Armalites and Memories

‘The Big Lad’

On the 8th of May 2019 like any self respecting observer of terrorism in Northern Ireland, I experienced several minutes of breathing difficulties, crying and the inability to talk, as I rolled around the floor of my living room, clutching my aching sides. The cause of this episode of hilarity was the news that Gerry Adams had again denied membership of the Provisional IRA. This was in response to questioning at the Ballymurphy inquest.

Asked directly about his connections to the IRA by a barrister for the coroner, Mr Adams said:

“I was not a member of the IRA, I have never disassociated myself with the IRA, and I never will, until the day I die. I would’ve been in a minority,” he told the court.
“The military tendency within republicanism was the dominant tendency.”
He said he had no direct knowledge of what the Provisional IRA had done on the days of the Ballymurphy shootings, but had heard a lot of rumours and hearsay.
He said he understood and believed that the IRA had returned fire earlier on 9 August 1971, but had disengaged in the mid afternoon, some hours before six people were later fatally shot.
Fr Hugh Mullan and Francis Quinn died near Springfield Park.
Joan Connolly, Noel Phillips, Joseph Murphy and Daniel Teggart were fatally shot in the Manse field opposite the Henry Taggart Army base.
Mr Adams said of the killings: “The British government opted for the military option and reneged on its political responsibilities, and handed it over to the generals.
“The generals did what generals do. The paratroopers were ordered to pacify and subdue and kill the enemy, and the enemy in this case were the decent people of Ballymurphy. “
He added: “It is hardly surprising that the Provisional IRA came into the ascendancy fairly quickly.”

It is not the first time that Gerry has denied membership of PIRA. He has been doing it for years. He’s an old pro and he knows how to work an audience. This time around Gerry added a new twist to his comedy routine, by dispatching a letter to the Irish Times, full of faux indignation regarding the line of questioning at the inquest and the news media’s reporting of his performance.

What a kidder!

IN REFERENCE to The Irish News reports (May 9) on my appearance at the inquest into the killing of 10 people, including a priest and a mother of eight, by the British Parachute Regiment in Ballymurphy in August 1971.
In its two-and-a-half page coverage of the Ballymurphy Inquest – including its front page – The Irish News devotes a full page and a half to recycled allegations about my membership of the IRA.
Three of the four headlines relate to this issue. Even where it deals with my evidence at the inquest the primary focus of the reports remain on the allegations around IRA membership rather than my evidence which flatly contradicts British army claims about what happened in the 48 hours after internment was introduced.
Those killed were entirely innocent neighbours. They had no connection to any republican organisation. They posed no threat to the British army. They were trying to help neighbours who were fleeing from homes under attack by loyalist mobs, out looking for their children, or going about their lawful business.
I told the Inquest that the IRA had decided not to engage with the British army and had ‘faded away’, apart from some incidents of token resistance, none of which played any role in the killings by British Paras.
I repeatedly and factually challenged the efforts by the barrister representing the British Ministry of Defence to suggest that there were widespread armed actions from the IRA in Ballymurphy at the time.
All of these are pertinent matters in the context of trying to get truth and justice for the families of those killed.
It is telling that the counsel for the British Ministry of Defence did not properly challenge my evidence or put to me any of the detail of the alleged gunfire which some ex-British soldiers claim came from republicans. Instead he concentrated on allegations against me which have nothing to do with the matters being investigated by the inquest.
This points to the reality that there is no credible evidence to support the British allegations of sustained gunfire directed at the Paratroopers.
That is because there was none.

Gerry’s latest comedy gig made me recall those carefree halcyon days of the 1970s, when he was honing his comedy skills around Belfast. It would be fair to say that Gerry’s comedy was political in nature, like Ben Elton but with more edge. A lot more.

‘The Dark’

Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes was a merchant seaman home on leave in Belfast when the violence began in 1969. He would never return to a life at sea, instead his life took a radical turn with membership of the IRA and, subsequently, near legendary status amongst Irish Republicans. Hughes would also form a long lasting friendship with Gerry Adams. According to Hughes, Gerry Adams was his OC in PIRA, but this of course is disputed by Gerry, who as we know, says he was never in the IRA. Repeat, NEVER.

Confused? Dear reader, it is a complex world we live in and it is best to remember that in Northern Ireland, there is the truth and there is….. “the truth”.

Hughes says that the first time he encountered Gerry Adams was during a riot early in 1970 near the Falls Road in west Belfast. Although Hughes didn’t know Adams prior to this, he said it was obvious from watching Adams that he was a leader and was directing rioters. Gerry would of course have his own interpretation of this and, I suspect, everything that follows, so lets just assume that he disputes everything in this blog, except his name.

The second time Hughes met Adams was a few weeks later in the Ballymurphy area during another riot (The same area, that in 2019, Gerry would say he was present during another incident, but not involved in anything illegal, or a member of PIRA). Hughes and other members of PIRA had been sent with weapons to support the rioters but, according to Hughes, Adams told them to wait inside a house and they were ordered not to leave. Hughes believed that Adams wanted the riot to continue and gunfire might have ended it. Some would say that even in those early days of the troubles, Adams’ strategic thinking was evident. He wanted to radicalise people and one way to do that was to prolong a riot. I of course, dear reader, have no view on the subject.

After a few months in PIRA, Hughes started to climb the ranks and by early 1971 he became the Quarter Master for D Company with responsibility for both the procurement and storage of weapons and explosives. Following some personnel changes due to arrests, Adams, we are told, had also risen in the ranks to become the head of PIRA’s Second Battalion and it would not be long before Hughes, after rising to become OC of D Company, would join Adams on the Battalion staff… or Brendan Hughes just made this up. I am a mere scribe and I’m not taking sides on this disputed account.

Here’s a nice picture from happier times. Brendan and Gerry just shooting the breeze, whilst in Long Kesh prison (Later known as The Maze Prison)

Anyway dear reader, at this time there was friction between Belfast PIRA and the General HQ in Dublin. Belfast PIRA felt that they were not properly equipped and that the southern leadership didn’t understand what was required. This led to Belfast PIRA organising their own overseas arms procurement operation. Normally this was the responsibility of the Quarter Master General, who sits on the General HQ staff, so it was unusual, to say the least, for Belfast PIRA to go it alone and bypass GHQ. This was an early indication of a change in the relationship and how a more assertive and militant northern PIRA would eventually assume dominance over the organisation, with Gerry Adams and allies taking control of the leadership…. allegedly, so people say.


A member of the crew of the luxury liner, the QE2, had brought home to Belfast a booklet on a rifle called the Armalite; the AR-15 and AR-18. The booklet made it’s way up to the Battalion staff of PIRA and a decision was made to purchase said weapons, as a replacement for their aging weaponry. Armalites were more compact, easier to maintain and handle than the M1 carbines and Garrand rifles favoured by GHQ. The weapons would be bought directly by Belfast PIRA without the southern leadership’s involvement.

Hughes was given the task of travelling to America, making the necessary arrangements to procure the Armalites and smuggling them back to Belfast, via Southampton, with the help of sympathisers on the crew of the QE2. Hughes would later claim that the man who gave him this mission was none other than his old pal Gerry Adams and that Adams wanted the weapons in order to escalate PIRA’s “armed struggle” against the British.

Hughes mission to the US was not without difficulty. His contacts in New York for procuring the weapons were two leading members of NORAID, an organisation that was ostensibly fundraising and supplying ‘humanitarian aid’, but in reality was supplying money and support to PIRA. The NORAID contacts were unwilling to supply Hughes with Armalites, as the purchase was not approved by PIRA’s GHQ. The NORAID contacts were loyal to GHQ and an order was received from GHQ for Hughes to return home. Hughes refused and with the help of another contact, arranged for a group of people to purchase over two dozen Armalites from a gun shop.

Crew members sympathetic to PIRA, working on the QE2 liner, smuggled small shipments of weapons across the Atlantic to Southampton. PIRA also had supporters working in the docks. When Hughes received word that a shipment was due, he would travel to Southampton and arrange the transportation of the weapons, in rental cars, back to Belfast.

In further blogs, which you may have already been privy to, we will explore more events in 1972, such as Gerry Adam’s role in secret talks between PIRA and the British government, plus some other interesting things that had nothing whatsoever to do with Gerry. In the meantime, here are a couple more photos;

This is a nice one of a young Gerry Adams. I know how it looks, but I’m sure Gerry has a perfectly reasonable explanation for the beret. It was obviously in fashion back then, because several other people were wearing them. Almost like a uniform. Almost, but clearly not because, well ya know, Gerry wasn’t in the IRA

This is a nice group photo in Long Kesh prison. There’s Gerry seated, with Brendan behind him and Bobby Sands (yes, that one) on the far right


© Adjacent Possible 2019

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