Tuesday, April 30, 2013


While in no way trying to defend it, it would be wrong to depict Kingsmills as an isolated event, evidence of IRA barbarism. It was a barbaric event but it was inspired by equally barbaric events, which are often overlooked. Kingsmills was a brutal example of the tit-for-tat murders that plagued the north for so long. On 4 January 1976 The Reavey family, who were Catholics living at the village of Whitecross in South Armagh became the targets for loyalists. The parents had gone out for the evening, leaving their three sons, Anthony (17), Brian (22) and John Martin (25) in the house. Four masked gunmen entered the house as the boys watched television and opened fire. Both Brian and John Martin were killed instantly. Anthony took refuge in the bedroom where he hid under a bed, but was found, shot and left for dead. He survived but died a month later. The family had no political connections and had been targeted solely for their religion. As would become a common feature in the north a grieving father went on television to say he wanted no retribution for what he had suffered. He said it was worse for his killers as they had to live with what they had done . Nobody was ever caught for the atrocity but it was believed to have been planned by Robin Jackson of the UVF, who also a suspect in The Dublin Monaghan bombing. He died of cancer in 1998 and according to a friend he believed that was drawn into a world of evil that wasn't of his making. As the Reaveys lay dying, fifteen miles away in the village of Gilford another UVF gang struck the O’Dowd family as they sang around the piano. Three members of the family were killed when the gunmen burst into the house firing indiscriminately. It was believed that a member of the RUC, John Weir, had been involved in the murders as well as a member of the UDR. The RUC was supposed to be an impartial police force and the UDR was a type of militia trained by the British army and used as Reserve Defence Force. Membership was almost exclusively Protestant and many of its members were also heavily involved with loyalist paramilitaries. The murders were claimed to be revenge for an IRA bomb attack on an Orange Order Hall in Gilford. Thus the scene was set for an even bloodier climax. On the 5 January 1976 twelve workers from the Glenanne textile factor were being home to the village of Besbrook. The bus always took the same route at the same time. The driver slowed down as a man in military fatigues suddenly waved him down. The occupants eleven Protestants and one Catholic got out. They had nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear. The ‘soldier’ who spoke with an English accent had not asked for the driving licence and when they were asked who the Catholic was they feared the worst for their workmate and stopped him going forward. Richard Hughes was the Catholic. This time however it was not loyalists, but republicans who seemed to already know who the Catholic was. He was sent down the road and told not to come back. The stillness of the evening was interrupted by gunfire as the eleven Protestants were massacred. One hundred and thirty six rounds were fired in the space of a minute and then when it was over a shot was put into each body to make sure they were dead and nobody survived to tell the tale. One man did survive though. Alan Black was found badly wounded in a ditch and described to Peter Taylor in a frank account the TV series Brits what it felt like to be shot. Black had been shot eighteen times and put his fingers in the holes to stop the blood flowing out. Meanwhile Hughes managed to stop a car and was driven to Bessbrook RUC station, where he raised the alarm. A schoolteacher arrived at the scene of the carnage and started praying for the death. Ambulances followed and Alan Black made something of a miraculous recovery. A group calling itself ‘South Armagh Republican Action Force’ took responsibility for the attack. The IRA itself was on ceasefire at the time and direct involvement would have been forbidden. It is however highly likely that IRA members were involved under this cover name. The group said they would stop the murdering of innocents if the loyalists would. The tit-for tat murders ceased. The Historical Enquiries Team, a unit of the Police Service of Northern Ireland set up in September 2005 to investigate the 3,269 unsolved murders committed during the Troubles named the IRA as being officially behind the atrocity. Sinn Féin rejected any claim that the IRA was involved in Kingsmills, which their critics refused to accept. The UVF did not respond to Kingsmills. In 2007 it was revealed that the UVF Glenanne Gang had planned to murder thirty Catholic school children at St Lawrence O'Toole Primary School in the South Armagh village of Belleeks. The plan was aborted at the last minute on the orders of the UVF leadership who ruled it to be "morally unacceptable", and would have a detrimental effect on support for the UVF. Lenny Murphy of the ‘Shankill Butchers’ also planned retaliation for the Kingsmills. He was regarded as too extreme, even for the UVF who helped republicans organise his assassination. The British responded to Kingsmills by announcing the official deployment of the Special Air Service, who would later become involved in shooting unarmed IRA men as well as entirely innocent civilians such as sixteen year old John Boyle in Dunloy 1978. In 1999 Ian Paisley, man well known for the stirring the pot of a sectarian hatred, stated that Eugene Reavey, brother to those massacred earlier, had taken part in the Kingsmills massacre. His comments were intended to stir hatred instead they united two grieving men from different religions-Alan Black and Eugene Reavey. Kingsmills presents problems for all sides, both paramilitary and government. The IRA broke their ceasefire by participating in the massacre; a police officer and part time soldier are strongly believed to have participated in the incident that sparked Kingsmills, while The Irish government came in for criticism for its lax border security which allowed the IRA to escape to the safety of the Republic. Kingsmills and the preceding events were horrific events and an example of how low we could sink, but also how far things have moved on since then. It is perhaps regrettable that a spirit and willingness for reconciliation using these events did not prosper.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Kidnapped- the story behind the book

Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous work Kidnapped written in 1886 was inspired by true events and the main character was based on the figure of James Annesley (1715-1760) from County Wexford. The novel Kidnapped was not the first fictionalised account of Annesley but undoubtedly the most well known. The story itself is stranger than fiction. The word ‘kidnapped’ itself was coined in the 18th century and referred to the all too common practice of stealing homeless children for sale abroad as slaves. Children were easy targets, easy to steal and once on board easy to control. Shockingly, in the eyes of the law, it was considered a minor demeanour. The Annesleys were part of the Protestant Ascendancy, a wealthy minority that ruled the country. Originally from England, the Annesley family obtained a massive amount of land in Ireland during the Elizabethan conquest of the 16th century, when Captain Robert Annesley from Buckinghamshire, was granted 2,600 acres in County Limerick after the natives had been resettled elsewhere. James Annesley was born in 1715 at Dunmain House, Dunmain, County Wexford where his father Arthur Annesley 5th Baron Altham (1689-1727) had extensive lands including much of New Ross. When James was two, his father threw his mother, Mary Sheffield out of the house, falsely accusing her of having an affair. Father and son moved to Dublin where the baron fell into debt. It is believed his father’s mistress Sally Gregory disliked James and at age eight his father threw him onto the streets to fend for himself. A butcher, John Purcell took pity on the boy and offered him a place to live in the summer of 1727. When his father died in autumn of that year James attended the funeral at Christchurch, although he had not been invited. He stood there in his tattered clothes and proclaimed that the deceased was his father and ran out the door. He may have done this for sentimental reasons or to let people know that there was an heir. He stood to inherit his father’s wealth, something of which his uncle Richard was also aware. Not long after the funeral strange men ¬began hanging around Purcell's yard but the butcher saw them off with his cudgel. The following April however, James who was by then twelve years old was seized in Ormond Market, behind the present day Ormond Quay and brought to George's Quay where a ship was waiting to take him to America. Uncle Richard had made a deal with the ship’s captain to sell James as an indentured servant once they reached America. Indentured servants entered the New World willingly or as in the case of young James, less willingly. Paupers sought a better life in the New World and sometimes in return for their passage offered their services free of charge for a set number of years, usually between three to seven years. The majority were teenagers. When their period of indenture had been served they were free and they usually settled in The New World. It was a practice written about at the time, most notably by Daniel Defoe who mentions it in his work Moll Flanders and much later by John Steinbeck in Cup of Gold (1929). White slaves in the new world were nothing knew and Cromwell had started sending Irish people as slaves to Barbados in the 1650s. Their descendants are still there and are known as ‘red legs’. James found himself in Newcastle, Delaware where he would spend twelve years as a slave. It is not known for how much he was sold but the going rate was somewhere in the region of sixteen pounds. He was sold to Duncan Drummond a small-time merchant-farmer who was living in north western Delaware. He escaped after five years but was recaptured and severely whipped. When he eventually obtained his freedom he had no intention of creating a new life in the area and his only desire was to return home to claim his inheritance. He made his way to Jamaica where he enlisted in the royal navy as an able seaman and served abroad the H.M.S. Falmouth. On board he was recognised by an old friend from Dublin who vouched for his identity, which would have otherwise been dismissed as far-fetched. By the time he returned to Dublin, something that no one, least of all, his uncle, had expected, he was the talk of the city. His uncle set about plotting his nephew’s death and when James went to the races at the Curragh of Kildare a coach nearly ran him over. Accidents happened but when the coach turned and tried a second time it looked a little suspicious. James brought his case to court and at the time, taking nearly two weeks, was the longest trial that had ever been heard in either Britain or Ireland with twenty-eight barristers participating. The case gripped popular imagination and Uncle Richard was now regarded as a scoundrel who had wronged his nephew most terribly. Uncle Richard had never offered a consistent explanation for his nephew’s sudden disappearance in 1728. He had told some people the boy died of smallpox, others that he died in the West Indies. The trial attracted considerable attention both in Britain and Ireland and fifteen different accounts of the trial were published. James won his case which was a cause of much celebration among Dubliners. As a result parliament in Dublin tried to pass legislation d to stop the kidnapping of homeless children, but the bill was overruled at the request officials in London and kidnapping continued to be practiced until the 1820s. Though James had won his case in Dublin he had to go to London to fight for his English estates before he could claim his inheritance. Unfortunately for him Uncle Richard had not given up and knew the right people who would best know how to stall the proceedings, which would make them rich and bankrupt James. James Annesley suffered an asthma attack half way through his legal battle and died at the age of 44. He was buried in Kent without ever getting the inheritance for which he had fought and suffered for so long. His uncle still held on to the estates but was now looked as a schemer and scoundrel who became a social outcast and died within the year. Neither left an heir and the title ‘Earl of Annesley’ became extinct.