Tag Archives: Belfast Child

Belfast Stories – Glencairn’s Rainbow River

Belfast Stories 

The Rainbow River

belfast stories header with web 1


At first Wee Sam and I got on brilliantly and spent every-spare minute together, getting up to all sorts of mischief as teenage boys will. We were in the same year at school and after the bell went, along with David and Pickle we would head towards the glens that surrounded Glencairn and spend hours playing by the river and trying to catch the rainbow trout as they swam up and down down river.


Image result for rainbow trout


Half way up the glen there was a natural bowl shaped area of the river called The Spoon and in the summer , we along with other children would strip off to our underpants and spend hours swimming and playing in the water. One day when we were swimming in The Spoon the water suddenly changed colour and started flowing a deep red colour. This frightened the life out of us, we all thought it was blood and legged it out of the water as fast as our legs would carry us..

We ran home and told Aunt Gerry and although she couldn’t throw any light on the situation, she told us to keep away from the river for the time being , which of course we ignored.

Image result for rainbow river


About a week later, after school we all rushed up to The Spoon again and stood transfixed as we watched the river flowing a deep shade of purple. We all stepped back from the bank and pondered what might be making this strange event happen and came to the conclusion that it was a magic river, possibly evil and we should avoid it all costs. From that day on we renamed the river Rainbow River and every time we returned the water would be a different colour of the Rainbow  and remained a magical place.

Then one day months later we heard through the grapevine that the reason for the river changing colour was that there was a clothes factory further up the Glen and they had been fined for emptying their waste , including dyes into the river. We all felt a bit sheepish about our earlier fears and before long we were once again spending large parts of our spare time playing and swimming in Rainbow River.


You have been ready extracts from my Autobiography Belfast Child – See home page for more chapters and PLEASE share. 





13th August – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

13th August

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

Wednesday 13 August 1969

Serious rioting spread across Northern Ireland from Derry to other Catholic areas stretching the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The rioting deteriorated into sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants and many people, the majority being Catholics, were forced from their homes. 

Jack Lynch, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), made a television address in which he announced that ‘field hospitals’ would be set up in border areas. He went on to say that:

“… the present situation is the inevitable outcome of the policies pursued for decades by successive Stormont governments. It is clear also that the Irish government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse.”

Lynch is often misquoted as having said: ‘stand idly by’.] [ August 1969; Partition; United Nations

Friday 13 August 1971

Hugh Herron

A Catholic man was shot dead by the British Army in Derry.

Tuesday 13 August 1974


Dennis Leach  & Michael Southern

Two British soldiers were killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in a remote controlled bomb attack near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.

Wednesday 13 August 1975

Bayardo_Bar_memorial 400

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a bomb and gun attack on the Bayardo Bar, Shankill Road, Belfast killing five people and injuring 40 others.

One of those killed was a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) the other four were Protestant civilians.

See The Bayardo Bar attack

Saturday 13 August 1983

James Mallon ( INLA)

Two members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) were shot dead by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Dungannon, County Tyrone.

Monday 13 August 1984

There was a march in west Belfast in honour of Sean Downes killed on 12 August 1984 by a plastic baton round fired by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The march was followed by serious rioting in the area

Wednesday 13 August 1986

Gerard O’Reilly, then being held awaiting extradition from the Republic of Ireland, was freed from a Dublin court following an error in the extradition warrant.

Friday 13 August 1993

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a series of fire-bomb attacks on the pier at Bournemouth, England, and a number of shops.

Saturday 13 August 1994

An Irish Republican Army (IRA) incendiary device caused damage to shops in Bognor Regis, England. Another incendiary device was discovered and defused in Brighton.

Sunday 13 August 1995 IRA “Haven’t Gone Away”

Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), addressed a demonstration at Belfast City Hall. During his speech a member of the crowd called out to Adams to, “bring back the IRA”. In an unscripted reply Adams said:

“They haven’t gone away, you know”.

[Although cheered by the crowd Adams was criticised for the remark. Unionists and the British government said that the remark highlighted the need for the decommissioning of Irish Republican Army (IRA) weapons. Since it was first uttered, the comment has been referred to repeatedly by critics of SF and the Good Friday Agreement.]

Thursday 13 August 1998

Mitchel McLaughlin, then National Chairperson of Sinn Féin (SF), issued a statement urging anyone with information about any of the ‘missing persons’ who disappeared during the course of the conflict to make that information available. [This statement was seen by many as having come about because of pressure on SF by relatives of people who had been abducted and never seen again.]

Friday 13 August 1999

Bernadette McAliskey, former MP, spoke at a rally held on the lower Ormeau Road in advance of the planned Apprentice Boys of Derry march. She said that

“marching is not a human right – for Orangemen or Republicans”.

The Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) criticised the decision of Castlereagh Borough Council decision to fly an Orange Order flag outside its civic offices. The PUP said it was “an affront to Roman Catholic and nationalist residents.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) accused the PUP of hypocrisy because of the PUP’s support of the flying of Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) flags.

Sunday 13 August 2000

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) made safe a pipe-bomb on Drumlee Road in Ballymoney, County Antrim. The device had been pushed through the letterbox of a Catholic home. The attack was carried out by Loyalist paramilitaries.

Monday 13 August 2001 Suspected IRA Men Arrested in Colombia

Three Irish men were arrested at Bogotá Airport in Colombia, South America, for travelling on false documents. Colombian authorities reported that two of the men were travelling on false British passports while the third man was using a false Irish passport.

[There was speculation that the three men were members of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army (IRA). It was reported that the men had been in area of the country that was under the control of left-wing guerrillas.

There was further media speculation that the men had been involved in helping to train some of the guerrillas. The men were later identified as Niall Connolly, who had lived in Cuba for a number of years, James Monaghan, formerly a member of the Sinn Féin ardcomhairle, and Martin McCauley, who had been an election worker for Sinn Féin in Armagh.]

Two Catholics, one of them a 14 year-old boy, were injured when Loyalists threw a blast-bomb among a Nationalist crowd in north Belfast.

The attack happened during disturbances involving hundreds of Loyalists and Nationalists.

A hoax nail bomb and fireworks were thrown at two houses in Glengormley, County Antrim.

The British Army were also called to deal with a hoax pipe-bomb in the same area.

Thomas McCauley, formerly from Belfast, was stabbed to death in Waterford, Republic of Ireland.

McCauley was given a Republican funeral on Friday 17 August 2001. He was reported as having been a member of the IRA who had broken his links with the movement some time



Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the follow  people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To  the Paramilitaries  –

“There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

12  people lost their lives on the 13th August between 1971 – 1983


13 August 1971

Huge Herron,   (31)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot during gun battle, Long Tower Street, Derry.


13 August 1972
Thomas Madden, (48)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Found stabbed and beaten to death in shop doorway, Oldpark Road, Belfast


13 August 1973

William McIlveen,   (36)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty reservist. Shot at his workplace, a factory, Cathedral Road, Armagh.


13 August 1974

Dennis Leach (24) nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed in remote controlled bomb attack on hilltop British Army (BA) observation post, Drummuckavall, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.


13 August 1974

Michael Southern,  (19) nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed in remote controlled bomb attack on hilltop British Army (BA) observation post, Drummuckavall, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh.


13 August 1975

William Gracey,  (63)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot during gun and bomb attack on Bayardo Bar, Shankill Road, Belfast.

See below for more details on this attack


13 August 1975

 Samuel Gunning,   (55)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot during gun and bomb attack on Bayardo Bar, Shankill Road, Belfast.


13 August 1975

Hugh Harris,   (21)

Status: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot during gun and bomb attack on Bayardo Bar, Shankill Road, Belfast.


13 August 1975

 Joanne McDowell,   (29)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot during gun and bomb attack on Bayardo Bar, Shankill Road, Belfast.


13 August 1975
Linda Boyle,  (19)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Injured during gun and bomb attack on Bayardo Bar, Shankill Road, Belfast. She died 21 August 1975.


13 August 1983
Brendan Convery,   (25) Catholic
Status: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA),

Killed by: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)
Shot during attempted ambush of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) members at security barrier, Dungannon, County Tyrone.


13 August 1983

James Mallon,  (28)

Status: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA),

Killed by: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)
Shot during attempted ambush of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) members at security barrier, Dungannon, County Tyrone.


See :  The Bayardo Bar attack

The Bayardo Bar attack

Bayardo Bar memorial.jpg

The Bayardo Bar attack took place on 13 August 1975 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A unit of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade, led by Brendan McFarlane, launched a bombing and shooting attack on the pub on Aberdeen Street (off the loyalist Shankill Road), which was frequented by Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members as well as civilians.

Four Protestant civilians and one UVF member were killed.

According to journalists Alan Murray and Peter Taylor, it was retaliation for the Miami Showband massacre almost a fortnight earlier, when the popular Dublin-based band were ambushed by the UVF at a bogus military checkpoint. Three band members were shot dead by the UVF gunmen after their minibus was blown up in a premature explosion.

McFarlane and two other IRA volunteers, Peter “Skeet” Hamilton and Seamus Clarke, were sentenced to life imprisonment for perpetrating the Bayardo attack.


Main article: The Troubles

By the year 1975, the religious-political conflict in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles“— was more than six years old. On 10 February 1975, the Provisional IRA and British government entered into a truce and restarted negotiations. The IRA agreed to halt attacks on the British security forces, and the security forces mostly ended its raids and searches.[1] However, there were dissenters on both sides. Some Provisionals wanted no part of the truce, while British commanders resented being told to stop their operations against the IRA just when—they claimed—they had the Provisionals on the run.[1] The security forces boosted their intelligence offensive during the truce and thoroughly infiltrated the IRA.[1]

There was a rise in sectarian killings during the truce, which ‘officially’ lasted until early 1976. Ulster loyalists, fearing they were about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increased their attacks on the Irish Catholic and nationalist community.

They hoped to force the IRA to retaliate and thus hasten an end to the truce. Under orders not to engage the security forces, some IRA units concentrated on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations had caused serious problems of internal discipline and some IRA members, with or without permission from higher up, engaged in tit-for-tat killings.

In the early hours of 31 July 1975 the Miami Showband (a popular dance band) were driving back to Dublin following a gig in Banbridge. At Buskhill (outside Newry) they were flagged down at a checkpoint by Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) gunmen (some of whom were Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers) wearing British Army uniforms.

The band’s minibus pulled into a layby on the main A1 road, and the gunmen ordered the group to line-up facing a ditch. As one gunman took the names and addresses of the band members, two others hid a bomb in the back of the bus. However, the bomb detonated prematurely, and the two men were blown to bits. The surviving gunmen then opened fire on the five Miami Showband members, killing three and wounding two.

According to journalists Peter Taylor and Alan Murray, the attack on the Bayardo was retaliation for the massacre.

The attack

The Bayardo Bar was crowded with people of all ages on Wednesday 13 August 1975. Shortly before closing time a stolen green Audi car, containing a three-man unit of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, pulled up outside. It was driven by the unit’s leader Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, a 24-year-old volunteer from Ardoyne.

Volunteers Seamus Clarke and Peter “Skeet” Hamilton got out and approached the pub’s side entrance in Aberdeen Street.  One of them immediately opened fire with an Armalite, instantly killing doorman William Gracey (63) and his brother-in-law Samuel Gunning (55), with whom he had been chatting outside.

The other volunteer then entered the pub, where patrons were drinking and singing, and at the entrance he dropped a duffel bag containing a ten-pound bomb. Both men made their getaway back to the waiting car. As panicked customers ran to the toilets for safety, the bomb exploded and brought down a section of the old brick-and-plaster building upon them. The bodies of civilian Joanne McDowell (29) and UVF member Hugh Harris (21) were later found beneath the rubble of fallen masonry.

Seventeen-year-old civilian Linda Boyle was pulled out alive, but died of her injuries in hospital on 21 August.  Over 50 people were injured in the attack. 

The Belfast Telegraph claimed that, as the IRA unit drove away down Agnes Street (an arterial road linking the Shankill to the Crumlin Road), they fired into a crowd of women and children queuing at a taxi rank; there were no fatalities. Within 20 minutes of the blast, the IRA unit were arrested after their car was stopped at a roadblock. The Armalite that had been used to kill William Gracey and Samuel Gunning was found inside the car along with spent bullet cases and fingerprints belonging to the three IRA men.

The IRA did not initially claim responsibility, However, it later stated that the Bayardo was attacked because it was a pub where UVF associates relaxed and “planned terrorist assaults” against nationalists.

The pub was in the UVF-dominated middle Shankill Road area, and the Ulster Banner was displayed from its upper windows. Martin Dillon said that the Bayardo was frequented by the UVF and that Lenny Murphy, head of the Shankill Butchers gang, was a regular customer. Steve Bruce also maintained that in the early 1970s, the UVF’s Brigade Staff (Belfast leadership) would often be found drinking in the pub, which was just around the corner from their headquarters above “The Eagle” chip shop on the Shankill Road.

A former IRA prisoner claimed that fellow inmate Lenny Murphy told him he had left the Bayardo ten minutes before the attack and that the Brigade Staff had just finished holding a meeting there.

Retaliation and counter-retaliation

Loyalists, especially the UVF, responded with another wave of sectarian attacks against Catholics. Two days after, a loyalist car bomb exploded without warning on the Falls Road, injuring 35 people. On 22 August, the UVF launched a gun and bomb attack on McGleenan’s Bar in Armagh. The attack was strikingly similar to that at Bayardo. One gunman opened fire while another planted the bomb; the explosion causing the building to collapse. Three Catholic civilians were killed (one of whom died on 28 August) and several more were wounded.

That same night, another bomb wrecked a Catholic-owned pub in nearby Blackwatertown, although there were no injuries.

These loyalist attacks were responded to in kind by the IRA (sometimes using the cover name Republican Action Force or similar), with the months that followed the Bayardo attack being characterised as a bloody game of tit-for-tat. This was met with disillusionment by imprisoned republicans such as Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes, with the latter claiming that sectarianism was “destroying the whole struggle”.[21]


In May 1976, Brendan McFarlane, Seamus Clarke, and Peter Hamilton were convicted in a non-jury Diplock Court and sentenced to life imprisonment inside the Maze Prison for carrying out the Bayardo murders.[5][10][11] Inside the Maze, McFarlane rose to become Officer Commanding IRA prisoners and in 1983 he led the Maze Prison escape, which was the mass break-out of 38 republican prisoners, including Clarke and Hamilton. McFarlane and Clarke then went on the run, although Hamilton was immediately recaptured outside the prison’s main perimeter gate.

McFarlane has never spoken about the killings, and the IRA leadership has never encouraged him to do so, considering the attack was viewed as having been “purely sectarian”. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, however, told journalist Alan Murray that McFarlane “hadn’t a single, sectarian bone in his body”.

Peter “Skeet” Hamilton died of cancer in Dundalk on 25 February 2011 at the age of 57.

The Bayardo Somme Association has described the Bayardo attack as “a forgotten atrocity”. The association erected a memorial to the victims on the site where the Bayardo Bar stood before its demolition. The large steel monument was incorporated into the remaining section of the original structure; it bears the names and photographs of the five people who were killed plus photos of the pub taken before and after the bombing.

See: The Bayardo Bar attack

Dad’s death – Extracts from Belfast Child

Chapter Six

Dad’s Death



It was around 1976 that it first came to my attention that dad was ill and he was getting sicker and weaker by the day. He had always been a heavy drinker and smoker, but this was normal where we lived and we never really thought anything about it or the health implications these habits would have on him. One day when dad was supposed to be working I got home from school and found Margaret, Jean and some of their friend’s standing outside the front door. When I asked them what they were doing they said that had arrived home from school and on entering the house had heard a strange noise coming from upstairs and they had fled the house.

Trying to act all brave in from of my sisters I causally moved into the house, making sure I left the front door open, in case I had to make a quick getaway. After a nervous look downstairs and not finding anything, I began to make my way slowly up the stairs. As I got to the top I became aware of a deep rasping sound growing louder and louder that stopped me in my tracks. I’d seen enough of Dr. Who to know the sound I heard wasn’t coming from a human and I flew down the stairs and out of the house as fast as my legs could carry me. When the girls finally caught up with me I confirmed that I had indeed heard the sounds and I thought it might be one of those monsters from Dr.Who. The others looked rightly shocked at my analysis of the situation and it was decided that we would call the police. Christine Russell’s mum was the only neighbour we knew who had a phone and while Margaret and the other’s went to make the call, David and I made our way back to the house, making sure we kept a safe distance between us and the front door.

Word quickly spread around the estate that we had one of those monsters from Dr. Who hiding upstairs and before long large crowds began to gather, in the hope of seeing some action. When the police arrived they asked a few questions before entering the house and slowly making their way up the stairs. Whilst we were all waiting about outside to see what happened, Granny arrived and after a quick chat with a neighbour she made her way into the house with the police up stairs. After a while Granny came out with one of the policemen and explained to us that it was dad in the house, that he was sick and would have to go to hospital. In the distance we could hear the sound of an ambulance rushing towards us and suddenly it wasn’t funny or exciting anymore. I watched with the others as dad was stretchered out and placed in the ambulance and taken to the hospital. By the time everyone had cleared, Aunty Anne, dads younger sister arrived and explained to us that dad was going to be ok, but he would have to stay in hospital for a few days and she would be staying with us whilst he was away.

Being so young I don’t think I fully understood the magnitude of the situation and as usual I just ignored the situation that was going on around me and got on with my life. After that first time, dad was in and out of hospital all the time and gradually he became more and more ill. I remember many evenings at home, dad would take these horrible, agonising fits and one of us would have to run to Christine Russell’s house to call an ambulance. This became almost natural to us, but it was always distressing to see dad suffering so much and be unable to do anything to help.

Gradually we all began to realize that dad was very ill, although none of us wanted to accept or believe that he might die. I had already “lost” my mother and surely God wouldn’t take my dad away also? Once when he was in hospital Margaret decided that we would all do up the garden for dad and plant some rose bushes. We all went to work and by the time dad got out of hospital, the garden was looking great and dad was really impressed with our efforts and monitored the progress of the rose bushes with us. I remember the last time Granny took me up to the hospital to visit dad, I was really shocked and upset at how bad he looked. He was thin as a rake and I remember the watch he had worn all the time on his wrist had slide all the way up his arm to his elbow.

I’ve still got that watch, but I’ve never been able to wear it and every time I look at it I see dad in hospital, all skin and bones and at deaths door.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was too young to understand the seriousness of how ill dad was, this was the last time that I would see my dad alive.

I wish I had told him how much I loved him and told him how much the others and I would miss him, how much we needed him and didn’t want him to die.

When I got home I went straight to my room and begged God to save my dad and not take him away from us. But as usual God wasn’t listening and fate was once again messing with my destiny and making my young life a misery.

One day when we got home from school, Aunty Anne was waiting for us and told us that dad had been taken to hospital again, but he should be home in a few days. The day he was suppose to come home arrived and we all busied ourselves tidying up and making the place as nice as possible for him. Someone had told us that dad would be home around three o’clock and when the time came we all went down and stood on the main road watching for the car that would bring him home. Three o’clock came and went, then four and by 5 o’clock we were all getting bored waiting around. Eventually a car did approach us and pulled up, but our relief turned to panic when we realised that only Granny and Granddad were in the back. As they got out it was obvious that Granny was very upset and had been crying. Granddad told us he was taking her home and for us to wait indoors and they would come to see us in a while.

Dad never did come home.

Later that night Granny and Granddad gathered us all in the front room and through tears told us that dad wouldn’t be coming home. She explained to us that dad had died and was now in heaven watching over us. From the moment I heard the news I was distraught with grief and numb to everything going on around me. Dad had been the one stable thing in our lives since mum had left and now we were being told that he had died and we would never see him again.

The pain was almost too much to bear and I kept praying to myself that somehow there had been a terrible mistake and dad was going to walk through the door at any minute. But the brutal truth of the matter was that I wasn’t dreaming and once again fate and chance had entered my life and left a trail of misery and destruction in their wake.

The week of the funeral was the worst and longest of my live and to this day I am still trying to come to terms with dad’s death and the consequences it had on all our lives. After the autopsy dad’s body was brought home and laid to rest in Granny’s front room. Endless people came to pay their last respects and the sound of crying drifted constantly through the house, reminding me of my huge lose. Since the moments dad’s coffin was laid out in the front room, Shep curled up underneath and didn’t move the whole time it was in the house, apart from going for a pee. It was almost as if he was guarding dad’s body and at night when we were sleeping upstairs in Granny’s room, we could hear him whinging softly to himself, as he kept his 24 hour vigil. On the second night we were all brought in to see dad and as I stood over the coffin, looking into his lifeless face, I was praying and willing for him to move and for me to wake up from this horrible nightmare. I don’t know how long I stood looking down at him, but I was completely numb with pain and vaguely remember breaking down in tears and someone leading me away from the room.

When the day of the funeral finally arrived Granny got us all up early and dressed us in new clothes she had brought us for the funeral. I still remember the green and silver dogtooth blazer I wore that day as if it was yesterday and how I hated that jacket. After the coffin had been removed from the house we made our way to the church and I remember being surprised that there were so many people making their way to the church and the main road to see dad off. In the church we took our seats in front of the coffin and suddenly Granny absolutely lost it and threw herself over the coffin, screaming and crying for her baby son. It was really heartbreaking to see Granny suffer like that, but I was so numb with grief that it hardly registered at the time. It had been decided that dad’s band would all attend the funeral and when they stood up and played Amazing Grace it seemed as if everyone in the church was crying. When the service ended dad’s brothers and close family and friends lifted the coffin onto their shoulders and carried dad out of the church and unto the main road, for his final journey. Dads younger, Uncle Sam had been let out of jail for the funeral and his guards respectively give him the freedom to carry dad’s coffin. As the cortege made its way down the Glencairn Road, David and I fell in behind it and we followed the coffin down the Forthriver Road.

Dad had been such an integral part of the community that the whole of Glencairn came out that day to see him off and people lined the whole route all the way out of the estate. I don’t remember much about the graveyard, apart from the fact that it was a beautiful day and I could hear birds singing against the background of people crying. After the burial everyone headed back to Granny’s house for the wake and I remember wishing that I was at home in bed and alone with my broken heart, instead of being surrounded by people talking about dad and the happy memories he had left behind. It was the longest night of my life, with various people coming and going all the time and although they might have been trying to be kind to us, I just wished they would all go home and leave me alone, so I could go to bed and try to begin and comprehend dad’s death and life without him.

Eventually Aunty Anne gathered us all up and brought us home, to our own empty house and eventually got us into bed. I still remember lying there in the dark and thinking over and over again:


Why you dad?

Why, why, wh?

Surely if there really was a God, what possible reason would he have to let this happen to us.

Why would he let this happen to us, after everything else we had been through? I lay awake for hours tortured by the reality of what had happened and what the future now held for us without dad to protect us and mum being a distant memory.

Eventually I feel asleep from exhaustion and had a dream about dad that I was to have for many years after his death .In the dream I’m asleep in my bed and am woken up by the sound of dad gently calling my name. I begin searching the whole house for him and finally I realise that the voice is coming from the attic. When I get half way up the ladder, dads arm reaches down and helps me the rest of the way up. In the loft I notice that dads got a camp bed, a gas oven, kettle and it looks as if he has been here for some time. I ask him what he’s doing and tell him that I thought he was dead and I feel really happy now I know that he’s alive and well and still with us. Dad sits and talks to me for ages and when I ask him to come down and see the others he says he’s hiding and I have to keep it a secret from the others. The dream always ends with me crying hysterically for dad to come down from the loft with me and him reassuring me that everything would be ok. I would always wake up crying and upset and glace through the darkness towards the loft in the hallway, wishing the dream had been real.

The day after the funeral the reality of the situation hit all and we all dealt with our grief privately. Now that dad was dead there was the immediate problem of what was going to happen to us and where we were going to live. Aunty Ann had moved into the house and we all waited apprehensively to see what would happen to us. I remember thinking about mum and wishing she was there to pick up the piece and sooth our agony over dads death. Due to the fact that we were now orphans the social services got involved with the case and there was talk of us all going into a home. When we heard this we all prayed that it would never happen and in our childish innocence we hoped that they would let Margaret look after us, so we could all stay together.

This was never a realistic options as Margaret was only thirteen at the time and legally too young to look after us. Although we were all grief stricken at dad’s death, we really wanted to remain together as a family and we let Granny know this. Granny and the family pulled together and fought tooth and nail for the social services not to take us away from them and finally our future was decided. We were to be split up among the family in Glencairn. At least this meant we would still be living close together. Because Margaret was the oldest and closer to Granny and Granddad, she and David would go to live with them. Jean would go to live with dad’s brother Uncle Jim, his wife Maureen and my cousin’s Denise, Karen and Stephen, otherwise known as Pickle, at the top of the estate. I was going to live with Uncle Sam, Aunt Gerry (who was Maureen’s younger sister) and their children Wee Sam, Linda, Mandy and Joanne, on the Forthriver road. It was not a perfect solution and although we were all really upset that we were to be split up, at least we would all be living with members of the family and would see each other on a daily basis.

I was only 11 years old at the time and like the others had suffered a terrible life at the hands of fate and destiny, but there was one more tragedy just around the corner for me to deal with. Because I was so close to Shep, it was decided that he would come and live with me in Uncle Sam’s house. Since dad’s death Shep had refused to eat or drink and two weeks after the funeral he died one night in his sleep. The vet said that he had died of a broken heart and no one doubted this. There was so much misery in my life that I was almost to numb to mourn Shep’s death at the time. Beside’s I felt like I was also dying from a broken heart and I didn’t care whether I lived or died. I was 11 years old and I had lost the will to live.


Chapter Seven

Life without Dad

5th August – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

5th August

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

Thursday 5 August 1971

There was a debate at Westminster on the situation in Northern Ireland. Brian Faulkner, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, met with Edward Heath, then British Prime Minister, and Harry Tuzo, then General Officer Commanding the British Army (BA), in London to discuss the security situation.

5th August 1969

The UVF planted their first bomb in the Republic of Ireland , damaging the RTE Television Centre in Dublin


Sunday 5 August 1973


Francis & Bernadette Mullen

A Catholic husband and wife, Francis Mullan (59) and Bernadette Mullan (39), were found shot dead at their farmhouse near Moy, County Tyrone.

They had been killed by an unidentified Loyalist paramilitary group.

Friday 5 August 1977

There was a series of fire bomb attacks in Belfast and Lisburn, County Antrim.

Wednesday 5 August 1981

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a series of car bomb and incendiary bomb attacks in seven areas of Northern Ireland including Belfast, Derry and Lisburn. The attacks caused serious damage to property and minor injuries to a number of people.

Friday 5 August 1983

The ‘supergrass’ trial of 38 alleged members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ended in Belfast. The trial had lasted 120 days with most of the evidence being offered by IRA supergrass Christopher Black.

I.R.A supergrass Christopher Black

The judge jailed 22 of the accused to sentences totalling more that 4,000 years. Four people were acquitted and others received suspended sentences.

In 1986, 18 of the 22 who received prison sentences had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Tuesday 5 August 1986

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) issued another warning that contractors who were carrying out work for the security services in Northern Ireland would be considered ‘part of the war machine’ and would be ‘treated as collaborators’.

Monday 5 August 1996

A meeting between the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Bogside Residents Association ended without agreement about the march due to take place on 10 August 1996. A series of meetings between the two groups had been chaired by the local Member of Parliament John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Tuesday 5 August 1997

A Catholic taxi driver survived an attempt to kill him when the gun being used by a Loyalist paramilitary jammed.

The attack occurred in the Parkmore estate in Lurgan.

The Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) later claimed responsibility for the attack.

A hoax bomb was sent to Sammy Wilson, then a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) councillor, at Belfast City Hall.

Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, held her first meeting with Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), since the Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced its renewed ceasefire.

The Irish Times carried a report that John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), was considering accepting the position of President of the Republic of Ireland as an agreed all-party candidate. Hume did not comment on the story.

The Bogside Residents Group (BRG) gave agreement to the planned Apprentice Boys of Derry (ABD) march in the city on 9 August 1997. This followed the news that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) would reroute a number of ABD ‘feeder’ parades in other Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.

Thursday 5 August 1999

Two pipe-bombs were discovered by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in a hedge in Glengormley, County Antrim. Police made the discovery at 2.45am during a search carried out at the junction between Elmfield Crescent and Elmfield Road in the town.

A report of the Victims’ Commission, established by the Irish government, into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings recommended the appointment of a former Supreme Court judge to inquire privately into events surrounding the bombings which killed 33 people and injured over 400.

Although it was intended that the findings would eventually be made public, the families of the victims wanted the immediate establishment of a public tribunal of Inquiry.

Other recommendations of the report were that a similar Inquiry be established into the killing of Seamus Ludlow on 2 May 1976, and that the Irish government should make a £10,000 payment to the 150 families affected by the bombings.


Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

5  People lost their lives on the 5th August   between 1973 – 1994


 05 August 1973

Francis Mullen,   (59)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Found shot at his farmhouse, Gorestown, near Moy, County Tyrone.


 05 August 1973

Bernadette Mullen,   (39)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Found shot at her farmhouse, Gorestown, near Moy, County Tyrone.


 05 August 1974

Martha Lavery,   (67)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot while in her home during gun battle between Irish Republican Army (IRA) and British Army (BA), Jamaica Street, Ardoyne, Belfast.


 05 August 1991

Eric Boyd,  (42)

Status: ex-Ulster Defence Regiment (xUDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot shortly after leaving his workplace, while driving along Altmore Road, Cappagh, County Tyrone.


 05 August 1994

David Thompson,  (48)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Found shot, Ballyhill Lane, Nutts Corner, near Crumlin, County Antrim.

1st August – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles


1st August

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles Claudy Bomb

Friday 1 August 1975

James Marks

 Two Catholic civilians, Joseph Toland (78) and James Marks (42), died as a result of a gun attack on a minibus near Gilford, County Down. Marks died from his injuries on 7 January 1976.

No group claimed responsibility but ‘Lost Lives’ (2004; p614) records: “the attack …, according to reliable loyalist sources, was carried out by the UVF”.

Lt Gen David Leakey.jpg

David House, then a Lieutenant-General in the British Army, replaced Frank King as General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the army in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday 1 August 1978

 Tomás Ó Fiaich, Catholic Primate of Ireland, who had paid a visit to Republican prisoners in the Maze Prison on 30 July 1978, issued a statement saying that the prisoners engaged in the ‘blanket protest’ where living in ‘inhuman’ conditions.

At this stage of the ‘blanket protest’ over 300 Republican prisoners were refusing to wear prison clothes or follow normal prison regulations. This protest was an attempt to secure a return of special category status for people convicted of politically motivated crimes.

Wednesday 1 August 1979

The United States (US) State Department halted a private firearms shipment to Northern Ireland. The shipment also included firearms that were intended for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The RUC later purchased the arms from West Germany instead.

This decision by the US State Department was brought about by a campaign to try to bring pressure on the British government to undertake a new political initiative in Northern Ireland to find a solution to the conflict.

The campaign was headed by the so-called ‘Four Horsemen’ who were: ‘Tip’ O’Neill, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Edward Kennedy, then a Senator, Daniel Moynihan, then a Senator, and Hugh Carey, then Governor of New York. Previously the US had been uncritical of British policy in Northern Ireland and these developments were to prove worrying for the British

Saturday 1 August 1981

Seventh Hunger Striker Died

Kevin Lynch (25) died after 71 days on hunger strike. Lynch was a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

See 1981 Hungry Strikes

Monday 1 August 1988

An Irish Republic Army (IRA) bomb killed one soldier and injured nine at an army barracks in London. It was the first IRA bomb in Britain since the ‘Brighton’ bombing on 12 October 1984.

Friday 1 August 1997

Stewart Hunter (24), a Protestant civilian, was found dead at the side of a road near his home near Larne, County Antrim.

It was believed that Loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for the killing

Saturday 1 August 1998

Thirty-three civilians and two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) were injured when a car bomb, estimated at 500 pounds, exploded in Banbridge, County Down.

Extensive damage was also caused in the explosion that was later claimed by the “real” Irish Republican Army (rIRA).

The government in the Republic of Ireland took the decision to release six Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners from Portlaoise Prison. [Unionists reacted angrily to the announcement.

Sunday 1 August 1999

In the aftermath of the killing of Charles Bennett on 30 July 1999, John Bruton, then Leader of Fine Gael, called upon Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), to make “an authoritative statement” on the relationship between Sinn Féin (SF) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA).


Wednesday 1 August 2001

Implementation Plan Published and Bomb At Belfast Airport

British Army technical officers defused a car-bomb was left in the main car park at Belfast International Airport. There had been an initial warning at 5.00am (0500BST) but security forces were unable to locate the bomb. Following a second warning the vehicle was found close to the main terminal building.

The car park was closed but flights in and out of the airport were not affected. The “real” Irish Republican Army (rIRA) was thought to have been responsible for the attack.

The British and Irish governments published their Implementation Plan for the Good Friday Agreement. The document addressed the remaining issues of policing, normalisation, stability of the institutions, and decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

The political parties were given until Monday 6 August 2001 to give their response to the proposals. The funeral of Gavin Brett (18), who had been shot dead by Loyalist paramilitaries on 29 July 2001, took place at Carnmoney Parish Church. Nigel Baylor (Rev), then Church of Ireland rector, said that those responsible for the killing “have done nothing but bring shame on the name of Protestantism



Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

6 People lost their lives on the 1st August   between 1972 – 2001



01 August 1973

Peter Wilson, (21)


Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Abducted somewhere in the St. James area, Belfast. His remains eventually found by information supplied anonymously, buried in land at foreshore, Waterfoot, County Antrim, on 2 November 2010.


01 August 1975

Joseph Toland,  (78)


Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)

Shot during gun attack while travelling in mini bus, near Gilford, County Down.


01 August 1975

James Marks,  (42)


Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)

Shot during gun attack while driving mini bus, near Gilford, County Down. He died 7 January 1976.


01 August 1976

John Bovaird, (33)


Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Defence Association (UDA)

Shot at his home, Annalee Street, Lower Oldpark, Belfast. Lived with Catholic family.


01 August 1981

Kevin Lynch, (25)


Status: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA),

Killed by: Hunger Striker

Died on the 71st day of hunger strike, Long Kesh / Maze Prison, County Down.


01 August 1988

Michael Robbins, (23) nfNIB

Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Killed in time bomb attack on Inglis British Army (BA) base, Mill Hill, London. 

27th July – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

27th July

Wednesday 27 July 1977

Four people were shot dead and 18 were injured in the continuing feud between the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and members of the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA).

An off-duty member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) was shot dead by the IRA in Belfast.

Tuesday 27 July 1993

Albert Reynolds, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), argued that the suggested Northern Ireland Select Committee for the House of Commons would have an adverse affect on the Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA).

Thursday 27 July 1995

Patrick Mayhew, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), met for their first official talks at Stormont.

Sunday 27 July 1997

James Morgan (16), a Catholic civilian, was found dead in a field in County Down. It was believed that he had been abducted by the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).

Morgan had been missing since 24 July 1997. He had lived near Castlewellan, County Down.

[He had been tortured before being killed.]

27th or 29th July

 James Marley (21) from west Belfast hung himself on the railings of a motorway in Belfast. He had previously suffered a paramilitary ‘punishment’ attack, and had both his legs broken, because of his alleged involvement in ‘joyriding’ in the west Belfast area.

Hours before he committed suicide he had attended an anti-joyriding meeting where he had appealed for more youth facilities in the area.

Monday 27 July 1998

Two brothers, both Catholic civilians, were shot and wounded in a Loyalist attack in Derry.

Bernadete Sands-McKevitt, sister of Bobby Sands and member of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, said that the use of physical force by Republicans would not end until British rule in Ireland ended

Tuesday 27 July 1999

Garda Síochána (the Irish police) investigating a plot to smuggle handguns from the United States of America arrested a man and two women in Inverin, County Galway, and recovered eight handguns that had arrived in two parcels through the post.

Earlier, in the US, the FBI detained two men and a woman in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and a Belfast man in Philadelphia in a transatlantic operation involving British and Irish police.

An FBI source was reported as saying that the guns were intended for the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

A Catholic church in Moneymore, County Derry, was attacked with a pipe-bomb. No one was injured in the incident.

A woman escaped injury after a bomb was left at her house in Larne, County Antrim. The woman heard a noise around midnight and discovered the device at the front of her house. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) moved the residents living on the street from their homes.

Both attacks were carried out by Loyalist paramilitaries.


Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

10 People lost their lives on the 27th  July between 1972 – 1997




27 July 1972

Francis McStravick,  (42)


Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Defence Association (UDA)

Found shot on waste ground, off Linfield Road, Sandy Row, Belfast.


27 July 1975

William Hanna, (46)


Status: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) Also off duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) member.

Shot outside his home, Houston Park, Mourneview, Lurgan, County Armagh.


27 July 1977

James McFaul, (38)


Status: Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Off duty. Shot at his home, Woodvale Avenue, Belfast.


 July 1977

Trevor McNulty,  (26)


Status: Civilian Political Activist (CivPA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Republican Clubs member. Shot in the foyer of Alexander House, New Lodge, Belfast. Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) / Irish Republican Army (IRA) feud.


27 July 1977

James Foots,  (27)


Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA)

Shot as he got out of car, Unity Flats, off Upper Library Street, Belfast. Brother member of Sinn Fein (SF). Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) / Irish Republican Army (IRA) feud.


27 July 1977

Thomas Toland,  (31)


Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA)

Shot while walking along Divismore Crescent, Ballymurphy, Belfast. Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) / Irish Republican Army (IRA) feud.


27 July 1977

Daniel Cowan, (39)


Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA)

Shot at his home, Riverdale Park East, Andersonstown, Belfast. Previous occupier intended target. Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) / Irish Republican Army (IRA) feud


27 July 1979

JAMES Wright,  (48)


Status: ex-Royal Ulster Constabulary (xRUC),

Killed by: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

Killed by booby trap bomb attached to his car, outside his home, Corcrain Drive, Portadown, County


 27 July 1980

Robert Thompson, (26) nfNI

Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Killed by remote controlled bomb hidden in parked car, detonated when British Army (BA) foot patrol approached, Moy Bridge, near Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.


27 July 1997

James Morgan,  (16)


Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF)

Found beaten to death, in field, off Blackstaff Road, Clough, near Castlewellan, County Down.


Glencairn was a violent, ultra loyalist estate controlled by the UDA ( Ulster Defence Association )



Extracts from my Autobiography , Belfast Child



On a sunny day in 1970 my osteomyelitis was finally given the all clear and I was on my way home from the hospital, for a couple of years at least. I was so heartbroken to leave Nurse Brown, that on the day of my discharge I hid in a broom cupboard, in the childish belief if they couldn’t find me they would let me stay in the children’s ward with Nurse Brown.

The day before dad had explained to me that we had a new home and that‘s where I would be going to live when I left hospital. He explained that we had moved to Glencairn to be near his family, so that our grandmother could help look after us. We all loved my grandmother dearly and although I was grief stricken at the thought of leaving Nurse Brown, I was also excited at the thought of living in a new home and being surrounded by my grandparents and cousins. When I had first gone into hospital we had lived in a mixed area of the city and spent as much time with our Catholic family on mum’s side, as we had with dad’s family. When mum and dad had first parted dad forbade any of mum’s family from visiting me in hospital and as a result when they parted for good we were never to meet any of our Catholic relatives again.

The division in my family reflected the religious segregation that was ripping Northern Ireland apart. At four years old my political and religious destination was decided, as I left the children’s ward and headed home to my new life without mum in Glencairn.

proud_to_be_british_by_the_angus_burger-d58yegj 3

Glencairn was a violent, ultra loyalist estate in the West of the city built in the sixties and was controlled by the UDA, the largest protestant paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. The estate is cut into the mountains and is surrounded by glens and forest and from the top you can look down over Belfast City, with the giant cranes Samson and Goliath dominating the horizon of the east of the city. On my first day home I fell in love with Glencairn and I knew immediately that I would like living there. Previously we had lived in a built up area of Belfast and now I was surrounded by vast open spaces and fields and mountains as far as the eye could see. There was only one road into Glencairn and due to this isolation it became a dumping ground for loyalist murder squads

St. Andrews

Our new house was on the Forthriver Road, half way up the estate and two minutes walk from the local and only shopping complex in Glencairn, which was made up of a VG , a Chinese takeaway , paper shop , a wine lodge and a UDA drinking club called Grouchos, which dad worked in. Home for us was a ground floor house in a two story maisonette, with two bedrooms between five of us. It was a bit cramped and when I first came out of hospital I got to sleep with dad in his double bed and the others shared the other room. But we were all happy and I was excited about all the sudden changes in my young life. Just facing our house was St. Andrews church, which was to play a huge role in my future life,

Granny and Granddad lived just around the corner from our place and Granny practically lived in our house as she helped dad look after us. About 10 minutes away from our place, at the top of the estate dad’s two younger brothers and their wives and children lived. Like a lot of deprived area’s of Belfast, Glencairn was a tribal community and the Protestant people of the estate stuck together through thick and thin with their hatred of their Catholic counter parts throughout Belfast and Northern Ireland with a passion.

But the best thing for me was dad’s dog Shep, a temperamental Alsatian, who terrorised the area. We quickly became inseparable and before long we were the best of friend’s. After unpacking my things and settling me in, Dad and Granny called me into the front room and asked me to sit down. They explained that mum had gone away and that I would never see her again. If anyone were to ever ask where she was, I was simply to say she had died and leave it at that. Also from then on I was to call Gerard David and Mary Margaret. Due to the ultra Loyalist nature of Glencairn and the people we now lived amongst, all traces of our Catholic heritage and mum had to be eradicated from our past and we were told never to mention mum or her family again. This was done also for our own safety, because had the truth been known we would have been ostracised and picked on.

Within a short space of time I had really settled in and for the first time in my short life I was spending a lot of time with dad’s side of the family and I was getting to know my brother and sisters properly. Due to my leg, I got to sleep with dad in his huge double bed and every night he would carry me upstairs because, due to my caliper’s I was still unable to get up them by myself. Whist I had been in hospital I was surrounded by other children in wheelchairs, plaster and caliper’s and I had thought nothing of it. But now back at home with all those trees and never ending fields I began to feel self conscious about my caliper and the way I walked. When I had to visit the physiotherapist I pushed myself as hard as possible in my efforts to strengthen my leg muscles, so I could climb trees and run with the other kids. But I was getting stronger everyday and within a year of leaving hospital I could walk and run unaided, although I was to have a limp for the rest of my life and suffer multiple fractures due to the weak bones in my bad leg.

me and dad
Dad and me

As the weakling of the family I got special attention from Dad and my Grandparents and during my first few months at home dad took a lot of time off work as a gardener to look after me and help me settle into my new life. Dad had always been a special person in my tiny world , but now that I was home and spending so much time with him , he soon became the centre of my universe and I must have been a right nuisance as I followed him around like a love sick puppy getting under his feet all the time. Within a few weeks after coming home I was enrolled in the local school, Fernhill which was just behind our home on the perimeters of the park and glens. I was lucky in that aspect that my sisters and brother and all my cousin’s attended the same school and from my first day there I loved every minute I spent there.

After school we would all head off to the vast Glencairn park and when we got bored with playing on the swings or climbing trees we would go down the glen to the river and play for hours following the river as far as we could and catching rainbow trout with pieces of string attached to branches and our bare hands. It was an idyllic place to grow up and had it not been for the absence of mum and the madness going on around us, it could have been the perfect childhood.

Before moving to Glencairn I had not been aware that Dad, along with his brother was a member of the UDA. This was nothing out of the ordinary, as most of the adult men and many of the women in Glencairn and the surrounding areas were members of one of the many loyalist paramilitary groups. The UDA played a very active role within the community and if someone had a problem that needed solving or were short of cash and needed a loan they would turn to the UDA. Like a lot of the paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the UDA were looked upon as protectors of the people they governed. Although he was a member of the UDA, like many others dad did not get involved with the military actions of the active units and was a pacifist who hated violence. He had been a practising Christian for most of his teenage years.

Dad played a very active role within the UDA and apart from running the local UDA club, Grouchos, he was responsible for setting up and running the Glencairn Accordion band. From my point of view this was excellent. My sisters and cousins were all members of the band, the younger ones played the triangle or symbols and then like my sisters Margaret and Jean, working their way up the ranks until they were taught how to play the accordion. The band was the pride of Glencairn and won many competitions throughout Northern Ireland. They practiced on Thursday nights and I use to go with dad up to the practice hall at the top of the estate and sit mesmerised in the corner, surrounded by 40 females of various ages. There was one girl who played the accordion and I feel in love with her the first time I set eyes on her. Of course she never knew as the girls went through the rehearsals, playing various loyalist tunes and anthems, I would sing along and pretend to be the leader of the band and march up and down the hall. The girls’ found this absolutely hilarious and in order to gain some control back, dad would tell me off and I would have to sit quietly in the corner again, until a personal favourite of mine was played and I would be off again. During the protestant marching season and the build up to the 12th, the most important day in the loyalist calendar, the band was hired to march with various orange lodges throughout Northern Ireland. On the day of the march our house would be in complete chaos as my sisters and dad got themselves dressed in the uniforms for the march. Granny would come round to help and gradually all our cousins would arrive with various instruments and get in some last minute practice. All the members of the band would meet outside the shops and a large crowd always gathered to see them off. I would almost be bursting with pride as they all fell in together and led by dad would start marching down the Glencairn Road towards the meeting point on the Shankill Road.

Dad and Margaret

David and I would follow the band down to the bottom of the road and wave them off before heading home for a snack and then out to play until tea time. The band would normally arrive back in the estate between six and seven and we would wait eagerly near the Road until we could hear the distant sound of them approaching and rush to greet them. When we finally got home granny would prepare dinner and after eating we would all sit down and watch telly, exhausted by the day’s events.

At this stage of my life I was as happy and normal as an eight –year old boy could be in my circumstances and was blissfully unaware that my life was so different from others. Life with dad and the others was a happy life and I now had a routine to my life that was missing when I was in hospital. I still occasionally thought of Nurse Brown and missed her, but I was to see her again in the not too distant future. On Tuesday David and I went to the BB and Sunday school on Sunday’s. Although I really believed that god had created the earth and sacrificed his only son for the good of mankind, my god had become a Protestant god and I did not love my Catholic counterparts. Reverend Lewis, our vicar, was a patient and tolerant man but he occasionally became exasperated at our hardcore Protestant approach to religion and tried hard to teach us the concept of love, not hate.

Although dad did go to church himself it was expected of us kids to attend and religion played a very important role in my early life and teenage years. Also I think dad liked to get us all out of the house for a while, so he could have some peace and quiet time to himself and a rest from looking after us. Sometime’s dad would be on sentry duty outside the UDA club and David and I would go and visit him on the way home. In these early years I used to think of mum only occasionally and once when I asked granny about her she made it clear that mum was gone forever and I was not to mention her again and forget all about her. So I did exactly that and pushed mum to the back of my mind and got on with my new exciting life in Glencairn.

One day after weeks of anticipation Margaret’s cat Smoky give birth to a little of five kittens. We were all allowed into Margaret’s bedroom to watch the birth, including dad’s dog; my best friend Shep, who was told off a few times by Smoky for getting a little too close to the action.

After letting David, Shep and I have a supervised look at the five kittens Margaret banished us from the labour ward, as she needed to spend time alone with her five new charges. I was very thoughtful and to be honest jealous of Margaret having five brand new kittens to her name and I wanted some for myself. There was obviously no quick way for me to find five brand new kittens for myself, so I decided there and then that Shep would have to give birth to five puppies for me before the day was out. The major problem there was that Shep was a he! This bit of fundamental biological necessity wasn’t going to put me off.

After a quick strategy plan with David we headed to our secret den in the park, with an unexpected Shep in tow. My plan was a simple one, I needed a miracle and I was going to ask God to help. Reverend Lewis had instilled in us a firm believe that if you wanted and needed something bad enough god would answer your prayers. Surely god and baby Jesus in their wisdom would recognize the importance of me having five puppies for myself before the end of the day. When we got to the den Shep was more than happy to lay down on the grass and rub his belly and wait for the miracle that god was about to perform. I had little knowledge of how kittens were born and how miracles worked, but I was not to be put off. After a chat with David and stroking Shep’s belly with what I felt was a miracle stroke, I lead David behind a nearby bush, sank to my knees and began a marathon prayer to god and Jesus, outlining the desperate importance of Shep giving birth and me having my puppies. Needless to say nothing happened and after about an hour David and Shep were beginning to give me strange looks and were obviously bored and becoming alarmed at my enthusiasm for the lord’s intervention and after a while I too got bored and disillusioned and decided to throw the towel in… for now at least. It was obvious to me that god in his wisdom had decided not to grant me a miracle today but this did not diminish my faith and I would continue to seek gods help in all matters big and small.

See autobiography page for the first 7 chapters of my story Belfast Child




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Please visit the Autobiography page for additional chapters

Belfast Child – A Letter from the past lead to a reunion with my Dead mother

Belfast Child

A Child of the Troubles brought up within the heartlands of Loyalist West Belfast and his life long search for him missing Catholic Mother

Extracts from my Autobiography


Boarding the Virgin train at London Euston I ignored the day trippers and business travellers and took my seat opposite my brother David and we settled in for the three hour journey north to Preston, in Lancashire. I had been to Preston a few times on business trips previously and to be honest it hadn’t really left an impression on me. But the thought of what or who was waiting for me at the other end now filled me with apprehension and overwhelming anxiety.

I was going to confront the ghosts of my past.

It was mid January and the UK was in the grip of the coldest winter in decades and outside a heavy snow was falling and the landscape was covered in a thick blanket of white. Looking out the window I watched silently as the train gathered speed and the country scenery flashed past in a blurry haze. David was snoring quietly and I was glad of the silence, I had to prepare myself for what was to come.

I took the letter out of my pocket and read  the words for the thousandth time.

1 a my letterhead temple for Belfast child letter with text x 3 use this one

The letter had been given to my sister back in Belfast and had eventually found its way to me in London.

I had spent most of my life believing my mother was dead and knowing next to nothing about her. But to my amazement when I was a teenager I had learnt that she was in fact not dead, but alive and well, but due to the nature of my parents breakup and my father’s family being ultra Loyalist from the Shankill Road in Loyalist West Belfast she had been denied access to us and her memory and all traces of her had been erased from our lives’.

As I grew older I began trying to find out more about my mother , but this was impossible due to that fact my father’s family refused to discuss her and I was told to let sleeping dogs sleep. When I was in my late teens I began a secret search for  mum and I approached the Salvation Army and other agencies who I thought could help me find her, But due to lack of information ( I didn’t even know her maiden name) there was nothing they could do.

When I was sixteen and doing Job experience in The Mater hospital Belfast I met a wonderful lady called Muriel Wilson and after hearing my story she took me under her wing and tried to help me find mum. She was Catholic and up until this stage in my life I had never really spoken to a catholic , as I viewed them all as my enemy. But Muriel taught me that we weren’t so different after all and I started to re-examine my fanatical hatred towards Catholics.

Going against the very fabric of my Loyalist culture Muriel put me in touch with a kind Catholic priest and he also joined the secret hunt for my missing mother. But alas, this , like all other attempts failed as I knew nothing whatsoever about my mother and there was no one I could turn too. I eventually give up the search and had accepted that perhaps I would never find her and as my life moved on my mother’s absence took a back seat to the trivia of day to day living.

Then the letter arrived

Now a year after receiving the letter  and speaking with Philomena in Boston I was on train travelling to Preston to meet my mother for the first time in over 25 years and face the ghosts of my past

See autobiography page for the first 7 chapters of my story Belfast Child




Irish Republican Army. (I.R.A) – History & Background

Irish Republican Army. (I.R.A) – History & Background

The views and opinions expressed in this page and  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 errors.

Provisional Irish Republican Army

The IRA were responsible for approx.  1,823 deaths


IRA Bombers (IRA Documentary


Gaddafi and the IRA – Full


The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA or PIRA) was[5][6][7][8] an Irish republican paramilitary organisation that sought to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about an independent republic encompassing all of Ireland.[9][10] It was the biggest and most active republican paramilitary group during the Troubles. It saw itself as the successor to the original IRA and called itself simply the Irish Republican Army, or Óglaigh na hÉireann in Irish.[11] It was also widely referred to as such by others. The IRA is designated an unlawful terrorist organisation in the UK and an unlawful organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][13]

The Provisional IRA emerged in December 1969, following a split in the republican movement. The Troubles had begun a year before, when a Catholic, nonviolent civil rights campaign was met with violence from both Ulster loyalists and the police, culminating in the August 1969 riots and deployment of British troops.[14]

Secret Undercover British Army Terrorist Force – Military Reaction Force Disclosed


The IRA initially focused on defence, but it began an offensive campaign in 1971 (see timeline). The IRA’s primary goal was to force the British to negotiate a withdrawal from Northern Ireland. It used guerrilla tactics against the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary in both rural and urban areas. It also carried out a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and England against what it saw as political and economic targets. Telephoned warnings were usually sent before such bombings. The IRA called a final ceasefire in July 1997, when Sinn Féin were re-admitted into the Northern Ireland peace talks. It supported the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and in 2005 it disarmed under international supervision.

Overview of strategies

The IRA’s initial strategy was to use force to cause the collapse of the government of Northern Ireland and to inflict enough casualties on British forces that the British government would be forced by public opinion to withdraw from the region.[15] This policy involved recruitment of volunteers, increasing after the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident, in which the British military killed unarmed protesters, and launching attacks against British military and economic targets.[16][17] The campaign was supported by arms and funding from Libya[18] and from some groups in the United States.[19][20]

The IRA agreed to a ceasefire in February 1975, which lasted nearly a year[21] before the IRA concluded that the British were drawing them into politics without offering any guarantees in relation to the IRA’s goals (as well as launching an intelligence offensive),[22] and hopes of a quick victory receded.[23] As a result, the IRA launched a new strategy known as “the Long War”. This saw them conduct a war of attrition against the British and increase emphasis on political activity, via the political party Sinn Féin.[24]

The success of the 1981 Irish hunger strike in mobilising support and winning elections led to the Armalite and ballot box strategy, with more time and resources devoted to political activity. The abortive attempt at an escalation of the military part of that strategy led republican leaders increasingly to look for a political compromise to end the conflict, with a broadening dissociation of Sinn Féin from the IRA. Following negotiations with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and secret talks with British civil servants, the IRA ultimately called a ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin would be included in political talks for a settlement.[25] When the British government, dependent on Ulster Unionist Party votes at Westminster, then demanded the disarmament of the IRA before it allowed Sinn Féin into multiparty talks, the IRA called off its ceasefire in February 1996.

This demand was quickly dropped after the May 1997 general election in the UK. The IRA ceasefire was then reinstated in July 1997 and Sinn Féin was admitted into all-party talks, which produced the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The IRA’s armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England and mainland Europe, caused the deaths of approximately 1,800 people. The dead included around 1,100 members of the British security forces, and about 640 civilians.[26][27] The IRA itself lost 275–300 members[28] and an estimated 10,000 imprisoned at various times over the 30-year period.[1][29]

On 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using “purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”,[30] and shortly afterwards completed decommissioning. In September 2008, the nineteenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that the IRA was “committed to the political path” and no longer represented “a threat to peace or to democratic politics”, and that the IRA’s Army Council was “no longer operational or functional”.[31][32] The organisation remains classified as a proscribed terrorist group in the UK and as an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][33] Two small groups split from the Provisional IRA, the Continuity IRA in 1986, and the Real IRA in 1997. Both reject the Good Friday Agreement and continue to engage in paramilitary activity.

On 26 July 2012, it was announced that some former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army were merging with the Real Irish Republican Army, other independent republican paramilitary groups and the vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs (but, notably, not with the Continuity Irish Republican Army) into a unified formation known simply as the “Irish Republican Army”.[34][35] This new IRA group is estimated by Police Service of Northern Ireland intelligence sources to have between 250 and 300 active militants and many more supporting associates.[36]


An IRA badge – the Phoenix is frequently used to symbolise the origins of the Provisional IRA.

In August 1969, a confrontation between Catholic residents of the Bogside and police Londonderry ollowing an Apprentice Boys of Derry march led to a large communal riot now referred to as the Battle of the Bogside – three days of fighting between rioters throwing stones and petrol bombs and police who saturated the area with CS gas.

Protests and riots organised by NICRA in support of the Bogsiders began elsewhere in the Province sparking retaliation by Protestant mobs; the subsequent burning, damage to property and intimidation largely against the minority community forced 1,505 Catholics from their homes in Belfast in what became known as the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969, with over 200 Catholic homes being destroyed or requiring major repairs[14] and a number of people were killed on both sides, some by the forces of law and order. The Irish Republican Army had been poorly armed and unable to adequately defend the Catholic community, which had been considered one of its traditional roles since the 1920s.[37]

Veteran republicans were critical of the IRA’s Dublin leadership which, for political reasons, had refused to prepare for aggressive action in advance of the violence.[38][39] On 24 August Joe Cahill, Seamus Twomey, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Billy McKee and several other future Provisional leaders came together in Belfast intending to remove the Belfast leadership and turn back to traditional militant republicanism.[40] Although the pro-Goulding commander Billy McMillen stayed in command, he was told it was only for three months and he was not to have any communication with the IRA’s Dublin based leadership.[40]

Traditional republicans formed the “Provisional” Army Council in December 1969, after an IRA Army convention was held at Knockvicar House in Boyle, County Roscommon.[41][42][43] The two main issues were the acceptance of the “National Liberation Strategy” and a motion to end abstentionism and to recognise the British, Irish and Northern Ireland parliaments. While the motion on the “National Liberation Strategy” was passed unanimously[43] the motion on abstentionism was only passed by 28 votes to 12. Opponents of this change argued strongly against the ending of abstentionism, and when the vote took place, Seán Mac Stíofáin, present as IRA Director of Intelligence, announced that he no longer considered that the IRA leadership represented republican goals.[44] However, there was not a walkout. Those opposed, who included Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, refused to go forward for election to the new IRA Executive.[45]

While others canvassed support throughout Ireland, Mac Stíofáin was a key person making a connection with the Belfast IRA under Billy McKee and Joe Cahill, who had refused to take orders from the IRA’s Dublin leadership since September 1969, in protest at their failure to defend Catholic areas in August.[46][47] Nine out of thirteen IRA units in Belfast sided with the Provisionals in December 1969, roughly 120 activists and 500 supporters.[48] The first “Provisional” Army Council was composed of Seán Mac Stíofáin, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Paddy Mulcahy, Sean Tracey, Leo Martin, and Joe Cahill,[49] and issued their first public statement on 28 December 1969, stating:

We declare our allegiance to the 32 county Irish republic, proclaimed at Easter 1916, established by the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, overthrown by forces of arms in 1922 and suppressed to this day by the existing British-imposed six-county and twenty-six-county partition states.[50]

The Sinn Féin party split along the same lines on 11 January 1970, when a third of the delegates walked out of the Ard Fheis in protest at the party leadership’s attempt to force through the ending of abstentionism, despite its failure to achieve a two-thirds majority vote of delegates required to change the policy.[51] Despite the declared support of that faction of Sinn Féin, the early Provisional IRA was extremely suspicious of political activity, arguing rather for the primacy of armed struggle.[52]

There are allegations that the early Provisional IRA received arms and funding from the Fianna Fáil-led Irish government in 1969, resulting in the 1970 “Arms trial” in which criminal charges were pursued against two former government ministers. Roughly £100,000 was donated by the Irish government to “Defence Committees” in Catholic areas and, according to historian Richard English, “there is now no doubt that some money did go from the Dublin government to the proto-Provisionals”.[53]

The Provisionals maintained the principles of the pre-1969 IRA; they considered both British rule in Northern Ireland and the government of the Republic of Ireland to be illegitimate, insisting that the Provisional IRA’s Army Council was the only valid government, as head of an all-island Irish Republic. This belief was based on a series of perceived political inheritances which constructed a legal continuity from the Second Dáil.[54][55]

The Provisionals inherited most of the existing IRA organisation in the north by 1971 and the more militant IRA members in the rest of Ireland. In addition, they recruited many young nationalists from the north, who had not been involved in the IRA before, but had been radicalised by the communal violence that broke out in 1969. These people were known in republican parlance as “sixty niners”, having joined after 1969.[56] The Provisional IRA adopted the Phoenix as symbol of the Irish republican rebirth in 1969. One of its common slogans is “out of the ashes rose the provisionals”.[57]


The Provisional IRA was organised hierarchically. At the top of the organisation was the IRA Army Council, headed by the IRA Chief of Staff.


All levels of the organisation were entitled to send delegates to IRA General Army Conventions (GACs). The GAC was the IRA’s supreme decision-making authority. Before 1969, GACs met regularly. Since 1969, there have only been two, in 1970 and 1986, owing to the difficulty in organising such a large gathering of an illegal organisation in secret.[58][59]

The GAC in turn elected a 12-member IRA Executive, which selected seven volunteers to form the IRA Army Council.[58] For day-to-day purposes, authority was vested in the Army Council which, as well as directing policy and taking major tactical decisions, appointed a Chief of Staff from one of its number or, less commonly, from outside its ranks.[60]

PIRA re-enacment in Galbally, County Tyrone (2009)

The Chief of Staff would appoint an adjutant general as well as a General Headquarters (GHQ), which consisted of heads of the following departments:

  • Armory
  • Finance
  • Engineering
  • Training
  • Intelligence
  • Publicity
  • Operations
  • Security

Regional command

Republican colour party in Dublin – March 2009. The blue flag being carried at the front is that of “Dublin Brigade IRA”

The IRA was divided into a Northern Command, which operated in the nine Ulster counties as well as County Leitrim and County Louth, and a Southern Command, operating in the rest of Ireland. The Provisional IRA was originally commanded by a leadership based in Dublin. However, in 1977, parallel to the introduction of cell structures at local level, command of the “war-zone” was given to the Northern Command. According to Ed Moloney, these moves at reorganisation were the idea of Ivor Bell, Gerry Adams and Brian Keenan.[61]


The IRA refers to its ordinary members as volunteers (or óglaigh in Irish). Up until the late 1970s, IRA volunteers were organised in units based on conventional military structures. Volunteers living in one area formed a company as part of a battalion, which could be part of a brigade, although many battalions were not attached to a brigade.

For most of its existence, the IRA had five Brigade areas within what it referred to as the “war-zone”. These Brigades were located in Armagh, Belfast, Derry, Donegal and Tyrone/Monaghan.[62] The Belfast Brigade had three battalions, respectively in the west, north and east of the city. In the early years of the Troubles, the IRA in Belfast expanded rapidly. In August 1969, the Belfast Brigade had just 50 active members. By the end of 1971, it had 1,200 members, giving it a large but loosely controlled structure.[63]

The Derry Brigade had two battalions – one based in Derry City, known as the South Derry Brigade, and another in Donegal. The Derry Battalion became the Derry Brigade in 1972 after a rapid increase in membership following Bloody Sunday when British paratroopers killed 13 unarmed demonstrators at a civil rights march.[64] Volunteers based in Donegal were a part of the Derry Brigade as well. County Armagh had three battalions, two very active ones in South Armagh and a less active unit in North Armagh. For this reason the Armagh IRA unit is often referred to as the South Armagh Brigade. Similarly, the Tyrone/Monaghan Brigade, which operated from around the Border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is often called the East Tyrone Brigade. Fermanagh, South Down and North Antrim had units not attached to Brigades.[65] The leadership structure at battalion and company level was the same: each had its own commanding officer, quartermaster, explosives officer and intelligence officer. There was sometimes a training officer or finance officer.

Active service units

Ulster Defence Association – Hunting The IRA (Documentary


From 1973, the IRA started to move away from the larger conventional military organisational principle owing to its security vulnerability.[66] A system of two parallel types of unit within an IRA brigade was introduced in place of the battalion structures. Firstly, the old “company” structures were used for tasks such as “policing” nationalist areas, intelligence gathering, and hiding weapons. These were essential support activities. However, the bulk of actual attacks were the responsibility of a second type of unit, the active service unit (ASU). To improve security and operational capacity, these ASUs were smaller, tight-knit cells, usually consisting of five to eight members. The ASU’s weapons were controlled by a brigade’s quartermaster.[67] By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was estimated that in the late 1980s the IRA had roughly 300 members in ASUs and about another 450 serving in supporting roles.[65]

The exception to this reorganisation was the South Armagh Brigade, which retained its traditional hierarchy and battalion structure and used relatively large numbers of volunteers in its actions.[68]

The IRA’s Southern Command, located in the Republic of Ireland, consists of a Dublin Brigade and a number of smaller units in rural areas. These were charged mainly with the importation and storage of arms for the Northern units and with raising finances through robberies and other means.[69]

Details on strategy 1969–1998

Initial phase

Following the violence of August 1969, the IRA began to arm and train to protect nationalist areas from further attack.[70] After the Provisionals’ split from the Official IRA the Provisional IRA began planning for an all-out offensive action against what it claimed was British occupation.[71]

The Official IRA were opposed to such a campaign because they felt it would lead to sectarian conflict, which would defeat their strategy of uniting the workers from both sides of the sectarian divide. The IRA Border Campaign in the 1950s had avoided actions in urban centres of Northern Ireland to avoid civilian casualties and resulting sectarian violence.[72] The Provisional IRA, by contrast, was primarily an urban organisation, based originally in Belfast and Derry.

The Provisional IRA’s strategy was to use force to cause the collapse of the Northern Ireland administration and to inflict casualties on the British forces such that the British government be forced by public opinion to withdraw from Ireland. According to journalist Brendan O’Brien, “the thinking was that the war would be short and successful. Chief of Staff Seán Mac Stíofáin decided they would ‘escalate, escalate and escalate’ until the British agreed to go”.[15] This policy involved recruitment of volunteers and carrying out attacks on British forces, as well as mounting a bombing campaign against economic targets. In the early years of the conflict, IRA slogans spoke of, “Victory 1972″ and then “Victory 1974″.[16] Its inspiration was the success of the “Old IRA” in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922). In their assessment of the IRA campaign, the British Army would describe these years, 1970–72, as the “insurgency phase”.[73]

The British government held secret talks with the IRA leadership in 1972 to try and secure a ceasefire based on a compromise settlement within Northern Ireland after the events of Bloody Sunday when IRA recruitment and support increased. The IRA agreed to a temporary ceasefire from 26 June to 9 July. In July 1972, Seán Mac Stíofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Ivor Bell, Seamus Twomey, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness met a British delegation led by William Whitelaw. The Irish republicans refused to consider a peace settlement that did not include a commitment to British withdrawal, a retreat of the British Army to its barracks, and a release of republican prisoners. The British refused and the talks broke up.[74]

Éire Nua and the 1975 ceasefire

The Provisionals’ goal in this period was the abolition of both the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland states and their replacement with a new all-Ireland federal republic, with decentralised governments and parliaments for each of the four Irish historic provinces. This programme was known as Éire Nua (New Ireland). The Éire Nua programme remained IRA policy until discontinued by the Army Council in 1979.[75] Éire Nua remained Sinn Féin policy until 1982.[76]

By the mid-1970s, the hopes of the IRA leadership for a quick military victory were receding. The British military was unsure of when it would see any substantial success against the IRA. Secret meetings between Provisional IRA leaders Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Billy McKee with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees secured an IRA ceasefire which began in February 1975. The IRA initially believed that this was the start of a long-term process of British withdrawal, but later came to the conclusion that Rees was trying to bring them into peaceful politics without offering them any guarantees.[23] Critics of the IRA leadership, most notably Gerry Adams, felt that the ceasefire was disastrous for the IRA, leading to infiltration by British informers, the arrest of many activists and a breakdown in IRA discipline resulting in sectarian killings and a feud with fellow republicans in the Official IRA. At this time, the IRA leadership, short of money, weapons and members, was on the brink of calling off the campaign. The ceasefire, however, broke down in January 1976.[21]

The “Long War

IRA political poster from the 1980s, featuring a quote from Bobby Sands – “There can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically”.

Thereafter, the IRA evolved a new strategy which they called the “Long War”. This underpinned IRA strategy for the rest of the Troubles and involved the re-organisation of the IRA into small cells, an acceptance that their campaign would last many years before being successful and an increased emphasis on political activity through Sinn Féin. A republican document of the early 1980s states, “Both Sinn Féin and the IRA play different but converging roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign… Sinn Féin maintains the propaganda war and is the public and political voice of the movement”.[77] The 1977 edition of the Green Book, an induction and training manual used by the IRA, describes the strategy of the “Long War” in these terms:

  1. A war of attrition against enemy personnel [British Army] based on causing as many deaths as possible so as to create a demand from their [the British] people at home for their withdrawal.
  2. A bombing campaign aimed at making the enemy’s financial interests in our country unprofitable while at the same time curbing long term investment in our country.
  3. To make the Six Counties… ungovernable except by colonial military rule.
  4. To sustain the war and gain support for its ends by National and International propaganda and publicity campaigns.
  5. By defending the war of liberation by punishing criminals, collaborators and informers.[78]

Confidential documents released on 30 December 2008 from the British state archives show that the IRA leadership proposed a ceasefire and peace talks to the British government in 1978. The British refused the offer. Prime Minister James Callaghan decided that there should be “positive rejection” of the approach on the basis that the republicans were not serious and “see their campaign as a long haul”. Irish State documents from the same period say that the IRA had made a similar offer to the British the previous year. An Irish Defence Forces document, dated 15 February 1977, states that “It is now known that feelers were sent out at Christmas by the top IRA leadership to interest the British authorities in another long ceasefire.”[79]

1981 hunger strikes and electoral politics

Insight: The 1981 Hunger Strike 20 Years On – 2001


IRA funeral, 1981

IRA prisoners convicted after March 1976 did not have Special Category Status applied in prison. In response, over 500 prisoners refused to wash or wear prison clothes (see Dirty protest and Blanket protest). This activity culminated in the 1981 Irish hunger strike, when seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army members starved themselves to death in pursuit of political status. The hunger strike leader Bobby Sands and Anti H-Block activist Owen Carron were elected to the British Parliament, and two other protesting prisoners were elected to the Irish Dáil. In addition, there were work stoppages and large demonstrations all over Ireland in sympathy with the hunger strikers. Over 100,000 people attended the funeral of Sands, the first hunger striker to die.[80]

After the success of IRA hunger strikers in mobilising support and winning elections on an Anti H-Block platform in 1981, republicans increasingly devoted time and resources to electoral politics, through the Sinn Féin party. Danny Morrison summed up this policy at a 1981 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (annual meeting) as a “ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other”.[81]

Peace strategy

The success of the 1981 Irish hunger strike in mobilising support and winning elections led to what was referred to by Danny Morrison as, “the Armalite and ballot box strategy” with more time and resources devoted to political activity. The perceived stalemate along with British government’s hints of a compromise[82] and secret approaches in the early 1990s led republican leaders increasingly to look for a political agreement to end the conflict,[83][84] with a broadening dissociation of Sinn Féin from the IRA. Following negotiations with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and secret talks with British civil servants, the IRA ultimately called a ceasefire in 1994 on the understanding that Sinn Féin would be included in political talks for a settlement.[25] When the British government then demanded the disarmament of the IRA before it allowed Sinn Féin into multiparty talks, the organisation called off its ceasefire in February 1996. The renewed bombings caused severe economic damage, with the Manchester bombing and the Docklands bombing causing approximately £500 million in combined damage. After the ceasefire was reinstated in July 1997, Sinn Féin was admitted into all-party talks, which produced the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The IRA’s armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England and mainland Europe, caused the deaths of approximately 1,800 people. The dead included around 1,100 members of the British security forces, and about 630 civilians.[26][27] The IRA itself lost 275–300 members,[28] of an estimated 10,000 total over the 30-year period.[1]

According to author Ed Moloney, the IRA made an attempt to escalate the conflict with the so-called “Tet Offensive” in the 1980s, which was reluctantly approved by the Army Council and did not prove successful. On the other hand, public speeches from two Northern Ireland Secretaries of State, Peter Brooke[85] and Patrick Mayhew[86] hint that, given the cessation of violence, a political compromise with the IRA was possible. Gerry Adams entered talks with John Hume, the leader of the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in 1993, and secret talks were also conducted since 1991 between Martin McGuinness and a senior MI6 officer, Michael Oatley.[82][84][87] Thereafter, Adams increasingly tried to disassociate Sinn Féin from the IRA, claiming they were separate organisations and refusing to speak on behalf of the IRA.[88] Within the Republican Movement (the IRA and Sinn Féin), the new strategy was described by the acronym “TUAS”, meaning either “Tactical Use of Armed Struggle” or “Totally Unarmed Strategy”.[89]

Weaponry and operations

The Armalite AR-18, obtained by the IRA from an IRA member in the United States in the early 1970s, was an emotive symbol of its armed campaign

An AK-47 assault rifle (over 1,000 of which were donated by Muammar Gaddafi to the IRA in the 1980s)

Heckler & Koch G3. 100 of these, stolen from the Norwegian police, finished up with the IRA

In the early days of the Troubles the IRA was very poorly armed, mainly with old World War II weaponry such as M1 Garands and Thompson submachine guns, but starting in the early 1970s it procured large amounts of modern weaponry from such sources as supporters in the United States, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi,[21] and arms dealers in Europe, America, the Middle East and elsewhere. The Libyans supplied the IRA with the RPG-7.

The RPG-7

In the first years of the conflict, the IRA’s main activities were providing firepower to support nationalist rioters and defending nationalist areas from attacks. The IRA gained much of its support from these activities, as they were widely perceived within the nationalist community as being defenders of Irish nationalist and Roman Catholic people against aggression.[90]

Grand Hotel following a bomb attack


Thatcher and the IRA Dealing with Terror BBC Documentary 2014 Full


From 1971–1994, the IRA launched a sustained offensive armed campaign that mainly targeted the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), and economic targets in Northern Ireland. In addition, some IRA members carried out attacks against Protestant civilians.[91]

The IRA was chiefly active in Northern Ireland, although it took its campaign to England and mainland Europe. The IRA also targeted certain British government officials, politicians, judges, establishment figures, British Army and police officers in England, and in other areas such as the Republic of Ireland, West Germany and the Netherlands. By the early 1990s, the bulk of the IRA activity was carried out by the South Armagh Brigade,[citation needed] well known through its sniping operations and attacks on British Army helicopters. The bombing campaign principally targeted political, economic and military targets, and approximately 60 civilians were killed by the IRA in England during the conflict.[92]

It has been argued that this bombing campaign helped convince the British government (who had hoped to contain the conflict to Northern Ireland with its Ulsterisation policy) to negotiate with Sinn Féin after the IRA ceasefires of August 1994 and July 1997.[93][94]

Ceasefires and decommissioning of arms

On 31 August 1994, the IRA declared an indefinite ceasefire. However, from February 1996 until July 1997, the IRA called off its 1994 ceasefire because of its dissatisfaction with the state of negotiations. They re-instated the ceasefire in July 1997, and it has been in operation since then.[95]

The IRA decommissioned all of its remaining arms between July and September 2005. The decommissioning of its weaponry was supervised by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD). Among the weaponry estimated (by Jane’s Information Group) to have been destroyed as part of this process were:

A “Sniper at Work” sign in Crossmaglen. The PIRA used snipers as a tactic in south Armagh to disrupt foot patrols

Having compared the weapons destroyed with the British security forces’ estimates of the IRA weaponry, and because of the IRA’s full involvement in the process of destroying the weapons, the IICD arrived at their conclusion that all IRA weaponry has been destroyed.[97]

Since the process of decommissioning was completed, unnamed sources in MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have reported to the press that not all IRA arms were destroyed during the process. This claim remains unsubstantiated so far.[98] In its report dated April 2006 the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) stated that it had no reason to disbelieve the IRA or to suspect that it had not fully decommissioned. It believed that any weaponry that had not been handed in had been retained locally and against the wishes of the IRA leadership.[99] The Russian and British Intelligence services alleged that during the decommissioning process the IRA secretly purchased a consignment of 20 Russian special forces AN-94 rifles in Moscow.[100][101][102]

In mid-July 2013, the Gardaí displayed arms and explosives (Semtex) recently recovered from dissident republicans in the Dublin area. The Gardaí believe this Semtex to have come from the Libyan connection back in the 1980s and therefore should have been decommissioned.[103][104][105]

Other activities

Apart from its armed campaign, the IRA has also been involved in many other activities.

Sectarian attacks

IRA, purely sectarian, calculated slaughter of Protestants at Kingsmill


The IRA publicly condemned sectarianism and sectarian attacks.[106] However, some IRA members became involved in sectarian tit-for-tat violence and attacked Protestants in retaliation for attacks on Catholics.[106] Of those killed by the IRA, Sutton classifies 130 (about 7%) of them as sectarian killings of Protestants.[107] Unlike loyalists, the IRA denied responsibility for sectarian attacks and the members involved used covernames, such as Republican Action Force.[108][109] Many in the IRA opposed these sectarian attacks, but others deemed them effective in preventing sectarian attacks on Catholics.[110]

Some unionists allege that the IRA took part in “ethnic cleansing” of the Protestant minority in rural border areas, such as Fermanagh.[111][112] Many local Protestants allegedly believed that the IRA tried to force them into leaving. However, most Protestants killed by the IRA in these areas were members of the security forces, and there was no exodus of Protestants.[113]

Alleged involvement in organised crime

The IRA have allegedly been involved in criminal activities, including racketeering, bank robbery, fuel laundering, drug dealing and kidnapping.[114][115][116]

In 2004, £26.5m was stolen from the Northern Bank‘s vaults in Belfast city centre. The British and Irish governments agreed with the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s report blaming the robbery on the IRA.[117] On 18 January 2005, the IRA issued a statement denying any involvement in the robbery.[118] In February 2005, the Independent Monitoring Commission’s Fourth Report stated their belief that the robbery was carried out with the prior knowledge and authorisation of the IRA’s leadership.[119] Commentators including Suzanne Breen have stated that the IRA was the only organisation capable of carrying out the raid.[120] In May 2009, two men were arrested in Cork, and charged with IRA membership and offences relating to the robbery.[121]

According to several sources, the organisation has also been involved in the Irish drugs trade. A 1999 report by John Horgan and Max Taylor cited Royal Ulster Constabulary reports, alleging that this involves the “licensing” of drug operations to criminal gangs and the payment of protection money, rather than direct involvement.[114][122][123] However, Chief of the RUC Drugs Squad Kevin Sheehy notes “the Provisional IRA did its best to stop volunteers from becoming directly involved [in drugs]” and noted that on one occasion an IRA member caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use was “disowned and humiliated” in his local area.[124] According to Horgan and Taylor’s report, the IRA are also involved in several legitimate businesses including taxi firms, construction, restaurants and pubs. The IRA have also been involved in racketeering, which involves the extortion of money from legitimate businesses for “protection”.[125]

Speaking at Sinn Féin 2005 Ard Fheis, Gerry Adams stated that “‘There is no place in republicanism for anyone involved in criminality”. However, he went on to say “we refuse to criminalise those who break the law in pursuit of legitimate political objectives”.[126]

In 2013 it was reported that an Italian police investigation had revealed links between the IRA and the Mafia in a €450m money laundering scheme.[127]


The IRA saw itself as the police force of nationalist areas of Northern Ireland during the Troubles instead of the RUC.[128] This was made possible by a feeling of mistrust by some members of the community against the police force and army. The feeling, that the RUC, B-Specials, UDR, British Army and other arms of the Governmental apparatus in Northern Ireland were biased against the nationalist community was not new; it predated the Troubles and took in organisations like the Ulster Defence Volunteers, a home guard body of World War II, who were also widely considered sectarian.[129] Catholics did, however, serve in the UDV,[130] Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Also, the RUC and other forces of the authorities were, in some instances, reluctant to enter or patrol certain Nationalist areas unless it was in armoured Land Rovers and in convoy. Police stations were also heavily armoured because of persistent attacks from the IRA. This gave them the appearance of being fortresses. This vacuum in policing was functional for the IRA because it stopped the local community being in contact with the police which may have posed a threat if information was passed.[131] Therefore, the community would turn to the IRA first to deal with troublemakers or those practising what came to be called “anti-social behaviour”.[132] In efforts to stamp out “anti-social behaviour” and alleged instances of drug dealing reported to or noticed by the organisation, the IRA killed or otherwise attacked suspected drug dealers and other suspected criminals. These attacks varied in severity and depended on various factors. In the first instance, the IRA may warn their intended victim, with further transgressions escalated to an attack known as a “punishment beating”. The process which the IRA went through to determine an offender’s “guilt” or “innocence” was never open to debate or scrutiny.[citation needed] The IRA also engaged in attacks that broke the bones of alleged offenders, or involved shooting through the hands, or knees for persistent offenders of activities such as joyriding or drug dealing. In certain cases, for persistent offenders the IRA would intimidate the individual into leaving the country; this was known as being “put out” of the community/country, and the clear message given to individuals served with these notices was that if they returned to the community/country they would be killed. This practice was frequently criticised by all sections of the political establishment in Northern Ireland as “summary justice“.[citation needed]

Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, speaking in the Dáil Éireann, challenged Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, over allegations of sexual abuse cover up by Sinn Féin/IRA. In the same debate Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said victims of sex abuse by IRA members were sworn to silence. Adams denied there was any Sinn Féin cover up and accused Kenny and Martin of politicising the issue.[133] Adams also apologised to abuse victims who he said were “let down” by the IRA’s failure to properly investigate their claims of abuse.[134]

Killing of alleged informers

IRA execute suspected informer | South Armagh | 20th July 1991


In an effort to stamp out what the IRA termed “collaboration with British forces” and “informing”, they killed a number of Catholic civilians, such as Joseph Fenton. Purges against these individuals, whom the IRA considered traitors to their own community and to the cause of nationalism, were most prevalent when the IRA found itself persistently vulnerable to infiltration. Investigations into informers and infiltration are suspected to have been dealt with by an IRA unit called the Internal Security Unit (ISU), known colloquially as the “Nutting Squad”. This unit is said to be directly attached to IRA GHQ. Where a confession was solicited, the victim was often exiled or executed with a bullet in the back of the head. The body was either buried or, later in the IRA campaign, left in a public place, often in South Armagh.

One particular example of the killing of a person deemed by the IRA to have been an informer that is the source of continuing controversy is that of Jean McConville from Belfast, who was killed by the IRA. Ed Moloney and IRA sources continue to claim she was an informer despite the Police Ombudsman recently stating that this was not the case. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) have described the killing as a “war crime“. Her family contend that she was killed as a punishment for aiding a dying British soldier in West Belfast, however this claim has been rejected in an official investigation,[135] while neither the Sutton Index or Lost Lives record the death of any British soldier near her home prior to her killing.[136] In March 2014, Ivor Bell – former IRA Chief of Staff – was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting in the murder of Jean McConville.[137] In April 2014, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was arrested and questioned by PSNI detectives in relation to the abduction and murder of Jean McConville.[138] He was released four days later without charge.[139]

In March 2007, Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan announced that there would be an inquiry into claims of collusion between IRA members working as agents for the Special Branch and other agencies and the British security forces.[140]

Conflict with other republican paramilitaries

The IRA has also feuded with other republican paramilitary groups such as the Official IRA in the 1970s and the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation in the 1990s.

Leading Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) member Joseph O’Connor was shot dead in Ballymurphy, west Belfast on 11 October 2000. Claims have been made by O’Connor’s family and people associated with the RIRA that he was killed by the IRA as the result of a feud between the organisations,[141] but Sinn Féin denied the claims.[142] No-one has been charged with his killing.


This is a summary. For a detailed breakdown of casualties caused by and inflicted on the IRA see Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997#Casualties

An IRA signpost with the word “Provoland” underneath in Strathroy, Omagh, County Tyrone.

The IRA was responsible for more deaths than any other organisation during the Troubles.[143] Two detailed studies of deaths in the Troubles, the CAIN project at the University of Ulster, and the book Lost Lives,[144] differ slightly on the numbers killed by the IRA. CAIN gives a minimum figure of 1,707 and a maximum of 1,823, while Lost Lives gives a figure of 1,781. Of these, about 1,100 were members or former members of the security forces (the British Army, Royal Ulster Constabulary etc.), while between 510[145] and 640[27] were civilians. The civilian figure also includes civilians employed by British forces, politicians, members of the judiciary, and alleged criminals and informers. The remainder were either loyalist or republican paramilitary members (including over 100 IRA members accidentally killed by their own bombs or shot for being security force agents or informers).

A little under 300 IRA members were killed in the Troubles.[146] In addition, roughly 50–60 members of Sinn Féin were killed.[147] However, many more IRA volunteers were imprisoned than killed. Journalists Eamonn Mallie and Patrick Bishop estimate in their book The Provisional IRA that roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest (senior officers are required to surrender their post after being arrested), retiring from the armed campaign or “disillusionment”. They give 10,000 as the total number of past and present IRA members at that time.[148]


The IRA is a proscribed organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000[12] and an unlawful organisation in the Republic of Ireland under the Offences Against the State Acts.[149] Harold Wilson‘s secret 1971 meeting with IRA leaders with the help of John O’Connell angered the Irish government; Garret FitzGerald wrote 30 years later that “the strength of the feelings of our democratic leaders … was not, however, publicly ventilated at the time” because Wilson was a former and possible future British prime minister.[150] Members of IRA are tried in the Republic of Ireland in the Special Criminal Court. In Northern Ireland, the IRA are referred to as terrorists by the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Progressive Unionist Party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland,[151] and the Social Democratic and Labour Party.[152] On the island of Ireland, the largest political party to state that the IRA is not a terrorist organisation is Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin is widely regarded as the political wing of the IRA, but the party insists that the two organisations are separate.[153]

Peter Mandelson, a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, contrasted the post-1997 activities of the IRA with those of Al-Qaeda, describing the latter as “terrorists” and the former as “freedom fighters” (though Mandelson subsequently denied this sentiment).[154] The IRA prefer the terms freedom fighter, soldier, or volunteer.[155][156][157] The US Department of State lists them in the category ‘other selected terrorist groups also deemed of relevance in the global war on terrorism.’[153] The organisation has also been described as a “private army” by a number of commentators and politicians.[158][159][160]

The IRA described its actions throughout “The Troubles” as a military campaign waged against the British Army, the RUC, other security forces, judiciary, loyalist politicians and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, England and Europe. The IRA considers these groups to be all part of the same apparatus. As noted above, the IRA seeks to draw a direct descendancy from the original IRA and those who engaged in the Irish War of Independence. The IRA sees the previous conflict as a guerrilla war which accomplished some of its aims, with some remaining “unfinished business”.[161]

A process called “Criminalisation” was begun in the mid-1970s as part of a British strategy of “Criminalisation, Ulsterisation, and Normalisation”. The policy was outlined in a 1975 British strategy paper titled “The Way Ahead”, which was not published but was referred to by Labour’s first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees, and came to be the dominant British political theme in the conflict as it raged into the 1980s.[citation needed]

Another categorisation avoids the terms “guerrilla” or “terrorist” but does view the conflict in military terms. The phrase originated with the British military strategist Frank Kitson who was active in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. In Kitson’s view, the violence of the IRA represented an “insurrection” situation, with the enveloping atmosphere of belligerence representing a “low intensity conflict” – a conflict where the forces involved in fighting operate at a greatly reduced tempo, with fewer combatants, at a reduced range of tactical equipment and limited scope to operate in a military manner.[citation needed]

Membership of the IRA remains illegal in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but IRA prisoners convicted of offences committed before 1998 have been granted conditional early release as part of the Good Friday Agreement.[162] In the United Kingdom a person convicted of membership of a “proscribed organisation”, such as the IRA, still nominally faces imprisonment for up to 10 years.[163]

Strength and support

Numerical strength

In the early to mid-1970s, the numbers recruited by the IRA may have reached several thousand, but these were reduced when the IRA re-organised its structures from 1977 onwards. An RUC report of 1986 estimated that the IRA had 300 or so members in Active Service Units and up to 750 active members in total in Northern Ireland.[65] This does not take into consideration the IRA units in the Republic of Ireland or those in Britain, continental Europe, and throughout the world. In 2005, the then Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell told the Dáil that the organisation had “between 1,000 and 1,500″ active members.[164]

According to the book The Provisional IRA (by Eamon Mallie and Patrick Bishop), roughly 8,000 people passed through the ranks of the IRA in the first 20 years of its existence, many of them leaving after arrest, “retirement” or disillusionment.[148] In later years, the IRA’s strength has been somewhat weakened by members leaving the organisation to join hardline splinter groups such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. According to former Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, these organisations have little more than 150 members each.[164]

Electoral and popular support

The popular support for the IRA’s campaign in the Troubles is hard to gauge, given that Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, did not stand in elections until the early 1980s. Most nationalists in Northern Ireland voted for the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) until 2001. After the 1981 hunger strike, Sinn Féin mobilised large electoral support and won 105,000 votes, or 43% of the nationalist vote in Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom general election, 1983, only 34,000 votes behind the SDLP.[165] However, by the 1992 UK General Election, the SDLP won 184,445 votes and four seats to Sinn Féin’s 78,291 votes and no seats.[166] In the 1993 Local District Council Elections in Northern Ireland, the SDLP won 136,760 votes to Sinn Féin’s 77,600 votes.[167]

Few Protestant voters voted for Sinn Féin. In 1992, many of them voted for SDLP West Belfast candidate Joe Hendron rather than a unionist candidate to make sure Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin lost his seat in the constituency.[168]

An IRA wall mural in Coalisland, County Tyrone

The IRA enjoyed some popular support in the Republic of Ireland in the early 70s. However, the movement’s appeal was hurt badly by bombings such as the killing of civilians attending a Remembrance Day ceremony at the cenotaph in Enniskillen in 1987 (Remembrance Day bombing), and the death of two children when a bomb exploded in Warrington, which led to tens of thousands of people demonstrating on O’Connell Street in Dublin to call for an end to the IRA’s campaign. In the 1987 Irish General Election, they won only 1.7% of the votes cast.[169] They did not make significant electoral gains in the Republic until after the IRA ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. By the 2011 Irish general election Sinn Féin’s proportion of the popular vote had reached 9.9 percent.

Sinn Féin now has 27 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (out of 108), five Westminster MPs (out of 18 from Northern Ireland) and 14 Republic of Ireland TDs (out of 166).

Support from other countries and organisations

The IRA have had contacts with foreign governments and other illegal armed organisations.

Libya has been the biggest single supplier of arms and funds to the IRA, donating large amounts: three shipments of arms in the early 1970s and another three in the mid-1980s, the latter reputedly enough to arm two regular infantry battalions.[18]

The IRA has also received weapons and logistical support from Irish Americans in the United States. Apart from the Libyan aid, this has been the main source of overseas IRA support. American support has been weakened by the War against Terrorism, and the fallout from the events of 11 September 2001.[19][20]

In the United States in November 1982, five men were acquitted of smuggling arms to the IRA after they claimed the Central Intelligence Agency had approved the shipment, although the CIA denied this.[170] There are allegations of contact with the East German Stasi, based on the testimony of a Soviet defector to British intelligence Vasili Mitrokhin. Mitrokhin revealed that although the Soviet KGB gave some weapons to the Marxist Official IRA, it had little sympathy with the Provisionals.[171] The IRA has received some training and support from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1977, the Provisionals received a ‘sizeable’ arms shipment from the PLO, including small arms, rocket launchers and explosives, but this was intercepted at Antwerp after the Israeli intelligence alerted its European counterparts.[172] According to Dr Mir Ali Montazam, one-time first secretary at the Iranian embassy, Iran played a key part in funding the IRA during the 1980s. Iranian officials deposited £4 million into a secret Jersey bank account, funded by the sale of artwork from the Iranian Embassy in London. Hadi Ghaffari, the “machinegun mullah”, was sent to Belfast and organised the distribution of the money via sympathetic Irish businessmen.[173]

Falls Road in 1981

It has been alleged that the IRA had a co-operative relationship with Basque militant group ETA since the early 1970s. In 1973 it was accused of providing explosives for the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco in Madrid.[174] In the 1970s, ETA also exchanged a quantity of handguns for training in explosives with the IRA.[175] In addition, the leaders of the political wings of the respective Irish republican and Basque separatist movements have exchanged visits on several occasions to express solidarity with each other’s cause.[176] Prominent former IRA prisoners such as Brendan McFarlane and Brendan Hughes have campaigned for the release of ETA prisoners.[177][178] In the mid-1990s after the IRA ceasefire, Basque media outlets followed the process carefully, sending a team to follow the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday as they campaigned for apology.[citation needed]

IRA propaganda poster

In May 1996, the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s internal security service, publicly accused Estonia of arms smuggling, and claimed that the IRA had contacted representatives of Estonia’s volunteer defence force, Kaitseliit, and some non-government groups to buy weapons.[179][180] In 2001, three Irish men, who later became known as the Colombia Three, were arrested after allegedly training Colombian guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in bomb making and urban warfare techniques. The US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations in its report of 24 April 2002 concluded “Neither committee investigators nor the Colombians can find credible explanations for the increased, more sophisticated capacity for these specific terror tactics now being employed by the FARC, other than IRA training”.[181]

In December 2013 the report of the Smithwick Tribunal concluded that “on the balance of probability” collusion took place between the IRA and members of the Garda Síochána in the 1989 killing of two RUC officers; however, the report could not conclusively prove this.[182]

Aftermath of Manchester bombing

Good Friday Agreement

Main article: Good Friday Agreement

The IRA ceasefire in 1997 formed part of a process that led to the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. One aim of the Agreement is that all paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland cease their activities and disarm by May 2000.

Calls from Sinn Féin led the IRA to commence disarming in a process that was monitored by Canadian General John de Chastelain‘s decommissioning body in October 2001. However, following the collapse of the Stormont power-sharing government in 2002, which was partly triggered by allegations that republican spies were operating within Parliament Buildings and the Civil Service, the IRA temporarily broke off contact with General de Chastelain.[citation needed]

In December 2004, attempts to persuade the IRA to disarm entirely collapsed when the Democratic Unionist Party, under Ian Paisley, insisted on photographic evidence. Justice Minister Michael McDowell (in public, and often) insisted that there would need to be a complete end to IRA activity.[citation needed]

At the beginning of February 2005, the IRA declared that it was withdrawing from the disarmament process, but in July 2005 it declared that its campaign of violence was over, and that transparent mechanisms would be used, under the de Chastelain process, to satisfy the Northern Ireland communities that it was disarming totally.

End of the armed campaign

On 28 July 2005, the IRA Army Council announced an end to its armed campaign, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using “purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”,[30] and shortly afterwards completed decommissioning. In September 2008, the nineteenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that the IRA was “committed to the political path” and no longer represented “a threat to peace or to democratic politics”, and that the IRA’s Army Council was “no longer operational or functional”.[31][32] The organisation remains classified as a proscribed terrorist group in the UK and as an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland.[12][33] Two small groups split from the IRA, the Continuity IRA in 1986, and the Real IRA in 1997. Both reject the Good Friday Agreement and continue to engage in paramilitary activity.

In a statement read by Séanna Breathnach, the organisation stated that it had instructed its members to dump all weapons and not to engage in “any other activities whatsoever” apart from assisting “the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means”. Furthermore, the organisation authorised its representatives to engage immediately with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) to verifiably put its arms beyond use “in a way which will further enhance public confidence and to conclude this as quickly as possible”.[30]

This is not the first time that organisations styling themselves IRA have issued orders to dump arms.[183] After its defeat in the Irish Civil War in 1924 and at the end of its unsuccessful Border Campaign in 1962, the IRA Army Council issued similar orders. However, this is the first time in Irish republicanism that any organisation has voluntarily decided to dispose of its arms.[184] Some authors, like Patrick McCarthy, Peter Taylor and Brendan O’Brien concluded that, unlike previous IRA campaigns, the provisionals were not defeated.[185][186][187]

On 25 September 2005, international weapons inspectors supervised the full disarmament of the IRA, a long-sought goal of Northern Ireland’s peace process. The office of IICD chairman John de Chastelain, a retired Canadian general who oversaw the weapons’ decommissioning at secret locations, released details regarding the scrapping of many tons of IRA weaponry at a news conference in Belfast on 26 September. He said the arms had been “put beyond use” and that they were “satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA’s arsenal.”

The IRA permitted two independent witnesses, including a Methodist minister, Rev. Harold Good, and Father Alec Reid, a Roman Catholic priest close to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, to view the secret disarmament work.[188] Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), complained that since the witnesses were appointed by the IRA themselves, rather than being appointed by the British or Irish governments, they therefore could not be said to be unbiased witnesses to the decommissioning. Nationalists and Catholics viewed his comments as reflecting his refusal to support devolution in Northern Ireland with Catholics in power.[189]

In 2011 Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: “The war is over. The IRA is gone. The IRA embraced, facilitated and supported the peace process. When a democratic and peaceful alternative to armed struggle was created the IRA left the stage.”[190] In 2014 Adams said: “The IRA is gone. It is finished”.[191]

Continuing activities of IRA members

The 10th report published in April 2006 from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), an organisation monitoring activity by paramilitary groups on behalf of the British and Irish governments, prefaced its remarks about IRA activity by commenting that the IRA leadership has committed itself to following a peaceful path and that in the last three months this process has involved the further dismantling of the IRA as a military structure.

The report commented that there was no paramilitary or violent activity sanctioned by the leadership; there is a substantial erosion in the IRA’s capacity to return to a military campaign; and, that the IRA had no intentions of returning to violence.[192] However the IMC report also noted that following decommissioning, the IRA still retained a considerable amount of weaponry beyond what was needed for self-defence.[193]

The IMC has come in for criticism (mainly by republicans) as having been set up outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement as a sop to Unionism. Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy stated that the IMC was established outside and in breach of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and that it is politically biased, and had an anti-Sinn Féin agenda.[194]

On 4 October 2006, the IMC ruled that the IRA were no longer a threat.[195]

In late 2008, the The Sunday Times quoted a senior Garda intelligence officer as saying that “the IRA had recruited in recent years, still held arms despite apparently decommissioning the lot, and was being maintained in ‘shadow form.’” The Gardaí also said that the IRA was still capable of carrying out attacks.[193][196] A senior member of the PSNI, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, said that it was unlikely that the IRA would disband in the foreseeable future.[197]

At the end of March 2010, SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said that the IRA were still active and that they had been responsible for a number of incidents in his constituency including a punishment shooting and an armed robbery during which a shot was fired.[198]

In August 2010, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the Republican Network for Unity and the UPRG, claimed that the IRA were responsible for a shooting incident in the Gobnascale area of Derry. It is claimed that up to 20 masked men, some armed with handguns, attacked a group of teenagers who were engaging in anti-social behaviour at an interface area. A number of the teenagers were attacked and shots were fired into the air. The men are then reported to have removed their masks when the PSNI arrived and were subsequently identified as members of the Republican Movement. Sinn Féin denied the IRA were involved.[199][200][201]

“P. O’Neill”

The IRA traditionally uses a well-known signature in its public statements, which are all issued under the pseudonym of “P. O’Neill” of the “Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, Dublin”.[202] According to Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, it was Seán Mac Stiofáin, as chief of staff of the IRA, who invented the name. However, under his usage, the name was written and pronounced according to Irish orthography and pronunciation as “P. Ó Néill”. According to Danny Morrison, the pseudonym “S. O’Neill” was used during the 1940s.[202]


Throughout the Troubles, some members of the IRA passed information to the security forces. Members of the IRA suspected of being informants were usually executed after an IRA court-martial. In the 1980s, many more IRA members were imprisoned on the testimony of former IRA members known as “supergrasses” such as Raymond Gilmour. A Belfast newspaper has claimed that secret documents show that half of the IRA’s top men were also British informers.[203]

In recent years, there have been some high profile allegations of senior IRA figures having been British informers. In May 2003, a number of newspapers named Freddie Scappaticci as the alleged identity of the British Force Research Unit‘s most senior informer within the IRA, code-named Stakeknife, who is thought to have been head of the IRA’s internal security force, charged with rooting out and executing informers. Scappaticci denies that this is the case and, in 2003, failed in a legal bid to force the then NIO Minister, Jane Kennedy, to state he was not an informer.[204] She has refused to do so, and since then Scappaticci has not launched any libel actions against the media making the allegations.

On 16 December 2005, senior Sinn Féin member Denis Donaldson appeared before TV cameras in Dublin and confessed to being a British spy for twenty years.[205] He was expelled from Sinn Féin and was said to have been debriefed by the party.[206] Donaldson was a former IRA volunteer and subsequently highly placed Sinn Féin party member. Donaldson had been entrusted by Gerry Adams with the running of Sinn Féin’s operations in the US in the early 1990s.[207] On 4 April 2006, Donaldson was found shot dead at his retreat near Glenties in County Donegal.[208] When asked whether he felt Donaldson’s role as an informer in Sinn Féin was significant, the IRA double agent using the pseudonym “Kevin Fulton” described Donaldson’s role as a spy within Sinn Féin as “the tip of the iceberg”.[209] The Real IRA claimed responsibility for his assassination on 12 April 2009.[210]

On 8 February 2008, Roy McShane was taken into police protection after being unmasked as an informant. McShane, a former IRA member, had been Gerry Adams’ personal driver for many years. Adams said he was “too philosophical” to feel betrayed.[211]

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