Military Wiki
Burning of the Burning Embers pub
Part of the Troubles
Official IRA / Provisional IRA feud
DateMarch 1971
LocationFalls Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Result Provisionals complete one of their two objectives
Gun battle breaks out between Official & Provisional IRA Volunteers.
Provisional IRA gain control of most West Belfast Nationalist areas
Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade - D Company StarryPlough.svg Official IRA Belfast Brigade
Commanders and leaders
Charles Hughes
Brendan Hughes
Jim Sullivan
12 Volunteers from D Company Unknown
Casualties and losses
1 Volunteer killed, 2 injured. 1 Pub owned by the Official IRA ruined.

The Burning of the Burning Embers pub was an early military operation carried out by the Provisional IRA's Belfast Brigade (PIRA). The Burning Embers was used as a base by the Official IRA (OIRA), the Provisional IRA also hoped to burn down the Cracked Cup which was another pub owned by the OIRA along the Falls Road on Leeson Street but the OIRA got information that the PIRA was coming and a gun battle broke out.


Tensions had been high between the OIRA and PIRA after the two factions split in December 1969. This was the third major split in the IRA since it became the legitimate army of the Irish Republic state in 1920.[1] In April 1970 the PIRA tried to kill OIRA Belfast Brigade Commanding Officer Billy McMillen but he survived his injuries. After the Falls Curfew relations turned even more sour. The Officials accused the Provisionals of tricking them into a fight they could not win and then leaving them to fight alone, resulting in the loss of much of their weaponry and several of their men being captured & wounded. Over the following months each organization carried out beatings of each others members, the majority of these beatings were carried out by the OIRA as they were still the larger group at the time. The OIRA was also angry that the PIRA had started raiding OIRA arms dumps for weapons.

The OIRA had the focused nearly all of their Volunteers inside the Lower Falls area of Belfast as in that area as both the OIRA and PIRA knew it was a key location. Most of those had been there before the outbreak of the Battle of the Bogside & Northern Ireland riots in 1969 which started the conflict. The Provisional IRA was small in the area but was young and very determined to make a name for themselves, especially D-Company headed by Brendan Hughes's cousin Charlie Hughes, a well respected and liked Voluteer. The mindset was who ever controlled the Lower Falls controlled Belfast and the PIRA was determined to wrestle power away from the OIRA or "Sticks" as the PIRA called them.

Tensions increased even more when the OIRA "arrested" and beat Paddy McDermott the QM (Quartermaster) of the PIRA Belfast Brigade D-Company for looking through their arms dumps and then badly beat him. But the PIRA now had controlled the arms dump that McDermott was beaten for. In retaliation for the PIRA controlling the arms dumps, in late 1970, they shot the brother of Joe Cahill, Tom Cahill. They shot him six times but he survived the shooting.[2]

Attack and Counter-Attack

The final straw came in early 1971 when PIRA Volunteer Alec Crowe had been "arrested" by the OIRA and taken to their drinking den the Cracked Cup on Balkan Street. Brendan Hughes was in a house opposite the Cracked Cup and seen Alec Crowe being forced out of the car and dragged into the pub. Brendan then immediately ran around to his cousin and O/C Charlie Hughes and told him what he saw. Charlie told Brendan to mobilise the rest of the Volunteers in the PIRA Belfast Brigade, open the arms dump & to be on standby. Charlie mobilised the Volunteers into one group sent a squad to burn down two OIRA clubs, the Cracked Cup and the Burning Embers. The squad arrived at the Burning Embers first & when they got inside they saw people were having a celebration for Paddy Devlin MP and OIRA Comnmander Jim Sullivan was also there at the same time. Brendan Hughes ordered them to move first but they wouldn't budge, so Charlie ordered them to pour pertol around the club and put a match to it, people then started to move once they the flames in the clubs & soon the whole building was ablaze.

Their next target was the Cracked Cup on Leeson street which is where the PIRA Volunteers headed to next, but the Official IRA got information passed on to them that a PIRA unit was coming to Leeson street to burn another club but as soon as the PIRA Volunteers got to McDonnell Street (near Leeson Street) they were ambushed by OIRA Volunteers and two of the PIRA's men Frank Gillen and Dipper Dempsey were shot and injured. A gun battle ensued around McDonnell and Leeson street which lasted for about twenty-five minutes. According to Brendan Hughes the British Army drove past the gun battle at the bottom of Leeson Street and did not bother intervening in the gun battle between the PIRA & OIRA Volunteers. Out numbered & out gunned orders came for the PIRA Volunteers to pull back. This ended hostilities for the day.[3]

The OIRA took revenge for the burning of their main HQ when they shot PIRA Commander Chalie Hughes. He was shot coming out of a house in Leeson Street along with Billy McKee and Proinsias MacAirt, a OIRA Volunteer opened up with a Thompson submachine gun killing Hughes instantly. It's been speculated Joe McCann was the shooter.[4] The backlash against the OIRA from the Nationalist community was to do large damage to the OIRA, Hughes was a well liked, respected & a devout Catholic, who helped many local people during the Falls Curfew & at other times the Lower Falls was attacked. Many new young recruits started joining the PIRA in the wake of Huges's killing and before long the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade was in charge of the Lower Falls & most of Nationalist Belfast. A ceasefire was soon arranged between the OIRA and PIRA after the death of Charlie Hughes and Brendan Hughes, Charlie's cousin took over command of D-Company. [5]

Boston College Tape interview

When interviewed for Boston College for research on the conflict Brendan Hughes had the following to say on the conflict with the Official IRA.

"[The Officials] arrested a man called Alec Crowe from the Ballymurphyarea and they brought him to the drinking club in Leeson Street. He was brought to the Cracked Cup and I was in a house directly facing, in Eileen Hickey’s house, and saw Alec being taken out of a car and trailed in. I left the house, went round to Charlie’s house, my cousin, told him what I’d seen. Charlie ordered me then to mobilise the rest of the Volunteers, open up the dump and be on standby in his house. I got them together, got the weapons out, a couple of .303s, two m1 carbines, three revolvers, and a few hand grenades. Charlie went up to Kane Street, up to Frank Card’s house, MacAirt as we called him, and I sat awaiting instructions . . . an hour, hour and a half later, Charlie came back and we were mobilised into one group. A squad was sent down from Andersons - town. They moved into a house in Balkan Street and we were under orders to burn down the two clubs. By this stage, Alec Crowe had been released by the Sticks* [but he] had been badly beaten, pistolwhipped, and thrown out. After that – a silly, silly, silly operation it was – we moved out of Charlie’s house, straight across the street, no more than thirty yards and took over the Burning Embers. Charlie sent me upstairs to empty the room. I went up and produced my weapon, a .45, and told them to get out but they wouldn’t move, so I fired a couple of shots into the air. At the time there was a party in the bar for Paddy Devlin who was an MP at Stormont.† They were celebrating and he was sitting at the bar with Jimmy Sullivan. So I went down and told Charlie that they wouldn’t move. We had cans of petrol and Charlie gave the order ‘burn it’. So the petrol was laid and the match put to it. And only then did they start moving out. Paddy Devlin was one of the first out; his car was sitting outside, and he drove off. He arrived back in Leeson Street later, I believe, with weapons. So, the Burning Embers was burning. We then assembled outside and moved round along Balkan Street to the Cracked Cup to burn that as well. A group of us went up Cyprus Street, through Varna Gap, heading down into Leeson Street. Another group came along McDonnell Street in a pincer movement

As soon as we got to McDonnell Street we were opened up on. Two men [were] shot: Frank Gillen and Dipper Dempsey. A gun battle ensued [and] went on for twenty, twenty-five minutes, us firing at the Cracked Cup. We never got burning the Cracked Cup, but I remember lying at the corner of McDonnell Street firing up at the Cracked Cup and . . . the British Army driving past the bottom of Leeson Street. They never came into the area; they let us just shoot it out. Eventually we were ordered to pull back."


The Official IRA who were already being criticised for the killing of Charlie Hughes seen their support drop even more after the 1972 Aldershot Bombing which killed seven civilians, they also seen their support fade in Derry as well after they shot dead a popular local off duty Catholic British soldier William Best (19) who was home on leave in Williams Street in May 1972. Shortly after the death of Best the group called a ceasefire.[6][7][8]

A feud broke out again between the two Republican groups which began on Wednesday 29 October 1975 in a bid by the Provisional IRA to wipe the Official IRA out.[9] Eleven people were to die in this feud which was to last until November.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

Both sides suffered heavy casualties but the PIRA came out of the feud in better shape, the OIRA was severely weakened from the feud thanks as well to a feud with the Irish National Liberation Army earlier during the year.[18] Former Official IRA Belfast Brigade Commander Billy McMillen was killed in the feud and Sean Garland was badly injured by the INLA.[19]

See also



  1. Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1969". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  2. "AN PHOBLACHT/REPUBLICAN NEWS". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 April 2017. Retrieved 2017-04-04. 
  4. Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1971". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  5. "THE BLANKET * Index: Current Articles". 2007-02-17. Retrieved 2017-06-30. 
  6. Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1972". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  7. Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  8. Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1972". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  9. Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1975". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  10. Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  11. Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  12. Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  13. Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  14. Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  15. Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  16. Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1975". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  17. Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1975". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  18. Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1975". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  19. Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 June 2017. 

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