|Part of The Troubles and Operation Banner|
Mural commemorating those killed in the ambush
|Provisional IRA||British Army (SAS)|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Patrick Joseph Kelly †||Unknown|
|8 IRA members
6 IRA members
|Casualties and losses|
|8 killed||3 wounded|
|1 civilian killed and 1 wounded by SAS|
The Loughgall ambush took place on 8 May 1987 in the village of Loughgall, Northern Ireland. An eight-man Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit launched an attack on the village's Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base, but was ambushed by a British Army Special Air Service (SAS) unit of 25. The SAS shot dead eight IRA members and a civilian. This was the IRA's greatest loss of life in a single incident during The Troubles.
The IRA's East Tyrone Brigade carried out attacks in eastern County Tyrone, though it had also conducted operations in neighbouring County Armagh. Since 1985 it had been led by Patrick Joseph Kelly. The brigade had carried out two major attacks on RUC bases in eastern Tyrone, described by author Mark Urban as "spectaculars". The first was an attack on the RUC barracks in Ballygawley on 7 December 1985. The second was an attack on an RUC base at The Birches, near Portadown, on 11 August 1986. Both of these attacks involved raking the bases with gunfire, breaching the reinforced fences and detonating a bomb inside. In both attacks, the bases were wrecked and RUC personnel killed or injured. It was therefore with some confidence that the IRA tried the same tactics on the unmanned Loughgall base.
The SAS, however, had set a trap to destroy the unit as it began its attack. They placed an SAS soldier inside the base, and deployed a squad of 24 soldiers split into six groups around the building. It has been alleged, but never proved, that the RUC had an informer among the IRA members, and that he was killed by the SAS in the ambush. Other sources claim instead that the security forces had learned of the ambush while conducting surveillance on IRA member Jim Lynagh.
Just after 7:00 pm on 8 May 1987, IRA member Declan Arthurs drove a stolen JCB excavator with a bomb in its bucket through the base's perimeter fence. The bomb was 200 lb (90 kg) of semtex inside an oil drum, wired to two 40-second fuzes. The owner of the JCB, a farmer called Peter Mackle, was held hostage in his home at gunpoint along with his family to prevent them alerting the security forces. The rest of the IRA unit pulled-up in a stolen dark blue Toyota Hiace van. They then jumped out and opened fire on the base while Tony Gormley lit the bomb fuses with a zippo lighter. However, within seconds, the SAS unit opened fire with M16 and H&K G3 rifles and L7A2 general purpose machine guns. The bomb detonated, destroying the JCB along with much of the building, and injuring three members of the security forces.
The SAS riddled the JCB and the Toyota with bullets, firing about 600 rounds. The IRA returned about 70 rounds but did not hit any of their targets. All eight IRA members were killed, having sustained head wounds. Even though the eight men were wearing bullet resistant vests at the time, they were not enough to stop the SAS rifle and machine gun rounds. It has been alleged that three of the IRA men were shot while lying down after surrendering. According to author Raymond Murray, citing Jim Cussack's article in The Irish Times of 5 June 1987, another six IRA members were in scout cars nearby and managed to escape.
The SAS also fired upon the car of Anthony Hughes, who was travelling back from work with his brother Oliver Hughes and had driven into the ambush zone by mistake. They were both riddled with SAS bullets; Anthony Hughes died at the scene and his brother later recovered in the Royal Victoria hospital. Anthony Hughes was wearing his ordinary clothes, unlike the blue boilersuits worn by the IRA members. The SAS fired about 40 rounds at the car as the two men tried to reverse out of the gunfire. Hughes's widow later received compensation from the British Government for the death of her husband.
The security forces recovered one firearm from each dead IRA member at the scene: three H&K G3 rifles, one FN FAL rifle, two FN FNC rifles, a Ruger Security Six revolver and a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun. The RUC linked the guns to seven murders and twelve attempted murders in the Mid Ulster area. The Ruger had been stolen from Reserve RUC officer William Clement, killed two years earlier in the attack on Ballygawley RUC barracks by the same IRA members. It was found that another of the firearms had been used in the killing of Harold Henry, a key contractor to the British Army and RUC in Northern Ireland.
The East Tyrone Brigade continued to be active until the last IRA ceasefire ten years later. SAS operations against the IRA also continued. The IRA searched to find the informer it believed to be among them, although it has been suggested that the informer, if there ever was one, had been killed in the ambush.
The IRA men became known as the "Loughgall Martyrs" among republicans. The men's relatives considered their killings to be part of a deliberate shoot-to-kill policy by the security forces. Thousands of people attended their funerals; the biggest republican funerals in Northern Ireland since those of the IRA hunger strikers of 1981. Gerry Adams, in his graveside oration, gave a speech stating the British Government understood that it could buy-off the government of the Republic of Ireland, which he described as the "shoneen clan" (pro-British), but added "it does not understand the Jim Lynaghs, the Pádraig McKearneys or the Séamus McElwaines. It thinks it can defeat them. It never will."
Shortly after the ambush the Provisional IRA released a statement saying: "volunteers who shot their way out of the ambush and escaped saw other volunteers being shot on the ground after being captured".
In 2001 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that ten IRA members, including the eight killed at Loughgall, had their human rights violated by the failure of the British government to conduct a large enough investigation into the circumstances of their deaths. The court did not make any finding that these deaths amounted to unlawful killing.
In December 2011, Northern Ireland'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 GAA club in Tyrone distances itself from a republican conmemoration of those killed in the ambush. This in response to a statement from DUP Assemblyman William McCrea accusing the GAA of turning a blind eye to "republican terrorist" events in the last years. GAA Central Council officially replied 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.” 
The ambush is alluded to in The Pogues' 1988 song "Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six". "Loughgall Ambush" is also the name of a republican ballad specifically about this attack as recorded by Charlie and The Bhoys amongst others.
- Timeline of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions
- Attack on Ballygawley barracks
- Ballygawley bus bombing
- Attack on Derryard checkpoint
- Clonoe ambush
- 1997 Coalisland attack
- O'Brien, Brendan (1995). The Long War: The IRA and Sinn Féin. p. 141. ISBN 0-8156-0319-3.
- Murray, Raymond (1990). The SAS in Ireland. Mercier Press, p. 380. ISBN 0-85342-938-3.
- McDonald, Henry (29 September 2002). "True tale of IRA 'martyrs' revealed". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 19 September 2007.
- Ten cases of special forces in action - BBC News, 5 May 2011.
- Big Boys' Rules, Mark Urban, Faber and Faber (1992), p. 224, ISBN 0-571-16112-X.
- "SAS shooting 'destroyed deadly IRA unit'". BreakingNews.ie. 5 May 2001. Retrieved 19 September 2007.
- Big Boys' Rules, p. 227.
- Taylor, Peter (1997). Provos - The IRA & Sinn Féin. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 276. ISBN 0-7475-3818-2.
- Holland, Jack (1999). Hope against History. Henry Holt. p. 143. ISBN 0-8050-6087-1.
- Ellison, Graham and Smyth, Jim (2000). The Crowned Harp: Policing Northern Ireland. Contemporary Irish Studies. Pluto Press, p. 122. ISBN 0-7453-1393-0.
- Ted Oliver (5 May 2001). "Infamous IRA gang wiped out by heavily armed SAS". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 26 March 2007.
- "IRA deaths: The four shootings". BBC. 4 May 2001. Retrieved 11 March 2007.
- Coogan, Tim Pat (1995). The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal 1966-1995 and the Search for Peace. Hutchinson (publisher). p. 290. ISBN 0-09-179146-4.
- CAIN timeline 1987
- Provos: The IRA and Sinn Féin, Peter Taylor (1997) p. 274.
- Urban, Mark (1992). Big Boys' Rules. Faber and Faber. p. 229. ISBN 0-571-16809-4.
- Toolis, Kevin (1995). Rebel Hearts: journeys within the IRA's soul. Picador, p. 65. ISBN 0-330-34243-6.
- Bean, Kevin (2008). The New Politics of Sinn Féin. Liverpool University Press, p. 1. ISBN 1-84631-144-6.
- Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002, p. 324.
- Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002, p. 325.
- PIRA Propaganda:The Construction of Legitimacy, by Joanne Wright
- "UK condemned over IRA deaths". BBC. 4 May 2001. Retrieved 28 October 2008.
- "Shot IRA unit 'fired first at SAS'". Belfast Telegraph. 2 December 2011.
- Property Sold by the PSNI in the Last Ten Years
- Provo Massacre PSNI Station Sold; Scene of 11 killings set to be used for housing The Mirror, 27 April 2011.
- [http://www.midulstermail.co.uk/news/local/gaa-distances-itself-from-ira-commemorations-1-3753356 GAA distances itself from IRA conmemorations]
- "Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six". ShaneMacGowan.com. "May the whores of the empire lie awake in their beds, And sweat as they count out the sins on their heads. While over in Ireland eight more men lie dead, Kicked down and shot in the back of the head"
- Song details