Joe McCann (2 November 1947 – 15 April 1972) was an Irish republican volunteer. A member of the Irish Republican Army and later the Official Irish Republican Army, he was active in politics from the early 1960s and participated in the early years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
He was born in the Lower Falls area of Belfast, and spent most of his life there and in the nearby Markets area of the city. His mother died when he was four years old leaving, four children. His father remarried. He was educated at the Christian Brothers school on Barrack Street in Belfast, where he developed an interest in the Irish language. A bricklayer by trade, he joined the Fianna Éireann at age 14 and the IRA in the early 1960s.
In 1964 he was involved in a riot on Divis Street in Belfast in opposition to the threat from loyalist leader Ian Paisley to march on the area and remove an Irish tricolour flying over the election office of Billy McMillen. In 1965 he was arrested for the possession of bayonets with five other men. They served nine months in Crumlin Road jail. He had expressed an interest in the priesthood while a teenager. He joined the Third Order of Saint Francis in his later teens.
McCann was active in the IRA’s involvement in the civil rights activism, protesting against the development of the Divis Flats. McCann became Officer Commanding of the IRA in the Markets, involved in housing issues and any matters which related to local government.
McCann married Anne McKnight who hailed from a strong republican family in the Markets area in Belfast. Anne’s older brother, Bobby, was part of the 1956–62 border campaign and was arrested and jailed, as well as later being interned. Anne’s brother Seán sided with the Provisionals after the 1969 split, and went on to represent South Belfast for Sinn Féin.
McCann was appointed commander of the OIRA’s Third Belfast Battalion. By 1970, violence in Northern Ireland had escalated to the point where British soldiers were deployed there in large numbers. From 3–5 July 1970, McCann was involved in gun battles during the Falls Curfew between the Official IRA and up to 3,000 British soldiers in the Lower Falls area that left four civilians dead from gunshot wounds, another killed after being hit by an armoured car and 60 injured.
On 22 May 1971, the first British soldier to die at the hands of the Official IRA, Robert Bankier of the Royal Green Jackets was killed by a unit led by McCann. McCann’s unit opened fire on a passing British mobile patrol near Cromac Square, hitting the patrol from both sides. He was the fourth British soldier to die on active service & the seventh overall since the conflict began.
In another incident, McCann led a unit which captured three UVF members in Sandy Row. The UVF had raided an OIRA arms dump earlier that day and the OIRA announced they would execute the three prisoners if the weapons were not returned. McCann eventually released the three UVF members, allegedly because they were “working class men”.
The action allowed other IRA members to slip out of the area and avoid arrest. He was photographed during the incident, holding an M1 carbine, against the background of a burning building and the Starry Plough flag.
In early February 1972, he was involved in the attempted assassination of Ulster Unionist politician and Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs John Taylor in Armagh City, outside the then Hibernian Bank on Russell Street. McCann and another gunman fired on Taylor’s car with Thompson submachine guns, hitting him five times in the neck and head; he survived, though he was badly injured. In another incident MaCann and another man were standing outside a Belfast cinema to purchase tickets for the film Soldier Blue when McCann spotted a British Army checkpoint.
McCann was killed on 15 April 1972 in Joy Street in The Markets, in disputed circumstances. He had been sent to Belfast by a member of the Dublin command as he was at the top of the RUC Special Branch wanted list. He was told by the Official IRA Belfast command to return for his own safety to Dublin. However he ignored their requests and remained in Belfast.
The RUC Special Branch was aware of his presence in Belfast and were on the look out for him. On the morning of his death, he was spotted by an RUC officer who reported his whereabouts to the British Parachute Regiment, who were carrying out a road block in the immediate area at the time. McCann was approached by the RUC officer who informed him that he was under arrest. McCann was unarmed and tried to run to evade arrest when confronted by the soldiers. He was shot dead at the corner of Joy Street and Hamilton Street after a chase on foot through the Markets.
McCann was hit 3 times according to the pathology report, the fatal shot hitting him in the buttock and passing up through his internal organs. Ten cartridge cases were found close to his body, indicating that he had been shot repeatedly at close range. Bullet holes were also visible in the walls of nearby houses.
McCann was the leader of the most militant of the OIRA’s members in Belfast and was much more enthusiastic about the use of “armed struggle” in Northern Ireland than the OIRA leadership. His killing was closely followed by the organisation calling a ceasefire. As a result, it was rumoured that the reason that McCann was unarmed when he was killed was that the Official leadership had confiscated his personal weapon, a .38 pistol.
Some former OIRA members have even alleged that McCann’s killing was set up by their Dublin leadership.
Five days of rioting followed his death. Turf Lodge, where McCann lived, was a no-go area and was openly patrolled by an OIRA land rover with the words “Official IRA – Mobile Patrol” emblazoned on the side. The OIRA shot five British soldiers, killing three, in revenge for McCann’s killing, in different incidents the following day in Belfast, Derry and Newry.
Funeral and tributes
McCann’s funeral on 18 April 1972 was attended by thousands of mourners. A guard of honour was provided by 20 OIRA volunteers and a further 200 women followed carrying flowers and wreaths. Four MPs including Bernadette Devlin were also in attendance. Cathal Goulding the Official IRA Chief of Staff, provided the graveside oration in Milltown Cemetery.
By shooting Joe McCann [the British government’s] Whitelaws and their Heaths and their Tuzos have shown the colour of their so called peace initiatives. They have re-declared war on the people…We have given notice, by action that no words can now efface, that those who are responsible for the terrorism that is Britain’s age old reaction to Irish demands will be the victim of that terrorism, paying richly in their own red blood for their crimes and the crimes of their imperial masters.
In spite of this hardline rhetoric, however, Goulding called a ceasefire just six weeks later, on 29 May 1972. One of the more surprising tributes to McCann came from Gusty Spence, leader of the Ulster Volunteer Force loyalist group. Spence wrote a letter of sympathy to McCann’s widow, expressing his, “deepest and profoundest sympathy” on the death of her husband.
“He was a soldier of the Republic and I a Volunteer of Ulster and we made no apology for being what we were or are…Joe once did me a good turn indirectly and I never forgot him for his humanity”.
This is thought to refer to an incident in which three UVF men wandered into the Lower Falls, were captured by OIRA men, but were released unharmed on McCann’s orders.
In December 2016, two British soldiers, known as Soldier A and Soldier C, were arrested and charged with murder. The trial commenced in Belfast April 2021. In May 2021, the trial collapsed and the two soldiers were acquitted. The judge found, amongst other things, that the soldiers’ statements given in 1972 to the Royal Military Police, on which the prosecution was based, were inadmissible because the statements were provided without the soldiers being under caution.
Two former British army paratroopers accused of murdering an Official IRA commander during the Troubles have been acquitted after their trial in Northern Ireland collapsed.
The two veterans, known as soldiers A and C, had been accused of murdering Joe McCann on 15 April 1972, in a closely watched trial with political ramifications.
The case collapsed when the Public Prosecution Service decided not to appeal against a decision by Mr Justice O’Hara to exclude some evidence as inadmissible.
The result delighted army veterans’ groups and their supporters, who said the case was the latest example of old soldiers being subjected to a politically motivated witch-hunt. McCann’s family said justice had been denied.
McCann was a member not of the Provisional IRA but its republican Marxist rival, the Official IRA. He was photographed in 1971 holding a rifle beside the Starry Plough, the flag of the Irish labour movement.
A year later when a Royal Ulster Constabulary officer tried to arrest McCann, he fled, prompting soldiers A and C and a now deceased paratrooper, soldier B, to open fire, hitting the 24-year-old in the back. The case hinged on whether the force used was reasonable.
Prosecutors said soldiers A and C believed McCann was armed but they found no weapon. A defence lawyer said McCann was suspected of murders and could have committed more if he had evaded arrest, leaving the soldiers with a “binary choice” of shooting to effect the arrest or letting him escape.
Disclaimer – The views and opinions expressed in these documentary are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They … Continue reading The Shankill Bomb→
Dolours and her sister, Marian, also an IRA member, were the daughters of Albert Price, a prominent Irish republican and former IRA member from Belfast. Their aunt, Bridie Dolan, was blinded and lost both hands in an accident handling IRA explosives.
Copyright : Victor Patterson
Price became involved in Irish republicanism in the late 1960s and joined the Provisional IRA in the early 1970s. She participated in the car bombing of the Old Bailey in London on 8 March 1973, which injured over 200 people and is believed to have contributed to the death of one person who suffered a fatal heart attack.
The two sisters were arrested, along with Gerry Kelly, Hugh Feeney and six others, on the day of the bombing, as they were boarding a flight to Ireland. They were tried and convicted at the Great Hall in Winchester Castle on 14 November 1973. Although originally sentenced to life imprisonment, which was to run concurrently for each criminal charge, their sentence was eventually reduced to 20 years. Price served seven years for her part in the bombing.
She immediately went on a hunger strike demanding to be moved to a prison in Northern Ireland. The hunger strike lasted for 208 days because the hunger strikers were force-fed by prison authorities to keep them alive.
– Disclaimer –
The views and opinions expressed in these pages/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.
On the back of the hunger-striking campaign, her father contested West Belfast at the UK General Election of February 1974, receiving 5,662 votes (11.9%). The Price sisters, Hugh Feeney, and Gerry Kelly were moved to Northern Ireland prisons in 1975 as a result of an IRA truce. In 1980 Price received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy and was freed on humanitarian grounds in 1981, purportedly suffering from anorexia nervosa due to the invasive trauma of daily force feedings.
The Price sisters remained active politically. In the late 1990s, Price and her sister claimed that they had been threatened by their former colleagues in the IRA and Sinn Féin for publicly opposing the Good Friday Agreement i.e. the cessation of the IRA’s military campaign. Price was a contributor to The Blanket, an online journal, edited by former Provisional IRA member Anthony McIntyre, until it ceased publication in 2008.
After her release in 1980, she married Irish actor Stephen Rea, with whom she had two sons, Danny and Oscar.
They divorced in 2003.
In 2001, Price was arrested in Dublin and charged with possession of stolen prescription pads and forged prescriptions. She pleaded guilty and was fined £200 and ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
She was the subject of the 2018 feature-length documentary I, Dolours in which she gave an extensive filmed interview.
Allegations against Gerry Adams
In 2010 Price claimed Gerry Adams had been her officer commanding when she was active in the IRA. Adams, who has always denied being a member of the IRA, denied her allegation. Price admitted taking part in the murder of Jean McConville, as part of an IRA action in 1972.
She claimed the murder of McConville, a mother of 10, was ordered by Adams when he was an IRA leader in West Belfast. Adams subsequently publicly further denied Price’s allegations, stating that the reason for them was that she was opposed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s abandonment of paramilitary warfare in favour of politics in 1994, in the facilitation of which Adams had been a key figure.
Boston College tapes
Voices from the Grave
Oral historians at Boston College interviewed both Dolours Price and her fellow IRA paramilitary Brendan Hughes between 2001 and 2006, the two giving detailed interviews for the historical record of the activities in the IRA, which were recorded on condition that the content of the interviews was not to be released during their lifetimes. Prior to Price’s death, in May 2011, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) subpoenaed the material, possibly as part of an investigation into the disappearance of a number of people in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.
In June 2011, the college filed a motion to quash the subpoena. A spokesman for the college stated that “our position is that the premature release of the tapes could threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history, and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.”
In July 2011, US federal prosecutors asked a judge to require the college to release the tapes to comply with treaty obligations with the United Kingdom.
On 17 October 2012, the United States Supreme Court temporarily blocked the College from handing over the interview tapes. In January 2013 Price died, and in April 2013, the Supreme Court turned away an appeal that sought to keep the interviews from being supplied to the PSNI. The order left in place a lower court ruling that ordered Boston College to give the Justice Department portions of recorded interviews with Dolours Price. Federal officials wanted to forward the recordings to police investigating the murder of Jean McConville.
On 24 January 2013 Price was found dead at her Malahide, County Dublin home, from a toxic effect of mixing prescribed sedative and anti-depressant medication. The inquest returned a verdict of death by misadventure.
A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland
One night in December 1972, Jean McConville, a mother of ten, was abducted from her home in Belfast and never seen alive again. Her disappearance would haunt her orphaned children, the perpetrators of this terrible crime and a whole society in Northern Ireland for decades.
In this powerful, scrupulously reported book, Patrick Radden Keefe offers not just a forensic account of a brutal crime but a vivid portrait of the world in which it happened. The tragedy of an entire country is captured in the spellbinding narrative of a handful of characters, presented in lyrical and unforgettable detail.
A poem by Seamus Heaney inspires the title: ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’. By defying the culture of silence, Keefe illuminates how a close-knit society fractured; how people chose sides in a conflict and turned to violence; and how, when the shooting stopped, some ex-combatants came to look back in horror at the atrocities they had committed, while others continue to advocate violence even today.
Say Nothing deftly weaves the stories of Jean McConville and her family with those of Dolours Price, the first woman to join the IRA as a front-line soldier, who bombed the Old Bailey when barely out of her teens; Gerry Adams, who helped bring an end to the fighting, but denied his own IRA past; Brendan Hughes, a fearsome IRA commander who turned on Adams after the peace process and broke the IRA’s code of silence; and other indelible figures. By capturing the intrigue, the drama and the profound human cost of the Troubles, the book presents a searing chronicle of the lengths that people are willing to go to in pursuit of a political ideal, and the ways in which societies mend – or don’t – in the aftermath of a long and bloody conflict.
Im currently reading this & will do a review when complete
I, DOLOURS Trailer (2018) Militant IRA Activist Portrait
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Joe McCann – Life & Death Joe McCann (2 November 1947 – 15 April 1972) was an Irish republican volunteer. A member of the Irish Republican Army and later the Official Irish Republican Army, he was active in politics from the early 1960s and participated in the early years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He was shot dead, after being confronted by RUC Special…
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The IRA began a bombing campaign on Britain on 8 March 1973 when they exploded a car bomb outside the Old Bailey which injured 180 people and one man died from a heart attack. The IRA unit responsible for the Old Bailey bombing were arrested trying to leave the country.
Thereafter to try to help avoid their active service units (ASUs) from being captured and to have a better chance of carrying out a sustained bombing assault , the IRA decided to send to England sleeper cells who would arrive within weeks before actually carrying out any military activity and blend in with the public as not to draw attention to themselves. According to the leader of the Balcombe Street unit, the first bombing they carried out was the Guildford pub bombings on 5 October 1974, which killed five people and injured over 60 for which four innocent people known as the Guildford Four were arrested and received large jail sentences.
Their last attack was an assassination attempt on former Prime MinisterEdward Heath but he was not home when the attackers threw a bomb into his bedroom window on 22 December 1974.
The Provisional IRA bomb Waltons London restaurant – 18 November 1975
After the 1975 PIRA–British Army truce began to break, the IRA’s Balcombe Street ASU stepped up its bombing and shooting campaign on mainland Britain. On the night of 18 November 1975 the unit picked Walton’s Restaurant to bomb. Two civilians, Audrey Edgson (aged 45) and Theodore Williams (aged 49), were killed when a bomb was thrown by one of the IRA Volunteers through the window of Walton’s Restaurant in Walton Street, Chelsea.
The device injured 23 other people, the oldest of them 71 years of age. In the bomb the IRA used miniature ball bearings to maximise injuries. Two persons, a man and woman, died at St. Stephen’s Hospital shortly after being taken there. According to Dr. Laurence Martin the consultant in charge of the casualty department in St. Stephen’s Hospital said that four of those injured required emergency operations.
“We have been involved with nine bomb incidents in the past two years but this is the worst,”
Dr. Martin said.
Senior Scotland Yard official, James Nevin, deputy head of the bomb squad, said that the bomb used in the attack had been a “shrapnel‐like device.” containing three pounds of explosives.
“This was obviously designed to kill and injure people rather than damage property,”
This was a calculated bombing campaign aimed at destroying businesses and scaring customers in London’s West End.
Other previous attacks by the unit in 1975 included Scott’s Oyster Bar bombing on 12 November, the London Hilton bombing on 5 September and the Caterham Arms Pub Bombingon 27 August. In total the unit carried out around 40 bomb and gun attacks on mainland Britain between October 1974 – December 1975.
This was the Balcombe Street gang’s last major attack during their fourteen-month bombing campaign of the British mainland. The IRA units bombing campaign would come to an end in December 1975 when they were caught at the Balcombe Street Siege which is where the unit got its name from.
The unit would eventually end up exploding close to 50 bombs in England and carried out several shootings which cost millions of pounds in damages, claimed the lives of 18 people, which included 10 civilians, 7 British soldiers and one London police officer, and injured almost 400 people, but they were only sentenced for the deaths of seven people.
The IRA would continue to attack targets in England during the rest of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s but would not launch such a sustained campaign on the British mainland again until the early 1990s.
In custody the ASU also admitted to carrying out the Guildford pub bombings and the Kings Arms, Woolwich bombing for which the Guildford Four had been arrested, and received lengthy jail terms
A 40-year-old Irish born mother has been jailed for 14 years for possessing explosives at her London home.
Five other members of her family and a close friend were also found guilty of the same offence and jailed.
Anne Maguire, from Willesden, North London, was convicted of possessing nitro-glycerine, which was then passed on for use by IRA terrorists to make bombs.
Throughout the six-week trial at the Old Bailey all seven have continually protested their innocence.
‘No greater offence’
As Mrs Maguire was carried kicking and screaming from the dock she shouted: “I’m innocent you bastards. No, no, no.”
Her husband, Patrick Maguire, 42 was also sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. Her two younger sons, Vincent, 17, and Patrick, 14, were given five and four years respectively.
Mrs Maguire’s brother, William Smyth, 37, brother-in-law Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon, 52, and family friend Patrick O’Neill, 35, were each sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
Passing sentence, Judge Justice Donaldson said: “There can be no greater offence than this, for it strikes at the very root of the way of life for which generations have fought and, indeed, died to preserve.”
Chief Constable Peter Matthews, of Surrey police, who led the investigation, said:
“We are delighted with the verdicts. These are the people we were after.
“We have cut off a major supply pipeline to the terrorist.
“We are only sorry we did not find the bombs.”
Police were first led to the Maguire family in Willesden when they followed Giuseppe Conlon to their home in December 1974.
Mr Conlon had arrived in London from Ireland for talks with solicitors who were defending his son Gerry, under arrest on suspicion of carrying out the Guildford pub bombings.
Anne Maguire, too, was implicated in the Guildford bombings and was also arrested in December 1974 and charged with the murder of 18-year-old WRAC recruit Caroline Slater, who died in the attacks.
The murder charge was dismissed by Guildford magistrates’ court the following February but the police had become suspicious of the Maguire family.
In a raid on their home in Willesden, evidence of nitro-glycerine was found. Swabs were taken from the hands of several male members of the family and evidence of the substance was detected.
Mrs Maguire has always denied the offence. During her trial she said: “There were never any explosives in my house. I would never have any explosives there. I am the mother of four children.”
The views and opinions expressed in this post/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.
The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were the collective names of two groups whose convictions in English courts in 1975 and 1976 for the Guildford pub bombings of 5 October 1974 were eventually quashed after long campaigns for justice.
The Guildford Four were wrongly convicted of bombings carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Maguire Seven were wrongly convicted of handling explosives found during the investigation into the bombings.
Both groups’ convictions were eventually declared “unsafe and unsatisfactory” and reversed in 1989 and 1991 respectively after they had served up to 15–16 years in prison. Along with the Maguires and the Guildford Four, a number of other people faced charges against them relating to the bombings, six of them charged with murder, but these charges were dropped.
No one else was charged with the bombings, or supplying the material; three police officers were charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and found not guilty.
The Maguire Seven were charged with possessing nitroglycerine allegedly passed to the IRA to make bombs after the police raided the West Kilburn house of Anne Maguire on 3 December 1974.
They were tried and convicted on 4 March 1976 and received the following sentences.
time of trial
Son of Anne and Patrick
Son of Anne and Patrick
Brother of Anne Maguire
Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon
Brother-in-law of Anne
Giuseppe Conlon had travelled from Belfast to help his son, Gerry Conlon, in the Guildford Four trial. Conlon, who had troubles with his lungs for many years, died in prison in January 1980, while the other six served their sentences and were released.
The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven sought leave to appeal their convictions immediately and were refused. Despite this, a growing body of disparate groups pressed for a re-examination of the case.
In February 1977, during the trial of the Balcombe Street ASU, the four IRA men instructed their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences”, referring to the Guildford Four.
Despite claims to the police that they were responsible they were never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four remained in prison for another twelve years.
The Guildford Four tried to obtain from the Home Secretary a reference to the Court of Appeal under Section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 (later repealed), but were unsuccessful. In 1987, the Home Office issued a memorandum recognising that it was unlikely they were terrorists, but that this would not be sufficient evidence for appeal.
On 26th February 1980, BBC One Northern Ireland aired ‘’Spotlight: Giuseppe Conlon and the Bomb Factory’’ which contained an interview by Patrick Maguire and the BBC’s Gavin Elser
Quashing of the Maguire verdicts
On 12 July 1990, the Home SecretaryDavid Waddington published the Interim Report on the Maguire Case: The Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the convictions arising out of the bomb attacks in Guildford and Woolwich in 1974,which criticised the trial judge Mr Justice Donaldson and unearthed improprieties in the handling of scientific evidence and declared the convictions unsound recommending referral back to the Court of Appeal.
The report “strongly criticise[d] the decision by the prosecution at the Guildford trial not to disclose to the defence a statement supporting Mr Conlon’s alibi.”
The convictions of the Maguire Seven were quashed in 1991.
Neither the bombings nor the wrongful imprisonment resulted in convictions. The bombings were most likely the work of the Balcombe Street Siege gang, who claimed responsibility. They were already serving life sentences, but were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Three British police officers—Thomas Style, John Donaldson, and Vernon Attwell—were charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, but each was found not guilty.
Gerry Conlon’s autobiography Proved Innocent was adapted into the Oscar and Bafta award-nominated 1993 drama In the Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, and Pete Postlethwaite. The film depicts Conlon’s attempt to rebuild his shattered relationship with his father, but is partly fictional – for example, Conlon never shared a cell with his father. He is reported to have settled with the government for a final payment of compensation in the region of £500,000.
His mother Sarah Conlon, who had spent 16 years campaigning to have the names of her husband and son cleared and helped secure the apology, died on 20 July 2008. Conlon has given support to Tommy Sheridan in relation to the charges brought against him. Conlon had been working to have the conviction of the Craigavon Two overturned prior to his death in June 2014.
Paddy Armstrong had problems with drinking and gambling. He eventually married and moved to Dublin.
Carole Richardson married and had a daughter soon after her release. She has since kept out of the public eye. Although it wasn’t reported at the time of Conlon’s death there are two reputable citations that record that Carole Richardson died in 2012.
The autobiography of the youngest member of the Maguire Seven, Patrick Maguire, My Father’s Watch: The Story of a Child Prisoner in 70s Britain was released in May 2008. It tells his story before, during, and after his imprisonment, and details its impact on his life and those of his family.
Gerry Conlon later joined a campaign to free the “Craigavon Two” – Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton – convicted of the murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland. Conlon died at home in Belfast on 21 June 2014. His family issued a statement: “He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours. He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive.
We recognise that what he achieved by fighting for justice for us had a far, far greater importance – it forced the world’s closed eyes to be opened to injustice; it forced unimaginable wickedness to be acknowledged; we believe it changed the course of history”.
In terms of a legal aftermath, Sir John Donaldson went on to an illustrious judicial career and became Master of the Rolls, Head of the Appeal Court. The appeal case itself for R v Maguire 1981, is now the leading case for disclosure to the defence.
Victor Arbuckle (aged 29), a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), was shot dead by Loyalists during street disturbances on the Shankill Road in Belfast.
Two Protestant civilians were shot dead by the British Army during rioting.
11 October 1969 Goerge Dickie, (25)
Protestant Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot during street disturbances, at the corner of Shankill Road and Downing Street, Belfast
11 October 1969 Herbert Hawe, (32)
Protestant Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot during street disturbances, Hopeton Street, Shankill, Belfast.
First deaths in Trouble
The first deaths of the Troubles occurred in July 1969. Francis McCloskey, a 67-year-old Catholic civilian had been found unconscious on 13 July near the DungivenOrange Hall following a police baton charge against a crowd who had been throwing stones at the hall.
Witnesses later said they had seen police batoning a figure in the doorway where McCloskey was found, although police claimed that he had been unconscious before the baton charge and may have been hit with a stone. He was taken to hospital and died the following day.
On 11 October 1969, Constable Victor Arbuckle was shot dead by loyalists on Belfast’s Shankill Road during serious rioting in protest at the recommendations of the Hunt Report. Arbuckle was the first police fatality of the Troubles.
At its peak the force had around 8,500 officers with a further 4,500 who were members of the RUC Reserve.
During the Troubles, 319 members of the RUC were killed and almost 9,000 injured in paramilitary assassinations or attacks, mostly by the Provisional IRA, which made the RUC, by 1983, the most dangerous police force in the world in which to serve.
In the same period, the RUC killed 55 people, 28 of whom were civilians.
The RUC has been accused by republicans and Irish nationalists of one-sided policing and discrimination, as well as collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. Conversely, it was praised as one of the most professional policing operations in the world by British security forces.
The allegations regarding collusion prompted several inquiries, the most recent of which was published by Police OmbudsmanNuala O’Loan. The report identified police, CID and Special Branch collusion with loyalist terrorists under 31 separate headings, in her report on the murder of Raymond McCord and other matters, but no member of the RUC has been charged or convicted of any criminal acts as a result of these inquiries. Ombudsman Dame Nuala O’Loan stated in her conclusions that there was no reason to believe the findings of the investigation were isolated incidents.
The disorder led to the Battle of the Bogside in Londonderry, a three-day riot in the Bogside district between the RUC and the nationalist/Catholic residents. In support of the Bogsiders, nationalists and Catholics launched protests elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Some of these led to attacks by loyalists working alongside the police. The most bloody rioting was in Belfast, where seven people were killed and hundreds more wounded. Scores of houses, most of them owned by Catholics, as well as businesses and factories were burned out. In addition, thousands of mostly Catholic families were driven from their homes. In certain areas, the RUC helped the loyalists and failed to protect Catholic areas. Events in Belfast have been viewed by some as a pogrom against the Catholic and nationalist minority.
The British Army was deployed to restore order and state control, and peace lines began to be built to separate the two sides. The events of August 1969 are widely seen as the beginning of the thirty-year conflict known as the Troubles.
It was also one of the most dangerous and unforgiving places on earth for British soldiers and other security force personnel during the 30 year “conflict” and the South Armagh IRA seemed able to slaughtered at will and the areas nickname “Bandit Country” was written in the blood of the innocent.
BBC Panorama – Bandit Country, South Armagh
See Below for more details on the South Armagh IRA
They died serving their country
I salute you all!
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them
Below is a list of British army & other security personnel whom lost their lives in or around the Forkhill area during the troubles , hero’s one and all. The most famous name on the list is Captain Robert Nairac , whose body has never been recovered and is named as one the Disappeared.
I have included civilians and republican deaths at the end of the list.
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Killed by remote controlled bomb hidden in parked car, detonated when British Army (BA) foot patrol passed, Forkhill, County Armagh.
16 December 1979
Peter Grundy, (21)
nfNI Status: British Army (BA),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Killed by booby trap bomb hidden in derelict house, while on British Army (BA) foot patrol, Forkhill, County Armagh.
01 January 1980
Gerard Hardy, (18)
nfNI Status: British Army (BA),
Killed by: British Army (BA) Undercover British Army (BA) member. Shot in error, by other British Army (BA) members while setting ambush position, Tullydonnell, near Forkhill, County Armagh.
01 January 1980 Simon Bates, (23)
nfNI Status: British Army (BA),
Killed by: British Army (BA) Undercover British Army (BA) member. Shot in error, by other British Army (BA) members while setting ambush position, Tullydonnell, near Forkhill, County Armagh
09 August 1980
Brian Brown, (29)
nfNI Status: British Army (BA),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Killed by remote controlled bomb while on British Army (BA) foot patrol, Forkhill, County Armagh
31 January 1984
William Savage, (27)
Protestant Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Killed in land mine attack on Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) armoured patrol car, Drumintee Road, near Forkhill, County Armagh.
31 January 1984
Thomas Bingham, (29)
Protestant Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Killed in land mine attack on Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) armoured patrol car, Drumintee Road, near Forkhill, County Armagh
17 March 1993
Lawrence Dickson, (26)
nfNI Status: British Army (BA),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Shot by sniper while on British Army (BA) foot patrol, Bog Road, Forkhill, County Armagh.
Innocent Civilians Killed in Forkhill
10 March 1974 Michael Gallagher, (18)
Catholic Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Injured by booby trap bomb hidden in abandoned car, Dromintee, near Forkhill, County Armagh. Intended for British Army (BA) foot patrol. He died 14 March 1974.
10 March 1974
Michael McCreesh, (15)
Catholic Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Killed by booby trap bomb hidden in abandoned car, Dromintee, near Forkhill, County Armagh. Intended for British Army (BA) foot patrol.
19 January 1975
Patrick Toner, (7)
Catholic Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Killed by booby trap bomb in field near his home, Forkhill, County Armagh.
12 June 1976
Liam Prince, (26)
Catholic Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: British Army (BA) Shot while travelling in his car at British Army (BA) Vehicle Check Point (VCP), near Forkhill, County Armagh.
02 April 1977 Hugh Clarke, (30)
Protestant Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: Republican Action Force (RepAF) Found shot, Tullymacreeve, near Forkhill, County Armagh.
25 June 1978 Patrick McEntee, (54)
Catholic Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Found shot, Ballsmill, near Forkhill, County Armagh. Alleged informer.
12 December 2001 Derek Lenehan, (27)
nfNI Status: Civilian (Civ),
Killed by: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) From Dublin. Died several hours after being found shot in the legs, by the side of New Road, near Forkhill, County Armagh.
Republicans Terrorists Killed in Forkhill
15 April 1976
Peter Cleary, (25)
Catholic Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),
Killed by: British Army (BA) Shot by undercover British Army (BA) member, shortly after being detained at a friend’s home, Tievecrom, near Forkhill, County Armagh.
05 March 1982
Seamus Morgan, (24)
Catholic Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),
Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA) Found shot near Forkhill, County Armagh. Alleged informer.
14 March 1987 Fergus Conlon, (31)
Catholic Status: Civilian Political Activist (CivPA),
Killed by: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) Irish Republican Socialist Party member. Found shot, Clontigora, near Forkhill, County Armagh. Irish National Liberation Army / Irish People’s Liberation Organisation feud
Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade
The South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) operated during the Troubles in south County Armagh. It was organised into two battalions, one around Jonesborough and another around Crossmaglen. By the 1990s, the South Armagh Brigade was thought to consist of about 40 members, roughly half of them living south of the border. It has allegedly been commanded since the 1970s by Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy who is also alleged to be a member of the IRA’s Army Council. Compared to other brigades, the South Armagh IRA was seen as an ‘independent republic’ within the republican movement, retaining a battalion organizational structure and not adopting the cell structure the rest of the IRA was forced to adopt after repeated intelligence failures.
As well as paramilitary activity, the South Armagh Brigade has also been widely accused of smuggling across the Irish border. Between 1970 and 1997 the brigade was responsible for the deaths of 165 members of British security forces (123 British soldiers and 42 Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers). A further 75 civilians were killed in the area during the conflict, as well as ten South Armagh Brigade members. The RUC recorded 1,255 bombings and 1,158 shootings around a radius of ten miles from the geographic center of South Armagh in the same period.
At the beginning of the Northern Ireland Troubles in August 1969, rioters, led by IRA men, attacked the RUC barracks in Crossmaglen, in retaliation for the attacks on Catholic/nationalist areas in Belfast in the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969. After the split in the IRA in that year, the South Armagh unit sided with the Provisional IRA rather than the Official IRA. The following August, two RUC constables were killed by a bomb in Crossmaglen. A week later, a British soldier was killed in a firefight along the border.
However, the IRA campaign in the area did not begin in earnest until 1971. In August of that year, two South Armagh men were shot and one killed by the British Army in Belfast, having been mistaken for gunmen. This caused outrage in the South Armagh area, provided the IRA with many new recruits and created a climate where local people were prepared to tolerate the killing of security force members.
During the early 1970s, the brigade was mostly engaged in ambushes of British Army patrols. In one such ambush in August 1972, a Ferret armoured car was destroyed by a 600 lb landmine, killing one soldier. There were also frequent gun attacks on foot patrols. Travelling overland in South Armagh eventually became so dangerous that the British Army began using helicopters to transport troops and supply its bases – a practice that had to be continued until the late 1990s. According to author Toby Harnden, the decision was taken shortly after a Saracen armoured vehicle was destroyed by a culvert bomb near Crossmaglen, on 9 October 1975. Subsequently, the British Army gave up the use of roads to the IRA in South Armagh. IRA volunteer Éamon McGuire, a former Aer Lingus senior engineer, and his team claim that they were responsible for getting the British Army “off the ground and into the air” in South Armagh. He was identified as the IRA’s chief technical officer by the Central Intelligence Agency. Another noted IRA commander at that time was the commanding officer of the first battalion, Captain Michael McVerry. He was eventually killed during an attack on the RUC barracks in Keady in November 1973. Around this time IRA engineers in South Armagh pioneered the use of home-made mortars which were relatively inaccurate but highly destructive.
In 1975 and 1976, as sectarian violence increased in Northern Ireland, the South Armagh Republican Action Force, allegedly a cover-name for the South Armagh Brigade, carried out two attacks against Protestants. In September 1975 they attacked an Orange lodge in Newtownhamilton, killing five members of the lodge. Then, in January 1976, after a series of loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) attacks on Catholic civilians in the border areas (including the Reavey and O’Dowd killings the previous day), the group shot and killed ten Protestant workmen in the “Kingsmill massacre” near Bessbrook. The workers’ bus was stopped and the one Catholic worker taken aside before the others were killed. In response, the British government stated that it was dispatching the Special Air Service (SAS) to South Armagh, although the SAS had been present in the area for many years. While loyalist attacks on Catholics declined afterwards and many Protestants became more reluctant to help the UVF, the massacre caused considerable controversy in the republican movement.
By the end of the 1970s, the IRA in most of Northern Ireland had been restructured into a cell system. South Armagh, however, where the close rural community and family connections of IRA men diminished the risk of infiltration, retained its larger “battalion” structure. On 17 February 1978 the commander of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets, Lieutenant Colonel Ian Corden-Lloyd, was killed and two other soldiers injured when the Gazelle helicopter he was travelling in was attacked by an IRA unit near Jonesborough. At that moment, a gun battle was taking place on the ground between British soldiers and members of the South Armagh Brigade. The helicopter crashed while taking evasive manoeuvres after being fired at from the east side of Edenappa road. Corden-Lloyd’s subordinates had been accused of brutality against Catholic civilians in Belfast in 1971. In August 1979, a South Armagh unit killed 18 soldiers in the Warrenpoint ambush. This was the biggest single loss of life inflicted on the British Army in its deployment in Northern Ireland (Operation Banner).
A number of South Armagh IRA members were imprisoned by the end of the 1970s and took part in the blanket protest and dirty protest in pursuit of political status for IRA prisoners. Raymond McCreesh, a South Armagh man, was among the ten republican hunger strikers who died for this goal in the 1981 hunger strike. The South Armagh Brigade retaliated for the deaths of the hunger strikers by killing five British soldiers with a mine that destroyed their armoured vehicle near Bessbrook.
During the mid-1980s, the brigade focused its attacks on the RUC, killing 20 of its members between 1984 and 1986. Nine of these were killed in the February 1985 Newry mortar attack.
In 1986, the British Army erected ten hilltop observation posts in South Armagh. These bases acted as information-gathering centres and also allowed the British Army to patrol South Armagh more securely. Between 1971 and the erection of the hilltop sites in the mid-1980s (the first in 1986), 84 members of the security forces were killed in the Crossmaglen and Forkhill areas by the IRA. After this, 24 security force personnel and Lord Justice Gibson and his wife were killed in the same areas, roughly a third of the previous yearly rate.
South Armagh became the most heavily militarized area in Northern Ireland. In an area with a population of 23,000, the British Army stationed around 3,000 troops in support of the RUC to contain an unknown number of paramilitaries.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the IRA elsewhere in Northern Ireland found that nine out of ten planned operations failed to materialize. However, the South Armagh Brigade continued to carry out varied and high-profile attacks in the same period. By 1991, the RUC acknowledged that no mobile patrols had operated in South Armagh without Army support since 1975.
These squads were responsible for killing seven soldiers and two RUC members until the Caraher team was finally caught by the Special Air Service in April 1997. The South Armagh Brigade also built the bombs that were used to wreck economic targets in London during the 1990s, specially hitting the financial district. The truck bombs were sent to England by ferry. On 22 April 1993, the South Armagh IRA unit took control of the village of Cullaville near the border with the Republic, for two hours, making good use of dead ground. The fact that the IRA executed the action despite the presence of a British Army watchtower nearby, caused outrage among British and Irish parliamentary circles.
The South Armagh Brigade was by far the most effective IRA brigade in shooting down British helicopters during the conflict. They carried out 23 attacks on British Army helicopters during the Troubles, bringing four down on separate occasions: the Gazelle shot down in February 1978 near Jonesborough, a Lynx in June 1988, while in 1994 another Lynx and an RAF Puma were shot down in March and July respectively. The shooting down of the Lynx in 1994 during a mortar attack on Crossmaglen barracks is regarded by Toby Harnden as the most successful IRA operation against a helicopter in the course of the Troubles. A sustained machine gun attack against a helicopter was filmed by a Dublin television crew in March 1991 outside Crossmaglen Health Center. There was no reaction from British security although the RUC/Army base was just 50 yards away. The only successful IRA attack against an Army helicopter outside South Armagh was carried out by the East Tyrone Brigade near Clogher, County Tyrone, on 11 February 1990. By 1994, the safest way for the British army to travel across South Armagh and some areas of Tyrone and Fermanagh was on board troop-carrying Chinook helicopters.
Ceasefires and the peace process
Borucki sangar, a British army outpost in Crossmaglen with a republican flag on top during an Ógra Shinn Féin protest some time before its removal in 2000
The IRA ceasefire of 1994 was a blow to the South Armagh Brigade, in that it allowed the security forces to operate openly in the area without fear of attack and to build intelligence on IRA members. When the IRA resumed its campaign in 1996-97, the South Armagh IRA was less active than previously, although one of the sniper teams killed one soldier and seriously wounded an RUC constable. But the snipers also lost a number of their most skilled members, such as Mícheál Caraher, who were arrested and imprisoned just weeks before the second ceasefire. The capture of the sniper team was the single major success for the security forces in South Armagh in more than a decade, and was arguably among the most important of the Troubles, but by then, the IRA and Sinn Féin had achieved huge political gains towards their long-term goals. The last major action of the brigade before the last IRA ceasefire was a mortar attack on Newtownhamilton RUC/Army barracks, on 12 July 1997. The single Mk-15 mortar bomb landed 40 yards short of the perimeter fence.
In 1997, several members of the South Armagh Brigade, based in Jonesborough and Dromintee, following Michael McKevitt, left the Provisional IRA because of its acceptance of the Mitchell Principles of non-violence at a General Army Convention in October of that year and formed a dissident grouping, the Real IRA, which rejected the peace process. Their discontent was deepened by Sinn Féin’s signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Most of the South Armagh IRA stayed within the Provisional movement, but there were reports of them aiding the dissidents throughout 1998. The Omagh bombing of August 1998, a botched Real IRA operation which killed 29 civilians, was prepared by dissident republicans in South Armagh. Thomas Murphy and the leadership of the IRA in the area have allegedly since re-asserted their control, expelling dissidents from the district under threat of death. Michael McKevitt and his wife Bernadette were evicted from their home near Dundalk. IRA members in South Armagh ceased cooperating with the RIRA after the Omagh bombing.
After the Provisional IRA announced its intention to disarm and accept peaceful methods in July 2005, the British government announced a full demilitarisation plan which included the closing of all British Army bases in South Armagh by 2007. The normalisation process, negotiated under the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement in exchange for the complete decommissioning of IRA weaponry, was one of the main goals of the republican political strategy in the region.
Senior IRA figures in South Armagh, notably Thomas Murphy, are alleged to have been involved in large-scale smuggling across the Irish border and money-laundering. Other alleged illegal activities involve fraud through embezzlement of agricultural subsidies and false claims of property loss. In 2006, the British and Irish authorities mounted joint operations to clamp down on smuggling in the area and to seize Thomas Murphy’s assets. On 22 June 1998 a deadly incident involving fuel smuggling took place near Crossmaglen, when former Thomas Murphy employee Patrick Belton ran over and killed a British soldier attempting to stop him while driving his oil tanker through a military checkpoint. Belton was shot and injured by other members of the patrol, but managed to flee to the Republic. He was later acquitted of any charges, but he eventually agreed in 2006 to pay €500,000 for cross-border smuggling. Some sources claim that the smuggling activities not only made the South Armagh brigade self-sustained, but also provided financial support to most of the IRA operations around Northern Ireland. The IRA control over the roads across the border in South Armagh enabled them to impose ‘taxes’ on every cross-border illegal enterprise.
One of the first leaders of the Provisional IRA, Seán Mac Stíofáin, supported the use of snipers in his book Memories of a Revolutionary, attracted by the motto “one shot, one kill”. The majority of soldiers shot dead in 1972 (the bloodiest year of the conflict in Northern Ireland) fell victim to IRA snipers.
The AR-18 Armalite rifle became the weapon of choice for IRA members at this time.
The British Army assessment of the conflict asserted that the IRA sniping skills often did not match those expected from a well-trained sniper. The report identifies four different patterns of small arms attacks during the IRA campaign, the last being that developed by the South Armagh sniper units.
However, between the mid-1980s and the 1990s there was some small-scale activity, leading to the purchase of US-made Barrett M82 and M90 rifles, which became common weapons for the South Armagh snipers. According to letters seized by US federal authorities from a Dundalk IRA member, Martin Quigley, who had travelled to USA to study computing at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, the organisation managed to smuggle an M82 to the Republic of Ireland just before his arrest in 1989. He was part of a bigger plot to import electronic devices to defeat British Army counter-measures against IRA remote-controlled bombs.
In August 1986, another M82 had been sent in pieces from Chicago to Dublin, where the rifle was re-assembled. At least two of the M90 rifles were bought as recently as six months after the first IRA ceasefire. It was part of a batch of two sold to Michael Suárez, a Cuban resident of Cleveland, on 27 January 1995 by a firearms dealer; Suárez later passed the weapons to an Irishman, who finally shipped the rifles, their ammunition and two telescopic sights to the Republic of Ireland. An unidentified leading figure inside the IRA sniper campaign, quoted by Toby Harnden, said that:
What’s special about the Barrett is the huge kinetic energy… The bullet can just walk through a flak jacket. South Armagh was the prime place to use such weapon because of the availability of Brits. They came to dread it and that was part of its effectiveness.
Three of the security forces members killed in this campaign were instead the victims of 7.62×51mm rounds. Five missed shots belonged to the same kind of weapon. Harnden recalls a Belgian FN FAL rifle recovered by the Gardaí near Inniskeen in 1998 as the possible source of these bullets.
Contrary to the first British Army assessment and the speculation of the press, there was not just a single sniper involved. According to Harnden, there were two different teams, one responsible for the east part of South Armagh, around Dromintee, the other for the west, in the area surrounding Cullyhanna. The volunteer in charge of the Cullyhanna unit was Frank “One Shot” McCabe, a senior IRA member from Crossmaglen. Each team comprised at least four members, not counting those in charge of support activities, such as scouting for targets and driving vehicles. Military officials claim that the Dromintee-based squad deployed up to 20 volunteers in some of the sniping missions. The teams made good use of dead ground to conceal themselves from British observation posts.
Between 1990 and 1997, 24 shots were fired at British forces. The first eight operations (1990–1992), ended in misses. On 16 March 1990, the Barret M82 was used for first time by the IRA. The target was a checkpoint manned by soldiers of the Light Infantry regiment on Сastleblaney Road. A single .50 round pierced the helmet and skimmed the skull of Lance Corporal Hartsthorne, who survived with minor head injuries. In August 1992, one team mortally wounded a Light Infantry soldier. By April 1997 seven soldiers and two policemen had been killed. An RUC constable almost lost one of his legs in what became the last sniper attack during the Troubles.
Another six rounds achieved nothing, albeit two of them near-missed the patrol boat HMS Cygnet, in Carlingford Lough and another holed Borucki sangar, a British Army outpost in Crossmaglen square. On 31 July 1993 at 10:00 pm a British Army patrol which had set a mobile checkpoint on Newry Road, near Newtownhamilton, was fired at by an IRA sniper team. The British soldiers returned fire, but there were no injuries on either side. The marksman usually fired from a distance of less than 300 metres, despite the 1 km effective range of the rifles. Sixteen operations were carried out from the rear of a vehicle, with the sniper protected by an armour plate in case the patrols returned fire. At least in one incident, after the killing of a soldier in Forkhill on 17 March 1993, the British Army fired back at the sniper’s vehicle without effect. The IRA vehicles were escorted by scout cars, to alert about the presence of security checkpoints ahead.
Two different sources include in the campaign two incidents which happened outside South Armagh; one in Belcoo, County Fermanagh, where a constable was killed, the other in West Belfast, in June 1993. An RUC investigation following the latter shooting led to the discovery of one Barrett M82, hidden in a derelict house. It was later determined that this rifle was the weapon responsible for the first killing in South Armagh in 1992. Another Barrett is reported to have been in possession of the IRA team in the Occupation of Cullaville in South Armagh in April 1993.
A third unrelated sniper attack, which resulted in the death of a British soldier, was carried out by the IRA at New Lodge, North Belfast, on 3 August 1992. Two other soldiers were wounded by snipers at New Lodge in November 1993 and January 1994. Two people were arrested and a loaded rifle recovered in the aftermath of the latter incident. On 30 December 1993 Guardsman Daniel Blinco became the last soldier killed by snipers in South Armagh before the first IRA ceasefire in 1994. His killing, along with the reaction of the MP of his constituency, was covered by the BBC´s Inside Ulster, which also showed Blinco’s abandoned helmet and the hole made by the sniper’s bullet on the wall of a pub. The tabloid press of that time started calling the sniper ‘Goldfinger’ or ‘Terminator’, the nicknames current in Crossmaglen’s bars. The last serviceman killed by snipers at South Armagh, Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, was also the last British soldier to die by hostile fire during the Troubles, on 12 February 1997. Restorick’s killing resulted in a public outcry; Gerry Adams called his death “tragic” and wrote a letter of condolence to his mother.
The IRA ceasefire from 31 August 1994 gave an opportunity to the British to collect intelligence to be used against the snipers. The truce was strongly resented by South Armagh IRA members. During the ceasefire, an alleged member of the Drumintee squad, Kevin Donegan, was arrested by an RUC patrol in relation to the 1994 murder of a postal worker in the course of an armed robbery. When the IRA ended the ceasefire with the bombing of the London Docklands in February 1996, some volunteers had already abandoned the organisation, while others had turned to criminal activities. The period after the ceasefire saw little IRA activity in South Armagh.
Following two successful attacks in 1997, on 10 April a Special Air Service unit captured four men from the sniper team based in the west of the region, responsible for several deaths. After a brief fist fight, James McArdle, Michael Caraher, Bernard McGinn and Martin Mines were seized at a farm near Freeduff and handed over to the RUC. The British troops were under strict orders to avoid IRA casualties. A Barrett M90 rifle was seized, which forensic and intelligence reports linked only to the 1997 shootings. It was hinted that there was an informer, a suggestion dismissed by the Ombudsman report.
McGinn provided the RUC with a lot of information about IRA activities, and even betrayed Frank McCabe, the IRA commander behind the sniper campaign, but he eventually withdrew his statement. One of the key players in the British campaign against the South Armagh sniper was Welsh Guards‘ Captain Rupert Thorneloe, according to journalist Toby Harnden. Thorneloe worked as an intelligence liaison officer between the 3rd Infantry Brigade and the RUC Special Branch. Thorneloe, who reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, was killed in July 2009 by an improvised explosive device during the war in Afghanistan. Another senior figure involved in the British efforts against the sniper squads was SAS Staff Sergeant Gaz Hunter, whose experience in South Armagh dated back to 1975. Despite the sense of relief among British forces after the arrests, there was concern over the other two Barrett rifles still in possession of the South Armagh Brigade.
One of the IRA volunteers captured, Michael Caraher, was the brother of Fergal Caraher, a Sinn Féin member and IRA volunteer killed by Royal Marines at a checkpoint on 30 December 1990 near Cullyhanna. Michael, also shot and wounded in the same attack, had lost a lung in the aftermath. Despite some witnesses claiming that the shooting was unprovoked, the Marines involved were acquitted by Lord Chief Justice Hutton. The shooting of Guardsman Daniel Blinco in Crossmaglen took place on the second anniversary of the killing of Fergal Caraher. Michael Caraher was thought to be the shooter in several attacks, but he was only indicted for the case of the maimed constable. He was defended by solicitor Rosemary Nelson, later killed by the loyalist organisation Red Hand Defenders. The other three men of the sniper team were convicted in 1999 for six killings, two of them unrelated to the sniping operations (the deaths of two men when one of the team’s members, James McArdle, planted the bomb at Canary Wharf in 1996).
The capture of the sniper unit was the greatest success for the security forces in South Armagh in more than a decade. The men were set free 18 months later under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The Dromintee sniper party was never caught.
Barrett M-82 rifle, the main weapon used by the sniper squads
The IRA sniping activities further restricted the freedom of movement of the British Army in South Armagh by hindering their patrols. The MoD issued a new type of body armour, which was both expensive (£4,000) and too heavy (32 lbs) for use on patrol. The morale of the troops was so low that some servicemen had to be disciplined for remaining in shelter while under orders to check vehicles. A British major said that:
That meant that to some extent the IRA had succeeded in forcing troops off the ground and it made helicopters more vulnerable so we had to guard against using them too much.
The IRA strategy also diverted a large amount of British security resources from routine operations to tackle the threat. Until the 1994 ceasefire, even the SAS was unable to prevent the attacks. The IRA ceasefire between 1994 and 1996 made surveillance easier for the RUC and the British Army, leading to the success against the Caraher team. The security forces set the ground for an SAS ambush by deploying a decoy patrol, but this counter-sniper operation failed twice. At the end, the sniper squad was tracked to a farm complex and arrested there.
By the second IRA ceasefire, another team was still operational, and two Barrett rifles remained unaccounted for. The campaign is viewed as the most efficient overall IRA operation in Northern Ireland for this period.