seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Declan Arthurs, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Declan Arthurs, a Volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) East Tyrone Brigade in the mid-1980s, is born in Galbally, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on October 28, 1965.

Arthurs is one of six children, and the fourth of Paddy and Amelia Arthurs. He works on the family farm learning how to drive diggers. He works as an agricultural contractor for the farm. He has one young daughter.

Arthurs joins the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional IRA in 1982 in the wake of Martin Hurson‘s death on the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Hurson is also from Galbally like Arthurs, and Arthurs and his friends look up to Hurson. At the time he joins so do other young men from the same area, like Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Seamus Donnelly and Martin McCaughey.

Over a year and a half year period in the mid-1980s the East Tyrone Brigade attacks and bombs Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks and stations in Ballygawley, Tynan, The Birches, Coalisland, Dungannon, Carrickmore and Castlederg. They bomb hotels and other businesses in Kildress, Ballyronan, Dungannon and Cookstown.

Arthurs takes part in two of the IRA’s biggest attacks of the 1980s. At the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985 and the attack on the RUC Birches barracks in August 1986, Arthurs is a key member of the team who drives a digger past a security fence, stops it outside the barracks, lights a fuse, runs to safety and wrecks the barracks with a 200-pound bomb in the JCB Digger.

Arthurs is killed along with seven other IRA Volunteers who are ambushed by the Special Air Service (SAS) during the Loughgall Ambush on May 8, 1987. Before the SAS fires he lights the 40-second fuse on the bomb and it destroys most of the station, injuring a number of British decoys inside. The Loughgall ambush is supposed to be a carbon copy attack of the bombing of The Birches barracks, with the IRA expecting no resistance. One of the photos of the aftermath of the ambush shows that Arthurs died with the Zippo lighter he used to light the fuse still in his hand.

Amelia Arthurs, Declan’s mother, says of the ambush in an interview to journalist Peter Taylor, “He was mowed down. He could have been taken prisoner. They knew that the ‘boys’ were coming and they lay in wait. The SAS never gave them a chance. Declan died for his country and I’m very proud of him. He was caught up in a war and he died.”

Arthurs is buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Galbally, beside IRA Volunteer Seamus Donnelly who also died in the Loughgall ambush.


Leave a comment

The Birches RUC Base Attack

The East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at The Birches near Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on August 11, 1986. The unmanned base is raked with gunfire before being destroyed by a 200-pound (91 kg) bomb, which is driven through the gate of the base in the bucket of a JCB digger.

In 1985 the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade, commanded by Patrick J. Kelly, begins a campaign of destroying remote RUC stations and preventing anyone from rebuilding them, to create no-go zones. On December 7, 1985 it launches an attack on the RUC barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, destroying the base and killing two RUC officers.

On January 22, 1986 the East Tyrone Brigade fires mortars at the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) base in Dungannon, County Tyrone, injuring two UDR soldiers and damaging the base. Just over a week later, on February 1, it carries out a large van bomb attack on the RUC base at Coalisland, County Tyrone, damaging the base and several houses and shops.

The Birches base attack is a complex attack that involves several units, including teams of lookouts, an armed team and bomb-makers as well as a team to carry out a diversionary attack. A diversionary bomb attack is staged at Pomeroy to draw security forces away from the real target at the Birches. Another team hijacks a JCB digger, getaway vehicles and scout cars at Washing Bay.

The digger is used to deliver the bomb to its target. The IRA does not expect any resistance as the RUC station is unmanned at the time of the attack. The IRA first rakes the base with automatic gunfire while the digger, with the bomb in its bucket, is driven through the high wire perimeter fence which had been constructed to protect the base from grenade or mortar attack. The digger is most likely driven by young IRA volunteer Declan Arthurs from Galbally, County Tyrone, who has experience driving diggers on his family’s farm. A volunteer then lights a fuse and the bomb explodes after the IRA hads retreated to safety in a waiting van. The blast destroys most of the base and also damages nearby buildings, blowing the roof off a pub across the road. The IRA team then makes its getaway. According to journalist Mark Urban, the armed members of the unit evade British security force roadblocks by escaping in a boat across Lough Neagh.

About 35 people are reportedly involved in the Birches attack, from planning, executing the attack and creating an escape route. A partially-disabled American tourist and six local civilians are slightly injured in the blast.

A member of the British security forces tells Mark Urban of the attack: “The Birches RUC station was destroyed by the bomb, creating problems for the authorities about how to re-build it. The Tyrone IRA was able to combine practical skills such as bomb-making and the welding needed to make mortars with considerable resources. Its members went on operations carrying the latest assault rifles and often wore body-armour similar to that used by the security forces, giving them protection against pistol or sub-machine-gun fire. By 1987 they had also succeeded in obtaining night-sights, allowing them to aim weapons or observe their enemy in darkness.”

The IRA unit’s next major target is the RUC station at Loughgall, which is attacked in the same manner. This operation is a disaster for the IRA as the IRA unit is ambushed by the Special Air Service (SAS). The entire IRA unit of eight, along with a Catholic civilian, are shot dead. Many of those IRA volunteers killed at Loughgall had taken part in the Birches attack, like Pádraig McKearney, Jim Lynagh and Patrick J. Kelly.


Leave a comment

Birth of Jim Lynagh, Member of the East Tyrone Brigade, Provisional IRA

Jim Lynagh, member of the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), one of twelve children, is born on the Tully Estate, a housing estate in the townland of Killygowan on the southern edge of Monaghan, County Monaghan, on April 13, 1956.

Lynagh joins the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the early 1970s. In December 1973 he is badly injured in a premature bomb explosion, arrested, and spends five years in the Maze Prison. While imprisoned, he studies and becomes a great admirer of Mao Zedong. After his release from prison in 1979 he is elected as a Sinn Féin councillor for Monaghan, and holds this position until he is killed.

After his release from prison Lynagh becomes active in the IRA again, active with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He quickly becomes a unit commander and gradually builds up his ruthless reputation. After a series of Ulster loyalist attacks against Irish nationalist politicians in late 1980 and early 1981, he is suspected of involvement in an attack on the Stronge estate near Middletown, County Armagh, where the IRA murdered the retired Ulster Unionist Party Stormont speaker, Sir Norman Stronge, and his son James, a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer, before burning down their home, Tynan Abbey, and shooting their way out through a police cordon.

Lynagh is known as “The Executioner” by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He is arrested and interrogated many times by the Garda Síochána in County Monaghan but is never charged. During this period he devises a Maoist military strategy, aimed at escalating the war against the British state in Northern Ireland. The plan envisages the destruction of police stations and British Army military bases in parts of Northern Ireland to create “liberated” areas that will be thereby rendered under the domination of the IRA. In 1984 he starts co-operating with Pádraig McKearney who shares his views. The strategy begins materialising with the destruction of an RUC police station in Ballygawley in December 1985 which kills two police officers, and in The Birches in August 1986.

Lynagh is killed by the British Army’s Special Air Service on May 8, 1987 during an attack on the isolated rural part-time police station at the small County Armagh village of Loughgall, the third such attack that he had taken part in. During the incident the IRA detonates a 200-lb. bomb, and attacks the station with automatic weapons, and in the process are ambushed by the British Army which is lying in wait for them, having been forewarned of the IRA operation. All eight of the IRA attacking force are killed in the exchange of fire, the British forces involved incurring no fatalities. The incident subsequently becomes known as the Loughgall ambush.

At the time of his death, Lynagh is living in a flat on Dublin Street in Monaghan. He is buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery (Latlurcan Cemetery) in Monaghan. During his funeral, as his coffin is carried through the village of Emyvale, Irish Garda Síochána officers are attacked by the crowd of mourners after they pursue three gunmen who had fired a volley over his coffin.


Leave a comment

Birth of Pádraig McKearney, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Pádraig Oliver McKearney, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary volunteer, is born on December 18, 1954.

McKearney is raised in Moy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, in a staunchly Irish republican family. Both his grandfathers had fought in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, his maternal grandfather in south County Roscommon and his paternal grandfather in east County Tyrone. He is educated at local Catholic schools in Collegeland, County Armagh, and Moy, and later goes to St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon.

McKearney joins the Provisional IRA and is first arrested in 1972 on charges of blowing up the post office in Moy. He spends six weeks on remand, but is released due to insufficient evidence. In December 1973 he is arrested again and later sentenced to seven years for possession of a rifle. He is imprisoned in Long Kesh Detention Centre and later in Magilligan Prison. During this time, a younger brother, Seán, also an IRA paramilitary, is killed on May 13, 1974. He is released in 1977 but is sentenced to 14 years in August 1980 after being caught by the British Army with a loaded Sten gun along with fellow IRA member Gerard O’Callaghan. That same year an older brother, Tommy McKearney, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier who worked as a postman in 1977, nearly dies on hunger strike after refusing food for 53 days. Another brother, Kevin, and an uncle, Jack McKearney, are both murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries in revenge attacks upon the family.

On September 25, 1983 McKearney takes part in the Maze Prison escape along with 37 other prisoners. At the beginning of 1984 he rejoins IRA activity in his native East Tyrone with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He advocates the commencement of the “third phase” of the armed struggle, the ‘strategic defensive,’ in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Ulster Defence Regiment and British Army would be denied all support in selected areas following repeated attacks on their bases. In 1985 Patrick Kelly becomes commander of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade and it is under his leadership that this strategy is pursued. Remote Royal Ulster Constabulary bases are attacked and destroyed, and building contractors who try to repair them are targeted and sometimes murdered, as occurs with the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985, which results in the death of two policemen, and The Birches police station in August 1986.

McKearney is shot dead by the British Army on May 8, 1987 during an IRA attack that he is taking part in upon Loughgall police station, which also claims the lives of seven other IRA members. His body is buried at his hometown of Moy.


Leave a comment

The Derryard Checkpoint Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks a British Army permanent vehicle checkpoint complex manned by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) near the Northern IrelandRepublic of Ireland border at Derryard, north of Rosslea, County Fermanagh, on December 13, 1989.

According to journalist Ed Moloney, the IRA Army Council, suspecting a great deal of infiltration by double agents at the grassroots level of the IRA, decide to form an experimental flying column (rather than the usual active service unit) to mount a large-scale operation against a permanent vehicle checkpoint along the border. It hopes that this will prevent any information leak that might result in another fiasco like the Loughgall Ambush of 1987.

Moloney maintains that the planning is in the charge of Thomas Murphy, alleged leader of the South Armagh Brigade, and that the raid is to be led by East Tyrone Brigade member Michael “Pete” Ryan. Journalist Ian Bruce instead claims that the IRA unit is led by an Irish citizen who had served in the Parachute Regiment, citing intelligence sources. The column is made up of about 20 experienced IRA volunteers from throughout Northern Ireland, eleven of whom are to carry out the attack itself. Bruce reports that IRA members from County Monaghan, supported by local Fermanagh militants, carry out the raid.

The target is a permanent vehicle checkpoint at Derryard. Described as a “mini base,” it includes an accommodation block and defensive sangars. It is manned by eight soldiers of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers and a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. The eleven IRA members are driven to the checkpoint in the back of a makeshift Bedford armoured dumper truck. They are armed with 7.62mm AK-47s, 5.56mm ArmaLite AR-18s, two 12.7mm DShK heavy machine-guns, RPG-7s, different kinds of grenades, and a LPO-50 flamethrower. The heavy machine guns and the flamethrower are mounted on a tripod on the lorry bed. To assure widespread destruction, the column plan to detonate a van bomb after the initial assault.

The attack takes place shortly after 4:00 PM. IRA members seal off roads leading to the checkpoint in an attempt to prevent civilians from getting caught up in the attack. The truck is driven from the border and halted at the checkpoint. As Private James Houston begins to check the back of the truck, the IRA open fire with assault rifles and throw grenades into the compound. Two RPG-7s are fired at the observation sangar while the flamethrower stream is directed at the command sangar. Heavy shooting continues as the truck reverses and smashes through the gates of the compound. At least three IRA volunteers dismount inside the checkpoint and spray the portacabins with gunfire and the flamethrower’s fire stream, while throwing grenades and nail bombs. The defenders are forced to seek shelter in sangars, from where they fire into their own base. A farmer some distance away sees an orange ball of flames and hears gunfire ‘raking the fields.’ As the truck drives out of the now wrecked compound, a red transit van loaded with a 400-lb. (182 kg) bomb is driven inside and set to detonate once the IRA unit has made its escape. However, only the booster charge explodes.

The attack is finally repulsed by a four-men Borderers section from the checkpoint that is patrolling nearby, with the support of a Westland Wessex helicopter. The patrol fires more than 100 rounds at the IRA unit. The Wessex receives gunfire and is forced to take evasive action. The IRA column, at risk of being surrounded, flee toward the border in the armoured truck. It is found abandoned at the border with a 460-lb. (210 kg) bomb on board.

Two soldiers are killed in the attack: Private James Houston (22) from England and Lance-Corporal Michael Patterson (21) from Scotland. Corporal Whitelaw is badly wounded by shrapnel and later airlifted for treatment. Another soldier suffers minor injuries.

There is outrage in Westminster and among unionists, as a supposedly well-defended border post has been overrun by the IRA and two soldiers killed. On the other hand, according to Moloney, there is also some disappointment among republicans. Despite the positive propaganda effect, the quick and strong reaction from the outpost’s defenders convince some high-ranking IRA members that the Army Council has been infiltrated by a mole.

KOSB officers and security sources believe that the IRA unit involved was not locally recruited, putting the blame instead on IRA members from Clogher, County Tyrone and South Monaghan in the Republic. The same sources say that the attack was executed “in true backside-or-bust Para style.”

After the action of Derryard, the British Army in Northern ireland are issued the French designed Luchaire 40mm rifle grenade, fitted on the muzzle of the SA80 rifle. This gives the troops a lightweight armour piercing capability to deal with the threat imposed by improvised armoured vehicles. Permanent checkpoints along the border are also fitted with general-purpose machine guns. From 1990 until the end of the IRA campaign in 1997, there are a number of further bloodless, small-scale attacks against permanent vehicle checkpoints along this part of the border using automatic weapons, particularly in County Fermanagh and against a military outpost at Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.

Two soldiers, Corporal Robert Duncan and Lance Corporal Ian Harvey, are bestowed the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), while Lance-Corporal Patterson receives a posthumous mention in dispatches for his actions during the attack. The checkpoint is dismantled in March 1991, as part of a major border security re-arrangement codenamed Operation Mutilate.

(Pictured: Republican memorial at Carragunt bridge, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, often crossed by Provisional IRA forces during the Troubles to attack British targets inside County Fermanagh)


Leave a comment

The Ballygawley Barracks Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches an assault on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on December 7, 1985. Two RUC officers are shot dead and the barracks are raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a bomb, which wounds an additional three officers.

In 1985, Patrick Kelly becomes leader of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He, along with East Tyrone Brigade members Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, advocate using flying columns to destroy isolated British Army and RUC bases and stop them from being repaired. The goal is to create and hold “liberated zones” under IRA control that will be gradually enlarged. Although IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna turns down the flying column idea, IRA Northern Command approves the plan to destroy bases and prevent their repair. In 1985 alone there are 44 such attacks. Among the most devastating is the mortar attack on Newry RUC barracks in March.

The Ballygawley attack involves two IRA active service units from the East Tyrone Brigade: an armed assault unit and a bomb unit. There are also several teams of IRA observers in the area. The assault team is armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, while the bombing unit is responsible for planting and detonating a 100-pound (45 kg) bomb. Both units are commanded by Patrick Kelly.

The assault is launched on Saturday, December 7, at 6:55 PM, when the handful of RUC officers manning the base are getting ready to hand over to the next shift. In the first burst of automatic fire, the two guards at the entrance are killed, Constable George Gilliland and Reserve Constable William Clements. Constable Clements’s Ruger Security-Six revolver is taken by the attackers. The base is then raked with gunfire. Another three RUC officers who are inside run out to the back of the base, where they hope the walls might offer some cover. IRA members go into the building and take documents and weapons. The bomb is placed inside and, upon detonation, destroys the entire base, injuring three officers.

The republican IRIS Magazine (#11, October 1987) describes the attack as follows:

“One volunteer took up a position close to the front gate. Two RUC men opened the gate and the volunteer calmly stepped forward, shooting them both dead at point blank range. Volunteers firing AK-47 and Armalite rifles moved into the barracks, raking it with gunfire. Having secured the building they planted a 100-lb. bomb inside. The bomb exploded, totally destroying the building after the volunteers had withdrawn to safety.”

The first British Army unit to arrive at the base in the wake of the attack is X Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The attack is one of the Provisional IRA’s biggest during this period. Twelve days later the same IRA brigade mortar the RUC station at Castlederg badly damaging the base and injuring four people. The Ballygawley base is rebuilt by the Royal Engineers in 1986.

The East Tyrone IRA launches two similar attacks in the following years: the successful attack on the Birches base in 1986, and the ill-fated attack on the Loughgall base in 1987, in which eight IRA members are killed. Ballygawley itself had seen conflict before with the Ballygawley land mine attack in 1983, and would see more violence in 1988 with the Ballygawley bus bombing, that cost the lives of eight British soldiers. The gun taken from Constable Clements is found by security forces after the SAS ambush at Loughgall.

The RUC base at Ballygawley is once again targeted by the East Tyrone Brigade on December 7, 1992, in what becomes the debut of the IRA’s brand new Mark-15 improvised mortar, better known as “Barrack Buster.” Another attack with a horizontal mortar occurs on April 30, 1993, when a RUC mobile patrol leaving Ballygawley compound is targeted. According to an IRA statement, the projectile misses one of the vehicles, hits a wall and explodes.

(Pictured: A Provisional Irish Republican Army badge, with the phoenix symbolising the origins of the Provisional IRA)


Leave a comment

The Loughgall Ambush

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)


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.