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Call To Arms:

The Ulster Rebellion, 1966-72

By Chris Oakley

Part 5

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



February-June 1966

February 3rd, 1966

In his first public statement since the attempt on his life the previous day, Irish prime minister John Lynch declares that he will not rest until the would-be assassins have been caught and the FUA’s rebellion against his government has been stamped out.

February 5th, 1966

FUA guerrillas attack and destroy the town police station at Glenarm, killing nine and wounding thirty-seven.

February 7th, 1966

President Lyndon Johnson orders all remaining non-essential and dependents to be evacuated from US diplomatic outposts in Ireland immediately.

February 10th, 1966

Irish army regular units and special forces detachments launch a pre-emptive strike against a suspected FUA munitions dump west of Enniskillen.

February 13th, 1966

A bomb explodes at the Irish Times Belfast bureau office, killing 48 people and injuring nearly 80; FUA insurgents claim credit for the blast.

Feburary 17th, 1966

FUA guerrillas hijack a Garda1 munitions shipment to replace the the supplies lost in the Irish army’s February 10th attack on the FUA ammo dump near Enniskillen.

February 18th, 1966

FUA rebels and Irish regular army mechanized units fight west of Castleblayney; casualties total 110 dead and 68 wounded for the insurgent forces, 77 dead and 48 wounded for the government units involved in the engagement.

February 21st, 1966

The main police station at Antrim is heavily damaged in an FUA rocket attack.

February 22nd, 1966

The ringleader of the failed plot to assassinate Irish prime minister John Lynch is killed in Sligo after a five-hour gun battle with government troops and police.

February 24th, 1966

The official Chinese government newspaper People’s Daily Worker prints an editorial coming out squarely in favor of the FUA’s rebellion against the Lynch government. The Irish foreign ministry blasts this editorial as a blatant intrusion into the Republic of Ireland’s internal affairs.

February 27th, 1966

FBI agents make six arrests at a longshoremen’s union office in Chicago as part of Operation Finn MacCool. Interrogation of the six suspects following their arrests confirm the fears of bureau director J. Edgar Hoover that the FUA has operatives infiltrated into much of the American labor movement and is actively seeking to recruit Irish-American workers to support its cause.

March 1st, 1966

In their first major guerrilla operation in the Dublin area, FUA insurgents attack the Irish defense ministry headquarters. Losses on both sides are heavy.

March 2nd, 1966

One month after the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Lynch that started the Ulster Rebellion, two of the surviving members of the failed plot are spotted in Scotland by Edinburgh police. It is quickly determined that the two fugitives are attempting to secure transportation to a Communist bloc country, and a sting operation is set up to catch them before they can leave Scotland.

March 4th, 1966

Irish regular army units on patrol near Ballinafad are ambushed by a substantial force of FUA insurgents; in the ensuing three-hour firefight, an entire regular army platoon is literally wiped out to the last man.

March 7th, 1966

The fourth gunman in the failed FUA plot to assassinate Prime Minister Lynch is arrested in Cork after a local bartender sees a newspaper sketch of him and phones the city’s Garda office. With the assassination plot mastermind dead and three of his co- conspirators in police custody, the remaining members of the plot make the decision to go into hiding lest they too be arrested or killed.

March 9th, 1966

Irish Air Corps jets bomb an FUA command outpost southeast of Londonderry.

March 12th, 1966

Five major international airlines indefinitely suspend passenger service to Belfast.

March 13th, 1966

A Chinese journalist who is also an undercover operative for Mao Zedong’s secret police is found dead in Helsinki from a gunshot wound to the chest at point-blank range. At the time of his death the deceased was preparing for a meeting with two representatives of the Free Ulster Alliance; this information immediately leads Western intelligence authorities(Britain’s MI-6 in particular) to suspect the murder was done by a KGB hit squad as part of larger Soviet efforts to disrupt China’s support of the FUA.

March 17th, 1966

A St. Patrick’s Day parade in Portadown ends in tragedy when FUA guerrillas attack the spectators with grenades and machine guns, killing 48 people and wounding 223. Many of the attackers end up being killed themselves the next morning in a skirmish with units of the Irish regular army.

March 20th, 1966

Three FUA mid-level officials are assassinated in Enniskillen by masked gunmen. FUA senior leadership accuses the British secret service of having carried out the assassinations, but in reality the gunmen are part of a Protestant vigilante group loyal to Rev. Ian Paisley.

March 22nd, 1966

Three more international airlines suspend passenger service to Belfast.

March 24th, 1966

FUA insurgents seize the town hall in Omagh.

March 25th, 1966

Irish regular army infantry and mechanized troops begin a three-pronged assault aimed at retaking Omagh’s town hall from the FUA.

March 28th, 1966

After three days’ fighting, the FUA guerrillas occupying Omagh’s town hall set fire to the building in an 11th-hour attempt to keep government troops from recapturing it. However, this move fatally backfires; the insurgents become trapped inside the building and are burned alive.

April 3rd, 1966

For the second time in less than a month FUA insurgents attack Irish regular army troops near Ballinafad. This time, however, it’s the guerrillas who bear the worst losses; nearly of the FUA assault force is killed in the battle.

April 4th, 1966

In retaliation for the March 20th assassination of FUA officials in Enniskillen, FUA hitmen kill two Paisley supporters in Derry.

April 7th, 1966

An Irish Air Corps fighter is shot down by FUA machine-gunners west of Cork. It is the first such kill made by the insurgents in the Ulster Rebellion.

April 10th, 1966

The KGB station chief in Dublin receives a coded message ordering him to prepare for the arrival of a six-man "special action" team from Moscow; the communiqué does not specify the nature of their assignment, but strong hints of it are contained in the message’s second paragraph, which makes veiled reference to the Free Ulster Alliance’s senior leadership. It will later be discovered the KGB "special action" unit was dispatched to assassinate Liam Delaney and Seamus Murphy.

April 13th, 1966

Citizens of Wicklow, a town razed by the SS during the Nazi occupation of southern Ireland and rebuilt after the Second World War ended2, hold a peace rally calling for the combatants in the Ulster Rebellion to negotiate a cease-fire to end the hostilities before the fighting reaches Wicklow’s streets. "We have already seen our town destroyed once." the mayor of Wicklow says in an emotionally charged speech. "We do not wish to see it obliterated again."

April 17th, 1966

In its worst defeat since the Ulster Rebellion began, the Irish regular army loses two full companies in a failed attempt to rub out a pocket of FUA guerrillas near the coast town of Ardglass.

April 20th, 1966

A boat alleged to be ferrying contraband weapons from China to the FUA sinks off the mouth of Carlingford Lough just after 2:00 AM local time; there are no survivors. Although Irish maritime authorities officially classify the sinking as an accident, there is suspicion in some quarters the boat may in fact have actually been intentionally sabotaged by the Soviets or by MI-6 in order to keep its supposed weapons cargo out of FUA hands.

April 22nd, 1966

Pan Am, the only major U.S. airline to continue offering regular passenger service to Belfast after the Ulster Rebellion started, announces it will indefinitely suspend flights to that city after two of its pilots are seriously injured in hijacking attempts by FUA infiltrators.

April 23rd, 1966

Enniskillen’s mayor is assassinated by FUA hit squads in a drive-by shooting believed to have been perpetrated by the same gunmen who murdered the city’s police chief in October of 1965.

April 26th, 1966

Two Irish Air Corps pilots are court-martialed on charges of treason after they’re caught distributing pro-FUA leaflets to their ground crews.

April 27th, 1966

Suicide bombers attack the Associated Press offices in Derry, killing 17 and injuring 91. The FUA claims credit for the blast and promises further such attacks will be carried out in the near future.

April 30th, 1966

Former Irish prime minister Sean Lemass publishes a guest column in the Irish Times that sharply criticizes the Lynch government’s handling of the civil war in Ulster.

May 1st, 1966

The Communist Party of Ireland uses its annual May Day rally in Dublin to denounce China’s growing material and political support to the FUA insurgents in Ulster.

May 3rd, 1966

Irish regular troops and FUA guerrillas clash in a firefight west of Drogheda; 38 government troops and 17 rebels are killed in the engagement.

May 5th, 1966

Belfast’s largest Catholic church is seriously damaged in a fire suspected to have been set by pro-FUA arsonists.

May 8th, 1966

Irish regular army troops secretly sympathetic to the FUA break into an armory west of Shannon and steal dozens of guns including automatic rifles; most of the weapons are subsequently recovered, but some later find their way into the rebels’ hands.

May 10th, 1966

Two Chinese nationals are arrested in London on suspicion of espionage after they are found to be in possession of documents indicating they were en route to Ulster to meet with members of the FUA.

May 12th, 1966

One of the defendants in the "New Year’s Eve murder" case is found dead in his cell under odd circumstances just hours before the jury in that trial was set to render its verdict; preliminary evidence suggests the death was a suicide, although some prison officials suspect he may have in fact been murdered by an anti-FUA inmate.

May 15th, 1966

The FUA is implicated in another church arson attack in Belfast, this time at one of the city’s major Protestant chapels.

May 17th, 1966

The surviving defendant in the "New Year’s Eve murder" trial, having been convicted of first-degree homicide, is sentenced to life in prison without parole.

May 21st, 1966

17 Irish regular army troops are killed and 48 wounded in a firefight with FUA guerrillas at the village of Strabane.

May 24th, 1966

FUA deputy general secretary Seamus Murphy arrives in China on a secret mission to set up what he calls a "people’s consulate" in Beijing. He and other senior FUA leaders hope this "people’s consulate" will be just the first step towards establishing an official Ulster Republic embassy in China after the FUA has won its war for independence.

May 26th, 1966

James "Whitey" Bulger is killed in a fight at Cedar Junction’s exercise yard; initial press reports of the killing describe it as a random act, but further investigation by Massachusetts state prison officials turns up evidence suggesting Bulger was in fact targeted by a fellow inmate who resented the gangster’s pro-FUA views.

May 27th, 1966

Irish regular army units capture an FUA munitions dump near the town of Longford.

May 31st, 1966

An Irish police van carrying suspected FUA saboteurs to a Garda detention center near Galway is ambushed by FUA guerrillas en route to its destination; two policemen and three FUA fighters are killed in the subsequent firefight, which ends with most of the accused saboteurs either dead or critically wounded.

June 1st, 1966

27 people are killed and 48 more wounded when masked gunmen attack the offices of the Cork Examiner. The FUA claims credit for the attack in an anonymous letter to the Associated Press Dublin bureau and pledges that the newspaper will continue to be targeted for attack until it comes out in support of the FUA’s goal of an independent Ulster Republic.

June 3rd, 1966

Just over six months to the day after the Ulster Rebellion was launched, the FUA announces the creation of its own official broadcast news and propaganda service, Radio Free Ulster; the new station, operating out of a hidden transmission facility near the FUA’s field headquarters in the Irish country side, is also meant to serve as a means of garnering added international support for the FUA cause.

June 8th, 1966

For the second time since he was sworn in as prime minister of Ireland, John Lynch is the target of an assassination attempt as right-wing extremists who blame Lynch for the civil war in Ulster throw grenades through the window of his office at the Department of the Taoiseach on Dublin’s Merrion Street. Fortunately, there are no deaths or serious injuries this time, but the attack still raises grave questions about the ability of Irish security forces to protect Lynch or his cabinet.


To Be Continued



[1] Ireland’s national police force.

[2] See Part 1 of “It Almost Happened Here” for further details.

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