The killings near Drumnakilly, County Tyrone, of brothers Martin and Gerald Harte, and Brian Mullen, three local IRA Volunteers, took place on 30th August 1988, 32 years ago this week.
The SAS ambush at Drumnakilly came at the end of a month which had been one of the most intense and violent of the war in Ireland.
Brian, a bricklayer was a gentle giant and from the well-known Mullin family from Foremass, known locally as the ‘Bards’ whose grandfather was renowned as poet.
Martin Harte was captain of Loughmacrory Saint Teresa’s Gaelic Football team and married to Brian Mullan’s sister and had a son, Declan.
Gerard was a popular player and manager with St Teresa’s GFC. He was married with a young son, Colm.
The Crown Forces obtained information about the men and their movements and drew up an ambush plan. A killing zone, covered by two Operation Posts, was created on the Long Bog Road at Drumnakilly, four miles outside Omagh.
About a dozen SAS men in camouflage were lying in a shallow ditch nearby and more were manning a heavy machine gun at a nearby derelict building. As Martin, Gerald and Brian drove past, they poured a hail of bullets into their car.
A helicopter arrived immediately after the killings, airlifting the SAS away. The RUC and British Army immediately sealed off the area and the bodies of the three men were left at the scene, inaccessible to grieving relatives, until the following afternoon.
Hundreds of British soldiers and RUC members saturated the countryside as the three Volunteers were laid to rest. Speaking at the graveside of the Harte brothers, Gerry Adams said they were “good, decent, patriotic freedom fighters driven to fight for justice”.
In 2003 one of the SAS soldiers appeared in a Channel 4 documentary and said the IRA trio had been ‘lured into an ambush’.
At the unveiling of a memorial in 2004 at the aniversary events, then West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty said: “The Drumnakilly ambush was an example of the British shoot-to-kill policy in Ireland and gave lie to the British Government’s claim that there was not a war going on here. Republicans throughout Ireland hold in high esteem the three Volunteers killed at Drumnakilly and their families, and any initiatives taken to honour their memory has my support.”
A song whose authorship is unknown remembers the event:
Once again black flags are hoisted in the county of Tyrone
Three more good men lie butchered by the forces of the Crown
We shed tears of grief and anger as the news spreads quickly round
How the SAS had waited and without warning gunned them down.
Now the green flag is wrapped around them
Gloves and berets on their chests
We salute three gallant soldiers
As we lay them down to rest.
On the road past Drumnakilly sorrow shrouds that roadway still
There the SAS men lay in ambush to do Maggie Thatcher’s will
Like Loughall and like Gibralter British justice has no frills
They came to Tyrone for vengeance and their orders were to kill.
Gerry and Martin Harte we’ve lost you, we remember you with pride
You both had so much to live for, now your dreams have been denied
Brian Mullin we shall miss you with your friendly smiling face
Though you died with your fond comrades, in our hearts you hold a place.
Three brave Volunteers are gone, what is there left to say
It was Ireland’s love that called them when they joined the IRA
So let Thatcher send her murderers to the hills of green Tyrone
It is she who will be mourning when we send the bastards home.