Surge of recruits to the IRA after Loughgall

Eight British soldiers were killed in the Ballygawley bus bomb in August1988
Eight British soldiers were killed in the Ballygawley bus bomb in August1988

A former senior IRA figure has said the ranks of the IRA “were flooded” after eight members were killed in Loughgall.

The republican, who has detailed knowledge about the planning and aftermath of the Loughgall attack, said the organisation was overwhelmed by the numbers seeking to join up.

The eight IRA men who died in the attack included some of the organisation’s most seasoned operators in east Tyrone.

The unit had carried out a similar attack on Ballygawley RUC station in December 1985, killings RUC officers George Gilliland and William James Clements.

It also launched a digger bomb attack on an RUC station in the Birches, Co Armagh, in August 1986.

Declan Arthurs, who drove the digger bomb in Loughgall, also drove the excavator that carried the bomb at the Birches.

Gerard O’Callaghan, who was the IRA’s ‘Officer Commanding’ in the Loughgall area, was one of several senior republicans involved in planning and taking part in the attack.

Although Loughgall is in north Armagh, the planned attack was organised by the IRA’s ‘East Tyrone Brigade’, which was responsible for operations in the area at that time.

The senior IRA figure said that in total between 30-40 people were involved in organising the gun and bomb attack.

This includes members of the attack team, scouts, back up crews and those on the periphery of the operation including people who provided safe houses and moved weapons.

It also includes those who helped transport members of the attack squad.

As well as killing some of the their most feared IRA opponents, the British army also seized a significant number of weapons from the dead IRA men.

The ex-IRA man said the haul represented the bulk of the IRA’s arsenal in east Tyrone at that time.

“At that stage you were limited to your weaponry and every day there was a job going on,” he said.

“At that time at Loughgall it was nearly the full array.

“An inventory was carried out later on.”

The captured weapons included three Heckler and Koch G3 rifles, two French-made FNC rifles, an FN AL assault rifle, and a Spas 12 shotgun.

Two handguns, including an RUC-issue Ruger revolver taken from the body of William James Clements in Ballygawley in 1985, were also recovered.

Most of the weapons had previously been used by the IRA to target members of the security forces.

The Ruger was later used to kill three people, including a UDR man.

Despite the heavy casualties suffered by the Provos at Loughgall, the ex-IRA man said it sparked a surge of recruits into the ranks of the organisation.

“The floodgates opened,” he said.

“You could not handle the number of people looking to join.”

The IRA chief said that while those who took part in the Loughgall ambush were involved in a ‘war’ - they were killed in an ambush sanctioned at a political level.

“As revolutionary soldiers we accept that it’s blood for blood, like for like, our boys would have done the same to them,” he said.

“But this was a ‘shoot-to-kill' policy sanctioned at the highest levels of the state.

“This was a war.

“Why did they let the explosives through, they had so many opportunities to stop that operation?”

The former IRA man believes that the aims of those who died at Loughgall have not been realised.

“They went out to fight for a 32 county socialist republic, not for equality.”