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The attack on Derryard checkpoint was a raid carried out on 13 December 1989 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit against a British Army permanent vehicle checkpoint complex manned by the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB). It happened near the Northern Ireland–Republic of Ireland border at Derryard, near Rosslea, County Fermanagh. The IRA unit, firing from the back of an armoured truck, attacked the base with heavy machine-guns, grenades, rockets and a flamethrower. A nearby British Army patrol arrived at the scene and a fierce firefight erupted. The IRA withdrew after leaving a van bomb inside the complex, but it failed to detonate. The action left two British soldiers dead and two wounded.


According to journalist Ed Moloney, the IRA Army Council, suspecting a great deal of penetration by informers at the grassroots level of the organisation, decided to form an experimental flying column (instead of the usual active service unit) to mount a large-scale operation against a permanent vehicle checkpoint along the border. The goal was to find an effective way to prevent any information leak that could result in another fiasco like the Loughgall Ambush in 1987.[2]

Moloney maintains that the planning was in the charge of Thomas Murphy, alleged leader of the South Armagh Brigade, and that the raid was to be led by East Tyrone Brigade member Michael "Pete" Ryan. Journalist Ian Bruce, instead claims that an Irish citizen who served in the Parachute Regiment was the leader of the IRA unit, citing intelligence sources.[3] The column was made up of volunteers from throughout Northern Ireland.[2] It would be composed of about 20 IRA members, but the attack itself was to be the responsibility of 11 IRA members.[2]

The attack

The IRA team was armed with AK-47s and Armalite AR-18, two 12.7mm DShK heavy machine-guns, RPG-7s, different kinds of grenades, and a flamethrower. The bulk of the flying column would be driven to the checkpoint on a makeshift armoured truck.[4] To assure widespread destruction, the column would detonate a van bomb after the initial assault. According to the RUC report, a third vehicle might have been involved. The chosen target, a permanent vehicle checkpoint at Derryard, was manned by eight soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers regiment and a member of the RUC.[1]

The truck was driven from the border and halted at the checkpoint. As Private James Houston began to check the back of the truck, the IRA opened-fire with assault rifles and threw grenades into the compound.[4] Two RPG-7s were fired at the observation sangar while the flamethrower was aimed at the command sangar.[4] A farmer some distance away saw the orange ball of flames and heard gunfire 'raking the fields'.[5] Heavy shooting continued as the truck reversed and smashed into the compound.[4] The IRA sprayed it with gunfire from inside and threw grenades, nail bombs and petrol bombs.[1] The defenders were forced to seek shelter in sangars, from where they fired into their own base.[1] As the truck drove out of the now wrecked compound, a red transit van loaded with a 400 lb (182 kg) bomb[2] was driven inside. However, it failed to detonate.

The attack was finally repulsed by a Borderers section from the checkpoint that was patrolling nearby, with the support of a Wessex helicopter. The patrol fired more than 100 rounds.[1] The IRA column, at risk of being surrounded, then fled toward the border in the truck.[2][6] It was found abandoned at the border with a 460 pounds (210 kg) bomb on board.[1]

Two British soldiers were killed in the attack: Private Houston and Lance-Corporal Michael Patterson. Corporal Law was badly wounded by shrapnel[7] and later airlifted for treatment.[1] Another soldier suffered minor injuries.[8]


There was outrage in Parliamentary and unionist circles, as a supposedly well-defended border post had been overrun by the IRA and two soldiers killed. On the other hand, according to Moloney, there was also some disappointment among republicans. Despite the positive propaganda effect, the quick and strong reaction from British troops convinced some high-ranking members that the Army Council was infiltrated by a mole.[9]

A senior British military officer, when quizzed about the IRA attack, said:

They are murdering bastards, but they are not cowards. This team actually pressed home a ground attack right into the heart of the compound. That takes guts when there are people firing back.[1]

KOSB officers and security sources believed that the IRA unit involved was not locally recruited, putting the blame instead on IRA members from Clogher (County Tyrone) and South Monaghan (in the Republic).[1] The same sources said that the plan of the attack was executed "in true backside-or-bust Para style".[3]

From 1990 up to the end of the IRA campaign in 1997, there were a number of further bloodless, small-scale attacks against permanent vehicles checkpoints along this part of the border using automatic weapons, particularly in County Fermanagh[10][11][12] and against a military outpost at Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.[13][14]

Two British soldiers, Corporal Robert Duncan and Lance Corporal Ian Harvey, were bestowed the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM),[15] whilst Lance-Corporal Patterson received a posthumous mention in dispatches for his actions during the attack. The checkpoint was dismantled in 1991.[16][17]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 "Calculating, professional enemy that faces KOSB" by Ian Bruce. Herald Scotland, 15 December 1989
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Moloney, Ed (2003). A secret story of the IRA. W.W. Norton & co. ISBN 0-393-32502-4. p.333
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ex-Para 'led attack by IRA which killed Scots soldiers' by Ian Bruce, Herald Scotland, 2 January 1990
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Rowlands, David. "The Derryard Action, County Fermanagh, 13th December 1989". Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  5. McKittrick, David (1999). Lost lives: the stories of the men, women and children who died through the Northern Ireland troubles. Mainstream, p. 1187. ISBN 1-84018-227-X
  6. Anne Palmer (14 December 2004). "Tribute Paid To Soldiers Killed In IRA Attack". The News Letter. Archived from the original on 25 December 2004. Retrieved 30 March 2007. 
  7. "2 British Soldiers Killed in Raid". Associated Press, 14 December 1989
  8. Parlamentary debate, 10 July 1990
  9. Moloney, p.334
  10. "IRA cease-fire ends". Associated Press, 27 December 1990
  11. "Ceasefire Ends With IRA Attacks: Gov't Presses Ahead with Forum". Irish Voice, 19 April 1994
  12. "IRA shoots RUC woman". 17 April 1997. 
  13. Probe Shooting by Police, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 January 1991
  14. Evening Herald, 28 May 1994
  15. Supplement to the London Gazette, 6 November 1990
  16. "500 more soldiers sent to Ulster". Herald Scotland, 20 March 1991
  17. The Irish Emigrant, March 1991, issue No.216: Quote: "Northern Secretary Peter Brooke announced that two permanent cross-border checkpoints in Co.Fermanagh (Boa Island and Derryard) are to be dismantled. This is seen partly as a result of recent "proxy" attacks on such posts, but Mr Brooke made the apparently valid point that increased mobile patrols and random checkpoints are more effective".

External links

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