Wednesday, 8 May 2019

8 May 1987: In an ambush at Loughgall Co Tyrone eight members of the IRA were shot dead on this day. It was the greatest loss of life suffered by the IRA since 1921. The attack was carefully planned and carried out by members of the British SAS Regiment and a small number of the RUCs Mobile Support Unit. They assembled over 30 soldiers well hidden behind roadside bushes and armed with an array of weapons incl. heavy machine guns in order to take out  the Active Service Unit that intended to attack and blow up Loughgall RUC Station.

How they managed to crack the IRA plans for that day has never been revealed. But the IRA modus operandi was not a new one and it was a reasonable surmise on their part that an isolated outpost like the one at Loughgall would be on a list of IRA targets. As in all operations of this sort a detailed reconnaissance would have been necessary to scout out the weakest points and best escape routes. The most likely explanation is that at this stage the operation was compromised - though an informer in the ranks or plain ‘loose talk’ could well have undermined what was afoot.

On the evening in question the plan was to drive a digger up to the gates of the station with a  400lb bomb hidden in its bucket and blow them open and at that stage IRA Volunteers hidden in a van would leap out & then rush the building and kill the RUC Officers inside. But by then the regular garrison had been withdrawn and a small but well armed group of SAS and RUC men were inside ready to repel any such attempt to take the place by storm.

As soon as the digger was in place the IRA blew it and caused considerable damage to the building as well as injuring some of those inside. At that moment the SAS opened up with a massive hail of gunfire that swept through the men on the digger and inside the van. Some of them made a run for it but were cut down and killed. Unbeknownst to the British there were at least two scout cars in the immediate vicinity that were there to ferry the IRA members away to safe houses but despite that they were able to drive away in the aftermath without being intercepted.

The IRA men who died that day were: Volunteers Declan Arthurs, Seamus Donnelly, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Paddy Kelly, Jim Lynagh, Padraig McKearney and Gerard O’Callaghan were members of the East Tyrone Brigade IRA. Civilian Anthony Hughes was also killed that evening when he and his brother inadvertently drove into the SAS ambush.

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