Seated (l-r): Richard Kinkins,  Gerry Adams,  Rip Patton and  King Hollands.

ADAMS: Death of a Civil Rights Hero

Just before Christmas my colleague Greg O'Loughlin, the Executive Director of Friends of Sinn Féin in the USA , gave me the sad news that veteran American Civil Rights leader King Hollands had died.

I had the honor of meeting King and his fellow activists Rip Patton and Richard Dinkins during a visit to Nashville in November 2018.

I was there to speak in the Civil Rights Room in the Nashville Public Library along with King on the connections between the Civil Rights Movement in the USA and the Civil Rights Association in Ireland in the 1960s.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

King and Rip had participated in the famous Woolworths Lunchtime sit-ins in 1960s. They were also Freedom Riders. At that time, black citizens were banned by the draconian segregation laws from sitting at Whites Only lunch counters.

They were also segregated on public transport - confined to the Back of The Bus. When this legislation ended there was violent opposition by white racists to the integration of the interstate transport system. So some courageous women and men, black and white – Freedom Riders – took to the buses and trains to challenge segregation. Many were beaten and hundreds were imprisoned.

While Kitson was based in Belfast, he was responsible for establishing the Military Reaction Force (MRF). It sought to stoke sectarian conflict by killing Catholics. In addition 1 Para was also based in Palace Barracks in Holywood, County Down where Kitson also resided. He encouraged the Paras to be violent and brutal in their actions. The Paras were known as "Kitson’s private army."

While in Nashville I visited the Woolworths building where they did sit-ins, with Rip and King, and with Judge Richard Dinkins, another veteran of those days. We sat at the lunch counter where almost 60 years ago African American citizens were attacked. They recounted their experiences of those days, including arrests and assaults, before we sang "We shall overcome" to our surprised guests.

The death of King Hollands is a huge loss to his family and friends. And to the struggle for rights. I enjoyed his company. And his singing. And celebrate his courage. Go ndeanfaidh Dia trocaire air. 

Frank Kitson.

Frank Kitson.


Richard has insisted that I write a little bit about the death of Frank Kitson. Kitson, British Army general and leading advocate of counter-insurgency operations and collusion between state forces and death squads, died last week.

I have written about him many times. I am sure his death will be mourned by those within the British system whom he served over many decades in defence of the Empire. He was rewarded with medals, a knighthood, and military promotions. He was for a time Commander in Chief of the UK Land Forces and from 1982 to 1985 he was Aide-de-Camp General to the British queen.

Few if any of  his many victims who were tortured, imprisoned, killed by his counter-gangs and collusion strategies, whether in the North or in Malaya, Kenya, Aden or Cyprus, will shed tears at his passing. 

After the Second World War Britain fought over fifty colonial wars in defence of its empire. Kitson fought in some of these and his damaging influence was felt in others. He fought in Malaya, but it was in Kenya in the 1950s that he came to prominence.

The dehumanization of the native Kenyan people reached new levels of racism and barbarity at that time. They were labeled animals, barbarians and vermin. Tens of thousands ended up in over 100 detention camps. Many of the men were castrated using pliers. Men and women were raped, sometimes using blunt instruments like bottles and rifle barrels. Others were mutilated by prison guards and British Army officers. Some had fingers and ears sliced off. Others were burned to death.

Kitson established counter-gangs. The groups were made up of British soldiers, including Kitson on occasion, and former members of those fighting against British rule. They travelled the countryside killing, maiming, interrogating and torturing. One particular technique Kitson introduced involved using "hooded" agents/informers to identify those who were then sent to the camps for torture.

The result of all this was that 30,000 Kenyans were killed; one and a half million were interned; torture was commonplace and 1090 were hanged using a portable gallows.

Kitson honed his skills in other colonial conflicts including Aden and Cyprus and Oman. Consequently, when the British Army were deployed in Derry and Belfast in August 1969, many within its ranks had served in these conflict zones and brought with them the brutal techniques they had learned.

Kitson joined them in 1970 as Commander in Belfast of the 39th Brigade area. He immediately began implementing his strategies. In the autumn of 1971 the British Army created a new unionist paramilitary organisation – the Ulster Defence Association – out of many small neighborhood vigilante loyalist groups.

Kitson believed that to win against a guerrilla enemy which had the support of its community, or at the very least a significant proportion of its community, the government, the law, the judiciary and the media all had to be reshaped and moulded by government to suit the aim of defeating the enemy.

It was about controlling the population; using counter-gangs (death squads) to coerce it; establishing special units and employing psyops (psychological operations) and media manipulation. Kitson rationalised the use of death squads and the corruption of justice: "Everything done by a government and its agents in combating insurgency must be legitimate. But this does not mean that the government must work within exactly the same set of laws during an emergency as existed beforehand. The law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, in which case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public."

While Kitson was based in Belfast, he was responsible for establishing the Military Reaction Force (MRF). It sought to stoke sectarian conflict by killing Catholics. In addition 1 Para was also based in Palace Barracks in Holywood, County Down where Kitson also resided. He encouraged the Paras to be violent and brutal in their actions. The Paras were known as "Kitson’s private army."

The Parachute Regiment was responsible for the Ballymurphy Massacre and Bloody Sunday in Derry. When the Paras killed 14 people in Derry the adjutant of 1 Para was Michael Jackson. He subsequently produced in his own handwriting the "shot list" which claimed that all of the victims had guns or bombs. Like Kitson, he rose to the top of the British Army.

Later, Jackson described his admiration for Kitson: “he was the sun around which the planets revolved … and very much set the tone for the operation style in Belfast.”

I know that those who opposed British militarism by force in our own place, like the freedom fighters in other parts of the globe, were also responsible for inflicting hurt. I have never tried to disguise that and I regret the harm done. Kitson was a failure. He never, to my knowledge, showed any concern for the brutal policies he devised and implemented. His policies failed. They reflected the will of the British establishment at that time. Kitson was their man.  

You cannot begin to understand the conflict in Ireland, or Kitson’s role in it, without setting it in the context of the English colonization of Ireland. Nor can you understand the brutality and depravity that accompanied it without recognising that the British Empire was built on a deep rooted racism, arrogance, and intolerance that saw other peoples as less than human.

Today’s genocide in Gaza has its roots in this history.  Millions died across the world as British colonialism exploited them in the interests of profit.

Kitson was the epitome of this imperialist and colonial aggression, and he was amply rewarded for his ruthless and cruel defence of that imperialism by successive British governments.


Nollaig na mBan - Women’s Christmas or Little Christmas  – was celebrated last Saturday. Traditionally, it’s the last day of the Christmas period when the role of women who did all the work preparing for and making Christmas a success for everyone else, was celebrated. January the 6th was the day when they had the opportunity to rest and celebrate. 

It’s also the day when the Christmas tree and decorations are supposed to come down. Until recently, the celebration of Nollaig na mBan had declined. Thankfully that is now changing and this old custom is being revived. 

 Nowadays, for many women, Nollaig na mBan has a much broader meaning. It is a celebration of the strength of women. Of their right to equality and parity of esteem. Long may this continue.