Pádraig McKearney was raised in Moy, County Tyrone, in a staunchly Irish republican family. Both his grandfathers had fought in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, his maternal grandfather in south County Roscommon and his paternal grandfather in east County Tyrone. He was educated at local Catholic schools in Collegeland and Moy, and went on to St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon.
He joined the Provisional IRA and was first arrested in 1972 on charges of blowing up the post office in Moy. He spent six weeks on remand, but was released due to insufficient evidence. In December 1973 he was arrested again and later sentenced to seven years for possession of a rifle. He was imprisoned in Long Kesh and later in Magilligan prison. During this period of incarceration his younger brother Seán, also an IRA paramilitary, was killed whilst engaged in IRA activity on 13 May 1974. He was released in 1977 but was sentenced to 14 years in August 1980 after being caught by the British Army with a loaded sten gun along with another IRA member Gerard O'Callaghan. That same year his older brother Tommy, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, nearly died on hunger strike after refusing food for 53 days. Another brother, Kevin, a civilian, and an uncle, Jack McKearney, were both shot dead by Loyalist paramilitaries.
On 25 September 1983 McKearney took part in the Maze Prison escape along with 37 other prisoners. At the beginning of 1984 he rejoined IRA activity in his native East Tyrone with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He advocated the commencement of the "third phase" of the armed struggle, the 'strategic defensive', in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ulster Defence Regiment and British Army would be denied all support in selected areas following repeated attacks on their bases.1 His views were very close to those of Jim Lynagh, the Maoist IRA commander from County Monaghan, who devised a guerrilla strategy adapted to Irish conditions with the intent of creating liberated zones.
In 1985 Patrick Kelly became commander of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade and it was under his leadership that this strategy was pursued. Remote Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) bases were attacked and destroyed, and building contractors who tried to repair them were targeted and sometimes murdered. Prime examples of this policy were the Ballygawley RUC barracks in December 1985, which killed two policemen, and The Birches RUC barracks in August 1986.
McKearney was the key planner in many of these attacks and he soon became one of the most experienced guerrilla fighters in the PIRA.
McKearney was killed in an ambush by the British Army on 8 May 1987 during an IRA attack on Loughgall RUC barracks, which also claimed the lives of seven other PIRA paramilitaries, viz. Jim Lynagh, Patrick Kelly, Declan Arthurs, Seamus Donnelly, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, and Gerard O'Callaghan. His body was buried at his hometown of Moy.
^1 The "Third Phase" in Provisional IRA thinking represented an escalation of the conflict in Northern Ireland with the eventual aim of using more conventional warfare by taking and holding "liberated zones" along the border. Due to a number of factors, including the loss of experienced activists at Loughgall and the interception of 120 tonnes of Libyan weaponry aboard the Eksund ship, this strategy was never carried out. (See also: Provisional IRA arms importation and Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997.)
- Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. Penguin Books. p. 307. ISBN 0-14-101041-X.
- Malcolm Sutton. "An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland". CAIN.
- The SAS in Northern Ireland
- RE Kevin & Jack McKearney's death, bbc.co.uk; accessed 7 November 2015.
- Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. Penguin Books. p. 314. ISBN 0-14-101041-X.
- Malcolm Sutton. "An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland (1987)". CAIN.
|This article lacks ISBNs for the books listed in it. (August 2012)|
- Ed Moloney, Secret History of the IRA
- Derek Dunne, Out of the Maze
- Peter Taylor, Provos The IRA and Sinn Féin