THE spectre of The Troubles in Ireland has always cast a dark shadow over Glasgow.

Despite the city’s close historical links, with both the north and south, most of the serious violence and terror has been kept at arm’s length.

However, 100 years ago there were fears that the then Irish War of Independence could erupt across Scotland’s biggest city.

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Glasgow Times:

That fear was realised when the IRA staged a daring daylight attempt to free one of their top commanders Frank Carty from a ­prison van.

It would result in the most violent shootout ever seen in Scotland with a police officer losing his life.

Carty, then only 24, was an Irish Republican Army commander, a close personal friend of charismatic Republican leader Michael Collins and considered one of the most dangerous men in Britain.

He had joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and took part in the Easter Rising of 1916, when the IRA took over Dublin’s main post office and held the British Army at bay.

After escaping from a Derry prison in February 1921, he had fled to the city where he was put up in a safe house.

However, thanks to a network of police informants Carty was arrested two months later in possession of a handgun.

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This caused serious embarrassment to local IRA members in Glasgow and they vowed to rescue him at all costs.

On May 4, 1921, Carty appeared at the Central Police Court on Turnbull Street in Glasgow, charged with the theft of a revolver and jail breaking.

He was remanded in custody pending his return to Ireland and transported to nearby Duke Street Prison.

Special precautions were taken as the City of Glasgow Police knew they had a prisoner of particular importance to the IRA.

Glasgow Times:

Glasgow Times:

The van holding Carty was driven by Detective Constable Thomas Ross, accompanied by Inspector Robert Johnston, Detective Sergeant George Stirton and Detective Constable Murdoch McDonald.

Johnston told his team as they left the court building to be on their guard, even though it was only a short journey.

Sadly, it was a fateful statement and among the last words he ever spoke.

The van continued up High Street towards Drygate and the entrance to Duke Street Prison.

When the prison van had almost reached the prison gate, opposite Rottenrow Hospital, a fusillade of shots rang out.

The officers in the front of the van saw that they were surrounded by about 13 men, in three groups, firing a variety of weapons at them.

The first fusillade shattered the windscreen, hitting Johnston.

The detective fell out of the van, tried to get up, and collapsed.

Stirton and McDonald emerged with revolvers blazing.

Standing over their fallen colleague, who they thought was still alive, they exchanged fire with the IRA men attacking from the front.

Stirton was wounded in the arm but he managed to keep firing.

Unarmed Ross leapt from the vehicle and grappled with a gunman.

The other IRA men had reached the rear of the vehicle, where they attempted to open the locked doors.

One fired a shot into the lock, but it served only to jam the ­mechanism.

He fired repeatedly through the doors, the bullets clattering off the metal interior, narrowly missing Carty.

By now, Stirton had realised the rear was under attack and bravely confronted the gunmen. But as he attempted to fire on them, the weapon fell from his badly wounded hand.

Facing several armed men, the policeman expected to die.

But instead of shooting him, the IRA men fled at what was later thought to be a prearranged signal.

As they dispersed through lanes and tenement closes, Stirton gave chase until he collapsed through loss of blood.

By now, other officers were arriving, followed by doctors from the nearby Royal Infirmary, who tried to revive Johnston. The officer was put in a baker’s van and raced to hospital, but he was dead.

Inside the van, Carty ducked down inside the narrow cage where he was being held, waiting to be liberated.

However, Ross got back into the black van and drove it to the Duke Street jail, where prison staff used cutting equipment to open the vehicle’s doors and released a bemused Carty.

But the incident was far from over.

Word had spread of the bid to free Carty and pro-Republican crowds began to gather in the East End of the city.

Soldiers from Maryhill barracks had to be deployed to protect the police from the gathering mobs, particularly in the Calton and ­Gallowgate areas.

The police were attacked when they arrested three priests at St Mary’s Presbytery House, Abercromby Street.

Bottles and stones were thrown and the mob laid siege to the ­Eastern Police Office in Tobago Street, until they were dispersed by reinforcements.

As day turned into night the sky was illuminated by bonfires and 2000 rioters were milling around Gallowgate, attacking trams, smashing windows and looting shops.

Glasgow Times:

The City of Glasgow Police picked up 37 suspects – including six women – and recovered a haul of 50 handguns, dozens of rifles, boxes of ammunition and gelignite explosive.

Thirteen were formally charged with murder, attempted murder and attempting to free Carty and sent to the High Court in Edinburgh for trial.

It opened on August 8, 1921, before a jury of seven men and eight women. The Solicitor General, Scotland’s second most senior prosecutor, conducted the case for the Crown.

The trial lasted 11 days and ended with the jurors accepting the alibis given by the accused against the eyewitnesses’ accounts of detectives like Stirton.

Six were found not guilty and the others were not proven.

There would be no justice for Johnston or his family.

Carty had long since returned to Ireland where he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

But he would spend only a few months in jail, before being released following a peace treaty with the British Government.

Carty would go on to enjoy an illustrious political career, elected to the Irish Parliament in eight successive General Elections until his death in office in 1942. He had also qualified as a barrister in 1936.

Johnston, who was 42 years of age and had served in the Glasgow Police for 19 years, was buried at Balmaghie Churchyard, Galloway, on May 7, 1921, leaving a widow and two sons.

During the investigation, Detective Superintendent Andrew Nisbet Keith received a letter from the Glasgow Brigade of the IRA warning he would be shot if he didn’t stop searching the houses of Irish people.

The threats against Keith were never carried out and he went on to be Chief Constable of Lanarkshire, retiring in 1946 and the death threat letter is now on display in the Glasgow Police Museum.

Stirton retired at the rank of ­Detective Inspector in 1936.

McDonald became Assistant Chief Constable of Lanarkshire Constabulary, retiring in 1946.

Former Inspector Alistair Dinsmor MBE, who is curator of the Glasgow Police Museum, said the men in the van who fought the ­gunmen should have been rewarded for their bravery.

He said: “There’s no doubt that both DS Stirton and DC McDonald displayed selfless bravery and devotion to duty in repelling the attack on the prison van when outnumbered by more than six to one.

“My admiration for these men is only exceeded by my incredulity that they were not awarded the then King’s Police Medal for Gallantry.

“It’s likely that this was due to the highly political aspects of the case, but it does not absolve the government of the day from failing to acknowledge the outstanding bravery of these two officers.”

Ironically the decision to free Carty in a shootout did not have the approval of the IRA high command including Collins.

Another senior figure, Charles McGuinness, had planned to liberate his comrade by hijacking the ship transporting Carty back to Ireland, using a team of six armed men and killing the police if necessary.

But his Glasgow colleagues ­favoured the more direct approach of an armed assault on the prison van. McGuinness warned that such a ploy was high risk and doomed to failure.

However, the Glaswegian IRA members believed it would galvanise support for Republicanism in the city – and bring the struggle for Irish independence to Scotland.

McGuinness however decided to have nothing to do with the scheme and headed back across the water.