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John S. McCain POW CIA-Defense Department Documents

 Irish Republican Army FBI Files

Irish Republican Army FBI Files

2,871 pages of FBI  files covering the Irish Republican Army and activities in the U.S. with links or possible links to the Irish Republican Army.

Prior to the Easter Rebellion of 1916, the last significant rising in Ireland against the British had been the Fenian Rising in 1867.  After the failure of that attempt, the vast majority of Irish nationalists attempted to work through constitutional means to secure some form of independence, typically a home rule bill from the British government.  Despite this attempt, however, there was still an undercurrent of activity by those who would resort to physical force to achieve their ends.

The Irish nationalists had traditionally attempted to wage open, positional warfare against the English forces.  In this vein, the modern series of uprisings began in 1798 with the United Irishmen, inspired and led by Wolfe Tone.  This coincided with an attempted landing and invasion of Ireland by French forces.  This rebellion was crushed rapidly by the English. A few years later, in 1803, Robert Emmet led another abortive rising.  This was followed by the First Fenian Rising in 1848, which occurred subsequent to the massive emigration and starvation of the potato famine years.  Fenians was the popular name for a group known officially as the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).  Once again, the English forces easily quelled this uprising, that had attempted to wage conventional warfare by seizing positions and attempting to hold them.  The final rising of the nineteenth century was the Fenian Rising of 1867.  This rising, too, was rapidly crushed, and many of the Fenians were imprisoned.  A few of the surviving Fenians, however, subsequently experimented with new forms of physical violence.  The aftermath of the 1867 incident was one prison breakout, an assassination, and a rash of bombing attacks in England.  These were the isolated storm clouds and harbingers of an entirely new approach to violent resistance to English control of Ireland.

The Easter Rising of April 1916 was timed to coincide with a bank holiday (Easter Monday) and the arrival of a German arms shipment.  The plotters planned on a nationwide rising, and to cover the assembly of the Volunteers and the Citizen Army, a long holiday weekend of training activities was scheduled.  Many members of the Irish Volunteers, however, did not know that a rising was intended, and the plotters were limited in their assembly of manpower to the Irish Republican Brotherhood and its close associates. Beginning shortly after the apprehension of the last rebels, a series of court-martials were held, and many of the rebel leaders were hastily shot, including all those who had signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.  James Connolly, because of the wounds he had received in the rising, had to be shot while strapped in a chair.  After a trial in England that invoked an archaic Norman-era statute, Sir Roger Casement was hung for treason.  In reaction to the severity of this British response, however, the tide of public opinion in Ireland began to shift swiftly. 

The IVF (soon to be known widely as the Irish Republican Army) was reorganized and began clandestine training in a new style of hit-and-run warfare. Meanwhile, Michael Collins, appointed as director of intelligence, began to examine the security and intelligence structure of the British administration in Ireland. Once Collins had built a file of potential targets, he recruited a special squad of twelve hard young men, known as the Twelve Apostles, to carry out executions.  Just as Collins attempted to do thorough investigative work to identify his targets, he and the squad did extremely detailed planning to conduct the actual assassinations.  The general method was to follow the target to establish his habits and patterns of action.  Then, a team of two to four gunmen was selected to conduct the attack.  The attack was planned to provide the greatest possibility of success and to allow for a subsequent escape.
When the Irish Free State was established in 1922, the IRA remained a force of opposition to Ireland's status of being under the dominion of Great Britain and the separation of Northern Ireland. During the early years of the Free State, the IRA was responsible for numerous bombings, raids, and street battles on both sides of the Irish border.

The popularity and effectiveness of the IRA began to decline first when former IRA supporter Eamon De Valera took the helm of the Irish Free State in 1932. As time went on internal fighting, the public's lessening of tolerance for violence,  pro-German sentiment in years before World War II, and increased autonomy of the Republic of Ireland, lead to a decline in status of the IRA and its being outlawed by both Irish governments. This drove the IRA underground, causing it to become a secret organization. In 1950's the IRA was responsible for bombings in Belfast, London, and the Ulster border region. Attacks stepped up in 1956 and 1957. IRA actions grew sparse until he late 1960's.

On August 12, 1969, the Battle of the Bogside took place in Derry, when the Orange Apprentice Boys of Londonderry held a parade. Rioting broke out and 1,000 police arrived to contain the crowd. Bogside marks a pivitol point where the troubles in Ireland moved away from civil rights issues and toward religious and national identities. A few days later, the British Army arrived to maintain order.

In 1969 the IRA split into two groups, the majority, or "officials" and the "provisionals." The "officials" advocated a united Ireland, but disavowed terrorist activities. The "provisionals" claimed that terrorism was necessary to achieve unification. In the early 1970's the British Government began imposing additional martial law rules over Northern Ireland. The "provisionals" then began a systematic terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. In 1972 the "provisionals" extended their terrorism to England.

On January 30, 1972, known as "Bloody Sunday," during a civil rights march in Derry involving thousands of people, British paratroopers shot and killed thirteen Roman Catholics. Two months later the British government abolished Northern Ireland's Stormont Parliament and established direct rule.  On July 21, 1972, known as "Bloody Friday", the IRA detonated 26 bombs in Belfast killing nine and injuring 130. The "provisionals" extended their terrorism campaign to England, culminating into the 1974 bombing of a Birmingham pub that killed nineteen. In 1974 the Northern Ireland Emergency Provision Act of 1973 was amended making the Ulster Volunteer Force and Sinn Fein legal organizations. From 1974 to 1975 a cease-fire was declared as secret negotiations between the Provisional IRA and the British security forces took place. The IRA believed this would be followed by a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. In December of 1975 Britain began to prosecute Irish prisoners they had been holding with trial.

In March 1976, Britain ended Special Category status for those convicted of terrorist acts and declared that they were to be treated as ordinary criminals. In September Kieran Nugent, a Provisional IRA member is the first prisoner convicted and not given Special Category status. He refuses to wear a uniform and wears a blanket to differentiate himself from the other prisoners. This became known as the "Blanket Protest." In August 1978 Cardinal O'Fiaich visited Maze Prison and protests the unsanitary conditions. Three hundred Republican prisoners refuse to wear prison clothes and demand Special Category status. Protesters wear only blankets and smear the walls in their cells with excrement.

On August 27, 1979, Lord Mountbatten, the uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, is murdered along with three others when his boat is blown up by an IRA bomb. In October 1980, Tommy McKearney and six other IRA members start the first prison hunger strike demanding the right to wear their own clothes. On March 1, 1981. Bobby Sands begins a new hunger strike on the fifth anniversary of the ending of Special Category status. On April 9, 1981, forty days into his hunger strike, Sands is elected to parliament, winning the seat for Fermanagh-South Tyrone. On May 5, 1981, Bobby Sands dies on 66th day of his hunger strike. His death causes rioting in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. One-hundred-thousand attend his funeral. The next day, provisional IRA prisoner, Joe McDonnell starts a hunger strike to take the place of Sands. Another nine IRA members starve themselves to death.

On November 15, 1985 the Anglo-Irish Agreement is signed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald. It establishes an Inter-Governmental Conference to deal with political matters, security, and legal matters and the promotion of cross-border cooperation. This sets in motion years of movements back and forth toward a political solution to the Irish-British Crisis.

The files date from 1939 to 1976. Files contain approximately 1,200 pages of discernable memos.

Highlights from the files include:

A 1939 report accounts the history of the IRA and connections to Irish Americans in the United States. Files show concern in the late 1930's and early 1940's that anti-British sentiment by Irish Americans might be used by a German fifth column to foster sabotage and subversion in the United States. FBI memos concerning Cornelius Neenan, also known as Connie Neenan. Neenan was the former head of the Irish Republican Army in the United States and the founder of the U.S. Irish hospital sweepstakes. Information on organizations such as the Irish Northern Aid Committee and the Irish-American social organization Clan Na Gael. FBI memorandums Concerning Joseph McGarrity. Joe McGarrity was a leader of the Philadelphia district of Clan-na-Gael. Documents concerning former IRA chief Sean Russell. Memos show confusion over whether Sean Russell was alive or dead and whether he was in the United States or if he had left. Memos show that when the July 31, 1943 edition of the Irish Advocate printed an article stating that an individual who had recently died had left $100 in her will to the Irish Republican Army, this launched an FBI investigation to determine how the money would be transferred to the IRA in the hope that it would reveal methods of transmission of funds from America to the IRA in Ireland. Memos show that an undercover FBI agent was able to attend a closed meeting of the IRA-Clan Na Gal held in New York City in 1944. Memos document pro-IRA demonstrations held in the San Francisco area in the early 1970's and possible interest by New Left groups in the IRA cause.


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