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23 February 1985 – Three Strabane IRA Volunteers cut down by hail of SAS bullets

● Brothers David and Michael Devine, and Charles Breslin

23 February 1985 – Three young IRA Volunteers in Strabane, County Tyrone, were mown down by a British Army/SAS unit as they crossed open fields in darkness to dump weapons intended for an ambush which had been postponed.

No warnings were given as Volunteers Charles Breslin and brothers Michael and David Devine perished in a hail of over 100 bullets.

The tributes below are taken from Tírghrá

Óglach Charles Breslin, 5 September 1964 - 23 February 1985

Volunteer Charles Breslin was from Strabane’s Head of the Town area and was the youngest boy in a family of eight.

He developed his political views at an early age and was an avid reader of Irish history. At the age of 15 he became a member of Fianna Éireann before joining the local unit of the IRA, where he proved to be a daring and committed Volunteer who worked hard to perfect his technical knowledge.

He was an easygoing individual with a great sense of humour who was a victim of constant harassment at the hands of the British Army and RUC.

On one occasion he was taken to Castlereagh Interrogation Centre and was badly beaten by members of the RUC who then placed a plastic bag over his head until he lost consciousness. He spoke little of his ordeal for fear of upsetting his family.

Charles Breslin died in one of the most notorious ‘shoot to kill’ operations conducted by undercover British forces during the 1980s.

Eyewitnesses were adamant that no warning had been heard before the final shots that sounded the execution of Charles and his two comrades.

He was 20 years old when he was killed in a British Army undercover operation in Strabane on 23 February 1985.

Óglach David Devine, 28 October 1968 - 23 February 1985

David Devine was one of six children who grew up in the Strabane area of west Tyrone.

A pupil of St Colman’s High School, he was regarded as a quiet but clever student. He joined the local Fianna Éireann when he was 14 years old and worked energetically to assist the local IRA unit before becoming a Volunteer in Óglaigh na hÉireann about six months before his death.

His eldest brother, Hugh, was a former POW who died within a few short months of his release in 1983 and it is widely believed that a severe beating received at the hands of British soldiers was a contributory factor in his death.

Volunteer David Devine was one of the youngest IRA Volunteers to be killed during this phase of the campaign. He was 16 years old when, alongside his brother Michael and comrade Charles Breslin, he was shot dead in one of the most notorious ‘shoot to kill’ operations conducted by undercover British forces during the 1980s.

The sacrifice of the Devine family is testimony to the commitment and resolve of not just individuals but whole families who have endured so much in our quest for national determination.

Their family, friends and comrades in west Tyrone remember the Devine brothers with pride.

Óglach Michael Devine, 26 October 1962 - 23 February 1985

Michael died together with his brother David and comrade Charles Breslin in one of the most notorious ‘shoot to kill’ operations conducted by undercover British forces in modern history.

Over 100 rounds were fired by the British. This alone would suggest that no attempt was made to arrest the trio. Indeed, witnesses have recounted that the three had surrendered before a burst of automatic fire was heard.

The Volunteers’ bodies were left on the hillside for seven hours after their murder. A priest was denied access to them and the Devine family were not informed of the deaths of Michael and David until their home was raided later that day.

Volunteer Michael Devine (22), from Strabane, joined the IRA early in 1984 and rapidly proved himself to be a dedicated and capable Volunteer. A former Irish snooker champion, Michael was well known in Strabane and well-liked by all who knew him.

Extremely security conscious, he discussed his deeply-held political beliefs only with his comrades. Thus to local people his tragic death and revelations of his republican involvement came as a total surprise.

Michael was a fully committed Volunteer for whom no task was too great or too small. He rapidly won the respect of his comrades as a careful planner who always did his utmost to ensure the safety of other Volunteers. As well as actively participating in operations against the crown forces he displayed great ability in Intelligence work.

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