengall Street. There it was placed on the hearse. A funeral procession then formed up behind the Craobh Ruadh Pipe Band in Glengall Street. The pipe band included many IRA volunteers and it appears that the coffin was then covered with a tricolour again. The hearse was followed by members of the IRA, Sinn Féin, Na Fianna, Cumann na mBán, members of the clergy and the public. The cortege moved along Great Victoria Street, College Square East, King Street and Mill Street, then on into St Mary’s in Chapel Lane. As if in mitigation for the RUC permitting this display, this is apologetically described as the shortest route by the RUC Inspector General in his report to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

At St Mary’s, McKelvey’s remains were received by Fr Murray, the Administrator. The coffin was carried in by the bearer party then placed on a catafalque before the high altar where it lay in state, with the bearer party forming a guard of honour. Fr Murray and Fr O’Neill (from St Peters) conducted a short service. Afterwards member of the public came to pay their respects and a Fianna guard of honour was relieved and replaced every half hour.

The next morning, October 30th, a crowd began to gather outside St Mary’s for the funeral which was to take place at 1.30 pm. A guard of honour was again stationed around the catafalque as soon as the church was opened in the morning. Some of those who had arrived to pay their respects carried photographs and pictures of McKelvey. McKelvey’s coffin was once again draped with the ‘IR’ emblazoned tricolour.

At about 2.15 pm after a requiem mass at which there were twenty priests, the coffin, still covered in the tricolour, was carried by a bearer party of young men out to the awaiting Craobh Ruadh pipe band which was to accompany it along the route to Milltown cemetery. By now a large crowd had assembled outside St Mary’s in the narrow confines of Chapel Lane and the top of Bank Street. A large detachment of RUC men was also present and Stevens again attempted to halt the procession and remove the tricolour from McKelvey’s coffin.

The RUC men used batons and waved their guns to force their way through to the coffin and bearer party. Within the tight space of Chapel Lane, by now crowded with mourners and RUC men, an already emotional atmosphere almost reached boiling point. The funeral procession itself was halted at the doors of St Mary’s as the bearer party and mourners attempted to physically prevent the tricolour from being seized by Stevens and the RUC. The bearer party managed to pin down the tricolour onto the corners of the coffin and managed to move backwards into the church. The tricolour still shows repairs that were made where it was torn during the struggle to prevent it being seized by the RUC.

The RUC report was later to describe this incident as ‘protests of a trivial nature’. For a few minutes it appeared that the funeral was going to descend into chaos. The Belfast O/C, with the bearer party inside St Marys, ordered that they remove the tricolour to avoid any further dispute. An agreement was reached out in Chapel Lane that Fr Murray could take possession of the tricolour and deposit it in the church.

However, the reason why the Belfast O/C backed down soon became apparent. The funeral organisers had already anticipated that the RUC would intervene and prevent the funeral procession displaying a tricolour on McKelvey’s coffin. For, as the funeral procession formed up in Chapel Lane, led by the hearse bearing the coffin and the Craobh Ruadh Pipe Band, a number of girls then joined the cortege around the hearse, carrying wreaths and other emblems in green, white and orange. The funeral proceeded from St Mary’s, along Chapel Lane to Castle Street and from there along Divis Street to the Falls and then to Milltown Cemetery. Newspaper reports state that the whole route was lined with crowds.

At Milltown, the RUC had two Lancias, armoured cars each mounting a heavy machine gun, drawn up outside the gates. Inside the cemetery, a large RUC detachment armed with carbines were also on duty. At the graveside, the tricolour was once again placed on the coffin whilst the burial service took place. By the stage, the RUC kept their distance and didn’t try to remove the flag. The burial itself largely passed off without incident as the RUC appear to have been anticipating an attempt to hold a military funeral including a colour party and firing party, neither of which materialised.
When the funeral procession reached the Harbinson plot, McKelvey’s remains were interred there. Sean MacBride then stood up and gave a short oration to those present. He said:

We are gathered here to pay a solemn tribute to one who was a true soldier of Ireland. General McKelvey was a man who died for his principles, and he thought it was the noblest and truest thing a man could do. When he walked across the yard of Mountjoy Prison and stood before the firing squad, he did so confident in the thought that the people he left behind would carry on where he had left off. He was being buried among his friends and foes, not as a traitor to a foreign country, but as a hero and a true Irishman. It is up to all of us to carry on until our efforts are crowned with success, then, and not till then will we have a free undivided and prosperous Gaelic Ireland.

The mourners then sang Faith of Our Fathers and, in defiance of the RUC presence, The Soldiers’ Song.

McKelvey’s burial marks a symbolic end to the War of Independence and Civil War in Belfast, coming just before the release of internees and intentional moves to give the IRA in the city new impetus. McBride, effectively acting as a nationwide organiser, re-established operational command between Belfast, and, GHQ and the IRA’s Army Council in Dublin. Notably this also coincided with a growing expectation that the boundary commission would be a non-event. It was also against the backdrop of the poor electoral performance of Nash and Corvin which was taken as a signal of the utter apathy nationalists and republicans held towards the northern state.

Almost every republican source that refers to it, cites McKelvey’s funeral as the key event in the re-organisation of the IRA in the city after the Civil War. The IRA even formed a new GAA club that it named after McKelvey, that survived until 1939. The tricolour placed on McKelvey’s coffin (below) can still be seen today in the republican museum in Conway Mill, Belfast.

 IMG_1640

You can find out more here about Joe McKelvey GAC

And see a photo of the club here (from about 1925)

The bombing of the republican plot in Milltown

This is the story of the bombing and destruction of the original republican plot in Milltown cemetery in Belfast. When most people think of the republican plot in Milltown, they usually think of it as the County Antrim memorial erected on the Tom Williams plot in the mid-1960s. The older republican monument, though, is the one erected in 1912 on the Harbinson plot, named after William Harbinson, a Fenian who died while interned in Belfast prison in 1867. The current monument is actually a replica of the original which was destroyed by a bomb in 1937. Its replacement was also destroyed in 1938, and the monument was targeted again later the same year and yet again in 1939.

After the Harbinson plot had been acquired by local republicans in 1912, a granite memorial to the Belfast Fenians and IRB men was erected in the plot. This monument was an obelisk topped by a Celtic cross more or less identical to that standing today. The plot was enclosed by an iron-work fence with some fine Celtic art details (modelled on the Monasterevin-type discs of 1st-2nd century AD date). Two IRA men, Lieutenant General Joe McKelvey and Sectional Commander Sean McCartney were later buried within the plot. McCartney was buried there in 1921 and commemorated in a plaque placed at the foot of the obelisk. McKelvey was re-interred there in 1924 and his re-burial was a seminal moment in the re-organisation of the Belfast IRA. Jimmy Steele included a photo (below) of the original monument in Antrims Patriot Dead, issued by the National Graves Associated in 1966 (Steele also used a similar image as the front cover of Belfast Patriot Graves in 1963).

original harbinson plot

Around 11 am on the morning of the 1st July, 1937, visitors to Milltown cemetery found that the monument in the republican plot had been badly damaged by a bomb (oddly, few people, if any, heard the bomb explode during the night).

Photo of the aftermath of the bombing in Irish Independent, 2nd July 1937.

Photo of the aftermath of the bombing in Irish Independent, 2nd July 1937.

Evidently gelignite had been placed under a corner of the five ton monument and detonated by a fuse. It blew down the obelisk and the cross, tore up the iron railings from around the plinth, and scattered debris over a forty foot radius. A four foot deep crater was left by the explosion. A wreath of flowers on the monument was blown over a wall twenty-five yards away. The plaque to Sean McCartney appeared to have been taken from the plot as it could not be found during searches of the debris (it was later replaced by the stone shield that is there today).

The bombing brought an outraged reaction from the local branch of the National Graves Association, which held an emergency meeting that evening, condemning “…the wanton destruction by explosives of the memorial in the republican plot…”. The Association noted that the presence of the two graves in the plot made “…the outrage all the more dastardly, and should call for protests from every decent-minded person regardless of class or creed.

After the bombing, the Belfast Recorder awarded £75 in damages for the destruction of the monument. This was enough to allow a replica to be made which was erected in the first week of March 1938. The replacement was a twelve foot cross of Newry granite that replicated the one destroyed in 1937.

But at 1 am on the morning of the 11th March another charge of gelignite exploded, having been placed in a hole dug beneath a corner of the monument. The explosion left a two foot deep crater under a corner of the plinth, with a sizeable portion of the plinth blown out of the plot. The top half of the monument also collapsed. Nearby in the graveyard, someone had chalked graffiti on the walls “Welcome home Crown Entry ‘Victims’” (the first of those arrested in 1936 and who had received two years for treason felony were due for release during April 1938). Notably this was the only bombing around this time where the attackers left graffiti. The RUC also investigated ‘footprints’ found at the scene.

The destruction caused by the March 1938 bombing of the republican plot (Irish Independent 12th March 1938).

The destruction caused by the March 1938 bombing of the republican plot (Irish Independent 12th March 1938).

Unlike the bombing in 1937, the destruction of the monument in March 1938 was discovered to be the work of a maverick pressure group within the Belfast IRA that was trying to precipitate armed confrontation between the IRA and the northern government. In January 1938 this group had shot and wounded a former prison warder. The Milltown bombing, though, illustrated the extent of their ruthlessness. Harry White revealed that the ‘ginger group’ (the term White uses) blew up the republican monument but doesn’t give the exact date of this episode other than placing it in the time between the Smith shooting (in January 1938) and his own release from Crumlin Road in May 1938[1]. Notably, Jimmy Steele also neglects to mention the March 1938 bombing directly in a brief history of the Harbinson Plot in Antrims Patriot Dead.

Some of the maverick group are named by White as Sean McCaughey, Albert Price, Pat McCotter, Peter Farrelly and John Rainey. White too became involved with them after his release from Crumlin Road in May 1938. Oddly, the figure to the left of the RUC man in the photo above looks suspiciously like White (but may be his brother John – I’ve since been fortunate enough to get Danny Morrison, a nephew of the Whites, to look at it and he’s pretty sure it’s not either of them). Similarly, the figure behind the RUC man’s left shoulder could even be Sean McCaughey, while the man to his right looks a bit like the Belfast O/C at the time, Sean McArdle. Unfortunately the quality of the photo makes clear identification of anyone in the picture almost impossible.

White describes the March 1938 bomb as a misdirected attempt to rouse the people. The idea that some of the ‘ginger group’ hung around the damaged monument (possibly getting captured on camera), all the while talking up the outrage against the bombing to any nearby journalists, and then urging the Belfast IRA O/C to take action isn’t actually that implausible (although that is pretty speculative, all the same). The Belfast staff did temporarily give way to pressure from the ‘ginger group’ and that night a British army recruiting office in Alfred Street was bombed around 11 o’clock, doing considerable damage but causing no injuries. The IRA had bombed a naval recruiting office in Donegall Street on 10th November the previous year using largely the same tactic of breaking into the office and setting a timed bomb. This had detonated scattering glass and bricks over the street and with the buildings caretaker, James McEwan, still upstairs. He escaped unhurt, but clearly the Belfast IRA staff had clipped the wings of the IRA unit involved for risking casualties. The ‘misguided attempt’ of March 1938 seems to have been intended to give the ‘ginger group’ a pretext to carry out a further attack and demonstrate they could effectively destroy property without causing casualties.

White notes that the ‘ginger group’ was broken up by the Belfast IRA staff after they developed a plan to attempt to free a prisoner (Eddie McCartney, sentenced to 10 years after the Campbell College raid) in the summer of 1938. At some point, the Belfast IRA also became aware of who had planted the March 1938 bomb which might equally have led to the group being broken up. As it was, Sean Russell’s elevation to the IRA’s Chief of Staff in April 1938 also seemed to offer the prospect of the more militant action that the ‘ginger group’ had been demanding.

The March 1938 bomb in Albert Street also appears to have been the last such IRA action for some time. From 1937 to 1939, though, Unionists had carried out and were to continue with a series of bomb attacks on a range of targets including Catholic Churches, residential districts and other facilities such as sport clubs and AOH Halls. These took the form of placed devices that exploded during the night, bombs thrown from cars and bombs thrown over walls into residential areas.

After the March 1938 bombing, work began on another replacement for the republican monument. The work was completed in O’Neill’s sculpting yard in Divis Street. The 15th August was the day it was to be moved to replace the one blown up in Milltown. That night two men were seen at the yard, one kept watch while the other scaled the wall. He left a bomb behind the nearly completed monument which exploded damaging the top of the monument. The two other damaged monuments were also lying in O’Neill’s yard but were not damaged further. The explosion was heard for miles around. Eye-witnesses saw the perpetrators leave and run off towards Castle Junction.

Yet again, work had to begin on a replacement for the republican monument. Finally, in the last week of October (1938), having even been guarded by the RUC, the republican monument was re-erected in the Harbinson plot in Milltown cemetery.

Then, on the night of 18th January, 1939, at around 11.40 pm, residents across Belfast heard yet another loud explosion which shook windows and slates around the Falls Road. The cemetery superintendent, J. Fitzgerald, who lived in the gate lodge, went straight to the republican plot and saw figures rushing off across the Bog Meadows. A quick search revealed that a home-made canister bomb had been placed against the republican monument. Gelignite in the bomb had detonated but, on this occasion, it hadn’t been buried properly and the monument appeared to have survived intact apart from some scorching. Fragments of the iron-fencing were blown a considerable distance away. A photograph of the monument from after the bombing shows that the damage looked fairly minor. However, inspection of the monument by the Belfast Corporation Claims Department (who had paid out after the previous attacks) showed that it had been dangerously loosened and it was again removed to a sculptors yard in Divis Street for repair. This was done under RUC guard and it was finally re-erected in the plot.

Today the monument looks largely as it did when first erected apart from the plain fencing which no longer contains the fine Celtic art of the original.

RUC inspect damage after bombing (Irish Press, 20th January 1939).

RUC inspect damage after January 1939 bombing (Irish Press, 20th January 1939).

[1] See MacEoin 1986 Harry, page 51. Raymond Quinn, in A Rebel View, dates the McCartney escape plan to mid 1937, while White (in MacEoin) puts it after the shooting of Smith in January 1938. For that reason (and the fact that Jimmy Steele glosses over the March 1938 bombing in Antrims Patriot Dead), I’ve opted for Whites dates.