5 January 1976: The ‘Kingsmills Massacre’ happened on this day. Ten Protestant workmen were shot dead by the IRA in a revenge attack following a series of murders of Catholics in County Armagh by Loyalist Terrorists. Gunmen near Whitecross Co Armagh stopped a local firms minibus at a bogus checkpoint. The sole Catholic passenger was told to run off fast. The gunmen then opened fire on the remaining eleven passengers, all of whom were Protestant workmen from Bessbrook. Ten died and one survived. A group calling itself the ‘Republican Action Force’ claimed responsibility - but everybody knew who was behind it.
The previous night Loyalist gunmen had entered the home of the Reavey family in Whitecross, South Armagh. Two brothers were shot dead while a third was seriously injured. He died later that month. The gunmen searched every room in the house looking for further victims. Less than thirty minutes later a second group of gunmen burst into the O’Dowd household, some 20 miles away, and entered the sitting room where a large group of family members were gathered listening to one brother who was playing the piano. The gunmen opened fire and three members of the O’Dowd family were killed and a number were injured.
Following the massacre, the British government declared County Armagh to be a "Special Emergency Area" and hundreds of extra troops and police were deployed in the area. It also announced that the (SAS) was being moved into South Armagh. This was the first time that SAS presence in Ulster was officially acknowledged.
The whole of Ireland was shocked by these turn of events as the threat of outright Civil War in the North loomed in the air. But even though 1976 brought yet more atrocities the situation never quite spiralled out of control into a complete collapse of civil order.