Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade
|East Tyrone Brigade|
Provisional IRA mural at Coalisland
|Active||December 1969 – July 1997|
|Allegiance||Provisional Irish Republican Army|
|Area of operations||East County Tyrone|
|Actions[nb 1]||Attack on UDR Clogher barracks|
Dungannon land mine attack
Ballygawley Land Mine Attack
Attack on Ballygawley barracks
Attack on RUC Birches barracks
Ballygawley bus bombing
Ambush at Drumnakilly
1990 Gazelle shootdown
1997 Coalisland attack
July 1997 riots
Patrick Joseph Kelly
The East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), also known as the Tyrone/Monaghan Brigade was one of the most active republican paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland during "the Troubles". It is believed to have drawn its membership from across the eastern side of County Tyrone as well as north County Monaghan and south County Londonderry.
- 1 Lynagh's strategy
- 2 Before the Loughgall ambush
- 3 Loughgall ambush
- 4 Subsequent brigade activity
- 5 See also
- 6 Footnotes
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
- 9 External links
In the 1980s, the IRA in East Tyrone and other areas close to the border, such as South Armagh, were following a Maoist military theory devised for Ireland by Jim Lynagh, a high-profile member of the IRA in East Tyrone (but a native of County Monaghan). The theory involved creating "no-go zones" that the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) did not control and gradually expanding them. Lynagh's strategy was to start off with one area which the British military did not control, preferably a republican stronghold such as east Tyrone. The South Armagh area was considered to be a liberated zone already, since British troops and the RUC could not use the roads there for fear of roadside bombs and long-range harassing fire. Thus it was from there that the IRA East Tyrone Brigade attacks were launched, with most of them occurring in east Tyrone in areas close to south Armagh, which offered good escape routes. The first phase of Lynagh's plan to drive out the British security forces from east Tyrone involved destroying isolated rural police stations and then intimidating or killing any building contractors who were employed to rebuild them. Lynagh's plans met strong criticism from senior brigade member Kevin McKenna, who regarded the strategy as "too impractical, too ambitious, and not sustainable" per journalist Ed Moloney. The IRA Northern Command, however, approved a scaled-down version of the strategy, aimed at hampering the repair and refurbishment of British security bases. Scottish-born journalist Kevin Toolis has written that from 1985 onward, the brigade led a five-year campaign that left 33 security facilities destroyed and nearly 100 seriously damaged.
Before the Loughgall ambush
In July 1983, the East Tyrone Brigade carried out a landmine attack on an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) mobile patrol near Ballygawley, killing three UDR soldiers (a fourth UDR soldier died later). In 1985 and 1986, the East Tyrone Brigade carried out two attacks on RUC bases in their operational area, described by author Mark Urban as "spectaculars". The first was an assault on Ballygawley base in December 1985. Two RUC officers were shot dead and the base was raked with gunfire before being destroyed by a bomb. The second was an attack on the part-time base at The Birches, County Armagh, in August 1986. The base was raked with gunfire and a JCB digger with a 200 lb (91 kg) bomb in its bucket was driven through the perimeter fence. The bomb detonated, destroying much of the base and damaging nearby buildings. In April 1987 the brigade shot and killed Harold Henry, one of the main building contractors to the security forces in Northern Ireland.
On 8 May 1987, at least eight members of the brigade launched another attack on the unmanned Loughgall RUC base. The IRA unit used the same tactics as it had done in The Birches attack. It destroyed a substantial part of the base with a 200 lb bomb and raked the building with gunfire. However, as their attack was underway, the IRA unit was ambushed by a Special Air Service (SAS) unit. The SAS shot dead eight IRA members and a civilian who had accidentally driven into the ambush. This was the IRA's greatest loss of life in a single incident since the days of the Anglo-Irish War (1919–1922). Six IRA members from a supporting unit managed to escape. The Volunteers killed at Loughgall were Declan Arthurs (21), Tony Gormley (24), Eugene Kelly (25), Pádraig McKearney (32), Jim Lynagh (31), Gerard O'Callaghan (28), Seamus Donnelly (19) and unit commander Patrick Joseph Kelly (30).  The eight volunteers killed in the ambush became known as the "Loughgall Martyrs" among many republicans.
In December 2011, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)'s Historical Enquiries Team found that not only did the IRA team fire first but that they could not have been safely arrested. They concluded that the SAS were justified in opening fire.
In 2012 a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club in Tyrone distanced itself from a republican commemoration of those killed in the ambush. This was in response to a complaint from Democratic Unionist Party Assemblyman William McCrea accusing the GAA of turning a blind eye to "republican terrorist" events in the last years. GAA Central Council official reply was that "The GAA has strict protocols and rules in place regarding the use of property for Political purposes. (...) The Association is committed to a shared future based on tolerance for the different identities and cultural backgrounds of people who share this Community and this island."
Subsequent brigade activity
In the aftermath of the Loughgall ambush
The SAS ambush had no noticeable long-term effect on the level of IRA activity in East Tyrone. The level of IRA activity in the area did not show any real decline in the aftermath: in the two years prior to the Loughgall ambush the IRA killed seven people in East Tyrone and North Armagh, and eleven in the two years following the ambush. Additionally, most of the attacks which took place in County Fermanagh during this period of the Troubles were also launched from south Tyrone and Monaghan. However, many of their remaining activists were young and inexperienced and fell into further ambushes, leading to high casualties by the standards of the low intensity guerrilla conflict in Northern Ireland. Ed Moloney, Irish journalist and author of the Secret History of the IRA, states that the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade lost 53 members killed in the Troubles, the highest of any rural Brigade area. Of these, 28 were killed between 1987 and 1992.
A major IRA attack in County Tyrone took place on 20 August 1988, barely a year after Loughall, which ended in the deaths of eight soldiers when a British Army bus was bombed at Curr Road, near Ballygawley. The soldiers were being transported from RAF Aldergrove to a military base near Omagh after returning from leave in England. This attack forced the British military to ferry their troops to and from East Tyrone by helicopter. On 30 August 1988, an SAS ambush killed IRA members Gerard Harte, Martin Harte and Brian Mullin as they tried to kill an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment member near Carrickmore. British intelligence identified them as the perpetrators of the attack on the military bus at Curr Road. On 16 September 1989, a British sergeant of the Royal Corps of Signals (Kevin Froggett) was shot and killed by an IRA sniper while he was repairing a radio mast at Coalisland Army/RUC base.
According to journalist Ed Moloney, Michael "Pete" Ryan (himself killed with two other PIRA volunteers on 3 June 1991), an alleged top Brigade member, was the commander of the IRA flying column that launched the attack on Derryard checkpoint in Fermanagh on 13 December 1989. British military sources reported that other IRA volunteers from East Tyrone were involved in the assault. The checkpoint was stormed and two British soldiers (James Houston and Michael Patterson) were killed in action. Journalist Ian Bruce claims that an unidentified Irishman who had served in the Parachute Regiment was the leader of the IRA unit, citing intelligence sources.
From 1990 to the 1994 IRA ceasefire
Operations against British security forces
On 11 February 1990 the brigade managed to shoot down a British Army Gazelle helicopter near Clogher by machine gun fire and wounding three soldiers, one of them seriously. The helicopter was hit between Clogher and Augher, over the border near Derrygorry, across the border. The Gazelle broke up during the subsequent crash-landing.
On 24 March 1990, there was a gun battle between an IRA unit and undercover British forces at the village of Cappagh, County Tyrone, in which IRA members fired at a civilian-type car driven by security forces, according to Archie Hamilton, then Secretary of State for Defence. Hamilton stated that there were no security or civilian casualties. An Phoblacht claimed the IRA men thwarted an ambush and at least two SAS members were killed. A second shooting took place in the village of Pomeroy on 28 June, this time against British regular troops. One soldier was seriously wounded. In October 1990, two IRA volunteers from the brigade (Dessie Grew and Martin McCaughey) were shot dead near Loughgall by SAS undercover members while allegedly collecting two rifles from an IRA arms dump.
On 1 January 1991, a British Army outpost was fired on by an IRA unit at Aughnacloy. In May, an IRA unit firing a light machine gun disrupted a UDR mobile checkpoint at Lurgylea road, north of Cappagh. No casualties were reported. On 3 June, three IRA men, Lawrence McNally, Michael "Pete" Ryan, and Tony Doris, died in another SAS ambush at Coagh, where their car was riddled with gunfire. Ryan, according to Moloney, had led the mixed flying column under direct orders of top IRA Army Council member Thomas "Slab" Murphy two years before. The RUC stated the men were on their way to mount an ambush on Protestant workmen.
Another four IRA members were killed in an ambush in February 1992. The four, Peter Clancy, Kevin Barry O'Donnell, Sean O'Farrell and Patrick Vincent, were killed at Clonoe after an attack on the RUC station in Coalisland. O'Donnell had been released without charges for possession of weapons on two different occasions in the past. Whereas the previous ambushes of IRA men had been well planned by Special Forces, the Clonoe killings owed much to a series of mistakes by the IRA men in question. They had mounted a heavy DShK machine gun on the back of a stolen lorry, driven right to the RUC/British Army station and opened fire with tracer ammunition at the fortified base at point-blank range, when the long-range of the weapon would enable them to fire from a safe distance. No efforts were made to conceal the firing position or the machine gun. After the shooting they drove past the house of Tony Doris, the IRA man killed the previous year, where they fired more shots in the air and were heard to shout, "Up the 'RA, that's for Tony Doris". A support vehicle further compromised the getaway by flashing its emergency lights. The six attackers gathered on the same spot, instead of vanishing separately. The IRA men were intercepted by the SAS as they were trying to dump the lorry and escape in cars in the car park of Clonoe Roman Catholic church, whose roof was set on fire by Army flares. Two IRA men escaped from the scene, but the four named above were killed. One British soldier was wounded. One witness[who?] claimed some of the men were wounded and tried to surrender but were killed by the British soldiers.
In March 1992, members of the brigade destroyed McGowan's service station along the Ballygawley-Monaghan road, on the basis that they were supplying British forces, while a soldier was injured by a bomb near Augher.
Another IRA bomb attack on 12 May 1992, against British troops, near Cappagh, in which a paratrooper lost both legs, triggered a series of clashes on that date between soldiers and local residents in the staunchly republican town of Coalisland, on 12 and 17 May 1992. The 12 May riots ended with the paratroopers' assault on three bars, where they injured seven civilians. Another street fracas five days later, on 17 May, between a King's Own Scottish Borderers platoon and a group of nationalist youths in Coalisland resulted in the theft of an army machine gun and a new confrontation with the paratroopers. Six paratroopers were charged with criminal damage in the aftermath, but were acquitted in 1993. Five were bound over. A British soldier was injured in Pomeroy when his patrol was fired on by an IRA unit on 2 August 1992. The brigade was the first to use the Mark-15 Barrack-Buster mortar in an attack on 5 December 1992 against an RUC station in Ballygawley.
On 19 January 1993 the brigade claimed that their volunteers uncovered and destroyed a British army observation post concealed in a derelict house in Drumcairne Forest, near Stewartstown. The same source reported that a British helicopter, a military ambulance and ground troops arrived to the scene shortly after, and that local residents believed that two soldiers had been wounded.
From mid-1992 up to the 1994 cease fire, IRA units in east and south Tyrone carried out eight mortar attacks against police and military facilities and were also responsible for at least 16 bombings and shootings. The facilities damaged by mortar bombs included the above-mentioned Ballygawley barracks, a British Army outpost at Aughnacloy, the RUC barracks at Clogher and Beragh, both resulting in massive damage but no fatalities, an overshot aimed at the RUC base in Caledon, which was also hit by gunfire, and the RUC stations at Fintona, Carrickmore, and Pomeroy.
At least five members of the security forces were killed by the IRA in around this area during the same period. Among the killed were two constables shot dead while driving a civilian type vehicle in Fivemiletown's main street on 12 December 1993. A British Army helicopter was fired on in the aftermath of the ambush. Another fatality was a RIR soldier, Private Reginald McCollum, from Cookstown who was abducted and shot dead while on leave; his body was found in the outskirts of Armagh City on 21 May 1994. His murder was the IRA's first act of terrorism since the Government replied on Thursday to Sinn Féin's 20 questions about the Downing Street Declaration. His elder brother, Nigel McCollum, a civilian contractor to the Ministry of Defence, had died in a South Armagh Brigade mortar attack one year earlier, on 8 March 1993, while working inside an Army base near Keady. A decade before Nigel McCollum's death, on 19 September 1983, the brothers' grandmother, Lilly McCollum, was killed by a booby trap bomb said to have been meant for her brother, at that time a member of the security forces.
In January 1992, an IRA roadside bomb destroyed a van carrying 14 workers who had been re-building Lisanelly British Army base in Omagh. Eight were killed and the rest were badly wounded. The bombing was at Teebane Crossroads, near Cookstown. One of the workers killed, Robert Dunseath, was an off-duty Royal Irish Rangers soldier. The IRA said that the men were legitimate targets because they were "collaborating" with the "forces of occupation". As the men were all Protestants, many Protestants saw it as a sectarian attack. The UDA retaliated by shooting dead five Catholic male civilians inside a betting shop on the Ormeau Road, Belfast.
IRA volunteers in Tyrone were the target of an assassination campaign carried out by the loyalist paramilitaries of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The UVF killed 40 people in East Tyrone between 1988 and 1994. Of these, most were Catholics civilians with no known paramilitary connections but six were Provisional Irish Republican Army members. When the IRA responded by killing a retired UDR member, Leslie Dallas, and two elderly Protestants, Austin Nelson and Ernest Rankin, on 7 March 1989, the UVF shot dead three IRA members and a Catholic civilian in a pub in Cappagh on 3 March 1991. The main target, Brian Arthurs, escaped injury. (The IRA alleged that Dallas was a senior UVF member but this was denied by his family, the police, and the UVF. Both Lost Lives and the Sutton Index of Deaths (at CAIN) list him as a civilian.) The IRA retaliated on 5 August 1991 by shooting and killing a former UDR soldier leaving his workplace along Altmore Road, Cappagh. A former UDR soldier (David Martin) was killed when an IRA bomb exploded underneath his car in Kildress, County Tyrone in April 1993; it was claimed that he had loyalist connections. The latter attack led to loyalist allegations that the IRA was killing Protestant land-owners in Tyrone and Fermanagh in an orchestrated campaign to drive Protestants out of the region which were rubbished by many, including other unionists.
List of notable actions from 1971 until Loughgall
Dates highlighted in bold indicate three or more fatalities.
- 14 September 1971: a British soldier (John Rudman, aged 21) was shot dead while on mobile patrol, Edendork, near Coalisland, County Tyrone. He was the first British soldier killed by the East Tyrone Brigade
- 14 March 1972: A two-man IRA unit armed with sub-machine guns ambushed a joint British Army/RUC patrol on Brackaville Road outside Coalisland, County Tyrone. Over 50 shots were fired by the unit. The RUC officer, William Logan (aged 23), who was driving the police patrol vehicle was mortally wounded and died the following day, he was the first RUC officer killed by the Brigade.
- 10 September 1972: Douglas Richmond (21), Duncan McPhee (21) and William McIntyre (23), all members of the British Army, were killed in a IRA land mine attack on their armoured personnel carrier, at Sanaghanroe, near Dungannon.
- 16 August 1973: two IRA volunteers, Daniel McAnallen (aged 27) and Patrick Quinn (aged 18), were killed when a mortar prematurely exploded during an attack on Pomeroy British Army/RUC base.
- 15 March 1974: Patrick McDonald (21) and Kevin Murray (27), both Catholic members of the IRA, were killed in the premature explosion of a land mine at Aughnacloy Road, Dungannon.
- 2 May 1974: Up to 40 members from the IRA's East Tyrone Brigade attacked the isolated 6 UDR Deanery base in Clogher, County Tyrone with machine gun and RPG fire resulting the death of Private Eva Martin, a UDR Greenfinch, the first female UDR soldier to be killed by enemy action. See: Attack on UDR Clogher barracks
- 13 May 1974 - Eugene Martin (18) and Sean McKearney (19), both Catholic members of the IRA, were killed in a premature explosion, while planting a bomb at a petrol filling station at Donnydeade.
- 7 November 1974: Two British soldiers, Vernon Rose (aged 30) and Charles Simpson (aged 35) were killed by an IRA booby trap bomb at an electricity sub station at Aghalarg, near Stewartstown, County Tyrone.
- 25 November 1975: two RUC officers, Samuel Clarke (aged 35) and Patrick Maxwell (aged 36), were killed when their mobile patrol was caught in an IRA sniper ambush in Clonavaddy, near Ballygawley.
- 7 February 1976: Two Protestant teenagers, Rachel and Robert McLernon (aged 18 and 16, respectively), were killed by an IRA booby-trap bomb, intended for members of the security forces, which had been hidden in an abandoned crashed car, Tyresson Road, Cookstown.
- 29 April 1976 - Edmund Stewart (31), Protestant off duty member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, and Stanley Arthurs (43), a Protestant civilian, were shot dead by the IRA at Arthurs’ farm at Dunamony.
- 2 June 1977: Three members of a RUC mobile patrol were shot dead by East Tyrone Brigade snipers near Ardboe.
- 3 December 1977: RUC car ambushed by IRA gunmen firing automatic weapons at Clover Hill Bridge on Benburb Road near Moy, County Tyrone. Firefight ensued and the assailants fled across fields.
- 16 December 1979: William Beck (23), Keith Richards (22), Simon Evans (19) and Allan Ayrton (21), all members of the British Army, were killed in a IRA land mine attack on their mobile patrol at Ballygawley Road near Dungannon
- 21 January 1981: Sir Norman Stronge (86), Ulster Unionist Party member, and former Speaker at Stormont, and his son, James Stronge (48), an off-duty member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary reserve, both aristocratic Protestants, were shot dead by the Provisional Irish Republican Army at their mansion, Tynan Abbey, Tynan. A group of men in military style uniform forced their way into the abbey, a mansion in its own large grounds near the Border, sought out the father and son, and shot them. They then placed bombs and incendiary devices and set the mansion alight. It was destroyed by the fire. Sir Norman Stronge, one of the oldest people killed during the troubles, had been Stormont MP for Mid-Armagh from 1938 to 1969, and Speaker of the House from 1945 until his retirement. James Stronge had taken over the Mid-Armagh seat in 1969 and held it until 1972. He had been a Unionist member of the NI Assembly from 1973 to 1974. Both father and son were members of Derryhaw Boyne Defenders Orange Lodge. The PIRA claimed the Stronges had been targeted as "symbols of hated unionism" and "as a direct reprisal for a whole series of loyalist assassinations and murder attacks".
- 7 September 1981: two RUC officers (Mark Evans and Stuart Montgomery) were killed when their patrol vehicle struck an IRA landmine at Sessadonaghy, near Cappagh, County Tyrone.
- 13 July 1983: four UDR soldiers (Ronald Alexander, Thomas Harron, Oswell Neely, and John Roxborough) were killed in a in land mine attack while on mobile patrol, near Ballygawley. See: Ballygawley land mine attack
- 12 November 1983: a RUC officer (Paul Clarke) was killed and several others were injured in an IRA mortar bomb attack on Carrickmore British Army/Royal Ulster Constabulary base
- 4 December 1983: Colm McGirr (23) and Brian Campbell (19), both members of the East Tyrone Brigade, were shot dead by an undercover British Army soldier whilst approaching an arms dump in a field near Coalisland.
- 7 December 1985: during an attack on the RUC barracks in Ballygawley, the IRA killed two RUC officers (Reserve Constable William Clements and Constable George Gilliland) and destroyed the barracks with a large bomb. IRA volunteers had been lying in wait outside the barracks and, as the officers left, two gunmen stepped out of concealed positions and shot both officers in the head from close range. Another IRA unit then directed heavy machine-gun fire at the front of the barracks, which provided cover for a bomb team to plant a 100 lb (45 kg) bomb inside. The bomb exploded ten minutes later, destroying the barracks. Three other RUC officers who were in the building fled through a back door. See: Attack on Ballygawley barracks
- 11 December 1985: the East Tyrone Brigade claimed responsibility for mortaring Tynan RUC base, County Armagh in which four RUC officers were injured and the base badly damaged.
- 1 January 1986: two RUC officers (James McCandless and Michael Williams) were killed when the IRA East Tyrone Brigade detonated a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a litter bin as their patrol passed on Thomas Street, Armagh town.
- 11 August 1986: The East Tyrone Brigade destroyed the RUC base at The Birches near Portadown with a 200 lb bomb. Three civilians were injured in the attack. See: Attack on RUC Birches barracks
- 23 November 1986: six British soldiers were wounded after the Brigade launched seven mortars at a British Army barracks in Middletown, County Armagh just along the Armagh/Monaghan border.
26 January 1987: Senior UDR officer was killed outside his home on Coalisland Road, Dungannon. Major George Shaw, a 57-year-old father of two, worked full-time for the MOD and was a part-time soldier. Early in the morning as he prepared to drive to work, two masked PIRA gunmen who had been hiding behind trees walked over and shot him three times in the head, mortally wounding him. Almost immediately another part-time soldier chanced upon the scene and opened fire on the fleeing gunmen who managed to escape by forcing a passing car to stop and raced off. Major Shaw died at the scene.
- 25 April: an off duty British soldier (William Graham) was shot dead by the IRA at his family's farm, off Gortscraheen Road, near Pomeroy. This was the last action by the Brigade before Loughgall.
List of actions from 1996 until the 1997 IRA ceasefire
There were a number of actions carried out by the IRA in the eastern part of Tyrone from 1996 up to the latest IRA ceasefire of July 1997:
- 2 February 1996: the house of a part-time member of the RUC was riddled with 57 gunshots in Moy. There were no casualties. A 'senior security source' claimed that the IRA was responsible, although the IRA later denied as "mischievous" any claims that it was involved in the incident.
- 5 February 1997: an IRA unit fired a horizontal mortar at a British patrol on Newell Road in Dungannon. There were no injuries.
- 10 February 1997: a horizontal mortar fired by an IRA unit hit an RUC armoured vehicle leaving a security base. The ambush took place outside the village of Pomeroy. One RUC officer was injured.
- 22 February 1997: an IRA mortar unit was intercepted by the RUC in Caledon, on its way to carry out an attack on a British security facility. A five-mile (8 km) chase followed before the IRA volunteers managed to escape on foot.
- 26 March 1997: a grenade was thrown by IRA volunteers at the British Army/RUC base in Coalisland. The device holed the perimeter fence. Undercover members of the British Army shot and seriously injured 19-year-old republican Gareth Doris in the aftermath. The soldiers left the scene under the protection of the RUC after being cornered by a crowd. Two women were wounded by plastic bullets fired by RUC officers. Doris recovered from his wounds and was sentenced to ten years in jail for involvement in the attack before being released in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
- 5 July 1997: a female RUC officer from Portadown was shot in the face by an IRA volunteer during an attack on an armoured vehicle beside the British Army/RUC base. Her wounds were said to be non life-threatening.
- 8 July 1997: A landmine was planted by the IRA near Dungannon, leading to a bomb alert. There were no casualties.
- 9 July 1997: IRA gunmen hijacked and burned a number of vehicles at Dungannon.
Róisín McAliskey, daughter of political activist Bernadette McAliskey and suspected IRA member from Coalisland was accused by German authorities of being involved in a mortar attack on British Army facilities in Osnabrück, Germany, on 28 June 1996. Her extradition from Northern Ireland was eventually denied in 2007 due to discrepancies in the claims against her.
- Provisional Irish Republican Army campaign 1969–1997
- Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade
- Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade
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Broadcast Company: Independent Television (ITV)
Date Broadcast: 6 February 1997
Duration: 6 mins
DVD Number: D02180
Tape Number: 134
Country of Origin: Northern Ireland
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