In the wee hours of the morning of October 23rd, 1971, the British Army rolled into the Falls area of Belfast with the intention of raiding houses and arresting anyone they suspected of criminal or “dissident” activities. It was a regular occurrence in the area and the residents had various ways of warning each other when the army was around. Runners would spread the word ahead of the vehicles and the Women’s Action Committee (WAC) would bang trash bin lids on the streets as an early alarm system. Sometimes people would blow whistles or sound horns from their cars as well which was exactly what two sisters, Maura Meehan and Dorothy Maguire, left a party to do on that early Autumn morning. When one of Meehan’s children asked where she was headed she told him that she’d be right back, as she grabbed a handheld horn and headed to a car outside. These words were the last she ever spoke to her family.
Operation Motorman was the code name given to a mission carried out by the British Army in the North of Ireland on July 31st, 1972. The goal was to forcibly reassert control over the Nationalist and Republican areas where they were not welcome with a particular focus in the cities of Derry and Belfast. In these cities, nearly impenetrable barricades had been erected in many neighborhoods barring any soldiers from entering or policing the communities. When the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated more than twenty bombs in Belfast on July 21st of that year, the English government decided that the “No-go” areas in these towns would no longer be tolerated and Operation Motorman was born.
On this day in 1974, Dublin City Center was devastated by three large bombs that went off without warning in the span of about 90 seconds. They exploded in the middle of rush hour during a public transportation strike which had left more people in the area than usual. Injuries and casualties were astronomical. When a similar bomb exploded without warning in the city of Monaghan ninety minutes later, the incident became the worst and largest loss of life in Ireland’s more recent troubled history. The explosions injured nearly three hundred people and killed thirty-three civilians in all and decades later, despite multiple investigations, reports, and a mountain of evidence, no one has ever been charged or prosecuted for these attacks.
You can’t really be an Irish historian without studying at least a little bit about Bloody Sunday. Many have devoted their whole lives to what happened on that day, forty-five years ago. Many books have been written, movies and documentaries have been filmed and the controversy surrounding the massacre that occurred in Derry is still going strong. The families that were torn apart that fateful Sunday still relive it every day and they all have questions that still need answers. Until the day they finally get justice, I think it is their voices that need to be heard, not mine.
Annette McGavigan was only eleven years old when the Troubles erupted in the North of Ireland. Her home was in Derry, one of the major flashpoints of the Troubles and a stronghold of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. She and the other children of the area witnessed more conflict than any child should within those first few years. She would have seen the British Army rolling into her city, bringing CS gas, rubber bullets, violence and protest with them. Riot after riot broke out and civil rights marches, anti-internment protests, and anti-police incidents were frequent and violent. These things probably became rather commonplace over the next few years for Annette and the other children who were growing up in areas like Creggan, Little Diamond, and the Bogside.
On Sept. 6th, 1971, when Annette was only fourteen, Catholic schools were closed in Derry. Teachers were taking part in a week-long anti-internment program. This left the schoolchildren with free time. Some joined the protests and riots and others stayed in. Once a small riot had ended on the edge of the Bogside, Annette and her friends went out to collect the leftovers of the violence. Children regularly gathered rubber bullets, gas canisters and more after each riot in Derry and this day off from school gave Annette the perfect opportunity to hunt for these dangerous souvenirs. As the young girl in a school uniform picked up an empty cartridge, a shot rang out. She likely never knew what hit her.
Forty-five years ago today the Parachute Regimen of the British Army was sent to Belfast to take part in Operation Demetrius, the fancy codename the government used for internment. They were to detain and arrest anyone who they thought was either involved in or supporting the Provisional IRA, but sending the Paras in to do this was rather like setting off a grenade to stop a fist fight. Over the next few days in the Ballymurphy area alone, eleven civilians were killed. Many who were killed were just trying to get away from the trouble and some were shot while helping others.
On this day 102 years ago, a large shipment of arms landed in Howth, destined for the Irish Volunteers. Many of these guns were used two years later during the Easter Rising of 1916 and without them, the Rising may never have happened at all. When the Asgard came to shore it was met by the Fianna Éireann and other Volunteers who were quick to unload the weapons and begin carting them off. They hoped to avoid the attention of the police, but their mission did not pass unnoticed. The authorities who were watching did not engage the large crowd but they did call for backup. As the Volunteers left the area they were met by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, a regiment of the British Army. A tussle ensued but in the end, the soldiers were only able to confiscate a mere nineteen of the nine hundred guns brought into Ireland that day.
News spread quickly of the successful smuggling operation and the military’s failure to seize most of the weapons so by the time the Borderers were marching back into Dublin, crowds had already gathered to celebrate and to mock them. They antagonized the soldiers, taunting them and throwing rubbish and fruit at the column (which magically became stones in the official reports). They shouted insults and openly laughed at the troops and their failed mission. Soldiers and police officers never tolerate this kind of behavior for long (as they continue to prove to this day) and by the time they marched onto Bachelors Walk they had had enough of the hostile crowd. The soldiers turned to face the people and seconds later shots were fired directly into the busy street, hitting those who had been following them and innocent civilians alike. They followed the volley of bullets with a bayonet charge. The collective lack of self control from the army resulted in four casualties and nearly forty others were injured.