Attack on RUC Birches barracks

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Attack on The Birches RUC barracks
Part of The Troubles
Attack on RUC Birches barracks is located in Northern Ireland
Attack on RUC Birches barracks
Location of The Birches
LocationThe Birches, County Armagh, Northern Ireland
Coordinates54°27′45.02″N 7°1′50″W / 54.4625056°N 7.03056°W / 54.4625056; -7.03056Coordinates: 54°27′45.02″N 7°1′50″W / 54.4625056°N 7.03056°W / 54.4625056; -7.03056
Date11 August 1986
Attack type
shooting, bombing
Weaponsautomatic rifles
explosive charge
Non-fatal injuries
7 civilians
PerpetratorProvisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade

The Attack on RUC Birches barracks was an attack on 11 August 1986, the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at The Birches near Portadown, in North Armagh Northern Ireland. The unmanned base was first raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a 200 pounds (91 kg) bomb, which was driven through the gate of the base in the bucket of a JCB digger.[1]


In the late 1970s / early 1980s the East Tyrone brigade of the IRA became one of the most effecient & active brigade areas in Northern Ireland. The Brigade was enchanced by the experience & military skill of volunteers like Jim Lynagh, Patrick Joseph Kelly, brothers Padraig McKearney and Tommy McKearney, brigade commander and soon to be IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna (Irish republican). In December 1979 the brigade carried out the Dungannon land mine attack, an ambush in which the brigade killed four British soldiers.[2]

On the 21 January 1981 a 12 man unit from the brigade led by Jim Lynagh destroyed Tynan Abbey with a fire bomb and shot dead Sir Norman Stronge and his son.[3][4]

In 1983 the IRA's Tyrone Brigade killed four members of the Ulster Defence Regiment in the Ballygawley Land Mine Attack.[5]

In 1985 the brigade now commanded by Patrick J Kelly, began a campaign of destroying remote RUC stations in rural areas and to stop anyone from rebuilding them to create liberated or no-go zones.[6]

On 7 December 1985 it launched an attack on the RUC barracks in Ballygawley, destroying the RUC base, killing two RUC officers and wounding three.[7] The attack at Ballygawley was just one in a series of attacks by the South Armagh and East Tyrone brigades of the IRA against RUC/British Army bases in rural areas beginning with the 28 February Newry attack which killed nine RUC officers.[8] On 23 June 1985 the IRA fired four mortars at the Crossmaglen British Army base causing no injuries but damaging the base.[9] Four days after the Ballygawley attack, on 11 December 1985, the Tyrone IRA claimed responsibility for mortaring Tynan RUC base, in North Armagh in which four RUC officers were injured. On 19 December the RUC base in Castlederg, in west County Tyrone, was wrecked by a shell during a mortar attack carried out again by the Tyrone IRA. Seven people were injured, and about 250 families evacuated.[10][11] The East Tyrone IRA attacked bases in East Tyrone and North Armagh, while the South Armagh brigade attacked bases in South Armagh, South Down and some attacks in East Fermanagh. The attack on The Birches was to be the next big attack of the East Tyrone brigade's campaign against British security force bases.


It was a complex attack that involved several units, including teams of dickers (unarmed Volunteers used as lookouts/ watchmen),[12][13] an armed team and bomb-making experts.[14] Before the attack on the Birches took place, a diversionary bomb attack was staged at Pomeroy to draw security forces away from the real target. Another team hijacked a JCB digger, getaway vehicles and scout cars at Washing Bay not far from Dungannon.[14]

The JCB digger would be used to deliver the bomb to its target. The IRA did not expect any resistance as the RUC station was unmanned at the time of the attack. The IRA first raked the base with automatic gunfire while the JCB with a bomb in its bucket was driven through the high wire perimeter fence which surrounded the barracks, the fence was supposed to protect the base from grenade attack or anti-tank type weapons. The digger was most likely driven by young IRA volunteer Declan Arthurs from Galbally, County Tyrone, who joined the IRA in 1982 in the wake of the 1981 Irish hunger strike when he was just 16 years old and had experience driving and operating diggers on his families farm.[15] Once the digger smashed through the fence a volunteer lit a fuse and the bomb exploded after the IRA had retreated to safety in a waiting van, the blast destroyed most of the base and also damaged nearby buildings and blew the roof of a bar across the road. The IRA team then made its getaway. According to journalist Mark Urban the armed members of the unit evaded British security force roadblocks by escaping in a boat across the southern end of Lough Neagh.[14]

About 35 people were 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 were slightly injured in the blast.[14][16]


A member of the British security forces who gave Mark Urban a briefing on the Birches barracks said 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-amour 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."[14]

The IRA unit's next major target was the RUC police station at Loughgall. This operation was a disaster for the IRA as the operation ended with the IRA unit being ambushed by the SAS and the whole IRA unit of eight, along with a Catholic civilian, were shot dead.[17] Many of those IRA volunteers killed at Loughgall had taken part in the attack on the Birches RUC station, like Padraig McKearney, Jim Lynagh and Patrick J Kelly.[18]



  1. ^ Peter Taylor - Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Féin p.315
  2. ^ "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  3. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat (2002). The IRA. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 553. ISBN 0312294166.
  4. ^ Biographies of Members of the Northern Ireland House of Commons,; accessed 17 October 2015.
  5. ^ Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  6. ^ Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. Penguin Books. p. 306. ISBN 0-14-101041-X.
  7. ^ Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  8. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  9. ^ "The Robesonian - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  10. ^ The Youngstown Vindicator, 12 December 1985
  11. ^ "Mortar attack on police station". UPI. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  12. ^ Smith, Edwin (6 February 2014). "The Patrol: a British look at modern warfare". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  13. ^ "Dickers ?". Army Rumour Service. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d e Mark Urban. Big Boys' Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle against the IRA, pp. 221-23
  15. ^ Robert W White - Out Of The Ashes: An Oral History On Provisional Irish Republican Movement p.244,245.
  16. ^ Alford, J. (26 February 1987). "The Anglo Irish Agreement - A Legacy of Violence" (PDF).
  17. ^ Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  18. ^ Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. Penguin Books. p. 314. ISBN 0-14-101041-X.