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Attack on Ballygawley RUC barracks
Part of The Troubles
Date7 December 1985
LocationBallygawley, County Tyrone
54°27′45.02″N 7°1′50″W / 54.4625056°N 7.03056°W / 54.4625056; -7.03056
Result RUC barracks completely destroyed
IrishRepublicanFlag.png Provisional IRA United Kingdom RUC
Commanders and leaders
Patrick Joseph Kelly Unknown
2 active service units 5 constables
Casualties and losses
None 2 killed, 3 wounded

On 7 December 1985 the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at Ballygawley, County Tyrone. Two RUC officers were shot dead and the base was raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a bomb, which wounded a further three officers.


During 1985, Patrick Kelly became leader of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He, along with East Tyrone Brigade members Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, advocated using flying columns to destroy isolated British Army and RUC bases and stop them from being repaired. The goal was to create and hold "liberated zones" under IRA control that would be gradually enlarged. Although IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna turned-down the flying column idea, IRA Northern Command approved the plan to destroy bases and prevent their repair.[1] In that year alone there were 44 such attacks.[2] Among the most devastating was the Newry mortar attack in March.[3]

The attack

The attack involved two IRA active service units from the East Tyrone Brigade: an armed assault unit and a bomb unit.[4] There were also several teams of IRA observers in the area. The assault team was armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, while the bombing unit was to be responsible for planting and detonating a 200 pounds (91 kg) bomb.[5] Both units were commanded by Patrick Kelly.

The assault was launched on Saturday 7 December at 18:55,[6] when the handful of RUC officers manning the base were getting ready to hand over to the next shift.[7] In the first burst of automatic fire, the two guards at the entrance were killed: Constable George Gilliland and Reserve Constable William Clements.[8] Constable Clements' Ruger security six revolver was taken by the attackers.[9] The base was then raked with gunfire. Another three RUC officers who were inside ran out to the back of the base,[4] where they hoped the walls might offer some cover.[7] IRA members went into the building and took documents and weapons. The bomb was placed inside and, upon detonation, destroyed the entire base.[9] Three officers were hurt.

The republician magazine Iris (#11, October 1987) described the attack as follows:

One volunteer took up a position close to the front gate. Two RUC men opened the gate and the volunteer calmly stepped forward, shooting them both dead at point blank range. Volunteers firing AK-47 and Armalite rifles moved into the barracks, raking it with gunfire. Having secured the building they planted a 100 lb bomb inside. The bomb exploded, totally destroying the building after the volunteers had withdrawn to safety.[10]

The first British Army unit to arrive at the base in the wake of the attack was D Company, 1st Battalion, Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment.[11]


The attack was one of the Provisional IRA's biggest during this period. The British Government responded by boosting Army, and especially Ulster Defence Regiment patrols, in isolated areas.[citation needed] Royal Engineers rebuilt the base in 1986.[12] The East Tyrone IRA launched two similar attacks in the following years: the successful attack on the Birches base in 1986, and the ill-fated attack on the Loughgall base in 1987, in which eight IRA members were killed. The gun taken from Constable Clements was found by security forces after the ambush.[13]

See also


  1. Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. Penguin Books. p. 314. ISBN 0-14-101041-X. 
  2. An Phoblacht, 28 July 2005
  3. "Northern Ireland Bloody Day". Time magazine. 11 March 1985.,9171,962598-1,00.html. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Urban, Mark (1992). Big Boys' Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle Against the IRA. Faber and Faber. p. 221. 
  5. SAS operations in Northern Ireland
  6. Excerpt from "Sons of Guns", chapter 11 of Families at War by Peter Taylor (1989).
  7. 7.0 7.1 Taylor, Peter. Provos: The IRA & Sinn Féin. Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998. p.270
  8. RUC memorial
  9. 9.0 9.1 Taylor, Peter (1997). Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Féin. TV books, p.315. ISBN 1-57500-061-X
  10. Murray, Raymond. The SAS in Ireland. Mercier Press, 1990. p.379
  11. Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment history
  12. Heathwood news chronology. Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  13. Urban, Mark (1992). Big Boys' Rules. Faber and Faber. p.229. ISBN 0-571-16809-4

Further reading

  • Moloney, Ed: A secret history of the IRA. Penguin Books (2002).
  • Urban, Mark: Big Boys’ Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle Against the IRA. Faber and Faber (1992).

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