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 Ballygawley barracks
Ballygawley bus bombing
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
Members of the East Tyrone Brigade had previously 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 barracks. The second attack was on the part-time station at The Birches, County Armagh, and it began by driving a JCB digger with a 200 lb (91 kg) bomb in its bucket through the reinforced fences the RUC had in place around their bases, and then exploding the bomb and raking the police station with gunfire. On these two occasions the stations were destroyed, and, in the first case, two of the occupants killed. In April 1987 they 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 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 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 was 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 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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- RUC memorial
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- See this British Commons account about the NI violence for the first month of 1990: Publications.parliament.uk For some details on the helicopter downing, go to this archive page of the New York Times:
- Bruce, Ian. Fears of new IRA atrocity after attack on helicopter", Herald Scotland, 14 February 1990.
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- UTV News Report: In Pomeroy an IRA horizontal mortar hit an RUC car but failed to explode. Film report. G. Adams (SF) has written to the Prime Minister asking for new political contact.
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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- Moloney, A Secret History, p. 557
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- Ryder, Chris (2005). A Special Kind of Courage: 321 EOD Squadron - Battling the Bombers. Methuen; ISBN 0-413-77223-3