The force was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, then British Secretary of State for War. Recruitment began in Great Britain in late 1919. Thousands, many of them British Army veterans of World War I, answered the British government’s call for recruits. Most of the recruits came from Britain, although it also had some members from Ireland.
Their role was to help the RIC maintain control and fight the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the army of the Irish Republic. The nickname “Black and Tans” arose from the colours of the improvised uniforms they initially wore, composed of mixed khaki British Army and black RIC uniform parts. The Black and Tans became known for their attacks on civilians and civilian property.
The Black and Tans were sometimes confused with the Auxiliary Division, a counter-insurgency unit of the RIC made up of former British officers. However, sometimes the term “Black and Tans” is used to cover both of these groups.
— Disclaimer –-
The views and opinions expressed in these documentary are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.
On 21 January 1919, Sinn Féin established themselves as the First Dáil, which then declared an independent Irish Republic. They also declared the Irish Republican Army (IRA) the official army of the state, which in the same month began the Irish War of Independence. The main targets of the IRA offensive were the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the British Army in Ireland.
In September 1919 David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, outlawed the Dáil and augmented the British Army presence in Ireland, starting work on the next Home Rule Act.
A Black and Tan in Dublin, smoking and carrying a Lewis gun, February 1921
In January 1920, the British government started advertising in British cities for men willing to “face a rough and dangerous task”, helping to boost the ranks of the RIC in policing an increasingly anti-British Ireland. There was no shortage of recruits, many of them unemployed First World War army veterans, and by November 1921 about 9,500 men had joined. This sudden influx of men led to a shortage of RIC uniforms, and the new recruits were issued with khaki army uniforms (usually only trousers) and dark green RIC or blue British police surplus tunics, caps and belts.
These uniforms differentiated them from the British Army and the regular RIC, and gave rise to the force’s nickname: Christopher O’Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo on 25 March 1920 that, meeting a group of recruits on a train at Limerick Junction, the attire of one reminded him of the ScarteenHunt, whose “Black and Tans” nickname derived from the colouration of its Kerry Beagles.
Ennis comedian Mike Nono elaborated the joke in Limerick’s Theatre Royal, and the nickname soon took hold, persisting even after the men received full RIC uniforms. The popular Irish claim made at the time that most of the men serving in the Black and Tans had criminal records and had been recruited straight from British prisons is incorrect, as a criminal record would disqualify one from working as a policeman.
The vast majority of the men serving in the Black and Tans were unemployed veterans of the First World War who were having trouble finding jobs, and for most of them it was economic reasons that drove them to join the Temporary Constables.
The new recruits received three months’ hurried training, and were rapidly posted to RIC barracks, mostly in rural County Dublin, Munster and eastern Connacht. The first men arrived on 25 March 1920. The British government also raised another unit, the Auxiliary Division of the constabulary, known as the Auxiliaries or Auxies, consisting of ex-army officers. The Black and Tans aided the Auxiliaries in the British government’s attempts to break both the IRA and the Dáil.
The Blacks and Tans were meant to back up the RIC in the struggle against the IRA, playing a defensive-reactive role whereas the role of the “Auxies” were those of heavily armed, mobile units meant for offensive operations in the Irish countryside intended to hunt down and destroy IRA units. At least part of the infamy of the Blacks and Tans is undeserved as many of the war crimes attributed to the Blacks and Tans were actually the work of the “Auxies”
A group of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries outside the London and North Western Hotel in Dublin following an attack by the IRA, April 1921
Temporary Constables were paid the relatively good wage of 10 shillings (half a pound) a day, plus full board and lodging. With minimal police training, their main role was to increase the strength of police posts, where they functioned as sentries, guards, escorts for government agents, reinforcement to the regular police, and crowd control.
British In Ireland (1916-1920)
They mounted a determined counter-insurgency campaign. They and the Auxies became known as Tudor’s Toughs after the police commander, Major-General Sir Henry Hugh Tudor. They were viewed by republicans as akin to an army of occupation because of these duties. They soon gained a reputation for brutality, as the RIC campaign against the IRA and Sinn Féin members was stepped up and police reprisals for IRA attacks were condoned by the government.
Alexander Will, from Forfar in Scotland, was the first Temporary Constable to die in the conflict. He was killed during an IRA attack on the RIC barracks in Rathmore, County Kerry, on 11 July 1920.
The Black and Tans were not subject to strict discipline in their first months and, as a result, their deaths at the hands of the IRA in 1920 were often repaid with arbitrary reprisals against the civilian population. In the summer of 1920, the Black and Tans burned and sacked many small towns and villages in Ireland, beginning with Tuam in County Galway in July 1920 and also including Trim, Balbriggan, Knockcroghery, Thurles and Templemore amongst many others. In November 1920, the Tans “besieged” Tralee in revenge for the IRA abduction and killing of two local RIC men. They closed all the businesses in the town, let no food in for a week and shot dead three local civilians. On 14 November, the Tans were suspected of abducting and murdering a Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael Griffin, in Galway. His body was found in a bog in Barna a week later.
From October 1920 to July 1921, the Galway region was “remarkable in many ways”, most notably the level of police brutality towards suspected IRA members, which was far above the norm in the rest of Ireland. On the night of 11 December 1920, they sacked Cork, destroying a large part of the city centre.
In January 1921, the British Labour Commission produced a report on the situation in Ireland which was highly critical of the government’s security policy. It said the government, in forming the Black and Tans, had:
The R.I.C. The Forgotten Force
“liberated forces which it is not at present able to dominate”.
However, since 29 December 1920, the British government had sanctioned “official reprisals” in Ireland – usually meaning burning property of IRA men and their suspected sympathisers. Taken together with an increased emphasis on discipline in the RIC, this helped to curb the random atrocities the Black and Tans committed since March 1920 for the remainder of the war, if only because reprisals were now directed from above rather than being the result of a spontaneous desire for revenge.
Many of the activities popularly attributed to the Black and Tans may have been committed by the Auxiliary Division. For instance, Tomás Mac Curtain, the Mayor of Cork, was assassinated in March 1920 by local RIC men under the command of an Inspector General who had been a ‘plague on the local Catholic population’ and the shooting dead of 13 civilians at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday was supposedly carried out by the regular RIC, although a small detachment of Auxiliaries were also present. Most Republicans did not make a distinction, and “Black and Tans” was often used as a catch-all term for all police groups.
Government policy and reaction
The actions of the Black and Tans alienated public opinion in both Ireland and Great Britain. Their violent tactics encouraged the Irish public to increase their covert support of the IRA, while the British public pressed for a move towards a peaceful resolution. Edward Wood MP, better known as the future Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, rejected force and urged the British government to make an offer to the Irish “conceived on the most generous lines”.
“It is not fear of losing more lives that has compelled a reluctant offer from England but it is the shame of any further imposition of agony upon a people that loves liberty above everything else”.
About 7,000 Black and Tans served in Ireland in 1920–22. More than one-third left the service before they were disbanded along with the rest of the RIC in 1922, an extremely high wastage rate, and well over half received government pensions. A total of 404 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary died in the conflict and more than 600 were wounded but it is not clear how many of these were regular RIC men and how many were Black and Tans or Auxiliaries.
Those who returned to civilian life sometimes had problems re-integrating. At least two former Black and Tans were hanged for murder in Britain and another (Scott Cullen) wanted for murder committed suicide before the police could arrest him.
Due to the ferocity of the Tans’ behaviour in Ireland and the numerous war crimes they committed, feelings continue to run high regarding their actions. The term can still stir bad reactions because of their remembered brutality.
The Irish War of Independence is sometimes referred to as the “Tan War” or “Black-and-Tan War.” This term was preferred by those who fought on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil Warand is still used by Republicans today. The “Cogadh na Saoirse” (“War of Independence”) medal, awarded since 1941 by the Irish government to IRA veterans of the War of Independence, bears a ribbon with two vertical stripes in black and tan
UVF snipers then opened fire on the survivors from an abandoned high-rise flat. This began the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London. For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fought gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting took place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster ProtestantSpringmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sat between them.
Seven people were killed in the violence: five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section. Four of the dead were teenagers.
Northern Ireland in the 1960s/1970s Documentary
— Disclaimer –
The views and opinions expressed in this post/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual error
Bombing of Kelly’s Bar
Shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday 13 May 1972, a car bomb exploded without warning outside Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub was in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area and most of its customers were from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub was crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Sixty-three people were injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran (19), who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, died of his injuries on 23 May.
However, locals suspected that the loyalistUlster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources said that IRA volunteers would not have risked storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerged that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.
A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads: “.
” ..here on 13th May 1972 a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded. As a result, 66 people were injured and three innocent members of staff of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives. They were: Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972), John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972), Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989) “
The Gun Battles
Saturday 13 May
The night before the bombing, gunmen from the UVF West Belfast Brigade had taken up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of maisonettes (or flats) at the edge of the Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly Second World War stock, were ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill.
Not long after the explosion, the UVF unit opened fire on those gathered outside the wrecked pub, including those who had been caught in the blast.
A British Army spokesman said that the shooting began at about 5:35 PM, when 30 high-velocity shots were heard. Social Democratic and Labour Party Member of Parliament Gerry Fitt said that shots had been fired from the Springmartin estate only minutes after the bombing. William Whitelaw, however, claimed that the shooting did not begin until 40 minutes after the blast.
Ambulances braved the gunfire to reach the wounded, which included a number of children. Tommy McIlroy (50), a Catholic civilian who worked at Kelly’s Bar, was shot in the chest and killed outright. He was the first to be killed in the violence.
When British troops arrived on the scene, they too were fired upon by IRA units. Corporal Alan Buckley (22) of the 1st Battalion The Kings Regiment was fatally shot by the Provisionals on Whiterock Road.
A platoon of soldiers then gave covering fire while a medical officer tried to help him. Another soldier was also wounded in the gunfight. Following this, 300 members of the Parachute Regiment were sent to back up the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
Over the next few hours there were 35 separate shooting incidents reported, making it the most violent night since the suspension of the Northern Ireland government and imposition of Direct Rule from London earlier that year.
The IRA exchanged fire with both the British Army and with the UVF snipers on the Springmartin flats. Most of the IRA’s fire was aimed at the Henry Taggart Army base—near the Springmartin flats—which was hit by over 400 rounds in the first 14 hours of the battle.
Although most of the republican gunfire came from the Ballymurphy estate, British soldiers also reported shots being fired from the nearby mountain slopes. According to journalist Malachi O’Doherty, a source claimed that the British Army had also fired into Belfast City Cemetery between the Whiterock and Springfield roads.
If you hate the british army clap your hands! – Irish children’s music (Ballymurphy)
Two more people were killed that night. The first was 15-year-old Michael Magee, a member of Fianna Éireann (the IRA youth wing), who was found shot in the chest at New Barnsley Crescent, near his home. He died shortly after he was brought to the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Two men who took him there claimed they were beaten by British soldiers who had just heard of Corporal Buckley’s death. A death notice said that Magee was killed by the British Army but the republican publication Belfast Graves claimed he had been accidentally shot.
The other was a Catholic civilian, Robert McMullan (32), who was shot at New Barnsley Park, also near his home. Witnesses said there was heavy gunfire in the area at 8PM and then:
“a single shot rang out and Robert McMullan fell to the ground”.
It is thought that he was shot by soldiers firing from Henry Taggart base.
On the first night of the battle, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) arrested two young UVF members, Trevor King and William Graham. They were found at a house in Blackmountain Pass trying to fix a rifle that had jammed. During a search of the house, the RUC found three Steyr rifles, ammunition and illuminating flares.
The fighting between the IRA, UVF and British Army resumed the following day. According to the book UVF (1997), British soldiers were moved into the ground floor of the abandoned flats while the UVF snipers continued firing from the flats above them. The soldiers and UVF were both firing into Ballymurphy, and according to the book both were “initially unaware of each other”.
However, according to a UVF gunman involved in the battle, there was collusion between the UVF and British soldiers. He alleged that a British foot patrol caught a UVF unit hiding guns in a bin but ignored their cache with a wink when the UVF member said the guns were “rubbish”.
According to Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald, Jim Hanna — who later became UVF Chief of Staff — was one of the snipers operating from Springmartin during the battle. Jim Hanna told journalist Kevin Myers that, during the clashes, a British Army patrol helped Hanna and two other UVF members get into Corry’s Timber Yard, which overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. When a British Army Major heard of the incident he ordered his men to withdraw, but they did not arrest the UVF members, who were allowed to hold their position. The IRA’s Ballymurphy unit was returning fire at an equal rate and some 400 strike marks were later counted on the flats.
Squaddies on the Frontline – BBC Documentary 2018 – British Army in Northern Ireland
In the Springmartin estate, gunfire killed Protestant teenager John Pedlow (17) and wounded his friend. According to the book Lost Lives, they had been shot by soldiers. His friend said that they had been walking home from a shop when there was a burst of gunfire, which “came from near the Taggart Memorial Army post and seemed to be directed towards Black Mountain Parade”.
However, Malcolm Sutton’s Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland states that he was killed by the IRA. An inquest into Pedlow’s death found that he had been hit by a .303 bullet, which was likely a ricochet. Pedlow was given a loyalist funeral, but police said there was nothing to link him with any “illegal organisation or acts”.
UVF snipers continued to fire from the high-rise flats on the hill at Springmartin Road. About three hours after the shooting of Pedlow, a bullet fatally struck a 13-year-old Catholic girl, Martha Campbell, as she walked along Springhill Avenue.
She was among a group of young girls and a witness said the firing must have been directed at himself and the girls, as nobody else was in the area at the time. Reliable loyalist sources say that the schoolgirl was shot by the UVF.
Shortly afterwards, the loyalist UDA used roadblocks and barricades to seal-off the Woodvale area into a “no-go” zone, controlled by the UDA’s B Company, which was then commanded by former British soldier Davy Fogel.
Belfast 1969 : The Dawn of the Troubles ( Shankill / Falls Rd
The Battle of the Diamond was a planned confrontation between the Catholic Defenders and the Protestant Peep o’ Day Boys that took place on 21 September 1795 near Loughgall, County Armagh, Ireland.
The Peep o’ Day Boys were the victors, killing some 30 Defenders, with no casualties in return. It led to the foundation of the Orange Order and the onset of:
“the Armagh outrages”.
In the 1780s, County Armagh was the most populous county in Ireland, and the centre of its linen industry. Its population was equally split between Protestants, who were dominant north of the county, and Catholics, who were dominant in the south. Sectarian tensions had been increasing throughout the decade and were exacerbated by the relaxing of some of the Penal Laws, failure to enforce others, and the entry of Catholics into the linen industry at a time when land was scarce and wages were decreasing due to pressure from the mechanised cotton industry. This led to fierce competition to rent patches of land near markets.
By 1784, sectarian fighting had broken out between gangs of Protestants and Catholics. The Protestants re-organised themselves as the Peep o’ Day Boys, with the Catholics forming the Defenders. The next decade would see an escalation in the violence between the two and the local population as homes were raided and wrecked
The Diamond, which was a predominantly Protestant area, is a minor crossroads in County Armagh, lying almost half-way between Loughgall and Portadown. For several days groups from both sides had been arriving at the crossroads. The Defenders had made their base on Faughart Hill in the townland of Tullymore, less than a quarter of a mile south-west of The Diamond.
The Peep o’ Day Boys, which historian Connolly states were of the “Orange Boys” faction,encamped on a hill in the townland of Grange More to the north-east.
Word of a planned confrontation appears to have been widespread well before it took place, even being gossiped about by militia-men stationed Dublin and Westport.[
Catholic Bernard Coile, from Lurgan, County Armagh, who had rose to become a merchant in the linen industry, called upon the local two parishes to agree to a non-aggression pact. This appears to have succeeded in regards to the Lurgan area, were no Lurgan men were amongst the combatants. There would also seem to have been adequate time for preparations, with one County Tyrone militia-man sending home a guinea to purchase a musket for the Defenders, and Peep o’ Day Boys scouring Moy, County Tyrone for gunpowder.
The fact word seems to have been so widespread meant that the government could not have been unaware that trouble was stirring.
The Peep o’ Day Boys are cited in three accounts of the battle as possessing Volunteer muskets, with additional weapons provided by local squires. One account, by Charles Teeling, who had given up hopes of being a mediator, stated that on his return to Lisburn, County Down, he saw re-formed Volunteer corps with all of their equipment heading for The Diamond.
The Defenders on the other hand may not all have been armed and possessing lesser quality firearms.
The days before the battle
The numbers had increased so much that by Friday 18 September 1795, a local magistrate, Captain Joseph Atkinson, who lived about a mile north of The Diamond, called for a peace conference between four Protestant landowners and three Catholic priests. A priest accompanying the Defenders persuaded them to seek a truce after a group called the “Bleary Boys” came from County Down to reinforce the Peep o’ Day Boys.
At some point large numbers of Defender reinforcements from counties Londonderry and Tyrone are claimed to have been prevented from crossing the River Blackwater by James Verner and his sons who led a detachment of the North-Mayo militia, based in Dungannon, northwards to seize the boats by the river.
The Defenders failed to await substantial reinforcements from Ballygawley, County Tyrone and Keady, County Armagh, and were starting to become panicked by the situation, being on enemy soil and winter not far away.
The landowners summoned by Atkinson were: Robert Camden Cope, of the grand Loughgall Manor, MP for County Armagh and Lieutenant Colonel of the Armagh Militia; Nicholas Richard Cope and his son Arthur Walter Cope, proprietors of the much smaller Drumilly estate; and James Hardy, the squire of Drumart.
The priests were father’s: Taggart, possibly Arthur Taggart, parish priest of Cookstown, County Tyrone, who was notoriously erratic; McParland, future parish priest of Loughgall from 1799, possibly Arthur McParland; and Trainor. William Blacker claims a leader of the Defenders, “Switcher Donnelly”, was also present. According to Patrick Tohall, there is reason to doubt the sincerity of all the delegates at this peace conference. He claims some may have used it to blindside the genuine peace-makers, with the two armed sides seeing the clash as inevitable.
On Saturday 19 September, the priests who had stayed the night in Atkinson’s house, left apparently satisfied at the outcome. There are conflicting accounts of what happened next. According to Tohall, writing in 1953, the local Catholics had obeyed the priests, and this is evidenced by none of them being counted amongst the eventual combatants. He goes on to state that the priests seemingly failed to go to Faughart Hill and persuade the Defenders. Blacker, who was there on the day of the battle on the Protestant side, however said when he was being questioned by a government Select Committee meeting on the Orange Order on 4 August 1835, that the Defenders had agreed to disperse and that the Peep o’ Day Boys would do likewise.
Later that day there was sporadic shooting, which didn’t trouble Atkinson, and this was followed on Sunday 20 September by overall quietness.
Some Defender reinforcements from County Tyrone however made it to The Diamond and appear to have encouraged their comrades to become:
“determined to fight”
and a decision seems to have been taken that night to advance the next day. Blacker claims:
“a large body of ‘Defenders’ not belonging to the County of Armagh, but assembled from Monaghan, Louth and I believe Cavan and Tyrone came down and were disappointed at finding a truce of this kind made, were determined not to go home without something to repay them for the trouble of their march”.
On the morning of 21 September, the Defenders, numbering around 300, made their way downhill from their base, occupying Dan Winter’s homestead, which lay to the north-west of The Diamond and directly in their line of advance. News of this advance reached the departing Peep o’ Day Boys who quickly reformed at the brow of the hill where they had made their camp. From this position, they gained three crucial advantages: the ability to comfortably rest their muskets, allowing for more accurate shooting; and a steep up-hill location which made it hard for attackers to scale; and a direct line-of-sight to Winter’s cottage which the Defenders made their rallying point.
This has been claimed as showing that the Peep o’ Day Boys had more experienced commanders.
The shooting began again in earnest, and after Atkinson gave his weapon and powder to the Peep o’ Day Boys, he rode to Charlemont Garrison for troops to quell the trouble. There was no effective unit stationed in the garrison at the time, despite the fact a detachment of the North-Mayo Militia was stationed in Dungannon and a detachment of the Queen’s County Militia was at Portadown.
The battle according to Blacker, was short and the Defenders suffered “not less than thirty” deaths. James Verner, whose account of the battle is based on hearsay, gives the total as being nearly thirty, whilst other reports give the figure as being forty-eight, however this may be taking into account those that died afterwards from their wounds.
A large amount of Defenders are also claimed to have been wounded. One of those claimed to have been killed was “McGarry of Whiterock”, the leader of the Defenders. The Peep o’ Day Boys on the other hand in the safety of the well-defended hilltop position suffered no casualties. Blacker praised the Bleary Boys for their prowess in the fight.
200th Anniversary Battle of the Diamond Parade 1995
See also: Orange Order and Peep o’ Day Boys § The Armagh outrages
In the aftermath of the battle, the Peep o’ Day Boys retired to James Sloans inn in Loughgall, and it was here that James Wilson, Dan Winter, and James Sloan would found the Orange Order, a defensive association pledged to defend :
“the King and his heirs so long as he or they support the Protestant Ascendancy”.
The first Orange lodge of this new organisation was established in Dyan, County Tyrone, founding place of the Orange Boys.
One historian claims that the victors saw the battle as:
“a Godly conquest, construed as a sanction for the spoliation of the homes of the Philistines”.
This saw violence directed firstly at the Catholics in the vicinity of The Diamond who had refrained the participating in the battle, before spreading throughout the county and further afield.
The winter of 1795–6, immediately following the battle, saw Protestants drive around 7,000 Catholics out of County Armagh in what became known as “the Armagh outrages”. In a sign that tension over the linen trade was still a burning issue, ‘Wreckers’ continued the Peep o’ Day Boys strategy of smashing looms and tearing webs in Catholic homes to eliminate competition.
This resulted in a reduction in the hotly competitive linen trade which had been in a brief slump. A consequence of this scattering of highly-political Catholics however was a spread of Defenderism throughout Ireland
He was born in 1959 into a working class Catholic, nationalist family in Creggan, Derry to Patrick and Brigid Gilmour. He was the youngest of eleven siblings and grew up as The Troubles began in Derry City in the early 1970s. A cousin, Hugh Gilmour, was shot dead by the British Army on Bloody Sunday, a seminal event in the development of the “Troubles” and a traumatic event witnessed by the 12-year-old Gilmour himself.
His parents were reportedly split over the issue of political violence. He described his father as an “armchair supporter” of the IRA, while his mother was reportedly fiercely opposed to their actions.
Two of Gilmour’s brothers were kneecapped by the IRA for alleged anti-social behaviour.
He was also given a beating by British soldiers at age 13 for petty crime and they attempted to recruit him as an informer.Gilmour left school without sitting for his O Level exams and drifted into crime. When he was 16, he was again in trouble with the authorities, this time for armed robbery.
On remand in Crumlin Road Prison, he was severely beaten by IRA prisoners. It was at this point that he apparently agreed to become an undercover agent for British security forces.
Several months later, he joined the INLA. He chose the INLA over the IRA as a number of his friends were already in the organisation. Gilmour participated in, among other activities, a botched car hijacking in which a friend, Colm McNutt, also an INLA member, was shot dead by an undercover soldier. In 1978, after two years with the INLA as an RUC agent, he left on police instructions. He got married the same year and fathered the first of two children.
BBC NI Spotlight: The Special Branch spy that infiltrated IRA & Sinn Féin.
After an interlude of several months, Gilmour was instructed by his RUC handler to join the IRA. He was offered £200 a week with bonuses for arrests and weapons finds.
The IRA vetted him for several weeks before accepting his application in late 1980. They attached him to an active service unit in the Brandywell area of Derry. Over the following two years, he was involved in many IRA operations, mostly as a getaway driver. Most of these operations were “shoots” or sniping attacks, but on only one occasion, in January 1981, his activities result in the death of a British soldier, who was shot and killed at Castle Gate, near Derry’s city walls.
Gilmour claims that he helped to foil many other IRA attacks, saving the lives of numerous police and soldiers. In November 1981, he was arrested by the RUC, along with two other IRA members, on their way to carry out a shooting attack on riot police, who were combating disturbances arising out of the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Gilmour was sent on remand to Crumlin Road Prison. After a riot that destroyed much of the republican wing there, he was transferred to the Maze Prison.
His RUC handler then applied pressure on the authorities for his release, he was freed on 1 April 1982.
He left the IRA and went into protective custody in August of that year, as he believed that his position in the IRA was about to be discovered after his information led to the capture of an M60 machine gun.
Around 100 IRA and INLA members were then arrested in Derry on his evidence, of whom 35 were charged with terrorist offences.
In November, Gilmour’s father was abducted by the IRA. He was held in secret in an unknown location for almost a year. Gilmour was then sent to Cyprus and then Newcastle by the RUC. The following year, Gilmour gave evidence in a special Diplock Court, jury-less trial against the 35 people he had incriminated. Under the “supergrass” scheme, his was the only evidence available against them.
On December 18, 1984, the presiding judge, Lord Lowry, ruled that Gilmour was not a credible witness. He said he was,
“entirely unworthy of belief … a selfish and self-regarding man, to whose lips a lie comes more naturally than the truth”.
Exile and plea to return home
Since then, Gilmour has been in hiding outside Northern Ireland. He states that of the IRA and INLA members he knew, almost half were dead or missing by the end of the conflict. In 1998, he published a book, Dead Ground; Infiltrating the IRA, telling of his experiences.
In 2007, Gilmour publicly voiced his desire to return home to Derry, asking Martin McGuinness for assurances of his safety. He also revealed that he had a heart complaint and was an alcoholic. McGuinness said Gilmour must decide for himself whether or not it was safe to return to Derry and that he was not under threat from Sinn Féin, nor – he believes – from the IRA.
McGuinness stated that if de facto exiles such as Gilmour wanted to return home, it was a matter for their own judgment and their ability to make peace with the community.
Gilmour’s former RUC handler advised him not to return, citing the 2006 murder in Glenties, County Donegal, of Denis Donaldson, a high-ranking Sinn Féin politician and activist who was revealed to have been a long-term informer.
In April 2014, Gilmour’s second book What Price Truth was published; in the book Gilmour goes into greater detail about his life within the IRA and INLA.
On 29 October 2016 Gilmour was found dead in his flat in Kent, where he had been lying abandoned and alone, for up to a week. He was reportedly an alcoholic with serious psychological problems, and died from natural causes
The battle was the decisive encounter in a war that was primarily about James’s attempt to regain the thrones of England and Scotland, resulting from the Invitation to William and William’s wife, Mary, to take the throne. It is regarded as a crucial moment in the struggle between Irish Protestant and Catholic interests.
The previous year William had sent the Duke of Schomberg to take charge of the Irish campaign. He was a 75-year-old professional soldier who had accompanied William during the Glorious Revolution. Under his command, affairs had remained static and very little had been accomplished, partly because the English troops, unaccustomed to the climate, suffered severely from fever. William, dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Ireland, decided to take charge in person.
In an Irish context, the war was a sectarian and ethnic conflict, in many ways a re-run of the Irish Confederate Wars of 50 years earlier. For the Jacobites, the war was fought for Irish sovereignty, religious tolerance for Catholicism, and land ownership. The Catholic upper classes had lost almost all their lands after Cromwell’s conquest, as well as the right to hold public office, practice their religion, and sit in the Irish Parliament. They saw the Catholic King James as a means of redressing these grievances and securing the autonomy of Ireland from England. To these ends, under Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnel, they had raised an army to restore James after the Glorious Revolution. By 1690, they controlled all of Ireland except for the province of Ulster. Most of James II’s troops at the Boyne were Irish Catholics.
The majority of Irish people were Jacobites and supported James II due to his 1687 Declaration of Indulgence or, as it is also known, the Declaration for the Liberty of Conscience, that granted religious freedom to all denominations in England and Scotland and also due to James II’s promise to the Irish Parliament of an eventual right to self-determination.
Conversely, for the Williamites, the war was about maintaining Protestant and English rule in Ireland. They feared for their lives and their property if James and his Catholic supporters were to rule Ireland, nor did they trust the promise of tolerance, seeing the Declaration of Indulgence as a ploy to re-establish Catholicism as the sole state religion. In particular, they dreaded a repeat of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, which had been marked by widespread killing. For these reasons, Protestants fought en masse for William of Orange. Many Williamite troops at the Boyne, including their very effective irregular cavalry, were Ulster Protestants, who called themselves “Inniskillingers” and were referred to by contemporaries as “Scots-Irish“.
Ironically, historian Derek Brown notes that if the battle is seen as part of the War of the Grand Alliance, Pope Alexander VIII was an ally of William and an enemy to James; the Papal States were part of the Grand Alliance with a shared hostility to the Catholic Louis XIV of France, who at the time was attempting to establish dominance in Europe and to whom James was an ally.
The opposing armies in the battle were led by the Roman Catholic King James II of England, Scotland, and Ireland and opposing him, his nephew and son-in-law, the Protestant King William III (“William of Orange”) who had deposed James the previous year. James’s supporters controlled much of Ireland and the Irish Parliament. James also enjoyed the support of his cousin, Louis XIV, who did not want to see a hostile monarch on the throne of England. Louis sent 6,000 French troops to Ireland to support the Irish Jacobites. William was already Stadtholder of the Netherlands and was able to call on Dutch and allied troops from Europe as well as England and Scotland.
James was a seasoned officer who had proven his bravery when fighting for his brother – King Charles II – in Europe, notably at the Battle of the Dunes (1658). However, recent historians have noted that he was prone to panicking under pressure and making rash decisions, possibly due to the onset of the dementia which would overtake him completely in later years. William, although a seasoned commander, was hardly one of history’s great generals and had yet to win a major battle.
Many of his battles ended in stalemates, prompting at least one modern historian to argue that William lacked an ability to manage armies in the thick of conflict. William’s success against the French had been reliant upon tactical manoeuvres and good diplomacy rather than force. His diplomacy had assembled the League of Augsburg, a multi-national coalition formed to resist French aggression in Europe. From William’s point of view, his takeover of power in England and the ensuing campaign in Ireland was just another front in the war against King Louis XIV.
The Williamite army at the Boyne was about 36,000 strong, composed of troops from many countries. Around 20,000 troops had been in Ireland since 1689, commanded by Schomberg. William himself arrived with another 16,000 in June 1690. William’s troops were generally far better trained and equipped than James’s. The best Williamite infantry were from Denmark and the Netherlands, professional soldiers equipped with the latest flintlock muskets. There was also a large contingent of French Huguenot troops fighting with the Williamites. William did not have a high opinion of his English and Scottish troops, with the exception of the Ulster Protestant irregulars who had held Ulster in the previous year. The English and Scottish troops were felt to be politically unreliable, since James had been their legitimate monarch up to a year before. Moreover, they had only been raised recently and had seen little battle action.
The Jacobites were 23,500 strong. James had several regiments of French troops, but most of his manpower was provided by Irish Catholics. The Jacobites’ Irish cavalry, who were recruited from among the dispossessed Irish gentry, proved themselves to be high calibre troops during the course of the battle. However, the Irish infantry, predominantly peasants who had been pressed into service, were not trained soldiers. They had been hastily trained, poorly equipped, and only a minority of them had functional muskets. In fact, some of them carried only farm implements such as scythes at the Boyne. On top of that, the Jacobite infantry who actually had firearms were all equipped with the obsolete matchlock musket.
William had landed in Carrickfergus in Ulster on 14 June 1690 and marched south to take Dublin. He was heard to remark that ‘the place was worth fighting for’. James chose to place his line of defense on the River Boyne, around 30 miles (48 km) from Dublin. The Williamites reached the Boyne on 29 June. The day before the battle, William himself had a narrow escape when he was wounded in the shoulder by Jacobite artillery while surveying the fords over which his troops would cross the Boyne.
The battle itself was fought on 1 July OS (11th NS), for control of a ford on the Boyne near Drogheda, about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) northwest of the hamlet of Oldbridge (and about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 mi) west-northwest of the modern Boyne River Bridge). William sent about a quarter of his men to cross the river at Roughgrange, about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) west of Donore and about 6 miles (9.7 km) southwest of Oldbridge. The Duke of Schomberg’s son, Meinhardt, led this crossing, which Irish dragoons in picquet under Neil O’Neill unsuccessfully opposed. James, an inexperienced general, thought that he might be outflanked and sent half his troops, along with most of his artillery, to counter this move. What neither side had realised was that there was a deep, swampy ravine at Roughgrange. Because of this ravine, the opposing forces there could not engage each other, but literally sat out the battle. The Williamite forces went on a long detour march which, later in the day, almost saw them cut off the Jacobite retreat at the village of Naul.
At the main ford near Oldbridge, William’s infantry, led by the elite Dutch Blue Guards, forced their way across the river, using their superior firepower to slowly drive back the enemy foot soldiers, but were pinned down when the Jacobite cavalry counter-attacked. Having secured the village of Oldbridge, some Williamite infantry tried to hold off successive cavalry attacks with disciplined volley fire, but were scattered and driven into the river, with the exception of the Blue Guards. William’s second-in-command, the Duke of Schomberg, and George Walker were killed in this phase of the battle. The Williamites were not able to resume their advance until their own horsemen managed to cross the river and, after being badly mauled, managed to hold off the Jacobite cavalry until they retired and regrouped at Donore, where they once again put up stiff resistance before retiring.
The Jacobites retired in good order. William had a chance to trap them as they retreated across the River Nanny at Duleek, but his troops were held up by a successful rear-guard action. The Dutch secretary of King William, Constantijn Huygens Jr., has given a good description (in Dutch) of the battle and its aftermath, including subsequent cruelties committed by the victorious soldiers.
The casualty figures of the battle were quite low for a battle of such a scale—of the 50,000 or so participants, about 2,000 died. Three-quarters of the dead were Jacobites. William’s army had far more wounded. At the time, most casualties of battles tended to be inflicted in the pursuit of an already-beaten enemy; this did not happen at the Boyne, as the counter-attacks of the skilled Jacobite cavalry screened the retreat of the rest of their army, and in addition William was always disinclined to endanger the person of James, since he was the father of his wife, Mary. The Jacobites were badly demoralised by the order to retreat, which lost them the battle. Many of the Irish infantrymen deserted. The Williamites triumphantly marched into Dublin two days after the battle. The Jacobite army abandoned the city and marched to Limerick, behind the River Shannon, where they were unsuccessfully besieged.
Soon after the battle William issued the Declaration of Finglas, offering full pardons to ordinary Jacobite soldiers but not to their leaders. After his defeat, James did not stay in Dublin, but rode with a small escort to Duncannon and returned to exile in France, even though his army left the field relatively unscathed. James’s loss of nerve and speedy exit from the battlefield enraged his Irish supporters, who fought on until the Treaty of Limerick in 1691; he was derisively nicknamed Seamus a’ chaca (“James the shit”) in Irish.
There is an oral tradition stating that no battle took place at all, that a symbolic victory was shown by the crossing of the River Boyne and that the total fatalities were a result of Williamite cavalry attacking the local able-bodied men.
It is well documented that Williams’ horse on that day was black, despite all Orange Order murals depicting it as white with William holding his sword between the horse’s ears to make it resemble a unicorn as a symbol of his “Saviour” status. Depictions of William have been strongly influenced by Benjamin West‘s 1778 painting The Battle of the Boyne.
The battle was overshadowed by the defeat of an Anglo-Dutch fleet by the French two days later at the Battle of Beachy Head, a far more serious event in the short term; only on the continent was the Boyne treated as an important victory. Its importance lay in the fact that it was the first proper victory for the League of Augsburg, the first-ever alliance between the Vatican and Protestant countries. The victory motivated more nations to join the alliance and in effect ended the fear of a French conquest of Europe.
The Boyne also had strategic significance for both England and Ireland. It marked the end of James’s hope of regaining his throne by military means and probably assured the triumph of the Glorious Revolution. In Scotland, news of this defeat temporarily silenced the Highlanders supporting the Jacobite Rising, which Bonnie Dundee had led. In Ireland, the Boyne fully assured the Jacobites that they could successfully resist William. But it was a general victory for William, and is still celebrated by the Protestant Orange Order on the Twelfth of July. Ironically, due to the political situation mentioned above, the Pope also hailed the victory of William at the Boyne, ordered the bells of the Vatican to be rung in celebration.
Some Irish Catholics who were taken prisoner after the battle were tortured until they agreed to convert to Protestantism.
The Treaty of Limerick was very generous to Catholics. It allowed most land owners to keep their land so long as they swore allegiance to William of Orange. It also said that James could take a certain number of his soldiers and go back to France. However, Protestants in England were annoyed with this kind treatment towards the Catholics, especially when they were gaining strength and money. Because of this, penal laws were introduced. These laws included banning Catholics from owning weapons, reducing their land, and prohibiting them from working in the legal profession.
River Boyne, west of Drogheda, today
View of the commemorative obelisk, prior to 1883. It was destroyed in 1923.
Medal Struck to Commemorate the Battle of the Boyne (Robert Chambers, p.8, July 1832)
Originally, Irish Protestants commemorated the Battle of Aughrim on 12 July (old style, equivalent to 22 July new style), symbolising their victory in the Williamite war in Ireland. At Aughrim, which took place a year after the Boyne, the Jacobite army was destroyed, deciding the war in the Williamites’ favour. The Boyne, which, in the old Julian calendar, took place on 1 July, was treated as less important, third after Aughrim and the anniversary of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 on 23 October.
In 1752, the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Ireland, which erroneously placed the Boyne on 12 July instead of Aughrim (the correct equivalent date was 11 July, as the difference between the calendars for the year in question, 1690, was not 11 days but only 10 days). However, even after this date, “The Twelfth” still commemorated Aughrim.[clarification needed] But after the Orange Order was founded in 1795 amid sectarian violence in Armagh[further explanation needed], the focus of parades on 12 July switched to the Battle of the Boyne.[further explanation needed] Usually the dates before the introduction of the calendar on 14 September 1752 are mapped in English language histories directly onto the Julian dates without shifting them by 10 or 11 days.
Being suspicious of anything with Papist connotations, however, rather than shift the anniversary of the Boyne to the new 1 July[clarification needed] or celebrate the new anniversary of Aughrim, the Orangemen continued to march on 12 July which was (erroneously) thought to have marked the battle of the Boyne in New Style dates.[clarification needed] Despite this, there are also smaller parades and demonstrations on 1 July, the date which maps the old style date of the Boyne to the new style in the usual manner and which also commemorate the heavy losses of the 36th (Ulster) Division on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
The memory of the battle also has resonance among Irish nationalists. In 1923, IRA members blew up a large monument to the battle on the battlefield site on the Boyne and destroyed a statue of William III in 1929 that stood outside Trinity College, Dublin in the centre of the Irish capital.
Twelfth in Northern Ireland 2013 (BBC Documentary)
The Battle of the Boyne remains a controversial topic today in Northern Ireland, where some Protestants remember it as the great victory over Catholics that resulted in the sovereignty of Parliament and the Protestant monarchy.
In recent decades, “The Twelfth” has often been marked by confrontations, as members of the Orange Order attempt to celebrate the date by marching past or through what they see as their traditional route. Some of these areas, however, now have a nationalist majority who object to marches passing through what they see as their areas.
Each side thus dresses up the disputes in terms of the other’s alleged attempts to repress them; Nationalists still see Orange Order marches as provocative attempts to “show who is boss”, whilst Unionists insist that they have a right to “walk the Queen’s highway”. Since the start of The Troubles, the celebrations of the battle have been seen as playing a critical role in the awareness of those involved in the unionist/nationalist tensions in Northern Ireland.
The battlefield today
The site of the Battle of the Boyne sprawls over a wide area west of the town of Drogheda. In the County Development Plan for 2000, Meath County Council rezoned the land at the eastern edge of Oldbridge, at the site of the main Williamite crossing, to residential status. A subsequent planning application for a development of over 700 houses was granted by Meath County Council and this was appealed by local historians to An Bord Pleanala (The Planning Board). In March 2008 after an extremely long appeal process, An Bord Pleanala approved permission for this development to proceed. However, due to the current economic climate in Ireland, no work has yet started on this development.
The current Interpretive Centre dedicated to informing tourists and other visitors about the battle is about 1-mile (1.6 km) to the west of the main crossing point. This facility was redeveloped in 2008 and is now open for tourists. The battle’s other main combat areas (at Duleek, Donore and Plattin – along the Jacobite line of retreat) are marked with tourist information signs.
On 4 April 2007 in a sign of improving relations between unionist and nationalist groups, the newly elected First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Reverend Ian Paisley, was invited to visit the battle site by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern later in the year. Following the invitation, Paisley commented that “such a visit would help to demonstrate how far we have come when we can celebrate and learn from the past so the next generation more clearly understands”. On 10 May the visit took place, and Paisley presented the Taoiseach with a Jacobite musket in return for Ahern’s gift at the St Andrews talks of a walnut bowl made from a tree from the site. A new tree was also planted in the grounds of Oldbridge House by the two politicians to mark the occasion.
Like the vast majority of Protestants in Northern Ireland apart from my Birthday, Christmas and our family holiday to Ballyferris, the 12th of July was the biggest and most important day of the year. In 1663 the Protestant King Billy defeated the Catholic King James at the Battle of Boyne and changed the course of Irish history forever. Three hundred years later on the 12th of July every year Northern Ireland came to a standstill as the Protestant majority took to the streets and celebrated the most sacred day in the Protestant calendar. As a child I loved the whole 12th experience and counted the days down until the great day arrived. For weeks before the 12th all the children, with the help of adults would gather all sorts of burnable material for the bonfire that would be lit the night before, to signal the beginning of the celebrations. After school we would rush home, have something to eat and head of in the hunt for wood and whatever else we could find that would burn. Sometimes there would be dozens of us going back and forth to the gel carrying whatever we could find and placing it on the ever growing bonfire in the middle of the square. In Glencairn alone there would be about five or six bonfires and it was always very competitive to see which area could collect the most wood and have the biggest bonfire. Competition between the various parts of the estate were fierce and as the eleventh grew closer, the older boys would be allowed to stay out all night with suitable adults and guard the wood from raids from those at the top or bottom of the estate. As the day grew closer, the excitement was almost tangible and in the early evening sunshine we would gather around the ever-growing tower of wood and play until darkness. There was always a hunt, the command centre and if we were lucky the older boys would let us go inside and wait until they returned from another hunt for wood. One day when there was only myself and a few of the other younger children guarding the wood , the boys from the top of the estate came charging through the square in a bare faced raid on our precious wood. There were only about five of us and there was about fifteen of them and they were all older than us and there was little we could do but stand by and watch as they made off with their precious bounty. Taking control I told David to run as fast as he could and find the rest of our gang. Picking up stones from the ground I began pelting the enemy with missiles. The others soon joined in and before long the enemy had to duck and hide as we threw everything we could find at them. But we were well out numbered and it was only a matter of time before they had over powered us and decided to take me prisoner, as I seemed to be in charge.
Panic and terror washed over me as I was lead away to the enemy camp at the top of the estate. To add insult to injury a boy named Y forced me to help him carry a door stolen from our bonfire. I was threatened with a dig in the face if I tried to run away or do anything stupid, so I decided self preservation was the best course of action and was a model prisoner. As we marched in single file towards the top of the estate and the enemy bonfire, I wondered with dread what fate awaited me when we arrived there. A few weeks before John Jackson had also been captured in a raid and when he was finally set free he had a black eye and a busted lip. As I marched on all sorts of thoughts of pain and torture were going through my mind, when suddenly I heard the sound of running feet and raised voices. As I turned I was delighted to see my brother and about ten of our gang running towards us. Panic set into the enemy as they realized what was happening and some of them dropped what they were carrying and fled. Before I knew what was happening my rescuers had caught up with us and a massive fight broke out between the two warring sides. I dropped my end of the door I was carrying and jumped on Y terrorising him with a blood curdling scream that rose from deep within me. I was free! The noise was deafening as the two sides fought a running battle, but reinforcements had arrived from our gang and before long we had beaten the enemy into retreat. When they had all fled, we gathered up our stolen wood and sang as we made our way back to our camp.
I was a hero and that night guarding the bonfire I wallowed as all those present praised my heroic deeds of the day and I now had access to the hut whenever I liked.
As the great day drew closer our house was always in a state of complete chaos. Dad was busy making sure everything was ready for the bands biggest and most important march of the year. There were over forty people in the band and they all had to have uniforms that fitted perfectly and instruments that were at the peak of their working year. While dad got on with that, Granny took us down town and rigged us out with new clothes and shoes for the big day. Image was everything and regardless of how scruffy and dirty we looked the rest of the year, on the 12th of July we would be immaculately turned out. Granny had an old friend called Isaac who lived in Ballysillan and although he was half blind, deaf and always drunk, he had in his day been a competent barber and Granny saw no reason not to continue sending me and David over to Isaac whenever a hair cut was in order, even though he had been retired for over thirty years. Besides he only charged £1.50 and as money was always tight it made perfect sense. Unfortunately for us he would give us a cut that would have shamed a corpse and eventually I came up with the idea that we should cut each other’s hair and pocket the money for ourselves.
These plans went well for a few months until one-day granny give us the money to go and get our hairs cut. When we got back, Granny was stood by the door waiting for us, which was most unusual and asked us had Isaac cut our hair? When we answered yes, she asked us how he was. By now we were both starting to get a bit suspicious and nervously answered ok. How were we to know that he had died the night before from a sudden heart attached and was now in the morgue having the final hair cut of his life. Needless to say Granny went ape and we got a good thumping for the lies. From that day on Granny personally escorted us to the barbers and watched with a critical eye as we had our hairs cut.
The Sash my Father Wore
SHANKILL PROTESTANT BOYS FLUTE BAND, SINGING THE SASH
Growing up in loyalist Belfast every child knew the words to the Sash and it was our national anthem.
So sure l’m an Ulster Orangeman, from Erin’s isle I came,
To see my British brethren all of honour and of fame,
And to tell them of my forefathers who fought in days of yore,
That I might have the right to wear, the sash my father wore!
It is old but it is beautiful, and its colours they are fine
It was worn at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne.
My father wore it as a youth in bygone days of yore,
And on the Twelfth I love to wear the sash my father wore.
For those brave men who crossed the Boyne have not fought or died in vain
Our Unity, Religion, Laws, and Freedom to maintain,
If the call should come we’ll follow the drum, and cross that river once more
That tomorrow’s Ulsterman may wear the sash my father wore!
And when some day, across the sea to Antrim’s shore you come,
We’ll welcome you in royal style, to the sound of flute and drum
And Ulster’s hills shall echo still, from Rathlin to Dromore
As we sing again the loyal strain of the sash my father wore!
As the 12th grew closer and closer there was always an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation whilst everyone counted the days down. The various bonfires were now mountains of burnable material that towered high above the houses and flats that surrounded the area. Apart from the hundreds of bands and orange lodge’s from Northern Ireland that would be marching on the day, dozen’s more would travel over from Scotland, Mainland England and as far afield as Canada & Australia. This was the most sacred day in the Loyalist calendar. Loyalist’s from across the world would make the pilgrimage back to Northern Ireland to celebrate their culture and age old traditions. Even at nine years old I felt a tremendous sense of pride and loyalty and passion at the Protestant culture and traditions that governed my daily life in Loyalist West Belfast. I was no different from any other child from a working class Protestant family in Northern Ireland. Although unlike my peers I had a secret Catholic mother.
Like all other Loyalist areas of Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland Glencairn was awash with Loyalist flags, red, white and blue bunting, murals and countless houses had Union Jacks and Red Hand of Ulster flag’s flying proudly from the front. As the twelfth of July approached this visual proclamation of Protestant pride took on a new meaning and the paving stones would be painted red, white and blue whilst almost every house in the estate flew a Loyalist or Protestant flag of some description. As a child this added to the sense of excitement for me and I took this as a sign of the glorious party that everyone would take part in to celebrate the twelfth.
When the 11th of July finally arrived Granny would come round to our house first thing and sort dad and us all out and make sure we had enough food to see us over the holiday period. We would be almost bursting with excitement and as soon as breakfast was over, David, Shep and I were out the door and heading towards the bonfire, where we would meet up with our mates and spend the day collecting last minute material for the fire and generally playing around. As evening approached adults would gradually start to gather around the bonfire and the celebrations would get in to full swing. Loud Loyalist music would be blaring from various houses around the square and as the night wore on more and more people would gather and the whole square came alive with the sound of laughter and people enjoying themselves. Everybody took part in the celebrations and the whole community mucked in to make sure the occasion was really special and a night to remember. Local women would prepare loads and loads of food for the party and this would be distributed throughout the day to anyone who needed a bite to eat. As the evening wore on the music got louder, the adults would become very loud and funny as the drink kicked in and as darkness engulfed Belfast the time to light the children’s bonfire would arrive. Finally when everyone was in place, to cries of delight from the gathered crowds, an Effie of the pope was placed on the top of the bonfire. On this night more than any other, the two communities of Northern Ireland were divided more than ever, as the Protestant majority noisily celebrated its supremacy over the Catholic minority. Surrounded by all my family and friends I watched in awe as the bonfire was lit and the flames, slowly at first, then faster licked their way up towards the top and the pope. As the flames grew higher and higher and finally reached the pope and engulfed him in flames, screams of joy rang out through the summer’s nights and echoed around the estate and Protestant Northern Ireland. Shouts of encouragement egged the flames on until finally the pope disintegrated in front of our eyes and we all took great joy from the fact the he was obviously suffering a terrible death.
As grew older & wiser my hatred of the Pope and all things Catholic diminished ,but my hatred of Republicans & The IRA is as strong today as it was when I was a Child. I blamed them for the misery & slaughter they unleased in their quest for a United Ireland and the 1000’s of innocent victims now in too early graves.
We had killed and burned to cinders the father of the hated Catholic Church and her people and we sang and yelled with pleasure as the ritual the stirred in us. As the fire burned the crackle of the wood and the spit of the flames filled the air and children would dance round the fire, laughing and singing with the adults until it was time for bed. Eventually Granny would come and find David, Shep and me and bring us home in protest to bed. As soon as we were settled down she would go out into the square again and David and I would climb out of bed and watch from our bedroom window, the antics of the drunken adults as they sang and danced the night away around the burning bonfire.
First thing next morning Granny would be round at the crack of dawn and yell for us to get up as she busied herself making everyone a full Ulster Fry and getting us ready. Before long the house was in complete chaos as Granny washed and fed us and made sure we were smartly turned out for the day. As the morning wore on members of the band would arrive for last minute preparation and before long the whole street was out and about, as the band nervously got in a few last minutes of practice. At about eight thirty the whole band would start to gather outside the shops and take up their places. By now the route out of the estate was lined with hundreds of people, regardless of age or hangovers, who had come to see them off. When everyone was in place dad took up his position at the right of the procession and after one last check shouted, “March” and they would strike up a tune and begin to march. Every year a loyal crowd of followers would fall in beside them and accompany them on the 26 mile march to the field. Much to my annoyance I was too young to be allowed to go with them and I longed for the day when I would be old enough. As we stood on the kerb watching them go my heart was full of pride as I watched dad in his uniform lead them down the Road and out of the estate. When they were out of sight we would all travel down to Ormeau Road, where hundreds of bands and Orange men would meet before making their way to the field. Tens of thousands lined the route and as a child it seemed to me the whole world had gathered to celebrate with 12th of July. Our family always sat outside the garage on the lower Ormeau road and watched as hundred of bands, of all shapes and colours, lead thousands of bowler hatted Orangemen and women to the field.
Throughout Northern Ireland dozens of similar parades were taking place, but the march in Belfast was always by far the biggest and the most important of the day. We watched with mounting excitement as various bands passed and waited with baited breath for dad’s band to come into view, so we could cheer them on.
Each band would be attached to an Orange lodge that marched in front of them all the way to the field. They all had a unique uniform that extinguished them from the other bands marching. The hardcore Loyalist and paramilitary flute bands always got the loudest cheers and when a talented leader came into view everyone watched with nervous anticipation as he done various tricks with his pole, flinging it high into the sky, before catching it on the way down and immediately throwing it over his neck or under his legs before going into an routine.. Although dad’s band was an accordion band and we all took great pride in them being part of the parade, the flute and hardcore Loyalist bands were the crowds favourite and when they played a familiar tune huge cheers arose from the gathered crowd and people would join in and sing a long at the top of their voices until the band passed and another came into view. I always loved the sound of the Lambeg drums as they made their way to where we were standing and their mournful tunes drifted far over our heads and echoed through the streets of Belfast, as a warning to the Catholic people that today was our day and we were the masters of Northern Ireland. A sea of colour washed past as band after band marched by us on their way to the field. Apart from local and famous flute bands getting the loudest cheers , bands from the Shankill Road brought the loudest cheers of encouragement and joy , these were our people, come to our shore to support us in our never ending war against the IRA and Catholic people and we made sure they knew we appreciated their commitment. When dad’s band finally came into sight a huge cheer rang out from all of us and those among the spectators from Glencairn and the surrounding areas. As they passed us we would call dad’s name and when he and the other’s from the band noticed us they would all turn and salute us as they marched past. I almost burst with pride as I watched them move off and disappear in to the distance and always regretted that I was not going with them. The parade took about two hours to pass us and when it was all over, Granny would take us home. Exhausted from shouting and singing after dinner we would while away the time until 17:30, when we would go back to town to cheer them on their homeward journey from the field. When it was all over there would always be lots of parties in the estate as we clung desperately to the day and never wanted it to end. By the time we eventually got to bed I would be counting down the days until next year and the time I was old enough to take part in the parade and go all the way to the mystical field with dad and the rest of the band. Sleep came easily and I dreamt I was the leader of one of the more famous bands and the best leader in the whole wide world.
Every year on the 13th July the entire Chambers clan, aunties, uncles, grandparents, cousin’s, close friends and an assortment of animals would descend on Ballyferris Caravan Park to start the annual holidays. Ballyferris is a small seaside town on the east coast of County Down and like all other aspects of our life it was a Protestant town and a favourite destination for Protestants throughout Belfast and the Shankill road area. It was like a home from home and we all loved and looked forward to our yearly visits there. In the early years we never had a car and would travel down on the bus or train, depending on how much money we had. We must have looked like a Sunday school outing as 9 adults shepherded over a dozen kids through the centre of Belfast towards the train or bus station. When we finally arrived in Ballyferris we would all help unpack the luggage and settle into various caravans that stood side by side looking out towards the sea. There were that many of us that it must have looked as though we had taken over the whole caravan site and the other children always sought us out as they wanted to become part of our massive gang. There was a huge green in the centre of the site and at every opportunity two teams were rustled together and a football match would get under way. I used to love it if I got picked to play on the same side as dad and other members of the family and the rest of the family cheered on from the touchline. I dreamt that I was George Best, playing for Manchester United. When we weren’t playing football or flying our kites David, wee Sam , Pickle and me would go down to the beach in search of crabs and other sea life and if they were lucky to survive being captured , we would bring them up to the green and race them for packets of sweets and crisps etc. Once wee Sam and I got separated from the other as we climbed further and further over the rocks until we were right by the sea’s edge. We lost all sense of time as we cast our crab lines out as far as possible in our quest to catch the biggest crab. Gradually it started to rain and as it began to fall heavier and heavier we decided to pack up and head back to the caravan with our bucket of nervous crabs. As we turned to leave we noticed with mounting panic that the tide had come in and we were completely surrounded by the rising sea water. Our frantic cries finally caught the attention of a man walking his dog on the beach and before long the whole family and most of the other people staying at the caravan site were gathered at the edge of the water telling us not to move and the coastguards were on their way. Panic turned to excitement as a dot appeared in the distance sea and the coast boat came slowly into view. Wee Sam and I were pleased as punch as the boat drew up and the coastguard helped us into the boat. As the boat made its way to the beach we waved like royalty to the gathered crowds on the beachfront. Sadly our joy was short lived as when we arrived on the beach we got a severe ticking off from our parents and any other adult who felt like having a go. Not that we let this spoil our new found fame and at every opportunity for the rest of the holiday we boasted to our peers about our daring rescue by the coast guard from the jaws of certain death.
In the evening if the weather was good we would all gather as much food and drink as we could carry and go down to the beach to have a BBQ or picnic. We would collect wood from the beach and before long we would have a fire going and cook baked potatoes and roast sausages round the edge. As darkness rolled in we would sit around the fire singing Loyalist song and telling stories and before long I would fall asleep on dad’s knee and the next thing I knew I was waking up the next morning, in the caravan to the sounds and smells of Granny making breakfast. The best part of the whole holiday for me and the other children was when we would all be gathered up and went to Millisle , a seaside town about two miles away with a huge funfair. Sometime’s when the weather was really good we would walk to Millisle along the beach front and as it came into view we would race over the sand dunes in a scramble to see who could get there first. The day would be spent going from one ride to another and although I loved it all, I enjoyed the dodgem cars best of all and I drove like a kamikaze pilot as I crashed into dad and anyone else I could catch. Dad always seemed to enjoy our time at the funfair and he took part in loads of different games until he had won us all a present of some description. After exhausting ourselves on the rides we would join our grandparents and others on the beach for a picnic and if we were really lucky we were treated to fish and chips from one of the many chippies along the seas front. After dinner dad and his brothers would go for a pint in one of the local bars and we kids would amuse ourselves by burying each other in the sand and paddling by the water’s edge. It was always with great sadness for me when these days came to an end and I would feel heartbroken as we packed up our things for the bus back to the caravan site. I never wanted these holidays to end and when the day came that we would be travelling back to Belfast I would take long walks along the beach and through the caravan site and considered hiding until everyone else had left and I could stay there forever. Dad and the others were used to my wander lust and a search party was soon despatched to find me and bring me back into the fold. As the bus pulled away from the caravan site, taking us home, I fought to hold back my tears as I said a silent goodbye to Ballyferris and the bright lights of the fun fair.
Years later as a teenager, with my life in tatters and on the brink of suicide, I ran away from home and ended up back in Ballyferris. But this time I was all alone and it was mid winter, snowing, freezing cold and the funfair was in complete darkness. And my beloved father was dead.
The views and opinions expressed in this documentary and page are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland.
They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors
The Military Reaction Force, Military Reconnaissance Force or Mobile Reconnaissance Force (MRF)was a covert intelligence-gathering and counter-insurgency unit of the British Army active in Northern Ireland, during the Troubles/Operation Banner. The unit was formed during the summer of 1971 and operated until late 1972 or early 1973. MRF teams operated in plain-clothes and civilian vehicles, equipped with pistols and sub-machine guns.
They were nominally tasked with tracking down and arresting, or killing, suspected members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The MRF also ran double agents within the paramilitary groups and ran a number of front companies to gather intelligence. In October 1972, the Provisional IRA uncovered and attacked two of the MRF’s front companies—a mobile laundry service and a massage parlour—which contributed to the unit’s dissolution. One former member of the unit has described it as a “legalised death squad“.
The MRF was established in the summer of 1971. It appears to have its origins in ideas and techniques developed by British Army Brigadier Sir Frank Kitson, who had created “counter gangs” to defeat the Mau Mau in Kenya. He was the author of two books on counter-insurgency tactics: Gangs & Counter Gangs (1960) and Low Intensity Operations (1971). From 1970 to 1972, Kitson served in Northern Ireland as commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade. It has been claimed that he was responsible for establishing the MRF and that the unit was attached to his Brigade.
The MRF was based at Palace Barracks in the Belfast suburb of Holywood. The MRF’s first commander was Captain Arthur Watchus. In June 1972, he was succeeded as commander by Captain James ‘Hamish’ McGregor. It was split into squads, each of which was led by a Senior NCO who had served in the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), the Royal Marines or the Parachute Regiment. The unit consisted of up to 40 men, handpicked from throughout the British Army. It also included a few women. nAccording to military sources, the MRF would have up to nine soldiers deployed at any one time, with nine more on standby and the others resting.
In March 1994, the UK’s Junior Defence Minister Jeremy Hanley issued the following description of the MRF in reply to a parliamentary written question: “The MRF was a small military unit which, during the period 1971 to 1973, was responsible for carrying out surveillance tasks in Northern Ireland in those circumstances where soldiers in uniform and with Army vehicles would be too easily recognized”.
Martin Dillon described the MRF’s purpose as being “to draw the Provisional IRA into a shooting war with loyalists in order to distract the IRA from its objective of attacking the Army”.
Many details about the unit’s modus operandi have been revealed by former members. One issued a statement to the Troops Out Movement in July 1978. In 2012–13, a former MRF member using the covername ‘Simon Cursey’ gave a number of interviews and published the book MRF Shadow Troop about his time in the unit. In November 2013, a BBCPanorama documentary was aired about the MRF. It drew on information from seven former members, as well as a number of other sources.
The MRF had both a “defensive” surveillance role and an “offensive” role. MRF operatives dressed like civilians and were given fake identities and unmarked cars equipped with two-way radios. They patrolled the streets in these cars in teams of two to four, tracking down and arresting or killing suspected IRA members.
They were armed with Browning pistols and Sterling sub-machine guns. Former MRF members admitted that the unit shot unarmed people without warning, both IRA members and civilians, knowingly breaking the British Army’s Rules of Engagement. Former MRF members claim they had a list of targets they were ordered to “shoot on sight”, the aim being to “beat them at their own game” and to “terrorise” the republican movement. According to Cursey, the unit was told that these tactics had British Government backing, “as part of a deeper political game”.
He said his section shot at least 20 people:
“We opened fire at any small group in hard areas […] armed or not – it didn’t matter. We targeted specific groups that were always up to no good. These types were sympathisers and supporters, assisting the IRA movement. As far as we were concerned they were guilty by association and party to terrorist activities, leaving themselves wide open to the ultimate punishment from us”.
Cursey mentions two occasions where MRF members visited pubs and “eliminated” IRA members. One member interviewed for the BBC’s Panorama, Soldier F, said “We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group“.
Soldier H said “We operated initially with them thinking that we were the UVF“, to which Soldier F added: “We wanted to cause confusion”. Another said that their role was “to draw out the IRA and to minimise their activities”. They said they fired on groups of people manning defensive barricades, on the assumption that some might be armed. The MRF member who made a statement in 1978 opined that the unit’s role was one of “repression through fear, terror and violence”. He said that the unit had been trained to use weapons favoured by the IRA.
Republicans argued that the MRF deliberately attacked civilians for two main reasons: firstly, to draw the IRA into a sectarian conflict with loyalists and divert it from its campaign against the state; and secondly, to show Catholics that the IRA could not protect them, thus draining its support.
The MRF’s surveillance operations included the use of front companies (see below) and disguises. Former members claim they posed as road sweepers, dustmen and even homeless meths-drinkers while carrying out surveillance. The MRF is known to have used double agents referred to as ‘Freds’. These were republican or loyalist paramilitaries who were recruited by British Military Intelligence. The Freds would work inside paramilitary groups, feeding back information to the MRF. They were also ferried through Belfast in armoured cars, and through the gunslit would point-out paramilitary individuals of note. Through this method the MRF compiled extensive photographs and dossiers of Belfast militants of both factions.
According to Cursey, the MRF also abducted and interrogated people for information. They used shock treatment on prisoners to force them to give information. This involved immediately breaking one of the suspects’ arms and threatening to break their other arm. Cursey says that they then “dropped them off at the roadside for the uniformed forces to pick up later”.
BBC Panorama – Shoot to kill, lethal force
Attacks on civilians
In 1972, MRF teams carried out a number of drive-by shootings in Catholic and Irish nationalist areas of Belfast, some of which had been attributed to Ulster loyalist paramilitaries. At least fifteen civilians were shot. MRF members have affirmed the unit’s involvement in most of these attacks. There are also allegations that the unit helped loyalists to carry out attacks.
The explosion caused the building to collapse, killing fifteen Catholic civilians and wounding seventeen more. It was the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Troubles.[ The book Killing For Britain (2009), written by former UVF member ‘John Black’, claims that the MRF organized the bombing and helped the bombers get in and out of the area.
Two days before the bombing, republican prisoners had escaped from nearby Crumlin Road Prison. Security was tightened and there were many checkpoints in the area at the time. However, locals claimed that the security forces helped the bombers by removing the checkpoints an hour before the attack.
One of the bombers—Robert Campbell—said that their original target had been The Gem, a nearby pub that was allegedly linked to the Official IRA. It is claimed the MRF plan was to help the UVF bomb The Gem, and then blame the bombing on the Provisional IRA. This would start a feud between the two IRA factions, diverting them from their fight against the security forces and draining their support. Campbell said that The Gem had security outside and, after waiting for almost an hour, they decided to bomb the nearest ‘Catholic pub’ instead. Immediately after, the security forces claimed that a bomb had accidentally exploded while being handled by IRA members inside McGurk’s.
‘Secret British Army hits’ on IRA Watch extracts from BBC expose
Whiterock Road shooting
On 15 April 1972, brothers Gerry and John Conway—both Catholic civilians—were walking along Whiterock Road to catch a bus. As they passed St Thomas’s School, a car stopped and three men leapt out and began shooting at them with pistols. The brothers ran but both were shot and wounded.
Witnesses said one of the gunmen returned to the car and spoke into a handset radio. Shortly after, two armoured personnel carriers arrived and there was a conversation between the uniformed and the plainclothes soldiers. The three vehicles then left, and the brothers were taken by ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital. The British Army told journalists that a patrol had encountered two wanted men, that one fired at the patrol and that the patrol returned fire.
In a 1978 interview, a former MRF member claimed he had been one of the gunmen. He confirmed that the brothers were unarmed, but claimed his patrol had mistaken the brothers for two IRA men whom the MRF were ordered to “shoot on sight”.
On 12 May 1972, the British government announced there would be no disciplinary action against the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday. That night, MRF teams shot seven Catholic civilians in the Andersonstown area.
An MRF team in an unmarked car approached a checkpoint manned by members of the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association (CESA) at the entrance to Riverdale Park South. The CESA was an unarmed vigilante organization set up to protect Catholic areas. The car stopped and then reversed. One of the MRF men opened-fire from the car with a sub-machine gun, killing Catholic civilian Patrick McVeigh (44) and wounding four others.
The car continued on, turned, and then drove past the scene of the shooting. All of the men were local residents and McVeigh, who was shot through the back, had stopped to chat to the CESA members as he walked home. He was a married father of six children. The British Army told journalists that gunmen in a passing car had fired indiscriminately at civilians and called it an “apparently motiveless crime”. The car had come from a Protestant area and had returned the same way. This, together with the British Army statement, implied that loyalists were responsible.
An inquest into the attack was held in December 1972, where it was admitted that the car’s occupants were soldiers belonging to an undercover unit known as the MRF. The soldiers did not appear at the inquest but issued statements to it, claiming they had been shot at by six gunmen and were returning fire. However, eyewitnesses said none of the CESA members were armed and this was supported by forensic evidence. The MRF members involved were never prosecuted.
Former MRF member ‘Simon Cursey’ claimed the unit fired on the men because they included IRA members who were on their ‘wanted’ list. However, there is no evidence that any were in the IRA. An MRF member stated in 1978 that the British Army’s intention was to make it look like a loyalist attack, thus provoking sectarian conflict and “taking the heat off the Army”.
Minutes before the shooting at the checkpoint, two other Catholic civilians had been shot nearby by another MRF team. The two young men—Aidan McAloon and Eugene Devlin—had got a taxi home from a disco and were dropped off at Slievegallion Drive. As they began walking along the street, in the direction of a vigilante barricade, the MRF team opened fire on them from an unmarked car. The MRF team told the Royal Military Police that they had shot a man who was firing a rifle. Witnesses said there was no gunman on the street and police forensics experts found no evidence that McAloon or Devlin had fired weapons.
Two weeks later, on 27 May, Catholic civilian Gerard Duddy (20) was killed in a drive-by shooting at the same spot where Patrick McVeigh was killed. His death was blamed on loyalists.
Killing of Jean Smith
On the night of 9 June 1972, Catholic civilian Jean Smith (or Smyth) was shot dead on the Glen Road. Jean was a 24-year-old mother of one. She was shot while sitting in the passenger seat of a car at the Glen Road bus terminus. As her male companion turned the car, he heard what he thought was a tyre bursting. When he got out to check, the car was hit by a burst of automatic gunfire. Smith was shot in the head and died shortly after. Her companion stopped a passing taxi and asked the driver to take her to hospital. However, the taxi was then stopped by police and diverted to Andersonstown RUC base, where they were held for several hours.
The security forces blamed the killing on the IRA. In October 1973, however, the Belfast Telegraph published an article suggesting that Smith could have been shot by the MRF. Documents uncovered from the British National Archives reveal that the MRF fired shots in the area that night. They claim to have fired at two gunmen and hit one of them.
The Belfast Telegraph article also suggested that Smith could have been shot by the IRA, who fired on the car thinking it was carrying MRF members. The IRA deny this and claim that it was not in the area at the time of the shooting.
Two weeks after Smith’s killing, the MRF fired on a car at the same spot, wounding four people.
Glen Road shooting
On 22 June 1972, the Provisional IRA announced that it would begin a ceasefire in four days, as a prelude to secret talks with the British Government. That afternoon, MRF members in an unmarked car shot and wounded three Catholic men standing by a car at Glen Road bus terminus. A man in a nearby house was also wounded by the gunfire. Shortly after, the MRF unit’s car was stopped by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and they were arrested. Inside was a Thompson sub-machine gun, “for years the IRA’s favourite weapon”.
One of the MRF members—Clive Graham Williams—was charged with attempted murder. He told the court that two of the men had been armed and one had fired at the MRF car. He claimed he was returning fire. Witnesses said that none of the civilians were armed and that it was an unprovoked attack. Police forensics experts found no evidence that the civilians had fired weapons. However, key witnesses were not called to give evidence in person and Williams was acquitted on 26 June 1973.
On the night of 27 September 1972, the MRF shot dead Catholic civilian Daniel Rooney and wounded his friend Brendan Brennan. They were shot from a passing car while standing on a street corner at St James’s Crescent, in the Falls district. The British Army told journalists that the two men fired at an undercover patrol and that the patrol returned fire. It further claimed that the two men were IRA members. The IRA, the men’s families, and residents of the area denied this, and Rooney’s name has never appeared on a republican roll of honour. An inquest was held in December 1973. The court was told that forensic tests on the men’s hands and clothing found no firearms residue. The six soldiers involved repeated the British Army’s claim, but they did not appear at the inquest. Their statements were read by a police officer and they were referred to by initials. In 2013, former MRF member ‘Simon Cursey’ again claimed that they were returning fire, but said that only one of the men was armed.
New Lodge Six
There are also allegations that the MRF was involved in a drive-by shooting in the Catholic New Lodge area on 3 February 1973. The car’s occupants opened fire on a group of young people standing outside a pub on Antrim Road, killing IRA members James Sloan and James McCann and wounding others. The gunmen drove on and allegedly fired at another group of people outside a takeaway. In the hours that followed, a further four people—an IRA member and three civilians—were shot dead in the area by British snipers. The dead became known as the “New Lodge Six”.
In June 1973, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association issued advice on how to behave in the event of being “shot by MRF/SAS squads”, saying for example that people should “pretend to be dead until the squad moves away”.
A Four Square van visited houses in nationalist West Belfast twice a week to collect and deliver laundry. One “employee” (a young man) drove the van while another (a young woman) collected and delivered the laundry. Both were from Northern Ireland. Four Square initially gathered customers by offering “discount vouchers”, which were numbered and colour-coded by street.
Clothes collected for washing were first forensically checked for traces of explosives, as well as blood or firearms residue. They were also compared to previous laundry loads from the same house—the sudden presence of different-sized clothes could indicate that the house was harbouring an IRA member. Surveillance operatives and equipment were hidden in the back of the van or in a compartment in the roof. Further intelligence was gathered by staff observing and “chatting” to locals whilst collecting their laundry.
However, in September 1972 the IRA found that two of its members—Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee—were working for the MRF as double agents. Under interrogation, McKee told the IRA about the MRF’s operations, including the laundry and the massage parlour. The leaders of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade ordered that the companies immediately be put under surveillance. This surveillance confirmed that McKee’s information was correct.
Following these revelations, the leaders of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade planned an operation against the MRF, which was to take place on 2 October 1972. The 2nd Battalion would attack the Four Square Laundry van and the office at College Square, while the 3rd Battalion would raid the massage parlour. At about 11:20AM[ on 2 October, IRA volunteers ambushed the Four Square Laundry van in the nationalist Twinbrook area of West Belfast. Four volunteers were involved: one drove the car while three others did the shooting..
They shot dead the driver, an undercover British soldier of the Royal Engineers, and machine-gunned the roof compartment where undercover operatives were thought to be hiding. The other Four Square employee—a female operative from the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC)—was collecting and delivering laundry from a nearby house at the time. The residents, who thought that loyalists were attacking the van, took her into the house and kept her safe. The woman was later secretly invested at Buckingham Palace with an MBE.
About an hour later, the same IRA unit raided College Square but found nobody there. Meanwhile, a unit of the 3rd Battalion made for the room above the massage parlour, which they believed was being using to gather intelligence. They claimed to have shot three undercover soldiers: two men and a woman. According to some sources, the IRA claimed to have killed two surveillance officers allegedly hidden in the laundry van, and two MRF members at the massage parlour.
However, the British military only confirmed the death of the van driver on that day. Brendan Hughes said that the operation “was a great morale booster for the IRA and for the people that were involved”.
The MRF, realising its undercover operations were blown, disbanded the units and was itself disbanded shortly afterwards.Nevertheless, the incident was believed to have prompted the establishment of a new undercover intelligence unit: the 14 Intelligence Company (also known as “The Det”).
A combination of political, religious and social differences plus the threat of intercommunal tensions and violence has led to widespread self-segregation of the two communities. Catholics and Protestants lead largely separate lives in a situation that some have dubbed “self-imposed apartheid”. The academic John H. Whyte argued that “the two factors which do most to divide Protestants as a whole from Catholics as a whole are endogamy and separate education
Inside Story – How divided is Northern Ireland
Education in Northern Ireland is heavily segregated. Most state schools in Northern Ireland are predominantly Protestant, while the majority of Catholic children attend schools maintained by the Catholic Church. In all, 90 per cent of children in Northern Ireland still go to separate faith schools. The consequence is, as one commentator has put it, that “the overwhelming majority of Ulster’s children can go from four to 18 without having a serious conversation with a member of a rival creed.” The prevalence of segregated education has been cited as a major factor in maintaining endogamy (marriage within one’s own group). The integrated education movement has sought to reverse this trend by establishing non-denominational schools such as the Portadown Integrated Primary. Such schools are, however, still the exception to the general trend of segregated education. Integrated schools in Northern Ireland have been established through the voluntary efforts of parents. The churches have not been involved in the development of integrated education.
Why Ireland split into the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland
Historically, employment in the Northern Irish economy was highly segregated in favour of Protestants, particularly at senior levels of the public sector, in certain then important sectors of the economy, such as shipbuilding and heavy engineering, and strategically important areas such as the police. Emigration to seek employment was therefore significantly more prevalent among the Catholic population. As a result, Northern Ireland’s demography shifted further in favour of Protestants leaving their ascendancy seemingly impregnable by the late 1950s.
A 1987 survey found that 80 per cent of the workforces surveyed were described by respondents as consisting of a majority of one denomination; 20 per cent were overwhelmingly unidenominational, with 95–100 per cent Catholic or Protestant employees. However, large organisations were much less likely to be segregated, and the level of segregation has decreased over the years.
The British government has introduced numerous laws and regulations since the mid-1990s to prohibit discrimination on religious grounds, with the Fair Employment Commission (originally the Fair Employment Agency) exercising statutory powers to investigate allegations of discriminatory practices in Northern Ireland business and organisations. This has had a significant impact on the level of segregation in the workplace; John Whyte concludes that the result is that “segregation at work is one of the least acute forms of segregation in Northern Ireland.” 
Back of a house behind a “peace line”, on Bombay Street Belfast
Public housing is overwhelmingly segregated between the two communities. Intercommunal tensions have forced substantial numbers of people to move from mixed areas into areas inhabited exclusively by one denomination, thus increasing the degree of polarisation and segregation. The extent of self-segregation grew very rapidly with the outbreak of the Troubles. In 1969, 69 per cent of Protestants and 56 per cent of Catholics lived in streets where they were in their own majority; as the result of large-scale flight from mixed areas between 1969 and 1971 following outbreaks of violence, the respective proportions had by 1972 increased to 99 per cent of Protestants and 75 per cent of Catholics. In Belfast, the 1970s were a time of rising residential segregation. It was estimated in 2004 that 92.5% of public housing in Northern Ireland was divided along religious lines, with the figure rising to 98% in Belfast. Self-segregation is a continuing process, despite the Northern Ireland peace process. It was estimated in 2005 that more than 1,400 people a year were being forced to move as a consequence of intimidation.
In response to intercommunal violence, the British Army constructed a number of high walls called “peace lines” to separate rival neighbourhoods. These have multiplied over the years and now number forty separate barriers, mostly located in Belfast. Despite the moves towards peace between Northern Ireland’s political parties and most of its paramilitary groups, the construction of “peace lines” has actually increased during the ongoing peace process; the number of “peace lines” doubled in the ten years between 1995 and 2005. In 2008 a process was proposed for the removal of the peace walls.
The effective segregation of the two communities significantly affects the usage of local services in “interface areas” where sectarian neighbourhoods adjoin. Surveys in 2005 of 9,000 residents of interface areas found that 75% refused to use the closest facilities because of location, while 82% routinely travelled to “safer” areas to access facilities even if the journey time was longer. 60% refused to shop in areas dominated by the other community, with many fearing ostracism by their own community if they violated an unofficial de facto boycott of their sectarian opposite numbers.
In contrast with both the Republic of Ireland and most parts of Great Britain, where intermarriage between Protestants and Catholics is not unusual, in Northern Ireland it has been uncommon: from 1970 through to the 1990s, only 5 per cent of marriages were recorded as crossing community divides. This figure remained largely constant throughout the Troubles. It rose to between 8 and 12 per cent, according to the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Attitudes towards Catholic–Protestant intermarriage have become more supportive in recent years (particularly among the middle class) and younger people are also more likely to be married to someone of a different religion to themselves than older people. However, the data hides considerable regional variation across Northern Ireland.
In the 1970s, the British government took action to legislate against religious discrimination in Northern Ireland. The Fair Employment Act 1976 prohibited discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of religion and established a Fair Employment Agency. This Act was strengthened with a new Fair Employment Act in 1989, which introduced a duty on employers to monitor the religious composition of their workforce, and created the Fair Employment Commission to replace the Fair Employment Agency. The law was extended to cover the provision of goods, facilities and services in 1998 under the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998. In 1999, the Commission was merged with the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Northern Ireland Disability Council to become part of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
An Equality Commission review in 2004 of the operation of the anti-discrimination legislation since the 1970s, found that there had been a substantial improvement in the employment profile of Catholics, most marked in the public sector but not confined to it. It said that Catholics were now well represented in managerial, professional and senior administrative posts, although there were some areas of under-representation such as local government and security but that the overall picture was a positive one. Catholics, however, were still more likely than Protestants to be unemployed and there were emerging areas of Protestant under-representation in the public sector, most notably in health and education at many levels including professional and managerial. The report also found that there had been a considerable increase in the numbers of people who work in integrated workplaces.
When he was exposed as an agent in 1991 he was abducted by the IRA, but escaped and was resettled in England. His identity became publicly known after a minor court case. He was later shot six times by an IRA gunman, but recovered from the injuries. He has written two books about his life, Fifty Dead Men Walking: The Terrifying True Story of a Secret Agent Inside the IRA and Dead Man Running
The views and opinions expressed in this documentary/ies and page are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland.
They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors
The Informer – BBC Panorama Martin McGartland
Childhood in west Belfast
Born into a staunchly Irish republican, Roman Catholic family in Belfast, Northern Ireland, McGartland grew up in a council house in Moyard, Ballymurphy at the foot of the Black Mountain. His parents were separated and he had one brother, Joe, and two sisters, Elizabeth and Catherine. As the violent religious-political conflict known as the Troubles escalated, republican areas such as Ballymurphy increasingly came under the control of the local Provisional IRA (IRA) who, in the absence of normal policing, took on some policing functions. Their methods were not met with approval by all residents. One of the effects of the continuous rioting and the campaign of bombings and shootings in Belfast and all over Northern Ireland was to make McGartland grow up quickly.
McGartland described his childhood in West Belfast as one in which he would join with older boys in stone-throwing to goad the British Army. He also became involved in battles with other Catholic youths against Ulster Protestant boys from nearby loyalist estates; this mostly involved throwing stones at each other. His sister Catherine was one of many children who joined the youth movement of the IRA. She was later killed after accidentally falling through a skylight at her school. He attended Vere Foster Primary School, a “controlled” school located in Moyard, Ballymurphy. The school closed in 2011. McGartland later attended St. Thomas’ Secondary School. He befriended a homeless man who sheltered in the disused Old Broadway cinema on the Falls Road, and provided the man with food and money. McGartland’s first job was working a paper round, and later delivering milk.
Special Branch agent
IRA Informers Documentary
McGartland became involved in petty crime, which brought him to the notice of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). His activities also attracted the attention of the IRA and on several occasions he narrowly escaped local disciplinary squads. Since the beginning of the Troubles, many Irish republicans reported offences to Sinn Fein, a political party associated with the IRA, rather than the RUC. This effectively made the IRA a police force in some areas. McGartland says because he was sickened by increasing Provisional IRA violence directed at young Catholic petty lawbreakers in the form of punishment beatings (often carried out with iron bars and baseball bats) and knee-cappings, in 1986 at the age of 16 he agreed to provide information to the RUC about local IRA members, thereby preventing them from carrying out many attacks against the security forces. At the same time, the IRA employed him as a security officer in a protection racket; his job was to guard a building site in Ballymurphy which was under the protection of the IRA. He then worked for a local taxi firm as an unlicensed driver, paying a percentage to the IRA. This enabled him to better identify suspects who had been targeted by RUC Special Branch. He recounted in his book Fifty Dead Men Walking that he occasionally drove IRA punishment squads around and overheard them boast about the beatings they had meted out to their victims. McGartland asserts many were innocent people who had somehow incurred the wrath of a member of the IRA.
Infiltration of the IRA
McGartland later infiltrated the IRA in autumn 1989, having been asked to join by Davy Adams, a leading IRA member and a nephew of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. This was after being recommended by childhood friend Harry Fitzsimmons, part of an IRA bomb team, whom McGartland often drove around Belfast. Davy Adams immediately gave McGartland his first assignment which was to check the house of a well-known Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) figure. McGartland was given the code name Agent Carol by the RUC.
Holding the rank of lieutenant in the IRA Belfast Intelligence unit, he ended up working mainly for Davy Adams, whom he drove to meetings and to survey potential IRA targets. McGartland had a special tracking device attached to his car. He was also recruited by an IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) which was headed by a man known as “Spud”. He convinced his IRA associates that he was a committed member of the organisation and he successfully led a double life, which was kept secret even from the mother of his two sons. From 1989-91, he provided information about IRA activities and planned attacks to the RUC Special Branch. During his time as a Special Branch intelligence agent, he became close to senior IRA members, having daily contact with those responsible for organising and perpetrating the shooting attacks and bombings throughout Northern Ireland. He also worked closely with Belfast actress Rosena Brown, a prominent and highly skilled IRA intelligence officer. Working in the IRA Intelligence unit enabled McGartland to learn about the organisation’s command structure pertaining to finance, ordnance, intelligence and the detailed planning of operations. He discovered how IRA sympathisers had infiltrated various public institutions and businesses, and many members acquired computer skills, thereby enabling the IRA to gain access to detailed information on a wide range of people in Northern Ireland including politicians, lawyers, judges, members of the security forces, Ulster loyalist paramilitaries, and prison officers.
Although McGartland prevented the IRA from carrying out many “spectaculars”, including the planned bombing of two lorries transporting British soldiers from Stranraer to Larne that could have resulted in the loss of over a dozen lives, his reported greatest regret was his failure in June 1991 to save the life of 21-year-old Private Tony Harrison. Harrison, a soldier from London, who was shot by the IRA at the home of his East Belfast fiancee where they were making wedding plans. McGartland had driven the IRA gunmen’s getaway car and had been brought into the operation so late he had no time to advise his handlers although he had previously indicated the IRA’s interest in the area. A taxi driver and republican sympathiser, Noel Thompson, who picked Harrison up at Belfast airport and informed the IRA was later jailed for 12 years for conspiracy to murder.
Exposed as an agent
In that same year 1991, McGartland provided information about a mass shooting attack planned on Charlie Heggarty’s pub in Bangor, County Down, where British soldiers frequently drank after what was generally a football match between the prison wardens. The RUC intercepted the two couriers delivering the guns to be used to shoot the soldiers and McGartland was exposed as an infiltrator. Diaries of the late Detective Superintendent Ian Phoenix, head of the Northern Ireland Police Counter-Surveillance Unit, revealed that he and the other Special Branch officers had advised senior RUC officers against stopping the gun couriers’ vehicles as doing so would put McGartland’s life at risk as well as allow the actual IRA gunmen to escape. The penalty for informing on the IRA was death, often preceded by lengthy and sometimes brutal interrogations.
With his cover blown, McGartland was kidnapped in August 1991 by Jim “Boot” McCarthy and Paul “Chico” Hamilton, two IRA men with previous convictions for paramilitary activities. He would later allege that McCarthy and Hamilton were RUC informers based on what he had personally observed of the men during his kidnapping as he waited to be interrogated, tortured and subsequently executed. These allegations, however, were strongly denied by both men. McGartland escaped being killed by jumping from a third floor window in the Twinbrook flat where he had been taken for interrogation following his abduction.
He moved to England and received nearly £100,000 to buy a house and establish a new life in Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear, going by the name Martin Ashe. He failed in his attempt to receive compensation for his injuries.
Three years after moving to England, the IRA sent his mother a Catholic mass card with McGartland’s name written on it. Mass cards are sent as tokens of sympathy to bereaved families when a member of the family has died.
In 1997, his identity was revealed publicly by the Northumbria Police in court when he was caught breaking the speed limit and subsequently prosecuted for holding driving licences in different names, which he explained as a means of avoiding IRA detection. He was cleared of perverting the course of justice. In June 1997, the BBC broadcast a television documentary on his story.
Journalist Kevin Myers praised McGartland’s heroism and the Sunday Express newspaper described him as a “real-life James Bond“.
In 1999, he was shot six times at his home by two men receiving serious wounds in the chest, stomach, side, upper leg and hand. He had attempted to wrestle the gun away from his assailant, but was shot in the left hand, the blast almost destroying his thumb. He received assistance from his neighbours and was rushed to intensive care in hospital where he recovered from his injuries. The IRA was blamed. He was relocated immediately, protected by 12 armed officers and given a specially armoured car. Total costs, including the investigation, amounted to £1,500,000.
In 2000, Lord Vivian asked in the House of Lords whether the government intended to remove police protection from McGartland and was told by Lord Bassam of Brighton that “Individual protection arrangements are a matter for the chief constable of the police force concerned and are not discussed for security reasons.”
In 1997 McGartland published a book about his life, Fifty Dead Men Walking. The title indicates the number of lives he considers he saved through his activities. The following year he won his lawsuit against Associated Newspapers, publishers of The Daily Mail, The Evening Standard and This is London web site, which had published an article alleging the shooting might be related to connections with local criminal gangs.
In 2003, PIRA member Scott Gary Monaghan, a native of Glasgow, whose republican career began there in the Kevin Barry Flute Band, and who had been sentenced to 1004 years imprisonment in 1993, sued Northumbria Police for £150,000 for alleged ill-treatment when he was arrested (but not charged) over McGartland’s shooting. McGartland criticised the police for inadequate protection but offered to testify on their behalf, saying: “There are people who have been the victims of terrorist attacks, who’ve lost loved ones, and some of them haven’t been compensated. It’s a scandal. I am the victim of an attack and I got around £50,000 in compensation, which is not a big amount considering my injuries. I’m not complaining. At the end of the day I was grateful to be alive. The reason I will help Northumbria Police is that this is an injustice.” Monaghan’s main claims were for false imprisonment, assault and wrongful interference with goods. They were rejected by the High Court in January 2006. However, he was awarded £100 for a delay in returning items of property. As of September 2008, no one was ever charged with the shooting.
Threats to his family
After the 1994 ceasefire, McGartland appealed to be allowed to return home to West Belfast. When he asked Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, when he would be able to, he was informed that it was a matter between him and the IRA. McGartland has said that his relatives have received harassment from Republicans; in 1996, his brother Joe was subjected to a severe and prolonged IRA punishment beating with baseball bats, iron bars and a wooden plank embedded with nails. The assault left him confined to a wheelchair for three months. In August 2006 Ian Paisley told Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, “We have also heard how the sister of IRA informer Martin McGartland was told by police that her safety was under threat. This news broke immediately after the Secretary of State’s comments that he believed the IRA had ended all of its illegal activity.”
Home Secretary denial
Despite McGartland being known as one of the best agents to operate during the Troubles, British Home SecretaryTheresa May told a court in early 2014 that she refused to confirm or deny that he was a British agent working for MI5 offering as explanation, “in case providing such information would endanger his life or damage national security”.
McGartland responded by lambasting May, pointing out that “this is one of the daftest things I have ever heard; everyone who is interested knows my past … “[n]o current security interest is at stake.” After highlighting the two books he has written about his life as an undercover agent, one of which was made into a successful film, there have also been six television documentaries on him and a number of newspaper articles. He went on to state, “the authorities wrote to the BBC back in 1997 admitting that I have been resettled and was being protected because of my service to them. I wonder how well briefed the Home Secretary is?”.
There are letters extant which demonstrate that Crown authorities through their solicitors Burton & Burton wrote to the BBC and confirmed that McGartland had worked for them under the code name Agent Carol. And while MI5 admitted in a letter that there was a continued threat to McGartland’s life, they commented “it is not such that he needs immediate police protection or to abandon immediately his residence”. The Crown authorities advised in the same letter that he take up the offer of a new identity. All the comments within the letters had been agreed with Northumbria Police. The following is an extract from the Northumbria Police newspaper “The Crown authorities reject any suggestion that Mr. McGartland has been treated unreasonably. Individuals who have given valuable service to the country and who may be at threat as a result deserve – and receive – considerable support at public expense to ensure their safety”.
May’s department the Home Office oversees MI5 and she herself had signed the application in a court case brought by McGartland and his partner, both of whom are obliged to live under secret identities that were provided by MI5. McGartland additionally has a contract which was signed by MI5 after he was shot in England in which the representatives of the PSNI and Northumbria Police acknowledged his service in general terms. Because he is unable to claim State benefits due to security reasons MI5 had previously helped him financially; however this assistance was withdrawn after he gave an interview to the Belfast Telegraph. He commented, “Refusing to confirm or deny my role is simply a trick to avoid the State’s responsibilities toward someone who has risked his life for it.”
In the same month, May made an application using the controversial “Closed Material Procedures” (CMPs) which are secret courts under the recent Justice and Security Act. If these were to be used in McGartland’s lawsuit against the government for negligence and breach of contract, they would ensure that the public, media, as well as McGartland and his lawyers, would be denied access to the hearings. Instead his case would be heard by a “Special Advocate”. By not being present with his lawyers at the closed court, he would not be privy to anything pertaining to his case that the court submitted. McGartland pointed out that the case had nothing to do with national security or his undercover work 24 years earlier. This move by May was described by some lawyers and Human Rights’ groups as “Kafkaesque”. May argued that were the government to confirm in one case that a person was an agent then refused to comment in another, that would give rise to the suspicion that the person worked as an agent thereby putting his life in danger, McGartland replied that May’s argument would be reasonable if “those particular horses had not bolted long ago
Other high profile Republican informers
Denis Donaldson Sinn Fein Stormontgate press conference
In 1981 he was arrested by French authorities at Orly airport, along with fellow IRA volunteer, William “Blue” Kelly. The duo were using false passports and Donaldson said that they were returning from a guerrilla training camp in Lebanon. At the 1983 general election, Donaldson was the Sinn Féin candidate in Belfast East.
In the late 1980s, he travelled to Lebanon again and held talks with both Lebanese Shia militias, Hezbollah and Amal, in an effort to secure the freedom of the Irish hostage Brian Keenan.
As the Sinn Féin leadership under Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness turned toward a “peace process” strategy, Donaldson was dispatched to New York City, where he helped establish Friends of Sinn Féin, an organisation that solicited mainstream political and financial support for the new strategy while attempting to isolate hard-line activists in Irish Northern Aid and other support organisations in the US. Martin Galvin, a Bronx-based Irish-American attorney and future “dissident republican“, later claimed that he had warned the republican movement’s leadership that he suspected Donaldson of being a British government informer.
On 16 December 2005, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams announced to a press conference in Dublin that Donaldson had been a spy in the pay of British intelligence. This was confirmed by Donaldson in a statement which he read out on RTÉ, the Irish state broadcaster, shortly afterwards.
He stated that he was recruited after compromising himself during a vulnerable time in his life, but did not specify why he was vulnerable or why he would risk his life as a mole for British intelligence in an area such as West Belfast.
Donaldson’s daughter Jane is married to Ciaran Kearney, who was arrested along with Donaldson in the Stormontgate affair. The couple had two young daughters at the time of the arrest. Kearney is a son of the civil rights and MacBride Principles campaigner, Oliver Kearney.
On 19 March 2006, Hugh Jordan, a journalist for the Sunday World tracked him down to an isolated pre-Famine cottage near Glenties, County Donegal. The dwelling had not been modernised and so there was no running water or electricity.
On 4 April 2006, Donaldson was found shot dead inside his cottage, where he had been living for several months. The extended Donaldson family had used it as a holiday retreat for several years. Gardaí (ROI police) said they had been aware of his presence since January and they had warned him of a threat to his life. They had offered him protection, but he refused it, and exchanged phone numbers with him. The cottage was located in the townland of Classey, 8 km from the village of Glenties on the road to Doochary.
The last person he is believed to have spoken to is Tim Cranley, a census taker, who spoke to him in the cottage around 8:30pm on the previous day. His body was found by Gardaí about 5pm after a passer-by reported seeing a broken window and a smashed-in door. Chief Superintendent Terry McGinn, the local Garda commander, said that the cottage belonged to Donaldson’s “son-in-law Ciaran Kearney” and that members of his family had been visiting him in the days before his death.
A statement by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain referred to his death as a “barbaric act”, while ROI Prime Minister Bertie Ahern condemned “the brutal murder” of Donaldson. Two shotgun cartridges were found at the threshold of the cottage and a post mortem revealed that he had died from a shotgun blast to the chest. ROI Minister for Justice, Equality and Law ReformMichael McDowell initially said that Donaldson had been shot in the head. His right hand was also badly damaged by gunshot.
The Provisional IRA issued a one-line statement saying that it had “no involvement whatsoever” with the murder. The murder was also condemned by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. The Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley blamed republicans for the killing, saying that “eyes will be turned towards IRA/Sinn Féin on this issue”. In May 2005, Minister McDowell advised a US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland that he believed the outing of Donaldson as an informant was a clear message from the British Government that it had another, more valuable, source of information within the republican leadership. On 8 April 2006 Donaldson was buried in Belfast City Cemetery, rather than at Milltown Cemetery, the more common burial place for republicans.
In February 2009, Gardaí announced they had a new lead in the inquiry into his death. On 12 April 2009, the Real IRA claimed responsibility for his death.
In April 2011, two arrests were made in County Donegal by the Garda Special Detective Unit in connection with the murder – a 69-year-old man and a 31-year-old man. They were subsequently released without charge. The Garda and PSNI murder investigation is ongoing.
MI5 – Raymond Gilmour full interview and news story
He was born in 1959 into a working class Catholic, nationalist family in Creggan, Derry to Patrick and Brigid Gilmour. He was the youngest of eleven siblings and grew up as The Troubles began in Derry City in the early 1970s. A cousin, Hugh Gilmour, was shot dead by the British Army on Bloody Sunday, a seminal event in the development of the “Troubles” and a traumatic event witnessed by the 12-year-old Gilmour himself. His parents were reportedly split over the issue of political violence. He described his father as an “armchair supporter” of the IRA, while his mother was reportedly fiercely opposed to their actions.
Two of Gilmour’s brothers were kneecapped by the IRA for alleged anti-social behaviour. He was also given a beating by British soldiers at age 13 for petty crime and they attempted to recruit him as an informer. Gilmour left school without sitting for his O Level exams and drifted into crime. When he was 16, he was again in trouble with the authorities, this time for armed robbery. On remand in Crumlin Road Prison, he was severely beaten by IRA prisoners. It was at this point that he apparently agreed to become an undercover agent for British security forces.
Several months later, he joined the INLA. He chose the INLA over the IRA as a number of his friends were already in the organisation. Gilmour participated in, among other activities, a botched car hijacking in which a friend, Colm McNutt, also an INLA member, was shot dead by an undercover soldier. In 1978, after two years with the INLA as an RUC agent, he left on police instructions. He got married the same year and fathered the first of two children.
After an interlude of several months, Gilmour was instructed by his RUC handler to join the IRA. He was offered £200 a week with bonuses for arrests and weapons finds. The IRA vetted him for several weeks before accepting his application in late 1980. They attached him to an active service unit in the Brandywell area of Derry. Over the following two years, he was involved in many IRA operations, mostly as a getaway driver. Most of these operations were “shoots” or sniping attacks, but on only one occasion, in January 1981, did his activities result in the death of a British soldier, who was shot and killed at Castle Gate, near Derry’s city walls. Gilmour claims that he helped to foil many other IRA attacks, saving the lives of numerous police and soldiers. In November 1981, he was arrested by the RUC, along with two other IRA members, on their way to carry out a shooting attack on riot police, who were combating disturbances arising out of the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Gilmour was sent on remand to Crumlin Road Prison. After a riot that destroyed much of the republican wing there, he was transferred to the Maze Prison. His RUC handler then applied pressure on the authorities for his release, he was freed on 1 April 1982.
He left the IRA and went into protective custody in August of that year, as he believed that his position in the IRA was about to be discovered after his information led to the capture of an M60 machine gun. Around 100 IRA and INLA members were then arrested in Derry on his evidence, of whom 35 were charged with terrorist offences.
In November, Gilmour’s father was abducted by the IRA. He was held in secret in an unknown location for almost a year. Gilmour was then sent to Cyprus and then Newcastle by the RUC. The following year, Gilmour gave evidence in a special Diplock Court, jury-less trial against the 35 people he had incriminated. Under the “supergrass” scheme, his was the only evidence available against them. On December 18, 1984, the presiding judge, Lord Lowry, ruled that Gilmour was not a credible witness. He said he was, “entirely unworthy of belief … a selfish and self-regarding man, to whose lips a lie comes more naturally than the truth”.
Exile and plea to return home
Since then, Gilmour has been in hiding outside Northern Ireland. He states that of the IRA and INLA members he knew, almost half were dead or missing by the end of the conflict. In 1998, he published a book, Dead Ground (ISBN 0-7515-2621-5), telling of his experiences.
In 2007, Gilmour publicly voiced his desire to return home to Derry, asking Martin McGuinness for assurances of his safety. He also revealed that he had a heart complaint and was an alcoholic. McGuinness said Gilmour must decide for himself whether or not it was safe to return to Derry and that he was not under threat from Sinn Féin, nor – he believes – from the IRA. McGuinness stated that if de facto exiles such as Gilmour wanted to return home, it was a matter for their own judgment and their ability to make peace with the community.
Gilmour’s former RUC handler advised him not to return, citing the 2006 murder in Glenties, County Donegal, of Denis Donaldson, a high-ranking Sinn Féin politician and activist who was revealed to have been a long-term informer.
In April 2014, Gilmour’s second book What Price Truth was published; in the book Gilmour goes into greater detail about his life within the IRA and INLA.
Sean O’Callaghan (born 26 January 1954) is a former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). Between 1979 and 1988, he was also an informant for the Garda Síochána‘s Special Branch. In 1988, he resigned from the IRA and voluntarily surrendered to British prosecution. Following his release from jail, O’Callaghan published his memoirs, The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man’s War on Terrorism.
Soon afterwards, O’Callaghan was arrested by local Gardaí after he accidentally detonated a small amount of explosives, which caused damage to his parents’ house and those of his neighbours. After demanding, and receiving, treatment as a political prisoner, O’Callaghan quietly served his sentence.
After becoming a full-time volunteer, O’Callaghan was involved in various IRA operations, including a May 1974 mortar attack on a British army base at Clogher, County Tyrone in which a female “Greenfinch” Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier, Private Eva Martin, was killed. In his memoirs, O’Callaghan wrote that, although some individual UDR soldiers had had links to loyalist paramilitary gangs, he subsequently learned that Private Martin was not one of them. A secondary school teacher, she and her husband had both volunteered for the UDR. It was Martin’s husband who found her body on a shattered staircase inside the base.
In August 1974, O’Callagan walked into a bar in Omagh, County Tyrone and fatally shot Detective Inspector Peter Flanagan of the RUC Special Branch. D.I. Flanagan, a Catholic, was regarded as a traitor by both the IRA and many local residents. Flanagan was also rumoured, falsely, to have used excessive force while interrogating IRA suspects.
Becoming an informant
In 1976, aged 21, O’Callaghan resigned from the Provisional IRA, and moved to London. In May 1978, he married a Scottish woman of Protestant unionist descent. For several years afterward, he ran a moderately successful mobile cleaning business.
O’Callaghan later recalled, “In truth there seemed to be no escaping from Ireland. At the strangest of times I would find myself reliving the events of my years in the IRA. As the years went on, I came to believe that the Provisional IRA was the greatest enemy of democracy and decency in Ireland.”
In 1979, O’Callaghan was the target of an overture by his former IRA colleagues, who wished him to rejoin the organisation. In response, O’Callaghan decided to become an informer. In his memoirs, O’Callaghan described his reasons as follows, “I had been brought up to believe that you had to take responsibility for your own actions. If you did something wrong then you made amends. I came to believe that individuals taking responsibility for their own actions is the basis for civilization, Without that safety net we have nothing.”
“The final straw,” was O’Callaghan’s disgust over the IRA’s fatal bombing attack on the yacht of Lord Mountbatten, which also killed Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandchild and a 15-year-old “boat employee”. After rejoining the IRA, O’Callaghan claims he heard allegations that the bombing was planned to obtain money from the Soviet military intelligence service (the GRU) and the East German Stasi.
In 1979, O’Callaghan and his wife moved to Tralee, where he arranged a clandestine meeting with a local officer of the Garda Special Branch. In Tralee’s Roman Catholic cemetery, O’Callaghan expressed his intention to subvert the IRA from within. He insisted that he would only speak directly to his contact and would not be blackmailed into providing information, but would freely give whatever information was asked for. At this point O’Callaghan was still opposed to helping the British in a similar manner.
A few weeks later, O’Callaghan made contact with Kerry IRA leader Martin Ferris and attended his first IRA meeting since 1975. Immediately afterwards, he telephoned his Garda contact and said, “We’re in.”
According to O’Callaghan, “Over the next few months plans to carry out various armed robberies were put together by the local IRA. It was relatively easy for me to foil these attempts; an occasional Garda car or roadblock at the ‘wrong time’; the routine arrest of Ferris or myself; or simple ‘bad planning’, such as a car arriving late — a whole series of random stratagems.”
Then, during the 1981 hunger strike in the Maze Prison, O’Callaghan attempted to start his own hunger strike in support of the Maze prisoners but was told to desist by the IRA for fear it would detract focus from the prisoners. O’Callaghan successfully sabotaged the efforts of republicans in Kerry from staging hunger strikes of their own.
Overseen by Bulger and Nee, the guns were loaded aboard the Valhalla, a fishing trawler from Gloucester, Massachusetts. However, O’Callaghan had already briefed his handlers on the shipment. As a result, the cargo was intercepted by a combined force of the Irish Navy and the Garda Síochána. The Valhalla’s crew was arrested by US Customs agents immediately after returning to Gloucester. One of the crewmembers, John MacIntyre, agreed to wear a wire on meeting Bulger, Weeks, and Nee. After learning of MacIntyre’s deal from FBI agent John Connolly, Bulger murdered him and buried him in a South Boston basement. Nee subsequently served a long sentence in the US Federal Prison system for his role in the shipment. In his 2006 memoir A Criminal and an Irishman, Nee compares O’Callaghan to Judas Iscariot.
On 29 November 1988, after having again resigned from the Provisional IRA, O’Callaghan walked into a police station in Tunbridge Wells, England. He confessed to the murders of Private Eva Martin and D.I. Peter Flanagan and voluntarily surrendered to British prosecution. Although the RUC repeatedly offered him witness protection as part of the supergrass policy, O’Callaghan refused to accept. In his memoirs, he states that he intended to continue combating Sinn Féin and the IRA through the press after his release.
O’Callaghan served his sentence in prisons in Northern Ireland and England and foiled several planned escapes by imprisoned IRA members. While in jail he told his story to The Sunday Times. O’Callaghan was released as part of a Prerogative of Mercy by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997. In 1999, he published an autobiography entitled The Informer: The True Life Story of One Man’s War On Terrorism.
O’Callaghan appeared as a Crown Prosecution witness in August 2006 during the trial of Yousef Samhan, 26, of Northolt, London, after an incident in which O’Callaghan was bound to a chair by two young men whom he met in a gay bar in West London. The court heard that O’Callaghan was held at knifepoint while the two men ransacked the property that O’Callaghan had been staying in at Pope’s Lane, Ealing, London.
During the trial O’Callaghan stated that he had been looking after the property for a friend, the author Ruth Dudley Edwards, and he invited the two men back to the house for a drink after socialising with them in a nearby gay pub, West Five. O’Callaghan informed the court that had frequented the pub “only because it was the nearest” public house. He further outlined that when they arrived back at Dudley Edwards’ home, he was then knocked to the floor, tied with an electrical flex to a chair and then held at knifepoint while Samhan and another man proceeded to burgle the property.
In his defence, Samhan claimed that O’Callaghan was a willing participant and had requested that he be tied up during a gay bondage session with the two men. Samhan was nevertheless found guilty of robbery on 6 September 2006.
He now lives relatively openly in England, having refused to adopt a new identity, and works as a security consultant, occasional advisor to the Ulster Unionist Party, and media pundit, usually whenever the IRA has made a major announcement.
In 1998, O’Callaghan declared, “I know that the organization led by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would like to murder me. I know that that organization will go on murdering other people until they are finally defeated. It is my belief that in spite of IRA/Sinn Féin’s strategic cunning, and no matter how many people they kill, the people of the Irish Republic expect, because they have been told so by John Hume, that there will be peace. There may come a time when their patience runs out. If that were to happen there would be no place for IRA/Sinn Féin to hide. We must work tirelessly to bring that day forward.”
Many Irish republicans have strongly denied the allegations made by O’Callaghan in his book The Informer and subsequent newspaper articles. O’Callaghan stated that he had risen to leader of Southern Command and a substitute delegate on the IRA Army Council both in print and before a Dublin jury under oath. However, these claims have been disputed by Sinn Féin. A 1997 article in An Phoblacht alleges that O’Callaghan “…has been forced to overstate his former importance in the IRA and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans.”
O’Callaghan’s claimed to have attended an IRA finance meeting alongside Pat Finucane and Gerry Adams in Letterkenny in 1980. However, both Finucane and Adams repeatedly denied being IRA members. In Finucane’s case, both the RUC and the Stevens Report have said that he was not a member
Fulton’s real name is purportedly Peter Keeley, a Catholic from Newry, who joined the Royal Irish Rangers at the age of 18. He was selected and trained by the Intelligence Corps and returned to civilian life to infiltrate the IRA. He reportedly gave evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal, in which he reasserted his claim that Garda Owen Corrigan was a double agent for the IRA.
In Unsung Hero, “Fulton” claims he worked undercover as a British Army agent within the IRA. He was believed to have operated predominantly inside the IRA South Down Brigade, as well as concentrating on the heavy IRA activity in South Armagh. “Fulton” and four members of his IRA unit in Newry reportedly pioneered the use of “flash guns” to detonate bombs.
In one incident, “Fulton” was questioned on responsibility for designing firing mechanisms used in a horizontal mortar attack on a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) armoured patrol car on Merchants Quay, Newry, County Down, on 27 March 1992. Colleen McMurray, a constable (aged 34) died and another constable was seriously injured. “Fulton” claims he tipped off his MI5 handler that an attack was likely.
On 5 November 2006, he was released without charge after being arrested in London, and transferred to Belfast to be questioned about his knowledge or involvement in the deaths of Irish People’s Liberation Organisation member Eoin Morley (aged 23), Royal Ulster Constabulary officer Colleen McMurray (34), and Ranger Cyril Smith (aged 21). “I personally did not kill people”, he stated. His lawyers have asked the British Ministry of Defence to provide him and his family with new identities, relocation and immediate implementation of the complete financial package, including his army pension and other discharge benefits, which he had been reportedly promised by the MoD for his covert tour of duty. His ex-wife, Margaret Keeley, filed a lawsuit in early 2014 for full access to documents relating to her ex-husband. She claims to have been wrongfully arrested and falsely imprisoned during a three-day period in 1994 following a purported attempt by the IRA to assassinate a senior detective in East Belfast.
On 26 November 2013, it was reported that The Irish News had won a legal battle after a judge ruled against Keeley’s lawsuit against the newspaper for breach of privacy and copyright, by publishing his photograph, which thereby also, he argued, endangered his life. Belfast District Judge Isobel Brownlie stated at least twice that she was not impressed with Keeley’s evidence and described him as “disingenuous”. Under British law, Keeley will also be billed for the newspaper’s legal costs.
On 31 January 2014, the Belfast High Court ruled that “Fulton” had to pay damages to Eilish Morley, the mother of IPLO member Eoin Morley, shot dead at age 23 by the Provisional IRA (PIRA). The order was issued based upon his failure to appear in court. The scale of the pay-out for which he is liable is to be assessed at a later stage
Scappaticci was born around 1946 and grew up in the Markets area of Belfast, the son of Daniel Scappaticci, an Italian immigrant to the city in the 1920s. In 1962 at the age of 16 he was encouraged to sign for the football club Nottingham Forest although his father is said to have resisted the idea. He took up work as a bricklayer.
He was fined for riotous assembly in 1970 after being caught up in “the Troubles” and, one year later, was interned without trial at the age of 25 as part of Operation Demetrius. Among those interned with him were figures later to become prominent in the republican movement, such as Ivor Bell, Gerry Adams, and Alex Maskey. He was released from detention in 1974 and was by this time a member of the Provisional IRA.
By 1980, Scappaticci was a lead member in the Internal Security Unit (ISU) for the IRA Northern Command. The ISU was a unit tasked with counter-intelligence and the investigation of leaks within the IRA along with the exposure of moles/informers (also known as “touts“). Via the ISU, Scappaticci played a key role in investigating suspected informers, conducting inquiries into operations suspected of being compromised, debriefing of IRA volunteers released from Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army questioning, and vetting of potential IRA recruits. The ISU has also been referred to as the “Nutting Squad”. Various killings as a result of ISU activities have been attributed to Scappaticci.
After the original allegations broke in 2003, Scappaticci, by now living in the Riverdale area of West Belfast, claimed his involvement with the IRA ended in 1990 due to his wife’s illness. He denied that he had ever been linked to any facet of the British intelligence services, including the Force Research Unit.
Involvement with British Intelligence
Scappaticci’s first involvement with British Intelligence is alleged to have been in 1978, two years before the Force Research Unit (FRU) was formed in 1980. He is said to have worked as an agent for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch. The role of the FRU was to centralise Army Intelligence under the Intelligence Corps.
The former FRU agent turned whistleblower using the pseudonym “Martin Ingram” has said in his 2004 book Stakeknife that Scappaticci eventually developed into an agent handled by British Army Intelligence via the FRU. Ingram says that Scapaticci’s activities as a high grade intelligence source came to his attention in 1982 after Scappaticci was detained for a drunk driving offence. In 2003, Scappaticci was alleged to have volunteered as an informer in 1978 after being assaulted in an argument with a fellow IRA member. Ingram paints Scappaticci at this time as “the crown jewels”, (the best) agent handled by the FRU. He cites a number of allegations against Scappaticci. His accusations centre on various individuals who died as a result of the activities of the ISU between 1980 and 1990. Ingram also alleges that Scappaticci disclosed information to British intelligence on IRA operations during the time period, involving:
IRA members involved in the kidnapping of wealthy Irish supermarket magnate Ben Dunne in 1981. Ingram alleges that Scappaticci was influential in identifying his kidnappers to the authorities.
the attempted kidnapping of Galen Weston, a Canadian born business tycoon in 1983. Weston kept a manor outside Dublin where the kidnapping was to take place.
the kidnapping of supermarket boss Don Tidey from his home in Rathfarnham in Dublin. Ingram alleges that Scappaticci tipped off the FRU on the details of the kidnapping which eventually resulted in the killings of a trainee Garda Síochána (Gary Sheehan) and an Irish Army soldier (Private Patrick Kelly).
Aside from providing intelligence to the FRU, Scappaticci is alleged to have worked closely with his FRU handlers throughout the 1980s and 1990s to protect and promote his position within the IRA. The controversy that has arisen centres on the allegation by Ingram that Scappaticci’s role as an informer was protected by the FRU through the deaths of those who might have been in a position to expose him as a British agent.
Involvement with the Cook Report
In 1993 Scappaticci approached the ITV programme The Cook Report and agreed to an interview on his activities in the IRA and the alleged role of Martin McGuinness in the organisation. The first interview took place on 26 August 1993 in the car park of the Culloden Hotel in Cultra, County Down. This interview was, unknown to Scappaticci, recorded and eventually found its way into an edition of the programme. The interview was posted on the World Wide Web as the 2003 allegations against Scappaticci surfaced.
Scappaticci appears to give intimate details of the modus operandi of the IRA’s Northern Command, indicated some of his previous involvement in the organisation and alleges, amongst other things, that Martin McGuinness was involved in the death of Frank Hegarty – an IRA volunteer who had been killed as an informer by the IRA in 1986. It has since been alleged that Scappaticci knew the intimate details of Hegarty’s killing because, as part of his duties in the ISU, he had reportedly been involved in the interrogation and execution of Hegarty regarding a large Libyan arms cache, which the Gardaí found. Ingram stated that Hegarty was a FRU agent whom other FRU members had encouraged to rise through the organisation and gain the confidence of key IRA members. His allegations indicate that, to the handlers of the FRU, it was more important to keep Stakeknife in place rather than save the life of Hegarty.
Involvement with the Stevens Report
Things deteriorated for Scappaticci when Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan police commissioner who has been probing RUC and British Army collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the killing of Protestant student, Brian Adam Lambert in 1987 and the killing of solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989, revealed that he knew of his existence. In April 2004, Stevens signalled that he intended to question Scappaticci as part of the third Stevens inquiry.
A report in a February 2007 edition of the Belfast News Letter reported that a cassette recording allegedly of Scappaticci talking about the number of murders he was involved in via the “Nutting Squad”, as well as his work as an Army agent, had been lodged with the PSNI in 2004 and subsequently passed to the Stevens Inquiry in 2005. It is unclear whether this audio is a recording made via the Cook Report investigation. There were several inconsistencies with the various media reports alleging that Scappaticci was Stakeknife. The Provisional IRA reportedly assured Scappaticci of their belief in his denials, and has issued public statements suggesting that the announcement of the former as a “tout” was a stunt by the British government to undermine Sinn Féin and the Republican movement.
1441 British armed force personnel died in Operation Banner
During the 38 year operation, 1,441 members of the British armed forces died in Operation Banner. This includes those who were killed in paramilitary attacks as well as those who died as a result of assault, accidents, suicide and natural causes
The main opposition to the British military’s deployment came from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). It waged a guerrilla campaign against the British military from 1970-97. An internal British Army document released in 2007 stated that, whilst it had failed to defeat the IRA, it had made it impossible for the IRA to win through violence, and reduced substantially the death toll in the last years of conflict
Number of troops deployed
At the peak of the operation in the 1970s, the British Army was deploying around 21,000 soldiers. By 1980, the figure had dropped to 11,000, with a lower presence of 9,000 in 1985. The total climbed again to 10,500 after the intensification of the IRA use of barrack busters toward the end of the 1980s. In 1992, there were 17,750 members of all British military forces taking part in the operation.
The British Army build-up comprised three brigades under the command of a lieutenant-general. There were six resident battalions deployed for a period of two and a half years and four roulement battalions serving six-months tours.
The British military was responsible for about 10% of all deaths in the conflict. According to one study, the British military killed 306 people during Operation Banner, 156 (~51%) of whom were unarmed civilians.
Another study says the British military killed 301 people, 160 (~53%) of whom were unarmed civilians. Of the civilians killed, 61 were children.
Only four soldiers were convicted of murder while on duty in Northern Ireland. All were released after serving two or three years of life sentences and allowed to rejoin the Army. Senior Army officers privately lobbied successive Attorney Generals not to prosecute soldiers, and the Committee on the Administration of Justice says there is evidence soldiers were given some level of immunity from prosecution.
Elements of the British Army also colluded with illegal loyalist paramilitaries responsible for numerous attacks on civilians (see below). Journalist Fintan O’Toole argues that “both militarily and ideologically, the Army was a player, not a referee”.
Northern Ireland in the 1960s/1970s Documentary
Relationship with the Catholic community
Many Catholics initially welcomed the British Army’s deployment, as Catholic neighbourhoods had been attacked by Protestant loyalists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
However, relations soured between the British Army and Catholics. The British Army’s actions in support of the RUC and the unionist government “gradually earned it a reputation of bias” in favour of Protestants and unionists.
In the British Army’s campaign against the IRA, Catholic areas were frequently subjected to house raids, checkpoints, patrols and curfews that Protestant areas avoided. There were frequent claims of soldiers physically and verbally abusing Catholics during these searches.
In some neighbourhoods, clashes between Catholic residents and British troops became a regular occurrence. In April 1970, Ian Freeland — the British Army’s overall commander in Northern Ireland — announced that anyone throwing petrol bombs would be shot dead if they did not heed a warning from soldiers.
A memorial to those killed by British soldiers during the “Ballymurphy Massacre”
The Falls Curfew in July 1970, was a major blow to relations between the British Army and Catholics. A weapons search in the mainly Catholic Falls area of Belfast developed into a riot and then gun battles with the IRA. The British Army then imposed a 36-hour curfew and arrested all journalists inside the curfew zone.
It is claimed that, because the media were unable to watch them, the soldiers behaved “with reckless abandon”. A large amount of CS gas was fired into the area while hundreds of homes and businesses were forcibly searched for weapons.
The searches caused much destruction and there were scores of complaints of soldiers hitting, threatening, insulting and humiliating residents. The Army also admitted there had been looting by some soldiers. Four civilians were killed by the British Army during the operation and another 60 suffered gunshot wounds.
On 9 August 1971, internment (imprisonment without trial) was introduced in Northern Ireland. Soldiers launched dawn raids and interned almost 350 people suspected of IRA involvement. This sparked four days of violence in which 20 civilians were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes. Seventeen civilians were killed by British soldiers, 11 of them in the Ballymurphy Massacre.
No loyalists were included in the sweep and many of those arrested were Catholics with no provable paramilitary links. Many internees reported being beaten, verbally abused, threatened, denied sleep and starved. Some internees were taken to a secret interrogation centre for a program of “deep interrogation”.
The operation led to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence over the following months. Internment lasted until December 1975 and during that time 1,981 people were interned.
Banner and crosses carried by the families of the Bloody Sunday victims on the yearly commemoration march
The incident that most damaged the relationship between the British Army and the Catholic community was “Bloody Sunday“, 30 January 1972. During an anti-internment march in Derry, 26 unarmed Catholic protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment; fourteen died. Some were shot from behind or while trying to help the wounded. The Widgery Tribunal largely cleared the soldiers of blame, but it was regarded as a “whitewash” by the Catholic community.
A second inquiry, the Saville Inquiry, concluded in 2010 that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable”.
On 9 July 1972, British troops in Portadown used CS gas and rubber bullets to clear Catholics who were blocking an Orange Order march through their neighbourhood. The British Army then let the Orangemen march into the Catholic area escorted by at least 50 masked and uniformed Ulster Defence Association (UDA) militants.
At the time, the UDA was a legal organization. That same day in Belfast, British snipers shot dead five Catholic civilians, including three children, in the Springhill Massacre. On the night of 3–4 February 1973, British Army snipers shot dead four unarmed men (one of whom was an IRA member) in the Catholic New Lodge area of Belfast.
In the early hours of 31 July 1972, the British Army launched Operation Motorman to re-take Northern Ireland’s “no-go areas“. These were mostly Catholic neighbourhoods that had been barricaded by the residents to keep out the security forces and loyalists. During the operation, the British Army shot four people in Derry, killing a 15-year-old Catholic civilian and an unarmed IRA member.
From 1971–73, a secret British Army unit, the Military Reaction Force (MRF), carried out undercover operations in Belfast. It killed and wounded a number of unarmed Catholic civilians in drive-by shootings. The British Army initially claimed the civilians had been armed, but no evidence was found to support this. Former MRF members later admitted that the unit shot unarmed people without warning, both IRA members and civilians. One member said :
“We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group”.
At first, many of the drive-by shootings were blamed on Protestant loyalists. Republicans claim the MRF sought to draw the IRA into a sectarian conflict and divert it from its campaign against the state. The MRF was succeeded by the SRU, and later by the FRU.
Over time, the British Army modified its tactics and curbed the worst excesses of its troops in crowd control situations, leading to a gradual reduction in civilian fatalities. By the 1990s, these were a rare occurrence.
Three civilians were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. As a result, the Parachute Regiment was redeployed outside urban areas and the brigadier at 3 Infantry Brigade, Tom Longland, was relieved of his command.
Collusion with loyalist paramilitaries
A republican mural in Belfast with the slogan “Collusion Is Not An Illusion”
In their efforts to defeat the IRA, there were incidents of collusion between the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries throughout the conflict. This included soldiers taking part in loyalist attacks while off-duty, giving weapons or intelligence to loyalists, not taking action against them, and hindering police investigations. The Army also had double agents and informers within loyalist groups who organized attacks on the orders of, or with the knowledge of, their Army handlers.
The De Silva report found that, during the 1980s, 85% of the intelligence that loyalists used to target people came from the security forces. A 2006 Irish Government report alleged that British soldiers also helped loyalists with attacks in the Republic of Ireland.
The Army’s locally-recruited Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) was almost wholly Protestant. Despite the vetting process, loyalist militants managed to enlist; mainly to obtain weapons, training and intelligence.
A 1973 British Government document (uncovered in 2004), “Subversion in the UDR”, suggested that 5–15% of UDR soldiers then were members of loyalist paramilitaries.
The report said the UDR was the main source of weapons for those groups,although by 1973 weapons losses had dropped significantly, partly due to stricter controls.
By 1990, at least 197 UDR soldiers had been convicted of loyalist terrorist offences and other serious crimes including bombings, kidnappings and assaults. Nineteen were convicted of murder and 11 for manslaughter.
This was only a small fraction of those who served in it, but the proportion was higher than in the regular British Army, the RUC and the civilian population.
Operation ‘Banner’ 1969 – 2007
Initially, the Army allowed soldiers to be members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). Despite its involvement in terrorism, the UDA was not outlawed by the British Government until 1992. In July 1972, Harry Tuzo (the Army’s GOC in Northern Ireland) devised a strategy to defeat the IRA, which was backed by Michael Carver, head of the British Army.
It proposed that the growth of the UDA:
“should be discreetly encouraged in Protestant areas, to reduce the load on the Security Forces”,
and suggested they “turn a blind eye to UDA arms when confined to their own areas”.
That summer, the Army mounted some joint patrols with the UDA in Protestant areas, following talks between General Robert Ford and UDA leader Tommy Herron.
In November 1972 the Army ordered that a soldier should be discharged if his sympathy for a paramilitary group affects his performance, loyalty or impartiality. Within three years, 171 soldiers with UDA links had been discharged.
In 1977, the Army investigated a UDR battalion based at Girdwood Barracks, Belfast. The investigation found that 70 soldiers had links to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), that thirty soldiers had fraudulently diverted up to £47,000 to the UVF, and that UVF members socialized with soldiers in their mess. Following this, two soldiers were dismissed on security grounds.
The investigation was halted after a senior officer claimed it was harming morale. Details of it were uncovered in 2011.
During the 1970s, the Glenanne gang—a secret alliance of loyalist militants, British soldiers and RUC officers—carried out a string of attacks against Catholics in an area of Northern Ireland known as the “murder triangle”.
It also carried out some attacks in the Republic. Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland claims the group killed about 120 people, almost all of whom were reportedly uninvolved Catholic civilians.
The Cassel Report investigated 76 murders attributed to the group and found evidence that soldiers and policemen were involved in 74 of those. One member, RUC officer John Weir, claimed his superiors knew of the collusion but allowed it to continue.
The Stevens Inquiries found that elements of the British Army had used loyalists as “proxies”.
Through their double-agents and informers, they helped loyalist groups to kill people, including civilians. It concluded that this had intensified and prolonged the conflict.
The Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) was the main agency involved. Brian Nelson, the UDA’s chief ‘intelligence officer’, was a FRU agent. Through Nelson, FRU helped loyalists target people for assassination. FRU commanders say they helped loyalists target only republican activists and prevented the killing of civilians
The Inquiries found evidence only two lives were saved and that Nelson/FRU was responsible for at least 30 murders and many other attacks – many of them on civilians.One victim was solicitor Pat Finucane. Nelson also supervised the shipping of weapons to loyalists from South Africa in 1988. From 1992–94, loyalists were responsible for more deaths than republicans, partly due to FRU.
Members of the security forces tried to obstruct the Stevens investigation.
During the 38 year operation, 1,441 members of the British armed forces died in Operation Banner. This includes those who were killed in paramilitary attacks as well as those who died as a result of assault, accidents, suicide and natural causes.
692 soldiers in the regular British Army were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 689 died from other causes.
197 soldiers from the Ulster Defence Regiment were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 284 died from other causes.
7 soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 60 died from other causes.
9 soldiers from the Territorial Army were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 8 died from other causes.
2 members from other branches of the Army were killed as a result of paramilitary violence.
21 Royal Marines were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 5 died from other causes.
8 Royal Navy servicemen were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 3 died from other causes.
4 Royal Air Force servicemen were killed as a result of paramilitary violence while another 22 died from other causes.
Crossmaglen RUC/Army base, showing a watchtower built during the operation that was later demolished as part of the demilitarisation process. The barracks were handed over to the PSNI in 2007
The operation was gradually scaled down since 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement, when patrols were suspended and several military barracks closed or dismantled, even before the beginning of IRA’s decommissioning.
The process of demilitarisation started in 1994, after the first IRA ceasefire. From the second IRA ceasefire in 1997 until the first act of decommission of weapons in 2001, almost 50% of the army bases had been vacated or demolished along with surveillance sites and holding centers, while more than 100 cross-border roads were reopened.
Eventually in August 2005, it was announced that in response to the Provisional IRA declaration that its campaign was over, and in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement provisions, Operation Banner would end by 1 August 2007.
This involved troops based in Northern Ireland reduced to 5,000, and only for training purposes. Security was entirely transferred to the police. The Northern Ireland Resident battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment — which grew out of the Ulster Defence Regiment — were stood down on 1 September 2006. The operation officially ended at midnight on 31 July 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army’s history, lasting over 38 years.
While the withdrawal of troops was welcomed by the nationalist parties Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin, the unionist Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party opposed to the decision, which they regarded as ‘premature’. The main reasons behind their resistance were the continuing activity of republican dissident groups, the loss of security-related jobs for the protestant community and the perception of the British Army presence as an affirmation of the political union with Great Britain.
Adam Ingram, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, has stated that assuming the maintenance of an enabling environment, British Army support to the PSNI after 31 July 2007 was reduced to a residual level, known as Operation Helvetic, providing specialised ordnance disposal and support to the PSNI in circumstances of extreme public disorder as described in Patten recommendations 59 and 66, should this be needed, thus ending the British Army’s emergency operation in Northern Ireland.
Analysis of the operation
In July 2007, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 the Ministry of Defence published Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland, which reflected on the Army’s role in the conflict and the strategic and operational lessons drawn from their involvement.
The paper divides the IRA activity and tactics in two main periods: The “insurgency” phase (1971–1972), and the “terrorist” phase (1972–1997). The British Army claims to have curbed the IRA insurgency by 1972, after Operation Motorman. The IRA then reemerged as a cell-structured organisation.
The report also asserts that the government efforts by the 1980s were aimed to destroy the IRA, rather than negotiate a political solution. One of the findings of the document is the failure of the British Army to tackle the IRA at strategic level and the lack of a single campaign authority and plan.
The paper stops short of claiming that :
“Northern Ireland has achieved a state of lasting peace” and acknowledges that as late as 2006, there were still “areas of Northern Ireland out of bounds to soldiers.”
Martin van Creveld has said that the British Army is unique in Northern Ireland in its success against an irregular force. It should be recognised that the Army did not ‘win’ in any recognisable way; rather it achieved its desired end-state, which allowed a political process to be established without unacceptable levels of intimidation. Security force operations suppressed the level of violence to a level which the population could live with, and with which the RUC and later the PSNI could cope. The violence was reduced to an extent which made it clear to the PIRA that they would not win through violence. This is a major achievement, and one with which the security forces from all three Services, with the Army in the lead, should be entirely satisfied. It took a long time but, as van Crefeld [sic] said, that success is unique.