UDA South East Antrim Brigade

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Mural in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey showing the areas covered by the brigade

The UDA South East Antrim Brigade is one of the six brigades of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). A mural in support of the group lists its areas of activity as being Rathcoole (the mural's location), Rathfern, Monkstown, Glengormley and Whitewell, all of which are part of Newtownabbey, as well as Carrickfergus, the Shore Road, Greenisland, Ballymena, Whitehead, Antrim and Larne.[1] The Guardian has identified it as "one of the most dangerous factions".[2] The Irish News described the brigade as 'powerful' and at one time being 'the most bloody and murderous gang operating within the paramilitary organisation'.[citation needed] Since 2007 the South East Antrim Brigade has operated independently of the UDA following a fall-out.

Emergence under Alan Snoddy[edit]

Eddie the Head used as an emblem of the UDA in Ballymena

It is unclear when South East Antrim was first designated as a brigade area although its first recognised leader was Alan Snoddy and he held title of Brigadier by at least 1979. Snoddy was close to UDA leader Andy Tyrie and was recognised as one of his closest allies amongst UDA leadership.[3]

Amongst the Brigade's most notorious attacks during the Troubles was the attempted killing of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in 1984. Adams was in a taxi near Belfast City Hall with some associates when another car containing John 'Grug' Gregg and two fellow Rathcoole UDA members pulled up alongside and opened fire on Adams. Adams was hit five times in the attack but the taxi rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he received treatment and survived.[4] Gregg, Colin Gray and Gerry Welsh were immediately arrested by the waiting British Army, who had doctored the bullets to reduce their lethality.[5] They were convicted for the attack the following year.[6] The attack is commemorated in the song South East Antrim Brigade by loyalist singer Rab C, many of whose compositions were about the brigade and its leading members.

In the later 1980s Snoddy took ill with cancer and many of his duties as brigadier were filled by his ally Joe English. When Snoddy died from the illness in September 1988 and English immediately succeeded him.[7]

Towards ceasefire under Joe English[edit]

As brigadier Joe English enjoyed, theoretically more power than his predecessor as Andy Tyrie had been removed from the UDA leadership and been replaced by a collective leadership of the movement's six brigadiers, including English.[8] As the oldest member English usually chaired the meetings of this Inner Council although he often struggled to control West Belfast brigadier Johnny Adair.[9] The two clashed frequently and in 1993 Adair even threatened to kill English after he had suggested that the UDA should not claim the murder of Marie Teresa Dowds de Mogollon that Adair's top hitman Stephen McKeag had perpetrated.[10] Later in the year English was forced to confront Adair about rumours that "Mad Dog" (Adair) was considering attending an Inner Council meeting armed in order to eliminate the other five brigadiers and assume sole control of the UDA.[11] English was a strong advocate of political means and pushed for the UDA to call a ceasefire in the early 1990s, a position that was an anathema to Adair.[12]

John Gregg as Brigadier[edit]

A mural in support of the South-East Antrim Brigade, Ballyduff estate, Newtownabbey

Gregg was released from prison in 1993 as a loyalist hero and quickly replaced English as brigadier.[13] According to the Workers Party of Ireland English was stood down by the UDA after he had expressed willingness to enter into dialogue with them.[14] English would soon re-emerge as part of the Ulster Democratic Party. Under Gregg drug-dealing became a major problem in brigade areas, particularly Rathcoole, with Gregg himself said to have a leading role in the illicit trade.[15] In late August 1997 the brigade became involved in simmering tensions with fellow loyalists in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Cloughfern Young Conquerors, a flute band attached to the brigade, had been to Derry for the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry march through the city centre when at the train station they met members of the Shankill Protestant Boys, a UVF-affiliated band. Brawls between the two had been frequent and tensions had been growing between the UDA and UVF leading to a drink-fuelled pitched battle between the two groups at the train station. During the course of the melee a Shankill Protestant Boys member managed to gouge out Gregg's eye.[16]

Although the UDA was officially on ceasefire the South East Antrim Brigade remained active in late 1998 and early 1999, undertaking a series of pipe bomb attacks on Catholic properties. These were carried out under the Red Hand Defenders cover name, with some attacks also blamed on the Orange Volunteers who were active in similar attacks at the time.[17] Gregg, who was noted for his sectarian beliefs, insisted that such attacks were necessary in order to prevent the "greening" of places such as Carrickfergus and Antrim, a process he claimed had already happened in Glengormley where the Catholic population had experienced significant growth.[18] Indeed around this time Gregg spearheaded an initiative to significantly increase recruitment into the South East Antrim Brigade and even told Ian S. Wood that he had only supported the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in an effort to ensure the release of imprisoned friends.[14] In 2000 he helped to ensure that a proposal before the Inner Council to initiate the decommissioning of weapons was rejected.[19] Trevor Lowry (aged 49) was beaten to death in Glengormley by UDA members under Gregg's command on 11 April 2001 after he was mistaken for a Catholic.[20]

South East Antrim Brigade mural in Ballymena honouring John Gregg

Gregg was not close to Johnny Adair but sympathised with his uncompromising attitudes and his anti-UVF views, although he did not involve the South East Antrim Brigade in Adair's feuds. However in late 2002 a UDA member originally from the Woodvale Road who had moved to Rathcoole was attacked after it emerged that he was a friend of Joe English, the former brigadier who had since been exiled from the area by Gregg for his anti-drugs stance.[21] In response three Woodvale UDA members went to Gregg and complained about the attack in a move Gregg saw as a threat. He complained to senior figures in West Belfast before ordering that the three men be kneecapped.[22] The shootings raised some anger on the Shankill, where the three were well-liked figures, and Adair sought to exploit this as a method of getting rid of Gregg. He sought to portray Gregg as unstable and thuggish and spread a rumour that he was about to be replaced as brigadier.[23] This briefly occurred in late August when one of Adair's allies took command of the brigade although this proved very short-lived.[24] Gregg was back in command by October, at which point he was one of the brigadiers who passed the resolution expelling Adair from the UDA for his involvement in the attempted murder of Jim Gray.[25]

On 8 December a bomb was found under Gregg's car, apparently placed there by one of Adair's allies from the Loyalist Volunteer Force.[26] This was followed by two pipe bombs being thrown at Gregg's house and shots being fired at that of his friend Tommy Kirkham.[27] A bomb attack on Adair's house on 8 January 2003 was blamed on Gregg by John White, although Adair himself was returned to prison two days later.[28] However members of Adair's C-Company group shot and killed Gregg the following month.[2] His deputy Rab Carson was killed in the same attack, with both men having just returned from Scotland where they were attending a Rangers F.C. match.[29] Adair would be removed from his position of power soon afterwards in a show of strength by the mainstream UDA under the command of Jackie McDonald.

Division under Gary Fisher[edit]

Gary Fisher, a close associate of Tommy Kirkham, succeeded Gregg as brigadier. Under Fisher the South East Antrim Brigade became close to the Shoukri brothers, who commanded the neighbouring North Belfast Brigade before being expelled from the UDA in June 2006. In a move that was not universally popular in the region Fisher allowed the Shoukris and their ally Alan McClean to live under South East Belfast Brigade protection and even attend meetings of the brigade's commanders.[30] In response to the criticism from the rest of the UDA leadership Fisher withdrew the South East Antrim brigade from the UDA and reconstituted it as a separate movement.[30]

In 2007, the UDA's inner council expelled the Brigadier in the South East Antrim area and his political adviser after a long-running stand-off between the mainstream UDA and the South East Antrim Brigade. The council released a statement expelling two figures within it, believed to be senior UDA figures Fisher and Kirkham, once a member of the Ulster Political Research Group (UPRG), although they were not explicitly named. This came within a few days of a £1m allocation to a conflict transformation project in loyalist areas. The Belfast Telegraph called the move "a familiar loyalist pattern of events."[31] The dissident branch was also revealed to have contained an informer after Jon McDowell, Tommy Kirkham's assistant, told the Belfast Telegraph that he was a Special Branch agent in November 2007.[32] A new interim leadership was appointed in their stead although the brigade effectively divided between those who supported the wider UDA leadership and those who remained loyal to Fisher.[33] As of 2014 the South East Antrim Brigade is no longer considered part of the wider UDA and their brigadier does not attend meetings of the organisation's ruling Inner Council.[34]

In 2009, the Brigade claimed to have decommissioned a substantial quantity of guns and explosives in a single day in the presence of the chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning however the brigade representatives refused to give any details about how many weapons were destroyed or give any indication of the amount of commercial explosives destroyed during the day-long exercise. On 8 February 2010, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the Brigade had completed decommissioning).[35] The process was confirmed as complete by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and came in the last 24 hours of the commission's existence.[36] The decommissioning was completed at the same time as that of the republican Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA).[36] Accusations that the brigade has remained active continued however and in 2009 the mother of Jason Ballard, a 20 year old Greenisland native subjected to a vicious beating at his home, claimed that the attack had been carried out by the South-East Antrim Brigade. They denied any involvement in the attack however.[37] In 2010 the Independent Monitoring Commission also confirmed that the split between the Fisher faction of the brigade and the wider UDA had not ended.[38]

In March 2014 the South-East Antrim Brigade was widely reported as being behind a "rampage" in which up to 100 people, some of them wearing masked, attacked a number of residential properties in Larne.[39] A Police Service of Northern Ireland officer was injured during the disturbance.[40] Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton described the incident as a "power trip" by the brigade, and suggested that it was an attempt by the group to assert their dominace over the local community.[41] The targets of the attack were reported locally as being two brothers who had been involved in a scuffle with three UDA members the night before. Both men, who lived on Ferris Avenue, had their houses burnt out during the attack.[42] Three arrests were made in the days immediately after the attack.[43]


1979: Alan Snoddy
1988: Joe English
1993: John Gregg
2003: Gary Fisher


  • David Lister & Hugh Jordan, Mad Dog: The Rise and Fall of Johnny Adair and 'C' Company, Mainsteam, 2004
  • Henry McDonald & Jim Cusack, UDA - Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, Penguin Ireland, 2004
  • Ian S. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA, Edinburgh University Press, 2006


  1. ^ Mural directory from Conflict Archive on the Internet
  2. ^ a b McDonald, Henry (31 May 2009). "UDA rebels decommission and condemn McDaid killing". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Wood, p. 355
  4. ^ Wood, p. 120
  5. ^ McDonald & Cusack, UDA, pp. 129-130
  6. ^ Wood, p. 121
  7. ^ Wood, p. 136
  8. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 160
  9. ^ Lister & Jordan, pp. 210-211
  10. ^ Lister & Jordan, pp. 155-156
  11. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 209
  12. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 211
  13. ^ Wood, p. 351
  14. ^ a b Wood, p. 200
  15. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 279
  16. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 292
  17. ^ Wood, p. 233
  18. ^ Wood, p. 267
  19. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 317
  20. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 350
  21. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 369
  22. ^ McDonald & Cusack, UDA, pp. 369-370
  23. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 370
  24. ^ Guardian, 25 August 2002
  25. ^ McDonald & Cusack, p. 374
  26. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 323
  27. ^ Lister & Jordan, p. 325
  28. ^ Lister & Jordan, Mad Dog, pp. 326-327
  29. ^ Wood, p. 291
  30. ^ a b Pro-shoukri 'brigadier' ousted
  31. ^ "UDA expels south east Antrim brigade chiefs By Brian Rowan Thursday". The Belfast Telegraph. 29 March 2007. Retrieved 10 January 2010. 
  32. ^ Branch Spy at Heart of Rebel UDA
  33. ^ Rowan, Brian (17 June 2007). "UDA installs new interim leadership". Belfast Telegraph  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  34. ^ Barnes, Ciaran (14 September 2014). "UDA Call an 'AGM' to End Faction Feuds". Belfast Telegraph  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved 18 September 2014. 
  35. ^ PM praises Northern Ireland decommissioning moves, BBC News, 8 February 2010
  36. ^ a b Three more Northern Ireland terrorist groups lay down their arms, The Times
  37. ^ UDA Brigade deny being involved in gang attack
  38. ^ UDA confirm guns decommissioned
  39. ^ UDA blamed for Larne, County Antrim, 'rampage'
  40. ^ Officer hurt in 'UDA trouble' in Larne
  41. ^ UDA 'on a power trip', says senior police officer after attacks in Antrim
  42. ^ UDA's Larne mob attack was aimed at brothers who stood up to terror gang
  43. ^ Larne disorder: Third man is arrested after two are released

See also[edit]