Provisional IRA Derry Brigade

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Derry Brigade
ActiveDecember 1969 – July 1997
AllegianceProvisional Irish Republican Army
Area of operationsDerry, County Londonderry and West County Fermanagh[citation needed], Northern Ireland
Main actions
Martin McGuinness
William McGuiness
Francis Hughes[1]

The Derry Brigade also known as the South Derry Brigade[citation needed] of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) operated in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, during the Troubles. The Derry Brigade along with the Belfast Brigade, East Tyrone Brigade and the South Armagh Brigade were the four most active IRA Brigade areas during the conflict between 1969 and 1998.[2]


A small IRA battalion existed in Derry since the Troubles began, but it never had a steady number of volunteers until Bloody Sunday, which saw an influx of new recruits. The South Derry Battalion became the Derry Brigade[citation needed] (sometimes referred to as the South Derry Brigade[citation needed]) while also absorbing battalions based in northeastern County Donegal and northern County Londonderry.

Notable events[edit]

Notable events involving the Derry Brigade include:

  • 26 June 1970: three IRA members and two young girls (the daughters of one of the volunteers) were killed when a bomb they were handling prematurely exploded in a house in Creggan, Derry.[3]
  • 12 June 1973: two car bombs planted by a unit of the Derry Brigade resulted in the deaths of six civilians in Coleraine. See: 1973 Coleraine bombings[4]
  • 18 December 1975: two British soldiers, Cyril McDonald (aged 43) and Colin McInnes (aged 20), were killed in a bomb attack, Bank Place, near Guildhall Square, Derry. It was later established that the soldiers had been lured out of their sangar by children who offered them sweets. While the soldiers were distracted IRA volunteers lowered a bomb onto the roof of their sangar which exploded a few minutes later.
  • 17 March 1978: one Special Air Service (SAS) was killed and another wounded in a shootout with two Brigade volunteers at Lisnamuck, near Maghera. One of the IRA militants, Francis Hughes, was badly injured in the engagement and captured by security forces the following day. He would later died in prison during the 1981 hunger strike.
  • 6 February 1981: a British coal ship, Nellie M, was seized, bombed and sunk by a Brigade's unit while at anchor off Moville in Lough Foyle. The IRA hijacked a lifeboat to board the coaster and evacuate her crew before planting two explosive devices which wrecked the ship. The vessel was later recovered and sold to an Irish company under the name of Ellie.[5]
  • 23 March 1982: another British coal ship, St. Bedan, was seized, bombed and sunk by a Brigade's unit while at anchor in Lough Foyle. The IRA used once again a lifeboat hijacked from Moville, in the Republic's coast, to board the ship, evacuate the crew and plant the explosive devices. The ship capsized and was raised and scrapped several months later.[6] (See also Attacks on shipping in Lough Foyle)
  • 1 April 1982: two undercover British soldiers (Michael Burbridge and Michael Ward) were killed in an IRA sniper ambush shortly after leaving Rosemount British Army/Royal Ulster Constabulary base, Derry, travelling in a civilian-type British Army van.[7]
  • 28 August 1986: Mervyn Bell, a civilian contractor to the British Army, was shot dead by the IRA while sitting in stationary car outside his father's workplace, council depot, Strand Road, Derry. The IRA rejected claims that the killing was sectarian, stating: "The man's religion is of no interest to us. Despite previous warnings he continued to work for the UDR, and that was the reason he was targeted." [8]
  • 8 March 1989: two British soldiers were killed and six others badly wounded when their vehicle struck a massive IRA landmine on the Buncrana Road in Derry. The second vehicle in the patrol was completely destroyed.[9]
  • 28 January 1990: a civilian (Charles Love) was killed when he was hit by debris when an IRA bomb exploded on Derry's walls during a march to commemorate Bloody Sunday. The security forces described his death as a "freak accident" as he was a quarter of a mile from the bomb, which was targeting security forces. Love was a member of Republican Youth. He is commemorated at a Sinn Féin-organised march in his home town of Strabane each year.[10][11]
  • 24 October 1990: in a proxy bomb attack, the IRA forced a British Army civilian employee (Patrick Gillespie), by holding his family hostage, to deliver a bomb to a British Army checkpoint at Buncrana Road, Coshquin, County Londonderry (on the County Donegal border). The bomb detonated, killing Gillespie and six British soldiers. As the bomb exploded an IRA unit opened fire from across the border. The military facility was wrecked and several armoured vehicles destroyed by the huge blast. Over 25 houses in a nearby estate were damaged by the bomb.[12][13] (See also 1990 proxy bombs)
  • 29 June 1991: high ranking Ulster Defence Association commander Cecil McKnight was shot dead by the brigade in the Waterside area of Derry City. The IRA claimed he had been involved in the assassination of Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fullerton. The IRA unit were pursued by the RUC after the shooting but escaped after they opened fire on an RUC patrol car.[14]
  • 17 September 1991: a horizontal mortar attack on a British Army/RUC mobile patrol occurred in Swatragh, County Londonderry. RUC Constable and former British soldier Erik Clarke was killed by the explosion. Three British soldiers were wounded.[15][16]
  • 6 November 1991: another horizontal mortar attack, this time on a UDR mobile patrol at Bellaghy, County Londonderry, killed Private Michael Boxall. A fellow serviceman lost one eye in the incident.[17]
  • 23 January 1993: an RUC officer was shot and killed while on a foot patrol at Shipquat Sreet, Derry.[18]
  • 20 April 1994: an RUC officer was killed when the IRA fired a horizontal mortar at a British Army/RUC patrol in the Waterside area of Derry City. Several other RUC officers were injured.[19][20]
  • 23 May 1994: an IRA team used a motor boat stolen from Foyle Search and Rescue Service to cross Lough Foyle and plant an explosive device on the jetty of the British Army base at Fort George. Two British soldiers were wounded. One of them was permanently blinded by the blast.[21][22]


  1. ^ Toolis, Kevin (2011) Rebel Hearts. Pan MacMillan, p 205. ISBN 1447217489
  2. ^ "A Secret History of the IRA".
  3. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  4. ^ Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  5. ^ "History and profile".
  6. ^ "I.R.A. Guerrillas Destroy A British Cargo Ship". The New York Times. Associated Press. 24 February 1982.
  7. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  8. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  9. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  10. ^ "Derry Sinn Féin". Derry Sinn Féin. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  11. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  12. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  13. ^ Toolis, Kevin. Rebel Hearts: Journeys within the IRA's soul (second edition). Picador, 2000. Chapter 4: "Informers"; p. 253; ISBN 0-330-34648-2
  14. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  15. ^ "Eric CLARKE". MilitaryImages.Net. Retrieved 12 August 2017. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |work= (help)
  16. ^ "IRA launches mortar attack on security patrol". United Press International. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  17. ^ Potter, John (2008). Testimony to Courage: The History of the Ulster Defence Regiment 1969–1992. Pen and Sword. p. 351. ISBN 0850528194.
  18. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  19. ^ "A Draft Chronology of the Conflict – 1994". CAIN.
  20. ^ McKittrick, p. 1351
  21. ^ Peter Heathwood, Peter Heathwood Collection of television programs: 1994, Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  22. ^ "Derry man handed 10-year jail sentence for IRA terrorist offences". The Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 13 August 2017.