Seán Savage

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Seán Savage (Irish: Seán Sabhaois) (26 January 1965 – 6 March 1988) was a volunteer of the Provisional IRA who was shot and killed by British Army Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers in Operation Flavius.

Early life

Born to an Irish republican family in the Kashmir area of Belfast, Savage was educated at primary level at St. Gall's Primary School and later at St. Paul's Secondary School in the Falls Road area of West Belfast.

Paramilitary career

According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), in 1987 Savage and Daniel McCann shot two Special Branch officers dead in Belfast docks.[1][2]

Savage was the leader of the IRA unit that placed a booby-trap bomb underneath the car of senior Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member John McMichael outside his Lisburn home in December 1987. McMichael, who was the UDA's Deputy Commander and leader of its South Belfast Brigade, died of his injuries two hours after the blast.[3]

In March 1988, Savage and McCann, along with Mairéad Farrell, were sent to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a bomb in the town area targeting the British military band which paraded weekly in connection with the changing of the guard in front of the Governors' residence (see Operation Flavius). Savage was shot dead, along with Farrell and McCann, by British Army soldiers in civilian dress whilst they walked unarmed towards the frontier with Spain, at the Winston Churchill Avenue Shell filling station. Savage who was following on behind the other two attempted to flee after he saw them being confronted and opened fire upon, only to be pursued and shot dead beneath a beech tree a short distance away in Smith Dorrien Avenue.[4] He was shot 16 to 18 times. Several witnesses to the shooting alleged that Farrell and McCann were both shot while attempting to surrender and while lying wounded on the ground.[5] British and Gibraltar Government official sources said the trio were acting suspiciously and that the soldiers who confronted and killed them had believed at the time that their own lives were in danger.[6] No radio or other detonating device were found on the bodies, nor was there any bomb in the car in Gibraltar which had been identified as belonging to the IRA unit.[7] Another car in use by them across the border in Spain was found two days after the engagement at Gibraltar containing 140 lb (64 kg) of Semtex with a device timed to go off during the changing of the guard.[6]


The funeral of Savage, Farrell and McCann was held on 16 March 1988 in the Milltown Cemetery, west Belfast and attended by many people including Sinn Féin politicians Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. As the coffins were being lowered into the ground, three mourners (including one IRA member) were killed in a gun and grenade attack launched by loyalist Michael Stone in what became known as the "Milltown Massacre".


An inquest into the deaths concluded the three had been lawfully killed. In 1995, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the human rights of the three were infringed, and criticized the British authorities for lack of control in the arrest operation. They also ruled that the three had been engaged in an act of terrorism, and consequently dismissed unanimously the applicants’ claims for damages, for costs and expenses incurred in the Gibraltar Inquest and the remainder of the claims for just satisfaction.[citation needed]

A controversial British television documentary, Death on the Rock was produced about the events surrounding Savage's death.[8]


  1. Blood & Rage - A Cultural History of Terrorism, Michael Burleigh, 2008, p332, ISBN 978-0-00-724127-9
  2. "Gibraltar: The truth" Belfast Telegraph
  3. Wood, Ian S (2006). Crimes of Loyalty: a History of the UDA. Edinburgh University Press. p.128. Google Books. Retrieved 6 April 2011
  4. PEADAR WHELAN Tribute to IRA Volunteers on the Rock An Phoblacht 6 March 2008
  5. ECHR Ruling on the killings
  6. 6.0 6.1 "1988: IRA gang shot dead in Gibraltar", BBC News
  7. Para 93 and 96 of the ECHR Ruling
  8. Death on the Rock, The Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Further reading