The Provisional IRA in Stoke Newington

The Angry Brigade are not the only bombers to have lived in N16…


1970s: Balcombe Street siege

An Active Service Unit of the IRA wreaked havoc during a 14 month campaign in London in 1974-1975. Hugh Doherty, Martin O’Connell, Eddie Butler, Brendan Dowd, Henry Duggan and Liam Quinn were responsible for 40 explosions and 35 deaths.

Their targets included pubs frequented by the armed forces, military barracks, Harrow school (no injuries), expensive restaurants in the West End and the house of Prime Minister Edward Heath.

The group also killed “Record Breakers” star and right wing political activist Ross McWhirter, who had offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to convictions for the bombings (as well as campaigning to make it mandatory for all Irish people in Britain to have to register with their local police station).

After the Metropolitan Police’s Commissioner Robert Mark made an appeal for help, a member of the public tipped off the cops about some suspicious people in a flat in Stoke Newington…

On 6th of December O’Connell, Butler, Duggan and Docherty stole a Ford Cortina and drove past Scott’s Restaurant in Mayfair, firing shots through the window. They were pursued by the police, eventually going to ground in a council flat in Balcombe Street, Marylebone, taking its two residents hostage and demanding safe passage to Ireland. The Balcombe Street Siege would last for six days before the hostages were freed and the four IRA men surrendered.

O’Connell and Duggan lived in a flat at 99 Milton Grove, Stoke Newington, which was raided by the police on 17th December 1975.

Here is a photo of the bath in the Milton Grove flat – explosives and bomb making equipment were stored underneath it:


(NB: I couldn’t get the Getty Images “embed” function to work, so grudging apologies to them).

Notes suggesting a wide array of possible future targets were also discovered at the flat.

During the trial at the Old Bailey, Martin O’Connell made a speech from the dock to explain the actions of the group – and also to state that the recently imprisoned Guildford Four were innocent and had been falsely convicted for bombings that he and others had committed. The Guildford Four remained in jail despite this, eventually having their convictions overturned in 1989 after fourteen years of campaigning.

The “Balcombe Street Gang” received sentences of at least 30 years each, but were released from prison in April 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

1990s: Bombing of Harrods



14th November 1992 – A large blue lorry was stopped on Stoke Newington Road by two police officers. The lorry contained 3.2 tonnes of explosive – the largest IRA bomb at that time. After some confusion and a chase in which one of the police officers was shot, an Irishman named Patrick Kelly was arrested. He pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder of a police officer and conspiracy to cause explosions. He was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years.

January 28th 1993 – An IRA bomb was detonated in a rubbish bin outside Harrods causing extensive damage to the building and injuries to four people – it was shortly before opening time. (NB: The IRA had bombed the shop 10 years previously with more devastating results).

2nd March 1993 – Following the release of CCTV images from outside Harrods, police raided the basement flat of Patrick Hayes in Walford Road, Stoke Newington. They found 22lb of Semtex, hand-guns, a sock full of bullets, several electronic detonators and timing devices, and keys to a lock-up garage in Muswell Hill from which home-made explosive were later recovered. Hayes and Jan Taylor were arrested in the flat – Taylor fired three shots at the policemen, but missed.

This (silent) news clip has footage of the exterior and interior of the flat from 1:19 onwards:

And this one includes an eyewitness account of the raid by a passerby:

May 1994 – Hayes and Taylor were both sentenced to 30 years for the Harrods bombing (and of a Victoria to Ramsgate train). Hayes was also linked forensically to other bombings using lorries, such as the one causing £350 million damage to the Baltic Exchange. Hayes announced in the courtroom that it was he that had been driving the lorry which was stopped by the police in Stoke Newington in November 1992 and that Patrick Kelly had been falsely imprisoned “on the basis of his nationality”.

Coverage of the trial focused on Hayes’ nationality instead – he was English, an usual background for an IRA bomber. He was also a member of Red Action:

In Hayes’s flat, police found literature associated with Red Action – a splinter of the Socialist Workers’ Party, founded in 1981 – and a copy of the Irish Republican News, as well as anti-fascist material.

The Independent

More precisely, Red Action was formed by militant working class anti-fascists who had been expelled by the SWP for “Squaddism” (i.e. physically confronting fascists) in the early eighties.

A further article in The Independent from a few years later covers the group’s forthright support for anti-fascism, Irish Republicanism and pro-working class politics – as well as Hayes’ membership.

Indeed, Red Action included a transcript of Hayes’ speech from the dock on the cover of the next issue of their paper, alongside a photograph of him kicking a fascist in the 1980s:


(All issues of the Red Action paper are available as PDFs at the Red Action archive along with other material. The short autobiography of the group might be the best place to start.)

Whereas Martin O’Connell’s testimony about the innocence of the Guildford Four is now widely accepted, Hayes’ revelations about Patrick Kelly seem less definitive.

All I have been able to discover is that Jeremy Corbyn MP (whatever happened to him?) would successfully campaign in 1996 to get medical treatment for Kelly’s skin cancer which had been neglected by the prison authorities. Despite this intervention, Kelly seems to have died a year later – and was celebrated as an IRA Volunteer in 1998.

Like O’Connell and the Balcombe Street Gang, Hayes and Taylor were also released from prison in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement.

Blue House squat at Sutton House – can you help?

Image couresty of John Bates and the All The Madmen website

Image couresty of John Bates and the All The Madmen website

Chas left this comment here earlier today – please help if you can:

The National Trust is planning an exhibition at Sutton House (squatted as the Blue House in 1985-6) in November-December 2015 called ‘The Human Quest for Home’. Part of the exhibition will be about the Blue House.

If you lived there, visited, played etc and have any photos or flyers or other relevant bits and pieces, or if you would be willing to be interviewed for the exhibition about the House and squatting in Hackney at the time, please contact me: or post here.

Photos etc can be scanned and returned, interviews will be audio only and can be anonymous if you want. The exhibition will include restoring one room as a squatted bedroom, so anything relevant to that you can lend would be great.

This is a chance to present a positive story about squatting (which led to the house being restored by the NT and opened to the public) to school kids and others for whom this is all ancient history, so if you have anything to offer please get in touch.

Cheers, Chas from flowers in the dustbin

(PS: we’re playing there on 14 November as part of the exhibition – see our page for details)

[Chas has previously appeared on this site talking about his time with Hackney Community Defence Association too]

Shots fired at Hackney Council meeting, 1986

Glasgow Herald, October 23rd 1986

Glasgow Herald, October 23rd 1986

There is a news report about the incident here, which includes a recording of the ruckus:

The reporter expresses his surprise at the calm response of the Sinn Féin delegates. I think some context would probably explain that:

The speaker, Alex Maskey, joined the Provisional IRA at the outbreak of The Troubles in 1969. He was a barman and amateur boxer (losing only four times in 75 fights).

Maskey was interned twice in the 1970s and went on in 1983 to become the first Sinn Féin member to sit on Belfast City Council during the troubles. Whatever you think of his politics, being a lone voice on the council and a very public member of Sinn Féin at that time must have taken some balls. Indeed Alex Maskey survived nine genuine assassination attempts, which puts Pierre Royan’s starter pistol into perspective.

Cllr Maskey became Lord Mayor of Belfast in 2002 and was involved with brokering the ETA ceasefire in the Basque region in 2006. He remains active in politics, having recently commented on austerity and the rise of food banks.

Alex Maskey – Wikipedia page

Alex Maskey – The Making of a Mayor

Pierre Royan’s political career looks rather more subdued in comparison. He was elected as a Liberal councillor in Hackney’s Moorfields ward in May 1986, followed by the incident with the starting pistol in October of that year.

According to Wikipedia a by-election was held in March 1987 in Moorfields ward because of Royan’s disqualification as a councillor. I’m not sure if discharging a weapon in the council chamber was the cause of this disqualification, but it doesn’t seem unfair to speculate that it might have been…

Centerprise, An Phoblacht – and a suspect package

Former Centerprise worker Maggie Hewitt writes about our Centerprise mailboxes entry:

I would like to add that Box 13 was for An Phoblacht, the newspaper for [Sinn Féin -ed] the political wing of the IRA.


In December 1980 or 81, a time when there were quite few IRA bomb scares, there was an incident when just before Xmas we received a package that was clearly not newspapers but  much heavier and box like.

We carried it out of the building and put in in the outhouse at the back of the courtyard outside our building.

The next morning was the Saturday before Xmas, our busiest day for the bookshop, so before opening we contacted the police who arrived within minutes who then contacted the bomb squad who then evacuated the building so we were standing outside the Rio  while they cordoned off the street.

It turned out the possible bomb was a box of  tapes by Christy Moore,  a very political Irish singer who often performed at the Hackney Empire. I think he would have appreciated the story.

Maggie has also contributed some recollections to the excellent A Hackney Autobiography project which is documenting Centerprise.

There’s a lot more to be said about the radical history of the Irish in Hackney. More posts on that eventually I hope – any pointers welcome.

Centerprise’s radical mailboxes

Centerprise, 1980

As well as being a meeting space, café and bookshop, Centerprise allowed community, and political groups to use the building as a mailing address.

“Box X, 136-138 Kingsland High Street, London E8” would appear regularly in radical publications from the seventies until the shop closed a few years ago.

Below is an incomplete list of groups that used Centerprise as a contact address throughout its life. (Some boxes were used by different people at different times – where I believe this has happened I have given each user a new line.)

Please comment below or send an email if you can fill any of the gaps or have anything else to add…

cuts cover

Box 1: Hackney Against the Cuts (early 90s)

Box 2: Anarchist Communist Association (late 70s)

Box 3: ?


Box 4: The Apostles (controversial anarchist punk band, 1980s) / Academy 23 (experimental music group, 1990s) / UNIT (prog rock, pop and improvisational music, 2000s) also SMILE magazine and other publications.

Box 5: The Black Women’s Network (1990s)  “is organizing SOJOURN II, sponsoring visits by black activists to Zimbabwe, India and Nigeria. Sojourners will study the role of women in relation to land use and ownership, and network with health workers (in order to better understand issues like AIDS, female genital mutilation, and nutrition). The Black Women’s Network publishes a regular international magazine called Linkages.”


Box 6: Theatre of Black Women (1980s)  “Theatre is a powerful mode of communication and Theatre of Black Women is the only permanent Black women’s theatre company in Britain. As such we concern ourselves with issues such as Black women in education, health housing, feminism in history and in the Arts. Our theatre is about the lives and struggles of black women and provides an opportunity for Black women’s voices to be heard positively through theatre. We use theatre to promote positive and encouraging images of Black women as individuals, examining and re-defining relationships with men, living independent lives, giving and receiving support from other Black women, discovering their own Black identity, celebrating their Black womanhood.”


Box 7: Hackney Not 4 Sale (2000s) opposition to Hackney Council’s post-bankruptcy sell-offs of property and community facilities.

Box 8: ?
Box 9: ?
Box 10: ?

Box 11: Hackney Jewish Socialist Group (1990s)

Box 11: Hackney Trades Union Council (2000s)

Box 12: ?

Box 13: An Phoblacht – newspaper of Sinn Féin.

Box 14: News From Everywhere / Campaign For Real Life (1980s/1990s) Communist publishers of books, pamphlets and texts – with a tinge of the situationist / “ultra-left”.


Box 15: London Psychogeographical Association / Unpopular Books / Workers Scud / East London Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1980s-1990s)

Unpopular Books: “Purveyors of proletarian literature since 1983. Peculiarly pertinent portrayals of proletarian pressure to usher inouternational notions that negate normal ideological identifications in a no nonsense way. In particular, publishers of London Psychogeographical Association material along with such gems as ‘Black Mask’ and Asger Jorn’s ‘Open Creation and Its Enemies’.”

Box 24: Unity Group (1990s) “Promoting unity between anti-fascist groups.”


Box 26: Spare Change Press (book publishers – punk fiction and others) / Mad Pride (anarchistic mental health protest group) (1990s/2000s)

Box 32: Between the Lines (1990s) Humorous and slightly heretical left-wing fanzine. Also organised “looney left football tournaments” and discussion meetings.

Box 33: Stop Thorp Campaign (1990s) Opposition to new nuclear waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

Box 44: Melancholic Troglodytes (1990s/2000s) internationalist council communist pamphleteers.


Box 48: Hackney Mental Patients Association (1980s)


Box 48: Hackney Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) (late 90s, 2000s) Community politics in South Hackney. Later became Hackney Independent.


film – Somewhere In Hackney (Ron Orders, 1980)

Screenshot 2015-08-13 20.22.56

A great 50 minute documentary at the British Film Institute site that covers a wide array of the community and cultural groups active in the Borough in 1980, including:

There’s also  lots of great footage of bits of Hackney which have since disappeared or aged gracefully…

Thanks to Good News Hackney on twitter for flagging up this up.

A few screenshots:


Caribbean House

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens' Aid

Lenthall Road Print Workshop and Hackney Womens’ Aid

Centerprise, 1980

Dalston radical history walk: Thursday 23rd July

Once again from the crowded desk of our comrades at Past Tense:

Dalston radical history walk

Thursday 23rd July

meet 6.30pm in Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ


  • housing struggles and gentrification
  • campaigners against police violence and oppression who got infiltrated by guess who
  • anti-fascist hairdresser
  • centres for community, for working class history, for refugees, for struggle …
  • culture
  • riot

and more……. Bring your own histories