Friday, January 31, 2014

Vol. Alo Hand (Saor Uladh)

 24 July 2008 Edition

Plaque to Alo Hand unveiled in Clones

THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the deaths of three Irish republicans who took up arms against British occupation in the North of Ireland in the 1950s: IRA Volunteer Patrick McManus died in a premature explosion near Swanlinbar, County Cavan; James Crossan, the Cavan Sinn Féin organiser who was assassinated by the RUC on the southern side of the border, also near Swanlinbar; and Aloysius ‘Alo’ Hand, of North Monaghan, who was killed by British forces at Clontivrim, County Fermanagh.

Alo Hand was a member of Saor Uladh, a short-lived armed republican organisation involved in a series of operations against crown forces in the North in the 1950s. While the Republican Movement’s then monthly newspaper, The United Irishman, acknowledged that Alo Hand was not a member of the IRA, it expressed sympathy to his family and said he “died from British bullets in the occupied part of Ireland”.

On Sunday, 6 July 2008, the Volunteer Alo Hand Committee unveiled a memorial plaque at 31 O’Neill Park, Clones, to mark the 50th anniversary of Alo Hand’s death on the 2 July 1958 at the age of 20.

A large crowd braved poor weather
conditions for the unveiling where an extract was read out from a commemorative booklet published in 2003 marking Alo’s 45th anniversary. Alo Hand’s comrade, Packie Treanor, who was with him when he was killed, and who was shot and injured and spent the next five-and-a half-years in Crumlin Road Jail, gave his recollection of the events of that night.

 Newspaper reports from the time stated that Alo led a party of 12 armed men intent on launching an attack on an unnamed target in the North, that he was killed after an exchange of gunfire and that this group retreated back towards the border after the exchange. This was untrue and the real story of that night’s events can now be told.

On an otherwise typical midweek night, Alo had taken his girlfriend to the cinema in Clones before returning home for something to eat. After changing into old clothes he told his sister, Cecilia, that he was going out to hunt rabbits and left the house. At 5am the following morning, the Hand household awoke to the news that Alo was dead – killed by the RUC one mile out from Clones.

On the night of 2 July, a group of five Saor Uladh Volunteers had embarked on a reconnaissance mission just into the Fermanagh side of the Monaghan border. It was approximately 1am in the morning as the group edged along a railway line screened by the trees and bushes.
“There was only five of us in all,” Packie Treanor recalls. “We two were in front and we were armed. So was one of the fellas behind. The other two had no guns at all – that’s why the man in charge on the night held back. He didn’t want them to be in any danger.”

Alo Hand had taken the lead in the group and was being extra cautious as the bridge at Clontivren was considered quite open.
Contrary to newspaper accounts at the time, no warning was issued as the first shots were fired. Neither was there a chance to return fire on the part of those ambushed.
“Alo was down low, moving a small bit at a time and the next thing a flare was put up, there was a roar of ‘Halt!’ and – at the same time – there was a burst of gunfire. They didn’t call halt first. There was a shout followed immediately by a burst of fire. They both seemed to come at the one time.”
Alo was killed instantly, directly in front of Packie, who was hit twice, once in the leg, shattering his shinbone, and once through the left side of his chest. After lying in semi-consciousness for several hours, Packie was eventually uncovered and subjected to abuse and a crude interrogation at the scene. He was then taken to Enniskillen Hospital via Lisnaskea, where members of the local RUC allowed a hostile crowd to gather and abuse him verbally. Packie was given 14 years for possession of a Thompson machinegun and served the next five-and-a-half years in Crumlin Road Jail.

Unionist politicians were ecstatic at the shooting. At the inquest the Fermanagh coroner, JR Hanna, said Hand was one of a group entering the North “for some illegal and warlike purpose. They came armed, prepared to give death and one of them received death. The men were ordered to drop their guns and halt. Instead, they opened fire.” The coroner ordered the jury to return a finding of “justifiable homicide”. No expression of sympathy was passed to the Hand family at their loss and no questions were raised as to the circumstances of the shooting.

Alo Hand’s brother, Francis, had the difficult task of identifying the body in the hostile environment of Enniskillen. Three other brothers returned from England for the funeral, a reminder of the dire economic situation of 1950s Ireland.

Alo’s remains were brought to the border by the RUC to be met by a body of gardaí and a large crowd of local people who escorted the Tricolour-draped coffin to the family home in O’Neill Park.

The funeral, on Friday, 4 July, was attended by over a 1,000 people. Four of Alo’s brothers carried the coffin from the church before handing it over to members of Saor Uladh, who draped the coffin in the Tricolour before carrying it in relays to Clones Cemetery. Members of the Hand family then carried the coffin to the graveside as plainclothes gardaí mingled with the mourners.

The Last Post was played as a Saor Uladh guard of honour stood to attention at the side of the coffin. Also present at the graveside were members of the O’Hanlon family from Monaghan Town. Fergal O’Hanlon had been killed in a similar incident along with Seán Sabhat over a year prior to the death of Alo Hand. The large crowd listened gravely as the funeral oration was delivered by Frank Morris, from Greencastle, County Tyrone. He said:  “Alo was a veteran of many stern engagements. He was absolutely fearless and was an inspiration to all with whom he came into contact. He was modest, clean-spoken and God fearing. He has gone to take his place among the heroes.”

In his concluding remarks at the graveside, Frank Morris said:
“Let there be no talk of vengeance, no idle boasting. The cause is not lost, the struggle is not over. With God’s help, what we have begun we shall finish”.

Alo Hand’s struggle for justice and freedom ended prematurely in July 1958. The republican struggle for justice and freedom continues unabated

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Photo: Noel Kavanagh speaking the grave of Patrick McManus

Noel Kavanagh speaking the grave of Patrick McManus


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Newry Easter Commemoration and news- UI 1954

James Crossan- KIA

  above: front page of a booklet put out by the United Irishman in 58

(Note: Crossan was also an Intelligence Officer for the IRA and had been a member of Teeling Column, taking part in the raid on Derrylin Barracks on the opening night of the Campaign. He was the last volunteer to be killed during Operation Harvest.)

2 September 1999 Edition

 Remembering the Past: Sinn Féin organiser assassinated in Cavan
By Aengus O Snodaigh

Sinn Féin members have been targets for the murderous intent of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary for many years. Several members have been assassinated by the members of this infamous force in the last 30 years, many others have died because of the collusion of RUC officers with pro-British deaths squads. Many of these death squads are co-ordinated or directed by other members of the British occupation forces. Much of this collusion has been exposed in recent years.

That RUC officers could operate outside the law or get immunity for their crimes became clear very soon after their founding in 1920, with many deaths and shootings of nationalists occurring in ``disputed'' circumstances. One such assassination occurred in the early hours of a Sunday morning in August 1958.

Despite an attempted cover-up by RUC headquarters, the version of events they presented that afternoon was exposed when major contradictions were highlighted in their story.

The young man they shot dead was a native of Aughavas, County Leitrim, though he lived at Cloneary, Bawnboy, County Cavan, with an uncle. Though only 26, he was a prominent Sinn Féin member. A farmer, he was also the organiser for County Cavan and had been Director of Elections for Pádraig O Dubhthaigh, who polled over 3,000 votes in the general election of March 1957 in County Cavan.

With the recommencement of the IRA's war against the occupation forces in Ireland in December 1956, Crossan and other republicans came under the increased attentions of the forces of the state on both sides of the border. There was an increase of harassment of nationalists in the area in general in 1957 and 1958, with shots being fired across the border by RUC men at people in the 26 Counties, several `incursions' by both British army and RUC patrols, undercover RUC men attending commemorations in the South or `visiting' the houses of known republicans in counties Cavan and Monaghan and several people being `arrested' and spirited across the border to be brought before a British court or interned without trial. On many occasions, men arrested in the County Fermanagh area were questioned about Crossan. Crossan was undaunted, as his work was open and legal, and he never expected to be shot dead for his beliefs.

On the eve of that fateful Sunday in 1958, James Crossan had travelled to Swanlinbar to procure a Tricolour to fly at a Sinn Féin meeting to be held the following night in Ballyconnell, County Cavan. Driven there by his neighbour Sean Reilly, they met another Sinn Féin member Ben McHugh and went to a bar in the town. Here they met a cattle dealer, Glover Rooney from Kinglass, Macken, County Fermanagh and an RUC `B' Special sergeant, Stanley Moffat. They agreed to give the two a lift on their way home to the border crossing near Mullen where Rooney had parked his van. Another man, the barman Thomas McCarron, was also offered a lift home as he lived near the border crossing. On reaching the border, Rooney, McCarron and Moffat headed over the crossing on foot, with Crossan and McHugh accompanying them on the short journey.

As Crossan and McHugh were returning, shots rang out. The night sky was lit up and James Crossan lay dead, shot by assassins lying in wait on the County Cavan side of the border. Ben McHugh was grabbed, arrested, brought across the border and held incommunicado.

The cover-up began immediately, with the RUC issuing a statement to say that the men were intent on attacking Mullen Custom Post with high explosives and that Crossan was shot after he was challenged. No challenge was ever heard by any of the witnesses, nor were any explosives ever found. McHugh was interned, not charged with conspiracy. A follow-up operation on both sides of the border, alluded to in the statement, never happened, as Sean Reilly, who had waited in his van for a while in the hope that Crossan or McHugh may return, saw nothing, wasn't challenged and drove unhindered home when he realised that something was awry.

None of the three men who got a lift to the border from Reilly were called to the inquest, nor were McHugh or Sean Reilly, who had witnessed the RUC men fleeing the scene. The RUC did not admit at the inquest two days later that one of its officers was in Crossan's company until shortly before his death. The admission only came later, following an Irish Republican Publicity Bureau statement. None of the assassins gave evidence to the inquest, though Head Constable W. J. Liggett gave a hearsay account of the events. The inquest returned a verdict of ``justifiable homicide'' at the behest of the coroner, J.R. Hanna, who didn't call on any other witness.

A while after the inquest, the `B' Special sergeant, Stanley Moffat, corroborated the statements issued by the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau and details of events as reported by Sean Reilly and said that he did not think it likely that McHugh or Crossan were intent on any attack on a custom post when he left.

James Crossan was given a republican funeral, attended by thousands. He was buried in Kilnavert Cemetery, County Cavan on the same day as the inquest, August 26 1958. Sinn Féin organiser James Crossan was shot dead by RUC assassins (later named as `B' Special Head Constable Thompson Nixon and Constable J.A. Young) operating in the County Cavan in the 26 Counties 41 years ago last week (1999)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Up Went Gough

  In 1957 the Statue of Lord Gough was blown up, presumably by the Dublin Brigade, though no one has specifically claimed it (unlike Nelson' Pillar 9 years later).

"The equestrian statue of Lord Gough in Phoenix Park, Dublin, was blown to pieces early this morning. The explosion was heard all over the city, and in the police depôt about a quarter of a mile away men were blown out of their beds. The figure now lies on top of a heap of rubble and is damaged beyond all repair. This statue has always been the centre of trouble. Years ago (Dec 24, 1944) the head was sawn off and the sword removed. Later, after an appeal by art lovers in Dublin, the head and sword were recovered from the River Liffey near by and were replaced. About a year ago an explosion damaged the base of the monument and one of the horse's legs, and the statue was kept in position by the aid of a wooden support."
-The Times, 23 July 1957

Gough’s Statue
By Vinnie Caprani

There are strange things done from twelve to one
In the Hollow in Phaynix Park,
There’s maidens mobbed and gentlemen robbed
In the bushes after dark;
But the strangest of all within human recall
Concerns the statue of Gough,
’Twas a terrible fact, and a most wicked act,
for his bollix they tried to blow off!

’Neath the horse’s big prick a dynamite stick
some gallant ‘hayro’ did place,
For the cause of our land, with a match in his hand
Bravely the foe he did face;
Then without showing fear – and standing well clear-
He expected to blow up the pair
But he nearly went crackers, all he got was the knackers
And he made the poor stallion a mare!

For his tactics were wrong, and the prick was too long
(the horse being more than a foal)
It would answer him better, this dynamite setter,
The stick to shove up his own hole!
For this is the way our ‘hayroes’ today
Are challenging England’s might,
With a stab in the back and a midnight attack
On a statue that can’t even shite!

(Times quote from

Old IRA Pensions Debate- 1956

An interesting debate in the Dail from 1956 regarding pensions to ex-volunteers of the Old IRA and the families of fallen volunteers.

As he points out it was not always received- sometimes from neglect (incompetence) and sometimes through politicking. Female volunteers of the ICA and Cumann na mBan were denied pensions until the late 30's, and many republicans who were Anti-Treaty - and so believed in not recognizing the Dublin government- refused to take their pension out of principle. (Goes to show that while the issue of absenteeism seems absurd to many today, it was a deadly serious cause for which thousands sacrificed.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Internees- Crumlin Rd Jail, 1958

 A list of those interned in Crumlin Road Jail, 1958.

Note: These are just the volunteers who were interned without a trial, a list of those who had been charged with some offense would be much longer.

(Photo and design by PJD)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reporting the 1962 Stand Down- BBC

 Reporting the Last IRA 'stand down'

The last time the IRA stood down its "volunteers" was in 1962 when it called an end to its border campaign.

A statement released to the media on 26 February 1962 went as follows: "The leadership of the resistance movement has ordered the termination of the campaign of resistance to British occupation launched on December 12th, 1956.

Reporting the end of the IRA's border campaign

"Instructions issued to volunteers of the active service units and of local units in the occupied area have now been carried out.
"All arms and other material have been dumped and all full-time active service volunteers have been withdrawn."
So how was the ending of this IRA campaign reported?

Fyffe Robertson of the BBC's Tonight programme presented a special report in 1962 on the ending of the campaign, during which he heard from two IRA men.

Armagh raid

One of them was Joseph Christie, aged 33. He is described as a qualified barrister and accountant who joined the IRA at 20 while a university student in Dublin.
He was believed to have taken part in a raid on Armagh barracks during the border campaign and was wounded in another raid.

He was also believed to have been court-martialled by the IRA because he disagreed with its policy on violence.
In fact, at the time of the interview, he was thought to be leading what Robertson described as a splinter group he had formed.
Christie was perhaps the 1962 equivalent of a dissident republican.
Despite the nature of their politics the report clearly labels both men, who appear in civilian clothes, as IRA volunteers.

Guerrilla warfare
Details of their day jobs were given and viewers were told Christie worked for the Electricity Supply Board.
In response to a question about whether he believed the IRA had ended its campaign for good, Christie was emphatic that the IRA had not gone away for good.
"That is an absolutely ridiculous statement to make because the Irish people have never abandoned their nationality."

He went on to say that he still believed violence was justified and made it clear he would support any new violent campaign.
"I would like to see it run on the lines of violent, well-planned action in terms not merely of guerrilla warfare but aimed at disrupting civil government in the six counties," he says.
The second IRA man featured in the report was a former chief-of-staff, Tomas MacCurtain, whose links with the organisation ended around the end of the border campaign.

On the blanket

MacCurtain was imprisoned for killing a policeman in the 1940s, and was now working as a "commercial traveller for a washing powder firm".
In a protest which would be repeated during the later Troubles, he tells how he spent seven years of his jail sentence dressed only in a blanket for refusing to wear prison clothes.

He tells Fyffe Robertson that the only fault he would find with the 1956-62 campaign was that it failed and blamed this on the Irish government of the day.

"The 26 county government, far from helping, did everything possible by imprisoning anybody they could catch, thus stultifying the efforts of the IRA," he says.
Like Christie, MacCurtain suggested that the IRA's war was not over for good. He also believed violence was the only way for it to succeed.
He cited other examples of "independence struggles" which had taken place since the end of World War II, including those in Cyprus and the Middle East.
"There is a Jewish home and a Jewish state in Israel after how many hundreds or thousands of years? Did they get it by talking?"
Of course the words of both men were to be proved correct in that the IRA would re-emerge in the 1970s as the armed Provisional movement for the bloodiest part of its war yet.

Photo: South and O'Hanlon Memorial

Monday, January 20, 2014

Photo: Paddy McLogan

 Paddy McLogan- 1916 veteran and one of the "3 Macs" who headed the Republican movement during the 1950's.

(More in depth piece on his life to follow soon- photo from

The Cumann Na mBan

 The Soldiers of Cumann na mBan. 

By Brian O'Higgins

All honour to ÓGlaigh na hÉireann, 
All praise to the men of our race, 
Who, in day of betrayal and slavery, 
Saved Ireland from ruin and disgrace. 
But do not forget in your praising, 
Of them and the deeds they have done, 
Their loyal and true-hearted comrades, 
The Soldiers of Cumann na mBan.
They stand for the honour of Ireland, 
As their sisters in days that are gone, 
And they'll march with their brothers to freedom, 
The Soldiers of Cumann na mBan.

No great-hearted daughter of Ireland, 
Who died for her sake long ago, 
Who stood in the gap of her danger, 
Defying the Sassenach foe, 
Was ever more gallant or worthy, 
Of glory in high sounding rann, 
than the comrades of ÓGlaigh na hÉireann, 
The Soldiers of Cumann na mBan!

O, high beat the hearts of our Mother, 
The day she had longed for is nigh, 
When the sunlight of joy and of freedom, 
Shall glow in the eastern sky; 
And none shall be honoured more proudly, 
That morning by chieftan and clan, 
Than the daughters who served in her danger, 
The Soldiers of Cumann na mBan! 

They stand for the honour of Ireland, 
As their sisters in days that are gone, 
And they'll march with their brothers to freedom,
The soldiers of the Cumann na mBan! 



Last year was the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ICA.
 This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Cumann na mBan and I've compiled here a few resources for the occasion.
 As the following stories show, they were not just a "support group" but an integral part of the struggle, both social and armed, no less important than the IRA but far more unsung.
 When you wear your Easter Lilly this year, keep in mind the CnB volunteers who came up with the idea to use it as an emblem for remembering the dead.

 (Above photos from
 Some photos of their uniforms, badges, and memorabilia:

 A summary of the org and its contributions (by Sally Richardson)

 There's also a good section in this essay on their methods and purpose:

 The legendary Kitty McLaughlin:

 Linda Kearns a nd co escape from the 'Joy:

 CnB in Belfast/ 1916:

 Mary Woods - Member of Dublin CnB. Valuable recollections covering 1895-1924.

 Aine ni Riain- Dublin/1916 CnB

 Eithne Coyle- Prominent postwar leader; of particular interest are her operations during '22 and her prison experiences:

 Mollie Cunningham- founding member; good overview of the type of work the CnB did during the Tan War.

 Sidney Czira- Grace Gifford's Sister:

 Agnes MacNeill- widow of Eoin MacNeill Aine O'Rahilly- sister of "The O'Rahilly"

 Peg Duggan and the CnB in Cork

 Kathleen Lynn- ICA and CnB assistant and First Aid advisor

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Frank Skuse- OTR in Jail

 The Brits discover Frank Skuse's whereabouts, from the Singapore Free Press:

(You'll have to go through the "I agree" page to see)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"A Rebel Spirit"

 Vol. Seamus O Lionochain

   Seamus O Lionochain (Linehan) was a member of the Cork Volunteer Pipe Band and later the Cork Brigade. He was arrested with two others in an attempted attack on the radar station at Torr Head and spent 7 years in Crumlin Road Jail.

   Seamus is currently working on memoirs, "A Rebel Spirit," which is being put up on Facebook. You can read them here:

   If you're on facebook, share the page with your friends, its a must read for anyone interested in Irish history, and a rare (well detailed) window into what it was like for volunteers of the era.  

    The following selection posted here is a small portion of what Seamus has written covering his joining, training, and deployment to the north - There's much more at the link above relating his experiences growing up in Cork in the late 30's and 40's, the capture at Torr Head, and years as a POW in Crumlin Road Jail, with more on the way.

Joining the IRA

I was only 14 years old when I first joined The Republican Movement in 1950. My brother Mick was a member of The Cork Volunteers Pipe Band, he was a piper and he had been playing the pipes for a number of years. A school friend of mine was also a member and he encouraged me to join the band. Eventually when I did join, I decided to learn how to play the pipes and within six months I was playing out with the band.

From then on I really enjoyed my association with the band, we traveled the length and breath of County Cork playing at feiseanna, matches, meetings, dances and funerals, and we often played further afield in Kerry, Limerick, Clare and Waterford. The band was well known as being a unit of the IRA and was founded by the late murdered Lord Mayor Tomas Mac Curtain, in 1913, and was always available to attend at Republican functions throughout the country and even outside the country too in places like Dublin. We had some great times and made some great friends at all the different locations and we spent many happy days and nights in Ballinhassig Ballinaspittle Bandon Carrigtwohill Cobh and we have special names to tie into these places. In early 1952 the Republican Movement began to reorganize throughout the length and breath of Ireland and in Munster the band were involved in playing at all public meetings organized in Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford. It was very inspiring to listen to the speeches at these meetings usually delivered by Billy Earley, Jim O Regan, Tomas Mc Curtain, Mick Mc Carthy and Derek Mc Kenna. All of those men were very dedicated republicans and devoted all their time and energy into promoting and organizing the IRA not alone in Cork but throughout the country. Tomás was the son of the late Lord Mayor who had been assassinated by Crown Forces in 1920 and his sincerity, dedication and bravery puts him in the same category as all the brave leaders who went before him.

In late 1953 the band decided to organize a draw to raise funds and it was a big undertaken. The three main prizes were two weeks holidays in various locations around Ireland and there were many other prizes as well. As well as selling books of tickets we also put very colorful draw cards into various shops and pubs around the city and we also distributed them to fellow republican branches around the country.

A few weeks before the draw was to take place, we decided to collect all the cards from the outlets in the south side of the city. I was with Jack Mulcahy and Mick Murphy and as we started to collect in Barrack Street we discovered that someone had been there before us and using a false ID, had collected all our cards and money. Lucky for us, the barman in The Brown Derby was able to give us his name and address so we decided to pay him a visit. At this stage both Jack and Mick were after a few drinks and were a bit merry. When we arrived at the address in the North side our friend answered the door and he was a bit merry too. After a short discussion he admitted that he had stolen the money but he said that he had spent it all. When it was put to him that he would have to repay it in full he told us to go and fluff ourselves. In the twinkle of an eye and faster than John Wayne, Jack pulled a small gun from his pocket and pressed it under your man’s chin and warned him that if he did not repay the money in full he would blow his head off. The poor man got such a shock that he collapsed on the ground screaming and begging for mercy. When he eventually promised that he would repay every last penny of it by installments Jack relented and put the gun back in his pocket and we left him there shaking in terror. As a matter of fact that man visited The Thomas Ash Hall [the Ash] every Sunday morning for nearly two years until all of the money was repaid.

That night, having said good-bye to Mick, who lived in the north side, Jack and I walked back to town and on the way back he showed me the gun and how to operate it. It was the first time that I ever saw a real gun and having it in my hand was a great feeling. Before I left Jack that night he asked me if I had ever thought of joining the I.R.A. and I told him that I certainly had considered it but that I had one major problem and that was that my mother was very strict on time and I had to be in home every night by half past eleven. He thought that was hilarious but said that maybe we could overcome it. I agreed to meet him the following Tuesday night in the band room and that he would bring me into the Army room to discuss it with the Brigade Staff.

On Tuesday night, in April1954 together with Jack, I met with the Brigade Staff, which consisted of Tomas Mac Curtain, Billy Early, Mick Mac Carthy, Derrick Mac Kenna and Jim O Regan. When I told them of my dilemma they said that it could be arranged for me to be at home before curfew after training classes but it would be necessary to attend at weekend camps from time to time. I told them that I could overcome that by using the Band as a cover. After some discussion and a question and answer session I decided to join and I took the declaration of allegiance to the Republic under the guidance of Tomás Mac Curtáin. Then they asked me if I would be prepared to take part in operations against Crown Forces in the Six Counties in the near future and I agreed. It was arranged that I would commence training on the following Tuesday night and I was instructed to be at Togher cross at seven o clock and I would be brought to the training area. As I left the hall that night I felt proud and elated at the idea of following in the footsteps of my father, another Jimmy Linehan who had been one age to myself when he first joined the IRA in 1917. Strange as it may seem, not every Tom, Dick or Harry was accepted into the IRA in the fifties. A thorough check was carried out into your background and you had to be good living, well respected and of impeccable character. Unlike later years, there were no bank or post office robberies, no punishment beatings, and no military action whatsoever in the 26 Counties and at that time we never heard of the word sectarianism. The officers in charge kept themselves apart from the rank and file and commanded respect. If any volunteer got involved in a row in any public place such as a dance hall or a pub or was known to be boasting of his involvement with the IRA, he was instantly dismissed. The only aim of the IRA was to drive the British Army out of the 6 Counties and after that the Irish people would deserve whatever government they would elect in a free 32 County Ireland.

The following Tuesday night I was waiting at Togher cross from seven o clock to eight o clock and no one contacted me At eight o clock I decided to return to the city and when I got on the bus I saw a friend of mine, a veteran Republican, Dan Bolger sitting on the back seat I sat beside him and after some small talk he asked me what I was doing out at the end of Togher. When I told him what had happened he cursed and said that he had being escorting men to the training area for more than an hour but no one had mentioned my name to him. The following week I met with Liam Mulcahy at The Lough Church and we took the bus out to Togher When we got off the bus we walked about a mile and a half to the training area and my training began. During the next number of weeks we trained there and in other places and our training consisted of scaling walls while armed, overcoming sentries, moving silently through woods attacking outposts, defending positions and making our way through enemy positions without been seen or heard. During that period we also attended a few weekend camps and for each camp I told my mother that I was going away with the band but I do not think she believed me. Some of the lads often told me that they had been in the IRA for a long time before they ever saw a gun but on that first night in Togher I was handed a revolver and told that at every subsequent parade we would get used to carrying a weapon so that when the time came to go North we would be experienced in carrying all types of weapons. As a matter of fact within a short period of time we were informed that those of us who were involved it the Togher group would see action in the North before the year was out and it transpired that we were in fact training for the Omagh raid. As well as outdoor training we were given intensive indoor training in all the different weapons, revolvers, rifles, Thompson submachine guns, and the Bren machine gun. We learned how to strip, clean and reassemble the weapons until we were competent enough to do it in the dark and then we were trained in firing each weapon but we were not as competent as John Wayne. After that we were given a crash course on explosives, which entailed the making of bombs and the manufacture of home made explosives. We also did a course on map reading and a practical course on using a compass. On top of all that we were encouraged to read specific books on guerilla warfare and in particular all books that covered the war between the Jews and the Brits in Palestine. War films were very popular at that time and we were instructed to go and see any films that dealt with the resistance fighters during the Second World War. From April until the Omagh raid in October 1954 all of our spare time was taken up in preparing for the big day and we had little time for anything else, however, because of our age, another lad and myself were told that we were too young for this operation. The tale of that raid is comprehensively covered in J. Bowyer Bells book, The Secret Army, and although it was a military failure, the propaganda and publicity attached to it brought recruits flocking in to all sections of the republican movement.

Over the next two years I got to know a lot of them and made some great friends not alone in the Cork unit but in other units that we met up with at the various camps. Getting to those camps was sometimes an adventure in itself like one we attended in the Dublin Mountains. Three of us traveled by train to Dublin and our instructions were to go into the Phoenix Park and approach a man standing near a monument who would be reading a newspaper. As we entered the Park the heavens were opening and when we found our man, the paper he was supposed to be reading was practically shredded from the rain. We went up to him and using our code said happy New Year and with a scowl he replied I fluffing hope so for Ireland. He brought us then to where there was a car waiting to take us to the camp and before he went back to his position he asked the driver if he had a dry newspaper as the one he had was fluffed. In the Cork area I was kept busy in assisting with the training of the new recruits and at least two nights a week were spent in traveling to units in East and West Cork with Billy Early, inducting new members and arranging specific training courses. While the training intensified we were also kept busy on another front, that of taking over and reorganising Sinn Fein. As there was only one active Cumann in the city it was easy to infiltrate and when it came to the annual general meeting the new members were in the majority and the old guard were voted out of existence. We then set about organising new branches around the city and three of us were designated to start a Cumann in the Barrack Street area. We rented the use of a room in a house owned by a veteran of 1916 and began a leaflet drop around the Lough parish and one of the first to respond and join up was Daithi O’Connell. Our membership gradually increased until we had about twelve and then we set about flooding the south side with Sinn Féin propaganda, putting up posters, selling the United Irishman paper and doing leaflet drops around the area. After about six months, when we had a membership of fifteen, I withdrew from the scene because I was never really interested in the political side of the Movement and I concentrated all my time and energy to the IRA.

Preparing for Active Service

Early in December of 1956 while sweeping on the South Mall I was contacted by Derek Mc Kenna who told me that there would be a very important parade that night and we were to assemble at the top of the Mardyke at seven o clock. He told me that on the way home I should call to Paddy Murphy and collect a parcel and bring it with me to the parade. When I asked him if there was something big going down he smiled and said, “This could be it”. On the way home I called to Paddy Murphy and he gave me a medium sized parcel, I asked him what it contained and he just smiled and said be very careful with it. I tied it on to the carrier of my bike and cycled home. I left the bike outside the door and brought the parcel into the house, I left it on the bottom step of the stairs and went into the dining room. My mother must have been watching me arrive because straight away she went out into the hall, spotted the parcel and roared “get that bomb out of this house - she was like a demon- I tried to tell her it was not a bomb but she came towards me and when I saw the look on her face I took off like lightning, parcel under my arm, hopped on my rothar and headed off for the Mardyke. Even at that time she was quite capable of giving me a clatter so I wasn’t taking any chances.

I hid my bike in a garden in the Western Road and walked the rest of the way to the top of the Mardyke. When I got there some of the lads had already arrived and of course all the talk was speculation as to whether we would be going north that night. I had serious doubts about it but I kept my council to myself, common sense was telling me that if we were going north we would have been told to make our excuses at home and to others as to the reason why we were going away for a while, we would certainly not be telling anyone that we were going North. When the top brass arrived, myself and another section leader were called to one side and told that the night’s exercise would be a dummy run to see how the lads would bear up. When we rejoined the others we told them that we would be driven to Crossbarry and from there we would make our way across country to a spot where two lorries were waiting and we would be given further instructions there. The reaction from the lads was elation, and the comments I got was thank God, at last, buiochas le Dia and of course some expletives as well. We were driven to Crossbarry at intervals of about ten minutes in three vans and two cars and when we all assembled together again we were told that this was it, three months of intensive training had gone well and we were now ready to go into action. We were also told that other units from around the country were also heading North that night and we would meet up with some of them at a camp just south of the border and we would train with them before crossing the border and going into active service within a week to ten days. We then started off on a route march around West Cork, crossing fields, bogs, ditches, woods and streams and finished up knackered on the outskirts of Cork city, where the vans and cars were waiting to bring us back to the mardyke. Tomás Mac Curtáin, on behalf of the Brigade Staff then congratulated us on our turn out and on our willingness to go North on such short notice and explained that when the call would come we would be given ample time to put our affairs in order.

On the following Tuesday night, at our regular training session we were told that preparations were well advanced for an early start to the Campaign in the Six counties and we were advised to get our kit ready. Each of us was told to get a first aid kit, a heavy pair of boots, a battle dress [an old British Army uniform bought in the Coal Quay], clothes etc. and put them all into a large kit bag and on the following Monday night those of us living on the south side were to bring them to Rocksavage Lane off Anglesea Street and place them in the boot of a car parked in a gateway [we were given the number of the car]. Those living on the North side were instructed to bring their kits to a car in a Lane behind the North Cathedral. The next few days were hectic, and the first task I set about was getting the kit assembled. I first called into Gerald Carroll at his chemist shop in Barrack Street and asked him could he put a first aid kit together for me and when he inquired as to its use I told him it was for camping. He told me to call back in two days time and it would be ready, I next called to a pawnshop at the foot of Barrack Street and bought a pair of strong boots. The following day I went into the Coal Quay and bought the battle dress and I stored them in the band room with the boots. The next item I had to buy was a dagger and that was a bit tricky, I called into Murray’s fishing tackle shop in Patrick Street and after purchasing a few hooks and weights I picked out a knife and the guy serving me started laughing and asked me if I was going shark fishing. He tried to sell me every knife in the shop except the one I wanted but I eventually persuaded him that I needed the big knife to fillet the fish on the riverbank before bringing them home. After that I had to purchase some other items including some packets of pepper [to be used to throw dogs off the scent if we were being hunted] and a kit bag.

Two days later I called in again to Gerald Carroll for the first aid kit and when he saw me, he brought me into the back room and showed me the kit he had assembled. It was more like a mobile operating theatre than a first aid kit and I started to laugh, he had two scalpels, tweezers, a sewing kit for stitches, six injection units to ease pain, bandages, morphine and an assortment of other medicines and tablets and God only knows what else so I said to him that we were not going to Korea at all and I doubted if I had enough money to pay for it all. When he answered me he was nearly crying and he said, look, first of all there is no charge and secondly, I think I know where you are going and I only wish to God that I could be with you there too, this is just a small contribution to the struggle and if you need anything else do not hesitate to come back to me and even if I have not got it I will get it for you and another thing, if you are ever in a spot and need help just give me a ring and I will come to your assistance. [Pity there was not a phone kiosk at Torr Head]. I thanked him and again made my way to the band room and stored all my gear in the kit bag.

Gerald was an elected Fianna Fail councilor on Cork Corporation and at the same time he was a staunch Republican, and as a matter of fact he would later be a founder member of Aontacht Eireann in Cork. I had known him for years because our family had a Book in his parent’s grocery shop in Barrack Street. His only failing was a weakness for drink and it eventually caught up with him and he died a young man. As a matter of fact I played the pipes at his funeral and Kevin Davis, who had charge of his burial told me that he had put a bottle of stout, a box of matches and a packet of cigarettes into his coffin to help him along the way.

The following Monday night I made my way to Rocksavage Lane and placed my kit in the boot of the car and as a matter of fact the car belonged to Granda Paddy and little did I realise that night that some years later he would sell me his daughter, Kay, and she did not come cheap either, she cost me the best part of a weeks pocket money. After leaving the kit I went back to the Hall and at a special parade we were told that we would be traveling North on Friday night leaving Mayfield at about but that we should be at the assembly point at approximately As luck should have it, that weekend the band were due to go to Tralee to play at a commemoration for Charlie Kerins and as there was a petrol shortage due to the Suez crisis they would not be coming back until Monday. After the parade the other section leader and myself were told that we would have to attend a Staff meeting every night until Thursday night to get every things in order and it was a very busy week for us. One thing that surprised us was that the Staff did not appear to have any information as to what the procedure would be after we arrived at a camp on the southern side of the border. They could not tell us if the Cork Brigade would operate as a Flying Column on its own or if we would be split up to operate with other groups and as a matter of fact they had not a clue as to what could happen once we departed from the camp to go North.

The Border Camp

The journey to the North in the back of that cattle lorry was horrendous, we were sitting on straw and it was smelly and damp and we were freezing with the cold. We could not smoke in case the straw caught fire and we had to remain silent whenever the lorry slowed down or stopped, and the only thing we had to eat was some chocolate and sweets. When we eventually arrived at our destination, a big rambling old farmhouse near Dunboyne in County Meath, we must have resembled the poor Jews arriving at the gas chambers as we got out of the lorry. We went into the house and we were greeted with a big cheer, there were lads there from all over the country, some of them we had met at training camps and over the next few hours we got to know the others. We were given a mug of tea and a ham sandwich and told to enjoy it, as there would not be any more until the following morning. Later on we were each given a sleeping bag and told to go across the yard to a huge barn and that the top floor had been cleared for us. When we got there we discovered that the top floor was as big as a dance hall and there were about 40 of us billeted there. We picked our spot, got into our sleeping bags straight away because it was literally freezing but we got little or no sleep that night. Most of us were talking all night, exchanging yarns, inquiring about various characters and speculating as to what lay ahead. Eventually things quieted down a bit and I was just dozing off when a few fellows started a singsong and before long everybody joined in. After some time two of the brass came over from the house and gave out like hell over the racket but there was no light in the barn and they beat a hasty retreat after a barrage of missiles were hurled in their direction. I do not know what time I eventually went to sleep but when I woke up the barn was half empty so I got up and went down to the yard

We were all standing around in little groups talking and smoking and then we were told to go around to the front of the house where we would get something to eat, you guessed it, a mug of tea and a ham sandwich. After awhile Billy Early came out of the house and got the entire Cork contingent together and said there had been a change of plans. It seems that the initial plan was to spend at least ten days in that place being briefed on the areas we would be going to and what the likely targets in the areas would be and also that the Cork group would operate as a flying column in one specific area. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, that plan would have to be changed, and I had to go in with him to meet the brass. When we went in there were about fifteen others in the room and when the meeting convened it was headed up by five members of the Army Council including, Tony Magan, Chief of Staff, Sean Cronin, Director of Operations and architect of the plan of campaign called Operation Harvest, and three other senior officers. Tony Magan opened the meeting by explaining to us that at least three years of hard work and detailed planning had gone into the preparation of Operation Harvest and nothing was left to chance. Senior Officers and Volunteers had made many trips across the Border to size up targets, map out the terrain, gather intelligence, and record the movements of the R.U.C. and the British Army, procure the necessary weapons, arrange for billets and safe houses and prepare the units around the country for active service. They were very happy and satisfied with the preparations and every detail and source of information had been checked and rechecked over and over again. It was decided that the Campaign should start on the night of the eighteenth of December but an incident had occurred a few days previously that necessitated a change of plans.
On the previous Monday night they had a very detailed meeting and briefing with key officers from around the country and had discussed in great detail the location of all the opening nights targets and the allocation of the various Flying Columns to specific areas. The O.C. of the Belfast Brigade was among those present and the following day, as he got off the train in Belfast, he was picked up by the R.U.C. and was taken away for questioning. They were not sure if he was still detained but in the absence of any communication from him they could not take a chance so they had decided to bring forward the opening night of the Campaign to the twelfth. As well as that they would have to rearrange the make up of the various Columns and change the areas to which they were being sent. It also meant that all units would have to cross the Border the following day Sunday and arrangements were already in place to facilitate a smooth crossing. A major row then broke out and most of those present felt that there should be no change in the plans. It was pointed out to the Staff that after all the hard work and careful preparations of the past few years some vital details could be omitted and the breaking up of the Flying Columns who had trained and worked so hard together would be crazy. It was suggested that two or three men should drive straight away to Belfast to either meet the OC or to inquire into his whereabouts and if they happened to meet with him they should bring him back to our camp that night. That suggestion was over ruled and Tony Magan then said that another incident had occurred that very morning which necessitated a change of plans.

A number of custom posts had been blown up by Saor Uladh, a breakaway group led by Liam Kelly, which again necessitated a change of plans. He explained that if Saor Uladh carried out any further attacks before the eighteenth the possibility was that the R.U.C. might seal off the border and it would totally up scuttle our plans. After some further discussion, sometimes heated, it was agreed that we would go ahead with the change in plans. After the meeting we went back out to the lads and informed them as to what was happening and in fairness to them they were all happy to go along with the leaders. A short time later myself and the other section leader were called in to see Sean Cronin, and he asked us to give him the names of the entire Cork contingent and we gave them as they came into our minds. He did the same with the other counties and when he had all the names recorded he sent for us again. This time he told us that he had placed them all into separate Flying Columns and he gave us the list of where the Cork lads were going. We were surprised and dismayed at the way he had split up the Cork lads by just drawing a line under the first few names and allocating them to a particular column and continuing in the same vein until the list was exhausted. We suggested to him that he should revisit the lists again and we would advise him as to the expertise of the Cork lads, who would work well together, who were the engineering experts, who were the experts for the various weapons and so on, but he overruled us and the rest of our lads were as disgusted as ourselves when we explained the situation to them. We spent the rest of that day just hanging around, meeting the rest of the various columns and in the evening we gathered together in the barn swapping yarns and telling tall stories, and of course one fellow from Cork was telling blue jokes, until this lad suggested that before bedding down we should say the Rosary and offer it up for the success of our mission and for our safe keeping, which we did. The same fellow was a great man for the Gaeilge and spoke it a lot and because he had foxy hair, in later years it has been suggested that in fact it was Sean Sabhat, and quite recently it was confirmed that it was indeed Seán who had been in our company that night.

North Antrim

At about 10 30 am the following morning the exodus to the North began. Our kit bags had arrived so we changed into our battle dress, covered by an overcoat and in three cars our group headed off. The journey to the border was uneventful and eventually we drove into an isolated farmyard. There was a huge shed in the yard and as we drove in the doors swung open and when we were inside, the doors were closed behind us. In the shed we transferred into three northern registered cars with three northern drivers already at the wheels. We met Daithi O Connell there and he explained to us that if we were stopped by any mobile custom patrols, only the driver would speak with them, and we were suppose to be travelling to some big inter-county G.A.A. match and the driver would know all about it. The exit doors on the other side of the shed then opened and just as we were about to take off, Daithi thumped the bonnet and, in a flat Cork accent said, “give it tiv um lads”. Once we drove out of the shed we were actually in the Six Counties and apart from one encounter with a mobile custom patrol, the remainder of the journey to north Antrim was uneventful. When we arrived at our destination it was pitch dark and as we got out of the cars near the foot of a mountain we were told to follow the path up the mountain for about a mile until we came to a shepherds cabin and we could sleep there that night but we would have to leave early in the morning so that we would be on the summit before dawn. The heavens opened as we made our way up the mountain and by the time we reached the cabin we were drenched to the skin. The cabin consisted of one room and the only cooking device there was a small primus stove, a double bed in the centre and on a small table was a bag of tea, two sliced loaves, a bottle of milk and four pannies [tin mugs]. There were ten of us there and it took about two hours before we all had a mug of tea, we decided to keep the bread for the mountain the following day, and then we tried to get some sleep. Four fellows went into the bed and the rest of us just curled up on the floor but got little sleep as we had no sleeping bags, we were drenched to the skin and there was a cold mountainy wind coming in under the door. [I can still feel the cold as I write this].

The next morning we headed off up the mountain at five a.m. and the weather was appalling with sleet and rain blowing into our faces and all we were wearing was our battle dress, our overcoats were too wet and heavy since the previous day. When we reached the summit our column commander put us to work digging out a foxhole into the side of the mountain, which would be our base for some time to come. The only problem was that the mountain was all turf and as we were digging out the sods with our knifes, the hole kept filling up with water but he insisted that we keep on digging and we were at it up to about it was too dark so we had to stop. He was a very lucky man that he was not buried there, because in between, when it was decided that we should stop for a mug of tea, the man in charge of the grub told us that the oil from the primus had spilled on to the bread and now we had no bread and no oil for the primus. At six o clock, by prior arrangement, a local volunteer came up to guide us back to the cabin and when we got there we were a sight for sore eyes, but glad to be in out of the cold and the sleet. When the local saw our plight he said he would get us oil and sandwiches and he headed off at once and in fairness to him he came back within an hour with the oil and sandwiches and we felt like royalty with so much food around us. Later on another volunteer called in and our O.C. asked him about the chances of getting some timber for our foxhole and he said he would make some inquiries and call back again later. He came back at about 11 and said he needed two volunteers to go with him so D.C. and myself were chosen to go with him. We had to walk at least two miles around the side of the mountain until we came to a farm yard and found that some building work was going on there and there was a stack of timber in the yard. We took three lengths each of three by two and as we were leaving the yard a dog started to bark so the local started to run and we passed him out, and when he caught up with us I asked him if we had permission to take the timber and he said no, we were stealing it. It was about two o’ clock when we got back to the cabin and all the rest were asleep except the other local who was on guard duty.

The following morning we went back up the mountain again at and again we spent the day digging and cutting out sods of turf with our knives but to no avail, the ground was too soft and the hole just kept filling up with water. We stopped digging when it got dark and waited for our guide to arrive but he failed to come. At seven o clock we decided to go down ourselves but we failed to find the cabin so we went back up part of the mountain again and came down a different way but with the wind, the rain and the darkness we were well and truly lost. We eventually came to the road at the foot of the mountain and we walked along the inside of the ditch until we came to a disused house, we pushed open the door and the place was full of chicken and I do not know whether it was the chicken or ourselves got the bigger fright. Our leader decided that he would head off to try and make contact with somebody and in the meantime we were to remain with the chicken but if he did not return within an hour we were to go back up the mountain again and wait there until someone made contact with us

A half an hour had gone by when the door was pushed open and a torch was shone in, it was the man who owned the chicken and when we realised that it was a stranger, instinctively we all went for our knives and when the poor man saw them flashing in the light he gave an unmerciful scream of sheer terror and took to his heels, and to this day he is probably still relating that story in his local pub. We immediately went out on to the road and went inside the ditch and luckily for us our man came back in a van with a local and when we told them what had happened the local, as a precaution, took a different route back. This time, instead of going back to the cabin we were driven in to a small village and taken into a room at the rear of a shop. We were each given a new clean shirt and then we got tea and HAM SANDWICHES and at least the room was dry and warm. Later on Tony arrived and said we had a serious problem in getting the explosives and arms that were promised to us, it seems that the Belfast Brigade, for security reasons, had been ordered to step down and they refused to hand over their weapons and explosives to us, so himself and another local were going in to Derry to try and get what we needed. It was some hours later before he returned but at least he succeeded in getting what we required and straight away we set about assembling a huge bomb in a very large toolbox, and when we had primed it we put it into the van. We next assembled a few smaller bombs and then we loaded and primed a haversack full of grenades and put the lot into the van. The arms were then distributed and I was given a Lee Enfield 303 rifle and ammunition and I was happy at that as I had used one previously. Tony then addressed us and said that as a result of the action of the Belfast Brigade we were now behind time and the alert would have gone off by now so we would have to be extra vigilant. Our plan was to destroy two bridges over the river Bann, after that we would mount an attack on the British Army barracks in Ballymena and then we would destroy the scanners at the RAF radar station at Torr Head. As we left the room there was a woman and a girl at the door and they sprinkled us with Holy Water but seeing the way things worked out later, the water must not have been blessed at all and as the van and the car headed off we were really on a high.

We had no problem in dealing with the two bridges but as we neared Ballymena we discovered that the barracks was all lit up so we parked the van and made our way on foot to see what was happening, and no doubt because we were so late, they were on full alert and as we needed the element of surprise it was decided not to attack but to proceed to Torr Head. That was the last time we spoke with the lads in the car and as the man said, the rest is history.

In retrospect it is easy to criticise and find fault with all that went wrong with the ‘ 56 campaign and some put it down to bad planning, insufficient training and preparation, lack of proper weaponry, underestimating the enemies capabilities, lack of proper leadership and so on. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and personally, I am not in to the blame game at all. The planning and execution of the campaign was undertaken by men who were dedicated to the cause of Irish freedom and in many instances had to overcome imprisonment, untold hardship and many obstacles to organise, plan and execute the most daring and widespread campaign of resistance against the British forces in the six counties since 1921 and above all they were ordinary working class individuals and not the products of military academies. The fact that the local population did not rise up to support us is immaterial, in all phases of the struggle, the vast majority of our people were indifferent to what was going on and were just busy getting on with their lives. It was never envisioned that we would succeed in driving the Brits out; it was just the idea of rekindling the flame and passing on the torch to the next generation.

Friday, January 10, 2014

"The IRA Still a Fragile Structure"

"To create a revolutionary base, a secret army, a band of brothers, no matter how deep have run the currents of nationalism and no matter how long has been the tradition of service, patience is more a virtue than daring, persistence than sparkle." - J Bowyer Bell



IN CHAPTER 8 of his book Northern Ireland: The Orange State, Michael Farrell deals with the period 1945-51 and its concluding paragraphs summarise the situation.

It makes interesting reading: "The (Stormont) government were intent on taking a tough line. In May 1951 they used the Special Powers Act to intern a number of Republicans during a (British) royal visit to the North.

"And at the end of 1950 they had established a Reserve or Commando force of 100-150 men inside the RUC. The Commandos were to be a highly-trained, self-contained mobile force which could be used either against the IRA or as a riot squad. In fact it was this squad who were used in most of the Tricolour riots.

"Despite all the criticism of the Stormont government by Labour backbenchers, the Labour government agreed to the RUC Commandos being trained by the British Army at Ballykinlar barracks in Co Down and supplied with automatic weapons and equipment by the War Office.

"The Anti-Partition League had tried working in the Stormont and Westminster parliaments without success; they had launched an international publicity campaign with the same result; they had turned to street demonstrations in the North only to be batoned off the streets.

"It was inevitable that the thoughts of some sections of the nationalist population should turn again to physical force.

"As early as June 1949 Malachy Conlon (Stormont MP for South Armagh) had hinted at force at a rally in Armagh when he talked of a "final move to end partition . . . in which every man or woman, boy or girl, would be called upon, not just to attend meetings and wave flags but to make sacrifices (and) stand the strain which so many generations have stood before," and touring America with Conlon, Tom Barry had advocated that the South (sic) should declare war on the North (sic).

"Early in 1950 Capt. Peadar Cowan, an ex-Clann na Poblachta TD in the South (sic), had talked of raising an army to invade the North. Most of this was just talk, certainly the parliamentarians of the APL had no intention of fighting anybody, but it was symptomatic of the frustration of Northern and Southern Nationalists.

"Meanwhile the IRA had been slowly re-organising itself and had decided on another campaign in the North. In May 1951 they established a military council to draw up plans for it and in June they launched a successful attack on Ebrington (British) military barracks in Derry . . .

"Once again Unionist intransigence was driving a section of the Nationalist population towards war."

But for the Irish Republican Army, it was indeed an "Agonising Reconstruction", as Bowyer Bell entitled his Chapter XII. The full heading read "The IRA Endures: The Agonising Reconstruction, 1945-51."

On page 251-252, he graphically recaptures the atmosphere of the time. A re-reading of those pages is recommended today.


Some veterans of the 1920s recalled that the effort to reorganise in the mid-twenties was even more difficult than in 1945-51. It would appear that the higher the revolutionary wave rose ? as in 1918-1921 ? the lower came the trough which inevitable followed the lack of success.

Certainly the post-Parnell split period of the 1890s and 1900s was more difficult still for the IRB nucleus which was striving to re-invigorate the historic Fenian movement that had survived several generations.

Bell sums up: "To create a revolutionary base, a secret army, a band of brothers, no matter how deep have run the currents of nationalism and no matter how long has been the tradition of service, patience is more a virtue than daring, persistence than sparkle.

"The patient years, the long plodding routine, the scars of past failures add the steel and ruthless dedication to a movement centred on a faith that the future will not deny what the past already has.

"In 1951 the IRA was still a fragile structure, often maintained by inertia rather than action, totally incapable of the grand plan or the big coup, but each month a bit stronger, a bit harder, a bit more like the weapon Magan wanted."

Note: Tony Magan was Chief of Staff of the IRA from 1948 to 1957. Bell describes him as a "hard man, tightly disciplined, and utterly painstaking." Later he says that "the Dublin people in particular felt that the Army needed a steel core and that Magan could supply it." Meanwhile the July issue of An t?ireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman noted the passing of an historical figure George Gavan Duffy, who was the last of the Irish representatives to sign the Treaty of Surrender in 1921.

Born in 1882, he was son of Charles Gavan Duffy, the Young Ireland leader who was a native of Monaghan town. As a lawyer he arranged for the legal defence of Roger Casement in 1916.

He represented South Dublin in the First (All-Ireland) Dáil and helped considerably to set up the Sinn Féin Courts under its jurisdiction. Earlier he assisted in drafting the Declaration of Independence.

The Republican Organ states that "he, more than any of the five" signatories to the "Articles of Agreement for a Treaty" made it clear that his signature had only been given "under the dire threat of immediate and terrible war." He asserted that but for this threat he would never have signed, it says.

It went on: "It is to be regretted that with all his legal talent, he did not point out that a signature obtained by means of a threat, a consent forced under duress, could not be considered binding.

"Whatever we may think of his subsequent action, we owe him a great debt for his frank admission, for his statement shows clearly that there was no agreement, there was no treaty, there was only a Surrender".

Subsequently, Gavan Duffy became Minister for Foreign Affairs under Arthur Griffith?s Presidency in January 1922, but resigned after the Supreme Court of the Republic was suppressed by Griffith?s administration.

His suggestion on September 27, 1922 that Republican prisoners should be treated as prisoners of war was defeated. He opposed the Free State policy of arrest and detention without trial.

He also criticised the draft Free State constitution in October of that year and attacked their execution of Erskine Childers in November while an appeal was pending in the 26-County High Court.

Also in November 1922 he protested at the first four executions of Republican prisoners which took place on the 17th.

"It was neither law nor justice to try a man for one thing and execute him for another", he said.

Gavan Duffy later followed a distinguished legal career in the 26-County courts and became President of the Dublin High Court in 1946. The Organ of Irish Republicanism noted that he had "established for himself the position of being probably the keenest legal mind in the Ireland of his day".

The death of George Gavan Duffy left only one of the "Treaty" signatories alive. That was Robert Barton who later repudiated it and returned to his allegiance to the All-Ireland Republic.

He was one of the 12-member Republican Council of State in October 1922 and later suffered imprisonment at the hands of the Free State he had helped to create and later sought to over throw.

Also noted in the July issue of the Republican newspaper was the Ard-Fheis of Clann na Poblachta in Dublin on June 30, at which Seán MacBride was reported to have said that "force was not necessary" for the ending of "Partition".


This contention was hotly contested in the Republican Organ, Sinn Féin Notes in the same issue deal with Wolfe Tone Week organised by Dublin Comhairle Ceantair and a meeting of Comhairle Ch?ige Laighean held in an Ard-Oifig.

An organising meeting took place in Droichead Nua, Co. Chill Dara. In Ard Mhaca, an Aer?ocht was held in Cullyhanna by the local Cumann and a C?il? M?r in Newry Town Hall that night.

In Tyrone a new Cumann was formed in Aghyaran and a public meeting was held at which "needless to remark the RUC were very interested spectators".

In London the Roger Casement Cumann sponsored a demonstration and public meeting. The United Irishmen Cumann had arranged a public meeting for Trafalgar Square at the end of the month with Diarmuid ? Cr?in?n from Cork as principal speaker.

The August issue features a report of the second annual Aer?ocht at Camlough held by South Armagh Comhairle Ceantair. Buses from Dublin, Dundalk, Armagh, Portadown and Newry brought supporters while Cork, Belfast, Longford, Tipperary and Galway were also represented.

Six to seven thousand people attended and Dan Sheridan, Cathaoirleach of the Comhairle Ceantair presided at the opening. Pádraig Mac Lógáin, Uachtarán, Sinn Féin spoke, as did Gearóid Ó Broin, Baile Átha Cliath.

The Céilí in Newry Town Hall that Sunday evening was most successful, dancing prizes being presented by Tomás Ó Dúill, Dublin, Seán Fox, Portadown and Seán Ó Cearnaigh, Rúnaí, Sinn Féin.

Comhairle Chúige Uladh held after-Mass public meetings each Sunday in Armagh and Down, with local Cumainn supplying the speakers.

The Joe McKelvey Cumann was formed in Belfast during July. Its first public meeting was held three weeks later. It was then necessary to form a Comhairle Ceantair in Belfast which took place before the end of the month.

An interesting development took place in St Mary?s Hall, Belfast during July at a lecture by Tomás Óg Mac Curtáin, Corcaigh on Sinn Féin and the Ireland of Today.

It was sponsored by the Seán McCaughey Cumann and Séamus Steele (Cathaoirleach), presided with Liam Burke (Rúnaí) proposing the vote of thanks. About 200 people attended.

The report states: "Seven CID men were present during the lecture and although challenged for their authority to be present they were unable to produce any authority and refused to leave the hall.

"During the lecture they were segregated from the people and forced to remain sitting by themselves in one part of the hall". It was noted on the front page of the August issue of the Republican newspaper that a new "Republican" party, to embrace the 32 counties was about to be launched, according to rumours then circulating.

It was to be headed by ex-members of Clann na Poblachta Peadar Cowan, Noel Hartnett, Dr Browne, Dr McCartan and Dr Ffrench O?Carroll.

It would be "no more Republican than any of its predecessors", said the paper, adding that they had "repeatedly warned Republicans in the past against ?Free State Republican Parties?." Of course, the rumoured party never emerged.

Much was made on the front page of the impending unveiling of the Seán Russell Memorial in Fairview Park, Dublin on Sunday, September 9. Contingents would assemble at Parnell Square and move off at 12 noon. It announced: "The Memorial, which is being erected by the Clan na Gael organisation in the United States and the Irish Republican Army, will be unveiled by Mr T McMonagle of Philadelphia. Mr P O?Mahoney, New York, will deliver the oration."

(More on the Seán Russell ceremony next month. Refs An t-Éireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman, July and August 1951; Northern Ireland: The Orange State by Michael Farrell; The Secret Army by J Bowyer Bell and The Irish Republic by Dorothy Macardle.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

IRA volunteers in the Briitish Army

    A BBC article on records revealing how many members of the IRA had infiltrated the British Army in the 50's (a similar tactic was employed by the United Irishmen with the Navy). To the British this was no doubt quite startling but common knowledge to many republicans.
   A partial list of known members of both the IRA and British army involved in Operation Harvest includes Leo McCormack, Phil O'Donnell, Connie Green, Kevin Neville, Liam Sutcliffe, Sean Garland, Frank Skuse (involved the Blandford raid), Leo Steenson and co in the War Office itself, and many more.

Thursday, 27 April, 2000

'IRA members joined British forces'

Numbers of IRA members and sympathisers were known to have joined the British armed forces in the late 1950s, it has emerged.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary had advised they be dismissed, but they were not to save "embarrassment" to the War Office.

Papers released to the Public Records Office on Thursday showed many republicans took advantage of the military training provided.

The War Office papers said they gathered information about bases and guards before deserting and returning to southern Ireland to rejoin their comrades.

One IRA member based as a soldier in England was said to have taken part in an attack on his own base after abandoning his regiment.

Civilians' support

Monthly briefings prepared by the Director of Military Intelligence revealed it was known the then-resurgent IRA had members among civilian staff at some bases as well as enlisted men.

A paper from May 1957 read: "There are 14 known IRA members and active sympathisers employed in the military in Northern Ireland.

"The RUC advises the dismissal of these employees on the logical grounds that their presence in military units will make these units more vulnerable to IRA attacks.

It has been decided that rather than stir up trouble through their dismissal, the risk caused by their presence has to be accepted

War Office report

"It has been decided that rather than stir up trouble through their dismissal, the risk caused by their presence has to be accepted."

By October that year, action had been taken against 20 employed republicans, but it was decided others should be left alone.

The briefing read: "It has been noticeable that there has been positive information that many deserters to Eire are members of the IRA.

"This gives strength to the belief that members of the IRA sometimes join the British Army to gain military training and to be in a position to give information about camps and guards with a view to further attacks."

But it continued: "In order to save War Office embarrassment it has been decided to continue the employment of seven IRA persons who were employed as civilians in military installations in Northern Ireland.

"Previously, three of these had been suspended from work."

Women members used

In February 1958 the REME training camp at Blandford, Dorset, was attacked by the IRA.

A report soon afterwards revealed: "An Irish deserter from the REME unit stationed at Blandford is believed to have been responsible for information used by the IRA leading up to the attack, and is also believed to have taken part in it."

Other discoveries made by the security services at the time included the devices IRA members based in the Irish Republic used when on intelligence-gathering operations in the North.

A report in August 1958 noted: "It is known that reconnaissance patrols of members of the IRA, often with their wives or women members of the organisation have, posing as tourists, recently made visits to Northern Ireland."

But, few of these "tourists" contacted IRA members in Northern Ireland because of "fears of police penetration", it added.

The archives also show the paranoia within security circles about the potential sympathies of Irish people serving in British forces and Government.

When it was recommended the circulation of the top-secret monthly briefings be increased from 20 people to 150 - all of whom would still be very senior - the RUC warned against it.

A report explained: "They (the RUC) are well aware that there are many Irishmen in the forces and other Government services.

"They accept as a matter of course the paradox that these people may serve the British Government well and loyally in all respects, except where the interests of southern Ireland are concerned, if they happen to be Irish nationalists by inclination."

Friday, January 3, 2014

Looking for a manuscript...

 Does anyone know where a copy could be found (or scanned up, etc) of
"The Campaign of the Fifties; Notes and Observations on the Campaign in the North" by Eamon Mac Toimanai and Seamus Ramsaigh?
    Bowyer Bell cites it as a typed manuscript from 1967. I ask just in the odd chance there's someone reading this who knows its whereabouts.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

vol Philip Clarke

Vol Phil Clarke

I don't like copying from Wikipedia but its the only bio there is.
    He also wrote a 32-page pamphlet called "The Writings of Volunteer Philip Clarke, The Omagh Prisoner" around the time of his election and it was banned by the Gov't.

Philip Christopher Clarke (born 1933, date of death unknown) was an Irish Republican Army member and politician.

Early life
Clarke was born in Dublin. A civil servant and an evening student at University College Dublin, Clarke joined the Irish Republican Army and was captured after the IRA raided a British Army barracks in Omagh, County Tyrone. He was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment.

Political career
In the 1955 UK General Election, Clarke was elected MP for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, winning 30,529 votes, and becoming the youngest MP at the time. As Clarke was in prison at the time of his election, serving ten years for a treason felony, his opponent, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Grosvenor, lodged a petition to have him unseated.

The case appeared before the Northern Ireland High Court in August 1955. On 2 September, the court ruled that Clarke was ineligible for election and his Unionist opponent was declared duly elected.

Subsequent life
When the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland issued an explicit condemnation of IRA violence in January 1956, Clarke severed his connections with the IRA. He petitioned for remission of his sentence in 1958, and was released from jail on 18 December 1958 after the Governor of Northern Ireland Lord Wakehurst exercised his prerogative of mercy.[5]

When the House of Commons Library updated its list of previous Members of Parliament in 2010, Clarke was listed as having died, although the date of his death was not recorded.[1]

Saoirse Irish Freedom, September 2005
'Members 1979-2010', House of Commons Library Research Paper 10/33, p. 197.
"8 Men Sentenced For Barracks Raid", The Times, 16 December 1954, p. 5.
"Move to unseat M.P.", The Times, 7 June 1955, p. 3.
"Imprisoned Man Not An M.P.", The Times, 3 September 1955, p. 4.
"Barracks Raid Men Freed", The Times, 19 December 1958, p. 5.

Interview with Fergal O'Hanlon's Sister

 An Phoblacht- 4 January 2007

Interview: Sinn Féin Councillor Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha, sister of Fergal O'Hanlon

A sister remembers

Sinn Féin Councillor Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha is a sister of IRA Volunteer Fergal O’Hanlon who, with his comrade Seán Sabhat was killed during an attack on Brookeborough RUC barracks  on New Year’s Day 1957 – the first republican casualties during the IRA’s Operation Harvest. Fifty years after that event Uí Mhurchadha talks to ELLA O’DWYER.

Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha, born in 1943 is the youngest of five children. “I had three brothers – Éineachán, Maoliosa, Fergal, my late sister Máire and myself. We grew up in a very republican household in Monaghan town and the frequent conversation was about the unification of our country and British occupation”, she explains.

“Being from Monaghan the border was a very real influence – it had a huge impact on our thinking.  Even at a very young age I was very aware of the influence of the border and its implications for our country.

“Fergal was seven years older than me. He was a lovely brother and a great son to his father and his mother. In my view he was a very mature lad for his age. He was very outgoing and had a lovely personality, though he never sought the limelight. He had lots of friends between young and old and I’ve heard so many reports on that part of his life since.

“He had a great love of sport – he was a brilliant Gaelic footballer and he played handball too. He was a fluent Irish speaker like all of us and he spoke it whenever he could. He was just a lovely person. My memories of Fergal are just fantastic.”

 “I never had the honour of meeting Seán Sabhat. I’d the privilege of having his violin here for a while for an exhibition.”

Uí Mhurchadha remarked on the similarity in personality between the two young men – one from Limerick and the other from Monaghan. They both spoke Irish fluently. Fergal played Gaelic football while Sabhat was interested in the violin.

Both men also knew Latin. In his personal diary Fergal had written a comment in Latin to the effect that “It is sweet and becoming to die for one’s country’, a sentiment repeated in a similar quote written by Seán Sabhat on a separate occasion.

 “The Christmas before he died Fergal had been to confession and he’d written into his diary that a clear conscience was a continual Christmas.”

That was probably Fergal O’Hanlon’s last entry in his diary.  In Ireland at the time when Fergal was growing up it would have been common for priests to visit schools throughout the country recruiting for the priesthood. O’Hanlon had shown some interest so a priest from the De La Salle order, Fr Breen, visited the house to talk with the teenager’s parents. Fergal announced – "I’m going with Father Breen", to which his mother replied – “you’re too young and if you’re in the same mind in a couple of years you can go".

Pádrigín recalls a letter sent from the same priest when  her brother was killed: “When Fergal died the priest wrote a beautiful letter to say that Fergal had been called for great things."

Fergal O’Hanlon was about about 18 years old when he joined the Movement and just a month off his 21st birthday when he was killed. His birthday would have been the last day of January.

“I remember the lads leaving the house to go to the North. The late Dáithí Ó Conaill was there. Dáithí was one of the senior ones on the operation.  He was there when we were all saying goodbye to Fergal that night.”

Asked if she knew what was going on at the time, Uí Mhurchadha says: “Yes. Operation Harvest was going on all that year and I’d have noticed things, but I said nothing and nobody would have said anything to me. I was just aware. Fergal was very busy.”

On life in Ireland in the 1950s Páidrigín says: “People were penny pinching – there wasn’t much money around at the time, and very little work. There weren’t many facilities around then,  except the boys and girls had sport.

“Fergal was lucky enough. He got work in the County Council, starting first as a clerk and then went on to become a trainee draughtsman.”

As for Pádraigín’s own working career, she was offered a job in the civil service but chose instead to become a telephonist in Wexford where she met her husband. Uí Mhurchadha was steeped in Irish republicanism from a very early age and joined the Movement at 18.

“I was very influenced by everything going on around me. Fergal too had been involved in Sinn Féin in Monaghan. He and others formed a cumann called The McMahon Cumann. The name is still retained in our cumann  – the McMahon/O’Hanlon/ Lynagh Cumann. I remember Jim Lynagh too. He was a great man  and great fun.”

Lynagh, along with seven IRA comrades, was killed in an ambush by the SAS during an attack on Loughgall RUC barracks in 1987, 30 years after the Brookborough attack.

Asked how her family found out that something had gone wrong for the Pearse Column in Brookeburough on that fateful New Year’s day 50 years ago, Pádraigín says: “Fergal left the house that night and we knew why he’d gone. We’d all said goodbye to him. The lads were away a number of days when I was visiting in my aunt’s house. It was the night they were killed. The news came on the radio that two men were dead. My mother had had a sort of a premonition in the summer of that year. ‘There’s something going to happen here’, my mother had said. But then Christmas came and went and we thought nothing of it.

“When the news came over the radio as we were sitting in my aunt’s house my mother jumped up and went down to the kitchen. She said nothing to anyone but when my aunt asked about the deaths announced on the radio my mother said ‘Fergal is one of those.’ It wasn’t widely known that the lads were gone out at all.”

On the personal difficulty and pain endured by the family on Fergal’s death, Pádraigín said: “It was very hard but the support we got was unbelievable. The first person to come into the house was Fergal’s godfather saying: ‘I’m the proud godfather’ and we had nuns from the St Louise’s Covent coming into the house extending condolences. I remember coming through the border outside Clones with my mother and my aunt to bring the bodies through, and it was very, very touching.”

The funerals of the O’Hanlon and Sabhat men were huge. People came from all over Ireland and in those days there weren’t many cars. Reflecting on the funeral Pádraigín says: “The bodies of the two Volunteers were taken home through the border outside Clones. They were first taken to the Enniskillen barracks and then transferred to the morgue in Enniskillen. There was a huge turnout for the lads coming home through Clones. Then we came to the Cathedral in Monaghan where Seán and Fergal lay and of course Seán Sabhat’s funeral was the biggest ever seen in Limerick.

“The struggle lived on through the deaths of Seán and Fergal. They brought it to the fore. They seemed to stand out on their own. It was a continuation to the struggle we’re still going through. I was consumed by the republicanism and I always felt we should never lose hope. The 1950s wasn’t a success but it still wasn’t a failure in that the deaths of Seán and Fergal carried it into the ‘60s. The struggle was fresh in us all  –  it wasn’t over and then the ‘69 events began.”

On electoralism Pádraigín,  herself a Sinn Féin councillor said: “I always felt we should contest the electoral field - the two forms of struggle working together – all my life I felt that.

“In 1957 Sinn Féin contested the Dáil election and my bother Éineachán, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, John Joe Mc Girl and John Joe Rice stood on an abstentionist ticket and won. It showed the political impact of the two Volunteers’ deaths. Cavan/ Monaghan is a  border area and Fergal’s death brought back all those feelings of wanting to break the connection with England.”

Páidrigín has held a Monaghan Town Council seat for Sinn Féin since 1985 – the year when Owen Smith, Pat Treanor, herself and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin achieved huge success for Sinn Féin. “We had great leadership. Caoimghín was a very good leader - out on his own”, she says.

“Before the 1981 Hunger Strike we lived in Wexford. There were raids on the house and when we moved to Monaghan around the time of Kieran Doherty’s campaign there were a lot more raids. But we got used to it. As I said once to the guards - ‘As long as you don’t get anything or anyone I don’t care how often you come.’ We were privileged to have Kieran Doherty as our candidate in 1981.”

On her work as a Sinn Féin councillor she says: “I love my work. I feel I’m there for the people – on the ground. You don’t get everything for them but you do all you possibly can for people. I really enjoy my work.

“I’ve three grown up children, Seán who is a member of Sinn Féin, Eimer who works with Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole, and Eilish who joined Sinn Féin in Drogheda.”

While O’Hanlon and Sabhat became republican icons, Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha says: “I think about those who did the same as Fergal and who never got remembered. To remember is so important. The people of Fermanagh couldn’t have done  more in the build up to this New Year’s 50th anniversary.  They left no stone unturned.”

Asked if she found these commemorations emotionally draining or empowering. She says: “Yes I do feel emotional when I look back.  I was down at a commemoration with the Sabhats and I felt that Sean’s family felt the same. But it’s also great that people remember the two men. It gives you strength.”

On her own impressions of how things have developed in Irish republicanism over the past decades she says: “I never lose hope or optimism. The struggle will always be there until there is a final, just resolution. It will never go away until then. The political course is a difficult one because we’re fighting on so many fronts but we have great leadership.”

Above all else , Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha stresses the importance of unity: “We must all stand together, stay united and not let our enemies divide us.”