Tag Archives: Isabella McKeague

John McKeague – Red Hand Commando – Life & Death

John Dunlop McKeague 

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John Dunlop McKeague (1930 – 29 January 1982) was a prominent Ulster loyalist and one of the founding members of the paramilitary group the Red Hand Commando in 1970. Authors on the Troubles in Northern Ireland have accused McKeague of involvement in the Kincora Boys’ Home scandal but he was never convicted.

He was shot dead by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in Belfast in January 1982

— Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in this post/documentaries  are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

John McKeague

 

John McKeague.png

 

McKeague in a BBC interview in 1976
Born John Dunlop McKeague
1930
Bushmills, County Antrim
Died 29 January 1982
Albertbridge Road, Belfast
Cause of death Gunshot wounds
Nationality British
Occupation Shopkeeper
Notable work Loyalist Song Book
Home town Belfast
Title Leader of the Red Hand Commando
Term 1972–1973
Predecessor new position
Successor Winston Churchill Rea
Political party Protestant Unionist Party
Ulster Independence Association
Movement Ulster Protestant Volunteers
Shankill Defence Association
Red Hand Commando
Criminal charge Bombing
Incitement to hatred
Criminal penalty Acquitted of both charges

McKeague and Ian Paisley

 

A native of BushmillsCounty Antrim, McKeague, who long had a reutation for anti-Catholicism, became a member of Ian Paisley‘s Free Presbyterian Church in 1966.  McKeague and his mother moved to east Belfast in 1968, where he became a regular at Paisley’s own Martyrs’ Memorial Church on the Ravenhill Road and joined the Willowfield branch of the Ulster Protestant Volunteers.

Before moving to Belfast he had already been questioned in relation to a sexual assault on two young boys. The charges were dropped after the intervention of some friends who held prominent positions in Northern Irish society.

McKeague split from Paisley in late 1969 under uncertain circumstances. Rumours that a young man with whom McKeague was living was his boyfriend had been rife but McKeague did not discuss the details. He stated only that he had been summoned to a meeting by Paisley where he was told he was an “embarrassment” and would have to leave the Free Presbyterian Church.

While giving evidence to Lord Justice Scarman as part of his tribunal investigating the 1969 Northern Ireland riots Paisley stated that he and other Ulster Constitution Defence Committee leaders had agreed to expel McKeague from the UPV in April 1969 after he breached Rule 15 of the group’s code, which banned members from supporting

“Subversive or Lawless Activities”.

Whatever the circumstances, the two became bitter enemies, with McKeague frequently criticising Paisley in print.

 

Early loyalist involvement

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McKeague’s relationship with William McGrath‘s Tara, a partially clandestine organisation that sought to drive Roman Catholicism out of all of Ireland and re-establish an earlier Celtic Christianity which it claimed had existed on the island centuries earlier, has been the subject of some disagreement.

According to Tim Pat Coogan McKeague was a founder-member of Tara of 1966 although he does not eleaborate on the details. Chris Moore, in his investigation into the Kincora scandal, insists that McKeague was never a member of Tara but that he and McGrath had met to discuss trading weapons between their two groups and that following these meetings McKeague had become a regular visitor to Kincora, where he was involved in several rapes of underage boys living at the home.

Although making no comment on his membership or otherwise of the group Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald insist that McKeague shared the far right conspiratorial views advanced by McGrath and UPV leader Noel Doherty.

Martin Dillon also makes no comment on McKeague and Tara but insists that he was one of a number of shadowy figures, along with McGrath, who played a leading role in the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1966 and in helping to direct its strategy for the rest of the 1960s.

In late 1969 Thomas McDowell, a member of the Free Presbyterian Church who held dual membership of the UPV and UVF, was killed after a bungled attempt to blow up the power station at Ballyshannon led to him being electrocuted, suffering severe burns.

 Investigations by the Garda Síochána, who found UVF insignia on McDowell’s coat, led them to question his associate Samuel Stevenson who named McKeague as a central figure in a series of UVF explosions that had been carried out at the time, many involving UPV members.

The case went north, where the previous explosions had taken place, and on 16 February 1970 the trial opened. McKeague, along with William Owens (McKeague’s 19-year-old flatmate), Derek Elwood, Trevor Gracey and Francis Mallon, were charged with causing an earlier explosion at Templepatrick.

The case collapsed after serious doubt was cast on the character of Stevenson, whose evidence was the main basis of the prosecution’s case

Shankill Defence Association

In 1968 McKeague became a regular figure amongst groups of locals who every night congregated in large groups in the Woodvale area close to Ardoyne after a series of incidents between loyalists and republicans during which flags from both sides had been forcibly removed.

Having split from the UPV due to its perceived inaction in May 1969, McKeague addressed a meeting of loyalists in Tennent Street Hall at which he called for organisation against Catholic rioters. From this meeting he founded the Shankill Defence Association(SDA), with the proclaimed intention to defend the Shankill Road from Catholic rioters.

However, in contrast to similar Protestant vigilante groups such as the Woodvale Defence Association which were for the most part reactive, the SDA played a leading role in fomenting trouble during the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969, leading attacks on Catholic homes in the Falls Road and Crumlin Road.

He became a notorious figure locally, usually prominent in the rioting, carrying a stick and wearing a helmet.

The violence of the SDA was accompanied by equally violent rhetoric from McKeague as he boasted that the group possessed “hundreds of guns” and vowed that

“We will see the battle through to the end”.

His militant stance won him the public support of Ronald Bunting who, like McKeague had earlier been associated with Paisley but had since broken from him.

In November 1969, McKeague was cleared of a charge of conspiracy to cause explosions. He was however sentenced to three months imprisonment for unlawful assembly.

McKeague’s absence on remand for the initial charges saw his stock fall on the Shankill, where he was already mistrusted due to being from east Belfast and where his reputation had been further blackened by supporters of his former friend Ian Paisley.

Leaving the Shankill he attempted to set up a group similar to the SDA on the Donegall Roadbut was declared persona non grata by the head of an existing local Defence Committee, who was a loyal Paisleyite. This, combined with a rumour that McKeague was a “fruit“, saw him abandon all initiatives in the west and south of the city and concentrate on east Belfast.

The SDA continued in his absence until 1971 when it merged with other like-minded vigilante groups to form the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Political activity

McKeague was a candidate for the Protestant Unionist Party, the forerunner of the Democratic Unionist Party, in a Belfast Corporation by-election for the Victoria ward in the east of the city in 1969 but was not elected. He then stood as an Independent Unionist in Belfast North in the 1970 general election, but polled only 0.75% of the vote. He also began producing Loyalist News.

Much of the content of the magazine was of a low-brow nature, containing jokes and cartoons in which Catholics were portrayed as lazy, dirty, stupid and alcoholic or, in the case of women, highly promiscuous.

In 1971 he was tried for incitement to hatred after publishing the controversial Loyalist Song Book. The first man to be tried under the Incitement to Hatred Act, McKeague’s book included the line

“you’ve never seen a better Taig than with a bullet in his head”.

After the jury disagreed at his trial a retrial was ordered at which he and a co-defendant were acquitted.  Martin Dillon argues that it was around this time that RUC Special Branch first recruited him as an agent, allegedly using information they had obtained about his paedophile activities to force him to agree. He was handed over to the Intelligence Corps by Special Branch the following year.

Loyalist paramilitarism

 

John McKeague and mother

John McKeague and mother

His mother, Isabella McKeague, was burned alive on 9 May 1971 when the UDA petrol-bombed the family shop in Albertbridge Road, Belfast. Reporting on her death in Loyalist News, John McKeague claimed she had been….

“murdered by the enemies of Ulster”,

….a common term for republicans.

In fact, the UDA had tired of McKeague both for his loose cannon attitude in launching attacks and starting riots without consulting their leadership and due to his promiscuous homosexuality with teenage partners. According to Ed Moloney a dispute over money had also been central to the schism between McKeague and the UDA.

McKeague broke fully from the UDA and established the Red Hand Commando in the middle of 1972, recruiting a number of young men primarily in east Belfast and North Down.

McKeague had already been involved in organising the “Tartan gangs“, groups of loyalist youths who were involved in rioting and general disorder, and used these as the basis of his new group.

Following various attacks by his paramilitary organisation, in February 1973 he became one of the first loyalist internees and was later imprisoned for three years on an armed robbery charge (a conviction he disputed). He started two hunger strikes in protest against the Special Powers Act and prison conditions while in jail.

In his absence he lost control of the Red Hand Commando, which became an integral part of the UVF. UVF leader Gusty Spence however contended that he had secured McKeague’s agreement that the running of the Red Hand Commando should be taken over by the UVF not long after McKeague established the movement.

According to British military intelligence and police files McKeague was believed to have been behind the sadistic murder of a ten-year-old boy, Brian McDermott, in South Belfast in September 1973.

The killing, which involved dismemberment and the burning of the body in the Ormeau Park, was so gruesome that the local press speculated that it might have been carried out as part of a Satanic ritual. On 3 October 1975, Alice McGuinness, a Catholic civilian, was injured in an IRA bomb attack on McKeague’s hardware shop on the Albertbridge Road. She died three days later. McKeague’s sister was severely injured in the same bombing.

Ulster Nationalism

McKeague became a leading figure in the Ulster Loyalist Central Coordinating Committee (ULCCC), and in 1976 publicly endorsed Ulster nationalism in his capacity as an ULCCC spokesman.  The aim of the group, which McKeague chaired, was to co-ordinate loyalist paramilitaries with the aim of founding a unified “Ulster army” although this premise did not prevent a loyalist feud between the UDA and UVF continuing following its foundation.

With John McClure, McKeague contacted Irish republicans Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Joe Cahill to initiate talks in an attempt to find a common platform for an independent Northern Ireland. This collapsed after Conor Cruise O’Brien discovered and revealed the activity.

Gerry Adams (official portrait).jpg

McKeague met with Gerry Adams briefly to discuss the independence option but the meetings were unproductive and reportedly convinced Adams that such clandestine discussions with loyalist paramilitaries were a waste of time. The contact between McKeague and his allies and the republicans, which was not endorsed by the wider ULCCC, saw the group fall apart as both the UDA and Down Orange Welfare resigned from the co-ordinating body when it came to light.

McKeague was subsequently a leading figure in the Ulster Independence Association, a group active from 1979 in support of an independent Northern Ireland. McKeague served as deputy to George Allport’s leadership of the group.

Death

Image result for McKeague was shot dead in his shop on the Albertbridge Road, East Belfast

In January 1982 McKeague was interviewed by detectives investigating Kincora about his involvement in the sexual abuse. Fearful of returning to prison, McKeague told friends that he was prepared to name others involved in the paedophile ring to avoid a sentence.

However on 29 January 1982, McKeague was shot dead in his shop on the Albertbridge Road, East Belfast, reportedly by the INLA.

 It has been argued that following McKeague’s threats to go public about all of those involved in Kincora his killing had been ordered by the Intelligence Corps, as many of those who could have named were also agents (often more effective than McKeague, who by that time was highly peripheral in paramilitary circles). To support this suggestion it has been stated by Jack Holland and Henry McDonald that of the two gunmen who shot McKeague one was a known Special Branch agent and the other was rumoured to have military intelligence links.

See here for more details on John McKeague

See 29th January – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles 

 

 

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8th May – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

8th May

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Saturday 8 May 1971

Isabella McKeague

A woman was killed in an incident in Belfast.

Wednesday 8 May 1974

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) issued a statement condemning the security situation in Northern Ireland and gave its support to the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) and the policy of opposing the Sunningdale Agreement.

Thursday 8 May 1975

The first meeting of the Constitutional Convention was held. Roberty Lowry, then Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, chaired the session.

[There were 30 sessions in total and the Report of the convention was published on 20 November 1975.]

Sunday 8 May 1977 Day 6 of the UUAC Strike

The loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a cover name (pseudonym) used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), announced that it might be forced to ‘coerce’ loyalists in Northern Ireland into supporting the UUAC strike.

Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), reiterated his belief that the strike had already been a success even if at some point it had to be called off. However a spokesman for the UUAC stated that there was ‘no chance’ of the strike being called off.

Friday 8 May 1981

Joe McDonnell, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to take the place of Bobby Sands.

See 1981 Hunger Strike

Saturday 8 May 1982

Nicholas Budgen, then an Assistant Government Whip, resigned his post because of his opposition to the Northern Ireland Bill which would introduce a new Assembly.

Friday 8 May 1987 Loughgall Killings

8_ira_men_shot_dead-loughgall

See Loughgall ambush

One civilian and eight members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were shot dead by soldiers of the Special Air Service (SAS) in Loughgall, County Armagh.

The IRA members were in the process of attacking the police station at Loughgall when they were ambushed by 40 SAS soldiers. The innocent civilian was shot dead by one SAS group as he drove through the village. This incident was the highest loss of life suffered by the IRA in any one incident.

[On 2 December 2011 some details of an Historical Enquires Team (HET) report into the incident were released by The Belfast Telegraph. The newspaper article claimed that the HET report would conclude that members of the IRA opened fire first and thus the SAS soldiers were within their rights to open

Tuesday 8 May 1990

Tomás Ó Fiaich, then a Cardinal and Catholic Primate of All Ireland, died aged 66 from a heart attack while on a visit to Lourdes, France.

Friday 8 May 1992

Kenneth Baker, then British Home Secretary, announced that responsibility for intelligence-gathering on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) would be moved from the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police to MI5 (the British Security Service). The move was part of an attempt to counter IRA operations in England.

Sunday 8 May 1994

Rose Anne Mallon (76), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) at her relatives home, Cullenramer Road, Greystone, near Dungannon, County Tyrone.

[On 27 July 1994 a neighbour discovered in a nearby field two security force surveillance cameras pointing at the house where the shooting took place. There were subsequent claims of collusion between the security forces and Loyalist paramilitaries.]

Thursday 8 May 1997

Robert Hamill Killing  

Robert Hamill (25), a Catholic civilian, died as a result of injuries sustained in a sectarian attack in the centre of Portadown on 27 April 1997.

Hamill, who left a wife and three children, had been savagely beaten by a loyalist gang and it was claimed that Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers sitting in a police vehicle some 30 meters away did not intervene to save him.

[The Independent Commission for Police Complaints later began an investigation into the incident. On the 16 November 2004 Paul Murphy, then Secretary of State, announced the terms of reference for a public Inquiry into the death of Robert Hamill. Full public hearings began on 13 January 2009.]

Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced that the period of notice required for a parade or march to be held would be extended from 7 days to 21.

The RUC would in future be empowered to confiscate alcohol from those taking part in parades.

The County Tyrone Grand Orange Lodge held a meeting and decided to endorse the agreement reached between local Orangemen and residents of Dromore village.

See: The Orange Order – History & Background

Members of the Spirit of Drumcree (SOD) tried to have the deal overturned but their motion was rejected by 68 votes to 9. John Bruton, the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), held a meeting with Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, at Downing Street. Bruton described Blair as an “improvement for the better in all the issues as far as Ireland is concerned.”

See: Drumcree

Friday 8 May 1998

The “real” Irish Republican Army (rIRA) issued a statement saying that the organisation’s ceasefire was over and military attacks would resume. In particular the group said that it had declared war on the British Cabinet.

William Thompson, a Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Member of Parliament (MP), gave a radio interview in which he effectively called for the resignation of David Trimble, then leader of the UUP. Thompson was in turn attacked by John Taylor, then deputy leader of the UUP, who called on him to “do the decent thing” and resign.

Monday 8 May 2000

Peter Mandelson, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, offered to reduce the number of British Army soldiers in Northern Ireland if the Irish Republican Army (IRA) kept to its promise on decommissioning. Mandelson refused to discuss the precise number of troops that would be withdrawn from the region.

Tuesday 8 May 2001

David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), said that he would resign as First Minister on 1 July 2001 unless the Irish Republican Army (IRA) began to decommission its weapons. [Trimble did resign on 1 July 2001.]

 

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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.

 16 People lost their lives on the 8th   May  between 1971 – 1997

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08 May 1971


 Isabella McKeague   (67)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Died in fire which followed incendiary bomb attack on shop below her flat, Albertbridge Road, Belfast

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08 May 1974


Francis Rowe   (40)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Shot at his home, Kingsmoss Road, off Ballyclare Road, near Glengormley, County Antrim.

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08 May 1977
Robert Crawford  (40)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Found shot, Forthriver Road, Glencairn, Belfast.

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08 May 1981


Desmond Guiney,   (14)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: not known (nk)
Died three days after milk delivery lorry he was travelling in, crashed into lamp post after coming under missile attack thrown from crowd, at the junction of New Lodge Road and Antrim Road, Belfast. His father also died on 13 May 1981 as a result of the crash on 5 May 1981

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08 May 1984


James Johnstone   (28)

Protestant
Status: Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty. Shot in in car park at his workplace, Drumglass Hospital, Dungannon, County Tyrone.

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08 May 1987


Declan Arthurs    (21)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh.

See Loughgall ambush

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08 May 1987


Seamus Donnell   (19)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh.

See Loughgall ambush

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08 May 1987


Michael Gormley  (25)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh

See Loughgall ambush.

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08 May 1987


Eugene Kelly   (25)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh.

See Loughgall ambush

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08 May 1987


Patrick Kelly  (30)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh.

See Loughgall ambush

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08 May 1987


James Lynagh   (31)

nfNI
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
From County Monaghan. Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh

See Loughgall ambush

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08 May 1987


Patrick McKearney   (32)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh.

See Loughgall ambush

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08 May 1987


Gerard O’Callaghan  (29)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh.

See Loughgall ambush

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08 May 1987


Anthony Hughes   (36)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, during Irish Republican Army (IRA) gun and bomb attack on Loughgall Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, County Armagh. Assumed to be an IRA member.

See Loughgall ambush

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08 May 1994


Rose Ann  Mallon   (76)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Shot, at her relatives home, Cullenramer Road, Greystone, near Dungannon, County Tyrone

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08 May 1997


Robert Hamill (25)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Died eleven days after being badly beaten by group of men, Thomas Street, Portadown, County Armagh.

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