How to write a history of forgetting: did Ulster Protestants fear to speak of ’98?

Sinn Féin loose challenge over sale of Raymond McCreesh Park

Óglach Raymond McCreesh Park

Unionists and IRA victims had repeatedly called for the name of the park to be changed. Credit: UTV

Sinn Féin has lost its call-in petition to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to reconsider the sale of McCreesh Park in Newry.

The play park has caused controversy after it was renamed in tribute to the former IRA man Raymond McCreesh in 2001.

Unionists and IRA victims had repeatedly called for the name of the park to be changed.

In April, a report to the council recommended that future investment in play facilities in the McCreesh and nearby Barcroft playpark areas should be focused on a single site.

Last month, the council said it was planning to sell the park.

That was challenged by Sinn Féin who said it wanted a community consultation on the issue.

In October the council said it was planning to sell the park.
But on Monday evening the council published legal advice, which said there had been extensive consultation and analytical work in relation to the impact of any change in the provision of play facilities in this area.

The author of the report, Mr Tony McGleenan QC said that there had been detailed and repeated community consultation in respect of the future investment in Barcroft and McCreesh play parks and the need for rationalisation of this part of the Council’s estate.

Mr McGlennan said: “This decision [to sell the park] has been reached after community consultation and empirical analysis.

“It is difficult to see how this can properly amount to a disproportionate adverse impact.”

He continued: “The decision to start the process does not equate to a commitment to dispose of the site. If no expressions of interest are made the issue will never arise.

“If expressions of interest are made the question of disposal will be returned to the Council before a final decision is made.

“In light of this I do not consider that the decision to enter the process can give rise to disproportionate impact on the Nationalist or Republican communities.”

With many thanks to: UTV News for the original posting.

‘Whitey’ Bulger ‘used drug cash’ to provide arms to PIRA

Boston crime boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger inspired the story of Martin Scorsese’s film The Departed, starring Jack Nicholson

The arms cargo sent to the IRA by James “Whitey” Bulger in 1984 was financed by drugs money, according to one of the crime leader’s former henchmen.

The operation was foiled by the authorities, who captured the Marita Ann trawler off the Kerry coast, and arrested Martin Ferris, now a Sinn Fein TD and anti-drugs campaigner, on board.

Ferris told Radio Kerry last week he had no knowledge of who was involved on the US side of the gunrunning operation and had never come across Bulger — but it would not be expected “you’d get guns from the Legion of Mary”.

Bulger, the former Boston gang leader who was murdered in a US federal prison last week, was an IRA sympathiser who held Irish citizenship and was the proud possessor of an Irish passport.

According to Connemara-born Pat Nee, Bulger’s former partner in crime, about $1m was put up for the gunrunning operation by Joe Murray, one of the main marijuana smugglers in the Boston area in the 1980s.

In an interview in Boston some years ago, Nee revealed that Bulger donated “some arms” to the shipment but Murray paid for most of it and laid on the gunrunning boat, the Valhalla. It took the arms cargo to a point off the Kerry coast where it was transferred to the Marita Ann.

“Whitey” Bulger was captured after 16 years on the run, and sentenced to two life sentences


Like Nee and Bulger, Murray was of Irish descent, which was why he was asked to supply arms to the IRA. “We appealed to his Irish heritage,” said Nee, pointing out that it also made sense to use somebody with smuggling expertise to help get the weapons to Ireland.

Bulger extorted money from drug traffickers, including Murray, who had to pay him to store marijuana in South Boston. By financing the IRA arms cargo from his drugs profits, Murray was currying favour with Bulger and his gang.

Nee said he travelled to Ireland to liaise with IRA leaders about the shipment, but did not meet Ferris. In Boston he worked with Sean Crawley, a former US Marine turned IRA member. Crawley sailed on the Valhalla, and was later arrested with Ferris aboard the Marita Ann.

According to Nee, the IRA in Ireland was anxious that a boat associated with drugs not be used to ship the arms. He assured them the Valhalla, an 82ft fishing trawler, was “clean”.

Bulger and his sidekick Kevin Weeks provided security as seven tons of arms and ammunition were loaded on the Valhalla in the Massachusetts port of Gloucester. They used a radio scanner to check police calls as the boat set off early on a September morning in 1984.

Murray and his wife, Susan, flew to Ireland with Nee to be there when the arms arrived. But Nee said the IRA did not want them anywhere near where the guns and ammunition were to be brought ashore.

Bulger tried to send the PIRA seven tons of arms via the Marita Ann in 1984

The gunrunning operation was blown by IRA informant Seán O’Callaghan, and the arms were seized by the Irish Naval Service and gardai. John McIntyre, who worked for Murray and was on the Valhalla, was later murdered by Bulger for co-operating with the US authorities.

Murray and Nee were among those jailed in the US for their role in the operation. In 1994, Murray was shot dead by his wife, from whom he was estranged.

In the early 1970s, IRA leader Joe Cahill visited the Triple O’s, a notorious “mob bar” in south Boston, where he met Bulger and Nee. According to Nee, Cahill said the IRA needed arms, and the Boston gangsters agreed to help. “We were criminals, which meant we had access to all kinds of weapons,” he said. Nee recalled Bulger asking Cahill how many British soldiers he had killed.

Nee later turned on Bulger after learning he was an informant for the FBI. The story helped to inspire The Departed, a Martin Scorsese film starring Jack Nicholson. Bulger was also portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 2015 movie Black Mass.

Bulger was captured after 16 years on the run in 2011, and sentenced to two life sentences for 11 murders. The 89-year-old was found beaten to death last Tuesday in his cell in a West Virginia prison.

With many thanks to: Sean Boyne, The Times and The Sunday Times for the original story.

Who dares to say forget about the past, to men of Irish birth? Who dares to say cease fighting, for our place upon this earth?

Let remembrance be our watchword, and our dead we’ll never fail.
Let their graves be to us as milestones, on that blood-soaked one-way trail.

Remember how Owain Rowe fought, Port Lester mill beside.
No man can say a coward fell when Hugh O’Donnell died.

Remember Ruth and Sarsfield and forget, whoever will,
That glorious stand at Limerick, at Kilnacaden hill.

How Emmett’s gallant handful, in historic Dublin Town,
Came out to give their challenge to the forces of the crown.

And then for a time, ’twas silence. Was Ireland’s struggle done?
The answer’s in the negative, thundered many a Fenian gun.

And then when England thought she’d won, that we at last were meek,
Roared forth a glorious challenge of the men of Easter Week!

Remember how our solders fought the scum of many lands,
Fought the scum of British prisons – and Britain’s “Black and Tans”.

And then by men we trusted, this land of ours was sold.
They sold our friends to enemies, as Judas did of old.

Remember how in Kerry they butchered our lads like swine!
God! Think of Ballyseedy, where they tied them to a mine.

How Rory and Liam and Dick and Joe, to glut the Imperial beast,
Were murdered, while in prison, on our Blessed Lady’s feast.

How, with overworked revolver as he dashed from that hotel,
Rode a rebel’s last defiance as Cathal Brugha fell.

Hear we not the voice of Connelly, the worker-soldier friend?
Our conquered soul asserts itself, and WE SHALL RISE AGAIN!

For Freedom, yes and not to starve, and not for rocks and clay,
But for the lives of Ireland’s working class, we fight and die today.

And what, says Cathal Brugha, if the last man is on the ground,
If he is lying, week and helpless, and his enemies ring him round?

If he’s fired his final bullet, if he’s fired his final shot,
And they say, Come into the Empire, he should answer, I WILL NOT!

Then back, back to that one-way trail.
Ní Síocháin go Saoirse (No Peace Until Freedom) is the war cry of the Gael!

While our country stands beside us with the blood of martyrs set,
Wayside crosses to remind us, WHO DARES TO SAY FORGET?

While Emmett’s tomb is uninscribed, until we our rights assert,
Until our country takes her place among the nations of the earth.

With many thanks to: Derry Sceal for the original posting.

Police must be allowed to follow the evidence…. but treat both sides Republican and Loyalist with the same respect, the RUC/PSNI need to stop showing favoritism to loyalist extremists.

Anthony McIntyre has contributed as much as any historian to the reappraisal of the IRA’s ‘armed struggle’. Only republican apologists can profit from his legal travails.

Anthony McIntyre with the late Brendan Hughes (the Dark)


First, I should declare an interest. Anthony McIntyre is a friend of mine in a way that, say, Gerry Adams isn’t, though I have been scoffed at by McIntyre and hugged by Adams.

McIntyre has helped a lot of journalists and is generally well-liked by them, I think. He appears to be frank and candid.
I knew him when he was living in fear of the Provisionals because he had said openly that he blamed them for the murder of Real IRA member Joseph O’Connor in Ballymurphy. He has declared an interest himself in mourning O’Connor: “Joe would have been my brother-in-law had he lived. The damage his killers left in their retreat is manifest in my home to this day.” McIntyre’s house was picketed at that time and he eventually had to move out.

He had got a PhD from Queen’s University and was clearly liked and respected by the lecturers who had supervised him. In a quaint irony, he had been admitted to the PhD ahead of the top student graduating in politics that year. That was Joanne Murphy, now a lecturer in marketing at Queen’s. McIntyre had done his degree while a lifer in the Maze Prison.

When the idea of him doing a project for Boston College came up, he asked me for advice on how to record interviews. I gave him a little Minidisc recorder that I had been using for interviews for radio reports. So, when I hear newsreaders talk of the “Boston College tapes”, I am amused that they really suppose that there are reels or cassettes in storage somewhere, when they have long given up on using analogue gear themselves.

McIntyre has made a massive contribution to political debate here. Before the Boston College project he edited a website, The Blanket, which reached a million hits. That is where we first heard critical voices from within the Provisional movement, including some who would significantly change the historical record, like Richard O’Rawe, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.

He also formed relationships with former loyalist prisoners and worked with them on a magazine called The Other View, and he ran a magazine of his own called Fourthwrite. A collection of his articles has been published as The Death Of Irish Republicanism. He continues to write and foster political bloggers through his website The Pensive Quill.

Politically, he is a socialist republican. He started his IRA career inside the Officials, where he was a scout for Joe McCann, and moved to the Provisionals, where the more militant energy was. He was a sniper and an OC.

None of this says that he was a good person. He reached a conclusion which I firmly rejected; that murder could advance our politics. And he did his time – 18 years. What makes him a good person is that he has the integrity and the clarity to reappraise that past and to conclude that the IRA campaign was pointless.

He doesn’t want to be part of the Sinn Fein project of commemorating the past and pretending that current outcomes were achieved through bombing and murder. He isn’t a hypocrite. He is, essentially, a journalist and an editor who has been working since his release from prison to build an enormous body of writing reappraising the ‘armed struggle’ and the peace process.

Even without the Boston Project, now scuppered by the police, he will leave behind a body of writing that no serious historian of Irish republicanism will be able to ignore.

So, why is he a target of the police? The police say they follow the evidence where it leads. McIntyre and his partner in the Boston College project, the journalist Ed Moloney, were not secretive about their work. They were interviewing several former paramilitaries to enrich the historical record with an archive of oral evidence. The beauty of this would be that, in years to come, after the witnesses had died, another generation would get the fuller story. It was a brilliant idea, but it didn’t survive because when the police realised that this evidence was stored away, they decided they had little option but to go after it. And Boston College, which McIntyre and Moloney had trusted would protect the recordings and transcripts, did as the courts bade them.

The PSNI has material on the murder of Jean McConville and other crimes, and is pursuing cases against Ivor Bell and Winston Rea using the Boston material. Others who gave interviews have moved to protect themselves by retrieving their interviews and destroying them. I don’t expect the police to waive opportunities – especially such easy opportunities – out of consideration for posterity and the integrity of academic research. But it does look bad. You didn’t have to be Columbo to think of asking Boston College for research materials they were open about having.

By a gentle irony, as Chief Constable George Hamilton reminded us only a week ago, huge evidential opportunities have already been waived through the protected decommissioning of weapons and the decision not to gather forensic materials from the bodies of the Disappeared.

The principle is out there, that if the sum of knowledge and the peace can be helped, then investigations can be compromised to help that. McIntyre’s mistake was to be ahead of the game.

Of course, I would see this all very differently if I was among the bereaved. The victims are not calling for information, but for justice. And if justice can be delivered to them through the arrest of Anthony McIntyre, then they should have that. But information is the most that any but a very few will get – if they even get that.

That’s all that the Historical Enquiries Team offered. It is what is proposed in the Stormont House Agreement and its own proposed Oral History Archive, which hasn’t even got started work yet.

The police say that they follow where the evidence leads and that there is very little evidence out there. So, they are picking at the easiest, most accessible threads.

It’s what they are doing with Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey after their investigation into the Loughinisland massacre.

In that whole disgusting shambles, with all its intimations of collusion and cover-up, the one detectable crime they think they might get a result on is the alleged theft of a document from the Ombudsman’s office: a leak. That’s like busting a man for jaywalking as he chases a thief across the road.

It would be nice to think that history would judge whether wrecking the Boston College project was worth it for putting an ex-lifer back in jail for two years.

But it won’t, for that evidence is now gone, too.

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Malachi O’Doherty for the original story.

Raymond McCreesh park: Council say it is a ‘surplus asset’

Raymond McCreesh Park

Debates over the name of Raymond McCreesh Park have gone on since it was opened in 2001

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has decided to sell a Newry play park named after an IRA hunger striker.
The council said Raymond McCreesh Park is now “surplus to requirements”.

Other public bodies will now have first refusal on the Patrick Street site. Its name will be a matter for its new owner.
The name of the park had led to a long-running dispute in the area. Unionists demanded the name be changed, while republicans insisted it be retained.

SDLP councillors were caught in the middle.
Originally named Patrick Street Play Park, it was renamed in 2001.
‘Surplus asset’
Following a report into play facilities in the area, an agreement was made on Monday night to dispose of the site.

SDLP Councillor Michael Savage told BBC News NI: “The decision was taken, after a number of months looking at play park provision in this area, that McCreesh Park, based on the low score that it came up with as part of that independent process, would be surplus to requirements for the council.
“It would then be earmarked as a surplus asset.”

Raymond McCreesh

Raymond McCreesh died on hunger strike in the Maze Prison in 1981
The council now plans to build a new play facility on Doran’s Hill, which runs alongside the existing park.

There are also plans to build 200 homes nearby.
Raymond McCreesh Park
Image caption
Local residents say there is ongoing anti-social behaviour in the area
Sinn Féin, which has an office on the same street as the park, is unhappy with the decision.

Newry councillor Liz Kimmins proposed the council reverse the decision to sell and carry out a community consultation, but this was voted down by the other parties.
“The people in the Ballybot and Barcroft areas areas have strongly supported the name to stay,” she said.
“This issue has not been resolved.

“The SDLP, Alliance and unionist parties have voted to refuse the community their say on the future of Raymond McCreesh Park and instead put it up for sale.”

‘Summer from hell’
However, some residents in the area support the decision – not necessarily because of the park’s name, but rather because of the poor condition of its facilities and ongoing anti-social behaviour in the area.
Newry woman Sheila Hughes said she had had “the summer from hell” living near the park.
“They’re spilling up the steps at the back of the park into where the houses are and they won’t move,” she said.
“It’s hard when you don’t have anywhere else to send them or anywhere else for them to go.”

With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story.

McCreesh Park decision prompts further spat amongst councillors

The decision by Newry Mourne and down District Council to sell off the controversial Raymond McCreesh Park in Newry has led to more wrangling among councillors, with Sinn Fein accusing the SDLP of misleading people over the park’s future.

Following a report into play facilities which identified “surplus assets” in the area, an agreement was made at Monday night’s full meeting of council to dispose of the site as it is “surplus to requirements.”

Sinn Fein Councillor, Liz Kimmins, proposed to reverse the decision and put the site’s future to a community consultation. Her proposal was defeated in a Chamber vote, with SDLP Councillor, Michael Savage proposing to stick to the original recommendation and seek expressions of interest from Government Departments during a D1 disposal process.The name of the park will now be a matter for its new owner.

Originally named Patrick Street Play Park, it was renamed after IRA Hunger Striker, Raymond McCreesh in 2001. The naming of the park led to a protracted dispute, with Unionists demanding the name be changed, whilst Sinn Fein argued to retain the name.

Following Monday night’s meeting, Ms Kimmins said the decision to dispose of the park “reinforced the belief of most that SDLP have a stated objective of rejecting the democratic decision of the people of the area to name this community asset after Raymond McCreesh.”

She said the ratification of the Council’s Play Strategy review at the full council meeting last month had recommended McCreesh Park alone for the D1 process, out of 10 parks in the district which fell below play value set out by the categorisation developed by Playboard NI.

“There was no rush from the SDLP to dispose of any of the others as disposal was not part of this process, a fact which was confirmed by council officials at the most recent meeting,” said Ms Kimmins. The Sinn Féin elected representative also disputed Councillor Savage’s claims that he carried out an audit in the area which supported the disposal of the park and the site to be used for housing.

“No one that I have spoken to in Ballybot or Barcroft has had any engagement with Cllr Savage on this issue,” she said, calling on the SDLP Councillor to “present evidence of his alleged community audit.”

“The attempt by other parties in the Council to force through the disposal of Raymond McCreesh Park without local consultation is an attempt to eradicate the name of Raymond McCreesh from the area.Cllr Savage and the SDLP should be honest with the people of Ballybot and Barcroft as to what their real intentions are,” demanded the Sinn Fein Councillor before pledging her party’s opposition “to any move in the Council to deprive the people of the area of the right to decide on the future use of this community asset”.

The Barcroft Community Association (BCA) has also challenged Mr Savage about his audit claims. BCA Chairperson, Darren Thompson, accused the SDLP Councillor of making “unsupported claims that he called to every house in Barcroft and Ballybot and surveyed residents about the future of Raymond McCreesh Play park.”

Mr Thompson said committee members have spoken with over 30 residents “and none of them were contacted by Councillor Savage.”

“Michael Savage has shown a total lack of respect for the people of Barcroft and neighbouring areas with regards to the alleged ‘audit’,” he added, accusing Mr Savage of using the local community as “pawns”, in “a cheap election gimmick.”

Meanwhile Mr Savage hit back and accused Sinn Fein of dishonesty over McCreesh Park. The SDLP Councillorsaid the local community will be “fully consulted” on the future of the park when viable options that can be funded and benefit the people of the area are identified.

“Anyone who I have worked for and been in contact with in the Ballybot and Barcroft area know that I have been open and honest with them about the future of the park,” insisted Mr Savage.

“Contrary to what Cllr Kimmins believes, I have knocked the doors in the area and provided residents with an update on the park and had many doorstep discussions with residents on the future of play provision in the area. I was open and honest with them about the process and I have remained true to that.”

He said Cllr Kimmins was fully aware that McCreesh Park had been identified as a surplus asset at a previous Active, Healthy Communities committee meeting,and that “To come along now and cry foul and hide behind a call for community consultation is being disingenuous to the people of the area.”

“We have agreed to seek expressions of interest from Government Departments to see if they can come up with schemes for the park that are a benefit to the local community under the D1 process,” he explained.

“During this process the local community will be asked to give their views on the options available and if the Council and the community believe any of the proposals are a good fit, then we will progress them.

“I am disappointed that Cllr Kimmins and her party have decided to play last minute political party games to try and mask their involvement in and approval of this process at every step.”

With many thanks to: The Examiner for the original posting.


Timeline of Events (38)

May 5th 1976


There has been no shortage of articles and documentaries chronicling the various escapes from prisons by Republican prisoners, however, there has been little written about the INLA escape from Cage 5 in 1976, which ranks as the very first mass escape from Long Kesh prison camp. The first mass escape from Long Kesh in 1976, occurred on the 5th of May, a date that ironically doubly ties it to Irish Republican penal history, as by grim coincidence Bobby Sands died on Hunger Strike some 5 years later, in 1981. The Irish Republican Socialist POW’s who successfully made that first mass escape from the infamous Long Kesh concentration camp were:

1.Seamus O’Kane,
2.Cahir O’Doherty,
3.John-Eddy McNicholl,
4.Harry Flynn,
5.Gerry Clancy,
6.Hen Doherty,
7.Jake McManus,
8.Joe Kelly
9.Gerard Steenson.

The Red Moles

The Republican Socialist prison-breakers chose tunnelling as their means of escape and brought new meaning to the term ‘Red Moles! ‘ An even more remarkable fact, about the 1976 Republican Socialist mass escape, was that the Irish Republican Socialist Movement had only been formed 2 years earlier, at the IRSM’s inaugural convention at the Spa hotel, Lucan, near Dublin. Unlike the Provisionals, who have made a cottage industry and travelling roadshow, based around the second mass escape from Long Kesh in 1983, Republican Socialists have been relatively reticent about their successful jail-breaking methodology. In contrast to others, they have been quietly modest about being the sole authors of the very first spectacular mass escape from Long Kesh.

The Cages Of Long Kesh

The Long Kesh prison of 1976 was very different from the prison of the H-Blocks era, which the general public would be more familiar with. Following a Hunger Strike by Billy McKee, by the time of the first mass escape, the British Government had given de jure POW status to Republican and Loyalist prisoners and the prison regime was reminiscent of a World War 2 camp for captured combatants, which conjures up images of the regime seen in the Hollywood movie, The Great Escape. The similarities did not end there, as like any other era in Irish Republican penal history, the POWs spent much of their time devising ways to go under, over and indeed through the perimeter fence. Like the POW camps depicted in movies, the Republican prisoners were allowed to, more or less, control their own time, with the command structures of the various organisations being officially and legally recognised by their ‘opposites’ within the prison guards and indeed by the state itself.

Cage 5

There were in fact 10 Red Moles who emerged at the end of the Cage 5 tunnel, but the tenth escapee, Dessie Grew, injured his leg at the final wall-scaling stage of the escape and had to return via the subterranean passage to his Nissan hut. The Republican Socialist escapees had to morph into Communist Kangaroos to successfully clear all the rolls of barbed-wire, chain-link fences and the formidable perimeter wall, despite it being bathed in the glare of searchlights every few seconds! Unfortunately, two of the Irp escapees were captured some 10 miles away, later the following day by the British Army and RUC. The remaining seven Republican Socialist prisoners made good their escape, by a variety of ingenious methods.

SAS Death-Squads Was Deployed To Murder The IRSP/INLA Escapees! Authorised By The British Government.

As an interesting postscript to the Great Irp Escape from Long Kesh, several SAS death-squads were dispatched to track down and kill the Republican Socialist escapees. Their deployment had allegedly been authorised at cabinet level by the British government of the time and the death-squads were armed with a variety of irregular weapons, including pump action shotguns and Ingram Sub-machine pistols. Their use of ‘unconventional’ weaponry added weight to the widely held belief that, if the SAS had made good on their heinous manhunt, the escapees would have been murdered in cold blood, MRF-styl. One of the SAS death-squads, travelling in an unmarked van, were stopped at a joint Gardai-Free State Army checkpoint, 2 days later on the 7th of May. In contrast to the immediate imprisonment Republicans routinely received at the hands of the Gardai, the 8 man SAS death-squad were quickly flown back to their lairs.

Comrade Willie Gallagher from Strabane gives an account of his part played in digging the tunnel for the lads to escape.

“The tunnel in Cage 5 resembled nothing like what you would see in the movies and was indeed quite narrow in parts which required literally for us to wriggle through in parts. Looking back now it was quite dangerous and on a number of occasions we had a number of cave-ins when various degrees of parts of the ceiling of the tunnel collapsed and a number of times diggers had to be pulled out by the feet. The majority of us who dug the tunnel were all fairly young and had no sense of danger. I had just turned 18 at that time and in the interview I done I described that escape as an amazing experience and one of the best experiences I ever had whilst in prison.

The previous May five Irps from Cage 14 escaped from Town Hall Street when appearing for a remand hearing. There were at least two other near successful attempts from Cage 14 that same year and towards the end of ’75 we were moved to Cage 6 and then to Cage 5 by the screws in an attempt to frustrate escapes. I’m sure some of us, who took part in the escape, have different recollections. For example in the interview I done I said I thought the tunnel took three weeks, four at most to dig whereas Micky Smith thought it took six weeks. Even though I covered this in the visual/audio interview I’ll give some of my memories on this event which has been practically air-brushed out of republican history.

The tunnel in Cage 5 actually began in my pad/cell/cubicle as it was the second last pad from the end of the hut which was nearest the fence which surrounded our Cage. Each living hut was divided in two with a narrow corridor in the middle of the hut. This was partitioned off into what we called pads, others called them cells or cubicles. They were in effect wooden cells with a curtain covering the entrance of each pad. The hut were Nissan huts made up of sheeting of corrugated paper-thin metal. At the entrance of each hut was a boiler and a small ring like cooker for making toast and cooking. At the other end was a TV and small toilet.

I can recall Frank Gallagher from Beechmount who was the OC of the Cage convening a meeting of those selected to take part in the escape. Some prisoners were moved out of our hut and others who were selected moved in. Escape plans were nothing unusual for the Irps but this one had a greater sense of excitement as it was the first tunnel plan as this Cage was closer to the perimeter wall than the other Cages we were previously in. Materials such chisels and the ingredients for making a small concrete block were smuggled in. Light bulbs were stolen from the hospital quarters which was in a different place in the camp. Blow heaters which were in the huts were converted into pumps for putting oxygen down the tunnel though this was used in the latter stages. Cooking utensils and food trays were converted into digging equipment. Much of this was done by Cahir O‘Doherty from the Bone who was one of the eldest prisoners in the Cage. I think he was only 40 then though he looked about 70 to us at the time. Cahir was a genius in improvising and played a crucial role in the escape.

We got into action immediately after the next big search with the first part of the operation being the entrance of the tunnel which would be located under my bed. Four floor tiles were removed intact which measured, give or take a few inches, 18 square inches. This area was chiseled out and was, I think, maybe 8 inches deep. During this loud music was played from record players playing LPs which wasn’t unusual with look outs were placed strategically throughout the Cage to spot any unusual activity from the screws. The screws were not allowed into the Cage except at night time, 9pm, to do the head counts and lock us in the huts and in the morning to unlock and do head counts. The only other times they were allowed in was during big searches and what they called tunnel searches. Tunnel searches consisted of two screws being accompanied by a member of the Cage staff who would do a bit of tapping on floors with hammers listening for an echo which would indicate a tunnel. I’m not sure how long this took to complete but it wasn’t long. If I had have brought you into my pad and said there’s a tunnel in here, there’s no way you’d pinpoint it. The entrance was visually perfect and was a work of art. Basically you flipped a corner of the tile, pulled it back and there was a handle made of rope like material imbedded into a constructed concrete block and it was just a matter of lifting the whole lot up intact. It literally fitted like a glove.

We dug about 6 foot down and headed towards the perimeter wall. We divided up into teams and worked almost 24/7 in the digging. We would stop an hour before lock up/head-count at night and an hour before unlock/head-count in the morning. Each team throughout the day and night got breaks for food and sleep with smaller breaks for cups of tea and a smoke. As the tunnel progressed a stick with a white hankie would be poked up through the ceiling of the tunnel to gauge the distance and direction of the tunnel itself. We normally went down the tunnel wearing just football shorts as it was quite warm despite the wetness and flooding at times from rain falls. A number of photographs were taken but I never ever seen any of them and the camera may well have been taken by one of the escapees.

The ceiling and sides of the tunnel was shored up at various points which we thought were weak with bits of wood and sheets from the wooden pads. It was a patch work job and lengthy parts of the tunnel had no protection at all with nothing shoring up the walls and ceiling. There were a number of cave-ins of various degrees some freaky enough with a few being dragged out by the feet from underneath a pile of soil. The gases from the soil had a sickly impact as well as giving ones headaches and this became more intense as the tunnel progressed so this restricted the time each of us would be digging at the face of the tunnel. Some parts were very narrow which only required one person digging at the face with other parts wider allowing two to dig. We used improvised trowels for digging, the food trays for putting the soil in which would be relayed back up the tunnel by prisoners strategically placed along the length of the tunnel where a team at the entrance would bag the soil and hide the bags between the corrugated sheets of the hut itself. The amount of soil was unbelievable and eventually every hut was filled with soil between those corrugated sheets. In the last days of the tunnel there was no more room for the soil and we had no other choice but store the bags inside clothes lockers which meant a search would uncover them.

We were both lucky and unlucky during this period. For example I can recall the floors not being properly dried after a clean up in the morning which would be hugely suspicious. Also I recall a mucky handprint on a mug beside the boiler at the entrance of the hut which would have given the tunnel away if spotted by the screws. We never got the usual bed linen change which I think was every three weeks. Many of the bed sheets were used for bagging the soil and so many could not have been accounted for. We also got at least one tunnel search during that period but again luck was on our side.

The original plan was to empty the whole Cage of those doing or facing big sentences but our luck had run out. The night before the escape there was a heavy rain fall which caused quite a bit of flooding in the tunnel. The next day however was like a summer day and a few of us were out the back taking a break. Some of the other lads actually took some mattresses out doing some sun-bathing. I can’t remember who spotted a small hole appearing in the yard directly above the tunnel which caused great concern. The talk was the tunnel was fucked, it had fallen short of it’s objective, was flooded and at the point of collapse from the yard. Some bright spark, whose name I can’t recall, had the idea of putting one of the mattresses over the hole and hoping for the best. The hole wasn’t too big but was very noticeable and would have definitely been discovered. It was the practice of the screws to walk around the yard just before the night time head-count and lock up. Up until that point we thought we needed at least another week maybe longer to complete the tunnel but the hole in the yard had changed those plans. It had to be that night or else it was fucked. The screws that night just walked around the mattress barely looking at it and then the head count was completed and we were locked up for the night. I’m not sure exactly what time the batch of 11 prisoners went at, 11pm perhaps midnight. Bags of clothes were prepared as you couldn’t get through the tunnel without getting soaked due to flooding which was quite deep in parts and also money was distributed. Lookouts were strategically placed keeping an eye out for Brits patrolling the perimeter and watching the two Brit watch towers. We were all very conscience of the mass escape attempt from, I think, Cage 4, by PIRA at the end of ’74 which resulted in Hugh Cooney being shot dead. The tunnel fell short of reaching the perimeter but I can’t recall how far. We watched the first escapee pop his head up and crawl towards the wall. Grappling hooks were made from the tubular framework of the chairs and ropes from sheets. Dessie Grew fell from the wall on the inside of the perimeter badly hurting himself and another prisoner, whose name I can’t recall either, brought him back through the tunnel which was caving in in parts.

We waited up all night watching and listening for any indications of the escape being rumbled but nothing untoward happened. Next morning the screws had came in for their usual unlock and head-count and no doubt were curious as they pulled each curtain back seeing prisoners fully clothed with big smiles. You could hear the odd snigger and when they got to my pad, which I obviously wasn’t in, they would have seen a pile of soil and a hole in the floor. There was a scream of “fuck” and I think a shout of “escape” which was drowned out by the running of feet and all us laughing and cheering.

Two of the lads were caught the following night, Cahir O’Doherty and Gerard Steenson. I think all of us were shattered for Cahir in particular as he put his heart and soul into escape plus he was the brains behind the improvised tools, lighting and supplying oxygen into the tunnel.

About half an hour later the Cage was full of screws like a big black blanket of the cunts. They took us out one at a time, each of us refusing to give our names hoping to frustrate them getting the identities of the escapees for as long as possible. Each of us had to walk down to the canteen between a gauntlet of screws who were hissing and the usual remarks of scumbag etc. We were locked in the canteen for I think two days whilst they done a search and sealed the tunnel with all our possessions threw down it and sealed with concrete.”

Willie Gallagher
Irish Republican Socialist Movement.

With many thanks to the: History of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement for the original posting.


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