Tag Archives: John McMichael

Miriam Daly: Life & Death

Miriam Daly

Life & Death

Miriam Daly (1928 – 26 June 1980) was an Irish republican activist and university lecturer who was assassinated by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Background and personal life

She was born in the Curragh Irish Army camp, County KildareIreland. She grew up in Hatch Street, Dublin, attending Loreto College on St Stephen’s Green and then University College, Dublin, graduating in history. The economic historian George O’Brien supervised her MPhil in economic history, on Irish emigration to England.

She went on to teach economic history in UCD for some years before moving to Southampton University with her husband, Joseph Lee. Two years after her first husband died, she remarried, to James Daly, returning to Ireland with him in 1968. They both were appointed lecturers in Queen’s University, Belfast.

 – Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these pages/documentaries are solely 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.

Civil Rights activist

History is written by the winner Mural

She soon became an activist in the civil rights movement, particularly following the introduction of internment without trial by the Stormont government. She was active in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the Northern Resistance Movement.

She was a militant member of the Prisoners’ Relatives Action Committee, and the national Hunger Strike Committee. In that campaign, she worked with Seamus Costello, and soon joined him in the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the Irish National Liberation Army.

IRSP logo 2018.png

After Costello was assassinated, she became chairperson, leading the party for two years. During this time she and her husband James were instrumental in opposing Sinn Féin‘s drift towards federalism.


On 26 June 1980 Daly was shot dead at home, in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast. At the time of her assassination, she was in charge of the IRSP prisoners’ welfare.

According to reports in The Irish Times, members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had gained entry to her home with the intention of killing her husband, who was also a republican activist.  Daly was captured and tied up whilst they waited for him to return home. However, he was in Dublin at the time and so did not arrive.

After a considerable time, the UDA men decided to kill Daly instead. Muffling the sound of the gun with a cushion, they shot her in the head and cut the phone lines before fleeing. Her body was discovered when her ten-year-old daughter arrived home from school.

Daly was buried in Swords, County Dublin. Mourners at her funeral, which featured the firing of a volley of shots over her coffin, included Seán Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. She is included as a volunteer on the INLA monument in Milltown Cemetery and is one of several commemorated by an IRSP mural on the Springfield Road, Belfast.

Commemoration Speech on Miriam Daly

See: 26th June – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

See: John “Big John” McMichael – 9th January 1948 – 22nd December 1987

See: Ronnie Bunting

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This book goes into some detail about her life and death. Click to buy

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Ronnie Bunting: Life & Death

Ronnie Bunting (1947/1948 – 15 October 1980) was a Protestant Irish republican and socialist activist in Ireland. He became a member of the Official IRA in the early 1970s and was a founder-member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1974. He became leader of the INLA in 1978 and was assassinated in 1980 at age 32.


Major Ronnie Bunting

Bunting came from an Ulster Protestant family in East Belfast. His father, Ronald Bunting, had been a major in the British Army and Ronnie grew up in various military barracks around the world. Ronnie’s father became a supporter and associate of Ian Paisley and ran for election under the Protestant Unionist Party banner.

Having completed his education and graduating from Queen’s University Belfast, Ronnie Bunting briefly became a history teacher in Belfast, but later become involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and then with Irish republican organisations.

Unlike most Protestants in Northern Ireland, Bunting became a militant republican. His father, by contrast, was a committed Ulster loyalist, who organised armed stewards for counter-demonstrations (against civil rights marches) called by Ian Paisley, most infamously at the Burntollet Bridge incident, when his followers attacked a People’s Democracy civil rights march on 4 January 1969. Despite their political differences, Ronnie remained close with his father.

– Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these blog posts/documentaries are solely 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

Membership of the Official IRA

Bunting joined the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) around 1970 as he was attracted to their left-wing and secular interpretation of Irish republicanism and believed in the necessity of armed revolution. The other wing of the IRA—the Provisional Irish Republican Army—was seen to be more Catholic and nationalist in its outlook. At this time, the communal conflict known as the Troubles was beginning and the Official IRA were involved in shootings and bombings. Bunting was interned in November 1971 and held in Long Kesh until the following April (see also Operation Demetrius).

Membership of the INLA

In 1974, Bunting followed Seamus Costello and other militants who disagreed with the OIRA’s ceasefire of 1972, into a new grouping, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Immediately, a violent feud broke out between the OIRA and the INLA.

In 1975, Bunting survived an assassination attempt when he was shot in a Belfast street. In 1977, Costello was killed by an OIRA gunman in Dublin. Bunting and his family hid in Wales until 1978, when he returned to Belfast. For the remaining two years of his life, Bunting was the military leader of the INLA. The grouping regularly attacked the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Belfast.

Bunting called in claims of responsibility to the media by the code name “Captain Green”.

INLA Documentary


Ronnie Bunting listed, as a civilian, on a roll of honour of republican dead, Springfield Road, Belfast

At about 4:30 a.m. on 15 October 1980, several gunmen wearing balaclavas stormed Bunting’s home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown. They shot Bunting, his wife Suzanne and another Protestant INLA man and ex-member of the Red Republican Party, Noel Lyttle, who had been staying there after his recent release from detention. According to The Guardian report by David Beresford,

The shots woke the Buntings’ children, age 7 and 3, who ran screaming into the street after discovering their parents lying together at the top of the stairs, covered in blood. Mr Lyttle was shot in bed, near a cot in which the Buntons’ baby son was sleeping.

Both Ronnie Bunting and Lyttle were killed. Suzanne Bunting, who was shot in the face,survived her serious injuries. The attack was claimed by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), but the INLA claimed the Special Air Service were involved.

Upon his death, Bunting’s body was kept in a funeral parlour on the Newtownards Road opposite the headquarters of the UDA. On the day of the funeral, as the coffin was being removed, UDA members jeered from their building. The IRSP had wanted a republican paramilitary-style funeral for Bunting but his father refused and had Bunting buried in the family plot of a Church of Ireland cemetery near Donaghadee

See: Miriam Daly: Life & Death

See: John “Big John” McMichael – 9th January 1948 – 22nd December 1987

See: Soapboxie.com

See: UDA

See: 15th October – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

This book covers his life and death in some detail. Click to buy

Mian Source : Wikipedia Ronnie Bunting

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James Craig UDA – Life & Death

James Pratt Craig

Life and Death

James Pratt Craig (17 November 1941 – 15 October 1988) was an Ulster loyalist paramilitary during The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the latter half of the 20th Century, who was a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), and was a command member of its Inner Council.

 He also ran a criminal large-scale protection racket from the West Belfast Shankill Road area, where he resided. Described by journalist David McKittrick as:

“Belfast’s foremost paramilitary extortionist”,

Craig allegedly colluded at times with the enemies of the UDA, Irish Republican groups such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), providing them with information on key loyalists which led to their subsequent murders.  Aside from controlling rackets and extorting protection money from a variety of businesses, it was claimed that Craig also participated in paramilitary murders.

— 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.

He was accused by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) of setting up the assassinations of some of their key members by IRA hit squads, such as Shankill Butcher Lenny MurphyJohn Bingham, and William “Frenchie” Marchant in the 1980s. Craig was murdered by the UDA, using their cover name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), for alleged “treason” as it was believed he had passed information to the IRA regarding South Belfast UDA commander John McMichael, who was killed by an IRA booby-trap car bomb in December 1987. Craig was shot dead in The Castle Inn, a pub in Beersbridge Road, East Belfast.

See: John McMichael

James Craig
James Craig
BornJames Pratt Craig
17 November 1941
BelfastNorthern Ireland
Died15 October 1988 (aged 46)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Cause of deathMultiple gunshot wounds
Other namesJim Craig
Known forUlster Defence Association (UDA) fund-raiser and Inner Council member

Ulster Defence Association

See: UDA Page


The Shankill Road area, early 1970s

James Pratt Craig, known as Jim, was born in Belfast in 1941 and grew up in an Ulster Protestant family on the Shankill Road.  In the early 1970s, Craig, a former boxer, was sent to the Maze Prison for a criminal offence unrelated to paramilitary activities. While serving his sentence at the Maze he joined the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), and he was asked by the organisation’s commander at the time, Charles Harding Smith to take control of the UDA prisoners inside, on account of his reputation as a “hard man”.

Criminal activities

After his release in 1976,  he set up a large protection racket and became the UDA’s chief fundraiser; by 1985 he had managed to blackmail and extort money from a number of construction firms, building sites, as well as pubs, clubs, and shops in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland, whose intimidated owners paid protection money out of fear of Craig and his associates.

It was alleged that the UDA received hundreds of thousands of pounds some of which also found their way inside Craig’s pockets as part of his “commission”. He was acquitted on a firearm charge and Ulster Freedom Fighters (a cover name for the UDA) membership on 18 March 1982.  In 1985, Craig was brought to court after a number of businessmen decided to testify against him, with the condition that their identities remained hidden. The case fell apart when Craig’s defence argued that his client’s rights were violated by the concealment of the witnesses’ identities.

Craig was alleged to have been involved in the double killing of a Catholic man and a Protestant man on the Shankill Road in 1977. The men, both work colleagues, had entered a loyalist club and were later stabbed, shot and put into a car which was set on fire. By this time the West Belfast UDA no longer wanted him in their ranks, as they claimed they could no longer “afford him”.

Craig, who was ordered to leave the Shankill Road, went on to join forces with John McMichael‘s South Belfast Brigade. In addition to being the principal fundraiser, Craig also sat on the UDA’s Inner Council. Craig usually travelled in the company of his bodyguard Artie Fee, a UDA member from the Shankill Road.

The rival Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) carried out an investigation after it was rumoured Craig had been involved in the death of UVF major William Marchant, who was gunned down by Provisional IRA gunmen from a passing car on the Shankill Road on 28 April 1987. Marchant was the third high-ranking UVF man to be killed by the IRA during the 1980s. Although their inquiries revealed that Craig had quarrelled with Marchant as well as Lenny Murphy and John Bingham prior to their killings, the UVF felt that there was not enough evidence to warrant an attack on such a powerful UDA figure as Craig.

See : Lenny Murphy

In December 1987, when South Belfast UDA brigadier John McMichael was blown up by an IRA booby-trap car bomb outside his home in Lisburn‘s Hilden estate, it was believed that Craig had organised his death with the IRA.

Allegedly Craig had feared McMichael was about to expose his racketeering business, thus putting an end to his lucrative operation. McMichael had reportedly set up an inquiry and discovered that Craig was spending money on a lavish scale, going on holidays at least twice a year and indulging in a:

“champagne lifestyle”.

 At the same time it was suggested that Craig had made certain deals with Irish republican paramilitary groups, dividing up the rackets in west Belfast, and he would have been doing the IRA a favour by helping them to eliminate a high-profile loyalist such as McMichael.  Craig had established links with republicans during his time in prison, and the profitable deals and exchanges of information between them ensured he would most likely not be a target for IRA assassination.

Craig was named as an extortionist in Central Television’s 1987 programme The Cook Report. Craig planned to sue the programme’s producers for libel; in January 1988, Jack Kielty (father of future television presenter Patrick Kielty), a building contractor from County Down who had promised to testify as a key witness against Craig, was murdered by the UDA. This killing was attributed to Craig, although it was never proven.


“Bunch of Grapes” pub in Beersbridge Road, east Belfast where Craig was shot dead. At the time it was called “The Castle Inn”

Craig was shot dead by two gunmen from the UDA in “The Castle Inn” (later called “The Bunch of Grapes”), a pub in Beersbridge Road, east Belfast on 15 October 1988, to where he had been lured in the belief that there was to have been a UDA meeting.

He was playing pool in the pub at the time of his fatal shooting by the two men, both of whom were wearing boiler suits and ski masks and carrying automatic weapons.  Upon spotting Craig they opened fire, spraying the room with gunfire. Craig died instantly; a bystander pensioner was also murdered in the attack, and four other bystanders were wounded by stray bullets. The UDA claimed the killing was carried out due to Craig’s “treason” and involvement in John McMichael’s murder as they knew he had provided the IRA with information to successfully carry out the assassination.

They apologised for the unintentional death of the pensioner. Craig was not given a paramilitary funeral, and none of the UDA’s command attended it.

Andy Tyrie, the UDA’s former supreme commander, was not convinced of Craig’s complicity in McMichael’s killing. In an interview with Peter Taylor, he stated that after McMichael’s death, the UDA set up an inquiry, but couldn’t find any solid proof which linked Craig to McMichael’s assassination. Tyrie maintained that the two men had been good friends, and that Craig had given McMichael £20,000 to keep the latter’s pub (The Admiral Benbow) from failing. Tyrie suggested that Craig was a suspect because his wife was Catholic.

 Tyrie insisted that John Hanna, a prison officer in the Maze, had supplied the IRA with information about McMichael through Rosena Brown, a Belfast actress and IRA intelligence operative, with whom Hanna had been infatuated.

McMichael’s son, Gary, however, firmly believed Craig to have been the person behind his father’s killing. Less than three months after McMichael’s death, Tyrie himself narrowly escaped an attempt on his life by car bomb; he subsequently tendered his resignation as commander.


According to McKittrick, Craig’s:

“notoriety and range of enemies meant he could have been killed by almost any paramilitary group, loyalist or republican”.

Described as stocky of build, he wore expensive clothing and jewellery, and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle from the proceeds of his racketeering. Author and journalist Martin Dillon wrote that Craig was not intelligent but was “cunning, boastful and ruthless”.

There was also much antipathy between him and UDA brigadier Tommy “Tucker” Lyttle due to Craig having allegedly made Lyttle’s daughter pregnant. Lyttle died of natural causes in October 1995.   It was later revealed that Lyttle had worked as an informer for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)’s Special Branch.

Craig reportedly invited RUC officers to an extravagant wedding reception held for his daughter. Author Sally Belfrage who encountered Craig at an “Eleventh night” party held at the UDA’s east Belfast headquarters, summed him up as “the most personally powerful man I had ever met, with an air of animal force that inspired awe at the idea of its ever being let loose. He was also as drunk as I had ever seen anyone in my life who could still more or less negotiate a sentence and a sequence of steps.” She claimed Craig had propositioned her; when she rebuffed his advances he took it in his stride, and grabbing a microphone, went on to lead the other revellers in a rendition of “The Sash My Father Wore“.

Dillon, in his book about the violent loyalist gang, the Shankill Butchers, recounted how Craig casually killed a man in a UDA club after a fellow UDA member handed him a jammed pistol. Craig, testing the weapon, allegedly pointed it at a man who was playing pool, and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. Craig then gave orders for the man’s body to be dumped in an adjacent alley. Dillon believes Craig had killed UDA commander William “Bucky” McCullough in October 1981 after the latter discovered Craig had been stealing funds from the UDA for his own personal use. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) had claimed responsibility for the killing.

Jackie McDonald, who was part of Craig’s protection racket, was arrested in 1989. He had taken over McMichael’s command of the South Belfast UDA, having been promoted to the rank of brigadier by Andy Tyrie in 1988. In January 1990, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment inside the Maze for extortion, blackmail, and intimidation. McDonald was released in 1994. In an interview with Peter Taylor, he made the following statement regarding his former association with Craig:

I would say without a shadow of doubt the worst thing that ever happened to South Belfast, John McMichael and myself especially, was that Jim Craig ever had anything to do with our organisation.

One builder who later assisted the RUC when they set up an anti-racketeering unit, admitted that he had paid out protection money throughout the 1980s to Craig and his henchmen. The amount of money he handed over increased each year.

Dillon suggested that prior to Craig’s killing, younger elements within the UDA, who were loyal supporters of McMichael, discovered (by means which Dillon did not divulge) that the RUC’s anti-racketeering squad CI3 had videotaped a clandestine meeting between Craig and a member of the IRA’s Northern Command, which is what reportedly sealed Craig’s fate.

Who wants… A signed copy of my No.1 best selling book ? Makes a great Xmas gift for book lovers & those interested in the Troubles & the crazy, mad days my generation lived through.

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See: The Rise & Fall of UDA Brigadier of Bling James Gray – AKA ” Doris Day”

See : 15th Oct deaths in the Troubles

See: Robin `The Jackal’ Jackson – Life & Death

Loyalists Episode1 No Surrender Full Version HQ

22nd December – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles


Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

22nd December


Sunday 22 December 1974

ira cease fire 2.jpg

Irish Republican Army (IRA) Ceasefire The Irish Republican Army (IRA) observed a ceasefire between midnight on 22 December 1974 to midnight on 2 January 1975. The ceasefire was called to allow the British government to respond to proposals put by the IRA to Protestant clergymen on 10 December 1974.

[The IRA initially extended this ceasefire, then called it off on 17 January 1975, and then renewed it from 10 February 1975. Government officials also held talks with Sinn Féin (SF) until 17 January 1975. Many commentators felt that an announcement of British withdrawal from Northern Ireland was a possibility at this time.]

The IRA carried out a bomb attack on the home of Edward Heath, a former British Prime Minister, in Wilton Street, Belgravia, London. A small bomb with a short fuse was thrown onto the first-floor balcony of Heath’s flat. The bomb caused extensive damage but Heath was not present and there were no injuries. [Attacks in London ended for the period of the IRA ceasefire but began again on 19 January 1975.]

Monday 22 December 1975

The authorities in the United States of America (USA) foiled an attempt to ship weapons to the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Tuesday 22 December 1987

John McMichael, then deputy leader of the Ulster Defense Association (UDA), was killed by a booby-trap bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Following his death there were many accusations of collusion between senior UDA members and the IRA in the killing. [This incident was seen by many commentators as part of a process of change in the leadership of the UDA. A younger group of men were to assume the leadership of the organisation and were to introduce a change in the tactics of the UDA.

See John McMichael

Thursday 22 December 1988

It was announced that, despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling on detention (on 29 November 1988), Britain would retain a seven-day detention period.

Friday 22 December 1989

The European Community announced a £100 million grant for transportation in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday 22 December 1992

Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), replied to a speech made by Patrick Mayhew, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on 16 December 1992. Adams proposed a United Nations (UN) and European Community (EC) role in finding a political solution. He also said that SF’s exclusion from political talks was undemocratic.

Wednesday 22 December 1993

John Major, then British Prime Minister, travelled to Northern Ireland and held a series of meetings with the leaders of the main constitutional parties. Ulster Marketing Surveys carried out a poll of opinion in Northern Ireland on the Downing Street Declaration. The poll was conducted on behalf of Independent Television News (ITN). Of those questioned 56 per cent said that they were in favour of the declaration.

Thursday 22 December 1994

Catholic Man Killed by Loyalists Noel Lyness (47), a Catholic civilian, was found beaten to death in an entry, off Ebor Street, Village, Belfast. Lyness who was a mature student at Queen’s University Belfast was the victim of a sectarian attack and had been killed by Loyalists but no paramilitary group claimed responsibility.

[In the following years there were to be a number of Catholics killed by both Loyalists gangs and Loyalist paramilitary groups which were followed by the policy of ‘no claim, no blame’. This meant that if no Loyalist paramilitary group claimed the killing the could be no political sanctions taken against them. In an effort to further hid their identity Loyalists resorted to beating their victims to death, or stabbing with knives, or shooting with shotguns (this method meant there were no bullets for the police to trace).]

The British government granted Christmas parole to 97 paramilitary prisoners.

[All the prisoners returned to jail following the Christmas holiday.]

In the Republic of Ireland 30 paramilitary prisoners were granted Christmas parole and a further nine prisoners were given early releases.

Sunday 22 December 1996

Eddie Copeland, a senior republican figure, was injured when a bomb exploded below his car in the Ardoyne area of Belfast. The Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) were thought to be responsible for the attack.

Monday 22 December 1997

Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), had talks with Bill Clinton, then President of the United States of America, while on a visit to Washington. Clinton said that he was encouraged by the way the multi-party talks were progressing.

Wednesday 22 December 1999

Peter Mandelson, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, published a paper which set out the British government’s strategy for achieving “normal security and policing”.




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 22nd December between 1976  – 1994


22 December 1976

Samuel Armour,  (37)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)
Off duty. Killed by booby trap bomb attached to his car, outside his home, Curragh Road, Maghera, County Derry.


22 December 1979

Stanley Hazelton,   (48)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty. Shot by sniper while driving his car near Glaslough, County Monaghan.


22 December 1987

John McMichael,  (38)

Status: Ulster Defence Association (UDA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by booby trap bomb attached to his car outside his home, Hilden Court, Hilden, Lisburn, County Antrim.

See John McMichael


22 December 1991
Aidan Wallace,   (22)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)
Shot during gun attack on Devenish Arms, Finaghy Road North,


22 December 1994
Noel Lyness,  (47)

Status: Civilian (Civ), Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Found beaten to death, in entry, off Ebor Street, Village, Belfast


Who wants… A signed copy of my No.1 best selling book ? Makes a great Xmas gift for book lovers & those interested in the Troubles & the crazy, mad days my generation lived through.

Click here to order : https://tinyurl.com/2p9b958v

UK orders only – if you live outside the UK email me belfastchildis@googlemail.com and Ill send you a link for ordering outside the UK.

John “Big John” McMichael – 9th January 1948 – 22nd December 1987

John “Big John” McMichael (9 January 1948 – 22 December 1987) was a leading Northern Ireland loyalist who rose to become the most prominent and charismatic figure within the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) as the Deputy Commander and leader of its South Belfast Brigade. He was also commander of the organisation’s cover name, the “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (UFF), overseeing an assassination campaign against prominent republican figures whose details were included in a notorious “shopping list” derived from leaked security forces documents.

The UDA used the UFF name when it wished to claim responsibility for attacks, thus allowing it to remain a legal paramilitary organisation until August 1992 when it was proscribed by the British Government.

— 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.

McMichael held political office as leader of the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) from 1981 until his death. He was killed outside his home by a booby-trap car bomb which was carried out by the Provisional IRA. There were allegations that members within the UDA had colluded with the IRA in his death by passing on vital information about him and his activities, enabling the IRA to target his car.

Ulster Defence Association

John McMichael was born in Lisburn, County Antrim on 9 January 1948, one of the children of John and Annie McMichael. He came from a working-class background and was brought up in the Church of Ireland religion. He had married twice and was the father of two sons, Gary and Saul.


News footage following murder of John McMichael


McMichael, who owned and operated the “Admiral Benbow” pub in his native Lisburn initially rose to prominence in the UDA in the 1970s as the commander of the South Belfast Brigade and a member of its Inner Council, where he became known for his belief in the unique identity of Ulster Protestants, as well as his talent as an organiser. He had taken over command of the South Belfast UDA from Sammy Murphy, who had also led the Sandy Row unit. According to McDonald and Cusack, Murphy appeared to have been a commander rather than brigadier.

Described as the UDA’s most “effective and strategic leader”, McMichael helped establish a political think tank called the New Ulster Political Research Group in 1977, and served as its chairman. He also assisted in the composition of a document entitled Beyond the Religious Divide which promoted independence for Northern Ireland along with a constitutional Bill of Rights—acceptable to both nationalists and unionists—as the “only hope of achieving a united Northern Ireland”. This was the first step on the UDA’s road to political development.

He was a supporter of the ideas of Ian Adamson a gynaecologist, and subsequently a Unionist politician, who self-funded a series of books and pamphlets about the alleged ancient origins of Ulster people as a separate ethnic group to the Irish.

By 1979 he had emerged as the leading figure within the UDA and the organisation’s most charismatic senior member. According to the Belfast Telegraph, he drew up a ‘shopping list’ of targets (mostly members of Sinn Féin and other republican groups) that he felt the UDA should eliminate. Information about the individuals had been supplied to the UDA by individuals within the security forces who leaked the information. McMichael hand-picked his own squad for this task and throughout 1980 a number of the targets were assassinated.

The new commando unit, which was known internally in the UDA as the Ulster Defence Force, carried out four murders in 1979, three of which were from the “shopping list”.

McMichael then turned his attention to members of the Relatives’ Action Committee and on his orders Irish Independence Party leader John Turnly and Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) activist Miriam Daly, both prominent within this republican prisoners’ rights group, were killed.

Rodney McCormick, a less prominent IRSP member, was killed in Larne soon afterwards before McMichael’s team struck again, killing Ronnie Bunting and his friend Noel Lyttle at Bunting’s Ballymurphy home on 15 October 1980.

However the attacks came to an end in 1981, following an ambush by the Parachute Regiment after a failed attempt by the UFF on the lives of Bernadette McAliskey and her husband, Michael, during which the three-man unit (including Ray Smallwoods who acted as the getaway driver) were captured and later imprisoned. McAliskey, who was shot seven times in front of her children at her home in Coalisland, County Tyrone on 16 January 1981 survived the attack, as did her husband who was also wounded. McMichael himself was arrested in April 1981 in the wake of a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) raid on UDA headquarters. He was brought before the court as it was alleged he and his men had organised the McAliskey shootings.

Raymond Murray in his book SAS in Ireland claimed that McAliskey’s shooting was planned in a room above McMichael’s “Admiral Benbow” pub. Ultimately charges relating to McMichael’s involvement, as well as his possession of classified information in the form of the details of republican activists leaked to him, were dropped along with similar charges against fellow arrestees Sammy McCormick, John McClatchey, Eddie Martin and Bobby McDevitt.

McMichael’s “shopping list” was published in the press soon after the failed assassination attempt on McAliskey, apparently leaked by his internal opponents within the UDA.Michael Farrell was named as the next target, although he moved to Dublin before any attack could occur.[17] The IRA responded to the revelations by killing two prominent Unionist figures, James Stronge and his father Norman at their Tynan Abbey home. The Irish National Liberation Army also retaliated by shooting and wounding Shankill Road UDA activist Sammy Millar, leading a series of tit-for-tat shootings involving the UDA and INLA.

McMichael would return to the idea at later times, and during the mid to late 1980s had Michael Stone working directly under him as a lone gunman with a remit to kill alleged republicans.

Electoral politics

McMichael depicted on a mural in the “Village” area of Donegall Road with the titles of the two documents he was involved in producing

McMichael came to support the ideas of republican Danny Morrison regarding the Armalite and ballot box strategy and felt that the UDA should also build up a political wing to this end. As a result, following the murder of Robert Bradford, he stood as the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party candidate in the by-election for Bradford’s South Belfast seat and ran the most high profile ULDP campaign ever seen, calling for a long term strategy of negotiated independence for Northern Ireland. Despite fears from mainstream unionists that McMichael might split their vote, he ultimately only captured 576 votes. McMichael’s failure to make any inroads into the popular vote led to the UDA largely abandoning electoral politics outside of the occasional local foray for over a decade.

After the failure of his political strategy, McMichael returned to his work with the UDA and, after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, he co-wrote another document Common Sense: Northern Ireland – An Agreed Process, which outlined plans for a future political settlement in Northern Ireland. Under the guidance of David Trimble, at the time a law lecturer in Queens University Belfast, the document attempted to set out a legal framework for a power-sharing system under British rule.

The paper was viewed positively by some politicians including SDLP leader John Hume and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King.

McMichael and the UDA’s Supreme Commander Andy Tyrie set up an elite group of men carefully selected from within the UDA; this unit, called the ‘Ulster Defence Force’ (UDF), was formed to make the organisation capable of meeting any “Doomsday” situation (such as a civil war) that might occur as a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The group’s motto was Sans Peur (French for “fearless”.), and the men received training by former British soldiers. McMichael was also allegedly put in charge of a UDA/UFF bombing campaign that was to be waged against the Republic of Ireland.

Ultimately the proposed campaign was unsuccessful. The four incendiary bombs planted in the city centre of Dublin in November 1986 failed to inflict much damage. McMichael himself put the failure down to the lack of bombing expertise in the UDA.

McMichael sat on the Ulster Clubs executive and its security committee. In June 1985, he instructed UDA Intelligence chief Brian Nelson to travel to South Africa to investigate the possibility of obtaining weapons by proposing an exchange of arms. Nelson, who was a British military intelligence agent recruited by the Force Research Unit, made the journey.

When he returned from the trip he reported his findings to McMichael, who had previously received reports regarding Nelson’s unsatisfactory conduct in South Africa.

Four years earlier, McMichael had hoped to draw Catholic support for Beyond the Religious Divide, having made the following statement

“We’ll just continue what we’ve been doing during the past year. It will become more and more obvious that the UDA is taking a very steady line, that we’re not willing to fall into line behind sectarian politicians. It will take time. What people forget is that we also have to sell the idea to Protestants”.[29]

Paul Arthur, professor of politics at the University of Ulster, called him an “astute thinker”.British journalist Peter Taylor, who met McMichael, described him as having been “articulate and tough”, and his son by his first marriage, Gary, said of his father:

“I think it was recognised that my father was no angel. He was a leader in a paramilitary organisation. Perhaps he’d been there and done that and bought the T-shirt. He was a well-respected person within the loyalist community and his credentials were extremely strong. People saw my father as someone who said that loyalism was at war with militant republicanism and he was unashamed about that. At that same time, he was also making a contribution to trying to push not just loyalism but everyone beyond conflict”.[4]



Funeral of John McMichael


McMichael’s name heads a list of South Belfast UDA on this Sandy Row plaque

McMichael was killed by a bomb attached to his car outside his Hilden Court home, in Lisburn’s loyalist Hilden estate on 22 December 1987 shortly before his fortieth birthday. He was on his way to deliver Christmas turkeys to the families of loyalist prisoners.

At 8.20 p.m. after he had turned on the ignition of his car and the vehicle slowly reversed down the driveway, the movement-sensitive switch in the detonating mechanism of the five pound booby-trap bomb attached to its underside was activated, and the device exploded. McMichael lost both legs in the blast and suffered grave internal injuries. He was rushed to Lagan Valley Hospital. On account of his physical strength, he managed to hold onto life for two hours and muttered a few words about his wife and children before he died.

His 18-year-old son, Gary had been attending a Stiff Little Fingers concert in Belfast’s Ulster Hall at the time the bomb detonated. During the performance, a note was passed to the band’s lead singer, Jake Burns, who then made an announcement that Gary McMichael was to phone his home.

McMichael had initially planned to take his two-year-old son Saul with him to deliver the turkeys, but had changed his mind at the last minute. McMichael’s wife, Shirley and son were inside the house at the time of the explosion. She later told the inquest into his death that he had been away from home for two weeks and had returned the day he was killed.

In the hours proceeding McMichael’s funeral the UDA sealed off Dromore to enable a volley of shots to be fired into the air in the town square. The funeral was attended by 5,000 people; among the mourners were many unionist politicians including Rev. Ian Paisley. Representatives from the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) were also in attendance. A large number of UDA members wearing combat uniforms marched in the procession behind the coffin which was preceded by the RUC and a bagpiper. The local Apprentice Boys of Derry formed a guard of honour with some carrying UDA wreathes as they escorted the coffin which was draped in UDA and Ulster flags.

The UDA’s commander Andy Tyrie was one of the pallbearers along with DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson.The family had wanted a loyalist flute band to lead the cortège but the request was rejected by the police. The funeral was held at the Lambeg Parish Church. At the burial service, Rev. Canon R. H. Lowry eulogised McMichael as:

“a man of great intelligence and ability, and a man of great kindness and one who had been working towards peace”.

Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland described him as having been “untiring, fresh and constructive and ready to cross the religious divide to find a solution for Northern Ireland”. McMichael was buried at the New Blaris Cemetery in Lisburn.

The People newspaper later summed up his death as having been a “blow to peace hopes in Northern Ireland at the time”.


The attack was claimed by the Provisional IRA, and carried out by a unit led by Seán Savage, who would himself be shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar three months later in “Operation Flavius“. At the time, however, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) hinted that some within the UDA may have had knowledge that the assassination was about to happen. The UDA backed the killing of racketeer and UDA fund-raiser James Pratt Craig by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) in 1988, claiming that he had been involved in planning the murder of McMichael. According to author Martin Dillon, McMichael had begun an inquiry into Craig’s racketeering business, and Craig, fearing McMichael would put a stop to his lucrative protection operation, passed on information to the IRA which led to the assassination.

Prior to his death, McMichael had his own personal bodyguard and changed his car every two weeks. McMichael had been warned that the IRA had already made an attempt to kill him just one week before his assassination. McMichael’s son, Gary is firmly convinced that Craig was involved in his father’s killing. Another suspect was West Belfast brigadier Tommy Lyttle, who it was alleged helped set him up under orders by the security forces after it was rumoured McMichael was planning to carry out a bombing campaign against the Irish Republic.

Jackie McDonald 2014 (cropped).jpg
Jackie McDonald

McMichael’s close friend and second-in-command, Jackie McDonald, who was appointed leader of the South Belfast Brigade following his death, opined that it was possible Lyttle had a hand in the killing rather than Craig. However, he added, “We just may never know”.

Later, it emerged that Lyttle was an RUC Special Branch informer. Lyttle in his turn placed the blame on Craig.

In response to a question put to him at a press conference held after McMichael’s killing, Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir John Hermon gave the following statement:

“The murder of John McMichael, whoever caused it, or whoever orchestrated it regardless of who may have committed it, was designed to cause grievous dissention and disruption and to eliminate a threat to whosoever that threat may have existed. I would not wish to take it further than that. But think of my words very carefully.”

Andy Tyrie was not convinced of Craig’s complicity in McMichael’s killing; he instead put the blame on John Hanna, a prison officer in the Maze Prison, who obtained information about McMichael when the latter visited loyalist inmates and then supplied the IRA with the gathered information through Belfast Catholic actress, Rosena Brown with whom Hanna (a Protestant) was reportedly infatuated. Brown was a PIRA intelligence operative.

According to Tyrie, Brown was introduced to McMichael in the “Admiral Benbow”; McMichael was warned he was “being watched”. Tyrie himself narrowly escaped an attempt on his life by a car bomb in March 1988. Shortly after the failed attack, Tyrie tendered his resignation as UDA commander. In an interview with Peter Taylor, Tyrie explained the IRA’s possible motive for assassinating McMichael:

“John was killed because he was the best person we had and the Republican Movement didn’t like him. I didn’t have anybody as astute in politics as he was. They also didn’t like him because he was being listened to and they knew the loss we would incur with John being killed.”

Tyrie said that on another occasion, McMichael, prior to being interviewed, would practice his replies to likely questions in front of a mirror.

See: James Craig UDA – Life & Death


John McMichael Centre (Belfast South Community Resources)

McMichael’s eldest son, Gary, followed in his father’s footsteps of trying to build up the Ulster Democratic Party as a strong political wing for the UDA, but following the collapse of the party he dropped out of politics.

His widow, Shirley McMichael (née McDowell) is a member of the Forum For Victims and Survivors, a group established to bring healing to those who were themselves victims or lost loved ones in The Troubles. A community engagement worker for the Northern Ireland Policing Board, she is an adherent of Contemporary Paganism and a member of the Police Pagan Association.

The John McMichael Centre, a community centre in Belfast’s Sandy Row area, is named in honour of McMichael. Its principal organiser is the UDA’s incumbent leader and McMichael’s successor, Jackie McDonald, who for a period had acted as one of McMichael’s bodyguards. In a 2012 interview he recalled McMichael as having been:

“a very, very powerful man…had a great presence and great ideas – far, far ahead of his time”.

As part of a series of events organised to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death, a John McMichael memorial debate was held in Lisburn on 25 October 2012. It was hosted by Jackie McDonald and the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG). Unionist politicians and senior republican leaders including Danny Morrison sat on the panel of guests. Among the topics discussed was McMichael’s “Common Sense” document.

See UDA Page

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