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5 April 2007 Edition

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Loughgall Martyrs 20th Anniversary

Next month marks the 20th anniversary of the brutal SAS ambush of eight Volunteers of the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade and two civilians in the County Armagh village of Loughgall. It marked the greatest losses by the IRA since the Tan War of the 1920s.
On 8 May, 1987 the Volunteers set out to attack the RUC barracks at Loughgall but were ambushed by the British army’s undercover SAS who had prior knowledge of the plan. By the time the ambush ended the SAS had fired thousands of bullets. All eight Volunteers and one of two civilians who were passing in a car – Anthony Hughes – were killed. Clearly the SAS were taking no prisoners.
To mark this tragic event a commemorative website – – has been constructed by the Loughgall20 Commemorative Committee which was formed in October last year in preparation for the 20th anniversary.
Speaking this week to An Phoblacht, PRO for the Committee Ruairí Gildernew said the site was formed in response to the huge interest in the event shown by young people, not only from East Tyrone but throughout Ireland and beyond.
“They want to know what happened that day and why and we’ve had a huge response to the site already from places like Scotland and the US. People are even contacting us to enquire about accommodation here because they want to come and see the place where it happened for themselves”, he said.


“When I was growing up these volunteers were heroes. The profile of the men even leading up to their deaths was immense. They were legends in their time in terms of their calibre as Volunteers. For the Brits those Volunteers were probably among the most feared operators at the time”, he said.
The website details some of the events on the day, the campaign for truth on the issue and outlines a series of commemorative events taking place to commemorate this important anniversary. In an overview of the terrible events of that day the site reads : “The IRA Volunteers had set out to attack the RUC barracks at Loughgall. Volunteer Declan Arthurs was driving a JCB digger loaded with a 200lb bomb, supported by Volunteer Gerard O’Callaghan. In support of this, a commandeered Toyota Hiace van was driven by Volunteer Eugene Kelly. Seated beside him was the Officer Commanding the East Tyrone Brigade, Volunteer Paddy Kelly. In the rear of the van were Volunteer Jim Lynagh, Volunteer Padraig McKearney, Volunteer Seamus Donnelly and Volunteer Tony Gormley.
“The SAS brought in a squad of heavily armed, specially trained men the day before the attack to reinforce the RUC Special Task Force. They set up four separate ambush positions around the site of the barracks with a fifth squad positioned inside the barracks itself.  Although the Active Service Unit was under constant surveillance, the SAS allowed them to enter the village unhindered, watched them drive past the barracks a number of times, then waited for them to detonate the bomb before unleashing a devastating fusillade of heavy fire.”

Truth and Justice campaign

The circumstances of these killings have never been examined in a court of law or by an independent investigative body. The site provides information on The Loughgall Truth and Justice campaign which was formed in June 1995 when the nine families came together to search for the truth behind the events of 8 May 1987. Their quest is simply for the truth to be told and heard and for those responsible for the nine deaths to be held accountable in a court of law for their actions that night.
As Ruairí Gildernew said: “It was another example of the Irish Government being prepared to turn a blind eye. We fully support the relatives. The families have also been involved in the whole commemorative project. They’ve been invited along to all the events and have contributed in every way.”
Loughgall is also historic for being the village where the Orange Order was originally formed.
“It was always very much a unionist heartland. When the lads were killed the unionists here were practically ecstatic. They were praising the Brits for their actions”, Gildernew said.


Ruairí also noted the geographical spread  of the IRA unit involved  – taking in Tyrone, Armagh and Monaghan and the importance of making the commemoration a national event.  The line-up of commemorative events include sports activities, personal accounts from family members and comrades and on Friday 4 May a lecture entitled Loughgall in its military context will be held in The Ryandale, The Moy, East Tyrone.
“Young people know the ambush happened but they may not know why or the context in which it happened. The lecture will put the event into the context of the overall IRA campaign. The Brits were upping the ante big time in the ‘80s in terms of loyalist death squads and their own death squads. They were executing people left, right and centre. The Volunteers killed in the ambush had been prosecuting a very strong war against the Brits and the Brits saw them as a threat”, said Ruairí.
There will also be a screening of a commemorative DVD and a tour of the graves. Calling for a big turn out for the commemorative events which will be ongoing until 8 May, Gildernew said: “The events of 8 May, 20 years ago saw the biggest republican loss in an ambush since the Tan War – in fact the deaths of the ten Hunger Strikers is probably the nearest in terms of loss and it’s vital that we commemorate the Loughgall men with dignity and that we take the occasion to inform young people about the events of that time.” Details of the programme of commemorative events can be had from Ruairí Gildernew at 04837548384 or from the committee website site which also contains profiles of the eight volunteers killed.

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