Kingsmill massacre

Kingsmill massacre

Infobox terrorist attack
title=Kingsmill massacre
location= Kingsmill,
Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
target=Protestant mill workers
date=January 5 1976
perps=South Armagh Republican Action Force
The Kingsmill massacre occurred on January 5, 1976 when ten Protestant men were killed just outside the village of Kingsmill in South Armagh, Northern Ireland by Irish republicans. [ [ 1976: Ten dead in Northern Ireland ambush] .]


The Kingsmill massacre was one of the worst single incidents in a period of severe sectarian violence during the Troubles, in Northern Ireland in general and in South Armagh in particular. In 1974-76, the loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), killed 250 people, mostly Catholic civilians, [Richard English, Armed Struggle, a History of the IRA, p 173] while the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) (although officially on ceasefire from February 1975 to January 1976 [ [ CAIN: Events: IRA Truce - 9 Feb 1975 to 23 Jan 1976 - A Chronology of Main Events ] ] ), in retaliation killed 91 Protestant civilians. [ [ CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths - extracts from Sutton's book ] ]

In South County Armagh, the violence was particularly intense. From August 1975 to January 1976, 18 Catholic civilians were killed in the locality (including two in Dundalk, just over the Irish border). These loyalist killings were claimed by the UVF, but have since been shown to have been aided by a Royal Ulster Constabulary unit, the Special Patrol Group, two of whose members were later convicted of murder. [ [ I'm lucky to be above Ground, by Frank Connolly, Village, November 16 2006] . See also [ RUC men's secret war with the IRA, by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times, March 7 1999] .] It is alleged that British military intelligence, MI5 and RUC Special Branch were directing loyalist violence, running a group composed of loyalist paramilitaries, RUC and Ulster Defence Regiment members. [ibid and [ Interim Report of Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings] , quoting former British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlin Rees, p. 136 - other Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) reports also discuss the issue.] [Former British military intelligence officer, Colin Wallace, in [ "Death Squad Dossier", "Irish Mail on Sunday" by Michael Browne, December 10th, 2006] ; in addition See [ Irish Daily Mail, November 30th 2006] for further information - click on article graphics to read them.] [Raymond Murray, "The SAS in Ireland", pp.122, 136-45.] Allegedly, this group was responsible for 87 killings in the mid 1970s, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 and the Miami Showband massacre in 1975. [ [ Collusion in the South Armagh / Mid Ulster Area in the mid-1970s] , [ Pat Finucane Centre] ]

In reprisal, the local IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army killed six Protestant civilians (and one Catholic mistaken for a Protestant) in the area in this six month period. [Bandit Country by Toby Harnden, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999, p.133] In addition, the South Armagh IRA killed seven British soldiers and two Ulster Defence Regiment personnel in the course of 1975. [ [ CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1975 ] ]

The massacre

The Kingsmill massacre was a revenge attack for the killing of six Catholics, on January 4, 1976 (see Reavey and O'Dowd killings).

The following day, January 5 1976, a Ford Transit mini-bus carried sixteen textile workers travelling home from work in Glenanne to Bessbrook along the Whitecross to Bessbrook road, of whom five were Catholics and eleven were Protestants. Four of the Catholics got out at Whitecross, while the remainder continued on the road to Bessbrook. [Harnden, p. 134] At this point, the coach was stopped by a group of approximately twelve armed men waiting on the road. At first, the workers assumed that they were being stopped and searched by a British Army or RUC checkpoint, and when ordered to line up beside the bus, they obeyed. However, at this point, the gunmen ordered the only Catholic, Richard Hughes, to step forward. Hughes' workmates thought then that the armed men were loyalists, come to kill Hughes and tried to stop him from identifying himself, however, when he stepped forward, he was told, "Get down the road and don't look back". [Harnden, p. 135]

The remaining eleven men were shot, with Armalite rifles, SLRs, a 9mm pistol and an M1 carbine, a total of 136 rounds were fired in less than a minute. Ten men died at the scene, and one, Alan Black, survived despite having eighteen gunshot wounds.

Richard Hughes, the lone Catholic, managed to stop a car and hitch a lift to the Bessbrook RUC station to raise the alarm. Meanwhile, at the scene of the killings, a man and his wife had stopped and were praying beside the victims, when they discovered Alan Black, who was lying in a ditch, badly wounded, but not dead. When an ambulance arrived, Black was taken to hospital in Newry, where he was operated on and survived. [Harnden p. 135]

Nine of the dead, the textile workers, were from the village of Bessbrook, the bus driver was from nearby Mountnorris. [citeweb|title=BBC|url=]

The perpetrators

A group called the South Armagh Republican Action Force claimed responsibility. They said it was in retaliation for the Reavey and O’Dowd attacks of the previous evening. [ [ Interim Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Bombing of Kay’s Tavern, Dundalk] , p. 9.]

It is suspected that this title was a cover name for the Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade. According to Harnden, the British intelligence assessment at the time was that the attack was carried out by local IRA members "who were acting outside of the normal IRA command structure". [ Harnden, PB, Coronet Books, 2000 p. 187] Two Armalite rifles used in the shooting were found by the British Army in 1990 in a wall near Cullyhanna and forensically tested. It was reported that the rifles were linked to 17 killings in the South Armagh area dating from 1974 to 1990. However, Harnden also reported a contradictory RUC allegation that the killings were planned, and that future Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt was among IRA members who planned them at the nearby Road House pub on New Years Eve. Harnden reported a further RUC allegation that McKevitt probably participated in the Kingsmill massacre. [Harnden p 136] A South Armagh IRA member, "Volunteer M", was additionally reported by Harnden as saying, "IRA members were ordered by their leaders to carry out the Kingsmill massacre". [Harnden p. 137] However, in 1999 the Reverend Ian Paisley, quoting what he said was an RUC dossier, alleged that a brother of one of the Catholics killed by the UVF the day before participated in the Kingsmill kilings - see 'Ian Paisley and Eugene Reavey' section below.

It was alleged by Harnden that IRA Chief of Staff, Seamus Twomey, on the suggestion of Brian Keenan, ordered that there had to be a disproportionate retaliation against Protestants in order to stop Catholics being killed by loyalists. According to IRA informer Sean O'Callaghan, "Keenan believed that the only way to put the nonsense out of the Prods [Protestants] , was to hit back much harder and more savagely than them". [Harnden, p134] However, O'Callaghan reports that the two did not consult the IRA Army Council before sanctioning the Kingsmill attack. This version of events is disputed by republican leader Ruairi O Bradaigh, who claims that he and Twomey only learned of the Kingsmill attack after it had taken place. [Robert W. White, Ruairi O Bradaigh, the life and politics of an Irish Revolutionary, p. 386]

The aftermath

The IRA denied responsibility for the killings. It stated on 17 January, 1976, "The Irish Republican Army has never initiated sectarian killings... [but] if loyalist elements responsible for over 300 sectarian assassinations in the past four years stop such killing now, then the question of retaliation from whatever source does not arise". [Richard English, Armed Struggle, a History of the IRA p. 173]

The Kingsmill massacre proved the last in the series of sectarian atrocities in the South Armagh area in the mid 1970s. According to local unionist activist Willie Frazer of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR), this was as a result of deal between the local UVF and IRA units. [Harnden, p. 140]

In response to the massacre, the UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced that the Special Air Service (SAS) was being deployed to South Armagh. However, according to historian Richard English, "it seems clear that the SAS had been in the north well before this. According to the Provisionals since 1971; according to a former SAS soldier they had been there even earlier". Units and personnel under the control of the SAS are alleged to have been involved in sectarian violence. [English, p. 172]

No one was ever charged in relation to the Kingsmill killings. In August 2003, there were calls for the RUC to reopen the files relating to the Kingsmill massacre. [ [ Police 'to reopen murder files'] BBC website]


The attitude of Irish Republicans to the massacre was mixed. It was allegedly ordered by elements of the IRA leadership (Seamus Twomey and Brian Keenan), but others, such as Gerry Adams, were reported to be very unhappy about it. According to Sean O'Callaghan, Adams said in an Army Council meeting, 'there'll never again be another Kingsmills'. [Harnden, Bandit Country p. 134, but see also Robert W. White, p. 386, above.]

IRA members on the ground in South Armagh who talked to journalist and author Toby Harnden in the late 1990s, generally condemned the massacre. One, "Volunteer M", said it was "a gut reaction [to the killing of Catholics] and a wrong one. The worst time in my life was in jail after Kingsmill. It was a dishonourable time". Another, "Volunteer G", said that he, "never agreed with Kingsmills". Republican activist Peter John Carraher said that those responsible were "were the loyalists who shot the Reavey brothers". He added, "It was sad that those people [at Kingsmills] had to die, but I'll tell you something, it stopped any more Catholics being killed". [ Harnden p. 137-138, see also [ CAIN webservice] .] This view was reiterated by a Tyrone republican and Gaelic Athletic Association veteran speaking to Ed Moloney, "It's a lesson you learn quickly on the football field... If you're fouled, you hit back". [ ["A Secret History of the IRA", Ed Moloney, 2002. 9PB) ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-71-399665-X p. 320] p. 320] Some loyalist paramilitaries claim the Kingsmill massacre is the reason they joined paramilitary groups. One was Billy Wright, who said, "I was 15 when those workmen were pulled out of that bus and shot dead. I was a Protestant and I realised that they had been killed simply because they were Protestants. I left Mountnorris, came back to Portadown and immediately joined the youth wing of the UVF". He went on to lead a UVF unit in North Armagh and then to found the Loyalist Volunteer Force. [(Toby Harnden, Bandit Country, the IRA and South Armagh, p. 140)] Wright was suspected of at least 20 sectarian killings of Catholics in the 1980s and 1990s. [ [,,415590,00.html Ceaseless quest of King Rat's father | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited ] ]

Another with similar claims was RUC Special Patrol Group officer Billy McCaughey, who was present at the aftermath of the Kingsmill killings in his police capacity. He told Harnden, "the sides of the road were running red with blood and it was the blood of totally innocent Protestants". Afterwards, McCaughey says that he began passing RUC intelligence to the UVF and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and also to participate in their operations. McCaughey was convicted in 1980 of one sectarian killing, the kidnapping of a Catholic priest and one failed bombing. [Harnden, p. 138-140] However, McCaughey, a former B Special, colluded in loyalist paramilitarism prior to the Kingsmills attack, and had a history of anti-catholic bigotry. He later admitted to being at the scene of the Reavey killings the day before the Kingsmills attack – reportedly he "was at the house but fired no shots". [ [ Interim Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Bombing of Kay’s Tavern, Dundalk July, 2006] , p. 122.]

Ian Paisley and Eugene Reavey

Eugene Reavey, whose three brothers were killed by loyalists the day before the Kingsmill attack, was accused in 1999 of participation in the Kingsmill killings by the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ian Paisley, who made no reference to the Reavey and O'Dowd killings. [See Paisley reference below]

Eugene Reavey had "witnessed the immediate aftermath of the [Kingsmill] massacre, which took place near his home. He was driving to Newry and happened upon it. He and his family were on their way to Daisy Hill hospital to collect the bodies of two of his brothers, John (24) and Brian (22)." [ [ Bitter hatreds that underpin Love Ulster parade in Dublin, Susan McKay, Irish Times, Feb 25th 2005] .] They were shot dead the previous night by the loyalist gunmen who also shot three members of the O'Dowd family. Eugene "Reavey was also going to visit his younger brother, Anthony, who had been badly injured in the attack. The bodies of the murdered workmen were being brought into the mortuary when he arrived. He went into the room where the shattered families were gathering, and wept with them. Alan Black [sole survivor of the Kingsmill massacre] and Anthony Reavey shared a hospital room. Black lived. Reavey died." [ibid]

In 1999, Ian Paisley, used parliamentary privilege in the British House of Commons to name those he believed responsible, including Eugene Reavey, whom he accused of being "a well-known republican" who "set up the Kingsmills massacre". Paisley claimed to be quoting from a "police dossier". [ [ House of Commons Hansard Debates for 27 Jan 1999 (pt 32)] Commons Hansard. 27 January 1999.] Paisley's claims were rejected by the sole survivor of the Kingsmill massacre, Alan Black, and also by Reavey himself.

Susan McKay wrote in the "Irish Times" that Alan Black, on hearing the Paisley accusations made against Reavey, "went straight to the Reaveys' house in Whitecross, south Armagh. He told Reavey that he knew he was innocent. The PSNI has stated that it had no reason to suspect Reavey of any crime, let alone of masterminding the atrocity.... The then Northern Ireland deputy first minister, the SDLP's Seamus Mallon, expressed outrage. Reavey went to the chief constable of the RUC, Ronnie Flanagan. Flanagan said he had "absolutely no evidence whatsoever" to connect him with the massacre, and that no police file contained any such allegation." [ [ Irish Times 25 February 2006] .]

In January 2007, the Police Service of Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team apologised to the Reavey family for allegations that the three brothers killed in 1976 were IRA members or that Eugene Reavey had been involved in the Kingsmills attack. [] Despite this, the allegation continued to be promoted by Willie Frazer of FAIR. [ Sectarianism and hatred only winners in city riot, by Susan McKay, The Irish News, February 28, 2006; see also: [ Paisley called on to apologise to murdered brother's family, by Alison Morris, Irish News January 18 2007] ; see also, [ Disgusting justification for sectarian murders, by Susan McKay, Irish News January 30 2007] ] Reavey is currently taking a related case to the European Court of Human Rights. [ibid.]


External links

* [ RUC men's secret war with the IRA, by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times, March 7 1999] .
* [ Interim Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings] ,
* [ "Death Squad Dossier", "Irish Mail on Sunday" by Michael Browne, December 10th, 2006] ;
* [ Irish Daily Mail, November 30th 2006] for further information - click on article graphics to read them.

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