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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
Loughgall Ambush
Ballygawley bus bombing
1990 Gazelle shootdown
Coagh ambush
Teebane bombing
Clonoe ambush
Coalisland riots
1997 Coalisland attack
July 1997 riots
Patrick Joseph Kelly
Kevin McKenna

The East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), also known as the Tyrone/Monaghan Brigade[1] 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.[2]

Lynagh's strategy[edit | edit source]

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[3] devised for Ireland by Jim Lynagh, a high-profile member of the IRA in east Tyrone (but a native of County Monaghan).[4] 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.[5] Lynagh's plans met strong criticism from senior brigade member Kevin McKenna, who regarded the strategy as "too impractical, too ambitious, and not sustainable" in the words of 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.[6] Journalist Kevin Toolis states that from 1985 onwards, the brigade led a five-year campaign that left 33 security facilities destroyed and nearly 100 seriously damaged.[7]

Before the Loughgall ambush[edit | edit source]

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".[5] 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.[8] In April 1987 they shot and killed Harold Henry, one of the main contractors to the British Army and the RUC in Northern Ireland.[9]

The Loughgall ambush[edit | edit source]

File:Mural of Loughgall Volunteers.gif

Mural commemorating those killed in the Loughgall Ambush

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.[10][11] 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 during its campaign. Six IRA members from a supporting unit managed to slip away.[12]

The eight volunteers killed in the ambush became known as the "Loughgall Martyrs" among many republicans.[13]

In December 2011, the 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.[14]

In 2012 a GAA club in Tyrone distanced itself from a republican commemoration of those killed in the ambush. This in response to a complaint from DUP 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.” [15]

Subsequent brigade activity[edit | edit source]

In the aftermath of the Loughgall ambush[edit | edit source]

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.[16] 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.[17]

However, many of their remaining activists were young and inexperienced and fell into further ambushes leading to very 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 Brigade area. Of these, 28 were killed between 1987 and 1992.[18] In August 1988, an SAS ambush killed IRA members Gerard Harte, Martin Harte and Brian Mullin. In October 1990, two more IRA men, Dessie Grew and Michael McGaughey were shot dead near Loughgall by undercover soldiers. In June 1991, three IRA men, Lawrence McNally, Peter Ryan and Tony Dorris were lured into yet another SAS ambush at Coagh, where their car was raked with gunfire and rocket propelled grenades.[19] 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 $3. The soldiers were being transported from RAF Aldergrove to a military base near Omagh after returning from leave in England.[20][21] This attack forced the British military to ferry their troops to and from East Tyrone by helicopter.[22] On 30 August, 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.[23] British intelligence identified them as the perpetrators of the attack on the military bus at Curr road.[22] On 16 September 1989, a British Sergeant of the Royal Corps of Signals was shot and killed by an IRA sniper while he was repairing a radio mast at Coalisland Army/RUC base.[24]

According to journalist Ed Moloney, Michael "Pete" Ryan, an alleged top Brigade's member, was the commander of the IRA flying column that attacked a permanent checkpoint at Derryard, County Fermanagh, on 13 December 1989. Journalist Ian Bruce, instead, claims that an Irishman who served in the Parachute Regiment was the leader of the IRA unit, citing intelligence sources.[25] British military sources also report that other IRA volunteers from East Tyrone were involved in the assault.[17] The checkpoint was stormed and two British soldiers killed in action.[26]

From 1990 up to the first PIRA ceasefire[edit | edit source]

A 2009 reenacment of a Provisional IRA active service unit in Galbally, County Tyrone

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.[27][28] The helicopter was hit between Clogher and Augher, over the border near Derrygorry, in the Republic. The Gazelle broke up during the subsequent crash-landing.[29][30] On 24 March 1990, there was a gunbattle between an IRA unit and undercover British forces at the village of Cappagh, County Tyrone, when IRA members fired at a civilian-type car driven by security forces, according to Archie Hamilton, then Secretary of State for Defence.[31] An Phoblacht claims that the IRA men thwarted an ambush and at least two SAS members were killed.[32] Hamilton states that there were no security or civilian casualties. A second shooting took place in the village of Pomeroy on 28 June, this time against British regular troops. A soldier was seriously wounded.[33] In October 1990, two IRA volunteers from the brigade, Dessie Grew and Martin McCaughey, were shot dead near Loughgall by undercover soldiers 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.[34] On 3 June, three IRA men, Lawrence McNally, Michael Ryan and Tony Doris, died in another SAS ambush at Coagh, where their car was riddled with gunfire. Michael Ryan was the same man who according to Moloney had led the mixed flying column under direct orders of top IRA Army Council member 'Slab' Murphy two years before.[35][36] The RUC stated the men were on their way to mount an ambush on Protestant workmen.[37]

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 also a soldier of the Royal Irish Rangers.[38] 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 men in a betting shop on Ormeau Road, Belfast.[39] On 31 January an IRA van bomb blew up in downtown Dungannon, resulting in three people wounded and severe damage[40] both on the city centre and the RUC/Army base.[41] 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.[42] 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 got away from the scene, but the four named above were killed. One British soldier was wounded.[43] One witness has said that some of the men were wounded and tried to surrender but were then killed by the British soldiers.[44] Some republican sources[45] claim that a listening device was found in the roof of O’Farrell’s house during repairs in 2008, exposing that the British intelligence had a forehand knowledge of the IRA operation at Coalisland and could have arrested them before the attack.

In addition, the IRA 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 paramilitary connections but six were Provisional Irish Republican Army members. The IRA responded by killing senior UVF man and former UDR member Leslie Dallas on 7 March 1989,[46][47] but 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.[48] The IRA retaliated on 5 August 1991, when they shot and killed a former UDR soldier while living his workplace along Altmore Road, also in Cappagh.[49] Another former UDR soldier 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.[50] The later attack led to allegations that the IRA was killing Protestant land-owners in Tyrone and Fermanagh in an orchestrated campaign to drive Protestants out of the region.[51]


The Fintona RUC/Army base damaged by mortar fire, 27 December 1993

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,[52] while a soldier was injured by a bomb near Augher.[53][54]

Another IRA bomb attack against British troops, near Cappagh, during which a paratrooper lost both legs, triggered a series of clashes between soldiers and local residents in the staunchly republican town of Coalisland, on 12 and 17 May 1992. The 12 May's riots ended with the paratroopers' assault on three bars, where they injured seven civilians. Another street fracas 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.[55][56][57]

Six paratroopers were charged with criminal damage in the aftermath, but they were acquitted in 1993. Five of them were bound over.[58] Another British soldier was injured in Pomeroy when his patrol was fired on by an IRA unit on 2 August 1992.[59]

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.[60]

From mid-1992 up to the 1994 cease fire, IRA units in east and south Tyrone executed a total of 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 injuries, an overshot aimed at the RUC base in $3, which was also hit by gunfire, and the RUC stations at Carrickmore, Fintona and Pomeroy.[61]

At least five members of the security forces were killed by the IRA in around this area during the same period.[61][62] Among the killed were two constables who were 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.[63] Another fatality was a Royal Irish Regiment soldier from Cookstown who was abducted and shot dead while on leave; his body was later found in the outskirts of Armagh town on 21 May 1994. His elder brother, a civilian contractor to the Ministry of Defence, had died in a South Armagh Brigade[64] mortar attack one year before, while working inside an Army base near Keady, County Armagh.[65]

List of actions from 1996 up to the latest PIRA ceasefire[edit | edit source]

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 gunfire in Moy. A 'senior security source' claimed that the IRA was responsible,[66] though the IRA later denied any involvement in the incident.[67]
  • 5 February 1997: An IRA unit fired a horizontal mortar at a British patrol on Newell Road in Dungannon. There were no injuries.[68]
  • 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.[68]
  • 22 February 1997: An IRA mortar unit was intercepted by the RUC in $3, 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.[69]
  • 26 March 1997: A grenade was thrown by IRA volunteers to the Army/RUC base at Coalisland.[70] The device holed the perimeter fence. Undercover members of the British Army shot and seriously injured 19 year-old 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.[71] 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.[72] See 1997 Coalisland attack
  • 5 July 1997: An IRA volunteer shot and seriously wounded an RUC female officer in the town of Coalisland during an attack on an armoured vehicle beside the Army/RUC base.[73][74]
  • 8 July 1997: A landmine was planted by the IRA near Dungannon, where there was a bomb alert.[75]
  • 9 July 1997: IRA gunmen hijacked and burned a number of vehicles at Dungannon.[76]

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 refused in 2007.[77]

The commander in chief of the brigade,[78] Kevin MacKenna, was also appointed 'chief of staff' of the IRA in 1983. He later became the longest-serving volunteer in this job, right up to the 1997 cease-fire.[79]

See also[edit | edit source]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. Individual members of the brigade were also involved in the Attack on Derryard checkpoint and the Osnabrück barracks attack per cited sources

References[edit | edit source]

  1. p. 158, The Long War, Brendan O'Brien
  2. Urban, Mark (1992). Big Boys' Rules. Faber and Faber. p. 220. ISBN 0-571-16809-4. 
  3. Armed Struggle: a History of the IRA by Richard English, page 254
  4. Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. Penguin Books. p. 306. ISBN 0-14-101041-X. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Urban, p. 224
  6. Moloney, p. 313-314
  7. Toolis, Kevin (1995). Rebel Hearts: journeys within the IRA's soul. Picador, p. 53. ISBN 0-330-34243-6
  8. RUC memorial
  9. Toolis, p. 65
  10. "SAS shooting 'destroyed deadly IRA unit'". BreakingNews.ie. 5 May 2001. http://archives.tcm.ie/breakingnews/2001/05/05/story11832.asp. Retrieved 2007-09-19. 
  11. Urban, p. 227
  12. Murray, Raymond (1990). The SAS in Ireland. Mercier Press, p. 380. ISBN 0-85342-938-3
  13. Bean, Kevin (2008). The New Politics of Sinn Féin. Liverpool University Press, p. 1. ISBN 1-84631-144-6
  14. http://sluggerotoole.com/2011/12/02/loughgall-terrorists-could-not-have-been-arrested/
  15. http://www.midulstermail.co.uk/news/local/gaa-distances-itself-from-ira-commemorations-1-3753356
  16. Urban, p. 242
  17. 17.0 17.1 Ian Bruce (15 December 1989). "Calculating, professional enemy that faces KOSB". Herald Scotland. http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/calculating-professional-enemy-that-faces-kosb-1.598672. Retrieved 2010-05-28. 
  18. Moloney, Secret History of the IRA, p319
  19. Moloney, Secret History of the IRA, p318
  20. "Land Mine Kills 7 British Soldiers on Bus in Ulster". New York Times. 20 August 1988. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/21/world/ira-claims-killing-of-8-soldiers-as-it-steps-up-attacks-on-british.html. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  21. Lohr, Steve (21 August 1988). "IRA Claims Killing of 8 Soldiers As It Steps Up Attacks on British". New York Times (21 August 1988). http://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/21/world/ira-claims-killing-of-8-soldiers-as-it-steps-up-attacks-on-british.html. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Van Der Bijl, Nick (2009). Operation Banner: The British Army in Northern Ireland 1969 to 2007. Pen & Sword Military, p. 179. ISBN 1-84415-956-6
  23. DUP slams GAA club IRA commemoration Newshound September 27, 2003
  24. Operation Banner Deaths - Roll of Honour
  25. Ex-Para 'led attack by IRA which killed Scots soldiers' by Ian Bruce, Herald Scotland, 2 January 1990
  26. Moloney, p. 333
  27. 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:
  28. Fears of new IRA atrocity after attack on helicopter By Ian Bruce, Herald Scotland, 14 February 1990
  29. UK Military Aircraft Losses - 1990
  30. ITN news video
  31. Cappagh (Incident) Parliamentary debate, 3 May 1990
  32. "IRA ambush stings Brit assassins" An Phoblacht, 29 March 1990
  33. Parlamentary debate, 10 July 1990
  34. Reuters, 2 January 1991
  35. p. 313-314, A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney
  36. p. 318, A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney
  37. 1991: IRA men shot dead by British army BBC news
  38. Royal Irish Rangers roll of honour
  39. pp. 219-220, The Long War, Brendan O'Brien
  40. Reuters, 31 January 1992
  41. CAIN - Listing of Programmes for the Year: 1992-UTV news, 31 January 1992
  42. The Irish Emigrant, 13 May 1991
  43. "British try to end the fear in Ulster" by Steven Prokesch
  44. O'Brien, Brendan (1999). The Long War: The IRA and Sinn Féin. O'Brien Press. pp. 232–235. ISBN 0-86278-606-1. 
  45. Clonoe Martyrs, 16 February 2012
  46. p. 322, A Secret History, Ed Moloney
  47. Palace Barracks Memorial Garden
  48. Cusack, Jim & McDonald, Henry (1997). UVF. Dublin; Poolbeg. p. 270
  49. CAIN Database of deaths - 1991
  50. McKittrick, p. 1318
  51. CAIN - Listing of Programmes for the Year: 1993 - BBC news, 26 April 1993 and UTV news, 29 April 1993
  52. O'Brien, pp. 237-238
  53. Evening Herald, 6 March 1992
  54. CAIN - Listing of Programmes for the Year: 1992 - BBC news, 5 March 1992
  55. See the May 12 and May 17 entries at the 1992 CAIN chronology:
  56. The Irish Emigrant - May 18, 1992: New Paratroop Controversy
  57. Fortnight, Issues 302-312, Fortnight Publications, 1992
  58. Fortnight, Issues 324-334, Fortnight Publications, 1994
  59. "I.R.A. Sniper Assault Kills A British Soldier in Belfast" New York Times, August 1992
  60. Ryder, p. 256
  61. 61.0 61.1 Fortnight, Issues 324-334, Fortnight Publications, 1994
  62. CAIN - Sutton Index of Deaths
  63. McKittrick, p. 1340
  64. Harnden, p. 503
  65. Family mourns its third Ulster victim by Peter Victor. The Independent, 22 May 1994
  66. "Belfast Policeman Attacked at Home" New York Times, 3 February 1996
  67. Cabinet warned of IRA hit squads by Collin Brown. The Independent, 5 February 1996
  68. 68.0 68.1 British soldier shot dead
  69. "South Armagh Brigade claims sniper attack". Anphoblacht.com. http://www.anphoblacht.com/news/detail/27929. 
  70. Cousin of bomb suspect was top provo; But gun victim denies being a terrorist
  71. "How Elite Squad Pounced" by Conor Hanna. Daily Mirror, 28 March 1997
  72. Republicans The Telegraph, 27 July 2000
  73. Militants Angry About Police's Defense Of Protestant March by Shawn Pogatchnik. Associated Press, 7 July 1997
  74. IRA engages Crown ForcesAn Phoblacht, 10 July 1997
  75. CAIN - Listing of Programmes for the Year:1997 - UTV news, 9 July 1997
  76. "More Troops arrive at Northern Ireland" Associated Press, 10 July 2011
  77. "McAliskey extradition bid refused" BBC news, 23 November 2007
  78. Loughgall and why the truth will never be told The Irish Observer, 21 September 2010
  79. p. 557, A Secret History, Ed Moloney

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • O'Brien, Brendan (1999). The Long War-the IRA and Sinn Féin. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-86278-606-1
  • Moloney, Ed (2002). Secret History of the IRA. W. W. Norton and Company. ISBN 0-14-101041-X
  • Urban, Mark (1992). Big Boys' Rules. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-16112-X
  • Ryder, Chris (2005). A Special Kind of Courage: 321 EOD Squadron - Battling the Bombers. Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77223-3

External links[edit | edit source]

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