Seamus Twomey

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Seamus Twomey
Born (1919-11-05)5 November 1919
Belfast, Ireland
Died 12 September 1989(1989-09-12) (aged 69)
Dublin, Ireland
Allegiance Republic of Ireland Irish Republican Army (1922-1969)
Service/branch Irish Republican Army (1922-1969)
Provisional IRA
Rank Chief of Staff

Seamus Twomey (Irish: Séamus Ó Tuama; 5 November 1919 – 12 September 1989[1]) was an Irish republican activist, militant, and twice chief of staff of the Provisional IRA.


Born in Belfast, Twomey lived at 6 Sevastopol Street in the Falls district. Known as "Thumper" owing to his short temper and habit of banging his fist on tables, he received little education and was a bookmaker's (bookie's) 'runner'.

He began his involvement with the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s and was interned in Northern Ireland during the 1940s. He opposed the left-wing shift of Cathal Goulding in the 1960s, and in 1968, helped set up the breakaway Andersonstown Republican Club (later the Roddy McCorley Society).

In 1969, he was prominent in the establishment of the Provisional IRA. By 1972, he was Officer Commanding of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade when it launched its bomb campaign of the city, including Bloody Friday when nine people were killed. During the 1970s, the leadership of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA was largely in the hands of Twomey and Ivor Bell.

In March 1973, Twomey was first appointed IRA Chief of Staff after the arrest of Joe Cahill. He remained in this position until his arrest in October 1973 by the Garda Síochána. Three weeks later, on 31 October 1973, the IRA organised the helicopter escape of Twomey and his fellow IRA members J.B. O'Hagan and Kevin Mallon, when an active service unit hijacked and forced the pilot at gun-point to land the helicopter in the training yard of Mountjoy Prison.[2] After his escape, he returned to his membership of IRA's Army Council.

By June/July 1974, Twomey was IRA Chief of Staff for a second time. He took part in the Feakle talks between the IRA and Protestant clergymen in December 1974. In the IRA truce which followed in 1975, Twomey was largely unsupportive and wanted to fight on in what he saw as "one big push to finish it once and for all".[3]

IRA informer Sean O'Callaghan claims that on 5 January 1976, Twomey and Brian Keenan gave the go-ahead for the sectarian Kingsmill massacre, when 10 unarmed Ulster Protestant workmen were executed by the Provisional IRA in retaliation for a rash of loyalist killings of Catholics in the area. It was Keenan's view, O'Callaghan claims, that "The only way to knock the nonsense out of the Prods is to be 10 times more savage".[4]

Twomey was dedicated to paramilitarism as a means of incorporating all of Ulster into the Republic of Ireland. In an interview with French television on 11 July 1977, he declared that although the IRA had waged a campaign for seven years at that point, it could fight on for another 70 against the British state in Ulster and in England.[5] Twomey supported the bombing of wealthy civilian targets, which he justified on class lines. On 29 October 1977, for example, a no-warning bomb at an Italian restaurant in Mayfair killed one diner and wounded 17 others. Three more people were killed in similar blasts in Chelsea and Mayfair the following month. As Twomey explained: “By hitting Mayfair restaurants, we were hitting the type of person that could bring pressure to bear on the British government”.[6]

In December 1977, he was captured in Sandycove, Dublin by the Garda Síochána, who had been tipped off by Belgian police about a concealed arms shipment, to be delivered to a bogus company with an address in the area. They swooped on a house in Martello Terrace to discover Twomey outside in his car, wearing his trademark dark shades. After a high-speed pursuit, he was recaptured in the centre of Dublin. The Gardaí later found documents in his possession outlining proposals for the structural reorganisation of the IRA according to the cell system. Twomey's arrest ended his tenure as IRA chief of staff. In the 1986 split over abstentionism, Twomey sided with the Gerry Adams leadership and remained with the Provisionals.

After a long illness, Twomey died in Dublin in 1989. He was buried in the family plot in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast. His funeral was attended by about 2,000 people. As Twomey is listed on the IRA's roll of honour under the category GHQ staff, this suggests that he was a member of the IRA's leadership until his death.


  • "I have most of my life been brought up in a Republican tradition ... However, I grew up in a situation of such degradation and unemployment and humiliation that the life our people lived was just no life at all. I said to myself that when I grow up and get married I will want for my children something better than this."[7]
  • "Our first prime and main objective is the unification of our country. This means getting the British out of the occupied part of the country. After that the whole system in North and South would have to be changed"[8]

Further reading

  • Sean Cronin, Irish Nationalism: A History and its Roots and Ideology, Dublin: The Academy Press, 1980, p. 214


  1. Tírghrá. National Commemoration Centre. 2002. p. 314. ISBN 0-9542946-0-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Remembering the Past – The helicopter escape". anphoblacht. 28 October 2004. Retrieved 6 May 2008. The helicopter touched down in the centre of the compound outside D-Wing, where political prisoners had been exercising. Upon landing, Séamus Twomey, Chief of Staff of the IRA, JB O'Hagan, Quartermaster of the IRA, and Kevin Mallon, an IRA activist since the 1950s campaign, ran forward and boarded the aircraft.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. John McGuffin, Internment, 1973 (Chapter 16: Internment out–Detention in)
  4. Sean O'Callaghan, "The Decider", Irish Independent, 12 February 2000.
  5. Quoted in Kevin. J. Kelley, The Longest War: Northern Ireland and the IRA, Westport, Conn: Zed Books, 1988.
  7. Archiv der Gegenwart 47 (1977), p. 21127.
  8. Martin McMahon, I Cry for My People, 2001.