seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Coagh Ambush

coagh-county-tyroneThe Coagh ambush takes place in Coagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on June 3, 1991, during The Troubles, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) active service unit from its East Tyrone Brigade is ambushed by the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) while on its way to kill a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The ambush results in the deaths of all three IRA men involved.

The series of killings which lead to the Coagh ambush begin on April 26 1988, when a 23-year-old UDR soldier from Coagh, Edward Gibson, is shot dead by an IRA unit at Ardboe while at work for Cookstown Council on a bin lorry. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by murdering Phelim McNally, brother of local Sinn Féin councillor Francie McNally, on November 24, 1988. This is followed by an IRA attack upon a car maintenance garage business owned by retired UDR soldier Leslie Dallas on March 7, 1989, in which Dallas, along with two civilian pensioners that are in the premises at the time of the attack, are all murdered by machine gun fire from a passing vehicle, the IRA attackers driving off afterwards cheering as reported by eyewitnesses in the vicinity.

The tit-for-tat campaign around Coagh continues on November 29 1989, when UVF gunmen attack a pub owned by IRA member Liam Ryan, shooting Ryan dead. A customer in the premises is also killed in the incident. On March 8, 1990, part-time UDR soldier and construction worker Thomas Jamison is killed by the IRA in a gun and grenade ambush attack on a lorry he is driving near Donaghmore, while delivering concrete to a British Army base. On March 3, 1991, the Ulster Volunteer Force carries out an attack at the village of Cappagh, killing three IRA members. On April 9, 1991, the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade shoots dead Derek Ferguson in Coagh, a cousin of local Member of Parliament Reverend William McCrea, stating afterward that he was a paramilitary with the Ulster Volunteer Force. Ferguson’s family subsequently refutes that he had anything to do with Loyalist paramilitarism.

At 7:30 AM on June 3, 1991, three Tyrone IRA paramilitaries, Tony Doris (21), Michael “Pete” Ryan (37) and Lawrence McNally (39), drive a stolen Vauxhall Cavalier from Moneymore, County Londonderry to the village of Coagh, crossing the border of counties Londonderry and Tyrone, to kill a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, who is in his civilian life a contractor that works with the security forces. Their intent, however, is known to the British security forces, having been revealed by either a Crown agent within the IRA itself or from covert technical surveillance. In consequence a detachment from the British Army’s Special Air Service is lying in wait on both sides of Coagh’s main street, and also in a red Bedford lorry at the scene.

The stolen car is driven by Doris towards the centre of the village, its journey from Moneymore being tracked on the ground and in the air. At the scene of the ambush the British Army has set up a “decoy” target for the IRA to go for in the form of an SAS trooper who is pretending to be their intended victim, sitting in his car at a regular spot while waiting to pick up a friend on their way to work, which IRA intelligence had established as a behavioral pattern of their intended victim. When the stolen car carrying the IRA men approaches the scene, the Special Air Service detachment opens sustained automatic fire upon it from close range. Doris is immediately hit and the out-of-control car crashes into two nearby parked cars. The shooting continues until the car explodes in flames. According to an eyewitness, one of the IRA men in the car returns fire from within the vehicle after the crash.

Some reports claim at least two of the IRA men attempt to exit the crashed car and are subsequently found lying half out of its doors by the later police investigation of the scene. Relatives of the IRA men subsequently state that they had received information from the scene that two of the IRA attackers had fled on foot from the car after the crash, but had been pursued after and shot down by the British Army in the vicinity, with their bodies being taken back to the car, which is subsequently reported to be riddled with over 200 bullet holes. A Royal Ulster Constabulary crime-scene report states that a balaclava belonging to one of the IRA men is found some distance away from the vehicle.

The bodies of Doris, Ryan and McNally are badly burned and have to be identified by police using their dental records. Two rifles are recovered from within the burned-out stolen car and subsequent police forensic examination reveals that they had both been used in the multiple murders at Leslie Dallas’s garage in March 1989.

(Pictured: Looking towards Coagh village, from the County Londonderry side)


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Birth of Hunger Striker Edward Martin Hurson

edward-martin-hursonEdward Martin Hurson, Irish republican hunger striker and a volunteer in the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Cappagh, County Tyrone, on September 13, 1956.

Hurson is one of nine children born to Johnnie and Mary Ann Hurson. Both of his parents come from the Cappagh district, and every member of the family is born into the white-washed farmhouse perched precipitously on top of the thirty hilly acres of rough land. Martin is close to the land as he grows up. He is educated to a primary level at Crosscavanagh Primary School in Galbally and at secondary level in St. Patrick’s, Galbally. When he is not at school he is more often than not helping out about the farm, driving a tractor, helping to rear “croppy pigs,” or looking after cattle.

After leaving school, he works as an apprentice fitter welder for a while before going to Manchester, England where he stays for eighteen months with his brother Francis and works in the building trade. Returning to County Tyrone around Christmas of 1974, both he and his brother spend time in Bundoran, County Donegal, a known IRA training and supply centre.

Hurson, together with Kevin O’Brien, Dermot Boyle, Peter Kane, and Pat O’Neill are arrested and taken to the Omagh Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks on November 11, 1976. He is beaten about the head, back, and testicles, spread-eagled against a wall and across a table, slapped, punched, and kicked. Under torture Martin signs statements admitting involvement in republican activity. On Saturday night, November 13, Martin is charged with a landmine explosion at Galbally in November 1975.

This charge is later dropped, but he is then further charged with IRA membership and explosive offences. Hurson spends a year on remand before being convicted in November 1977 and sentenced to 20 years for possession of landmines and conspiracy. He appeals his conviction on the grounds that the judge had ignored medical evidence about his ill-treatment.

The appeal is dismissed but he is granted a retrial. At the four-day trial in September 1979, the Omagh statements are ruled inadmissible, but instead of Martin walking free the judge goes on to accept the admissibility of the Cookstown statements, themselves extracted under threat of renewed torture. Following his retrial he appeals his conviction once again, challenging the admissibility of the Cookstown statements, but his appeal is disallowed in June 1980.

Hurson becomes engaged to his long-term girlfriend, Bernadette Donnelly, while in prison. He is part of the blanket protest and joins the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike on May 28, replacing South Derryman Brendan McLaughlin who withdraws following a perforated stomach ulcer.

He loses the ability to hold down water after approximately 40 days on hunger strike, and suffers a horrifically agonising death due to dehydration at 4:30 AM on July 13, after only 46 days on hunger strike, considerably shorter than any other hunger striker. Near the end his family considers the possibility of intervening to save his life, but they are told that he will likely have permanent brain damage.


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Edward Martin Hurson Dies on Hunger Strike

edward-martin-hursonEdward Martin Hurson, a volunteer in the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on July 13, 1981, after 46 days on hunger strike.

Hurson, from Cappagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, is one of nine children born to Johnnie and Mary Ann Hurson. He is educated to a primary level at Crosscavanagh Primary School in Galbally and at secondary level in St. Patrick’s, Galbally.

After leaving school, he works as a welder for a while before going to England where he stays for eighteen months with his brother Francis and works in the building trade. Returning to County Tyrone at the end of 1974, both he and his brother spend time in Bundoran, County Donegal, a known IRA training and supply centre.

In November 1976, Hurson, together with Kevin O’Brien, Dermot Boyle, Peter Kane, and Pat O’Neill are arrested. Hurson is tried and convicted of involvement in three IRA landmine incidents, one at Cappagh in September, one at Galbally, County Tyrone in November 1975 and a third at Reclain in February 1976, when several members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment narrowly escape being killed. He receives concurrent sentences of twenty, fifteen, and five years for these convictions.

Hurson becomes engaged to his long-term girlfriend, Bernadette Donnelly, while in prison. He is part of the blanket protest and joins the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike on May 28, replacing Brendan McLaughlin who withdraws following a perforated stomach ulcer.

He loses the ability to hold down water after about 40 days on hunger strike, and dies of dehydration after only 46 days, considerably shorter than any other hunger striker (the next shortest is Francis Hughes at 59 days). Near the end, his family considers the possibility of intervening to save his life, but they are told that he would probably have permanent brain damage.