‘A group of 11 Loyalists known as the ‘Shankill butchers’ were sentenced (Tuesday 20 February 1979) to life imprisonment for 112 offences including 19 murders. The 11 men were given 42 life sentences and received 2,000 years imprisonment, in total, in the form of concurrent sentences..the Shankill Butchers had begun killing Catholics in July 1972 and were not arrested until May 1977. The Loyalist gang operated out of a number of Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) drinking dens in the Shankill Road area of Belfast. The gang was initially led by Lenny Murphy but it continued to operate following his imprisonment in 1976. The Shankill Butchers got their name because not only did they kill Catholics but they first abducted many of their victims, tortured them, mutilated them with butcher knives and axes, and then finally killed them…’ (from here).

The following is an edited version of a piece we published here 15 years ago in relation to the above-mentioned gang of loyalist murderers ; it’s from a book by Martin Dillon, which was reviewed by Niall O’Flynn in ‘The Evening Press’ newspaper in August, 1989 –

In each country they occupied, the British have had their supporters – some of the natives wanted ‘in’ with the new establishment, in the hope that their new masters would leave them, if not in charge, then at least in a ‘managerial’ position ; others recognised an opportunity to ‘settle old scores’, or what they perceived to be ‘old scores’. Between 1972 and 1977, the ‘Shankill Butchers’ killed more people than any other mass murderers in Irish or British criminal history. That is the stark fact – more victims than the Yorkshire Ripper, more than the Moors Murderers. Selecting the targets at random from Belfast’s Catholic ghettos, the Butchers dragged dozens of innocent victims to their homes, to their drinking holes and ‘romper rooms’, sometimes just to darkened alleys, there to torture, humiliate, and finally, to kill them, slaughtering them with butchers’ knives. But now (ie 1989), ten years after the jailing of the Butchers’ inner circle, a new investigation has unearthed more than a dozen other murders committed by the gang and never before linked to them.


*Thomas Madden : suspended by a rope from a wooden beam, a nine-inch double-bladed knife was used on his body as a sculptor would chip away at a piece of stone. In all, there were 147 stab wounds on his body, and a pathologist’s report indicates that it was the work of one man, working clinically. A woman heard him screaming “Kill me, kill me…”

*Francis Crossan : beaten with fists, feet and a wheel brace, Lennie Murphy (pictured,one of the ‘Butchers’) killed him by hacking at his throat with a knife, almost severing his head from his body.

*Sisters Frances Donnelly and Marie McGrattan and teenagers Gerard Grogan and Thomas Osborne : all shot in cold blood in a robbery on a drink wholesalers. Murphy himself killed three of them, the two boys after hearing they were Catholics, and Marie McGrattan as she knelt on the floor.

*Student and songwriter Stephen McCann : dragged from his girlfriend, tortured at knifepoint, shot, and finally all but decapitated.

*Protestant Alexander Maxwell : killed for gatecrashing a party celebrating Lennie Murphy’s release from prison. He was beaten and kicked. To kill him, Murphy drove a car over, and back over, the hapless victim.

A murderer at the age of 20, the use of a knife was to become the trademark of Hugh Leonard Thompson Murphy, the leader of The Shankill Butchers. A flamboyant womaniser, only five-foot-six tall, Lennie Murphy began his bullyboy ‘career’ early. Ironically nicknamed ‘Murphy the Mick’ by his primary-school classmates on account of his Catholic-sounding surname, he was a belligerent child who, by the age of ten, was threatening other children and relieving them of their pocket-money at knifepoint. He ran rackets even at school – threatening other pupils, stealing their meal tickets and selling them to other boys at a reduced rate. He first came to the notice of the RUC at 12 years of age, when he was convicted of shopbreaking and larceny.

As a teenager, Lennie Murphy began to keep company with men in the Shankill district while, at local discos, it was he who decided who got in and who was turned away. In one early incident, a man who bumped against him at a bar, spilling his drink, was later badly beaten by his gang. Murphy joined the junior wing of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1969 and was in the midst of the violence when Protestant mobs invaded Catholic streets that summer, when hundreds of homes were burned. Says Martin Dillon, author of a new investigation of the gang’s activities – “He often talked overtly while drinking in the ‘Bayardo Bar’ of his hatred for all Catholics because they were ‘scum and animals. He was beginning to develop into what one UVF man later called a ‘Super Prod’, which was shorthand for saying that Murphy was more anti-Catholic, anti-Nationalist and anti-Republican than even the most bitter man on the Shankill Road. Lennie Murphy was prepared to shoot anyone ; man, woman or child. Or a blind man. As long as he could reasonably establish the religion of the victim.”

Victim after victim was killed in the same brutal way – hacked through the throat with a butcher’s knife. So callous were Murphy’s men, so brutalised, that, while their victims waited, it was not unknown for gang members to stop for a cup of tea or to watch football on TV. Belfast is so much a city divided that, tragically, sectarian gangs are able to identify the religion of intended victims simply by the streets on which they are walking or working. Even on public routes, people travel towards either Protestant or Catholic housing estates. “Hundreds of people” , estimates Martin Dillon, had their fate sealed by this ghettoisation – and this was the basis on which The Shankill Butchers operated and selected their victims.

The ‘Murphy Gang’, in its heyday, included Robert ‘Basher’ Bates (pictured) and ‘Big Sam’ McAllister, who joined ‘Ulster Volunteer Force’ (a pro-British murdergang) at Murphy’s bidding. Later, they were joined by William Moore, a taxi driver, who had learned to use a butcher’s knife in a previous job. Meeting in The Brown Bear pub, the ‘Brown Bear Gang’ soon numbered close to two dozen men, mostly in their 20’s – but one as young as 14 – and some who were not known to the RUC (a pro-British ‘Police force’) until such time as the Butcher gang were caught. Officially, ‘Brown Bear Gang’ members were used by the UVF to carry out executions, bombings, assassinations and punishment beatings, to deal with troublemakers within the pro-British paramilitary ranks. ‘Punishments’ then might mean kneecappings, beatings with baseball bats, the use of a power drill on the kneecaps or ‘breeze-blocking’, where concrete blocks were dropped on to the hands, or heads, of ‘offenders’. “It is an incredible fact that, within the subculture of the paramilitary world, punishments of varying degrees were applicable according to the gravity of the offence. When it came to their respective terror campaigns, no such gradations applied to the atrocities committed” , writes Martin Dillon.

Despite warnings from their ‘Ulster Volunteer Force’ superiors that only armed republicans were to be considered as the enemy, the bulk of the Butchers’ victims, in fact, were innocent civilians, picked up at random, easy pickings – ‘If you can’t get an IRA man, get a Taig’. Lennie Murphy was ‘blooded’ first on July 21, 1972, when, with other members of Loyalist paramilitary organisations, he was involved in the torture and killing of a 34-year-old Catholic, Francis Arthurs, who was picked-up by a Loyalist gang after leaving a Catholic area and taken to the Lawnbrook Social Club, a Loyalist club off the Shankill Road. Francis Arthurs was beaten severely by a large group of drinkers, stabbed repeatedly by Murphy, interrogated, tortured and shot. That night, those present have said, Murphy was seen to demonstrate that he could cause the victim the most pain by hitting him harder than anyone else. Joe Bennett, who later became one of the major UVF ‘supergrasses’, said that Lennie Murphy stood out as the most barbarous gang member present.

Martin Dillon, the Author of this book, confirms Lennie Murphy’s pleasure in these sadistic practices : “There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Lennie Murphy committed the crimes firstly for pleasure and secondly for information. Many studies have indicated that sadists need aggression and I believe that in Northern Ireland (sic) the conflict provides the trigger for this aggression. It also allows misfits to find social acceptance by expressing the prejudice which is not endemic but socially acceptable. It has enabled many people who cannot escape prejudice to find a security within it and to accept its manifestations as a badge of patriotism.”

The RUC, though they knew not the perpetrators of the Shankill killings (‘1169’ Comment – those slaughtered by the gang were Catholics ; all members of that religion were suspected by the RUC to be either active IRA members or supporters of same – the ‘Butcher Gang’ was, ‘unofficially’, doing the work of the Six-County State. The RUC were therefore not too concerned) recognised from a very early stage that they were dealing, not with ‘ordinary terrorists’, but with psychopaths. “We’re looking for somebody more brutal than the average terrorist and we’d better get to him,” RUC Detective Inspector Jimmy Nesbitt told his men as the first victims of the serial killers were found, “It represents for me a new degree of cruelty. We have seen victims who have been killed with concrete blocks, stabbed, shot or beaten to death, but the sight of this stirs something inside me which makes me feel cold,” Nesbitt said. Speaking later, another RUC man recalled : “I knew I was witnessing something different, a more personal type of killing.”

Such prolific activity brought Lennie Murphy high on the RUC’s ‘most wanted’ list, and he was imprisoned briefly in the early 1970’s, for minor offences, and again in 1976, though he continued to direct ‘Brown Bear’ operations from his Maze Prison jail cell. William Moore (pictured), the taxi-driving member of ‘The Butchers’, took up where Lennie Murphy had left off. Murphy had prepared well for his terrorist ‘career’, attending many of the murder trials of the early 1970’s, at Belfast’s Crumlin Road Courthouse. He learned about the law, the nature of witness and forensic evidence, and when such evidence was ruled admissible or inadmissible, and why. Attending IRA trials, he was able to identify IRA supporters in the public gallery who could later be targeted for assassination – by watching forensic evidence being produced in different court cases, Lennie Murphy learned how to remove lead residue from his hands and clothing, where it accumulates when a gun is fired in close proximity to a person. He discovered how to ruin an identification parade, and he learned never to give an alibi in case the RUC could break it – answering RUC questions by stating simply that they would have to prove any allegations they wished to make.

Murphy, McAllister, Moore and Bates, in fact, were so well versed in the law that they repeatedly refused, even while confessing, to avoid making admissions of premeditated killing – suggesting that only the beating, not the death, of the victim, was intended, and that alcohol had played a large part in their actions. An excerpt from a confession by one of the Shankill Butchers, ‘Big Sam’ McAllister (pictured), illustrates how the gang had used their knowledge of the law – “I was out in a car with another fellow who I don’t wish to say…we were looking for a Taig (a Catholic) for a kicking. There was a hatchet in the car and I took it with me and got out of the car. As this man walked by me on his own, I hit him over the head with the wooden part of the hatchet. I hit him about twice. It was only meant to give him a digging. He was not meant to be killed. I think drink was the biggest cause of this..” In fact, neither of the gang members were drunk on this occasion, and the ill-fated ‘taig’, 49-year-old Cornelius Neeson, died from a fractured skull, a broken leg and multiple lacerations to the head, face, shoulder and hand. The pathologist concluded that all the blows were delivered with considerable severity from the hatchet, and from fists and feet.

It was only, finally, in 1977, that ‘the Butchers’ made a fatal ‘mistake’ – they left a victim alive. 20-year-old Gerard McLaverty, dumped in an alleyway after being beaten and tortured with a knife, identified key gang members, including ‘Big Sam’ McAllister. The RUC searched McAllister’s home and found a butcher’s knife sticking out of the floorboards beside the bed, another knife under the bed, plus two butchers knives and a sharpening steel in the kitchen. The knives ranged in size from six to ten inches, and the sharpener showed signs of heavy use. The breakthrough had been made – most of the gang broke down under RUC questioning, some “crying like babies”. Sentencing eleven gang members, including William Moore, ‘Big Sam’ McAllister and Robert ‘Basher’ Bates, for their parts in nineteen murders, Mr. Justice Turlough O’Donnell talked of this “catalogue of horror”, and told William Moore – “You pleaded guilty to eleven murders carried out in a manner so cruel and revolting as to be beyond the comprehension of any normal human being. I see no reason whatever why you should ever be released. The facts speak for themselves and will remain forever a lasting monument to blind sectarian bigotry”.

In all, ‘the Shankill Butchers’ were given 2,000 years imprisonment, to run in concurrent sentences. British legal history was made with the 42 life sentences handed down, the largest number ever given out in one sitting. Some gang members, however, will be due for release in the coming decade (ie -the 1990’s). One is already out and, of course, many of those involved in the murders were never brought to justice and are still walking the streets of Northern Ireland (sic). At least 17 people who were implicated in some of the killings were never brought before the courts, mostly due to insufficient evidence against them. Lenny Murphy, who walked out of prison in July 1982, three years after the jailing of his gang, had killed again within 24 hours. He met his own death at the hands of a republican assassination squad, as he parked behind his girlfriends house one evening that Autumn (1982). Enemies within the Loyalist camp, it is thought, may have helped to set him up.

After Lennie Murphy’s execution by the then IRA, ‘The Belfast Telegraph’ newspaper carried 87 death notices, including ones from William Moore, Robert ‘Basher’ Bates and other gang members in the Maze Prison. His Aunt Agnes penned the following tribute to Murphy : ‘Nothing could be more beautiful than the memories we have of you. To us, you were very special and God must have thought so too’. His mother told reporters : “My Lennie would not have hurt a fly..”

The UVF afforded Murphy a paramilitary funeral, with a guard of honour wearing UVF uniforms and balaclavas, and a volley of three shots was fired over his coffin as it was brought out of his house, as a piper played ‘Abide With Me’. He was buried in Carnmoney Cemetery and on his tombstone the following words were inscribed : ‘Here Lies a Soldier’. The tombstone was smashed in 1989.


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, December 1954.

The continued presence of the British occupation forces is an act of war against the Irish nation. Their presence is an insult and a constant challenge to the Irish people. Thank God we still have young men willing and able to take up that challenge and to answer it in the only way England has ever understood, said President Tomas O Dubghaill, when he addressed the Ard Fheis of Sinn Féin in Dublin on the 7th November.

Delegates from all over the nation pledged their support to the policy and programme of Sinn Féin and reported magnificent progress from every area and there was an atmosphere of confidence and hope in the future. Republican actions on the military front have been supported by more widespread Sinn Féin activity and the decision to contest all twelve seats in the forthcoming Westminster elections in the Six Counties has given all members an immediate task which demands considerable work. The Presidential address was enthusiastically received and references to recent IRA actions were greeted with prolonged applause –

“A Chairde ; you will have learned from the reports of the General Secretaries and the General Treasurers that the organisation has made very substantial progress during the past twelve months and the number of Cumainn has increased, the funds at our disposal have increased and the work done by the organisation generally has greatly increased. Indeed, I may say that today Sinn Féin is an organisation which has a very definite place in the political life of our country. Much as they may dislike it, we can no longer be ignored or treated lightly by the professional politicians, North or South…” (MORE LATER.)


12 IRA Volunteers died at the Clonmult massacre site, Cork, on the 20th February 1921 – 98 years ago on this date – and two more were executed later. Six of the Volunteers in this picture were shot dead on that day.

‘On the 20th of February 1921, our noble Midleton heroes were murdered in Clonmult,

for the fighting of there countries cause, to free her they did go,

but by the informers of our land, in there graves they are lying low.

It was on a Sunday morning this district the enemy did invade, to search for Irish rebels through many a hill and vale,

surrounded were those boys at last when rifle fire began, and Desmond said ‘Your courage lads we have them nearly done”.

From top of roof and window those lads went on to fight, ’till the burning of the cottage and no escape in sight,

but still they kept on fighting and the sad news reached old Midleton – “the column was done”.

The bravest boys in Ireland this house they did command, brave Desmond brothers stood there true rebels to the last,

and many another mothers son whose hearts with grief were sore, to think that they should be betrayed and their hearts blood they let flow,

Hegarty you were a brave man and so was Higgins too, like the rest of the east Cork Martyrs ye were straight firm and true,

not forgetting Paddy O’ Sullivan and more as we all know, who were executed in Cork prison and their bodies then let low.’
(from here.)

On the 20th February 1921, IRA Captain James P. Aherne and Volunteer James Glavin, two members of an IRA ‘Flying Squad’ that was based in Cork, watched as one of their number headed off on a short stroll from the cottage they were in to a near-by stream to collect water for the IRA Squad : a poacher, an ex-British Army man, was on the far side of the stream laying traps for rabbits when he spotted the man, whom he knew to be an IRA member, and watched as the IRA man filled as many buckets as he could carry and observed as the Volunteer headed to the near-by cottage. The poacher reported the sighting to the local RIC (pictured) and they, in turn, called in a Black and Tan murder gang. The cottage was soon surrounded by these armed pro-British thugs.
Twelve IRA Volunteers were killed and another two were executed later :

Captain James Aherne from Cobh County Cork was killed while jumping a fence 200 yards from the house.

Volunteer Jeremiah Aherne, from Midleton, County Cork ,was killed in action.

Volunteer Liam Aherne, from Midleton, County Cork, killed in action.

Volunteer Donal Dennehy, from Midleton, County Cork, killed in action.

Volunteer David Desmond, from Midleton, County Cork, killed in action.

Volunteer Michael Desmond, from Midleton, County Cork, was killed while attempting to fight his way back into the house.

Volunteer James Glavin, from Cobh, County Cork, was killed during the fighting.

Volunteer Michael Hallahan, from Midleton, County Cork, killed in action.

Volunteer Richard Hegarty, from Garryvoe, County Cork, killed in front of the house when attempting to go for aid.

Volunteer John Joe Joyce, from Midleton, County Cork, killed while attempting to re-gain entry to the farm house.

Volunteer Maurice Moore, from Cobh, County Cork, was captured during the Ambush,and was later executed at Cork Military Barracks on April 28th 1921.

Volunteer Joseph Morrissey, from Athlone, County Westmeath, killed during the fighting.

Volunteer Christopher O’Sullivan, from Midleton, County Cork, killed during the fighting.

Volunteer Paddy O’Sullivan, from Cobh, County Cork, was captured and was later executed at Cork Military Barracks, on April 28th 1921.

The Clonmult Memorial, at the site of the ambush.

The graves of the Clonmult dead, Midleton Cemetery, Cork.


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, January 1955.

And the voice of another John Mitchel is heard with the same defiant spirit that rang through the Dublin courthouse over 100 years ago : “I pray that our comrades in the Irish Republican Army will have the strength and courage to carry on until such times as the last British soldier is driven from the shores of Ireland. Long live the Republic!”

One by one they express such sentiments or approval of what a comrade has said. Twenty-one year-old Corkman, Seán O Callaghan (1169 comment – not the tout), claims it is a great privilege and honour to have been chosen for such work : “It is a great load off my shoulders”, he says, “to know that my place in the ranks of the Irish Republican Army, in which a vacancy will be caused by my imprisonment – it is a great pleasure to know that that vacancy will be filled ten-fold by more Irishmen in the very near future.”

The scarlet-dressed, white-wigged figure speaks before passing sentences on the men – and one feels a note of reluctance threading his words on the task before him, not because of his love of those courageous patriots or sympathy for the cause which they represent – but mainly because he realises the far-reaching implications and propaganda effects it will have on England’s continued occupation by force of arms on part of our nation – showing up the hypocrisy and hollowness of her freedom pronouncements and the rights of nations to their independence… (MORE LATER).


Simon Harris (pictured), the ‘frightened little boy’, is so obviously out of his depth that when an overspend (of taxpayers money) of this magnitude lands on top of him, it doesn’t actually hit him because he’s standing in such a large hole/crater of his own making. The people pointing out to him that he is in a precarious position are ignored as he washes his hands of responsibility, claiming that such gross incompetence is not a scandal at all, and attempts to distract public attention by complaining that those that he and his fellow administrators in Leinster House have inflicted serious financial and health-care pain on should have the cheek to express that pain in front of his house. Suck it up, Simon – sure you’ll still get your pension and a well-paid position in a political side office somewhere, so what do you care…

Then there’s this Simon. Coveney, that is. He was on the RTE radio programme ‘Morning Ireland’ yesterday (Tuesday 19th February 2019) to discuss the ‘Brexit’ shambles when, in an answer to a question about ‘our relationship with Britain’, he replied – “We share an island together”. Seriously! That’s how he and his type view the continuing political and military occupation by Westminster of the six north-eastern counties of this country. A ‘shared experience’. Understandable, I suppose, when your party’s ‘hero’ is Michael Collins, who accepted weapons and manpower from Westminster to obtain and then secure the partition of Ireland. So as we could all “share the island”, much as you would with an intruder in your house. And that flag, Simon – looks like it’s growing out of your head, where it was planted at the beginning of your political ‘career’.


From ‘Magill’ magazine, February 1998.

A man from Mars reading the ‘Report Of The Steering Group On The Efficiency And Effectiveness Of The Garda Síochana’ would never divine the background that gave rise to the study. Could this be due to the fact that the steering group was peopled entirely by eminent persons under the watchful eyes of the secretary of the (State) Department of Justice and the garda commissioner? An interesting dimension of experience might have been contributed by a typical ‘ordinary’ citizen.

As it is, the report’s analysis is entirely in the context of the ‘increasingly demanding environment’ in which gardaí must function and on the need “to take an integrated appraisal across the entire criminal-justice system, given the interrelated nature of the service being provided”.

Which no doubt is all very well, but there is little evidence of the influence of the typical consumer of “policing practice”. There are the inevitable tables comparing Ireland (favourably) with a number of countries “in terms of percentage of crime detected” per 1,000 of the population. And there is the key concession that “the reality that a fair and efficient service is being delivered is lost if the public, as customers, do not perceive the service as efficient and helpful.” The report goes on to recommend a ‘Quality Service Initiative’ whereby “the community know specifically what they can expect from the Garda Síochana” and that “this needs to be articulated in the public arena by setting and agreeing service standards which should then be published…” (MORE LATER).

Thanks for reading, Sharon.

About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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