Saturday, August 27, 2005

This Date in Irish History - August 27th

August 27th -

1798 - In one of Irish history's most
famous battles, General Humbert's
800 French soldiers and 1,500
Irish soldiers defeated an English force
of 6000 at Castlebar, Co. Mayo in what
would be later known as "The Races
at Castlebar".
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- Joseph Corr, a Catholic civilian, died sixteen
days after
being shot by the British Army in
Ballymurphy, Belfast.

1972 - In Belfast, civilian Thomas Boyd
was shot and killed by the UDA.
A British soldier was shot and killed by
an IRA sniper at the Creggan Heights
British Army base in Derry.

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1974 - IRA Volunteer Patrick McKeown died
in a premature bomb explosion in a house
in Newry, Co. Down.

1976 - Three members of a Catholic family,
Joseph Dempsey (22), Jeanette Dempsey (19)
and Brigeen Dempsey (10 months), were
killed in a petrol bomb attack on their home
in Hillman Street, New Lodge, Belfast.
The attack was carried out by Loyalists.

1978 - Approximately 10,000 people took part
in a march from Coalisland to Dungannon,
County Tyrone, to commemorate the first
civil rights march 10 years earlier.

1979 - In two devastating attacks, the IRA
ambushed and killed
18 British soldiers and
executed the former Viceroy of India and

cousin of the British Queen, Lord Louis
Mountbatten and three other
members of his boat party were
killed when
a 50lb, remote-controlled bomb blew up his
the Shadow V, at Mullaghmore,
County Sligo. Mountbatten had
served as
Chief of Britain's Naval Staff and Chief of the
Kingdom Defence Staff.
In a statement claiming responsibility for the attack,
the IRA
said the bombing was "a discriminate
operation to bring to the
attention of the English
people the continuing occupation of
our country".
The Mountbatten execution, which struck at the
very heart of
the British establishment, was followed
by an
IRA ambush at Narrow Water near Warrenpoint,
County Down, which resulted
in the deaths of
18 members of the British Army's Parachute
In the Narrow Water ambush a 500lb bomb planted
in a lorry
loaded with hay was detonated by the IRA
as a British Army
convoy passed, killing six Paras.
A second explosion damaged a
British helicopter
carrying members of a quick reaction force
and killed
twelve more troops. It was the most successful IRA

attack against British forces in 58 years.
The ambush at Narrow Water was followed by wild
indiscriminate shooting from the British Army
across the nearby
border with the 26 Counties, during
which an uninvolved civilian,
Michael Hudson, was shot
and killed.

Loyalists responded to the Warrenpoint and Mountbatten
bombings with a series of random killings of Catholic

1995 - A man was admitted to Tyrone County Hospital
broken ribs and kidney damage following a vicious
assault by
loyalists at the weekend. His son was also
admitted after being
struck in the chest by a plastic bullet
fired by a member of the
British Crown Forces.

1996 - The homes of two nationalist families in Derry
attacked by petrol-bombers. RUC member David
Gamble, who gave his address as Strand Road
RUC barracks,
was charged at Derry Crown Court with a
number of counts of
theft and possession of arms.

1997 - Relatives of the 33 people killed in bombings in
Dublin and Monaghan on May 17th, 1974 failed in their
court attempt
to get the Garda Síochána to release the
files on their
investigations of the bombings.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
2000 - A former member of British military intelligence
revealed that weapons used by loyalist gangs who
through Belfast's Shankill district the previous
week were
provided by British
intelligence as part of a plan
to defeat the IRA.

Monday, August 22, 2005

This Date in Irish History - August 22nd

Time constraints will not allow me to do these every day, but I will try to put more of these "On This Date" posts up in the future.

August 22nd -

1791 - Theobald Wolfe Tone published "An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland".

1798 - A French force of 1,019 men under General Humbert landed at Killala, Co. Mayo.

1846 - John Keegan Casey, Fenian, poet and writer of "Rising of the Moon" was born near Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.

1881 - Second Land Act introduced the 'three Fs' - fair rent, fixity of tenure, free sale - and set up the Land Commission.

1922 - A convoy carrying Michael Collins was ambushed at Beal na mBláth ("the mouth of flowers"). Only one man was killed - Michael Collins.

1972 - A bomb that was being planted by the Irish Republican Army exploded prematurely at a customs post at Newry, County Down. Three IRA Volunteers, one Loyalist, and five civilians were killed in the explosion.

1975 - Three Catholic civilians - John McGleenan, Patrick Hughes, and Thomas Morris - were killed in a loyalist gun and bomb attack on McGleenan's Bar, Upper English Street, Armagh.
William Daniel, a civilian shot six days earlier in a sectarian attack carried out by the UVF, dies from his injuries.

1984 - Gerry Curran, then Armagh coroner, resigned after discovering "grave irregularities" in RUC files related to the killing of two INLA members - Roddy Carroll and Seamus Grew - on December 12, 1982.

1986 - John Stalker, then Deputy Chief Constable of
the Greater Manchester Police, was cleared of all
allegations of misconduct and reinstated in his police
position. However, Stalker was not returned to the
inquiry into the 'shoot to kill' allegations in the
Six Counties.

1988 - A Royal Navy recruiting officer was killed in
Belfast when a PIRA bomb attached to his car exploded.

1998 - The INLA announced that it was to go on
ceasefire as of midday. There were calls for the
Continuity Irish Republican Army to also announce a

1999 - Yann Reynard Goulet - "The Fox" - Breton
patriot and Irish Republican dies in Ireland.
The BT Target Sports Club near Loughbrickland, Co.
Down, was vandalised by loyalists. A bulldozer was
used to destroy an 8ft earthen wall at the club and
the club buildings were daubed with loyalist graffiti.

2001 - A pipe bomb was discovered in a letter box at a constituency office of Mid-Ulster MP and British Crown Minister Martin McGuinness in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. The attack was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders who said that they would step up their terror campaign.
The Red Hand Defenders also admitted planting a booby trap device under a former republican prisoner’s van at Ashley Avenue in Armagh city. It was defused.
A caller to a Belfast newspaper purporting to represent the “South Londonderry Protestant Volunteers” and using a recognised codeword said explosive devices had been left at GAA grounds between Coleraine and Cookstown.
A pipe bomb was discovered at Lavey GAA club, near Maghera, Co Derry where up to 20 children were being coached in hurling. Pipe bombs were also found in Ballerin GAA club, in Garvagh and two at Desertmartin GAA clubs, also in Co Derry.
Three men arrested in Colombia on August 13 – Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly — were charged with carrying false passports and training members of the FARC movement. They were remanded in

Saturday, August 20, 2005

August 20th, 1981 - Mickey Devine Dies

Mickey Devine

Died August 20th, 1981

A typical Derry lad

TWENTY-seven-year-old Micky Devine, from the Creggan in Derry city, was the third INLA Volunteer to join the H-Block hunger strike to the death.

Micky Devine took over as O/C of the INLA blanket men in March when the then O/C, Patsy O'Hara, joined the hunger strike but he retained this leadership post when he joined the hunger strike himself.

Known as 'Red Micky', his nickname stemmed from his ginger hair rather than his political complexion, although he was most definitely a republican socialist.

The story of Micky Devine is not one of a republican 'super-hero' but of a typical Derry lad whose family suffered all of the ills of sectarian and class discrimination inflicted upon the Catholic working-class of that city: poor housing, unemployment and lack of opportunity.

Micky himself had a rough life.

His father died when Micky was a young lad; he found his mother dead when he was only a teenager; married young, his marriage ended in separation; he underwent four years of suffering 'on the blanket' in the H-Blocks; and, finally, the torture of hunger-strike.

Unusually for a young Derry nationalist, because of his family's tragic history (unconnected with 'the troubles'), Micky was not part of an extended family, and his only close relatives were his sister Margaret, seven years his elder, and now aged 34, and her husband, Frank McCauley, aged 36.


Michael James Devine was born on May 26th, 1954 in the Springtown camp, on the outskirts of Derry city, a former American army base from the Second World War, which Micky himself described as "the slum to end all slums".

Hundreds of families - 99% (unemployed) Catholics, because of Derry corporation's sectarian housing policy - lived, or rather existed, in huts, which were not kept in any decent state of repair by the corporation.

One of Micky's earliest memories was of lying in a bed covered in old coats to keep the rain off the bed. His sister, Margaret, recalls that the huts were "okay" during the summer, but they leaked, and the rest of the year they were cold and damp.

Micky's parents, Patrick and Elizabeth, both from Derry city, had got married in late 1945 shortly after the end of the Second World War, during which Patrick had served in the British merchant navy. He was a coalman by trade, but was unemployed for years.

At first Patrick and Elizabeth lived with the latter's mother in Ardmore, a village near Derry, where Margaret was born in 1947. In early 1948 the family moved to Springtown where Micky was born in May 1954.

Although Springtown was meant to provide only temporary accommodation, official lethargy and sectarianism dictated that such inadequate housing was good enough for Catholics and it was not until the early 'sixties that the camp was closed.


During the 'fifties, the Creggan was built as a new Catholic ghetto, but it was 1960 before the Devines got their new home in Creggan, on the Circular Road. Micky had an unremarkable, but reasonably happy childhood. He went to Holy Child primary school in Creggan.

At the age of eleven Micky started at St. Joseph's secondary school in Creggan, which he was to attend until he was fifteen.

But soon the first sad blow befell him. On Christmas eve 1965, when Micky was aged only eleven, his father fell ill; and six weeks later, in February 1966, his father, who was only in his forties, died of leukaemia.

Micky had been very close to his father and his premature death left Micky heartbroken.

Five months later, in July 1966, his sister Margaret left home to get married, whilst Micky remained in the Devines' Circular Road home with his mother and granny.

At school Micky was an average pupil, and had no notable interests.


The first civil rights march in Derry took place on October 5th, 1968, when the sectarian RUC batoned several hundred protesters at Duke Street. Recalling that day, Micky, who was then only fourteen wrote:

"Like every other young person in Derry my whole way of thinking was tossed upside down by the events of October 5th, 1968. I didn't even know there was a civil rights march. I saw it on television.

"But that night I was down the town smashing shop windows and stoning the RUC. Overnight I developed an intense hatred of the RUC. As a child I had always known not to talk to them, or to have anything to do with them, but this was different

"Within a month everyone was a political activist. I had never had a political thought in my life, but now we talked of nothing else. I was by no means politically aware but the speed of events gave me a quick education."


After the infamous loyalist attack on civil rights marchers in nearby Burntollet, in January 1969, tension mounted in Derry through 1969 until the August 12th riots, when Orangemen - Apprentice Boys and the RUC - attacked the Bogside, meeting effective resistance, in the 'Battle of the Bogside'. On two occasions in 1969 Micky ended up at the wrong end of an RUC baton, and consequently in hospital.

That summer Micky left school. Always keen to improve himself, he got a job as a shop assistant and over the next three years worked his way up the local ladder: from Hill's furniture store on the Strand Road, to Sloan's store in Shipquay Street, and finally to Austin's furniture store in the Diamond (and one can get no higher in Derry, as a shop assistant).

British troops had arrived in August 1969, in the wake of the 'Battle of the Bogside'. 'Free Derry' was maintained more by agreement with the British army than by physical force, but of course there were barricades, and Micky was one of the volunteers manning them with a hurley.


At that time, and during 1970 and 1971, Micky became involved in the civil rights movement, and with the local (uniquely militant) Labour Party and the Young Socialists.

The already strained relationship between British troops and the nationalist people of Derry steadily deteriorated - reinforced by news from elsewhere, especially Belfast - culminating with the shooting dead by the British army of two unarmed civilians, Seamus Cusack and Desmond Beattie, in July of 1971, and with internment in August. Micky, by this time seventeen years of age, and also politically maturing, had joined the 'Officials', also known as the 'Sticks'.

He became a member of the James Connolly 'Republican Club' and then, shortly after internment, a member of the Derry Brigade of the 'Official IRA'.

'Free Derry' had become known by that name after the successful defence of the Bog side in August 1969, but it really became 'Free Derry', in the form of concrete barricades etc., from internment day. Micky was amongst those armed volunteers who manned the barricades.

Typical of his selfless nature (another common characteristic of the hunger strikers), no task was too small for him.

He was 'game' to do any job, such as tidying up the office. Young men, naturally enough, wanted to stand out on the barricades with rifles: he did that too, but nothing was too menial for him, and he was always looking for jobs.

Bloody Sunday, January 30th, 1972, when British Paratroopers shot dead thirteen unarmed civil rights demonstrators in Derry (a fourteenth died later from wounds received), was a turning point for Micky. From then there was no turning back on his republican commitment and he gradually lost interest in his work, and he was to become a full-time political and military activist.


Micky experienced the trauma of Bloody Sunday at first hand. He was on that fateful march with his brother-in-law, Frank, who recalls: "When the shooting started we ran, like everybody else, and when it was over we saw all the bodies being lifted."

The slaughter confirmed to Micky that it was more than time to start shooting back. "How" he would ask, "can you sit back and watch while your own Derry men are shot down like dogs?"

Micky had written: "I will never forget standing in the Creggan chapel staring at the brown wooden boxes. We mourned, and Ireland mourned with us.

"That sight more than anything convinced me that there will never be peace in Ireland while Britain remains. When I looked at those coffins I developed a commitment to the republican cause that I have never lost."

From around this time, until May when the 'Official IRA' leadership declared a unilateral ceasefire (unpopular with their Derry Volunteers), Micky was involved not only in defensive operations but in various gun attacks against British troops.

Micky's commitment and courage had shone through, but no more so than in the case of scores of other Derry youths, flung into adulthood and warfare by a British army of occupation.


In September, 1972, came the second tragic loss in Micky's family life. He came home one day to find his mother dead on the settee with his granny unsuccessfully trying to revive her.

His mother had died of a brain tumour, totally unexpectedly, at the age of forty-five. Doctors said it had taken her just three minutes to die. Micky, then aged eighteen, suffered a tremendous shock from this blow, and it took him many months to come to terms with his grief.

Through 1973, Micky remained connected with the 'Sticks', although increasingly disillusioned by their openly reformist path. He came to refer to the 'Sticks' as "fireside republicans", and was highly critical of them for not being active enough.

Towards the end of that year, Micky, then aged nineteen, got married. His wife, Margaret, was only seventeen. They lived in Ranmore Drive in Creggan and had two children: Michael, now aged seven and Louise, now aged five.

Micky and his wife had since separated.

In late 1974, virtually all the 'Sticks' in Derry, including Micky, joined the newly formed IRSP, as did some who had dropped out over the years. And Micky necessarily became a founder member of the PLA (People's Liberation Army), formed to defend the IRSP from murderous attacks by their former comrades in the sticks.

In early 1975, Micky became a founder member of the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) formed for offensive operational purposes out of the PLA.

The months ahead were bad times for the IRSP, relatively isolated, and to suffer a strength-sapping split when Bernadette McAliskey left, taking with her a number of activists who formed the ISP (Independent Socialist Party), since deceased.

They were also difficult months for the fledgling INLA, suffering from a crippling lack of weaponry and funds. Weakness which led them into raids for both as their primary actions, and rendered them almost unable to operate against the Brits.

Micky was eventually arrested on the Creggan. In the evening of September 20th, 1976, after an arms raid earlier that day on a private weaponry, in Lifford, County Donegal, from which the INLA commandeered several rifles and shotguns, and three thousand rounds of ammunition.


Micky was arrested with Desmond Walmsley from Shantallow, and John Cassidy from Rosemount. Along on the operation, though never convicted for it, was the late Patsy O'Hara, with whom Micky used to knock around as a friend and comrade.

Micky was held and interrogated for three days in Derry's Stand Road barracks, before being transported in Crumlin Road jail in Belfast where he spent nine months on remand.

He was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment on June 20th, 1977, and immediately embarked on the blanket protest. He was in H5-Block until March of this year when the hunger strike began and when the 'no-wash, no slop-out' protest ended, whereupon he was moved with others in his wing to H6-Block.

Like others incarcerated within the H-Blocks, suffering daily abuse and inhuman and degrading treatment, Micky realised - soon after he joined the blanket protest - that eventually it would come to a hunger strike, and, for him, the sooner the better. He was determined that when that ultimate step was reached he would be among those to hunger strike.


On Sunday, June 21st, this year, he completed his fourth year on the blanket, and the following day he joined Joe McDonnell, Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch, Martin Hurson, Thomas McElwee and Paddy Quinn on hunger strike.

He became the seventh man in a weekly build-up from a four-strong hunger strike team to eight-strong. He was moved to the prison hospital on Wednesday, July 15th, his twenty fourth day on hunger strike.

Mickey Devine laying in state, with INLA honour guard.

With the 50 % remission available to conforming prisoners, Micky would have been due out of jail next September.

As it was, because of his principled republican rejection of the criminal tag he chose to fight and face death.

Micky died at 7.50 am on Thursday, August 201h, as nationalist voters in Fermanagh/South Tyrone were beginning to make their way to the polling booths to elect Owen Carron, a member of parliament for the constituency, in a demonstration - for the second time in less than five months - of their support for the prisoners' demands.

Mickey Devine funeral cortege makes way through Derry.

Published in IRIS, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1981.

Mickey Devine


Sunday, August 07, 2005

August 8th, 1981 - Thomas McElwee Dies

Thomas McElwee

Died August 8th, 1981

Sincere, easy-going and full of fun

THE TENTH republican to join the hunger strike was twenty-three-year-old IRA Volunteer Thomas McElwee, from Bellaghy in South Derry. He had been imprisoned since December 1976, following a premature explosion in which he lost an eye.

He was a first cousin of Francis Hughes, who died after fifty-nine days on hunger strike, on May 12th.

One of the most tragic and saddening aspects of the hunger strike was the close relationships between some of the hunger strikers.

Joe McDonnell following his friend and comrade Bobby Sands on hunger strike and then into death, both having been captured on the same IRA operation in 1976.

Elsewhere, similar close ties, parallels, between one hunger striker and another: the same schools; the same streets; the same experiences of repression and discrimination.

And for those families, relatives and friends most acutely conscious of the parallels there is of course an even more intense personal sadness than for most, in the bitter tragedy of the hunger strike.

But of all those close relationships, none was surely as poignant as that between Thomas McElwee and his cousin, Francis Hughes: two dedicated republicans from the small South Derry village of Bellaghy, their family homes less than half-a-mile apart in the townland of Tamlaghtduff, who were close friends in their boyhood years and who later fought side by side in the towns and fields of South Derry for the freedom of their country.

It came then as no surprise to those who knew them when Thomas and Francis stood side by side again in the H-Blocks (along with Thomas' younger brother, Benedict) in taking part in the thirty-strong four-day fast at the end of the original seven-man hunger strike last December.

And when the deaths of Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes, on the subsequent hunger strike, only months later, failed to break the Brits intransigence, the McElwee family were already certain that either Thomas or Benedict, both of whom had volunteered, would soon be joining the hunger strike as well.


What are the qualities that make a twenty-three-year-old South Derry man ready to die a painful death on hunger strike, in defence of his political principles and to end, for himself and for his comrades, the horrors of the H-Blocks in which he had already spent almost four years?

The story of Thomas McElwee is not of a uniquely courageous, or uniquely principled young man, any more than were any of the hunger strikers unique in some way.

But it is the story of a fairly typical young Derryman, kind and good-natured, full of life, and with a craze for cars and stock-car racing who is also filled with a love of his country and its way of life, who (like many others) had watched that country overrun by foreign and hostile troops, torn by sectarianism and discrimination, and who had spent over half of his young life striving to achieve the liberation of his country.

Within those few years he had become part of a tradition of the resistance of ordinary Irish people, that will never be criminalised.


Thomas McElwee, the fifth of twelve children, was born on November 30th, 1957, into the small, whitewashed home built by his father, along the Tamlaghtduff Road in the parish of Bellaghy.

His father, Jim (aged 65), a retired builder, has lived in Tamlaghtduff all his life, coming from a family of farmers which settled in the area at the turn of the century. One of his sisters, Margaret, married into the Hughes family, and is the mother of the late Francis Hughes. Thomas' mother, Alice (aged 56), lived in Philadelphia until she was seven years old, her family having moved there from County Derry but later returning, and she has lived in Bellaghy for most of her life.

Jim and Alice married in 1950 and had twelve children, the oldest thirty, the youngest fourteen. They are: Kathleen, the eldest; Mary; Bernadette; Annie; Enda; Thomas; Benedict; Joseph; Nora; Pauline; Majella; and the youngest James. Even within the Irish countryside where strong family bonds are the rule, the McElwee family are considered to be particularly close and considerate to one another, and there are strong ties too between them and the Hughes family.

As children, Thomas and Benedict and Francis Hughes, along with other neighbours' children, used to walk together each day to the bottom of the Tamlaghtduff road to catch the bus to school, returning home again each evening. They went to St. Mary's primary in Bellaghy, and then to Clady intermediate, three miles away.

Thomas got on pretty well at school. His favourite subjects were English and Maths, and he was also good at Geography and History.

At home he was quiet, very good natured and sincere, and particularly good towards his mother, helping out around the house and with jobs like cutting the hedge and putting up fencing.

He was also, however, very much an outdoor person, and although more serious than Benedict (who would usually have started off the devilment the pair got involved in), he was full of fun, with a strong sense of humour and adventure.

One of the pranks they sometimes got up to along with other local lads, earning them the temporary wrath of neighbours, was climbing on to the roof of a house, blocking the chimney, and then watching as the smoke began to appear in the kitchens. "They weren't too popular when that happened", remembers one of their sisters, laughing.


But frequently too, Thomas was out-at week-ends and during school holidays - helping neighbours, including Protestant farmers, with their crops and machinery. He also used to go to work, picking gooseberries, at the monastery in Portglenone, staying there for maybe ten days at a time, during school holidays.

He had always been a determined person, arguing his point of view with his sisters and brothers, and if he wanted something, often a present for a member of his family, he would work hard to earn enough for it.

From the time he was eleven Thomas had an intense interest in working with cars and all types of machinery. On one occasion his mother brought a lawn mower which Thomas immediately dismantled, to see how it worked. When he reassembled it, it worked, but perhaps not just quite as well as before!

As he grew older, his fascination for engines grew stronger. He got his driving license as soon as he was old enough, and got his own car. He used to travel all over the place to watch stock-car racing, particularly at Aghadowey near Coleraine, in North Derry, and once he even got his own stock-car for a while.

At weekends he used to go to local dances in neighbouring towns and villages such as Ardboe and Clady. Usually, if it was ceilidh dancing, he had to be dragged along, but he enjoyed it once he was there.


Yet, though full of life, there was a serious, reflective side to Thomas too.

He enjoyed playing records, often of traditional music, sometimes of republican ballads, at a time when the 'troubles' had barely begun. Even before 1969, the McElwees, including Thomas, would sometimes go to folk concerts in the village where many of the ballads recalled the tradition of resistance to British mis-rule.

Given that background and Thomas' personal qualities of courage and concern for his neighbours it was not surprising that he joined na Fianna Eireann when he was only fourteen, and subsequently joined the independent unit led by his cousin, Francis Hughes, which concentrated on defence of the local area and ambushes of British forces, before it was recruited in its entirety, after a period of time, into the IRA.

The following few years, before Thomas' capture in October '76, were active ones in the South Derry area with a succession of successful bomb blitzes of the commercial centres of towns like Magherafelt, Bellaghy, Castledawson, and Maghera, and a high level of ambushes and booby-traps which made the British forces reluctant to wander into the country lanes surrounding Bellaghy.

Thomas had a reputation of a dedicated and principled republican who knew what he was about, and knew moreover what he was fighting to ultimately achieve. He was particularly interested in local republican history and knew what had happened in Bellaghy and the surrounding areas over the past fifty years.


Because of his discretion as a republican, and, doubtless, good luck as well, Thomas - unlike Francis Hughes - was not forced to go 'on the run' and continued to live at home.

After leaving school he had gone to Magherafelt technical college for a while, but later changed his mind and went to Ballymena training centre to begin an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. But harassment from loyalist workers there forced him to leave and he then went to work with a local mechanic.

Although not 'on the run' Thomas was still subject to the extreme harassment at the hands of the Brits and the RUC that began to be felt in the area in the mid-seventies, even before the IRA's military campaign in the South Derry countryside, led by Francis Hughes, began to bite deep against the occupation


Like many young men, whenever Thomas went out he was liable to be stopped for lengthy periods of time along empty country roads, searched, maybe threatened, and abused.


There were also house raids

The McElwees' home was first raided in 1974, and Thomas was arrested under Section 10, for three days. That time it was over twenty-four hours later before the family learned that Thomas was being held in Ballykelly interrogation centre. On another occasion, both he and Benedict were arrested, and taken to Coleraine barracks, after a raid on their home.

The last time that the family would be together, however, was on the evening of October 8th, 1976. That evening the 'Stations' took place in the McElwees' home, a country tradition where Mass is said in one house in every townland during Lent, and during the month of October. That month in Tamlaghtduff it was taking place in the McElwees's and most of the neighbours were there as well. After the Mass there was a social evening, with food and music.

The following afternoon - Bernadette's birthday - at 1.30 p.m. on October 9th, Kathleen answered the phone, to be told that both their brothers Thomas and Benedict were in the Wavery hospital in Ballymena following a premature bomb explosion in a car in the town, shortly beforehand.


In the explosion, Thomas lost his right eye, while two other Bellaghy men were also injured: Colm Scullion, losing several toes and Sean McPeake, losing a leg.

Benedict McElwee, fortunately, suffered only from shock and superficial burns. Following the explosion, several other republicans in the town were arrested, later to be charged. These included Dolores O'Neill, from Portglenone, Thomas' girlfriend, and Ann Bateson, from Toomebridge, both of whom joined the protest in Armagh women's jail.

Thomas was transferred from the Ballymena hospital to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for emergency surgery to save his remaining eye. It was three weeks, however before he was able to see at all.

After six weeks he was transferred again, this time to the military wing of the Musgrave Park hospital, where Benedict also was. One week before Christmas, both brothers were charged and sent to Crumlin Road jail.

At their subsequent trial in September 1977, having spent over eight months on remand in Crumlin Road, Thomas was convicted, although he made no statements, not only of possession of explosives but also of the killing of a woman who accidentally died in a bomb attack elsewhere in Ballymena that day and with which other republicans were also charged.

That 'murder' conviction was, on appeal, reduced to manslaughter but a twenty-year sentence remained, and Thomas returned to the blanket protest he had joined immediately after his trial, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.


Their imprisonment was particularly harsh for the McElwee brothers who were frequently singled out for brutality by prison warders, outraged at the stubborn refusal of the two to accept any form of criminal status.

For a while they were able to keep in touch with each other as they were both in H6 Block, but they were split up and had hardly any opportunity to see each other at all for over two years.

Both Thomas and Benedict have been frequently mentioned in recent years in smuggled communications detailing beatings meted out to blanket men. On one occasion Thomas was put on the boards for fourteen days for refusing to call a prison warder 'sir'. In a letter smuggled out to his sister Mary, one time, Benedict wrote of the imprint of a warder's boot on his back and arms after a typical assault.

Throughout, though, the brutality and degradation they had to endure served only to deepen yet further, and harder, their resistance to criminalisation.

The McElwee family weren't surprised last December when they discovered that both Thomas and Benedict had joined the thirty-strong hunger strike, as Sean McKenna neared death, but even then the partial breakdown in communications between H Blocks at that critical time meant that the family learnt first that Benedict was going on hunger strike, only to be informed an hour and a half later that Thomas was going on the fast too.

Women take to the streets with their binlids upon hearing of Thomas McElwee's death.


Speaking of the hunger strike and her sons and their comrades during Thomas' strike, Mrs. McElwee said: "I know Thomas and Benedict would be determined to stand up for their rights. In the Blocks one will stand for another. If this hunger strike isn't settled one way or another they'll all go the same way. There'll never be peace in this country."

Thomas McElwee's sisters carry his coffin, with an IRA honour guard.

Thomas McElwee died at 11.30 a.m. on Saturday, August 8th. Indicative of the callousness of the British government towards prisoners and their families alike neither had the comfort of each other's presence at that tragic moment. He died after 62 days of slow agonising hunger strike with no company other than prison warders - colleagues of those who had brutalised, degraded and tortured him for three-and-a-half years.

Oliver Hughes, brother of Francis, and Benedict McElwee, a blanketman, carry Thomas' coffin.

Published in IRIS, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1981.

Thomas McElwee


Monday, August 01, 2005

August 2nd, 1981 - Kieran Doherty Dies

Kieran Doherty

Died August 2nd, 1981

A dedicated republican and an outstanding soldier

WHEN the family, friends and former comrades of Belfast IRA Volunteer twenty-five-year-old Kieran Doherty learnt that he was joining the H-Block hunger strike, as a replacement for Raymond McCreesh, it came as no surprise to them.

Although Kieran had spent seven of the last ten years imprisoned, his complete selflessness and his relentless dedication to the liberation struggle left no-one in any doubt that Kieran would volunteer for this terrible and lonely confrontation with British rule inside the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. Last December he was amongst those thirty prisoners who were on hunger strike for four days prior to the ending of the original seven-strong strike.

Kieran was born on October 16th, 1955 in Andersonstown, the third son in a family of six children. His two elder brothers, Michael, aged 28, and Terence, aged 27, were interned between 1972 and 1974.

Kieran has two younger sisters, Roisin and Mairead; and his younger brother, Brendan, aged twelve, is still at school.


Kieran's mother, Margaret, is a Catholic convert from a Protestant background. His father, Alfie Doherty, who is a floor-tiler by trade, is a well-known figure in Andersonstown.

Kieran's paternal grandfather comes from Limavady, County Derry, and after his people moved to a house in North Belfast in the 'twenties, they were threatened that the house was going to be burnt.

This was during the loyalist-initiated pogroms which followed partition.

They had to flee to West Belfast enacting a tragedy which was to repeat itself in front of Kieran's eyes in the early seventies, and stir him to take action.

Alfie's uncle, Ned Maguire, took part in the famous IRA roof-top escape from Belfast's Crumlin Road jail on January 15th, 1943.

Ned Maguire's son, also called Ned, and a second cousin of Kieran, was an internee in Cage S of Long Kesh in 1974, when he took part in the mass escape from the camp during which Hugh Coney was shot dead by the British army. Young Ned Maguire was one of the three who managed to reach Twinbrook before being recaptured. He is now on the blanket.

Ned's sisters (and Kieran's second cousins), Dorothy Maguire, aged 19, and Maura Meehan, aged 30, were shot dead by the British army on October 23rd, 1971, in a car in the Lower Falls area of Belfast. Both were members of Cumann na mBan.

Another relative of Kieran's, his uncle, Gerry Fox, was part of the famous Crumlin Road jail 'football team', who escaped from the jail by climbing over the wall in 1972.


However, Kieran's childhood was relatively ordinary. He loved sport more than anything else, and was always out playing Gaelic football, hurling or soccer.

Kieran went to St. Theresa's primary school, then moved to the Christian Brothers secondary school on the Glen Road, where he studied until the age of sixteen.

A keen Gaelic footballer, he won an Antrim Minor medal in 1971 for St. Theresa's GAC.

Kieran took up cycling for a while, following his brother, Michael, in St. Thomas' cycling club. His mother recalls him taking part in a race with a faulty bicycle: "Although the chain came off at least twenty times through the race, he was so stubborn that he finished with a bronze medal."

St. Thomas' cycling club was later decimated by internment. Kieran, his brothers, and many other Andersonstown boys were to end up behind the wire. To such an extent, that Kieran s young brother, Brendan, asked his mother one day in 1975 when it would be his turn to go where all the 'big boys' were kept. Brendan was then six.

In the summer of 1971, Kieran got a job as an apprentice in heating engineering but was laid-off when the firm closed down a few months later. He worked for a while at floor-tiling with his father.


In the meantime, however, internment had burst open the lives of many Andersonstown families. Kieran had never been interested in politics until then: nor had his family ever discussed the political situation in front of him.

Like hundreds of other boys and girls of his age, he was moved by the sight of uprooted families leaving a home in cinders behind them. As all of the evacuees were being catered for in local schools, Kieran and his brothers begged their parents to allow them to go and help. Kieran saw the British army on the streets, his friends and their families harassed. He joined na Fianna Eireann in the autumn of '71.

Kieran proved himself to be an outstanding member of the Fianna. Reliable, quick on the job, he was obviously giving the best of himself to every task assigned him with the aim of being noticed and recruited for the IRA as quickly as was possible.

Even at this early stage of his involvement, he is remembered for his initiative and his discreet ways. Unlike some boys of his age, he never boasted about his activities.

But the British army soon noticed him too and Kieran, his family, and his home, became a target for frequent British army harassment.

On October 6th, 1972, the British army came to arrest Kieran, despite his father's objection that Kieran was under seventeen. The Brits had checked up, they said, and after a heavy house raid they took Kieran away in the middle of the night. His father got him released eventually after waking up the sexton of St. Agnes' chapel and obtaining Kieran's birth certificate.

The Brits were ten days too early.

True to form, on October 16th, the British army were back in force and swamped Kieran's district, waiting for his return from work. But relatives managed to warn him and he was driven over the border to an uncle in Limerick.

He did not much enjoy his enforced exile and, bursting to get back into action, he made his way back to Belfast at the beginning of '73.


A week or so later, he was arrested, taken to Castlereagh, and then interned in Long Kesh where he spent over two years from February '73 to November '75. He was among the last internees released.

Always even-tempered and quiet-spoken he used his time developing his military skills.

In a letter to his mother he wrote: "They might intern all of us, but we will come out fighting."

He made a lot of handicrafts during his two-and-a-half years in captivity.

His parents' home displays a lot of his work, in particular a hand-carved wooden plaque commemorating Dorothy Maguire and Maura Meehan.

On the eve of his birthday in October '74, Long Kesh prison camp was burned. When visits were eventually resumed he did not complain to his parents of brutality but just remarked jokingly on the 'birthday party' he had been given.

He was released from Long Kesh in November '75, as undaunted as he sounded in his letters, and reported back to the IRA immediately. Always eager to operate, he was included in a team of Volunteers from around Rossnareen which gave the British army in Andersonstown many sleepless nights until a wave of arrests in the summer of '76.

As the IRA/British army truce petered out at the beginning of '76, 'Big Doc', as he was known by all, soon had to move out of his parents' house. Raids were a fortnightly occurrence, at least, with furniture wrecked and floorboards lifted.

Mrs. Doherty was tidying up a first-floor bedroom after such a raid when she fell through the carpet, the floor, and partly through the sitting-room ceiling. The Brits had omitted to replace the floorboards. The scar on the ceiling can still be seen.

Many friends who met Kieran after his internment period found him extremely mature for a lad of twenty, not boisterous like most people of his age. He obviously, by then, had thought things out, made a definite choice, and assessed the dangers.

As an operator he was a perfectionist and his comrades recall feeling extremely safe with him. Even in the eventuality of things going wrong they knew Kieran would not give anything away.


He had many narrow escapes.

One night, as he was shifting 'gear' in Andersonstown, he was chased up and down the side streets for over five minutes by two Brit landrovers.

Another time, as he was driving to a night job as security man for a firm, armed, as he often was, he drove into a British army road block.

He calmly took his tie out of his pocket, put it on, tidied himself up, and, winding down the window, shouted: "What's up lads? Let me through, please, I'm going to my work, over there, security staff."

And the British soldiers opened the way for him. 'Big Doc' was welcome in many Andersonstown homes and highly respected by all who knew him.

Families with whom he billeted remember how security conscious he was, staying away for days, using billets in no regular pattern.


Through those months of intense involvement Kieran had little chance to unwind. He mostly liked to go to local clubs for a quiet pint with a few friends.

He also had a reputation as a practical joker. One day he rang a friend from a pub and told him they were wrecking the place, simply to have his friend rush over in his car to pick him up.

In July '76, a few weeks before his arrest, Kieran enjoyed one of the rare holidays he ever had since the arrival of British troops on his local streets. With a few close friends he drove to the South and was able to indulge in his love for outdoor activities, exhausting his friends with long walks and swims.

By that time he had met his girlfriend, Geraldine, the only steady relationship he ever formed during his short period of freedom.

They did not get much of a chance, as Kieran's heavy republican involvement often interfered with their dating and since August '76 they only met for a few minutes once in a while under the gaze of prison warders.


Kieran's comrades-in-arms recall one particular operation, of the many he was involved in, when one Andersonstown Volunteer - Sean McDermott - was shot dead.

Kieran got away and was told to lie low for a few days, but nevertheless he appeared at his comrade's funeral.

Sean McDermott's mother has a photograph of the funeral cortege in which Kieran can be seen, standing on the footpath, sombre, alone, looking on as the coffin is carried to Milltown cemetery.

Sean's death, and the arrest of other comrades involved, hit Kieran very hard.


In August '76, as Kieran and his unit were on a bombing mission, the van in which they were travelling was chased by the RUC near Balmoral Avenue in Belfast.

Kieran got out of the van and commandeered a car, which he left some streets away and walked off.

Meanwhile, the others in the van were cornered, Liam White being captured immediately, and the others, Chris Moran, Terry Kirby and John 'Pickles' Pickering - himself later to embark on hunger-strike - finally giving themselves up when surrounded in a house they had taken over.

The RUC picked Kieran up one-and-a-half miles away from the scene, unarmed.

He was later charged with possession of firearms and explosives and commandeering the car. Forensic tests could not link Kieran to the first two charges, and although it was impossible for the RUC to have spotted him escaping, seventeen months later, at his trial, RUC Constable Bryons perjured himself twice in order to see Kieran locked up.

On remand in Crumlin Road jail he met Francis Hughes and developed a great admiration for him. Friends often speak of the similarities between the two, always defiant, always fighting, born free.

In Crumlin Road, Kieran was often 'on the boards' as punishment for his refusal to acknowledge the warders in any way. He carried this attitude into the H-Blocks after he was sentenced, in January 1978, to eighteen years imprisonment for possession, and four years for commandeering the car.


Kieran joined the blanket protest immediately as did his comrades sentenced with him. He spent all but two weeks of his three years and almost eight months in the H-Blocks, in H4-Block (the temporary spell was in H6), before being moved to the prison hospital during his hunger strike.

Recollections of Kieran's experiences in the H-Blocks give an impression of relentless conflict between himself and the warders, who made him a target both because of his height and because of his stubborn defiance of the prison regime.

On 'appeal' visits he always had to be dragged away, ignoring all calls to end the visit. He never looked a warder in the face when one addressed him and never replied to their orders. He always refused to submit to the anal searches over the mirror before and after visits and was beaten for this.

The worst incident occurred in July '78 when Kieran refused a mirror search before a legal visit. Eight warders jumped on him, one squeezing his testicles until he became unconscious. He received blows to every part of his body and was taken to the prison hospital.

Although people who visited him recall how often he arrived pale or with grazes on his arms or bloodshot eyes, he never complained, brushing their questions off with a shrug: "I'm OK. What's the sceal?"


Although Kieran had not been taught Irish at school, and had no time to learn it, later he became a fluent speaker in the H-Blocks like hundreds of his imprisoned comrades.

Another skill mastered by Kieran, whilst in the H-Blocks, was playing chess - crude chess men were made from scraps of paper and the game was played on a mock board scratched out on the cell floors.

Displayed proudly in his parents' sitting room is an engraved plaque bearing a stunning yet heartbreaking story in eight words: 'Kieran Doherty, 1980 Champion, Ciaran Nugent Chess Shield'.

And, next to it, another shield, again engraved 'Ciaran Nugent Chess Shield', but this time with twelve metal tags, the top of which bears Kieran Doherty's name and '1980', the other eleven still blank. A clue to Kieran's patience and ability, a clue to the blanket men's grim determination to outlast the H-Blocks.


In June of this year, in the Free State general election, Kieran was elected a member of the Leinster House parliament for the Cavan/Monaghan constituency with 9,121 first preference votes - only 303 votes behind the then-sitting Free State Minister of Education.


To a friend who visited him after the first hunger strike, which ended last December, Kieran said: "They (the warders) are really rubbing our noses in it. By God, they will not rub mine!"

Asked whether he would not settle down - after all, with five years done and remission, another six years would soon be over. He replied: "Remission has nothing to do with it. There is much more than that involved."

So he went on hunger strike on Friday, May 22nd, having put his name forward for it long ago, as undaunted and full of fighting spirit as when he roamed free on the streets of Andersonstown.

The coffin of Kieran Doherty being carried by Christina Carney (National H-Block Committee), Elisabeth O'Hara, Goretti McDonnell, and Pauline McElwee.

A child, like hundreds of others a product of British brutality and stupidity in the North, who revealed himself to be an outstanding soldier of the republic.

Kieran was a shy, reserved, easily-embarrassed young man who was single-minded and determined enough to have become, in himself, a condensed history of the liberation of a people.

IRA firing a volley in salute to Kieran Doherty at his funeral.

Published in IRIS, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1981.

Kieran Doherty