South Armagh Republican Action Force

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The South Armagh Republican Action Force was an alleged Irish republican paramilitary group that was active from 1975 to 1977 during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Its area of activity was mainly the southern part of County Armagh. According to writers such as Ed Moloney and Richard English, it was a covername used by some members of the Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade.[1][2] The journalist Jack Holland, however, alleged that the group was made up of members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).[citation needed] According to Malcolm Sutton's database at CAIN, it was responsible for 24 deaths during the conflict, all of whom were classified as civilians.[3]


On 10 February 1975, the Provisional IRA and British government entered into a truce and restarted negotiations. The IRA agreed to halt attacks on British security forces, and the security forces mostly ended its raids and searches.[4] However, there were dissenters on both sides. Some Provisionals wanted no part of the truce, while British commanders resented being told to stop their operations against the IRA just when—they claimed—they had the Provisionals on the run.[4] The security forces boosted their intelligence offensive during the truce and thoroughly infiltrated the IRA.[4]

There was a rise in sectarian killings during the truce, which 'officially' lasted until early 1976. Loyalist paramilitaries, fearing they were about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland,[5] increased their attacks on Catholics. Loyalists killed 120 Catholics in 1975, the vast majority civilians. They hoped to force the IRA to retaliate and thus hasten an end to the truce.[6] Under orders not to engage the security forces, some IRA units concentrated on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations had caused serious problems of internal discipline and some IRA members, with or without permission from higher up, engaged in tit-for-tat killings.[4] INLA members, and current or former members of the Official IRA, were also allegedly involved.[4]

Tullyvallen attack

Tullyvallen Orange Hall in 2009

On 1 September 1975, a few days after two Catholic civilians were shot dead a short distance way in Altnamackan, the South Armagh Republican Action Force claimed responsibility for a gun attack on Tullyvallen Orange Hall near Newtownhamilton, County Armagh. The attack happened at about 10pm, when a group of Orangemen were holding a meeting inside.[7] A number of the Orangemen were members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army and were armed. Two gunmen entered the hall and sprayed it with bullets while another stood outside and shot through a window.[7] One of the Orangemen was an off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. He returned fire with a pistol and believed he hit one of the attackers.[7][8] Five of the Orangemen, all civilians, were killed while seven others were wounded.[9] The attackers planted a 2 pounds (0.91 kg) bomb outside the hall but it failed to detonate.[7] A caller to the BBC claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was in retaliation for "the assassinations of fellow Catholics in Belfast".[10] Shortly after, the Orange Order called for the creation of a legal militia (or "Home Guard") to deal with republican paramilitaries.[7]

Kingsmill attack

On 5 January 1976, the Force claimed responsibility for the Kingsmill massacre. In that attack, its members stopped a minibus near Kingsmill in County Armagh and shot 11 Protestant men who were travelling in it. 10 men died; one survived despite being shot 18 times.[11] Four of the dead belonged to the Orange Order.[12] Up to eleven gunmen reportedly took part in the massacre and were led by a man "with a pronounced English accent".[13] The group's spokesman stated that the attack was in retaliation for the killing of six Catholics the night before and that there would be "no further action on our part" if loyalists stopped their attacks. He also claimed the group had no connection with the PIRA.[13]

In contrast, a 2011 Historical Enquiries Team investigation into the incident determined that Provisional IRA volunteers were responsible for the attack despite the organisation being on an official ceasefire, and found that the victims had been targeted because of their religion.[14][15][16]

Hugh Clarke killing

On 7 April 1977, the South Armagh Republican Action Force claimed responsibility for shooting dead a Protestant, Hugh Clarke, at Tullymacreeve near Forkill, County Armagh.[17] The book Lost Lives designates the IRA as responsible for killing Clarke, adding "the IRA claimed Hugh Clarke was involved in the killing of IRA member John Francis Green. On the night of the Green killing, he had been at the house where the IRA man's body was found".[18]


  1. A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002. (PB) ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-7139-9665-X p.320
  2. Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA, Richard English, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-517753-4 p.171
  3. Malcolm Sutton's Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland – choose "organization" and "status" as the two variables
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Extracts from The Longest War: Northern Ireland and the IRA by Kevin J. Kelley. Zed Books Ltd, 1988. Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  5. Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. p.142
  6. Taylor, Peter. Brits: The War Against the IRA. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001. p.182
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 McKittrick, David. Lost Lives. Mainstream Publishing, 1999. p.572
  8. McKay, Susan. Northern Protestants: An unsettled people. Blackstaff Press, 2005. p.190
  9. CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict: 1975
  10. English, Richard. Armed Struggle: The history of the IRA. Pan McMillen, 2004. p. 171
  11. 1976: Ten dead in Northern Ireland ambush. BBC News.
  12. "In Memory", Armagh County Grand Orange Lodge website.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Blood in the Rain". The Belfast Telegraph. 5 January 2006. Retrieved 19 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Kingsmills families demand full inquiry into massacre". BBC. 22 June 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. ""Kingsmills guns 'used 110 times'"". 16 June 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Kingsmills was "sectarian savagery"". 17 June 2011. Retrieved 17 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Sutton Index of Deaths: 1977, CAIN; accessed 11 February 2014.
  18. McKittrick, David. Lost Lives. Mainstream Publishing, 1999. p. 713