seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Ballygawley Land Mine Attack

ballygawley-land-mine-attackThe Ballygawley land mine attack is a bomb attack carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on July 13, 1983. The IRA explodes a land mine under an Ulster Defense Regiment‘s (UDR) mobile patrol at Ballygawley Road, near Dungannon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Four UDR soldiers are killed in the incident.

After the 1981 Irish hunger strike, floods of recruits sign up to join the IRA. Republicans in County Tyrone are especially angry over the death of Martin Hurson who was from the small Tyrone village of Cappagh and was one of Cappagh’s most famous sons. Cappagh becomes a Republican stronghold in the 1980s. Many young men flock to join the East Tyrone Brigade to avenge Hurson’s death. Some of those who join after being radicalized by the Hunger Strike go onto become famous IRA Volunteers like Declan Arthurs and Martin McCaughey who were both small children when the conflict broke out in 1969.

Sinn Féin member Francie Molloy said the following on Hurson’s funeral and the effect his death had on the young people of Cappagh:

“There was people everywhere. The village was black with them. It was the first sign in Tyrone of thousands and thousands of people assembling to honor the remains of a native son coming home. Martin was young when he went to jail and young when died on hunger strike. His death just made young people more determined that they were going to replace him. They saw ten men dead as the British government taking people out of the struggle. I think the young people of Cappagh and surrounding areas decided there and then that they were going to replace every one of them and replace them tenfold. And that is what they did. The number of young people who joined up in response was massive.”

On July 13, 1983, four British Army (Ulster Defence Regiment) soldiers (Ronald Alexander, Thomas Harron, John Roxborough, and Oswald Neely), all Protestant members of the 6th Battalion UDR, are travelling in their mobile patrol along a road in Tyrone close to the small town of Ballygawley. IRA Volunteers from the East Tyrone Brigade plant a 500 lb. land mine along the road the UDR patrol is traveling. The IRA unit notices the UDR takes a similar route every so often and has spotted weakness in the patrol. The IRA Volunteers are watching the UDR patrol while being well hidden. Once the UDR patrol is close to the land mine the IRA Volunteers detonate the land mine by remote control killing the four UDR soldiers almost immediately. This is the highest casualty rate suffered by the UDR in a single incident during The Troubles and worst attack suffered by the security forces since 1981. The attack is carried out by an Active Service Unit (ASU) of the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade which is one of the most active and successful Brigade areas in the IRA during the 1980s.

Within five years the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade launches two more high-profile attacks in Ballygawley. In 1985, during the Attack on Ballygawley barracks, an IRA unit led by Patrick Joseph Kelly and Jim Lynagh attacks the Ballygawley RUC barracks, shooting dead two RUC officers who are at the front of the station. A 200 lb. bomb destroys the entire barracks and injures three more RUC officers. In 1988, the IRA kills eight British soldiers and injures twenty-eight others during the Ballygawley bus bombing. Many Republicans see this as revenge for the Loughgall ambush the year before when the Special Air Service (SAS) shot dead eight IRA Volunteers.


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Death of IRA Volunteer Séamus McElwaine

seamus-turlough-mcelwaineSéamus Turlough McElwaine, a volunteer in the South Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), is killed on April 26, 1986 by the Special Air Service (SAS) while on active duty with Seán Lynch, who is seriously injured in the shooting.

McElwaine is born on April 1, 1960, the oldest of eight children, in the townland of Knockacullion, beside the hamlet and townland of Knockatallon, near the village of Scotstown in the north of County Monaghan. At the age of 14, he takes his first steps towards becoming involved in physical force republicanism when he joins Na Fianna Éireann. Two years later he turns down an opportunity to study in the United States and joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), stating “no one will ever be able to accuse me of running away.”

McElwaine becomes Officer Commanding of the IRA in County Fermanagh by the age of 19. On February 5, 1980, he kills off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) corporal Aubrey Abercrombie as he drives a tractor in the townland of Drumacabranagher, near Florencecourt. Later that year, on September 23, he kills off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston outside his home in Rosslea. He is suspected of involvement in at least ten other killings.

On March 14, 1981, a detachment of the British Army surrounds a farmhouse near Rosslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrender and are arrested. While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, McElwaine stands in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and receives 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote). In May 1982 he is convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a “dangerous killer” and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.

On September 25, 1983, McElwaine is involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. Thirty-eight republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the prison. After the escape McElwaine joins an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh. The unit targets police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.

McElwaine holds a meeting with Pádraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, members of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, in which they discuss forming a flying column aimed at destroying police stations to create IRA-controlled zones within Northern Ireland. However, this plan never materialises. McKearney and Lynagh are later themselves killed in the Loughgall ambush.

On April 26, 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Seán Lynch, are preparing to ambush a British Army patrol near Rosslea, County Fermanagh when they are ambushed themselves by a detachment from the Special Air Service Regiment. Both are wounded but Lynch manages to crawl away. A January 1993 inquest jury returns a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury rules the soldiers had opened fire without giving him a chance to surrender, and that he was shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requests a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but no one has been prosecuted for McElwaine’s death.

McElwaine is buried in Scotstown, with his funeral attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gives an oration describing McElwaine as “a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country” and “an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists.”

In 1987 McElwaine’s father, Jimmy, a longtime member of Monaghan County Council, became the chairman of the Séamus McElwain Cumann of Republican Sinn Féin.

On April 1, 1990 a monument to McElwaine is erected in Corlat, County Monaghan. The oration is given by a Catholic priest, Father Piaras Ó Dúill, who compares McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle. The inscription on the monument is a quote from Patrick Pearse: “As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.” A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans is erected in Rosslea in 1998, and unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.