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Call To Arms:

The Ulster Rebellion, 1966-72


By Chris Oakley

Part 4


based on the series "It (Almost)Happened Here" by the same author




July 1965-February 1966

July 4th, 1965

Two FUA gunmen are arrested outside the U.S. consulate in Belfast after local police foil an attempt to storm the consulate’s gates during the annual consular Fourth of July barbecue.

July 7th, 1965

James "Whitey" Bulger, a member of Boston’s Winter Hill crime syndicate, is arrested by Boston police on charges of first-degree homicide after an anonymous tip places him at the scene of the murder of an Irish-American labor official alleged to be sympathetic to the FUA.

July 10th, 1965

Supporters of the Irish Unity Party of Ulster and the Free Ulster Alliance confront each other in a televised debate at RTE’s main Ulster regional broadcast studios in Derry; a heavy police presence ensures that there will be no physical violence between the two factions, but off-camera some harsh and extremely crude personal insults are exchanged between Gerry Adams and FUA general secretary Liam Delaney.

July 12th, 1965

James "Whitey" Bulger is formally indicted on murder charges. Meanwhile, further police investigation of the killing turns up circumstantial evidence that the victim did indeed harbor some pro-FUA attitudes in regard to the mounting crisis in Ulster.

July 14th, 1965

FUA members in Derry hold a Bastille Day rally calling for France to intervene with the Irish government on their behalf to help them secure Ulster’s independence from the rest of Ireland. Their plea falls on deaf ears, however, as French president Charles de Gaulle refuses to get involved in the dispute between the FUA and the Lynch administration in Dublin.

July 21st, 1965

Two Irish Air Corps pilots are arrested and court-martialed for treason after evidence is found implicating them in a plot to bomb Prime Minister Lynch’s offices in Dublin. Their detention, coming on top of several previous arrests of Irish armed forces personnel on similar charges over the eleven years since the 1954 Reunification Pact went into effect, call into question whether Lynch can rely on the loyalty of his military in the event of an internal uprising against his government.

August 2nd, 1965

In a speech marking the one-year anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, President Lyndon Johnson tells a group of Irish-American civic leaders in San Francisco: "This administration will continue to defend the institutions of liberty against any attack, whether those attacks happen in the jungles of South Vietnam, in the rolling hills of Ireland, or on the streets of our own cities."

August 4th, 1965

James "Whitey" Bulger is convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole at the Cedar Junction maximum security prison in Walpole, Massachusetts. That same day the FBI’s New York City office sends a report to agency director J. Edgar Hoover stating FUA members may have infiltrated some segments of the American labor movement; if this infiltration can be verified, it will mark the first time in the FUA’s history that the organization has actively sought to recruit members outside of Ireland.

August 6th, 1965

A Cork University historical seminar held to mark the twentieth anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima is disrupted when six FUA partisans storm the lecture hall and rough up the seminar’s keynote speaker, a prominent critic of the FUA. Five of the six are later arrested on assault charges; the sixth, having gone underground, becomes the target of a nationwide manhunt.

August 15th, 1965

After an Aer Lingus pilot is shot and seriously wounded during a botched hijacking attempt on a London-Belfast flight, Irish and British civil aviation authorities toughen security measures for all future passenger flights between Ireland and the UK; since the would-be hijackers were FUA supporters, the incident further cements popular views of the Free Ulster Alliance as a terrorist organization.

August 17th, 1965

The already tense political situation in Ulster becomes even more nerve-racking as pro-Pact and anti-Pact demonstrators clash in Derry during a rally by supporters of Rev. Ian Paisley calling for the abolition of the Reunification Pact.

August 23rd, 1965

A bomb explodes at Irish Unity Party of Ulster headquarters in Belfast, killing 28 people and injuring 47. Gerry Adams, visiting the HQ at the time for a meeting with senior party officials, is able to escape with only minor wounds.

September 2nd, 1965

The FBI begins Operation Finn MacCool, an undercover program intended to determine the full extent of FUA infiltration of the American labor movement.

September 6th, 1965

Free Ulster Alliance deputy general secretary Seamus Murphy flies to Berne to meet with China’s ambassador to Switzerland to seek greater support from the Mao Zedong regime in the FUA’s campaign for an independent Ulster.

September 10th, 1965

Masked gunmen rob Armagh’s largest bank, getting away with close to $50,000 in cash; police investigation later turns up evidence the robbery may have been orchestrated by rogue elements of the FUA in a plan to acquire funding to purchase weapons for an armed insurrection against the Lynch government.

As it turns out, nearly five more months will pass before the actual outbreak of civil war in Ulster; nevertheless, the robbery further exacerbates tensions in northern Ireland and causes some people to begin questioning the Lynch administration’s ability to enforce the 1954 Reunification Pact.

September 14th, 1965

The lone suspect still at large in connection to the August 6th Cork University incident is spotted at Dungarvan trying to buy a ferry ticket out of Ireland; he is arrested just hours later and indicted on seventeen criminal counts including flight to avoid prosecution.

September 20th, 1965

Rev. Ian Paisley calls for Protestants to boycott Ireland’s largest daily newspaper after the paper prints an editorial highly critical of Paisley’s anti-Reunification Pact activities.

September 22nd, 1965

While in Washington for a summit with President Lyndon Johnson, Irish prime minister John Lynch refuses to comment on rumors he may institute martial law in certain sections of Ulster in an effort to quell the increasingly severe political unrest there.

September 25th, 1965

The prime suspect in the September 10th Armagh bank robbery is captured by police in Shannon; under questioning, he confesses that the heist was organized by a particularly militant wing of the FUA in hopes of increasing the party’s financial resources.

September 27th, 1965

FUA general secretary Liam Delaney orders the party’s Armagh local office to purge its membership rolls of what he calls "loose cannons" in hopes that doing so will help dispel the increasingly popular view of the party as a terrorist outfit. By now, however, this image is too firmly entrenched to be dismissed; furthermore, in his more negative private moments Delaney has himself started to wonder if armed insurrection might not be his organization’s only hope for achieving its goal of an independent Ulster.

October 7th, 1965

Two FUA recruiters slip across the Canadian border into the United States and purchase several guns at a sporting goods store in Maine with the intent of smuggling these guns into northern Ireland; when they return to Canada, however, they are arrested by RCMP undercover officers and their guns are confiscated.

October 13th, 1965

The chief of staff of the Irish Army drafts a memo to Prime Minister Lynch urging him to impose martial law in Ulster before the region explodes into full-fledged civil war.

October 19th, 1965

Enniskillen’s chief of police is fatally shot outside his office by a masked gunmen who flees the scene on a motorcycle. Militant elements of the FUA are immediately charged with the murder.

October 22nd, 1965

The Irish Unity Party of Ulster publishes a three-page ad in several major Irish newspapers condemning the FUA’s increasingly violent tactics in its quest to achieve its aim of an independent Ulster.

November 3rd, 1965

At the request of the Irish defense ministry, the British Army drafts preliminary plans for the deployment of combat troops to Ireland to support Irish regular forces in the event of an armed revolt by anti-Reunification Pact extremists.

November 7th, 1965

The American folk music trio Peter, Paul, & Mary record "Belfast Requiem", a haunting song predicting a grim future for the Irish  people if they do not put aside their differences over the 1954 Reunification Pact. "Requiem" becomes an instant classic on both sides  of the Atlantic, and in later years will be regarded as one of the most important cultural works to be inspired by the Irish reunification crisis.

November 11th, 1965

Riots erupt in downtown Belfast as pro-Pact and anti-Pact demonstrators clash during an Armistice Day gathering in the heart of the city. Hundreds of people are killed and property damage exceeds $500,000; in the wake of this unrest Prime Minister Lynch is finally persuaded to make the tough and highly controversial decision to institute martial law within certain parts of Ulster, beginning with the Belfast area.

November 12th, 1965

The Irish government formally declares martial law in Ulster’s Antrim and Down counties; by early December, the declaration will be extended to cover every Ulster county except Fermanagh. The martial law decree is greeted with angry protests by many people in both the pro-Pact and anti-Pact camps, who regard it as an infringement on their civil rights; it is particularly detested, however, by the Free Ulster Alliance, who blast the enactment of martial law as "outright fascism".

Some historians will later cite the martial law edict as the decisive factor in the FUA’s subsequent decision to abandon the purely political tactics it had favored in the past and resort to armed insurrection in its quest to gain independence for Ulster.

November 20th, 1965

The U.S. State Department writes a memo to the White House reporting that asylum applications at American diplomatic offices in Ireland have more than doubled in the short time since the  Lynch government declared martial law in Ulster’s Antrim and Down counties.

November 24th, 1965

The Lynch government orders the martial law declaration extended to include County Tyrone.

November 28th, 1965

The Lynch government’s martial law decree is expanded to County Armagh.

December 1st, 1965

As a precautionary measure, President Lyndon Johnson orders some dependents and non-essential staff evacuated from the US consular office in Belfast.

December 3rd, 1965

The lead agent for Operation Finn MacCool submits a report to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover indicating at least fifteen percent of all labor unions in the United States have been infiltrated by the FUA. That same day in Ireland, the Lynch government expands its martial law decree to include County Donegal.

December 8th, 1965

Former Irish prime minister Sean Lemass publishes a letter in the Irish Times lambasting the Lynch government’s martial law decree for Ulster as "a disaster in the making". He argues that far from reducing tensions in Ulster’s six counties, the martial law edict is actually heightening them; just hours after his letter goes to print rioters attack a police station in Enniskillen.

December 13th, 1965

A group of FUA militants holds a secret meeting at an apartment in Shannon to begin final preparations for an assassination plot they have been planning for more than six months. Their intended target: Prime Minister John Lynch. The date on which they aim to carry out the assassination: Liberation Day, February 2nd, when the prime minister is scheduled to attend opening ceremonies for a new museum dedicated to preserving historical artifacts from the Nazi occupation of southern Ireland during the Second World War.

December 20th, 1965

The Irish Unity Party of Ulster publishes a full-page ad in the Belfast Telegraph criticizing the Lynch government’s martial law decree as a "counterproductive" measure that plays directly into the hands of the Free Ulster Alliance, which IUPU party chairman Ian Lester accuses of looking for any excuse it can find to start a civil war in Ireland.

December 24th, 1965

In a historic display of solidarity, Catholic and Protestant clergy from all across Ulster assemble in the heart of Belfast for what is called a "Unity Mass" in defiance of the FUA’s increasingly confrontational campaign to separate Ulster from the rest of Ireland. The only major religious figure absent from this gathering is Rev. Ian Paisley, who refuses to waver from his insistent demands for the restoration of British rule in northern Ireland.

December 28th, 1965

The senior deputy to the chief of staff of the Irish Army resigns after being confronted with evidence that two of his sons may be involved with the FUA.

January 2nd, 1966

Belfast police find the body of a Telegraph reporter who’d been reported missing three days earlier; prior to his disappearance and apparent subsequent murder, the reporter had been working on an investigation of the FUA’s secret campaign to acquire guns and other weapons.

January 9th, 1966

Two members of Belfast’s local FUA branch are arrested by the Garda in connection with what Dublin newspapers are now referring to as "the New Year’s Eve murder".

January 17th, 1966

The conspirators in the Lynch assassination plot secretly meet at a farmhouse near Cork to stage a dress rehearsal for their attack on the Irish prime minister.

January 23rd, 1966

Students at Belfast’s largest secondary school hold a one-day sit-in to call for an end to martial law in Ulster.

January 27th, 1966

The Lynch government’s martial law declaration is finally extended to County Fermanagh after riots erupt in the village of Brookeborough during a pro-FUA demonstration there; the death toll from those riots is estimated at over three hundred.

February 1st, 1966

The gunmen in the plot to assassinate Prime Minister Lynch arrive in Shannon and check into various inns and hotels under assumed names to fool local police. That same day, two Belfast policemen drive to Liam Delaney’s home intending to question him about the FUA’s increasingly violent tactics; when they get there, however, they discover Delaney has disappeared.

February 2nd, 1966

While en route to the new Shannon Historical Museum Of The German Occupation, Prime Minister Lynch is seriously wounded and five  members of his cabinet are killed when FUA gunmen open fire on his motorcade. Within minutes of the assassination attempt, the FUA broadcasts what it calls a "declaration of war for liberation of Ulster" from a pirate radio station in the Irish countryside; in that same broadcast Liam Delaney reads a prepared statement in which he swears to fight until either, in his words, "Ulster is a free and sovereign state or every city in Ireland has burned to the ground".1

The long-dreaded nightmare scenario of civil war in northern Island has become a grim reality.


To Be Continued



[1] Quoted from the FUA’s official declaration of war on February 2nd, 1966.


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