Ex-Red Hand Commando ran online hate campaign against kids’ Irish lessons

Posted By: August 13, 2021

“I’m absolutely delighted about it. The Irish language has no place in the Braniel”

Pub bombing pensioner Charlie Freel (73) masterminded the social media hate crusade which scuppered plans to open an Irish language nursery on a Protestant housing estate, the Sunday World can reveal.

Hugh Jordan. Sunday World. Dublin. Tuesday, August 10 2021

A pub bomber pensioner says ‘NO’ to Irish language classes in loyalist areas.

Father of seven Charlie Freel (73) masterminded the hate crusade which scuppered Linda Ervine’s dream of opening an Irish language nursery on a Protestant housing estate.

Retired market trader Freel is a former Red Hand Commando who was jailed for blowing up a Catholic-owned pub.

And when the Sunday World caught up with him, he freely admitted running the Facebook accounts which derailed a toddlers’ Gaelic class in the staunchly loyalist Braniel estate in east Belfast.

A former soldier with the Royal Irish Rangers, Freel quit the British Army to join the loyalist terror outfit the Red Hand Commando at the beginning of the Troubles.

In the early 1970s, Freel was jailed for blowing up the Catholic-owned Hillfoot Bar near his home in the Braniel.

He was charged along with five other Red Hand Commando terrorists – including the notorious Gorman McMullan – later named as a top suspect in the Loughinisland Massacre.

Six Catholics died and five others were wounded in the Heights Bar as they watched the Republic of Ireland play in the 1994 World Cup Finals.

And when Freel and McMullan were remanded into custody following the Hillfoot Bar attack, their fellow bomber Ken Owens shouted at the judge: “No surrender! Up the Red Hand Commando!”

But in a frank interview this week, Charlie Freel told the Sunday World he was thrilled his anti-Irish social media campaign had worked.

“I’m absolutely delighted about it. The Irish language has no place in the Braniel. It’s a staunchly loyalist estate,” he said.

Freel’s social media slaughter put the kibosh on Naiscoil na Seolta – an Irish language school for toddlers – which was due to open in the grounds of Braniel Primary School next month.

As the hostile Facebook campaign run by Freel continued, organisers feared the school could become a target for anti-Irish language demonstrations.

Supt Gerard Pollock of the PSNI confirmed his officers were investigating two complaints which are being treated as hate crimes.



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Last week, Linda Ervine – Irish language development officer with the Gaelic language group Turas based in the East Belfast Mission – said plans for a pre-school facility were being shelved, after a series of hate-filled rants on social media.

But without disclosing specific details, Ms Ervine also said that an Irish language nursery was still on schedule to due open in another part of east Belfast.

“We have the children, we have the funding and we have a new venue.” she said.

Sunday World enquiries in east Belfast, revealed former Red Hand Commando Charlie Freel was the driving force behind the ‘No Irish Language’ messages on social media.

Keyboard warriors on the Facebook page ‘United Ulsterman Group’ targeted Linda Ervine and Braniel Primary School head Diane Dawson.

It resulted in plans to open an Irish speaking nursery catering for 14 youngsters under school age, being dropped over fears for the children’s’ safety.

When we caught up with Charlie Freel at his home in a middle-class estate in east Belfast this week, he described himself as a former terrorist who is now a struggling Christian.

And he freely admitted being behind a social media campaign which forced the Irish-speaking nursery out of the Braniel.

Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine has said untrue rumours spread by a "small number of people" led to the decision not to open an Irish language pre-school at Braniel Primary School.

Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine has said untrue rumours spread by a “small number of people” led to the decision not to open an Irish language pre-school at Braniel Primary School.

And this week on the Facebook page ‘United Ulsterman group’ Freel thanked the Sunday World for giving him the opportunity to state his case.

It is understood a series of anti-Irish language meetings took place in the Braniel Community Centre. And a plan was put together to oppose Linda Ervine’s proposal to set up an Irish speaking nursery in the ground of Braniel Primary School.

“I’m delighted our campaign was a success.” said Freel.

“In fact, everyone involved is delighted. There will now be no Irish language school in the Braniel. he said.

“But it definitely wasn’t a hate campaign,” he insisted.

“I’ve nothing against Linda Ervine. And I’ve also got nothing against the Irish language either.

“But as far as I’m concerned public money shouldn’t be wasted on it. If you want to learn Irish, then it should be done in your own time and you should spend your own money on it,” he said.


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Freel also slammed Ervine and Dawson over what he claimed was their lack of consultation with local parents and residents.

He said: “Linda Ervine and Diane Dawson, along with the Board of Governors, tried to impose a permanent, dedicated, immersion Irish language nursery school within the grounds of the existing Primary School.

“But the Braniel is a staunchly loyalist estate where there’s no demand for Irish of any sort.

“There was no prior consultation with residents or parents of the children already attending the school.

“But in a recent online survey, the people of the area democratically showed their massive opposition to what was going on.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Irish language is utterly useless. And it is also highly contentious with its Irish republican baggage. And they wanted to bring this into a loyalist estate?

“The Irish language is nothing more than a weaponised tool of IRA/Sinn Fein. And it’s just like the GAA which has clubs called after dead IRA leaders,” Charlie Freel said.

It was pointed out to Freel that his own surname was steeped in the ancient Gaelic clans of Donegal.

And also four of the five Red Hand Commandos jailed for blowing up the Hillfoot Bar had Gaelic surnames, including the Loughinisland Massacre suspect Gorman McMullan (Gormain MacMaolain).

It was also pointed out to Freel that the RHC logo he uses on some of his Facebook posts includes the Gaelic motto – Lamh Dearg Abu – (Victory to the Red Hand).

“I’ve no interest in Irish,” he said.

After leaving school he found work as an apprentice baker before joining the Royal Irish Rangers.

But then as the Troubles intensified, an incident took place on the Shankill Road which changed Charlie Freel’s life forever.

A no-warning IRA bomb attack on the Four Step Inn on 29 September 1971, claimed the lives of two men and injured 27 others. An estimated 50,000 mourners attended the funerals of the men who died.

The bar was a favourite watering hole for generations of Ulster Protestants who had served with the Royal Irish Rangers.

Charlie Freel said he often enjoyed a pint in it with his squaddie pals whenever he was home on leave.

“I decided there and then, I’d had enough. I resolved to quit the army as soon as possible and go home to Belfast to join the loyalist paramilitaries in the fight against the IRA,” he said.

Back in the Braniel, Freel joined the elite Red Hand Commando which prided itself in being the SAS of the Ulster Volunteer Force.

His boss in the loyalist terror group was Sammy Cinnamond who set up the RHC in the Braniel in the aftermath of the 1972 Bloody Friday atrocities, when the IRA detonated a necklace of bombs around Belfast.

Cinnamond is the loyalist leader who gave the go ahead to Michael Stone to launch a gun and bombs attack on republican mourners at Milltown Cemetery.

In September 1972, an off-duty RUC officer shot and killed 18 year-old UDA man Robert Warnock as he attempted to rob the Hillfoot Bar on the edge of the Braniel estate.

And according to Charlie Freel, Cinnamond decided to avenge the young loyalist’s death by blowing up the Catholic-owned pub. Other sources insist it was simply because of the owner’s religion that it was singled out for attack.

“It was wrong for a police officer to shoot a loyalist dead and that’s why Sammy wanted it blown up.” said Freel.

A policeman spotted the Red Hand Commando team making good their escape. He recognised them and handed in their names.

All five were arrested and on 27 March 1973, they appeared in court charged with blowing up the Hillfoot Bar. They were each sent to prison for eight years.

But this week, pub bomber pensioner Charley Freel said he has no regrets about his role in forcing an Irish language group to scrap its plans to open a nursery in Braniel Primary School.

“It was a great victory and I did it for the loyalist people of the Braniel.” he said.