Who was in charge of the Belfast I.R.A.?

Who was in charge of the Belfast I.R.A. from the 1920s to the 1960s? Formally, the I.R.A. designated Belfast as either a Battalion or Brigade from 1922 through to the late 1960s with it’s commander usually listed as O/C Belfast. As a clandestine organisation, the identity of it’s leadership was not usually transparent. Occasional arrests and seizures of documents by the R.U.C., particularly internal I.R.A. correspondence, strongly suggests the roles different individual held within the I.R.A., such as when correspondence addressed to the Belfast Adjutant was found in Billy McAllister’s house in January 1937.

Individual memoirs provide much more substance, corroborating some of what is known from court reports and documents. In many cases, though, they tend to roughly pinpoint in time who led the Belfast I.R.A. rather than provide a clear picture of who was in charge, how they came into the post and how they left it. Theoretically the O.C. was elected, where practicable, and many held the role until arrested. As I.R.A. posts were vacated on arrest, someone else typically acted in the role until the previous holder was either released or a formal appointment made in their place. The value in knowing who was in charge, how stable their leadership was and what direction it took the I.R.A. all contributes to a better understanding of how the organisation developed and how it impacted and influenced the course of events.

The list below is based on a variety of sources. I’ve highlighted where there are gaps and, obviously, there may well be significant errors of omissions, given the nature of the source material (and some of this is just guess work).

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

1922-23 Hugh Corvin

Former Quartermaster of the IRA’s 3rd Northern Division, he had replaced Pat Thornbury as O/C Belfast which had by then been re-organised as a Brigade in October 1922. Corvin had supported the Executive against GHQ over the Treaty in 1922. Subsequently interned in April 1923, he was elected leader of the I.R.A. prisoners and was involved in various prison protests. Corvin was involved in the Irish Volunteers prior to 1916.

AOC

Hugh Corvin

1923-24 Jim O’Donnell

O’Donnell replaced Corvin as O/C while Corvin was interned. When Corvin was released from internment at the end of 1924 O’Donnell appears to have stepped back and Corvin took over again as O/C.

1924-26 Hugh Corvin

When Corvin returned as O/C of the Belfast Brigade it was during the re-organisation that followed after Joe McKelvey’s re-burial in Milltown on 30th October 1924.

1925-1926 Jim Johnston

When the Belfast I.R.A. shot Patrick Woods in November 1925 the R.U.C. arrested one individual for questioning but detained a further fifty men, more than twenty of whom were interned until January 1926 including most of the Battalion staff. This included Hugh Corvin. Barely a week after the arrests the outcome of the Boundary Commission was leaked into the press. Judging by correspondence recovered in his house in February 1926, Johnston seems to have acted as O/C while Corvin was interned.

1926 Hugh Corvin

Corvin returned as O/C but only stayed in the position until April 1926 when he resigned citing business reasons (he had set up an accountancy firm). He had been arrested in November 1925 and held until the end of January 1926 along with twenty others following the shooting of an informer.

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

1926-7 Dan Turley

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

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Dan Turley

1927-33 Davy Matthews

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

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Davy Matthews

1933-34 Jack McNally

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

Jack McNally Jack McNally

1934-36 Tony Lavery

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

[By the way – you can read more about all of this in a new book on the Belfast IRA]

1936-37 Sean McArdle

Took on role of O/C Belfast after the loss of Lavery and other Belfast staff members at Crown Entry. In October 1937, the R.U.C. raided what appears to have been a battalion staff meeting in Pearse Hall in King Street. McArdle was arrested and sentenced to six months in Crumlin Road for having I.R.A. documents in his possession.

1937-38 Chris McLoughlin?

While McArdle was in prison for three or four months, Chris McLoughlin may have acted in the role as O/C Belfast (he may have attended at least one I.R.A. convention in that capacity).

Chris McLoughlin

Chris McLoughlin

1938 Sean McArdle

On his release, McArdle returned as O/C Belfast until he was interned in December 1938.

1938-39 Charlie McGlade

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

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Charlie McGlade

1940 Jimmy Steele

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

Jimmy Steele 1940

Jimmy Steele in 1940

1941 Liam Rice

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

Liam Rice Liam Rice

1941 Pearse Kelly

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


Pearse Kelly Pearse Kelly

1941-42 Hugh Matthews

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

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Hugh Matthews

1942 John Graham

Prior to 1942, Graham had been O/C of an independent unit, mostly made up of Protestant IRA men. Graham took on the role of Director of Intelligence for the Northern Command and (according to Joe Cahill), was also O/C Belfast. He presumably after Hugh Matthews some time after February 1942 although the timing is unclear. He was arrested along with David Fleming in the Belfast HQ on Crumlin Road on 3rd October 1942, where printing presses and radio broadcasting equipment were also recovered. Graham, a divinity student in the 1930s, on his release he was to become a noted professional golfer.

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John Graham

1942-43 Rory Maguire

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

1943 Jimmy Steele

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

1943-44 Seamus Burns

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

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Seamus ‘Rocky’ Burns

1944 Harry White?

In February 1944, Harry White apparently took over as O/C Belfast after Burns’ death. He was also on the run continuously. He seems to have taken on the role of O/C Belfast for much of the time and also delegated it to others.

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Harry White
Harry White

1944-45 Harry O’Rawe?

By April 1944, Harry White went underground to Altaghoney in County Derry seemingly leaving O’Rawe as O/C Belfast. In his memoir, Harry, Harry White implies that he and O’Rawe may have alternated in the role of O/C Belfast.

1945 Johnny Murphy?

When Harry O’Rawe was arrested in March 1945, it seems likely Johnny Murphy took over as O/C Belfast. Murphy was one of a number of I.R.A. volunteers that were induced to sign out of internment by Harry White. White himself had resigned from the I.R.A. then signed out of internment in the Curragh and then was reinstated in the I.R.A.. He later got others to do the same to replenish the Belfast Battalion staff. An organiser sent by the I.R.A. in Dublin, Gerry McCarthy, visited Belfast in April 1945 and that may have prompted the reorganisation of the various roles.

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Johnny Murphy

1945 Seamus Twomey?

In reality the identities of the O/C Belfast after Rocky Burns’ death are repeatedly unclear. A profile of Seamus Twomey (in The Irish Press on 15th July 1972) states that he was O/C Belfast in 1945. As he was only released from internment in the summer of that year, if this is true, it would have to be in the latter half of the year. Since arrests tended to be the catalyst that lead to a changes in O/C, it is possible that Twomey took over in October 1946 and Murphy replaced White as O/C Northern Command.

Seamus Twomey

Seamus Twomey

194?-49 Seamus McCallum

Richard English names McCallum as O/C when Des O’Hagan joined the IRA in 1949. Frank McKearney had taken over as O/C when Joe Cahill was released in November 1949, by which date McCallum may have moved to Liverpool (where he became O/C of the an I.R.A. unit). As noted above, it is not always clear who was in charge of what was left of the Belfast IRA between early 1944 and 1949, so the date that McCallum took on the role is unknown.

1949-50 Frank McKearney

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

1950-56 Jimmy Steele

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

1956 Paddy Doyle

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

1956-57 Joe Cahill

Cahill, who had a death sentence commuted in 1942, had been released in 1949 from Crumlin Road. He took over from Paddy Doyle on his arrest in December 1956 until Cahill himself was interned in July 1957.

Joe Cahill

1957-60 There is a gap in available information from mid-1957 until about 1960. Jimmy Steele may have taken over again from Cahill until his own internment that summer.

1961-63 Billy McKee

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

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Billy McKee

1963-69 Billy McMillen

Following the argument over the Wolfe Tone commemorations in June 1963, McMillen took over as O/C Belfast. Having earlier been associated with unofficial bombings in 1950, McMillen had left the IRA in the mid-1950s following an argument and linked up with Saor Uladh. After his release from internment in 1961, he first went to England then returned to Belfast and rejoined the IRA. He remained O/C through the 1960s and was interned just before the pogrom in mid-August 1969.

Billy McMillen

Billy McMillen

1969 Jim Sullivan

When McMillen was interned from mid-August to late September, Sullivan acted as O/C Belfast in his place. He was imprisoned for a number of brief periods, such as 1966, when he was presumably replaced by an acting O/C by the likes of Jim Sullivan, who was his Adjutant.

Jim Sullivan


Jim Sullivan

1969 Billy McMillen

As part of the fallout over the failure of the Belfast IRA to adequately prepare to defend areas during the pogrom, on release from internment McMillen called a Battalion staff meeting to seek confirmation that he would continue as O/C. When he was forced to restructure his staff, he was also asked to withdraw supports for Cathal Goulding as Chief of Staff on 22nd September 1969.

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

You can read more about the Belfast IRA in the new book.

Text of the IRA report on the Campbell College Raid.

Here is the report by the IRA’s Belfast Battalion Adjutant on the attempted arms raid at Campbell College in December 1935. The text was quoted in full by the Belfast Newsletter in May 1936 after it was captured during the Crown Entry Raid. The Belfast Adjutant was Jimmy Steele, while the IRA’s Adjutant General was Jim Killeen. The report expands significantly on the information given in various other accounts of the raid.

Adjutant, No. 1 Area Ulster to Adjutant-General, I.R.A., Headquarters
The Report of the Campbell College Raid
On 27th December arrangements were made to seize 200 rifles lying in the armoury of the college. Around the front of the college three gate-lodges are situated, whilst at the rear is another gate-lodge. The gate of the rear gate-lodge is a wooden gate, about 12ft or 14ft high and is always closed, except during the day, when it is used as a goods entrance, &c. The lodge itself is a fairly good distance away from the armoury. The three front lodges however, are about 200 yards from the armoury and are linked up by telephone to the main building and armoury. It was found necessary to take and hold these lodges in order to carry out the raid successfully.
Three squads of men, with six m each squad, were selected to take over each lodge. Three of them would enter each lodge, tie up the occupants, dismantle the telephone, &c. This done, two of them would remain on guard, whilst the other four of each squad would close in on the armoury, surround it and, having got into it, seize the rifles and tie up anyone who may be in same.
The squads were to report at the different lodges at 8-10 p.m., and, all well, to make into the lodges at a given signal at 8-15. Numbers 2 and 3 Squads would arrive on foot at No. 2 and 3 Lodges, No. 1 Squad were to arrive in a commandeered car and turn up a road almost opposite to No. 1 Lodge. A check-up car had been arranged also to be hovering around the vicinity.
Immediately it noticed the arrival of No. 1 Squad it was to proceed to Nos. 2 and 3 Squads and inform them that everything was ready.If in the event of any one of the squads not arriving it was to inform the other squads.
The check-up car, on everything being right, was then to proceed to a road leading out of the college, and await the coming out of the commandeered car with the rifles.
After the armoury had been seized, the commandeered car, which was to have been lying handy inside No. 1 Lodge, having moved in after the lodge was taken, was to move up to the armoury and there transport the rifles to their future destination.
The officer in charge of this car was then to exchange places with the officer in the check-up car, proceed around the lodges, dismiss the squads, and lift their guns. So much for the plans.
The check-up car arrived at the appointed place at 8-8 p.m. and patrolled the lodges.
No. 3 Squad arrived at 8-15 p.m., and the officer in charge, being inattentive during the time instructions were given, at once proceeded to take over No. 3 Lodge. The check-up car had passed the spot a minute previously.
Three men entered the gate. One knocked at the door: a woman came to the door and, seeing the masked man. she screamed. The men entered, however, and lined the occupants up. This done, the officer came to the door to inform the other three that everything was all right.
He was met by a policeman, who rushed into the house firing. The three men inside replied to the fire and succeeded in getting past him.
His first shot, however, knocked the gun completely out of the hands of one of the men.
The three men outside, thinking they had been trapped, retreated down the road. The whole six of them escaped, and in the evidence given by each of them at the subsequent inquiry, all were unanimous in stating that not more than one policeman was there, and that if there had been more they would never have got away. No. 2 Squad arrived at their place at 8-35 p.m., twenty minutes late and after the shooting had taken place. The officer in charge, along with two other men, stopped at No. 2 Lodge to await the checkup car. He instructed the other three men to move off down the road and be readv to follow him into the lodge as soon as they noticed the check-up car.
They moved off down the road and stopped at the corner where No. 3 Lodge is situated. One of them noticed about four policemen, and he informed the other two men. The officer in charge said: ‘Don’t run; walk on quietly.’ Immediately they moved they were seen and called on to halt.
They then began to run, McCartney, the captured man, being one of them. The three men at the lodge also retreated, firing as they retreated. All got away safely except McCartney.
Each of these men stated at the inquiry that they never at any time saw more than four policemen; that it would have been impossible for any of them to escape had there been more, or had they been waiting on them.
Their late arrival was due to the late arrival of the guns for the job.
No. 1 Squad commandeered a car, but owing to a misunderstanding as to the place of meeting, the volunteer to drive same turned up at the wrong place. They waited until 8-30 p.m., when they reported to the battalion adjutant and the battalion commanding officer.
These staff officers, under the changed circumstances, decided to call off the raid, and immediately they proceeded by tram to Campbell College, arriving there at 9-5 p.m., having to wait fifteen minutes on a car.
On arrival there they noticed about four police outside No. 3 lodge. They also met one of the men of No. 2 Squad, who seemed to have lost himself, and who informed them of the shooting. They directed him how to get home. On their way home they noticed tenders of police going- out to the scene.
The check-up car hovered about the scene until 8-30 p.m. in the hope of picking up some of the men. They stated also that the first tender of police to arrive, arrived at 8-50 p.m., also that if there had been information beforehand they never would have’ got patrolling around from 8-8 p.m. until 8-50 p.m. without being stopped.
According to information received from a reliable source by the battalion intelligence officer the 200 rifles alleged to have been shifted were not shifted; that it is the usual procedure to have a small guard on the armoury at holiday times.
That the Press reports of the raid, especially ‘the information beforehand’ and the ‘shifting of the rifles’ statements were only published with a purpose to cause suspicion and distrust among the members of the organisation.
This has had a bad effect on the outside public. The ‘Irish Press’ was very prominent with this publication. ‘An Síol‘ has published a leading article on the matter this week.
We have decided to defend Second-Lieut. B. Rooney, D Company, as this is purely a frame-up so far as he is concerned, and considering there is a police notice published in the Press concerning eight young men who were supposed to have boarded a Belmont tram that night, there is every possibility that further frameups may take place if no effort is made to comhat them.
A large number of houses have been visited by the police, the persons wanted interrogated, and all volunteers, of course, refused to make statements.
There is still the possibility of a round-up, and so most of the men are sleeping out of their houses. The Battalion O.C. and Adjutant and a number of other volunteers have managed so far to elude the police. Battalion and company work is going on as usual, and shadow staffs have been arranged in the event of any arrests.

Lodge No 3.

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p style=”text-align:justify;”>This report now gives a much clearer picture of the organisation and sophistication of the Campbell College raid. More than twenty IRA volunteers participated in the operation, including eighteen volunteers in three squads, a mobile unit in a patrol car and the Battalion O/C and Adjutant back at a command post.
The raid itself involved the three squads (number 1 to 3) of six IRA volunteers. Each squad would assemble at a gate lodge at 8.10 pm (only the rear gate lodge was not be seized). Squad 1 (which was to commandeer a car and seize Lodge 1). They were to park up in the Old Holywood Road (roughly opposite Lodge 1). Squads 2 and 3 were to arrive on foot at Lodge 2 (at the junction of Hawthornden Road and Belmont Road) and Lodge 3 (on Hawthornden Road). A second car was going to be present patrolling the perimeter of Campbell College from 8 pm. Once it had observed that Squad 1 was in position, it would move down Belmont Road and signal to Squads 2 and 3 to proceed.
Three volunteers would then seize each lodge at 8.15 pm, secure the occupants and dismantle the telephone line. Two volunteers would remain to guard each gate lodge while the other four volunteers were to proceed to the Campbell College armoury. The assembled twelve volunteers were then to surround the armoury and remove its contents in the commandeered car. The officer in charge of the commandeered car was then to exchange places with the officer in charge of the patrol car, he would then advise Squads 1, 2 and 3 to withdraw.
When Squad 3 arrived at the Hawthornden Road at 8.15 pm, it immediately took over Lodge 3. As the squad leader left the gate lodge to join the rest of Squad 3 he met an RUC constable coming into the gate lodge. After the exchange of fire in the gate lodge, the three volunteers escaped and all of Squad 3 managed to leave the scene.
Due to the late arrival of their weapons, Squad 2 didn’t arrive at Lodge 2 until 8.35 pm where it awaited the patrol car to give the signal, sending three volunteers ahead to be ready to take Lodge 2. The three volunteers who had awaited the patrol car, headed down towards Lodge 3 only to encounter the RUC following up the shootout with Squad 3 at Lodge 3. The RUC gave chase, exchanging fire with Squad 2, and pursued all six of the squad back towards Belmont Road capturing Eddie McCartney.
Squad 1 commandeered a car but the intended driver missed their rendezvous and the Squad had to report to Tony Lavery (Belfast O/C) and his Adjutant Jimmy Steele at 8.30 pm to advise them of the problem. Deciding to call off the raid, they took a tram to Campbell College. Meantime the patrol car withdrew from the scene as RUC tenders began to arrive. Lavery and Steele then arrived at 9.05 pm at Campbell College. Noting the RUC presence at Lodge 3, they met one of Squad 2 who was disorientated by the shooting but informed them as to what had happened. McCartney was to be the only IRA volunteer arrested at the scene.

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

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

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

1924-26 Hugh Corvin

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

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

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Hugh Corvin

1926-7 Dan Turley

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

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Dan Turley

1927-33 Davy Matthews

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

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Davy Matthews

1933-34 Jack McNally

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

Jack McNally

Jack McNally

1934-36 Tony Lavery

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

1936-38 Sean McArdle

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

1938-39 Charlie McGlade

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

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Charlie McGlade

1940 Jimmy Steele

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

Jimmy Steele

1941 Liam Rice

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

Liam Rice

Liam Rice

1941 Pearse Kelly

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

Pearse Kelly

Pearse Kelly

1941-42 Hugh Matthews

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

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Hugh Matthews

1942 John Graham

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

John Graham playing golf in the 1930s.

1942-43 Rory Maguire

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

1943 Jimmy Steele

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

1943-44 Seamus Burns

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

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Seamus ‘Rocky’ Burns

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

1944-45 Harry White

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

Harry White

Harry White

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

Johnny Murphy


194?-49 Seamus McCallum

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

1949-50 Frank McKearney

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

1950-56 Jimmy Steele

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

1956 Paddy Doyle

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

1956-57 Joe Cahill

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

Joe Cahill

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

1961-63 Billy McKee

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

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Billy McKee

1963-69 Billy McMillen

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

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Billy McMillen

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

At a canter: the 1936 hunger strike

After their arrest at Crown Entry in 1936, the senior IRA men charged and found guilty of treason felony had agreed on a campaign for political status after they had been sentenced (this happened on 22nd July 1936). Sean McCool was O/C of the republican prisoners in Crumlin Road at the time, while Tony Lavery was section O/C of B wing.
Their first step was to go individually to the prison doctor to demand they receive the Ordinary No 3 Diet. At the time there was a rumour that all republican prisoners would be freed at the time of the upcoming coronation in London (there were twenty-three political prisoners in Crumlin Road at the time). This acted as a brake on taking action which unfolded relatively slowly over the next few weeks. Ironically, there was equally a rumour that the long term prisoners in A wing would be moved to Peterhead in Scotland which was designed as a penal settlement (while Crumlin Road was only designed for short term prisoners).
McCool and Lavery (as O/Cs of A wing and B wing) then both went to the prison governor, Stephenson, to again demand No 3 Diet, association, razors, Irish books, a letter a week and visit a month. By the middle of August there was no clear decision on further action and Lavery wanted to be replaced as O/C (he intended to hold no rank in the prison and to resign from the IRA on his release). The prison chaplains were also refusing sacraments to the IRA men. Eventually, on Sunday 16th August, McCool passed a copy of their demands to Lavery (see below).

NIne demands made by republican prisoners, Crumlin Road, 1936 (from Tony Lavery's diary, PRONI Ha 32/1/635).

NIne demands made by republican prisoners, Crumlin Road, 1936 (from Tony Lavery’s diary, PRONI Ha 32/1/635).

The prisoners in A wing agreed that there would be a no work protest from the Tuesday against the conditions under which they were being held prisoner and that every prisoner who felt able to would commence a hunger and thirst strike. Mick Traynor also took over as O/C in B wing. On the day the protest started, each informed the warder who opened his cell that he wasn’t going to work that day . He was told he would be reported and was locked back into his cell. A short time later, half a dozen warders and the Chief Warder appeared at the cell and asked him to go to his place of work. He again refused and was physical removed from the cell and brought to his place of work in the yard.
Jimmy Steele, Sean McCool, Jim Killeen (being held as James Grace), Mick Gallagher, Mick Kelly (being held as Michael O’Boyle) and Johnny McAdams stood where they were left in the yard by the warders and refused to do any work. They were rounded up by the warders and brought back to the circle where they were held whilst their refusal was reported to the governor. Next they were summoned to the governor’s office. Each prisoner was asked why he was refusing to work and they told him that it was a protest as he was a political prisoner, not a criminal, and had been sentenced and charged under a political offence, the Treason Felony Act of 1848.
They each demanded political treatment including their own clothes. Stephenson replied that there was no provision for political prisoners in the jail. He ordered one month of punishment on number 2 Punishment Diet. On return from the governor’s office each republican prisoner discovered that his cell had been stripped of the table, stool, bed board, mattress, blankets, a basin, dustpan, brush, mugs, comb and spoon. The bed board, mattress and blankets were removed between 7.30 am and 8 am and only returned at 8 pm or so. The number 2 Punishment Diet of bread and water for breakfast, potatoes for dinner and a half pint of porridge for tea was delivered directly by warders to each cell. Those on punishment also had a loss of exercise.
After the A wing prisoners went through this, the B wing men suffered more or less the same consequence for a refusal to work. It is clear that there was no consensus among the prisoners on whether all, or indeed any, of the demands, would be met. The most realistic scenario was that if the prison authorities breached normal prison rules and protocol to treat with them, this was tantamount to recognition of their political status (i.e. when they started collective negotiations rather than dealing with them as individuals).
The hunger and thirst strike also began on the Tuesday (18th August) with eighteen of the twenty-three republican prisoners in Belfast Jail participating (everyone except the juveniles, Mick Kelly and Tony Lavery). Hunger strikes were not a new tactic in Belfast Jail, with Patrick Cavanagh having carried out a five day hunger strike there the previous year. The Crown Entry men included veterans of various jails, north and south, and prison protests including hunger strikes (including those who had been arrested at Gyles Quay and imprisoned in Arbour Hill the year before). Given the high profile of some of the prisoners, such as Jim Killeen and Sean McCool, there was the prospect of publicity, and it would be hoped, widespread sympathy for meeting their demands.

Governor's note to Dawson Bates listing status of republican prisoners in Crumlin Road on 20th August 1936.

Governor’s note to Dawson Bates listing status of republican prisoners in Crumlin Road on 20th August 1936.

While the nominal demand was one visit and one parcel per month, the real focus of the protest was to establish that principle of there being a political liaison between those imprisoned and those in charge of running the prison. Other issues, such as the refusal to work, could be dealt with by non-compliance, relying upon the warders on the ground to ignore non-participation in work in return for a quiet life. Warders who wanted to enforce the rules and compel prisoners to work would not only require confrontations to enforce this, but also co-operation from their own colleagues. It seems that the desire for a quiet life could be relied upon to gloss over refusals to participate in work where that was done by simply not doing the work, rather than openly refusing to work. Some work, which related to the prisoners own comforts, such as the cook house and laundry, appeared to have been exempt from the protests.
On the Friday, three days into the hunger strike, Jimmy Steele told Mick Traynor that he was ‘going the whole hog’. On the Saturday after the hunger and thirst strike started, the A wing men were visited by the Chaplain who was nominally coming to give them the Catholic sacrament of confession. On advising them that a hunger and thirst strike ran contrary to the teachings of the Catholic church, he refused absolution. After he had been to A wing, the chaplain paid Jack McNally and the others a visit in B wing. He similarly refused absolution to them and also informed him that the A wing men had come off the thirst strike (which wasn’t true). It is clear from McNally’s memoirs that the protest began as a hunger and thirst strike, rather than a conventional hunger strike although contemporary press sources generally refer to it as a hunger strike.
With some prisoners on a hunger and thirst strike, it put immediate pressure on the authorities to consider concessions. Whether it was agreed beforehand or left to a certain amount of chance, the decision to begin with everyone on a hunger and thirst strike appears to have been tactical. A hunger and thirst strike could potentially see fatalities after the first week and gave the authorities little opportunity to ignore the protest.
Having raised the stakes so high to begin with, those on the protest then began taking water again on the Saturday, the fifth day. This, in effect, took the protest down a gear. The change in pace allowed the prisoners to gather their strength for a more protracted battle of wills. It also offered some respite to the authorities after the stress of a potential fatality on a hunger and thirst strike. It didn’t offer much respite to the hunger strikers, though. Anyone who has participated in a hunger strike is quick to dismiss the idea that somehow the hunger pangs leave as the lack of food normalises. Apparently, the hunger persists every day from the beginning of the strike and presents a constant challenge to the discipline and motivation of the hunger striker.
That Saturday afternoon, McNally was visited by a warder and the deputy prison doctor, Dr McComb. After examining McNally he directed the warder to bring him down to the prison surgery, McComb found that his kidneys were not functioning properly. McComb then gave him a glass of water with some powder dissolved in it. The doctor also ordered that McNally be allowed an hours exercise a day on medical grounds. Back in his cell, McNally still refused the food on Sunday morning but drank the water.
At 2 pm on the Sunday, the authorities began to negotiate. A Catholic warder, called Murphy and nicknamed the Blind Man, brought an offer from Allingham, the chief warder. If they called off the protest, their cards would be marked as if they had been at work all week (this is taken into account when it comes to remission and shortening the sentence). McNally told Murphy that he would have to meet the other Crown Entry men held in B and C wing to discuss the offer before he could respond to Allingham or the governor Stevens. Allingham directed Murphy to assemble the men in B and C wing, and, that he would meet McNally to discuss the matter.
McNally immediately noted the fact that Allingham was at work on a Sunday and agreed to collective negotiation as evidence that the authorities were taking the protest seriously and was a form of political recognition. They all agreed that they would allow themselves to be brought out to work the next day, whilst remaining on the number 2 Punishment Diet. While they would be on a go slow, or not work at all, this would be disregarded. They would keep privileges like attending the lectures and Friday night concerts. Next Murphy brought McNally’s response to Allingham that he would meet him. When Allingham agreed and met him on the Sunday evening, McNally considered it as a step towards political recognition. The Crown Entry men on B wing regarded this as a moral victory. The hunger and thirst strike had lasted to its fifth day.
Over on A wing, the protest had stepped down a notch, but it wasn’t over. The demand for a visit and parcel a month still remained and the Crown Entry men were now taking water, but refusing food, and it was day six of the hunger strike. The authorities had not conceded the point yet and the scene was apparently set for a more protracted hunger strike. By 1st September, on day 16 of the hunger strike, Sean McCool and Jim Killeen had come off the strike (this was reported in Irish Press on 4th September) and only Jimmy Steele remained on hunger strike.
The logic of Steele staying on the hunger strike was likely to promote support in Belfast in a way that perhaps Killeen or McCool might not have attracted. In the event that he grew weak, it left Killeen and McCool in a position to negotiate with the authorities.
But Steele’s body was already weakened by refusing food and having had pleurisy and lung congestion the previous year. After the initial hunger and thirst, he had already started to show further signs of problems. By the 3rd September, day 18 of the hunger strike, his condition had weakened sufficiently that his brother Bill was summoned by the prison authorities. Despite the health problems, he insisted on staying on hunger strike until the demands were met. The demands were still that they would receive one visit and one letter a month from relatives. Finally, he came off hunger strike on the Saturday morning, the 5th September, the 20th day of the hunger strike (this was reported in the Irish Press on 7th September) as a deal appeared to have been brokered.
On Monday, the 7th September, the A wing men expected to be in a position to receive a visit (according to newspaper reports in October the authorities had even agreed to weekly visits but that wasn’t part of the demands). Over the course of the next week the authorities appear to taken a different interpretation of whatever was agreed before the 5th, or simply chose not to honour it.
Having just completed five days on hunger and thirst strike, followed by fifteen further days of hunger strike, Jimmy Steele went back on hunger strike on the 17th September. Given his weakened condition and the problems with his lungs, his continuation of the protest raised the stakes. His condition continued to worsen and he was transferred to the prison hospital. His brother Bill and others attempted to get in to see him, whilst political figures like Harry Diamond tried to get permission for family members to get in to see him. They also requested that he be treated by an outside doctor. In the end, severely weakened, Steele came off the hunger strike on 30th September. It was the fourteenth day of his second hunger strike and he had been on hunger or thirst strike for thirty-four of the last forty-five days. He remained in the hospital for some time.
Mick Traynor, who took part in the hunger strike in 1940 that saw the deaths of Tony D’arcy and Jack McNeela, said that compared to 1940, the 1936 protest was a ‘cantering strike’. However, Jimmy Steele was later to record how the hunger strike had impacted significantly on his lungs which were to remain a problem for the rest of his life and lead to intermittent bouts of ill-health.