Author Archives: The Broken Elbow

Rita O’Hare, RIP

When the late Cathleen Knowles, who was Secretary of Sinn Fein until the 1986 split with RSF, asked Rita O’Hare why she was planning to go with the Adams’ leadership after Sinn Fein dropped abstentionism in Dail Eireann and agreed to take seats in Leinster House, Rita’s reply was simple.”Because they’re my people”.

The unspoken truth embedded in that answer is that the Provos were a different sort of IRA than we had ever known. To be sure they paid lip service to the same ideals and goals as did the traditionalists, especially ‘Brits Out’ and the demand for unification; and they believed in the use of armed force. But what really bugged the Provos, what acted as their recruiting sergeants, what made them both powerful and different, were the Unionists and their hard-line cousins, the Loyalists.

The reality of British rule in the North was not the Union Jack fluttering over Dublin Castle but Orange parades strutting their supremacy through Catholic streets, and discrimination in jobs and housing. Most Catholics kept their heads down in these early years of the Northern state and while there was an IRA active in the North, it was careful not to push things too far, knowing that support was conditional in their communities.

These were the years when, in the main, the Catholics voted Nationalist and the IRA was a tiny minority, to be shunned if one wanted to keep a job outside the ghetto. I remember the late Dolours Price telling me that in those days it would be a feat to fill two single-decker buses of supporters to the annual pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave in Bodenstown. What’s that? Perhaps fifty or seventy-five people. Republicans also tended to marry fellow republicans, evidence of a reluctance on the part of non-republicans to associate too closely.

So the need to defend their areas and then to emasculate Unionism was the real, if unspoken, unacknowledged priority of the people who many years later led and directed the Provisional IRA after August 1969; Brits Out and a 32 County Republic were secondary aims. But that’s also why, fundamentally, we have a peace process and the absorption of the Provos into constitutional politics.

And that’s what Rita O’Hare really meant when she told Cathleen Knowles in 1986 that she was going with her people.

I have to say that I always found Rita good company and a fundamentally decent person, fun to be with. She was also undeniably brave. On one occasion she tried to smuggle a stick of gelignite into Portlaoise jail, apparently to facilitate a jailbreak. There is really only one place a woman can secrete such a thing and hope to get away with it, and that is inside her body. Think about it. Now, you need balls, for that!

Provos’ Money Man In Hot Water……

People in New York, as well as Dublin, Dundalk and Belfast will all have stories to tell about Des Mackin. Seems he has now attracted the attention of The Irish Times, about which you can read here and here; maybe someone might now care to take a look at hotel ownership North of the Border……now there’s a story

So, Farewell Then Henry, It Was Nice Knowing You….

We had all been expecting Henry McDonald’s death for some time, but even so, the end of life for someone that you liked and have known for many years, and was in the prime of life, still comes as an unwelcome shock. He rang me late last year to tell me of the fateful cancer diagnosis, that he had at best just a few months left of life but we continued our conversations as if maybe it would not happen. We often talked of, or rather emailed about soccer, he of his beloved but, like himself, seemingly doomed Everton and me of Spurs, like his team, cursed by poor management and overshadowed by better financed and led local rivals.

We had other things in common, notably a fascination with the Troubles and in particular the journey undertaken by the Provos, one which saw them ending at a place eerily similar to his and my starting point, a place familiar to anyone who had been persuaded that left-wing, anti-sectarian politics offered the best way forward and that ideas were more powerful weapons than guns could ever be.

We also had this in common:

In 1973, I joined the Republican Clubs in the Markets, a natural progression, it seemed, from the civil rights agitation in which, as a student at QUB, I had been involved, and there met his mother who was a fierce devotee of the cause; perhaps it was her inherited DNA that charted his life’s course. By the autumn of that year I was penniless, in debt to the bank and with no prospect, on a teacher’s meagre salary, of ever knowing anything but penury.

Col Gaddafi saved my life. He had expelled the British Council from Libya not long after his 1969 revolution and sent to Ireland for English teachers, offering salaries that were a multiple of the wages paid by Larne tech college. Within weeks, I waved farewell to Belfast (temporarily) and the Mellowes-McCann Republican Club (permanently) and boarded a plane to North Africa, a language laboratory on the University of Tripoli campus, subsidised food (fillet mignon was the same price as mince meat), sun-soaked Mediterranean beaches and a light work load. Not long afterwards my crippling debt had become a bad memory.

When I returned to Belfast it was with a determination that my life, at least politically, would take a different direction. A year or so after I landed in Tripoli, the Officials had split when internal differences over armed struggle and the national question had become irreconcilable and a long, bloody feud had claimed too many lives to count. Not only had the political activity of a few years before become life-threateningly dangerous but it was also now pretty pointless, at least to my mind.

Henry, meanwhile, followed in his mother’s footsteps and unlike myself was still addicted to the kool-aid, at least for some long time. I hesitated interrogating him about those early, pre-journalism years but I knew something then of his political journey.

I first met him at UTV’s headquarters in the early 1980’s where myself and others had been asked to discuss possible community-based TV programme ideas.

I had started writing, along with a group of talented and diverse writers for the Belfast Bulletin, a leftish and occasional publication which covered issues like the De Lorean car company and Roy Mason’s economic and security policies. Henry had been invited to the meeting, UTV told us, as a representative of a Dublin-based film company called Iskra, which had the same name as the Bolshevik publication founded by Lenin in pre-revolutionary Russia. You can read the fascinating story of the Irish Iskra and its links to the Workers Party here.

Henry also appeared to maintain links with East Germany and here below, is a photo of a very young looking Henry, with a group of, I assume, Belfast comrades somewhere in the GDR. He looks so young he might still be at school. The guy on the far right has a T-shirt with the letters ‘GDR’ printed on the chest:

On this internet site, Henry writes of his experience in East Germany:

‘Actually I was in East Berlin as a 17-year-old callow young communist in 1981. I was in a communist youth group working with the East German FDJ. We lived in an international tented village and our neighbours in the camp including comrades from Cuba, Mongolia and Vietnam as well eurocommunist parties from Spain and Italy.

‘I remember playing badminton one morning before we went to work with a former Vietnamese soldier who spoke French. He had a scar under his eye and he explained it was from a wound during clashes with the Chinese in the war two years earlier. Work, by the way, was digging up old kilometre stones on the Moscow to Berlin railway and replacing with new shiny plastic ones. Ideology was the attraction back then although there was a lot of hedonistic fun too.’

None of this means that Henry’s later journalism was fatally tainted but to understand why a journalist wrote what he or she wrote, it helps to know where they came from. We should all expect and even welcome the same scrutiny.

RIP Henry.

New Evidence Emerges In Jean McConville Case……

From Ed Moloney and James Kinchin-White

Almost from the get-go, the case of the IRA’s disappearance and murder of widowed mother-of-ten Jean McConville in December 1972 has been dominated by the IRA’s claim – first made by former Belfast Brigade commander Brendan Hughes – that the evidence that she was spying for the British Army was a radio the Divis Flats widow allegedly used to communicate with her British Army handlers.

In interviews with Ed Moloney, Hughes, a one time confidante of Gerry Adams, could not recall the name of the radio but said that an IRA patrol, alerted by remarks allegedly made by one of her children, searched her Divis Flats apartment where they found and confiscated the device. In Hughes’ account, she then admitted working for the British but because of her family situation – she had recently been widowed and had eight of her ten children to raise at home – he let her go with a stern warning.

However, according to Dolours Price, a member of a secret IRA unit called ‘the unknowns’, Jean McConville later returned to her spying ways and was identified as the person behind a blanket as IRA suspects were paraded in front of her in Hasting St police/army barracks in Divis Street. What gave her away, Price later told reporters, were her distinctive carpet slippers which she wore day and night and which had been visible because the blanket had not fully covered her feet.

In December 1972, the IRA took her away from her children, and spirited her across the Border to Co Louth where she was shot dead and her remains buried on the beach at Carlingford Lough. The operation was handled by ‘the unknowns’, a secret unit set up by then Belfast IRA commander Gerry Adams which reported back to him.

Despite the claims from former IRA members about Jean McConville’s secret life, little in the way of independent evidence has emerged subsequently to substantiate the organisation’s claim that the widowed mother could have been furnished with a radio to help keep her in touch with her handlers.

Until now, that is.

The War Diary of the 1st Battalion, The Gloucester Regiment for the period December 7th, 1971 to April 13, 1972 was recently accessed at the British National Archives at Kew. The Gloucesters were stationed during that time in the lower Falls Road area, which took in the Divis Flats complex, where on January 5th, 1972 two sections of the regiment’s ‘A’ Company were deployed after an IRA suspect, whose name is blanked in the report, was spotted in the area. Parts of the Diary have been blacked out and a review of their possible release not scheduled until 2059.

IRA snipers opened up as the British troops approached Divis Tower, the tallest building in the complex, killing Pte Keith Bryan but his colleagues pressed on, searching an apartment at 14 Massarene Walk and a bar called the Glen Geen.

In the apartment, soldiers discovered a sawn off shotgun and over 400 rounds of ammunition. The Glen Geen hid more weapons and ammunition: a Thompson machine gun, two shotguns, a Webley revolver and a variety of ammunition magazines.

The War Diary also lists the following items among the IRA’s hidden armoury: over 800 rounds of assorted ammunition, three feet of Cordtex (a detonating cord) and a ‘stornaphone’ (slightly misspelt).

So, what was a stornophone doing in an IRA arms dump?

At this point in the Troubles, the stornophone was becoming the radio of choice for all sections of the North’s security apparatus; soldiers guarding the ‘Ulster ’71 Festival’, called to mark the 50th birthday of the Northern Ireland state in 1971 had been issued with the radio, it had been used by troops in Derry on Bloody Sunday in January 1972, as was acknowledged in the Saville report, and there are multiple photographs available of troops with the radio during 1972. It was small and light, a vast improvement on the heavy, shoulder-borne radio carried by troops in the very early days of the Troubles and it was ideal for intelligence work, being small, simple to operate, easy to hide and effective. There is even one photo on the Gloucester’s own regimental website of a soldier using the radio in Divis Flats.

So, how did a Stornophone make its way into an IRA arms dump in Divis Flats? It is, of course, possible that one of the radios was acquired by the IRA in the same way it came by most of its war equipment, via arms dealers or foreign sympathisers, or perhaps a clumsy soldier dropped his and it made its way eventually to the IRA. But it is also just as possible that the Stornophone discovered in the Glen Geen bar was the same radio Brendan Hughes claimed was found by the IRA in Jean McConville’s flat.

Here are the relevant documents, first the page in the Gloucester’s War Diary and then a blow up of the important paragraphs:

New CIA Traces In JFK Assassination…….

Recently declassified US government documents shed some intriguing light on the role of the CIA and Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination of JFK. You can read about them here…..

Are There Lessons For The North In This Account Of Israel-Palestinian Relationships?

It can be found in the current (Sunday) edition of The New York Times written by, of all people, Thomas Friedman, who is not known for his criticism of the Israeli state.You can read it here….

Britain’s Secret Propaganda War In Vietnam

Courtesy of Consortium News magazine. The same people involved in those black arts, the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department (IRD), were active in Belfast in the early 70’s. You can read it here.

Who Was To Blame For The Northern Troubles?

Ulster University’s Emmet O’Connor has penned a weighty response to Liam Kennedy’s much-praised work (at least in some circles): ‘Who was responsible for the Troubles?’ Answer: mostly the Provos. O’Connor begs to differ with a conclusion he judges as too simplistic, as you can read here in the February edition of the Dublin Review of Books (for which I thank MH). Enjoy….

Is Donald Trump Really Toast? This ‘Slate’ Writer Thinks Maybe No…

Trump, wearing a blue suit and red tie, stands under a ballroom chandelier on a red-carpeted stage lined with American flags.
Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By Ben Mathis-Lilley

Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president—like, for the term that would start in January 2025—on Tuesday night at his Mar-a-Lago resort/home/country club thing in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The affair has been widely described as not the most exciting event that Trump has ever held; Fox News actually cut away from him while he was still talking. Held in a ballroom and largely read from a teleprompter, his speech had the grocery-list structure and tone of a normal campaign announcement or State of the Union–style address.

This made for some incongruity, as the conventions of the form required that Trump contrast his presidential term with Joe Biden’s, and do so by describing his time in charge as a distant golden age that was followed by a long Biden-dominated darkness. In fact, however, Trump was still president basically five minutes ago, Biden just got done signing the last few elements of his first-term agenda into law, and the Democratic Party was largely returned to power in the midterms—in part, arguably, because the most noteworthy and backlash-causing political news events of the past two years were the Jan. 6 riot and the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, for which voters generally blame Republicans rather than Democrats.

The speech also simply did not “meet the moment” in that Trump did not mention the ongoing discussion as to whether he is toast, a lost cause, and/or dead meat in the Republican 2024 primary. Nor did Trump lambaste any popular Republican politicians who have been floated as presidential contenders, which is to say that he did not call Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis any names, such as “Stupid Ron” or “The Big Boots Man,” which some observers (me) had been expecting (a little bit hoping for).

But let’s review that Trump-DeSantis debate anyway, since we’re here.

Reasons to believe Donald Trump is toast:

• Midterm candidates that he supported—and particularly those who echoed his claims about the “stolen” 2020 election—lost several key races and generally did worse than Republican candidates who did not associate themselves with the MAGA movement.

• DeSantis, who has passively tried to avoid associating himself with Trump since Jan. 6 despite having been a huge, over-the-top Trump hanger-on previously, won his own election by 19 points.

• Conservative outlets including Fox News and the National Review have been citing bullet points one and two while hyping DeSantis up as a 2024 candidate.


• The conservative Club for Growth organization released polls which purport to show DeSantis leading Trump in hypothetical primary matchups in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Georgia.

• Several Republican donors—ranging from a guy CNBC found who gave $120,000 to Trump’s last campaign and should not at all be considered an important guy, to billionaire Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, who is an important guy—have said they won’t give money to him anymore.

• Trump could, legitimately, and not just in the fantasies of liberals on Facebook, be indicted soon on charges related to Jan. 6 or to his alleged mishandling of classified documents.

• The press and public have become habituated over the course of the last seven years to Trump’s shock-jock method of seizing the news cycle, and he may as a result no longer have the same resonance as the subject of headlines. As Semafor’s Benjy Sarlin observed, in his Tuesday announcement Trump called for the execution of convicted drug dealers—a classic “Can he say that???” move—and few outlets registered it as notable.

However! There are still many …

Reasons to believe Donald Trump is not toast:

• Fox News anchors and the National Review et al. have made stern, harrumphing noises about moving on from Trump before. In the past, he has then gone on to rally his supporters via social media, Fox News prime-time hosts, even-less-mainstream outlets like Newsmax (whose analyst, Mike Huckabee, responded to Tuesday night’s speech by describing Trump as “unbeatable”), and actual rallies.


• These core supporters have heretofore proven impervious to “elite signaling” about Trump’s undesirability or unelectability, even after Jan. 6 when those signals were being emitted by relatively MAGA-friendly Republicans like House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. The entire purpose of the movement is to irritate, confront, purge, and otherwise “own” corrupt elites who think they can boss real Americans around!

• Another poll issued Tuesday, one which was not conducted by an activist group that has a history of feuding with Trump, showed Trump leading DeSantis among potential GOP primary voters by a margin of 47–33.

• The most critical events during presidential primaries are debates, during which Ron DeSantis has been described as having the charisma of a middle manager.

Your author’s belief is that we will only really know how real the DeSantis surge is when Trump stands in front of a hooting audience at a rally and calls him “Wrong DeSantis,” “the little boot boy,” “Ron DeSanturd,” or “Schindler’s DeSantList” 14 times. And your author’s suspicion is that it will turn out, then, that the DeSantis surge is not made of much at all. If you disagree, sound off in the comments! (I’ve asked our site moderators to turn comments off.)

A Tribute To Ian Jack, RIP……..

It was without doubt, the best article written about the March 1988 slaying of three IRA members, part of a team that planned to bomb the British colony of Gibraltar, allegedly targeting a British Army band outside the Governor’s residence. I reproduce it here, via a link to Granta, which published the article, in memory of, and in celebration of Ian Jack, one of the best journalists of our time, who sadly died last week.

Here is the Granta piece. Enjoy…..