THE SECOND republican to join the H-Block hunger-strike for political status – a fortnight after Bobby Sands.
Was twenty-five-year-old Francis Hughes, from Bellaghy in South Derry: a determined, committed and totally fearless IRA Volunteer who organised a spectacularly successful series of military operations before his capture, and was once described by the RUC as their ‘most wanted man’ in the North.
Eluding for several years the relentless efforts of the British army, UDR and RUC to track him down, Francis operated boldly throughout parts of Tyrone and north and south Antrim, but particularly in his native South Derry, with a combination of brilliant organisation and extreme daring – until his capture after a shoot-out with the SAS – which earned him widespread popular renown, and won general support for the republican cause, as well as giving him an undisputed reputation as a natural-born soldier and leader.
Francis Hughes was born on February 28th, 1956, the youngest son amongst ten children, into a staunchly republican family which has been solidly rooted, for most of this century, in the townland of Tamlaghtduff, or Scribe Road, as it is otherwise called.
His parents who married in 1939, are Patrick Joseph Hughes, aged 72, a retired small cattle farmer born in the neighbouring town land of Ballymacpeake, and Margaret, aged 68, whose maiden name is McElwee, and who was born in Tamlaghtduff.
A quarter-of-a-mile away from the Hughes’ bungalow, on the other side of the Scribe Road is the home of Thomas and Benedict McElwee – first cousins of Francis. Benedict is currently serving a sentence in the H-Blocks. Thomas – the eldest – embarked on hunger strike on June 8th, and died sixty-two days later on August 8th.
In Tamlaghtduff, as throughout the rest of Bellaghy, sympathy as well as active support for the republican cause runs at a very high level, a fact testified to by the approximately twenty prisoners-of-war from around Bellaghy alone.
Francis was an extremely popular person, both to his family and to his republican colleagues and supporters.
His father recalls that as a boy he was always whistling, joking and singing: a trait which he carried over into his arduous and perilous days as a republican, when he was able to transmit his enthusiasm and optimism both to Volunteers under his command and to Sympathisers who offered them – at great personal risk, food and shelter
It was qualities like these, of uncomplaining tirelessness, of consideration for the morale of those around him, and his ruling wish to lead by example, that have made Francis Hughes one of the most outstanding Irish revolutionary soldiers this war has produced and a man who was enormously respected in his native countryside.
As a boy, Francis went first to St. Mary’s primary school in Bellaghy, and from there to Clady intermediate school three miles away.
He enjoyed school and was a fairly good student whose favourite subjects were history and woodwork. He was not particularly interested in sport, but was very much a lively, outdoor person, who enjoyed messing around on bikes, and later on, in cars.
He enjoyed dancing and regularly went to ceilidh as a young man, even while ‘on the run’, although after ‘wanted’ posters of him appeared his opportunities became less frequent.
His parents recall that Francis was always extremely helpful around the house, and that he was a “good tractor man”.
Leaving school at sixteen, Francis got a job with his sister Vera’s husband, as an apprentice painter and decorator, completing his apprenticeship shortly before ‘going on the run’.
In later days, Francis would often do a spot of decorating for the people whose house he was staying in
On one occasion, shortly after the ‘wanted’ posters of him had been posted up all over South Derry, Francis was painting window frames at the front of the house he was staying in when two jeep-loads of British soldiers drove past. While the other occupants of the house froze in apprehension, Francis waved and smiled at the curious Brits as they passed by, and continued painting.
It was such utter fearlessness, and the ability to brazen his way through, that saved him time and time again during his relatively long career as an active service Volunteer.
On one such occasion, when stopped along with two other Volunteers as they crossed a field, Francis told a Brit patrol that they didn’t feel safe walking the roads, as the IRA were so active in the area. The Brits allowed the trio to walk on, but after a few yards Francis ran back to the enemy patrol to scrounge a cigarette and a match from one of the British soldiers.
A turning point for Francis, in terms of his personal involvement in the struggle, occurred at the age of seventeen, when he and a friend were stopped by British soldiers at Ardboe, in County Tyrone, as they returned from a dance one night.
The pair were taken out of their car and so badly kicked that Francis was bed-ridden for several days. Rejecting advice to make a complaint to the RUC, Francis said it would be a waste of time, but pledged instead to get even with those who had done it, “or with their friends.”
Notwithstanding such a bitter personal experience of British thuggery, and the mental and physical scars it left, Francis’ subsequent involvement in the Irish Republican Army was not based on a motive of revenge but on a clear and abiding belief in his country’s right to national freedom.
During the early part of ‘the troubles’, the ‘Officials’ were relatively strong in the South Derry area and Francis’ first involvement was with them.
However, disillusioned, as were many others, with the ‘Sticks’ unilateral ceasefire in 1972, he left to set up and command an ‘independent’ military unit in the Bellaghy area. About the end of 1973 the entire unit – including Francis – was formally recruited into the IRA.
Francis’ involvement brought him increasingly to the attention of the British army and RUC and he was regularly held for a few hours in Magherafelt barracks and stopped on the road by British patrols; and on one occasion he was held for two days at Ballykelly camp.
As the 1975 IRA/British army truce came to an end Francis, fearing his imminent arrest, went ‘on the run’. From that time on, he led a life perpetually on the move, often moving on foot up to twenty miles during one night then sleeping during the day – either in fields and ditches or in safe houses; a soldierly sight in his black beret and combat uniform, and openly carrying his rifle, a handgun and several grenades as well as food rations.
The enemy reacted with up to fifty early morning raids on Francis’ home, and raids on the homes of those suspected of harbouring him. Often, houses would be staked out for days on end in the hope of capturing Francis. Often, it was only his sheer nerve and courage which saved him. One night, Francis was followed to a ‘safe house’ and looked out to see the Brits surrounding the place and closing in. Without hesitating, the uniformed Francis stepped outside the door, clutching his rifle, and in the darkness crept gradually through their lines, occasionally mumbling a few short words to British soldiers he passed, who, on seeing the shadowy uniformed figure, mistook him for one of themselves.
On numerous occasions, Francis and his comrades were stopped at checkpoints along the country roads while moving weapons from one locality to another but always calmly talked their way through. Once, a UDR soldier actually recognised Francis and his fellow Volunteers in a car but, fully aware that Francis would not be taken without a shoot-out, he waved their car on.
The years before Francis’ capture were extremely active ones in the South Derry and surrounding areas with the commercial centres of towns and villages like Bellaghy, Maghera, Toome, Magherafelt and Castledawson being blitzed by car bombs on several occasions, and numerous shooting attacks being carried out as well.
Among the Volunteers under his command Francis had a reputation of being a strict disciplinarian and perfectionist who could not tolerate people taking their republican duties less seriously, and selflessly, than was necessary. He also, however, inspired fellow Volunteers by his example and by always being in the thick of things, and he thrived on pressure.
During one night-time operation, a weapon was missing and Francis gave away his own weapon to another Volunteer, taking only a torch himself which he used to its maximum effect by shining it at an oncoming enemy vehicle, which had its headlights off, to enable the other Volunteers to direct their fire.
Francis’ good-humoured audacity also showed itself in his republican activity. At the height of his ‘notoriety’ he would set up road-blocks, hoping to lure the Brits into an ambush (which by hard experience they learned to avoid), or he would ring up the Brits and give them his whereabouts!
Such joking, however, did not extend only to the enemy. One day, lying out in the fields, he spied one of his uncles cycling down a country road. Taking careful aim with his rifle he shot away the bike’s rear wheel. His uncle ran alarmed, into a nearby house shouting that loyalists had just tried to assassinate him!
The determination of the British army and RUC to capture Francis Hughes came to a head in April 1977. In that month, on Good Friday, a car containing three IRA Volunteers was overtaken and flagged down on the Moneymore Road at Dunronan, in County Derry, by a carload of RUC men.
The Volunteers attempted to make a U-turn but their car got stuck in a ditch as the armed RUC men approached. Jumping from the car, the Volunteers opened fire, killing two RUC men and injuring another before driving off. A hundred yards further up the road a second gun battle ensued but the Volunteers escaped safely.
Subsequently, the RUC issued a ‘wanted’ poster of Francis Hughes and two fellow republicans, Dominic McGlinchey and Ian Milne, in which Francis was named as the ‘most wanted man’ in the North.
When his eventual capture came, it was just as he had always said it would be: “I’ll get a few of them before they get me.”
At 8.00 p.m. on March 16th, 1978, two SAS soldiers took up a stake-out position opposite a farm, on the south side of the Ronaghan road, about two miles west of Maghera, in the townland of Ballyknock.
At 9.15 p.m. they saw two men in military uniform and carrying rifles, walking in single file along the hedgeline of the field towards them. Using their ‘night sights’ in the darkness, the SAS men observed the military behaviour of the two on-comers and having challenged them, heard the men mumble a few words to each other in Irish accents and assumed that the pair were UDR soldiers.
One of the pair, in fact, was Francis Hughes, the other a fellow Volunteer, and with only a second’s hesitation both Volunteers cocked their rifles and opened fire. One SAS man fell fatally wounded but the other – though shot in the stomach – managed to fire a long burst from his sterling sub-machine gun at the retreating figures, and to make radio contact with his base.
Within three minutes, nearby Brit patrols were on the scene and the area was entirely sealed off. The following morning hundreds of Brits took part in a massive search operation.
Fifteen hours after the shooting, at around 12.15 p.m. the next day, they found Francis Hughes sitting in the middle of a gorse bush in a field three hundred yards away, bleeding profusely from a bullet wound which had shattered his left thigh. As he was taken away on a stretcher he yelled defiantly, through his considerable pain: “Up the Provies”.
His comrade, though also wounded, slightly, managed to evade the dragnet and to escape.
How he survived the night of the shooting, possibly the coldest night of that year, bears eloquent testimony to Francis’ grim determination to evade capture. After being shot, he dragged himself – unable to walk – across the Ronaghan road and across two fields without a sound, before burying himself in a thick clump of gorse bushes.
At one point, en-route, Francis fell down a sharp drop between fields, and his left leg – the muscle and bone completely disintegrated – came up over his shoulder; but Francis worked it carefully down before continuing to crawl on his way. In his hiding place, he lay through the night, motionless and soundless, till his capture.
When he was found, unable to move through the cold, pain and stiffness, Francis, knowing that both Brits and RUC were on instructions to shoot him on sight, gave his name as Eamonn Laverty and his address as Letterkenny, County Donegal.
Francis was taken to Magherafelt hospital and from there to Musgrave Park military hospital in Belfast, and it was only then that his true identity was revealed. He spent ten months in Musgrave Park where his leg was operated on, reducing his thigh bone by an inch-and-a-half and leaving him dependent on a crutch to walk.
On Wednesday, January 24th, 1979, Francis was taken from Musgrave Park hospital to Castlereagh interrogation centre where he spent six days before being charged on January 29th. For more than four days Francis refused food and drink, fearing that it might have been drugged to make him talk.
His behaviour in Castlereagh was typical of the fiercely determined and courageous republican Volunteer that he was. His frustrated interrogators later described him as “totally uncooperative”.
Nevertheless, at his trial in Belfast in February 1980, after a year on remand in Crumlin Road jail, Francis was found ‘guilty’ on all charges.
He received a life sentence for killing the SAS soldier, and fourteen years for attempting to kill the other SAS man. He also received fifty-five years on three other charges.
In the H-Blocks, Francis immediately went on the protest for political status and, despite the severe disability of his wounded leg, displayed the same courage and determination that had been his hallmark before his capture.
And, just as always wanting to be in the thick of things and wanting to shoulder responsibility for other political prisoners as he had earlier looked after the morale of fellow Volunteers, Francis was one of those to volunteer for the hunger strike which began on October 27th, 1980. He was not one of the first seven hunger strikers selected but was among the thirty men who joined the hunger strike in its closing stages as Sean McKenna’s condition became critical.
That utter selflessness and courage came to its tragic conclusion on Tuesday, May 12th, when Francis died at 5.43 p.m. after fifty-nine days on Hunger Strike.
With many thanks to: Sean Larkin – South Derry.
It has been brought to the attention of Belfast 32csm that the much needed mental health facilities at the Everton Centre in Ardoyne are to be closed due to a lack of funding…….
Facilities like this are s necessity in the Ardoyne area which has a substantially high number of people with mental health issues, as do many working class communities. We totally condemn the closure of such services due to the lack of funding whilst at the same time British security forces including MI5, Special Branch,
SAS and the unreformed RUC are receiving millions of pounds of tax payers money to harass and oppress this small republican community. With the closure of Everton Centre many patients will have to travel to different unfamiliar facilities, in many cases these facilities are based in the heart of loyalist areas which would inevitably cause even more distress and anxiety.
Over the next few weeks we would ask everyone to highlight this issue and hopfully bring an end to the closure of this much needed service and show that we all support mental health treatment right across the board.
With many thanks to: Conchobhar Óbreaslain – 32 County Sovereignty Movement :
Special forces has links to SAS
A JUDGE has rejected a bid to force an NIO minister to appear in court to be quizzed by lawyers acting for three Co Armagh men facing paramilitary charges.
Andrew Robathan, pictured above, a former member of the SAS who served in the British army during the 1970s and 1980s, including the North of Ireland, was appointed a minister of state in October last year. Paul Duffy, along with his brother Damien Duffy and cousin Shane Duffy, all from Lurgan, are facing a number of charges relating to republican paramilitary activity including conspiring to murder and cause explosions. Mr Robathan has provided a statement, known as a “certificate”, in support of anonymity applications by seven British secret service officers involved in an MI5 surveillance operation against the men. The accused argued their legal team should be given an opportunity to cross-examine the minister. Arrested in 2012, all three men have since been granted bail while they await trial. Paul Duffy’s wife Mandy expressed disappointment on Thursday night after district court judge Mervyn Bates dismissed the application. “As a family we are concerned at the decision to permit NIO minister Andrew Robathon to have a statement admitted against our loved ones,” she said.
With many thanks to: Connla Young, The Irish News.
Initial reports claim that staff at Maghaberry prison last week intercepted a letter written by the leadership of the IRA.
POLICE have taken the highly unusual step of charging a leading Derry republican with directing a terrorist organisation.
Thomas Ashe Mellon (38), from the city’s Creggan area, is expected to appear at Derry Magistrates Court this morning. Initial reports claim that staff at Maghaberry prison last week intercepted a letter written by the leadership of the IRA. She said that prison officers seized the letter, which was written on cigarette papers joined together, and wrapped in cling film, from a man known only as ‘Mr O’ at the prison last Thursday. Mr O, who police are seeking, walked away, and later on the same day he was seen talking to the defendant outside the Oakleaf on the Glenshane Road. Mellon, a member of one of the city’s best known republican families, is also charged with membership of a proscribed organisation. The charges follow Mellon’s arrest in North Belfast by the PSNI’s serious crime branch early on Friday morning. It is understood his arrest and charge is linked to a police investigation into dissident repubnorthwest vity in the Derry area. The legislation under which h hs been charged has been used sparingly in the north. In more recent years the charge of directing terrorism has been more commonly used in Britain against Islamist factions.
The most high-profile figure successfully charged with directing terrorism in the North of Ireland is former UDA leader Johnny Adair. Adair was charged with directing terrorism in 1995 after undercover police officers recorded months of discussions in which he boasted about his operations with the UDA. The taped conversations provided enough evidence for him to be convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison. In the Republic, Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt was convicted of directing terrorism in 2003. He was jailed for 20 years after being convicted of membership of an illegal organisation and directing terrorism between dates in 1999 and 2001. Mellon is a veteran republican and has been arrested on numerous occasions. His most recent arrest was last year after police foiled a mortar-bomb attack in Derry. Mellon was arrested at a house in Derry during a follow-up operation after police intercepted four live and primed mortars in a van as it made its way into Derry in March last year. The roof of the van had been removed in preparation for the mortars to be fired. Police insiders believed one of the possible targets was the RUC/PSNI’s Strand Road station. Mellon was later released without charge. Another man arrested in connection with the same incident was subsequently charged and is awaiting sentence. In 1999 Mellon was charged after bomb-making materials were discovered in Co Donegal. He was charged in connection with the discovery at Manorcunningham but was later released when all charges were dropped. The charge of directing terrorism is a particularly difficult one for police to prove. Lawyers beleive for a conviction to be obtained police must either have a confession or use evidence gathered in covert operations. It is understood police in Derry have had access to intelligence material gathered through sophisticated means by the British Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), the intelligence wing of the SAS. The SRR has been active in the north-west since it was first deployed in 2010 and evidence gathered by the regiment has been used against dissident republicans in recent years. It is also claimed by a hand-writing expert has claimed the writing on the note was matched to Mellon and his DNA was recovered from the glue on the cigaratte papers.
With many thanks to: Seamus McKinney, The Irish News, for the orgional story.
‘I am shocked, especially at this time when we are supposed to be dealing with the past that there’s still an attitude like that – Brian McGirr.
RELATIVES of two IRA men murdered and shot in the back by the SAS in Co Tyrone have expressed shock after loyalist campaigner Willie Frazer said they should be “charged for the rounds the soldiers used”.
Colm McGirr (23) and Brian Campbell (19) were murdered in a field on Cloghog Road near Coalisland where an arms dump had been discovered in December 1983. The Irish News this week revealed that a report for the police Historical Enquries Team had found that the Provisional IRA members had been shot in the back. Their familes now plan to sue the British government over the findings, which appear to contradict accounts given by the undercover soldiers who said the men were shot dead while pointing weapons at them. Leading flag protester Willie Frazer (53) posted a picture of the article on the Protestant Coalition Facebook page. An accompanying message read: “The family’s [sic] of these terrorist scum (one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter) say they will sue the government, because the SAS shot them. I say charge the family for the rounds the soldiers used on the tramps. Or at least they need to say sorry to the innocent victims. If they like to make a check (sic) payable to William Frazer to show remorse for what the two scum did I will past it on to the innocent victims. And I think the SAS men should get a medal for the good work they did.”
The Protestant Coalition was launched as a political party last April with Mr Frazer and other prominent flag protesters among its leading members. Its Facebook site describes it as aimng “to secure parity of esteem for the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist people of Northern Ireland”. Colm McGirr’s brother Brian (58), from Coalisland, on Wednsday night said he was deeply shocked by the remarks. “We have suffered just as much as any other family, as much as the families of soldiers or policemen,” he said. “My mother is 95 at the minute and she has suffered just as much as any other mother. “To come out with stuff like that, it’s just unbelievable.” Mr McGirr said both families fully support the peace process and political efforts to tackle contentious issues such as addressing the past. “I am shocked, especially at this time when we are supposed to be dealing with the past that there’s still an attitude like that,” he said. “Any mother of any soldier, we wouldn’t have that attitude towards their families.”
With many thanks to: Brendan Hughes, The Irish News.
HET findings published as Haass talks break up without agreement -into ‘Shot-to-Kill’ policy’s in the North of Ireland.
TWO IRA men were shot in the back by SAS soldiers in Co Tyrone 30 years ago, a report has found. The families of Colm McGirr (23) and Brian Campbell (19) on Monday 30th December said they planned to sue the British government and wanted fresh inquests into their deaths.
The news came as US diplomat Richard Haass failed to make the party’s in the North of Ireland come to an agreement on dealing with the past, parades and flags. Among the issues holding up the progress have been mechanisms for giving evidence to Historical inquires by bodies taking over the functions of the PSNI‘s/RUC‘s Historical Enquires Team (HET) and the Police Ombudsman. The fresh report into the Co Tyrone killings was carried out by a forensic pathologist for the HET. It appears to contradict accounts given by the undercover soldiers who claimed the pair were shot dead while pointing weapons towards them. Mr McGirr and Mr Campbell, who were members of the Provisional IRA, were murdered by the SAS in a field on Cloghog Road near Coalisland, Co Tyrone, on December 4 1983. A third man was injured but escaped. Their deaths fuelled claims of a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy by the British government against IRA members.
Testimony from the soldiers had claimed that the men were removing weapons hidden in the field and on being challenged “Colm McGirr turned and pointed a shotgun towards one of the soldiers who then fired several shots at him”. Forensic pathologist Richard Shepherd reviewed the postmortem examination scene photographs and statements from four of the six soldiers prescent. He said he did “not believe Colm McGirr would have turned far enough to threaten soldiers” and “no shots had struck Brian Campbell from the front”. In his report, which the families have received, he concluded that because Mr McGirr was right handed, he did “not believe he would have turned far enough to threaten soldiers” if he was holding a weapon. “In my opinion therefore it is more likely that [Mr McGirr] received shots to his right side and back as he was facing into or towards the bush,” he said. The SAS also claimed one of the squad, known as Soldier A, then fired towards Brian Campbell who was holding an armalite rifle and had also turned and was facing them” However, Dr Shepherd concluded that “no shots had struck Brian Campbell form the front”. “I cannot exclude the possibility that the injury to the left upper back was inflicted as he lay on the ground,” he said, without ruling out the soldiers’ version of events in both cases. The IRA men’s families have now called for a fresh inquest into their deaths/murders. Solicitor Padraig O Muirigh, acting on behalf of the relatives said they would also take legal action against the British government.
“This report raises serious concerns in relation to the original soldiers’ statements,” he said. “In light of the disclosure of the Dr Shepherd’s report the families have made an application to the attorney general to direct a fresh inquest into the deaths/murders of Colm McGirr and Brian Campbell. “They will also be issuing civil proceedings against the minister of defence in relation to the unlawful actions of the soldiers.” Colm McGirr’s brother Brian (58), from Coalisland, claimed the British army discovered the arms cache three days earlier on December 1, but the weapons were not removed or disabeled. “We have no doubt that a carefully planned ambush was set by undercover British security forces that evening,” he said. “Through the 30 years that have passed we have sought the truth of what happened. We were led to bbelieve that the PSNI’s/RUC’s Historical Enquiries Team would make every effort to achieve the truth. “As part of this, a second pathologist has confirmed that the shootings could not have happened as described by security forces. Both men, Colm and Brian, were shot in cold blood in the back.” Mr McGirr said the families have been informed that the HSE investigation “is at an end and will proceed no further”. “We lived with a charade of an inquest in early years with no evidence of any sort offered as to what occurred. The McGirr and Campbell families will continue to demand that a new inquest is held to fully investigate all that occourred on that evening.” Reacting to the findings on Monday nnight, Dungannon Independent Republican councillor Barry Monteith said he was “not surprised” by the pathologist’s review and accused the British government of operating a ‘shot-to-kill policy in the North of Ireland. However, Dungannon DUP councillor Samuel Brush said he had no confidence in the HET. “There are dozens and dozens of murders around this area in South Tyrone that have not been looked at,” he said. “It baffles me that these things didn’t ccome to light then and can be turned up. “All we can do is work on reports as they come but is this report any better or any worse than the previous ones?”
With many thanks toto: The Irish News.
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THE Mother of an 11-year-old boy is angry that children at a Gaelic Athletic Club Football blitz at the weekend were given medals bearing the picture of a dead IRA man.
The medals given to the under-12 boys at Galbally Pearses Club in Tyrone featured Martin McCaughey. He and IRA man Dessie Grew were shot dead by the SAS in disputed circumstances on October 1990.
” It was outrageous, My son was asking what the hero did”, said the mother who did not wish to be named.
Sinn Féin Assembly Member for Newry Armagh Cathal Boylan has lambasted those responsible for the erection on an SAS emblazoned flag at Loughgall recently.
“Local people living in the vicinity of Loughgall contacted me following sightings of this flag, which is believed to have been erected on 8th May, to express their shock and revulsion at the impliedmessage on the flag.
“As you will note from the photographs the flag has the words SAS 9-0 and what appears to be the SAS insignia. This flag has caused great offence and distress to the families of nine men killed in a most vicious manner by the SAS in Loughgall on May 8th 1987.
“On learning about this flag I immediately contacted the PSNI to request that they make investigations to have the flag removed. I am satisfied to say that this appears to have happened and this flag, which no doubt aimed to offend and to intimidate the local people, is no longer flying.”
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