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How the Irish Times got its biggest story of the last 50 years wrong.

The Assistant Editor of the Irish Times distorted the truth about the Arms Crisis. He was a friend of both the chief of staff of the Official IRA and the Taoiseach, ‘Honest’ Jack Lynch. The Official IRA had a vested interest in manipulating the story. Over time, the journalist portrayed Lynch as the hapless victim of the Arms Crisis.

This article will look at his relationship with the Marxist wing of the IRA, the Officials.

By David Burke

Part 1: Dick Walsh and the Official IRA.

CATHAL GOULDING AND THE ALDERSHOT MASSACRE

Cathal Goulding

In February 1972 the Army Council of the Marxist wing of the IRA, the Officials, directed an attack on the HQ of the British Army’s 16th Parachute Regiment Brigade at Aldershot in Hampshire. At the time, the Army Council consisted of Cathal Goulding, Sean Garland, Tomás Mac Giolla and others.

On 22 February a time bomb was conveyed to the Aldershot complex in a Ford Cortina vehicle. It weighed 280 pounds (130 kg). The driver alighted and fled the scene with the bomb detonating seconds later. The Officials who had scouted the complex cannot have missed the fact there were many civilians in the vicinity. A few seconds later five kitchen staff were slaughtered:

  • Jill Mansfield (34); a mother of an eight-year-old boy. Her body was identified by a tattoo on her arm;
  • Thelma Bossley (44);
  • Margaret Grant (32);
  • Cherie Munton (20);
  • Joan Lunn (39), a mother of three.

So too was a gardener, John Haslar (58) who died from a fractured skull.

Finally, a Catholic priest, Gerry Weston (38) perished.

19 others were wounded by the explosion.

Not a single soldier died.

CROCODILE TEARS AND LIES

Goulding and his cronies declared that “initial reports confirmed that several high-ranking officers had been killed [at Aldershot]. British propaganda units then moved into action, and miraculously the dead officers disappeared”. The statement added that the Official IRA’s intelligence department, had ascertained that 12 officers of the Parachute Regiment had been killed in the attack. These claims were entirely dishonest.

On 23 February, the Officials explained that the attack had been perpetrated in revenge for Bloody Sunday: “Any civilian casualties would be very much regretted as our target was the officers responsible for the Derry outrages [i.e. Bloody Sunday]”.

Stripped of the crocodile tears, Goulding was saying that it was acceptable to kill a handful of kitchen staff, a gardener and a priest in a botched atrocity because his motive had been pure – the murder of soldiers.

Stripped of the crocodile tears, Goulding was saying that it was acceptable to kill a handful of kitchen staff, a gardener and a priest in a botched atrocity because his motive had been pure – the murder of soldiers.

The Officials also said that the bombing would be the first of many such attacks on buildings occupied by British Army regiments which were serving in the North.

In November 1972 Noel Jenkinson from Meath was convicted for his part in the Aldershot atrocity. He died from a heart attack in October 1976.

Cathal Goulding

The Army Council of the Official IRA remained tight-lipped about the other members of the Aldershot unit and they all escaped justice.

I spoke to Sean Garland – briefly – about the Aldershot atrocity many decades later. He acknowledged that the attack was “indefensible”. In fairness to him, he did seem genuinely remorseful.

A FUNERAL ORATION FOR A FALLEN OFFICIAL IRA VOLUNTEER

Dick Walsh was the political editor of the Irish Times. He died in 2003 at the age of 65. After his death, his former colleagues at the paper described him as someone who was “believed to have used his influence in the left-wing circles in which he then moved to urge the Official republican movement to abandon violent means to settle the Northern Ireland problem”.

If he did, he certainly took his time about it.

Joe McCann of the Official IRA.

The violence continued.

Walsh did not shun the Official IRA after Aldershot, nor does he appear to have advocated an abandonment of “violent means to settle the Northern Ireland problem” in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Why can this be said?

Because Walsh helped write the funeral oration for an Official IRA volunteer called Joe McCann which was delivered by Goulding.

McCann was killed on the streets of Belfast on 15 April 1972 while being chased by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment. He was unarmed. Details of his death can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_McCann. McCann is the silhouetted figure in the main photograph of this article, the man crouching with a gun in his right hand.)

There was little sign of a foreswearing of ‘violent means’ in the oration. Goulding said that “those who are responsible for the terrorism that is Britain’s age-old reaction to Irish demands will be the victims of that terrorism, paying richly in their own red blood for their crimes and the crimes of their Imperial masters”.

Perhaps blood was still high after the Bloody Sunday atrocity and the murder of the unarmed McCann by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment and Walsh only came around to lobbying for non violence tactics later. Perhaps Goulding added the blood-curdling rhetoric himself.

Walsh was presumably strongly in favour of the ceasefire the Officials purported to call on 30 May 1972. I say “purported” because Goulding, Garland and Mac Giolla et al reserved the right to engage in “defensive actions”. Hence, the Official IRA did not go away; far from it in fact. They retained their arms and engaged in murderous feuds with the Provisionals, the INLA and others.

The Officials killed 25 people between the calling of the ceasefire and 1983.

While the feuding might conceivably be shoehorned into the category of “defensive actions”, the bank robberies and building-site extortion rackets the Officials carried out, could not. Interested readers should purchase a copy of ‘The Lost Revolution’ by Hanley and Millar for further details about the feuding – and much more besides.

That Walsh wrote the oration for McCann while employed at the Irish Times is not news. This has been known for over a decade. In 2010 Brian Hanley and Scott Millar revealed that: “… the Irish Times was seen as broadly sympathetic to the Officials. The paper’s political reporter, Dick Walsh, socialised with members of the Official leadership, giving them background assistance and advice. Then [Official] Sinn Féin General Secretary Tony Heffernan recalled: “[Walsh’s] views were sought out and respected, not just [for] the political ideas but the presentation of ideas”. The journalist helped write several important speeches, including Goulding’s funeral oration for Joe McCann”.

Tony Heffernan who has revealed that Dick Walsh helped write the funeral oration and other speeches for Cathal Goulding.

Walsh was born on 29 October 1937 in Cratloe, County Clare. He began his career on the Clare Champion. He went to England for a while where he worked on the Wimbledon Borough News and the Kilburn Times. He returned to Ireland and worked at the Connacht Tribune and the Irish Press, before joining the Irish Times in 1968.

Goulding’s organisation – which had a political and military wing – changed its name a few times. Politically, it was initially called Sinn Féin, then Official Sinn Fein, later again Sinn Féin the Workers Party in 1977, and finally the Workers Party in 1982.

Seamus Martin, the former international editor of the Irish Times recorded in his 2008 memoirs, ‘Good Times and Bad’ that, “Dick Walsh, who had been political editor, was seen as sympathetic to the Workers’ Party…”. (‘Good Times and Bad’, Mercier 2008 p. 190).

In his book, Martin points out that Walsh was never a member of the Workers Party. However, he was still sufficiently close to the Workers Party to be writing for The Irish People, its weekly newspaper, until at least 1984.

Kevin Rafter describes Walsh as having “had close links with the Workers’ Party” (Democratic Left, the Life and Death of an Irish Political Party, Irish Academic Press 2011 p. 43)

Conor Brady, the editor of the Irish Times, 1986 – 2002, described in his 2005 memoirs, ‘Up The Times’, how: “On the other hand, the political staff, led by Dick Walsh, was more harshly critical of Haughey in particular and of his government in general. Dick’s political voyage had been complex. He was originally close to Sinn Fein, during its Marxist years. He was a man of extraordinary acuity and intelligence as well as great personal charm. He was not the only journalist with [Official] Sinn Fein associations within the newspaper. A cohort of five or six, none at senior level but nevertheless influential, were members or had been members of the so-called “Stickies”. (Brady p. 100)

Why were the readers of the Irish Times not told about these links long before the publication of the books referred to above?

Dick Walsh, Cathal Goulding’s friend in the Irish Times.

SHOOTING A TEENAGE SOLDIER IN THE HEAD

There would be further Goulding-inspired murder and mayhem in 1972 before the ‘ceasefire’. On 21 May 1972 a 19-year-old Catholic from Derry, Ranger William Best, who was serving in the British Army, was murdered by one of Goulding’s death squads while he was home on leave to visit his family in the Creggan estate. He was one of a family of seven. He left his home to make a phone call after which he was snatched by Goulding’s thugs who beat him up – his corpse showed signs of kicks and punches – before shooting him in the head and dumping his body on waste ground. The coroner would describe the murder as “one of the most brutal murders I have heard of”.

They beat him up – his corpse showed signs of kicks and punches – before shooting him in the head and dumping his body on waste ground. The coroner would describe the murder as “one of the most brutal murders I have heard of”.

Goulding’s killers boasted that that Ranger Best had been “apprehended in suspicious circumstances, tried by an IRA court and sentenced to death”. Anticipating a negative response, their statement was defiant: “Regardless of calls for peace from slobbering moderates, while British gunmen remain on the streets in the six counties the [Official] IRA will take action against them”.

The ‘judge’ claimed that the death squad was acting on orders from on high: “Once we had him there was nothing we could do but execute him. Our military orders after Bloody Sunday were to kill every British soldier we could. They didn’t say anything about local soldiers. He was a British soldier and that is all there was to it”.

Only the Official IRA Army Council could have issued such an order.

Did Dick Walsh shun Goulding and his cronies after this atrocity? No.

After the ceasefire Walsh wrote or helped to write a speech delivered by Tomás Mac Giolla which was delivered in July 1972. It attacked the Provisional IRA and called for Loyalist and Nationalist workers to unite against their common foe, capitalism.

Tomás Mac Giolla and comrades.

THE CASE OF SEAMUS COSTELLO

James Downey worked with Walsh at the Irish Times. The pair were good friends. When Downey had run for the Labour Party in the 1969 general election, Walsh had come out to canvass for him despite his support for Sinn Fein. His support for Downey did not test his loyalties as Goulding did not run any candidates in that election.

James Downey

In his memoirs, Downey did not shirk from pointing out that Walsh was “an intimate of Cathal Goulding and the other leaders of what would shortly become the ‘Official’ Sinn Fein and IRA”. (James Downey p. 99)

Downey also revealed that there were “two or three who were actual members of the IRA on the paper”. (Downey p. 102)

With regard to his friend, he had this to say: “…the position of Dick Walsh was, to say the least, anomalous. He was so close to the ‘Official’ chiefs that he was able to show me a transcript of the court-martial (in absentia) of Seamus Costello, a noted [Official IRA] defector. Costello was sentenced to death, and the sentence was carried out, long after the Official IRA had announced the cessation of violent activities North and South. The organisation tried to attribute murder to a dissident group the , but indubitably the Official IRA ‘executed’ Costello”. (Downey p. 102.)

Seamus Costello

Costello had set up the INLA after he left the OIRA. He was shot dead on 5 October 1977 while he sat in his car on Northbrook Avenue, off the North Strand Road in Dublin by a member of the OIRA called Jim Flynn from Crossmaglen. The OIRA denied they were responsible at the time although no one believed them. On 4 June 1982 the INLA exacted their revenge by shooting Flynn dead in Dublin.

A former special branch officer has revealed to me that a man with a voice they recognised as Jim Flynn rang a leading Official IRA figure immediately after the hit on a tapped line. ‘That job has been done”, he told him.

Downey also had this to say about his friend: ‘Much as I liked Dick Walsh and loved his company, I could not think it proper that he could combine such intimacy with a job as political correspondent of the Irish Times. It amazed me that so few people appear to know his record, of which he made little secret, and that speakers at his funeral praised what they called his dedication to parliamentary democracy”.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Members of Cumann na mBan on Easter Sunday, in Scotch Street, Downpatrick, 1974.

Undeniably, Walsh was a brilliant and persuasive writer. He was much admired and liked by his colleagues. Geraldine Kennedy recalls how, “I met Dick Walsh on my first day in The Irish Times in February 1973. He was a giant in journalism but, even then, always found time to encourage cub reporters”.

Walsh rose to become Assistant Editor of The Irish Times. He remains a pillar of the paper to this day to the extent that there is a bust of him in the newspaper’s foyer, an extraordinarily rare accolade from an institution that withholds imprimaturs. Although he has long since passed away, his activities are important from a historical perspective. Moreover, there are a number of questions which the paper should answer.

Should the readers of the Irish Times have been told that Dick Walsh:-

  • was an adviser and speech writer for the Official IRA, an organisation that killed 54 people between 1970 and 1983?;
  • that he used his position at the paper to promote a version of the Arms Crisis (as shall be described in the next part of this series) that complemented the Official IRA’s twice published account, i.e. that Charles Haughey had helped set up the Provisional IRA?

Who were the “two or three” journalists at the Irish Times who James Downey, Deputy Editor of the Irish Times, described as “actual members of the IRA”?

Why was all of this concealed from the predominantly upper middle class lawyers, doctors, accountants and business executives, who formed the readership of The Irish Times? Ironically, some of them probably passed the mansion the Marxist lived at in Donnybrook on their way to and from work. In today’s money, it is worth in excess of ten million euro.

Goulding and Garland in 1992

Bearing all of the foregoing in mind, what exactly is the Irish Times‘ definition of transparency?

In the next part of this series, I will look at Walsh’s assertion that Charles Haughey had no interest in Northern affairs until 1969 before turning to Walsh’s account of the Arms Crisis and his detestation of Haughey who he referred to as a “hoor”. The colourful language wasn’t all one sided: Haughey’s press secretary called Walsh a “poisonous f**ker”.

See also, ‘Dishonest’ Jack, a new book by Michael Heney on the Arms Crisis demolishes the reputation of a taoiseach‘: https://villagemagazine.ie/dishonest-jack-a-new-book-on-the-arms-crisis-of-1970-demolishes-the-reputation-of-a-former-taoiseach/

And, ‘The Forgotten Arms Crisis Scoop; how a London newspaper reported details of what became known as the Arms Crisis nearly seven months before it erupted‘: https://villagemagazine.ie/the-supreme-agitator-and-the-arms-crisis/