Chapter 7: Commercial Targets
Sean and Shade stopped running and joined the rush of people trying to get away from the shooting in the traffic jam.
“Fuck” says Shade “that was Tommo and Batesy that just got blown away. I fucking saw them just as those Brit bastards starting shooting. Fuck it! If I had only seen the Brits sooner. Fucking seconds and those lads would still be alive. They didn’t stand a chance the poor fuckers. It must have been a Brit death squad. Fuckers.”
“Do you think that the Brits were tipped off and knew they were coming?” Asked Sean.
“No” says Shade “there are so many operations going that no one knows exactly who is doing what at any given time. Plus, if that was a proper raid and hit by the British Army there would have been back up there immediately. No that was either a loyalist hit team or the Brits death squad, the Military Reaction Force or as they are called, the MRF.”
“Who the fuck are the Military Reaction Force” asked Sean. ”They just drive around looking for Army Volunteers and then shooting them?”
“Worse” says Shade. “Their aim is to terrorize the nationalist community, so they shoot and bomb anyone in a nationalist area. It doesn’t matter who. They are terrorists of the highest standing. Blatant murderers.”
They passed through the barricade Shade saluting and nodding to the volunteers on duty there and the younger hanger-on’s. They walked a couple of streets in silence and then Shade turned into a doorway and knocked
“C’mon in to our speakeasy” Shade says “I need a drink and I have to report what happened to poor Tommo and Batsey. Their OC will be here waiting for the unit to return.”
They went upstairs into one of the rooms. There, a table was set up as a bar where they got a couple of bottles of beer
“Wait here” says Shade as he walked off to a corner room. Within minutes 4 more volunteers arrived in excitedly talking.
One paused and walked over to Sean “What about cha kid” he said “Are you the bloke that was with Shade back there at the ambush?”
Sean nodded yes and looked at the young volunteer. So young he thought to himself, maybe 18 years old.
“Myself and Patsy here were in the rear support car.” The young volunteer said excitedly, “We saw the car stop and the three fuckers get out, but we didn’t know what they were up to until they started blasting our lads. Poor fuckers.”
He shook his head “Then we saw you and Shade blasting them bastards and bolting for it with the Brit fuck blasting away until his gun was empty and he had to reload. Ye lads scurried past our car and then their stopped car started tearing after ye. So Patsy here drove into the side of the fucker’s car” he said as he poked Patsy in the side.
The young volunteer continued “We leapt out, me shooting at the shooter and Patsy at the Brit car, then we legged it too. We met the two lads from the scout car at the barricades and came here to report back. Poor Fucking lads. Is Shade in with Mac?”
Sean nodded towards the corner room with the closed door but the lads were already heading for the door pushing each other and jousting their way in.
“Christ our Army is young.” thought Sean “but then again look at our new recruits in Glenbeg, but these lads have been fighting since they were 15 or 16. They are definitely a tough bunch.” he thought to himself.
After a while Shade came out and left the volunteers that were officially involved in the operation to debrief with their OC.
“Let’s go somewhere else for a drink” Shade said and they went further down the road and entered another speakeasy. Going upstairs, Shade orders two beers and they retreated into a room off on its own.
“Give us a while” he said to the fella behind the bar. Shade was quiet as he smoked his cigarette and sipped at his beer.
“Someone from GHQ will call to the families” he said after a while. “There will be a military funeral for those lads.”
He signed “I must go and make sure that the lads keep the operations going this evening and tonight. But first we will have another one. Good shooting today Seanie boy. And good reflexes for an old timer.” he joked.
They joked back and forth to ease the tension from their brains and bodies after the shootings and bloodbath that they had expectantly been part of.
They were nearly finished the beer when Sean says to Shade “I know you have a lot on your mind but I want to run something by you.”
Shade looked over at Sean “Anything to help” he replied, lighting up another cigarette.
Sean told him about the Ballymore ambush and the ending to it. “My gut tells me we were ratted on but it also tells me it wasn’t one of our lads” he ended with.
Shade went through the story and the planning of the operation in great detail. He questioned Sean on every move that was made and comments that were made. He was extremely interested about the meeting room and all of Sean’s precautions.
He slapped Sean on the back “You’re one cagey fecker” he said “C’mon let’s move. I need to visit some of the lads. Let me think about this but my gut instinct says that it is the pub meeting room. But I don’t know how. Your man that owns it should be here in the bar not upstairs maybe? Something’s not right there Sean. But I don’t know what. I’ll sleep on it and we can talk about it tomorrow. A friend of my father’s wants to meet you. So later tonight we will visit him. I’ll talk to you later a cara.”
Meanwhile across the city in Hollywood the MRF were also in deep conversation and deliberations about the day’s events. Their two colleagues bodies had been spirited away and they would be classified as road accident deaths in Germany. As well as a military operation they were also engaged in a propaganda and Public Relations war with the Irish rebels so the British Army personnel casualties were not always identified and acknowledged publicly.
The MRF commander Sergeant Major Kenneth Colthurst was not a happy person. Two of his operatives had been shot while executing two terrorists. Another one had a head injury from a bullet wound and the bastards that had shot at them had escaped. Then to top off what should have been a good day’s work, with the shooting of those Irish bastards their prized informer had taken off and vanished into thin air. Kenneth and the full team of British Army personnel that comprised the MRF, were all sitting around their base drinking and talking about their lost colleagues, the day’s events and revenge. Kenneth swallowed his whiskey and emptied the glass turning to the wounded Driver he said
“That fucker Setter, must have bolted when you hit that terrorist car and you were unconscious. You say he was there prior to that and he was gone when Harold got back to the car to call for back up. The word is out to try to find him but in the meantime we might let it out that he is a tout just to fuck with him. Bastard running off like that.”
The driver nodded in agreement and Kenneth continued “But another thing. Who the fuck is that Sean Clarke fellow that he named when the shooting started?”
The Driver replied “He must have been one of the fuckers that came out of nowhere shooting at Harold and our team.
Kenneth took a deep pull on his cigarette, “And the fucker shot one of our boys. I’m going to find that Irish bastard and hang his head off that fucking wall.” He snarled as he hurled his glass at the wall, and watched it smashed and shattered into shining pieces.
Everyone raised a glass to cheer on the death and the hanging on the wall the head of Sean Clarke.
Out in Glenbeg a week after returning from Belfast, Sean met the company engineering unit in a safe house near Greencastle, a small town deeper in the Sperrin Mountains.
“As close to a no go area for the Brits as you will get.” thought Sean.
Also present was Gerry, Stephen and Bernie. The volunteers talked about their recent training and their experiences in Belfast. All were very excited about the training and the constant activities of the Belfast Brigades members. That chatted and exchanged views on the various methods and use of the car bombs.
After a while Sean called the meeting to order. “Right comrades” he said “I meet GHQ and the Army Staff while I was up in Belfast and as you all know one of their main goals is to increase the activity out in the rest of the six counties. We will have to sit and plan ahead for that phase of our activities but our immediate concern is going to be the Glenbeg Company taking part in a six county wide bombing blitz.”
They were all ears on hearing about this blitz and started jumping in with questions.
Sean laughed “Hold on boys. This is going to happen in the next couple of weeks, so we have a week to get the car, make the explosives, adapt the car and make the car bomb. The engineer unit will do all of that and the other volunteers will deliver the bomb to our designated place. We need to have everything ready for when I get the word to roll because this blitz has to happen all on the same day so it will be hell for leather working to get everything ready.”
The volunteers were pumped for action. They all talked at once volunteering their newly learned expertise and willingness to participate. Sean once again laughed and put his hand into the air. “Jaysus boys, let me talk” he said.
As the volunteers quietened Sean lit a cigarette and continued,
“This is how we are going to break up the work and we are keeping everything in house, even the securing of a car”.
Eamon spoke up “Good. I learnt the art of relieving some rich fuck of their automobile worries in Belfast. I can get the car and stash it, no bother kid.”
Sean nodded in agreement “Stash it in McGeogh’s work shop and work on adapting it to carry up to a 1000 pound bomb. Ritchie will help you. Conor and Jimmy will make the explosives. Stephen and myself will help with the donkey work.”
The Volunteers moved excitedly in their seats, looking and nodding at each other.
Jimmy said “We can use the shed at the back of our milking parlour, it’s not used anymore but it’s big enough to work in with plenty of floor space to mix the fertiliser into explosives.”
“Make sure that you keep the explosives in small batches” said Sean with a grin “We don’t want to blow your family’s house to kingdom come!”
The others smiled and some blessed themselves to ward off bad luck.
“I brought a few detonators from Belfast so we are sorted.” Sean continued “We get stuck into it straight away. It’s the end of March now and the evenings are starting to stretch so be careful of being spotted. The Brits have fierce advanced surveillance equipment. We keep everything separate for now with me coordinating each team.”
“Aye, that’s sound.” The others agreed.
“Eamon I’ll call out to you in McGeogh’s in two evenings.” Sean told him, “That should give you time to get the car.”
Eamon replied “No bother boss” with an eager smile.
Sean nodded in appreciation “Jimmy and Conor, we get busy tomorrow getting the ingredients and we start the mixing and cooking.”
Jimmy and Conor nodded “Spot on Sean. It will be good to get stuck into it after the training in Belfast.” replied Conor.
Sean answered “Good lads.” and then continued “Remember not a word to anyone. If I hear that any of youse opened your mouths to a fucking sinner I will personally put a bullet into the back of your heads. Is that understood?”
The others swore themselves to silence and started to excitedly talk and make plans. Sean shook his head and smiled to himself at their enthusiasm.
He looked over at Bernie, “Bernie will you travel back with me, Gerry and Stephen? I need to talk to you. Ye others, I’ll see you all over the next couple of days”
“Sound” the others agree and headed off, anxious and excited about this new operation and the trust that Sean had shown in them.
Bernie, Sean, Gerry and Stephen drove back to Glenbeg in a roundabout route, keeping a constant eye out to avoid being followed.
“How’s things going with the new recruits on your end Bernie?” Sean asked.
Bernie was sitting in the front seat beside Gerry, who was driving. She turned in her seat as she lit a cigarette and faced into the back so that the others could hear her. Bernie though for a minute and then went through each recruits’ assessment. She and the other girls in Cumann na mBan were tasked with talking to the new recruits to suss out which ones could keep their mouths shut about being involved in the IRA or who would talk too much. Bernie and the other three single girls had divided the recruits into even number of groups and each girl had then deliberately set about meeting and talking to the lads. They knew most of the lads personally, or else the lads’ family’s so it was not that difficult to “happen” to meet and talk to them. The girls usually waited to when they were out at night in the local pubs or heading into Dungannon for a disco or night club. Late in the night when the lads were full of drink the girls would start talking about the troubles and the Army and see what the lads would say.
Ending her individual report Bernie continued “All reacted differently. Some boasted about their activities and their knowledge while others would say very little. But there are some really staunch boys there.”
“And” continued Bernie “bearing in mind that they all had been tasked with various tasks, from making their way south with “messages” to carrying parcels to other company areas and leaving them in some remote location, they all probably believe that they are up their necks in the action.”
“That’s a fact, Bernie” Sean said, “Thanks for all that effort and the assessing. Pass on my gratitude to the other girls for me.”
Sean took a pull of his cigarette, “Alright some of that is disappointing to tell you the truth.” Sean said, “Some of those lads are sound but need to learn to keep their mouths shut. The reason internment was such a disaster for the Brits was their lack of intelligence on a local level. They will have learnt from that and I guarantee you all that they are working to correct that wee fuck up.”
Stephen nodded in the dark “That’s the truth. So we need lads that are not known and that won’t go around mouthing about what they are up to.”
“Still” says Gerry “there are five of the lads that we have rated as “good potential” that Bernie and her girls rates the same. So I think that we can progress them along to active duty. We can use one of them in the scout car, and one in the back-up car to test their reactions and how they behave.”
Stephen objected to this idea “Hold on lads, check out Timmy Howling in the support car if you like, but we need to carry out this commercial run successfully. We can’t risk two inexperienced lads.”
“Stephens right” says Bernie. “We want the new engineer unit to have a successful start and to blow it, pardon the pun, by some new Volunteers obvious nervous actions would be a bollix.”
Gerry nodded “Yeah ye are right. I just want to get these lads up and running. Those lads that mouthed a bit, how about putting them in with the new stone throwers crowd that you have started Sean?”
Sean thought about that and replied “I know they are a bit older than planned, but it would keep them involved and active.”
“Yeah it would” said Stephen “and my brother Dáithí can keep an eye on their mouthing.”
“Spot on” says Sean “Stephen, you talk to those lads and be upfront, tell them about learning to keep their mouths shut and how this protest group is very important to the movement. Also that they will be involved in a more meaningful manner in the future.
Gerry slowed down approaching a sharp bend and said “Young McGurk is an interesting prospect. Tell us more about your interaction with him Bernie.”
“Ok” says Bernie “Declan McGurk, he was the hardest to “accidentally meet” as he rarely goes out at night or even in the daytime. I know him from school days as does Stephen. He was extremely smart and a total swot then. He actually would probably suit the engineers with his smarts. As you all know his family is completely neutral and are probably more West Brits than Irish Nationalists.”
“How did you hook up with him?” asked Sean “cos you gave him a good report earlier.”
“I had to go up to his house pretending to be involved in forming a book club in town and looking for his help and assistance.” replied Bernie.
Sean laughed “A fucking book club! How did he take that idea?”
“He actually thought that it was a good idea” returned Bernie defensively. “So we had a great chat about that and we might actually start one. But more importantly, I steered the conversation to more recent events and asked his opinion on the war. He remained totally neutral. He expressed horror at Bloody Sunday but didn’t elaborate his want for revenge or anything. On the ambush in town he commented on the shock to everyone about the war being so close to town and how it brought it home to him that this was not just a Belfast Derry thing.”
The others nodded in agreement and appreciation at these comments.
Bernie continued “He also mentioned that after the shooting started that he got up out of bed and went to his bedroom window to look out at the British army and police cars speeding out of the back gate. But he didn’t express any preference to any side.”
“Do you think that he sussed you out?” asked Gerry.
“Hard to say” said Bernie “but myself and Stephen think that we should proceed with the book club. It will be a good place to suss out people and to hold under the counter meetings and pass on messages.”
“Aye” says Stephen “it’s not a traditional republican front so it will not be high on the Brits radar.”
“Do that” said Sean “youse are both spot on and I apologise for the earlier put down Bernie. Let’s raise young Declan McGurk’s activity level. I want him to build a profile of everyone that uses that back gate. The regulars, the occasional users and definitely any new ones.”
Stephen commented “Hopefully this will lead to us being able to identify all of those loyalist bastards stationed in there.”
Sean continued “He will have to be able to build a file and profile on everyone there without writing it all down in case the house gets raided for any reason.”
Gerry said “Dead on. His house got searched the same as everyone else’s after the ambush. So he will have to be careful.”
“Aye” says Sean “So Bernie and Stephen, ye go to visit Declan about the book club and give him his assignment. I talked to him when he asked to join so tell him that I sent you and that he will be sworn in after a bit.”
They arrived to where Sean had parked his car so the three left Gerry who drove off home. Sean, Stephen and Bernie talked for a bit and smoked another cigarette. Stephen and Bernie made arrangements to go to her house to get some books and for herself and Stephen to call to Declan’s house to have that chat with him.
In the MRF headquarters in Palace Barracks, Sergeant Major Kenneth Colthurst came bursting excitedly into the room.
“Gather around” he shouted. “Intel have identified this bastard Sean Clarke.”
Harold leapt up from the chair where he had been listening to the radio transmission from the unit that was out on duty. The unit was scouting out a good spot to leave off another bomb that they could blame on the Provisional IRA again. The last one had been a huge success with the media and politicians, both north and south of the border jumping on the bandwagon blaming the republicans and calling on them to cease causing civilian deaths and casualties. The MRF had meet the loyalist para-military’s who had suggested around a dozen possible sites that had to be sussed out to ensure more civilian deaths and reactionary publicity.
“Where is that wee bastard and who the fuck is he?” Harold growled through gritted teeth.
He was obsessed with revenging the two casualties and his and Kenneth’s main priority had become finding and killing Sean Clarke.
“Gather around” snaps Kenneth “Sean Clarke is from the South Derry/ East Tyrone area. His family have been active terrorists for generations. He has been an active IRA member since the 1950’s and is a prominent founder of the Provisional IRA. He was on a training session with Belfast Provo’s when they hit us. According to Intel he is tight with Colin “the Shade” Reilly, the local Provo commander. Also according to Intel, Clarke was probably with Reilly at the time of the killings. Why the Setter would call out his name, they don’t know except that the Setter might have known him from the Border Campaign. Which leads me to the fact that Intel also report that there is no sign of the Setter. He is staying out of the Officials hangouts and it would appear that he is not in Belfast anymore.”
Harold could barely hold back his impatience, “Can we get back to this cunt Clarke sir?” he asked Kenneth.
Reading from the report sheet Kenneth continued “He is from a Republican family and has been involved with his father since the 1956-62 campaign in the border area. He is 35 years old, married to a girl from another republican family from Monaghan, and they have three children. Clarke took the Provo side in the 1970 split with the Officials. Belfast folklore has it that the Clarke’s supplied the Belfast Brigade the arms that allowed them to protect the Catholic communities when the loyalists and the police were here trying to burn them out of Belfast. Hugh Clarke, the father, was on the list to be lifted in the interment round up but he could not be located at the time. It is believed that he got a tip off and went into hiding. So they are well got and thought of in the cesspit of the Republican family.”
He continued reading from the report “Recent activity in Clarke’s local area would suggest that the Clarke’s are trying to increase the local company’s standing. There is a report of a failed execution attempt on a UDR man and then there was an ambush in Glenbeg itself that left four of our boys from the army, causalities’ with two dead. So this fucker is a right piece of scum shit.”
He paused and looked at his men, “I’m working on getting us sent there to take him and anyone else that needs be taken out of it. These Irish bastards might sing a song about him but I will make sure that there not a happy ending to it. I’m angling that a team of 9 get assigned there. We do a bit of recon and hit Clarke and some of his scum and pull back to base here in Belfast. I’ll keep you informed about any progress. In the meantime, let’s move on another bombing here and keep it stirred up. Oh and Harold look into what weapons we can bring and give to the loyalists at our next meeting.”
Harold nodded “Yes sir. It will be a pleasure to arm those guys. They won’t hold off and they’ll do some clearing up.”
They saluted and Kenneth went back into his office to pour himself a glass of good Scottish whisky and to plot how to get his men assigned to the South Derry/East Tyrone Area. He could nearly taste and feel Clarke’s fear and death and he sighed, satisfied as he settled into his chair, sipping on his whisky.
Meanwhile Sean and his engineering unit were extremely busy over the next few weeks. The three needed cars were secured and stashed away in various sheds and barns in the company area. One was brought to McGeogh’s shed to be worked on and adapted to allow it to carry the bomb. Other Volunteers were busy mixing and making the explosives. All this activity while at the same time working and keeping their own jobs. By the end of the week the car bomb was ready to be moved. Sean had picked his delivery team. They would also use the scout car with the support car bringing up the rear. Once again Sean was forced to send Jimmy to Armagh to borrow equipment as they did not have their own walkie talkies.
“These are a necessity” Sean had told Jimmy “We are going to have to get our own. If we are going to be an elite company, we need this type of gear to make sure we just don’t just walk into check points.”
Sean had his delivery team on standby and they waited and went anxiously about their everyday life. Then more than a week after getting the car bomb finished word came to Sean of their target destination, the day that it was to be delivered and time it was to be set to go off. Sean sent word to the chosen volunteers to get ready for action.
On the appointed day in April Stephen and his colleague Jimmy, from the engineering unit, were driven out to the workshop where Eamon had moved the car bomb to after it was assemble. Jimmy was going on the mission in the car bomb car to ensure that the timer was set and installed properly. Eamon and Jimmy showed Stephen around the car bomb. Getting into the Mercedes Stephen had a good look around the interior of the car.
“It doesn’t look any different than a regular car” he commented.
Eamon laughed “Aye” he said “all the explosives are in the boot of the car and under the back seat. We have around 500 pounds of explosives back there with reinforced shocks to take the weight.”
Jimmy smiled too and added “It looks good and no one will notice anything suspicious when we park it up and leave it.”
Stephen looked in appreciation at the job that the lads had done.
“Right” he said as he pulled the walkie talkie out from under his jacket.
“Hello, hello breaker breaker” he joked into it.
“Hello this is Teddy Bear 1” he heard in reply, “Keep it serious Lego 2 what’s your 20?”
Stephen pulled a face at Jimmy and Eamon. “I’m at the sweet shop and we are just leaving” he reported
“Good “replied Teddy Bear 1 “contact me again when you get to our meeting place. Over and out. Let’s roll Lego 1”
“We are heading to Maan Cross to meet the scout and support cars. Then we are going to Cookstown to the Hibernian Bank.” Stephen said to Jimmy as he drove out of the shed and stopped in the yard.
Eamon closed the door of the shed and walked over to the car bomb that Stephen was driving.
“Good luck lads. It’s a shame to blow this baby up” Eamon said as he patted the adapted Mercedes.
“Up the Provo’s” Jimmy shouted from the passenger seat as Stephen drove away from Eamon and the shed.
“It’s 9 o’clock now so we should be there for half past.” Stephen said to Jimmy as they drove to Maan Cross.
“Set your timer for 1100 hours. Sean will take care of the warning call at 1030 hours so we have a good window to make the delivery. After we park as close as we can to the bank, you fit the timer. Then we will walk together up the street. After we pass Casey’s pub we will split up. You continue until you see Sean and leave with him. I’ll go back up the street to our support car and go with them. Tell Sean exactly where you parked so he knows for the warning call.”
Jimmy nodded in excited agreement and nearly went to light a cigarette out of habit. He laughed nervously and Stephen said “I know how you feel. I’d love to suck back a Sweet Afton too!”
Stephen drove without incident to Maan Cross and after talking to both Teddy Bear and Velvet Glove, the support unit, over the walkie talkie headed for Cookstown.
The unit reached Cookstown without any incidence. Because it was early in the day Stephen was able to park the Mercedes in the front of the bank. He tried to look cool and nonchalant as Jimmy got into the back seat area and lifted up the seat to attach the timer. This was Sean’s biggest concern, the last thing that Seam needed was a premature explosion, killing numerous civilians and a couple of the volunteers. That had happened in Belfast and he didn’t need the backlash and bad publicity. Jimmy finished the job and reset the back seat into place. Taking a quick look around the inside of the car to make sure they had left nothing behind, he got out and joined Stephen outside the car. Stephen locked the door and lit two cigarettes as they walked away from the car. Giving one cigarette to Jimmy who nervously giggled and hastily pulled on the fag. Then deliberately trying to look as unconcerned as the regular citizens around them, they strolled down the street towards the waiting Sean. Stephen crossed the road and walked back up the street to the back up support car. As he walked past the Mercedes he tried his best not to look over at it with its big Diesel engine and even bigger bomb in the boot, with the timer slowly ticking to 1100 hours and explosion time.
Christ he said to himself, I hope that the timer works and that the pigs clear the area in time. He struggled to keep from jogging up the street and eventual arrived at the back-up car.
He scrambled into the back seat “Let’s get the fuck out of here” he rasped as the car turned up a side street and headed out a back road to Glenbeg.
At 10:30 Sean’s car pulled up to a public pay phone and he phoned the RUC Station in Cookstown. Using a towel to mask his voice he gave the code word to the cop that answered and the rough location and timing of the bomb to go off. On returning to base they reconvened at Cleary’s pub drinking tea and minerals. They sat in a corner away from the bar.
“Listen lads” Sean said and whispered to them “Leave here and go about your business as normal, but I want to remind you that today’s operation is part of a six county wide bombing operation with up to two dozen car bombs to go off all over the occupied counties.”
“Jaysus Christ” breathed Jimmy “Do you think that everywhere else will go as smooth?”
“Fecking hope so” said Sean “We want to show the Brits and the world that we can act and operate in a coordinated disciplined manner.”
The others looked cautiously around the near empty pub and raised their glasses and cups “Up the Provo’s!” said Gerry in a near whisper and the others toasted him back
“And the Glenbeg IRA Company!”
Later that night the volunteers sat at home watching the news on TV as the reports of the six county wide bombing blitz flooding in. The results of the operation were televised worldwide and the commentators were stunned at the level of discipline and coordination that was illustrated. Stephen was with Bernie in her house watching the news.
“A successful operation” he whispered to her as he kissed the back of her neck.