9 May 2002 Edition

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Infamous barracks to close

Volunteer Finbarr McKenna honoured

It was ironic that on Thursday 2 May, as up to 200 republicans gathered at the corner of the Springfield Road and Crocus Street to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death on active service of Volunteer Finbarr McKenna, the British announced they were closing the very barracks Finbarr was attacking when he died.

It is doubly ironic that the barracks McKenna was attacking was a notorious torture chamber synonymous with the RUC's bigoted history of repression against the nationalist people, where Finbarr himself was tortured.

According to his obituary, which appeared in An Phoblacht a week after his death, Finbarr was on one occasion in 1974 arrested and detained for three months on fabricated charges. During his detention, members of the RUC's Special Branch took him to the isolated Shaw's Bridge area, where they dragged him into a ditch, held a gun to his head and threatened to shoot him. A passing lorry, however, unnerved the RUC, who took Finbarr to Springfield Road barracks where he was again tortured, including being held down in a bath of cold water again and again. An 'X' was then scraped onto his forehead, a warning to him that he was marked out for assassination by the Crown forces.

Volunteer Finbarr McKenna was killed on 2 May 1987 when the bomb he was about to lob into Springfield Road RUC barracks exploded prematurely. He was 33 when he died and had been released from the H Blocks where he spent ten years - over five of them on the Blanket and No Wash protest - just ten months earlier.

As Finbarr's death occurred at a time when the Crown forces, with tacit approval of the Catholic Church and SDLP, were attacking republican funerals, it was no surprise that mourners at Finbarr's funeral suffered a vicious assault from the RUC and British Army. Many of the RUC DMSUs (Divisional Mobile Support Units) involved in that onslaught were based in Springfield Road.

Springfield Road RUC barracks has a dark history that reflects the bigotry of the RUC members who operated out of the place since the inception of the Northern State and the birth of the RUC itself. One of the most brutal RUC death squads to operate against nationalists was based in the Springfield Road barracks during the Tan War. Led by Chief Inspector Harrison, the gang was responsible for the assassinations and wounding of dozens of nationalists.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 26 September 1920, Harrison led his gang out of Springfield Road barracks on a reprisal raid, which had become part of unionist policy in the North.

The previous day, Saturday 25, the IRA had attacked a number of RIC patrols and killed one RIC member and wounded two others. In the reprisal raid, three republicans, Edward 'Ned' Trodden, Sean Gaynor and Sean McFadden were shot dead in their homes. Trodden and Gaynor were given military funerals. At one point during Gaynor's funeral, a British officer pointing a machine gun at Gaynor's father and brothers threatened to shoot if they didn't remove the national flag from the coffin. Gaynor's father refused and the funeral proceeded without further interference.

On Saturday 23 April 1921, the IRA killed two British Auxiliaries in Belfast city centre. Determined to destroy republican resistance, an RIC death squad, operating out of Springfield Road barracks, attacked the home of the Duffin family at 64 Clonard Street and shot Dan and Pat Duffin dead.

The reprisal raid happened within three hours of the attack on the Auxiliaries.

With such an infamous history of repression against the people of the Springfield Road area, it is no wonder that the barracks is regarded as a potent symbol of the distrust that nationalists have for the RUC.

The people of the area, but particularly those in Crocus Street, Violet Street and the Lower Springfield Road, are glad that this blight on their lives will soon be gone.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1