Northern Ireland

Plan to open B-Specials museum on site of SAS ambush in Co Armagh

Eight IRA men and a Catholic civilian were killed in May 1987

The Former Loughgall police station.
The Former Loughgall police station. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

A museum dedicated to the Ulster Special Constabulary - which included the B-Specials - is planned for the site of an SAS ambush which claimed the lives of eight IRA men and a Catholic civilian.

Members of the specials were accused of the murder of innocent Catholics across the north in the years after partition, including the McMahon killings in 1922, when six members of a Catholic family were shot dead in north Belfast.

B-Specials are also suspected of involvement in the shooting of several Catholics in 1969 including father-of-three John Gallagher (30) in Armagh after a Civil Rights Association meeting.

The Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) was disbanded by the British government in April 1970.

An event was held last week at the former Loughgall police station, which was sold in 2011, and a committee has been formed to complete the project.

James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, played a key role in the formation of the Ulster Special Constabulary, who were commonly known as the `B' Specials
James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, played a key role in the formation of the Ulster Special Constabulary, who were commonly known as the B-Specials

Almost exclusively Protestant, nationalists viewed the B-Specials as a sectarian paramilitary force and the strong arm of the Stormont unionist regime.

The USC, which was made up of three units known as the A, B and C Specials, was disbanded after a recommendation in the Hunt report, which was published after serious disorder across the north in August 1969.

Many former members of the B-Specials later jointed the RUC Reserve and UDR - which were set up to replace it.

It is planned that a dedicated museum will be located on the site of one of the most controversial British army ambushes carried out during the conflict.

The bullet-riddled Hiace van (blue at bottom) in which eight IRA men were shot dead by the SAS outside Loughgall RUC station in 1988
Loughgall RUC station after a bomb exploded during an ambush that resulted in eight IRA men and a civilian being killed by the SAS

Eight IRA members were killed at Loughgall in Co Armagh in May 1987 as the unit attempted to launch a gun and bomb attack on the village RUC station.

A passing civilian, Anthony Hughes, was also killed in the suspected ‘shoot-to-kill’ operation.

The IRA men who died were Jim Lynagh, Padraig McKearney, Gerard O’Callaghan, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Seamus Donnelly and Declan Arthurs.

In the past relatives of the dead have asked for SAS flags put up in the village close to where the victims died to be removed.

A predominantly unionist village, the Orange Order was founded in Loughgall, which is home to a museum dedicated to that organisation.

It is understood a committee has been formed to drive the USC museum project forward and the former police station was open to members of the public last Friday night to “have a look around and hear the plans for the future of the property” according to a leaflet circulated on social media.

That event coincided with a loyalist march around the village organised by Hillhaven Flute Band.

Prior to the parade it posted on Facebook that “the goal is to remember and explore ‘The B-men’ this Friday night at our parade”.

It later posted thanks to other bands that had taken part in the parade, signing off with the words ‘Who Dares Wins’ – the moto of the SAS.

Mairead Kelly, whose brother Patrick was killed in Loughgall, believes the decision to locate the museum in the village is “totally inappropriate.”

“Everybody is entitled to commemorate whoever they want in whatever fashion they want, but there are sensitivities around it,” she said.

“And I think there should have been the sensitivity of that particular station and the history there.”

The USC committee was contacted but declined to comment.