New Years Raid

World War II brought change to Northern Ireland as Loyalists and Nationalists who shared the same bomb shelters broke down the barriers of prejudice erected by the Unionist Ascendancy to keep them divided.  The war also created jobs, and the small measure of prosperity experienced by the nationalists satisfied many grievances.  After the war, England rebuilt the barriers to maintain control of the north.  Churchill publicly blasted the Irish Free State for neutrality during the war despite the cooperation extended to the allies by the Irish, and the tens of thousands of Irish volunteers in the British military – all of which was well known to the government though not to the general public.  Anger grew in Ireland in an era of post-war high taxes, and unemployment.

In 1948, the Irish Free State abolished its Commonwealth status and passed the Republic of Ireland Act.  The date for it to go into effect was not announced, but it was signed on December 21.  On January 20, 1949, northern P.M. Basil Brooke, called a general election for February 10.  Southern Prime Minister Costello urged support for anti-partition candidates in the upcoming northern election, and pamphlets describing the discrimination and the gerrymandering in the north were published.  Unionists retaliated with a torrent of anti-Republic, and anti-Catholic propaganda that worked on sectarian fears declaring that if the border went, loyalists would be victims of IRA gunmen, urged on by Catholic clergy in an effort to establish the Pope as the ruler of Ireland. The propaganda, as well as years of conditioning by the Orange Order, had the desired effect as record numbers went to the polls to return the Unionists to power!

In the south; Dail Eireann brought the Republic of Ireland Act into effect on Easter Monday, April 18, 1949 – 33 years after Pearse’s declaration on the steps of the GPO.  On May 3, British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee declared “Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of Her Majesty’s Dominions without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.”  The new Republic of Ireland protested Britain’s continuation of partition, and mass meetings  urged action, but the new Republic was not prepared for anything stronger than a protest.  With tempers at a fever pitch, a call for action was heard, and the rebirth of the IRA was underway.

Depleted in numbers and finances after the war, the IRA began reorganizing by attacking unemployment and high taxes. They gathered support by standing against the mistreatment of Republican prisoners, and emerged in their traditional role of spokesmen for the Irish people with the rallying cry: ‘The Border Must Go!’  On June 5, 1951, the Derry unit of the new IRA raided Ebrington Barracks and captured a quantity of guns and ammunition.  As raids continued, the situation in the north became more tense, and nervous B-Special patrols became more violent.  The Irish Times urged the northern government to curb its patrols noting that, “para-military forces are an anachronism in a democratic society“, but it was to no avail.  On August 15, 1955, four men attacked a Royal Artillery Training Camp, but fled as a sentry gave the alarm.  Citing the attack, the Minister of War made a special report to the Cabinet, and P.M. Anthony Eden ordered mobilization to deal with the new IRA campaign.  It was later abandoned when four British Officers confessed to the ‘raid’ to “make things hotter for the IRA.”  An embarrassed War Office sent a communique to the police apologizing for the trouble caused and the matter was dropped.

Then, on the night of December 12, 1956, IRA volunteers assembled in 10 different areas along the border in an arc from Antrim to Derry.  On a signal from the campaign center in Monaghan, the morning quiet of December 13 was broken by numerous explosions.  The border campaign to retake the six counties had begun.  Reaction was swift.  By December 15, the Special Powers Act was revived allowing arrest and internment without warrant or trial, a curfew was imposed, and police forces strengthened.  On December 22, the RUC spiked or blew up every border crossing road and bridge that had no customs post.  By the end of the year 3,000 RUC and 12,000 B-Specials were called into action, and the north was an armed camp.

On the morning of January 1, 1957, an IRA raiding party set out for the RUC barracks in Brookborough, Co. Fermanagh.  They parked their truck in front of the barracks in the center of town and opened fire on the barracks with rifles and a Bren gun while an assault group attempted to set off a land mine against the building.  The mine did not explode and the assault group returned, through a hail of bullets, for another one.  This too misfired.  The raiders began to run out of ammunition as guns from the barracks returned a deadly rain of fire.  Misfortune continued to plague them as one of the raiders threw a grenade toward a barrack window to cover their retreat.  The grenade bounced off the building, and rolled under the truck where it exploded, blowing the tires, and damaging the gears.  Somehow the raiders made it back to the crippled truck and the truck limped away.  At Baxter’s Cross, near the town of Roslea, the truck gave out, and the badly shot up raiding party sought refuge in an abandoned barn.  Six members of the party were wounded, two of whom were unable to travel – 19-year old Fergal O’Hanlon of Monaghan and 27-year old Sean South of Limerick.  Both were unconscious.  One of the party, volunteered to stay behind and hold off the pursuing RUC so the others might escape, but it was felt that such an action would endanger the lives of their unconscious comrades.  It was decided to leave South and O’Hanlon to be captured so they would at least get the medical attention they needed.  The rest of the raiding party retreated toward the border.

The RUC arrived just after the IRA had left, and opened fire on the abandoned truck.  After finding it empty, they approached the barn.  The retreating IRA men heard another burst of fire. They prayed it was just the warning shots associated with assaulting a military target, but they later learned it was the murder of their two unconscious comrades.  This was a source of unforgiving bitterness in IRA circles for years to come.  Author Tim Pat Coogan wrote, “In a sense the Brookborough ambush explains everything about the IRA, and its hold on Irish tradition.  It shows all the courage, the self-sacrifice, the blundering, and the emotional appeal that have characterized and kept alive the IRA spirit for centuries.  The two young men who lost their lives in the Brookborough affair were given two of the biggest funerals in living memory – but during their lives there was never sufficient public support for their aims for them to receive proper military training or even or even to be correctly briefed on the target that claimed their lives.”  The two men killed in the raid, took their place among the martyrs to Ireland’s cause, and their memories were kept alive in songs which have become part of the Nationalist tradition – Sean South of Garryowen and The Patriot’s Game.

Bloody Sunday Deemed Unjustifiable

The day that the Saville report was to be released was a day of overwhelming anxiety for the families of those 27 shot and 14 killed on the streets of Derry some 38 years ago by the British Army.  The families were seeking a resolution – seeking the truth to come from a report that was headed by Lord Saville in a report that many felt would once again cover the facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday in 1972.  The original Widgery Tribunal that investigated the tragic shootings claimed that those killed were in someway guilty and complicit in there own deaths. The British Government maintained that position for 38 years.

On June 15, 2010, 4,520 days after the inquiry had begun, the findings were to be provided by British Prime Minister Cameron to the British House of Commons and broadcast live on television.  A large video screen was set up in Derry in front of the city’s Guildhall to accommodate a large crowd of viewers.  That day the families of the victims that have awaited justice for so many years and their supporters walked together through the streets of Derry to Guildhall to watch the report’s findings on the large screen.  They carried posters containing the pictures of those victims that did not survive those many years ago.  Their faces were distraught with the fear that once again those innocent victims would not meet justice and the facts would again be covered up by the British government.

Several Bloody Sunday family members now walking in Derry awaiting the report’s release had come to Washington, DC a few months earlier to meet Representative Chris Smith at his Capitol Hill office.  The meeting had been organized by Sean Pender our Freedom for all Ireland chairman.  A congressman from New Jersey, Chris is a great friend of the AOH and was the first chairman of a congressional committee to ever hold hearings on Northern Ireland.  These families came from Derry to request support from the Chris Smith and the U.S. Congress to pressure the British Government to be open with the release of the report, not delay it any longer and to not redact [conceal] vital information in the report when it was released.  Chris expressed his solidarity with the families and said that he would keep pressure on based upon the outcome of the report.

The inquiry took 12 years to produce – the longest public inquiry in British history at an estimated cost of £190.3 million (as of February 2010).  Investigators interviewed and received statements from around 2,500 people and 922 of these were called to give oral evidence including 505 civilians, nine experts and forensic scientists, 49 members of the media including photographers, 245 military, 35 paramilitary or former paramilitaries, 39 politicians and civil servants including intelligence officers, 33 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and 7 priests.  The evidence included 160 volumes of data with an estimated 30 million words. This included 13 volumes of photographs, 121 audiotapes and 10 videotapes. The finished report is 5000 pages long and weighs 45 pounds.

The large crowd in Derry watched the live video as the findings were made public.  Anticipating the worst, they watched with growing anxiety.  Then the words of Prime Minister Cameron, the Conservative Party Leader wrung out on the large televised screen in the public gathering like victorious church bells signalling the enemies defeat.  “There is no doubt. There’s nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong,” Cameron told the House of Commons.  “It was an act of murder that cried out for justice and truth,” he continued, “The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the [British] government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

The families and the crowd gathered in Derry reacted with cheers and fists pumped into the air.  They were jubilant; their smiles, tears and happy faces showed that justice had finally come.  Their long struggle for the truth had now become their victory with the words emanating from the screen.

The report concluded that the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by British soldiers and no warning was given to civilians. None of the casualties was carrying a firearm and while there was some shooting by republican paramilitaries, none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties.  It also determined that the British soldiers had lost their self-control and that that some of those who were killed or injured were clearly fleeing from paratroopers, or going to the assistance of others who were dying.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams expressed that, “The facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday are clear. The British Paras came to Derry and murdered 14 civil rights marchers and injured 13 others. They were unarmed, they posed no threat and they were completely innocent.”  Adams added “Today, Saville has put the lies of Widgery into the dustbin of history and with it the cover-up which was authorized of the highest levels within the British establishment and lasted for almost four decades.”

In a letter to AOH President Boyle one family member stated, “I never understood what an impact this could have had – probably because I thought it would never happen, it did and I wish everyone who is reading this could have felt the atmosphere in the City that day and since. It was amazing – a large dark cloud was lifted and people were taken back in time, Derry City will never be the same. The injustice that was done not only on the day but by the Widgery report ripped the life out of a once proud people. My mother’s family was deeply affected and regularly harassed by the British army – raids on houses etc. all is in the past. My Uncle Mickey was wearing his Sunday best; he was walking towards a civilian who was shot to help get him to safety. He was subsequently shot in the head by a high velocity bullet… he did not die yet and I will not go into further details at this point but his body went missing for several hours before any doctor was allowed to examine him.”  He added, “The 15th of June 2010 banished the ghost of the British Army from our streets; today our dignity and pride remain intact. We will continue to work peacefully until we are free from foreign interference. One Island, One Ireland. I felt compelled to write this to thank the AOH in the USA. Not a year went past from 1972 that AOH members from all over the U.S. did not congregate on our streets to demand TRUTH. Now we have it my friends, this is a victory for you as much as for us. You are always welcome on the Streets of Derry.”

Back in Washington, Representative Chris Smith joined his New York colleagues and Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Eliot Engel .Peter King and Joseph Crowley to say, “With the release of the Saville report on the ‘Bloody Sunday’ tragedy of January 30, 1972, and its principal findings that British paratroopers initiated gunfire without warning and that the fourteen men they killed were unarmed, the British government has finally given the families and friends of those killed a measure of justice. Nothing can return to them their husbands, fathers, and sons. Yet the report and the British Prime Minister’s apology and statement that the British army’s actions “were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ is an official recognition of truth and a prerequisite for a lasting peace and justice throughout Northern Ireland. We thank the survivors—the families of those killed—for their faithfulness in the quest for truth, and recognize the service they have performed for Northern Ireland.”

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The Patriot Game

World War II brought change to Northern Ireland as Loyalists and Nationalists who shared the same bomb shelters broke down the barriers of prejudice erected by the Unionist Ascendancy to keep them divided. The war also created jobs, and the small measure of prosperity experienced by the nationalists satisfied many grievances. After the war, England rebuilt the barriers to maintain control of the north. Churchill publicly blasted the Irish Free State for neutrality during the war despite the cooperation extended to the allies by the Irish, and the tens of thousands of Irish volunteers in the British military – all of which was well known to the government though not to the general public. Anger grew in Ireland in an era of post-war high taxes, and unemployment.

In 1948, the Irish Free State abolished its Commonwealth status and passed the Republic of Ireland Act. The date for it to go into effect was not announced, but it was signed on December 21. On January 20, 1949, northern P.M. Basil Brooke, called a general election for February 10. Southern Prime Minister Costello urged support for anti-partition candidates in the upcoming northern election, and pamphlets describing the discrimination and the gerrymandering in the north were published. Unionists retaliated with a torrent of anti-Republic, and anti-Catholic propaganda that worked on sectarian fears declaring that if the border went, loyalists would be victims of IRA gunmen, urged on by Catholic clergy, in an effort to establish the Pope as the ruler of Ireland. The propaganda, as well as years of conditioning by the Orange Order, had the desired effect as record numbers went to the polls to return the Unionists to power!

In the south; Dail Eireann brought the Republic of Ireland Act into effect on Easter Monday, April 18, 1949 – 33 years after Pearse’s declaration on the steps of the GPO. On May 3, British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee declared Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of Her Majesty’s Dominions without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The new Republic of Ireland protested Britain’s continuation of partition, and mass meetings urged action, but the new Republic was not prepared for anything stronger than a protest. With tempers at a fever pitch, a call for action was heard, and the rebirth of the IRA was underway.

Depleted in numbers and finances after the war, the IRA began reorganizing by attacking unemployment and high taxes. They gathered support by standing against the mistreatment of Republican prisoners, and emerged in their traditional role of spokesmen for the Irish people with the rallying cry: ‘The Border Must Go!’ On June 5, 1951, the Derry unit of the new IRA raided Ebrington Barracks and captured a quantity of guns and ammunition. As raids continued, the situation in the north became more tense, and nervous B-Special patrols became more violent. The Irish Times urged the northern government to curb its patrols noting that, “para-military forces are an anachronism in a democratic society”, but it was to no avail. On August 15, 1955, four men attacked a Royal Artillery Training Camp, but fled as a sentry gave the alarm. Citing the attack, the Minister of War made a special report to the Cabinet, and P.M. Anthony Eden ordered mobilization to deal with the new IRA campaign. It was later abandoned when four British Officers confessed to the ‘raid’ to make things hotter for the IRA. An embarrassed War Office sent a communique to the police apologizing for the trouble caused and the matter was dropped.

Then, on the night of December 12, 1956, IRA volunteers assembled in 10 different areas along the border in an arc from Antrim to Derry. On a signal from the campaign center in Monaghan, the morning quiet of December 13 was broken by numerous explosions. The border campaign to retake the six counties had begun. Reaction was swift. By December 15, the Special Powers Act was revived allowing arrest and internment without warrant or trial, a curfew was imposed, and police forces strengthened. On December 22, the RUC spiked or blew up every border crossing road and bridge that had no customs post. By the end of the year 3,000 RUC and 12,000 B-Specials were called into action, and the north was an armed camp.

On the morning of January 1, 1957, an IRA raiding party set out for the RUC barracks in Brookborough, Co. Fermanagh. They parked their truck in front of the barracks in the center of town and opened fire on the barracks with rifles and a Bren gun while an assault group attempted to set off a land mine against the building. The mine did not explode and the assault group returned, through a hail of bullets, for another one. This too misfired. The raiders began to run out of ammunition as guns from the barracks returned a deadly rain of fire. Misfortune continued to plague them as one of the raiders threw a grenade toward a barrack window to cover their retreat. The grenade bounced off the building, and rolled under the truck where it exploded, blowing the tires, and damaging the gears. Somehow the raiders made it back to the crippled truck and the truck limped away. At Baxter’s Cross, near the town of Roslea, the truck gave out, and the badly shot up raiding party sought refuge in an abandoned barn. Six members of the party were wounded, two of whom were unable to travel – 19-year old Fergal O’Hanlon of Monaghan and 27-year old Sean South of Limerick. Both were unconscious. One of the party, volunteered to stay behind and hold off the pursuing RUC so the others might escape, but it was felt that such an action would endanger the lives of their unconscious comrades. It was decided to leave South and O’Hanlon to be captured so they would at least get the medical attention they needed. The rest of the raiding party retreated toward the border.

The RUC arrived just after the IRA had left, and opened fire on the abandoned truck. After finding it empty, they approached the barn. The retreating IRA men heard another burst of fire. They prayed it was just the warning shots associated with assaulting a military target, but they later learned it was the murder of their two unconscious comrades. This was a source of unforgiving bitterness in IRA circles for years to come. Author Tim Pat Coogan wrote, In a sense the Brookborough ambush explains everything about the IRA, and its hold on Irish tradition. It shows all the courage, the self-sacrifice, the blundering, and the emotional appeal that have characterized and kept alive the IRA spirit for centuries. The two young men who lost their lives in the Brookborough affair were given two of the biggest funerals in living memory – but during their lives there was never sufficient public support for their aims for them to receive proper military training or even or even to be correctly briefed on the target that claimed their lives.

The courage of the poorly trained, ill equipped and inexperienced ‘lads’, in going up against the superior RUC and British, caught the Irish imagination and re-ignited the nationalist spirit. As the cortege of Sean South made its way south towards Limerick, it was met with thronged crowds and blazing bonfires, in inspirational procession. At midnight on Jan 5, 1957, 50,000 people, including the mayor and local politicians, stood in the freezing rain to welcome Sean South back home. On the following day, 20,000 people attended his funeral.

In later years, a memorial was erected at Moane Cross in Fermanagh using stone from the abandoned barn in which South and O’Hanlon were killed. Sean South and Fergal O’Hanlon took their place among the martyrs to Ireland’s cause, and their memories were kept alive in songs which have become part of the Nationalist tradition – Sean South of Garryowen and The Patriot Game.