Séamus McElwaine

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Séamus Turlough McElwaine (also spelt Seamus McElwain) (1 April 1960 – 26 April 1986[1]) was a volunteer in the South Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) killed by the Special Air Service (SAS) while on active duty with Seán Lynch, who was seriously injured in the shooting.

Early life

McElwaine was the oldest of eight children and was born and grew up in Knockacullion, near Scotstown, County Monaghan, in the Republic of Ireland.[1][2] McElwaine took his first steps towards becoming involved in physical force republicanism when he joined Na Fianna Éireann aged 14. At the age of 16, McElwaine turned down an opportunity to study in the United States of America and joined the IRA, stating "no one will ever be able to accuse me of running away.[1][3]

Paramilitary activities

Gravestone of Séamus McElwaine

McElwaine was an active member of the IRA, who became Officer Commanding of the IRA in County Fermanagh by the age of 19.[3] On 5 February 1980, McElwaine murdered off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) corporal Aubrey Abercrombie as he drove a tractor in the townland of Drumacabranagher, near Florencecourt. Later that year on 23 September, McElwaine murdered off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston outside his home in Roslea.[3][4] He was also suspected of involvement in at least 10 other murders.[5][6]

On 14 March 1981, SAS soldiers surrounded a farmhouse near Roslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrendered and were arrested.[3] While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol McElwaine stood in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and received 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote).[7][8] In May 1982 McElwaine was convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a "dangerous killer" and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.[3]

On 25 September 1983, McElwaine was involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. 38 republican prisoners, armed with 6 handguns, hijacked a prison meals lorry and smashed their way out of HMP Maze.[9][10]

After the escape he joined an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between County Monaghan and County Fermanagh. The unit targeted police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.[11] He also held a meeting with Pádraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, members of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, in which they discussed forming a flying column with the aim of going on the offensive by destroying police barracks and establishing liberated areas within Northern Ireland. However, this plan never materialised.[12]


File:Mcelwain monument.jpg
Monument in Corlat erected in memory of Séamus McElwaine

On 26 April 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Sean Lynch, were preparing to ambush an army patrol near Roslea in County Fermanagh when they were ambushed themselves by the SAS. Both were wounded but Lynch managed to crawl away. It was reported that McElwaine died from his wounds,[13][14][15] although a jury found that he had been interrogated while incapacitated for several minutes and then shot dead.[16][17]

McElwaine was buried in Scotstown and his funeral was attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gave an oration describing McElwaine as "a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country" and "an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists".[14][18]

In 1987 McElwaine's father Jimmy, a longtime member of Monaghan County Council, became the chairman of the Séamus McElwain Cumann of Republican Sinn Féin.[19]

On 1 April 1990 a monument to McElwaine was erected in Corlat, Monaghan. The oration was given by Catholic priest Piaras Ó Duill, who compared McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle.[20] The inscription on the monument is a quote from Pádraig Pearse; "As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt".[21] A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans was also erected in Roslea in 1998, and was unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.[6]

In January 1993 an inquest jury returned a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury ruled the soldiers had opened fire without giving McElwaine a chance to surrender, and that he was actually shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requested a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but nobody has been prosecuted for McElwaine's death.[5][15][22][23]

In April 2006 approximately 1,000 people in Roslea paid tribute to McElwaine during the traditional Easter Commemoration to mark the Easter Rising. Victims groups and unionist politicians including Democratic Unionist Party member Arlene Foster had asked the Parades Commission to ban the parade from the area where McElwaine was killed, describing him as an "evil murderer", but the Commission ruled the commemoration could proceed without any restriction.[24] In Corlat two weeks later 500 people attended the launch of a documentary film about McElwaine, Life and death of an IRA activist, marking the 20th anniversary of his death.[17]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Tírghrá. National Commemoration Centre. 2002. p. 278. ISBN 0-9542946-0-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Murray, Raymond (2004). The SAS in Ireland. Mercier Press. p. 369. ISBN 1-85635-437-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Urban, Mark (1993). Big Boys' Rules: SAS and the Secret Struggle Against the IRA. Faber and Faber. pp. 141–142. ISBN 0-571-16809-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Malcolm Sutton. "An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland". CAIN. Retrieved 2007-04-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Division over parade for Seamus McElwaine". Impartial Reporter. 6 April 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Colin Randall (5 October 1998). "Anger over memorial in honour of IRA killer". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-04-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  7. Moloney, Ed (2002). A Secret History of the IRA. Penguin Books. p. 291. ISBN 0-14-101041-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Elections Ireland: Séamus McElwaine". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 16 April 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Urban, p. 166.
  10. Nicola Byrne (21 September 2003). "Maze party with jelly and ice cream". The Observer. Retrieved 16 April 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Bishop, Patrick & Mallie, Eamonn (1987). The Provisional IRA. Corgi Books. p. 419. ISBN 0-552-13337-X. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Moloney, pp. 312–315.
  13. Jenny McCartney & Alan Murray (15 November 1998). "204 terrorists released – and not a single gun surrendered". The Daily Telegraph.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Urban, p. 219.
  15. 15.0 15.1 "United Kingdom/Northern Ireland Human Rights, 1993". U.S. Department of State. 31 January 1994. Retrieved 15 April 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. http://www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=publisher&publisher=AMNESTY&type=ANNUALREPORT&coi=GBR&docid=3ae6a9f358&skip=0
  17. 17.0 17.1 Brian Mac Domhnaill (25 May 2006). "Remembering McElwain". An Phoblacht. Retrieved 28 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Taylor, Peter (2001). Brits. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 257. ISBN 0-7475-5806-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "SAOIRSE Irish Freedom". SAOIRSE. September 2000. Retrieved 16 April 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Séamus McElwaine Memorial". SAOIRSE. May 1990. Retrieved 24 August 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Jim Gibney (15 June 2006). "Conference: Spirit of McElwaine evident among delegates". An Phoblacht. Retrieved 28 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 18 Jan 1993". House of Commons. 18 January 1993. Retrieved 15 April 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Amnesty International Report 1994 – United Kingdom". United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Retrieved 6 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Protests catalyst for a show of strength". Impartial Reporter. 20 April 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>