“With God on our side”
The first real glimmer of the terror about to be unleashed across the land was when some school-friends arrived back to classes traumatised by scenes they’d experienced during the student Peoples Democracy march at Burntollet Bridge in the winter of 1969 . It had seemed barbaric to them. I was seventeen and a few months from my eighteenth birthday ,by then, and one of the boys was several months younger than me ; in the middle of all this social unrest and fear that was stirring on the streets around us , we still had exams to think about. Paul Bew,some two years older than us schoolboys,later to be the Professor of Irish Politics at Queen’s University, Belfast, and one-time advisor to David Trimble , was also on that march and was witness to the same incidents .He described it as “the spark that lit the prairie fire”.He meant it was the exact moment where he believed “the Troubles” actually began.He later became a life peer known as Baron Bew with associations with neo-conservative issues, but back then , he was leaning left.. as many idealistic students were in that decade of social ferment .
I’m inclined to agree with him on his reading of this specific issue, in the sense that if you need another point of focus ,such as the previous signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912, to pin-point when the potential for future conflagration and terror evidenced itself , this very point in time ,seems perfectly apt.
The march was a Civil Rights affair although the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and some nationalists in Derry had advised against it, fearing that the route being taken was dangerous for geographical and historic reasons .Terence O’Neill was the Unionist Prime Minister at the time and he wanted a temporary end to all civil rights protests, but the university students and schoolboys of Peoples Democracy were adamant that they wanted to go ahead anyway, in the way that students of that era chided against the buffery of the Establishment across the world. There was an element of humourous tugging at the old monkey’s tail alongside the idealism, in it all and they didn’t forsee the brutal dangers that older heads warned of.
Supporters of the Reverend Ian Paisley, led by Major Ronald Bunting, talked of sedition and decided to have counter -demonstrations along the march route between Belfast and Derry.There is an oddness in that their own ideas of “sedition” was really born in the previous signing of the the Ulster Covenant back in 1912 , which the British Government also thought was seditious and treasonous. When the marchers reached the Burntollet Bridge ,between the village of Claudy and Derry City, an Ulster Loyalist crowd of some 300 hundred unionists, had gathered in wait and attacked them. Included in the crowd were around one hundred off-duty members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (the B-Specials) who began assaulting the marchers with rocks that they’d transported from William Leslie’s quarry in Legahurry. They also carried nail-spiked sticks, iron bars and a variety of clubs. Unconcerned by the RUC policemen standing by watching , they laid into the students with venom.Loyalists later , predictably celebrated this battering of these young , educated people ,as a victory over Catholic “rebels”, but it led to further acts of rioting in Derry City itself and damaged any credibility that the RUC might have had.It didn’t help that none of the attackers were ever brought to book and that Unionist PM Terence O’Neill described some of the marchers and their supporters as “mere hooligans” which left many of these young educated fellows wondering what he thought those club-wielding thugs who had attacked them were.
At the beginning of the 20th century , in Ireland, the idea of “terror”and “terrorism” took many abstract forms . For unionist Protestants their real fear appears to have been of being broken away from their ties with England ,their idea of a governing King and Empire, and finally , of being consumed in a” Home Ruled Ireland” from a Dublin base; as they saw it, dominated by the hegemony of the Catholic Church in both public and private life. They had also great pride in the industriousness of the northern counties and especially in their Belfast ship-building base.Those were very different days. Far from these 21st century secular times when strict religious observance and deference to royalty , has fallen away across both Ireland and the entire UK; this is an important observation.Their real idea was to fight back their own engorged sense of “terror” of a possible future with their own home-made form of protestant “terrorism”. They fought their own terror by using a terrorism of their own , as a weapon.
It was to be how they processed their situation and indeed proceeded, in one way or another , for the remainder of the 20th century. Sometimes those engaged in this”terrorism” called it “anti-terrorism” but what it really became was an outworking of a community’s darkest fears.Some might never accept that this was by definition “terror” or “terrorism” ,but that is what it plainly became for those watching it happen, or on the receiving end of of it in their homes or on the streets. Terrorism was eventually practiced by unionism, nationalism and the British army too.
Ever since the first inky pen-scratchings on the vainglorious “Ulster Covenant” ,when the subsequent formation of the original Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF),filled its ranks from those listed names, the groundwork had been set and the template already stamped in those years of the early 1900s.
The idea was ,that when the threat of violence was needed, this kind of fear-invoking terrorism ,worked.
Between the two world wars all forms of “terrorism” continued unabated throughout the 1920s and 1930s in Ireland,.the War of Independence ended with a conservative victory and half a dozen of its northern counties had been sectioned off ,as a sop to unionism’s manic , other-worldly paranoia of a Pope-sodden Dublin Government , by the powers- that- be in the British Establishment and Government.It was specifically weighed and constructed to leave one million unionists holding the balance against half a million nationalists. It was possibly the Westminster government’s only conceivable and pragmatic way of containing the more rabid and obviously ungovernable elements of Unionist Irishness , at that specific time .These were men and women with an inbuilt fear and harbouring a very obvious seige -mentality ,who were not about to accept anything other than their own little self-controlled feifdom in Ireland. Giving them their own Government and letting them get on with it, possibly seemed like the lesser evil of several conceivable options at that time,such as open rebellion on the streets of Belfast with the possibility of it age-old conflict also spreading to the Irish in Glasgow. Manchester and Liverpool too, but it was a choice that was to come back and bite the British government hard ,some fifty years later, when those same unionists had managed to make a mess of fair governance in the interim . By the time any positive changes were about to be tried ,they were stymied by yet another declaration of potential terror.
It had been quietly forgotten or pushed out of mind that a very substantial number of Irishmen of a nationalist bent had been annexed into this new six-county statelet,which had been chopped out of Ulster’s nine, who considered that dividing their country up in such a way was anything but a “done deal” and they questioned its very sense of fairness and even the legality of any English input into their affairs down through the centuries.Folk and family memories were very long and Irish history was already strewn with many examples of terrorism and barbarity. (It is also true that many unionists were also excluded from the new statelet who lived now in exile beyond its new borders in the new independent Irish Republic). It might have suited Britain and more obviously unionism’s sense of themselves to feel distinct from the rest of their Irish neighbours, but that was not the case for everyone else, especially those nationalists(and even those previous “unionists”) who’d been unceremoniously cut away from their kin.The place would became a hotbed for the stuff of “terrorism” , disenchantment and paranoia and the original Ulster Covenant seemed to be the perfect kind of template for the unionist folk there to continue to later build on further as the decades of the 20th century proceeded.
Nationalist Irish folk were left to a different agenda entirely.They settled into an uneasy life in a sort of Neverland limbo which was supposedly neither quite Irish nor quite English either and where they were meant to suddenly adapt to unionism’s sacred mores or possibly feel obliged to leave their homes and go elsewhere if they could not accept them. This new state included discrimation on a national scale , given that unionism was fearful of insurrection from its substantial nationalist minority of some 500,000 , and made sure that they controlled housing allocation and security. By the 1960s the imbalance was simply too blatant to ignore and an increasingly educated nationalist community were beginning to feel powerless.
If there was one thing some Irish folk had a hankering for , it was a love of a certain kind of militaristic display. What the Irish loved to do ,and specifically the unionist section of the Irish, was to dress up in paramilitary /military uniforms , make Big Dramatic gestures , emote God-fearing speeches ,designed to melt the marrow and curdle the God-fearing blood of the listeners; they’d always had a propensity to design garish flags and emblematic banners steeped in arcane references to Biblical tracts and , in some cases ,symbols of Freemasonery, Bibles , pyramids and temples ,such as they displayed when walking to “The Field” or on their 12th of July arches , and finally , but by no means least,they appeared to love the braggadocio and swagger of militarism.Having total control of the internal security of the newly -minted state would always remain paramount, so this is hardly surprising.
We had all , as a people in constant threat of the next possible insurrection or war,come through a simmering 1940s and 1950s where there were still acts of terror, even in the shadows of a passing world war, until the 1960s dawned, when eventually all hell broke loose. Prior to that there had been border skirmishes by republicans of the Official IRA in an attempt to terrorise unionism and show them that this business of splitting up Ireland was by no means the finished article and hardly the best plan for a really secure future. This involved targetting police stations and border posts or attempting to steal weapons, but was mostly low-key by any standard. By the early 1960s the Official IRA were a spent force and nationalists had generally begun to chafe along in a society whose leaders basically still distrusted them..
A documentary which sketches the background of the entire recent Irish conflict and the players who were prominent on all sides of it can be seen below.Although it appears to at first be a production of a Belfast nationalist community ,It offers a timeline as to how things developed in something of a linear fashion.If there is associated partial bias by the makers, of it initially , it is in the simple, transparent fact that much of the earlier section was filmed where most of the action of terrorism happened at the time…It was first evidenced in the nationalist areas and the television cameras were there to record it in now grainy black and white news films; but the almost fifty year- old films and the interviews are very telling ,even so. The interviewees initially appear to have no specific agenda or need to propagandise. they simply want to tell their story as it unfolds daily; their day- to -day hardships of living a poor ,grubby -life with the additional hassle of an army and an urban war to contend with. Some of the musical accompaniments might irk and seem at times somewhat too-sweetly , sentimentally banal and unadorned to modern ears but there’s no denying their emotive intent or folkloric truths either . It is ultimately a set of sketches as to how a community experienced and processed their own encounters with terror in their streets.
If a similar set of filmed images exist from any other source, i would be happy to include that link too .Most of it certainly seems to jive with my own memories of television reports and the grubby street action of those times. By common consensus , much of the action happened within nationalist communities initially , involving the the British army. For all that ,all the various views of the opposing sides appear to be also represented ,in any case . For anyone confused about the intricacies of the Irish question, viewed impartially this piece is presented as factually as I imagine it would be possible to do .It attempts to explain some of the conflicting pressures which brought “the Troubles” ,which began in the 1960s , to fruition and holds out some kind of explanation as to why they appeared to suddenly happen as if “out of the blue”.They were obviously a long time in the making.
Both nationalism / unionism and the British are represented here , for better or for worse, as they were filmed in “real time” without much artful editing. The Provisional IRA is also filmed , slightly off-camera with their own specific analysis and their own unique origin story.They were to become the bete noir of unionism and indeed became unionism’s very own idea of what a “terrorist” meant for them.
To the Provisional IRA it seemed to be a simple progression from the Official IRA to the new “Provos” at street level , but the reality was probably much more complex on the streets.About forty minutes into the film the IRA’s opposite number ,in the guise of what is called “Loyalist Death Squads”, begin to operate their own specific brand of terrorism too .Internment of nationalists , snatched by the British army without trial or redress ,ramped up the aspect of fear on the streets and created even more terror. It simply kept getting worse in increments.Terrorism grew and grew in the modern world in front of the television cameras for the first time in history.Each night at six o’clock reports from the Vietnam War vied with reports from Belfast as lead news stories on the television news,like some unholy soap-opera that would run for years like “Coronation Street” or “Eastenders”.
I worked in an office in Belfast during 1971 to 1972, while living on the Lisburn Road and much of what was happening in the first part of this documentary was the fairly accurate background story of everyday life around Belfast at that time, with all the fear and paranoia that is implied.Everyone existed and worked in fear even as normal life proceeded in the pubs and shops .Office windows were taped up as they had been during WW2 and bombs went off in the streets on a regular basis. Transport was disrupted and so on. On one occasion at Dundonald House near Stormount a car pulled up at the bus stop and a gang of men attempted to encourage me into it, before swerving off as the bus arrived. It was that kind of time when anything could happen and did. Back home friends had already experienced the sight of a car full of B-Special constables , hastily unloading onto the street and shooting live rounds into a Civil Rights march …some crouching, some kneeling to aim.The shots were like firecrackers and one man died before these auxiliary policemen jumped back into their car and drove away around the back of the town , only to drive back down through the centre once more ,in full view.Paisley had already appeared on the home streets ,blocking a Civil Rights march with a gang of club-wielding thugs .. He had been constantly raising the temperature for several years, whipping up hysterical fears. The police seemed powerless or more likely , unable to do anything with him.Students marched for Civil Rights. There was even a two-day trek from Newry to Dublin with an overnight stop half-way. There was mayhem on a regular basis with lorries being hi-jacked , robbed and burnt on the roads and fires were kept burning on street corners. A young protestant policeman whom I knew socially from schooldays was killed in Derry later that year when I’d already left for Art College in England.I saw his ID card popping up in a news broadcast on television .It was that kind of time when just about anything might happen… and did..
The law was in the hands of the new police force ,the RUC and its auxillary force of B-Specials ,which were virtually all of unionist origin . Even though it became a relatively quiet time in Ireland by the late 1950s and early 1960s ,some unionists felt free to preach for an ultimate showdown to rid the land of the stain of “republicanism” and Roman Catholicism was also loudly denounced by the roaring firebrand ,protestant preacher ,the Reverend Ian Paisley ,who had begun in a small way in Armagh ,but had soon gathered the necessary finances to form his own religious church and political movement .He used such fearsome religious/political speeches as rallying cries to instil fear and gradually build political power and influence. The idea of living outside a monarchical system was preached as anathama ,even while some of those preaching it , such as the Free Presbyterian Paisley ,would have had no truck whatsoever with the Anglican High Church of the English Queen. As for the idea of anyone embracing the ideals of republicanism as a viable political option, this was treated as though invoking Satan ,even in the 1960s ,when the rest of the world was otherwise engaged , thinking about the possibility of a man landing on the moon.
By the 1960s the entire island of Ireland was still a largely conservative , superstitious place, as much of it probably still remains. On one hand largely priest -ridden by the influence of an ultra conservative Roman Catholic church and on the other hand ,also culturally stultified by the ethos of Presbyterianism and extreme bible -bashing clerics.Books such as those by the acclaimed writer, Edna O’Brien were banned or censored in the south of Ireland and Sunday Observance had such a grip in the north that the very children’s swings in the play parks were chained up lest the children’s noisy playing should offend God. It was rumoured that some of the “saved” would not even allow their eyes to read a newspaper on the Sabbath Day lest it offend and throw them into the depths of hellfire.It could be a gloomy kind of place for non-believers and indeed , many left for those reasons..
The real saving grace for Ireland came gradually with the influence of American and European culture. It all seemed very exotic in light of the drabness of post -war Irish life. People wanted some of that exhuberant ,unfettered brashness .Cinema had always been a popular entertainment since its inception and by the 1950s and 1960s ,even small towns sported several cinemas which were attended all week long, usually playing popular American films from Hollywood. The Irish also had a vibrant musical culture too and were very open to the influence of American jazz and later rock and roll which gradually became rock music, which in turn had been inspired by soul and blues music .At this time there was also a resurgence of folk music in the late 1950s and early 1960s which was cross-pollinating across Ireland ,Europe and America.These strands allowed a looser and more thoughtful bohemian ethos to filter back through into some quarters, allowing younger people a sense of a greater outlet and more breathing space in all the grey conservatism.It bound them across the divide and It all made them feel more connected to the greater world outside; in the mid 1960s Van Morrison’s Them started up in Belfast, Phil Lynnot’s Thin Lizzy hit the boards in Dublin and Cork bluesman Rory Gallagher roared into Belfast with his power trio Taste in the wake of Jimi Hendrix.
Suddenly, beyond the blood-politics, religion and censorship of old, there was now something else out there which was vibrant and wild.Young people embraced it all right across the board.
Many felt gradually separated from the age-old “us and them” of the two Irish political extremes. Events were soon to remind them that not everyone wished to live in a modern secular world. The folk music movement in America attached itself to the fight for racial equality in America and the cause of the working-man.This spawned the Civil Rights movement with its rallying cry of “We Shall Overcome”.Shortly afterwards the new rock music found itself also aligned to the anti-Vietnam War movement.The two movements had a big influence in Ireland . Young people and Nationalists, especially, in Ireland, identified with the American black man’s plight and sense of separation in a divided society and the young, educated middle-classes devised their own Civil Rights movement in the north along similar lines.They even sang the same “We Shall Overcome” anthem at rallies.Initially supported also by an element within the unionist community, Ian Paisley identified this movement as a threat to unionist hegemony and attacked the movement outright, putting paid to the idea of a cross-community element.
The Civil Rights Movement , inspired by the American model ,was an experiment in uniting like-minded, people across the entire community to reform the system before it imploded under its own already- corrupting volition, but it was seen as a threat by Paisley. It was steered by eloquent educated people who managed to inspire both students and the working classes. Paisley approached it with brutish glee, bringing bullies onto the streets to confront it and in doing so ,placing the police force in the invidious position of choosing sides. As they were primarily of unionist stock themselves and from that community, that was the side they eventually chose, which was possibly Paisley’s intent anyway. . Paisley’s over-reaction to the movement and his encouragement for violence ,set off a course of conflict which did not end until the Good Friday Agreement was signed a generation later, by which time he had been promised a position as First Minister of a new Assembly.That seems to be what he really wanted all along.
How could the likes of Paisley ever imagine that a situation of such division would ever create a future stability ? The world beyond was already straining with the action against apartheid in South Africa, the anti Vietnam war movement and the Civil rights movement that had set the youth of America into uproar , the Black Power movement that it spawned and the fighting on the streets in Paris?
In the meantime, anything that could be described as something like “normal life” such as going to the cinema in the eventime or having a meal out in a restaurant became a thing of the past and the night streets of small towns began to become deserted as they were bombed by the IRA and shopkeepers left the town centre to live somewhere safer.
By the time 1974 rolled around ,when the latest “Troubles”were already five years underway…(Some say they had actually begun with renewed loyalist violent activity as far back as 1966, around the time of the 50th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising )… a party split from the main Ulster Unionist Party which had ruled the roost since the state’s formation. They did not agree with the idea of sharing of power with the nationalist parties. At the time it seemed to be the only possible choice on the table if there was ever to be any peace at all.At that time five years of conflict had seemed long enough , but we were not to know that these things could last as long as that previously mentioned Vietnam War.
William Craig decided to split away from the main unionist party and proceeded to set up his own”Vanguard Party” instead.The last Prime Minister that the original state had ,was the UUP’s Brian Faulkner and he had committed the unpardonable unionist sin of actually thinking the unthinkable notion that power-sharing with nationalists might be the only way forward. We have a form of that idea in the present-day , but back then such a notion might as well have been science-fiction to many within unionism.Ian Paisley was adament that it would not be an option.
Like Paisley, William Craig was one of those who thought he might also make some political capital from opposing such aberrant notions.The Ulster Vanguard movement was initially a political pressure group within the UUP who were opposed to Brian Faulkner’s reading of events. It formed in February 1972. William Craig had been a former Minister of Home Affairs at Stormont and its deputy leaders were Rev Martin Smyth and the former Stormont MP for Carrick, Captain Austin Ardill.One of their first pronouncements a few days later was the invocation
“God help those who get in our way for we mean business”.
No one knows or has recorded what God thought of this statement .When Stormont was finally suspended by Westminster , Faulkner attempted to re-establish it under the power-sharing Sunningdale Agreement,which many deemed a conservative compromise, but Ulster Vanguard was not about to agree with this at all.
This is where properly national “terror” and “terrorism” and the threat thereof ,once again rears its head in so-called civilised, “establishment” politics. The small everyday terror was to inflate into something even larger.
For most onlookers ,Vanguard was usually considered to have been an ultra right-wing party. In its earliest days it adopted the style associated with falangist parties with an honour guard, a common salute and a habit of wearing colourful sashes. it had a flavour of the Mosleyite Blackshirts or even the Nazis of the 1930s .Of course, as you would expect, it also had its own brand new flag, starngely enough with some of the design connotations of the “swastika”.
The Stormont unionist MP, William McConnell claimed that Vanguard rallies involved “a certain Hitlerian-type figure … walking up and down the lines, inspecting his so-called “storm-troopers”.Of course , Craig denied that the party was either neo-nazi or paramilitary, but then he was not looking at it through an outsider’s eyes .To an outsider it invoked the kind of thing that was last seen in a film of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1930s Germany, before the world war exploded in 1939.To anyone outside that particular tent, it looked like the threat of pure “terror”.It looked exactly like an exercise in “terrorism”. It was proposed to provide an umbrella organisation for various loyalist groups and had strong links with armed ,loyalist paramilitary groups.It even had its own Vanguard Service Corps (USC) which acted as an escort party for Vanguard speakers attending their rallies.It has to be said that Hitler’s tactics were very similar.it was within this umbrella that groups such as the UDA first stretched their muscle.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…….etc.
As a unionist party Vanguard was largely rejectionist and sought to roll back time and steam- roll any reforms that Brian Faulkner and his predecessor had introduced back into the ground of history.Of course ,it naturally enough demanded the “extermination of the Provisional Irish Republican Army”, which probably could only have been made possible by illegal means.The idea was to stir up the fears of unionism and eventually overthrow any elected power by whatever means.That would allow such an agenda full reign.
With this in mind Vanguard did what unionism always did .It announced plans to hold huge rallies across the land The biggest one was at Belfast’s Ormeau Park where 60,000 people were to hear Craig say :
“We must build up the dossiers on the men and women who are a menace to this country, because one day, ladies and gentlemen, if the politicians fail, it will be our duty to liquidate the enemy.”
When Stormont was suspended as unworkable in March 1972 , Vanguard organised a general strike which affected power supplies , causing businesses to close and disrupted the entire communications system, including transport .Vanguard involved some 190,000 people and they took complete control of Portadown town.100,000 of them converged on Stormont where Craig addressed the huge crowd.Later in June that same year they marched to Derry to challenge the creation of “No-Go “areas in nationalist districts ,creating a violent confrontation at Craigavon Bridge. Craig said :
“We are no longer protesting – we are demanding action”.
In Februaruy 1973 Vanguard supported the Loyalist Association of Workers strike in protest at the internment of Protestants.They had never protested the internment of ordinary nationalists , which seemingly was the right thing to do.The aim of the strike was also stated to :
“re-establish some kind of Protestant or loyalist control over the affairs in the province, especially over security policy”.
The strike resulted in the death of a fireman and there were high levels of violence with four others being killed, seven people wounded and several explosions and numerous places set on fire.All of this was merely a build-up to the Ulster Workers Council Strike the next year when Vanguard played a leading role and Craig himself a leading member of the coordinating committee.Craig later claimed while addressing the right-wing Conservative Monday Club that :
“he could mobilise 80,000 men “who are prepared to come out and shoot and kill”….
What the likes of the Vanguard leader ,Craig and his followers thought that anyone in the large Nationalist community made of such outrageous behaviour, when such displays of aggression and threat were being performed, or how it might be perceived , is a question that they never seem to ask themselves, or even care what the answer might be. The outworkings of this kind of behaviour are still seen to this very day with unionist politicians still cosying up to gangsterism in the guise of UDA “loyalty” .
You might say that their encouragement of terrorism by authority figures has allowed such groups to continue to display their garish illegality on gable walls to this present day, long after the end of conflict. Some twenty years later, at the present there are two prominent , ongoing scandals involving this same illegal UDA. One apparent UDA leader named Dee Stitt is being paid a collosal sum of money ,supposedly to appease him and his cohorts and allow them to become “ordinary citizens” instead of armed gangsters and another violent grouping in Carrickfergus are currently costing the entire community across the land millions of pounds too ,in some exercise in “mediation”.Millions of pounds were already spent on policing a demonstration at Twaddell roundabout which was simply allowed to continue lest it degenerate into more loyalist violence. Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, criminals are still being treated with civility and soft gloves because of the terrorism they have been allowed to originally engender at the behest of unionism’s politicians in the past.No one seems capable of simply arresting them as criminals within a criminal organisation .No one in government is prepared to step up and simply call them “terrorists”. The UDA was supposedly declared illegal , after all.Sometimes it even appears that unionism’s politicians are keeping these groups close and in abeyance , just in case another such display of “terrorism” might be needed to be brought back onto the streets again at some future pretext.
If these actions throughout our history are not all the actual or proposed “terrorising” actions of a “terrorist” or “terrorists” with an agenda to “terrorise” , I believe we will have to re-assess our definition of the word.
As for the schoolboy who returned from the Burntollet debacle all those years ago? Well , he was never destined to become a Lord such as the aforementioned Mr Bew, or as it happened , he was never to grow to be an old man either.
He obtained high grades in both “O” and “A” levels exams and eventually spoke fluent Irish, but so inflamed and disenchanted was he by his experience at Burntollet and other life experiences that he eventually set off on his own course of retaliatory terror ,which would lead to him following the route of terrorising those he considered ultimately responsible for his own terror.His parents’ family homes had previously been burned to the ground on two separate locations , after having been attacked at several previous times by loyalists .The last home was finally bombed and burnt to the ground, injuring all of the children.He went on to serve four prison terms for terrorist activity. He eventually went on to be shot dead by a British Army undercover intelligence unit known as DET while still being wanted for questioning in Europe for possible involvement in killings there. He was shot by some forty eight bullets out of a hail of some 200 used. Apparently himself and an accomplice were about to collect two rifles .The British Army later claimed they were carrying these arms and were wearing paramilitary gear, while republican sources claim that they were unarmed at the time of death. In any case ,someone wanted to make absolutely sure that he was really dead…not simply wounded and not re-imprisoned.
His brother had also met a similar fate eight years previously after a similarly chequered life and they were both buried in the same grave. Gerry Adams gave the oration over his grave .This killing was to become known as a “Shoot To Kill ” death. It was obviously much more expedient that going through the ritual of a trial and imprisonment.He died thinking of himself as a freedom fighter and a patriot. Others obviously saw him as a terrorist who was very skilled at terrorising. To me he was someone who at one time sat at a desk in the same classroom , as schoolboy teenagers, back in the 1960s.
Also refer to :