Tag Archives: IRA

Kent State at 50: The view from 1970 Ireland

May 4 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1970 shooting deaths of four Kent State University students by Ohio National Guard troops during a campus protest against the Vietnam War. Eleven days later, two more students were shot by police on the Jackson State University campus in Mississippi.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were filled with unrest and violence in America … and in Ireland. The first 16 deaths of The Troubles occurred in 1969, with 42 more added in 1970; a figure that quadrupled the following year.1

Following my previous post about Irish journalists in America, I checked the digital archives to review Irish newspaper coverage of Kent State. Most of the reporting came from wire services. John Horgan of The Irish Times, writing from New York days after the shootings, described America as “a clumsy giant trying to escape from a coil of barbed wire, every movement only adds to the agony.”2 A week later, Horgan filed a two-part feature about how American academics were beginning to assess the political conflict in Northern Ireland.3

In Ireland, the Union of Students issued  a letter condemning “the brutal murder of four American students.” They criticized U.S. President Richard Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia and his “contempt for the right of dissent … the shooting themselves are largely due to the type of attacks he has made on those who oppose his lunatic and criminal policy.” The Irish students asked the American Embassy in Dublin to convey their sympathy to the families of the dead.4

Iconic image of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of the slain student Jeffrey Miller at Kent State University, May 4, 1970. John Paul Filo/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In an editorial, the Times wrote:

Inside America the mobilization of student protest goes on, tragically assisting by the shooting death of four people at Kent State University in Ohio. Nothing could be more calculated to arouse the emotions of the ‘campus bums,’ to use Mr. Nixon’s unhappy phrase of condemnation. This is hardly the time to attempt to denigrate American youth, or to pretend obliquely that the only patriots among them are those fighting in Indo-China.

Not all the protesters are patriots: neither are all the soldiers, the bulk of whom are conscripts. The campuses are not the only source from which rejection of the President’s tactics and strategy is emerging. The American people as a whole are troubled and confused. They sense that they are faced with a crisis of leadership, and are understandably afraid.5

The same day as the editorial, Irish Taoiseach Jack Lynch sacked government ministers Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney over allegations they helped send illegal arms to the Irish Republican Army. Both men were found not guilty before the end of the year.6

Nixon resigned in August 1974, and the Vietnam War ended in April 1975. In Northern Ireland, Bloody Sunday arrived in January 1972, the deadliest year of The Troubles, which lasted until 1998, with nearly 3,500 people killed.

Irishman Shane Lowry wins Open at Royal Portrush

Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry has won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. It is the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. The earlier tournament also was played at Portrush, on the County Antrim coast, and won by Englishman Max Faulkner.

Irishmen Fred Daly of Portrush; Padraig Harrington of Dublin; Darren Clarke of Dungannon, NI; and Rory McIlroy of Holywood, NI; have also won the Open, but at courses in England or Scotland.  The tournament was first played in 1860.

“Forget the demarcation between the North and South of this island: the Irish stand as one when it comes to golf,” Alistair Tait of Golfweek reported. “As far as Irish golf fans are concerned, Royal Portrush is an Irish golf course.”

The course at Royal Portrush opened in 1888, 33 years before the political partition. During the Troubles, the IRA bombed six buildings in Portrush town in August 1976, with no fatalities; but shot and killed two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in April 1987 … nine days after Lowry was born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, in the Republic.

Now 32, Lowry lives in Clara, County Offaly, also in the Republic. It remains to be seen what impact, if any, his victory might add to ongoing discussions of reuniting the island of Ireland, which are mainly driven by the likelihood of a chaotic Brexit. I’ll update this post with any related commentary.

My wife and I look forward to visiting Portrush later this month.

Irishman Shane Lowry as he nears his 2019 Open victory. Image from theopen.com.

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

The unresolved Brexit deal remains the top story on the island of Ireland and leads the monthly roundup below. … More posts coming soon in my exploration of how mainstream American newspapers and the ethnic Irish-American press reported the historic events of 1919.  Visit the project landing page. … Thanks for supporting the blog, which in January set a record high for average daily visits and total monthly traffic. MH

  • “There has been increasing speculation that the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 29 March could eventually lead to the unification of the Republic and Northern Ireland,” TheJournal.ie said in reporting a national poll showing a narrow plurality of Irish people favor holding a referendum on the issue.
  • A car bomb in Derry , Northern Ireland, was attributed to an attack by the New IRA, said to be “just one of a number of dissident republican groupings,” according to The Irish Times. Four people have been arrested.
  • Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Ireland has “closed down” tax loopholes and is bringing in more corporation tax as a result, TheJournal.ie reported.
  • Salesforce announced the expansion of 1,500 staff over the next five years; and Facebook said it would add 1,000 jobs this year, the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland announced.
  • “My job in this country as I see it is to tell Ireland’s story – and to listen to America’s story – and to connect the two stories,” Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Muhall said in a USA Today profile.
  • Israel warned Ireland that a boycott of imported West Bank settlement products would have “severe ramifications” on mutual relations if the proposed Dáil legislation is adopted. The administration has opposed the legislation and warned that it contravenes E.U. law and puts U.S. investment in Ireland at risk.
  • The New York Times reported “Irish women are now discovering the mere passage of a law [last May, repealing national abortion restrictions] cannot wipe away deeply held beliefs” and that pro-life activists are using “United States-style tactics like fake abortion clinics and protests outside legitimate ones” to thwart the now-legal procedure.
  • An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, published a first-ever list of the country’s Top 10 Most-at-Risk Buildings. (The buildings-at-risk project is not new.) “These are all buildings of national importance, buildings that lie vacant and are in such a state of disrepair that they may be dangerous or have no identifiable new use,” the agency says.

Atkins Hall, Cork, is an historic building at risk. PHOTO: Alison Killilea (flickr.com)

JFK assassination papers contain IRA reference

Nearly 3,000 more records related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy were released to the public 26 October. Almost 4,000 records became available in July under a 1992 law requiring the disclosure of U.S. government documentation of the event. A few thousand remaining files remain under review.

By coincidence, the releases come in the centenary of JFK’s birth. His death in Dallas was five months after his triumphal visit to Ireland.

My search of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s special Kennedy Assassination Records database found about two dozen documents with references to “Ireland” or “Irish.” The document images are not available online, but the result list provides some basic details.

The collection includes a 22 November 1963 condolence cable from Taoiseach Seán Francis Lemass to President Lyndon Johnson, and resolutions of sympathy from Dáil Éireann. Johnson replied to Lemass on 29 November.

The records include “Irish participation in JFK funeral,” “participation by the Irish Guards,” and “guidance on memorials to President Kennedy in Ireland.”

Most intriguing, however, is a one-page 29 November cable from the American Embassy in Dublin to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. The description says:

Telegram reporting information from FBI informant claimed IRA in Ireland planned to “commit mayhem in Dallas.”

Without reading the cable, it is impossible to say whether this “mayhem” foretold the assassination, or retaliation on the city for the murder of the world’s most famous Catholic Irish-American.

In 1992, Oklahoma historian Kendrick Moore suggested the IRA may have killed Kennedy because he spoke out against isolationism from the Protestant north during his June 1963 visit. “It had to be the IRA; they are the last ones you would suspect,” he told The Oklahoman newspaper.

There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Here’s another: The index of the September 1964 Warren Commission report on the assassination is missing the letter “I” for Ireland, Irish, and IRA.

JFK in Dallas shortly before the 22 November 1963 assassination.

Irish republican leader Martin McGuinness dies at 66

Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in January, forcing the Northern Ireland Assembly to shut down for a new election, held at the beginning of March. It was already clear the former IRA commander was ill, and he said as much in announcing his decision not to seek to re-election. Now, his death stirs further remembrances of The Troubles, and raises more questions about the future of the province as Irish nationalists and pro-British unionists face the uncertainties of Brexit.

Here is a sample of the first wave of international coverage:

“This election is about equality and respect for all our people and integrity in the institutions. Vote SF for the politics of hope not fear.”

–Last tweet of Martin McGuinness, 1 March 2017, just before Sinn Féin‘s historic success in Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

McGuinness and the Queen shake hands in Belfast, July 2012. Probably no other photo says as much about the arc of the former IRA leader’s life.

Belfast boyhood and beyond

Shaun Kelly, global chief operating officer for KPMG International, was born in 1959 and grew up in the Catholic Falls Road section of Belfast during the worst of the Troubles. One of his uncles was shot and killed by the British Army, which mistakenly believed he was holding a gun. Kelly said he didn’t meet a Protestant until he was 19.

“You didn’t realize what you were going through,” he said during a 25 October Irish Network-DC event. “It’s really only when you look back” that the turmoil of the period can be put in perspective.

Shaun Kelly, left, interviewed by journalist Fionnuala Sweeney at Irish Network-DC event 25 October.

Shaun Kelly, left, interviewed by Irish journalist Fionnuala Sweeney.

Kelly attended University College Dublin with the help of a British government scholarship Ironically, it allowed him to continue playing Gaelic football, though he acknowledged being much smaller than the lads from Cork and Kerry. 

“Dublin in the late 1970s was not quite third world, but it was still developing,” Kelly said. “The cars and roads were not as good as in Northern Ireland.”

Kelly qualified as an accountant in Ireland and joined KPMG in 1980, soon relocating to the firm’s San Francisco office. His tenure included a return to Belfast during an upsurge of violence in the 1990s. At the time, KPMG managed the Europa Hotel, known as the most bombed hotel in Europe.  

After one of those bombings, Kelly said he discussed the possibility of shuttering the operation with hotel staff. They would hear none of it. “The IRA didn’t close this hotel, some short accountant is not going to close it,” Kelly quoted one of the workers saying to him.

His global travels and experiences with his native city have convinced him that economic development helps reduce violence by creating opportunities on both side of the sectarian divide. He acknowledged that Brexit will challenges both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“That border makes no sense from a business perspective,” he said. “There is much more to be gained from an open economy.”

Here’s a more lengthy profile of Kelly from the October/November 2015 issue of Irish America.   

Guest post: Outrage over inclusion of IRA in new video game

Timothy Plum has been traveling to Ireland for more than 20 years on business, academic and personal reasons. His last guest post for this blog was about Brexit. MH

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The latest iteration of the “Mafia” video game series, which references IRA violence, is drawing criticism in Northern Ireland for trivializing the Troubles.

“Mafia III” is set in 1968 in a recreation of New Orleans. The player is on a quest to build a new crime organization to confront the Italian mob over the killings of his friends. Players game through the third-person perspective of fictional orphan and Vietnam War vet Lincoln Clay.

In a segment titled “The IRA Don’t Ask,” Clay’s mission includes stealing cars for an Irish underboss named Thomas Burke. The cars are destined for use as car bombs meant to “keep the Belfast law guessing.” The game also includes a Northern Ireland flag defaced with the word “traitor.”

Screen grab from "Mafia III" by 2K Games.

Screen grab from “Mafia III” by 2K Games.

The game uses stereotypes to glorify the IRA, including drunkenness, rowdiness and extreme violence. Using a time period as fresh and raw as 1960’s Northern Ireland, in my opinion, is a disservice to gamers–most of whom will have no idea of the actual events–and the public at large.

Unionist politicians have condemned the game. DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson told The Irish News that he is “very concerned” about the impact the game could have on “impressionable” minds. “The IRA were a terrorist organisation that murdered very many innocent men, women and children in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK.”

As of 15 October, news coverage from the North has not included any reaction to the game from Sinn Féin or other nationalists.

So far, “Mafia III” has been poorly received by the gaming community, so perhaps the damage of misunderstanding and myth perpetuation will be tamped down by poor sales. But it is sad to have the past dredged up in such a poor fashion that only perpetuates stereotypes and does not further discussion.

British MP’s killing recalls earlier IRA assassinations

The shooting/stabbing death of Labour Party MP Jo Cox on 16 June is the first killing of a British politician since Conservative MP Ian Gow was assassinated by the IRA in a 1990 car bombing.

Four other British politicians in addition to Gow were killed by militant Irish republicans since 1979, according to a timeline in The Guardian. The list includes the 1984 bombing at the Brighton hotel, which targeted then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet attending a political conference. Thatcher escaped, but Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry and four others were killed.

The IRA claimed responsibility for killing Gow because of his close association with Thatcher and his role in developing British policy on Northern Ireland. In a 2010 remembrance in The Telegraph, Bruce Anderson wrote:

In October 1984, the IRA came close to assassinating her. In 1990, by murdering Ian, they helped to bring her down. If Ian Gow had been slain while protecting Margaret Thatcher, he would have died with a smile on his face. But when she most had need of him, her enemies had ensured that he would not be available.

Ian Gow and Margaret Thatcher in 1984. He was assassinated by the IRA six years later.

Ian Gow follows Margaret Thatcher in 1984. He was assassinated by the IRA six years later.

IRA of the Troubles “well beyond recall” report says

A special three-member panel reviewing paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland released its report 20 October 2015.

The report found the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) “remains in existence in a much reduced form” and that an IRA army council is still operating, The Irish Times reports. More coverage from The New York Times.

“PIRA of the Troubles is well beyond recall,” the report says. “It is our firm assessment that PIRA’s leadership remains committed to the peace process and its aim of achieving a united Ireland by political means. … The group is not involved in targeting or conducting terrorist attacks against the state or its representatives.”

Read the report.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers commissioned the independent assessment of paramilitary organisations and organized crime in the six-county province in September to avert the collapse of the power-sharing government at Stormont.

Peace and politics on edge in Northern Ireland

The power-sharing government in Northern Ireland is going though yet another crisis. Whether this round, largely driven by police and government statements about the IRA remaining an active organization, is enough to unravel Stormont remains to be seen.

Scotland-based journalist Peter Geoghegan published this 28 August roundup piece in Politico‘s European Edition. The theme is captured by this quote from a unionist political commentator:

“…There is a general sense of despondency with the [power-sharing] assembly. People don’t hate each other, but Sinn Féin and the DUP hate each other.”

In a 30 August editorial, The Guardian says “everything possible must be done to prevent the collapse of a devolved system that, for all its limitations, has helped bring genuine security and has restored growth to Northern Ireland after long decades of conflict which revealed the bankruptcy of both unionist hegemony and republican violence.”