The Border Campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it in the 1940s.
The campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by approximately 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours of December 12, 1956. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt, a B-Specials post near Newry is burned, and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.
On December 14, an IRA column under Seán Garland detonates four bombs outside Lisnaskea Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) station before raking it with gunfire. Further attacks on Derrylin and Roslea RUC barracks on the same day are beaten off.
On the evening of December 30, 1956, the Teeling Column attacks the Derrylin RUC barracks again, killing RUC constable John Scally, the first fatality of the campaign. The new year of 1957 begins with Seán Garland and Dáithí Ó Conaill planning an attack on the Police station at Brookeborough but they assault the wrong building. Two IRA men, Seán South and Fergal O’Hanlon, are killed in the abortive attack. Garland is seriously wounded in the raid. He and the remainder of the group are pursued back over the border by British soldiers.
The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. In November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb, which explodes prematurely, in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.
By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated with many within the IRA in favour of calling the campaign off. By mid-year, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned. The decline in IRA activity leads the Fianna Fáil government in the South to end internment in March 1959.
Following their release, some of the interned leaders met Seán Cronin in a farmhouse in County Laois and are persuaded to continue the campaign “to keep the flame alive.” The number of incidents falls to just 26 in 1960, with many of these actions consisting of minor acts of sabotage.
The final fatality of the conflict comes in November 1961, when an RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh.
By late 1961, the campaign is over and has cost the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters, and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during the campaign and another 150 or so in the Republic.
The Campaign is officially called off on February 26, 1962, with a press release drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and several other persons including members of the Army Council. The statement is released by the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau and signed “J. McGarrity, Secretary.”