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.

Hibernians to Present MacBride Award to Belfast’s Clara Reilly

MacBride Award Chairman/AOH National Vice President Brendan Moore and MacBride Award Representative/LAOH National Vice President Maureen Shelton announced that Clara Reilly, Northern Ireland human rights crusader, has been selected as the 2011 MacBride Award recipient based on balloting conducted among National Board members and State Presidents of both the AOH and LAOH.

The purpose of the prestigious Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award is specifically stated in the AOH National Constitution: To memorialize the human rights contributions made by Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Sean MacBride and to recognize the efforts of others who make similar contributions in the cause of peace, justice, and the economic well-being of the Irish people.  Moore stated that “nominees for the MacBride Award are outstanding individuals derived from within and outside of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. Actual voting takes place only after those eligible to vote have had ample time to study and reflect on the biographies of all those who have been nominated.”

Despite raising six small children when internment in Northern Ireland was introduced, having all male members of her family interned, and subsequently losing two brothers and a cousin in the conflict, Clara Reilly’s name became synonymous with justice in Ireland. The 1970’s saw her documenting arrests of Nationalists, taking prisoner statements, and ensuring legal representation for those detained by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. While frantic relatives sought news of family members, she telephoned across Belfast and across the Six Counties on a daily basis seeking the whereabouts of those removed from their homes and as well as those arrested on the streets.

Reilly gradually emerged as a frontline advocate for her besieged community. She negotiated with senior Royal Ulster Constabulary and British army officers on behalf of those being victimized. She later lobbied the Irish government to initiate action against the British in the European Court on Human Rights, where Britain was eventually found guilty of both torture and inhumane treatment. Working with human rights attorney Pat Finucane, successful litigation forced the British army to end its random arrests for “screening “purposes. Reilly went on to found the Campaign Against Plastic Bullets and became the Founder and Co-Director of Relatives For Justice, a support group for families of those injured or killed in the conflict.

Recently asked if she now has any regrets about committing thirty-five years of her life to the tremendously difficult campaign to promote justice and equality in Northern Ireland, Clara Reilly unhesitatingly responded: “I have never regretted one day of my work for human rights, despite the highs and lows of that struggle.” Moore concluded: “Clara is assuredly a most worthy recipient of our Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award, which will be presented to her in conjunction with the AOH National President’s Testimonial Dinner in Philadelphia on October 8, 2011.”