The Loughgall ambush takes place on May 8, 1987 in the village of Loughgall, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. An eight-man unit of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launch an attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base in the village.
The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade is active mainly in eastern County Tyrone and neighbouring parts of County Armagh. By the mid-1980s it had become one of the IRA’s most aggressive formations. The British security forces receive intelligence of the IRA’s plan weeks prior to the attack and learn the target at least 10 days before the attack. It has been alleged that the security forces had a double agent inside the IRA unit, and that he was killed by the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) during the ambush. Other sources claim that the security forces had instead learned of the ambush through other surveillance methods.
Three local RUC officers work at the station, which is only open part-time, from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM, and from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM daily.The IRA’s attack involves two teams. One team is to drive a digger with a bomb in its bucket through the base’s perimeter fence and light the fuse. At the same time, another team is to arrive in a van and open fire on the base, with the intent of killing the three RUC officers as they come off duty.
The IRA unit arrives in Loughgall from the northeast shortly after 7:00 PM, when the station is scheduled to close for the night. They are armed and wearing bulletproof vests, boilersuits, gloves and balaclavas. The digger drives past the police station, turns around and drives back again with the Toyota van carrying the main IRA assault party doing the same. Not seeing any activity in the station, members of the IRA unit feel that something is amiss and debate whether to continue, but decide to go ahead with the attack. Tony Gormley and Gerard O’Callaghan get out of the van and join Declan Arthurs on the digger. At about 7:15 PM Arthurs drives the digger towards the station with the front bucket containing 300–400 lbs. of Semtex inside an oil drum, partially hidden by rubble and wired to two 40-second fuses. The other five members of the unit follow in the van with Eugene Kelly driving, unit commander Patrick Kelly in the passenger seat, with unit commander Jim Lynagh, Pádraig McKearney, and Seamus Donnelly in the back seat.
The digger crashes through the light security fence and the fuses are lit. The van stops a short distance ahead and, according to the British security forces, three of the team jump out and fire on the building with automatic weapons. At the same time, the bomb detonates, the blast destroying the digger and badly damaging the building.
Within seconds the SAS opens fire on the IRA attackers from the station and from hidden positions outside. All eight IRA members are killed in the hail of gunfire, each with multiple wounds to their bodies. Declan Arthurs is shot in a lane-way opposite Loughgall F.C. premises. Three of the IRA members are shot at close range as they lay either dead or wounded on the ground. Three other IRA members in the scout cars escape from the scene, managing to pass through British Army and RUC checkpoints set up after the ambush had been sprung. The two RUC Headquarters Mobile Support Unit (HMSU) officers are injured in the explosion and an SAS soldier receives a facial injury from glass after a window is broken by gunfire.
Two civilians, brothers Anthony and Oliver Hughes, traveling in a car that happens to drive into the scene of the ambush while it is underway are also fired upon by the British forces. Oliver is wearing overalls similar to those being worn by the IRA unit. About 130 yards from the police station, British soldiers open fire on their car from behind, killing Anthony and badly wounding Oliver. The villagers had not been told of the operation and no attempt had been made to evacuate anyone or to seal off the ambush zone, as this might have alerted the IRA.
The security forces recover eight IRA firearms from the scene. The RUC links the weapons to seven known murders and twelve attempted murders in the Mid-Ulster region. On of the weapons, a Ruger Security-Six, had been stolen from Reserve RUC officer William Clement, killed two years earlier in the IRA attack on Ballygawley RUC base. It is found that another of the guns had been used in the murder of Harold Henry, a builder employed by the British Army and RUC in facilities construction in Northern Ireland.
(Pictured: Mural commemorating the IRA members killed in the ambush)