In late 1978 however the IRA devised a new method of producing home made explosives : their engineers discovered that if ordinary fertiliser was ‘cooked’ in water , the resulting crystals produced after the ‘dirty’ water had been skimmed off made high quality explosive when mixed with metal fillings , usually aluminium , and diesel or carbon .
The explosive produced is detonated by a pound or two of commercial explosives and can , as the radio bombs have proved , be enormously effective . Its drawback is that it stinks to high heaven and is very unstable and , as a result , it is usually only ‘made to order’ in two stills which the British Army thinks the IRA has stashed in deep woodland across the Border . While the IRA has , thanks to that sort of ingenuity and the re-organisation of its structures , made a considerable comeback since 1977 , the organisation and its campaign of military opposition has at the same time been limited effectively to three of its eight operational areas .
Those three areas are Belfast , South Armagh and East Tyrone . Even so , the level of activity in those areas has declined – in Belfast , for instance , there were 109 bombing attacks and 51 ambushes and gun attacks on the RUC , British Army or other so-called ‘security force’ personnel during 1977 , whereas in 1978 that had declined to 101 bombings and 29 shootings and in 1979 to only 39 bombing attacks and 20 gun attacks . This year (1980) seems to be keeping in line with that , at 13 bombings and 11 gun attacks so far . In East Tyrone and South Armagh the IRA has had mixed results in its military campaign against the forces of Westminster…….
IRIS: “In the wake of the hunger-strike , and faced with the electoral and general political challenge for the Republican Movement , how do you view the future for the SDLP ? ”
IRA: “The SDLP is a middle-class ‘Castle Catholic’ establishment party . In the absence of any electoral involvement by republicans it was able to masquerade as the political voice of the nationalist people , clouding the class divisions which exist within the nationalist camp . Electoral involvement by republicans has shattered that myth and , although the task will be a necessarily hard one , continued involvement in that process by republicans will place the SDLP in their true light , and they will be seen increasingly as being supportive of the British presence in Ireland. ”
THE UNDAUNTED WOMEN IN ARMAGH…….
The full story of the republican prisoners in Armagh Jail has yet to be told. It has yet to be sung , and properly described , other than as an after-thought in public speeches – “…and of course the women in Armagh..” Republicans have a right to be proud of those women who, from the Divis Flats grandmother doing six months for what an Orange judge called “riotous behaviour” to the young IRA Volunteer inside for the second time and not yet 25-years-old , have managed, whether they numbered 12 or 120 , to maintain their resistance to the most vicious prison system in Europe. The words that follow , says writer Patricia Collins , were written to encourage more of those women to come forward and tell their story , and are based on conversations with several
ex-prisoners , and on visits and letters from those women presently imprisoned. They were written in the hope of jogging the memory of all those women who wrongly think their contribution to Ireland’s future peace is not worth mentioning.
From ‘IRIS’ magazine , August 1984.
The women POW’s decided to barricade themselves in the ‘B3’ wing of Armagh Prison , using dismantled cell doors . By some fluke , while all this was going on , the Prison Governor , Cunningham , his deputy , Simpson , and two Screws happened to come up to the Wing and the women bundled them up , threw them into an empty cell and locked them in with their own keys . The loyalist prisoners came along , thinking at first that the loyalist compounds had been burnt too . Having later been told otherwise , they nevertheless sat the protest out with the republicans .
The women prisoners had drawn big slogans on bedsheets , reading – ‘The Armagh women support the men in Long Kesh – give them their demands‘ , and hung their ‘banners’ from the cell windows where they could be seen from the surrounding streets . By the evening , the ‘kidnapping’ of the Armagh Prison governor by the women POW’s was big news : journalists congregated outside the jail and shouted questions across to the barricaded women , who replied by shouting back to them . The Screws turned off the water and the electricity , and armed British soldiers in riot gear started to move into position arond the complex .
The stalemate lasted until the early hours of Thursday 17th October 1974 , when the prison chaplain , Fr Raymond Murray, brought the women an assurance from British ‘Direct-Ruler’ Merlyn Rees that the men in Long Kesh were safe and that no action would be taken against the women involved in the protest. The women prisoners had by then achieved their objective which was to highlight the plight of the men . The media presence had ensured huge coverage of the issue and the women ended their protest .