Painful memories of the Loughgall massacre


In an interview published on the 30th anniversary of an infamous ambush, a former Volunteer has provided an inside account of the Provisional IRA’s single largest loss of life during the conflict.

In 1987, the IRA’s East Tyrone unit had planned a gun and bomb attack on an RUC base in the small Armagh village of Loughgall. But the Crown forces had apparently been tipped off. In total 24 ‘elite’ SAS troops were strategically deployed at different points around the station and had set up a ‘kill zone’.

The SAS men were armed with an array of automatic weapons including two general purpose machine guns (GPMGs) located within sight of the RUC base. They had established a three point triangular formation designed to wipe out their targets while reducing the risk of friendly fire.

As members of the IRA team travelling in a Hiace van leapt from the vehicle, the SAS opened fire from various vantage points, including from within the station itself.

Over 1,000 bullets were fired at the IRA men, killing all of them and an innocent civilian who had been nearby. Amid the mayhem, the SAS ambush team failed to prevent a digger with a bomb being driven at the station from exploding and causing extensive damage.

One former IRA Volunteer who was acting as a look-out some distance away told the Irish News this week how he became concerned when he heard “fierce firing”.

“Out in the distance I saw a helicopter and I turned to [a comrade] and said ‘there’s something badly wrong here’.

“At this stage we were waiting on them (the IRA team) to come down and get away.”

He says that when members of his unit failed to appear he and his comrade became more concerned. As they made their way into Loughgall in separate vehicles to see what was happening, they came face to face with members of the ambush team close to the village.

“Another couple of cars with civilians came behind us and two SAS men jumped out and they turned their weapons on us,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

The former Volunteer said several other SAS men lept from behind a wall and ran towards the Hiace van, which was a short distance away.

He said that during the incident an SAS soldier stood two to three feet in front of his vehicle and pointed an M16 Armalite at him.

“I know for a fact to this day, when you look in someone’s eyes, they knew we were involved.

“The other boy had a gun on [his comrade]. They knew we were involved. They had observed us for 20 minutes before it.”

He said that as he sat “frozen” in the cross hairs of the SAS man’s sights he could see the blue Hiace van and the bodies of his comrades lying around it.

He said that while the SAS men he encountered were calm, others were “dancing” around the van.

“At that stage there was an odd isolated shot,” he said. “I knew they were wiped out at the time. I could see the carnage down at the van. At the same time it was a shock to know everybody was away.

“The boys (SAS men) who were with us were in control, but the boys around the van were in a frenzy.”

Thanks to two elderly civilians who happened onto the scene, the IRA men escaped the same fate as the others. He still believes there was ample opportunity to arrest the bomb team and the killings were planned.

“I have no doubt it was a shoot to kill operation, it was a turkey shoot,” he said.

“They could have rammed the van, the boys were sitting in a vulnerable situation, crammed in the van.”

“There was a ten-minute window from the lads going through the village the first time to when they went back in again,” he said.

“They let the bomb through and they waited ten minutes because they wanted them in the kill zone. There was ample time for arrests to be made.”

The Loughall Martyrs: Paddy Kelly, Jim Lynagh, Pádraig McKearney, Gerard O'Callaghan, Declan Arthurs, Séamus Donnelly, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly.


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