Did The SAS Fight The IRA? Loughgall Ambush 1987 : 10 Minutes Of Hell

Did The SAS Fight The IRA? Loughgall Ambush 1987 : 10 Minutes Of Hell

Military History

The Loughgall ambush happened on the 8th of May, 1987, in the village of Loughgall in Northern Ireland. This event was part of the overarching conflict known as the Troubles, also known as the Northern Ireland conflict, that lasted from the 1960s to 1998.

The SAS’ Loughgall Ambush was a major event in the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Troubles, which lasted from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, were a period of sectarian violence and political conflict between those who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and those who wanted it to become part of the Republic of Ireland.

The IRA had been active in Northern Ireland since the early 1920s.
Gerard Adams. President of Sinn Féin between 13 November 1983 and 10 February 2018

Furthermore, had previously used violence and terrorism to try to force the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland and to unite the island of Ireland. The organization had been relatively inactive in the early 1980s, but had begun to step up its operations again in the mid-1980s, with a series of bombings and shootings aimed at both military and civilian targets.

The British government responded to the IRA’s renewed campaign of violence with a number of measures, including increased security and intelligence-gathering efforts, as well as military operations against known IRA members and targets. The SAS, established in 1941, was one of the British Army’s most elite and secretive units. Furthermore, had a long history of carrying out covert operations against terrorist groups.

For more reading on the beginning of SAS see our piece: Raid On Sidi Haneish Airfield : Birth Of The SAS
Members of Cumann na mBan marching in Bodenstown

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was well-funded during the 1980s, despite the British government’s efforts to disrupt its financing. The organization had a variety of sources of funding, including donations from supporters in the Irish-American community, as well as proceeds from criminal activities such as extortion, smuggling, and money laundering.

In the early 1980s, the IRA was able to obtain significant amounts of weapons and explosives through smuggling operations, particularly from Libya.

These smuggled weapons proved critical to the IRA’s ability to conduct operations during this period.

The IRA also had a sophisticated network of fund-raisers and money launderers, which helped the organization to move money around the world and to conceal its financial transactions from authorities. The organization had a relatively low overhead, which allowed it to survive on a relatively small amount of money.

During this period, there was occasional violence between the British Armed Forces and the Irish Republican Army. As the Irish Republican Army was fighting for Northern Ireland to be a part of Ireland rather than the United Kingdom.

Violence from this conflict often occurred in densely populated areas, leading to many civilians deaths. 

Halfway through the 1980, the county that Loughgall was located in, County Armagh, had become a hotbed of Irish Republican Army. Previous attacks occurred against the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who were loyal to the British Armed Forces.

Prior to the attack on the Loughgall constabulary, however, British intelligence had already become aware of the planned events. Many point to a secret agent in the IRA at the time working for MI6.

Millitary Intelligence – www.sis.gov.uk

The day of the attack.

In the Loughgall Ambush, the SAS had been monitoring the IRA group for several weeks and had learned of their plans to bomb the police station. The SAS unit ambushed the IRA members as they were approaching the station, using a combination of automatic weapons fire and explosives to kill all eight members of the group.

See the source image

On the day of the attack, two extra Real Ulster Constabulary officers were placed in the Constabulary, bolstering the total number of officers in the building to five. Six SAS members stationed inside the building in plain clothes, with an additional eighteen SAS soldiers hidden around the Constabulary. 

The Irish Republican Army’s preparation involved the stealing of a van and a construction digger. The plan was to have two teams—one team would drive the digger with a bomb through the gates of the Constabulary, while a second team in the van would follow and provide support. 300-400 pounds semtex became placed in the bucket of the digger intended for after the breaching of constabulary grounds. 

The ambush took place shortly after nightfall.

A scout car having spotted the digger on its way to the constabulary alerted the SAS soldier positioned around the building.

The digger crashed through the security fence of the constabulary, and while the three of the team of five inside the van following the digger hopped out and opened fire on the constabulary with automatic weapons.


The semtex detonated shortly after, completely destroying the digger and heavily damaging the constabulary.

The Irish News

The eighteen SAS soldiers positioned around the building opened fire on the attackers. Riddling the area as well as the van with bullets. Of the total eight Irish Republican Army members taking part in the attack, all eight were killed on the premises. Two Royal Ulster Constabulary became injured in the explosion. As well as a SAS officer in plain clothes due to the shattering of windows during the gunfire. 

Unfortunately, two civilians in a vehicle that drove onto the scene of the ambush became collateral damage during the incident. The driver died while the passenger received life-threatening injuries. It became reported that they were both wearing overalls that made them similar to Irish Republican Army members in appearance.

The re-built Loughgall PSNI base in 2010, just before being sold to a development company

The Irish Republican Army members killed in the ambush became known as the ‘Loughgall Martyrs’.

See the source image
IRA Funeral of Bobby Sands : Unrelated to Loughgall, but IRA pictures are limited!

The Loughgall Ambush was a significant victory for the SAS and the British government. In addition, seen as a major blow to the IRA’s ability to conduct operations in Northern Ireland.

Mural of Loughgall Volunteers.gif
Mural of Loughgall Volunteers
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Did The SAS Fight The IRA? Loughgall Ambush 1987 : 10 Minutes Of Hell