28 August 2008 Edition
Remembering the Past: The Drumnakilly Martyrs
BY MICHEÁL Mac DONNCHA
ON THE afternoon of Tuesday 30 August 1988, three IRA Volunteers were travelling along the main Omagh to Carrickmore road in County Tyrone. They were on active service and at Drumnakilly, close to their homes, they were ambushed and shot dead by a unit of the British Army’s SAS regiment. The Volunteers were brothers Gerard and Martin Harte and Brian Mullin.
The SAS killings brought to an end a month which had been one of the most intense and tragic of the war in Ireland. It began on 1 August with the IRA bombing of Inglis Barracks in London, close to Margaret Thatcher’s Finchley constituency. It was the first IRA attack in England since the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton during the Tory Party conference four years earlier. A British solider was killed in the Inglis Barracks blast. In the following days, the IRA killed three British soldiers and an RUC detective in the North.
On 8 August, two young nationalist men were murdered by a loyalist death squad in Belfast. There were two more such sectarian killings of young nationalist men in Belfast, on 17 and 18 August. On 20 August, eight British soldiers were killed at Ballygawley, County Tyrone, when the IRA bombed a bus carrying members of the Light Infantry Regiment returning from England. On 31 August, two civilians were killed in Derry after they triggered an IRA booby-trap bomb intended for British forces.
Politically this period was dominated by the issue of extradition and, on 27 August, Robert Russell, one of the IRA prisoners who broke out of the H-Blocks in the mass escape of 1983, was handed across the border to the RUC. This was despite widespread protests, including public dissent from within Fianna Fáil.
HAIL OF BULLETS
It was on the Long Bog Road at Drumnakilly, four miles outside Omagh, that the three IRA Volunteers met their deaths.
At 4pm on 30 August, they were ambushed by British forces who poured a hail of bullets into their car. The RUC and British Army immediately sealed off the area and the bodies of the three men were left at the scene, within the cordon and inaccessible to grieving relatives, until the following afternoon.
Gerard Harte (29) was the eldest of the three Volunteers and was an experienced IRA activist. With his brother, Martin, he was a prominent member of the Loughmacrory St Theresa’s GAA Club, where he organised youth teams.
Martin Harte was just 21 but had been in the IRA for four years at the time of his death. A talented football player, he had captained the Loughmacrory team. He was the father of a three-month-old son and, to compound the tragedy, his widow was Briege Mullin, sister of his friend and comrade Brian Mullin.
Volunteer Brian Mullin (25) had been singled out for particular harassment by British forces. He was arrested and interrogated in Gough Barrack on numerous occasions and a few weeks before his death he and his brothers were beaten by crown forces outside their family home.
Hundreds of British soldiers and RUC members saturated the Tyrone countryside as the three Volunteers were laid to rest. Speaking at the graveside of the Harte brothers, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the Volunteers were “good, decent, patriotic freedom fighters driven to fight for justice”.
Volunteers Brian Mullin, Gerard Harte and Martin Harte were killed on 30 August 1988, 20 years ago this week.
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