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The Drummuckavall Ambush was a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack on a British Army observation post near Crossmaglenmarker, County Armagh. It occurred on 22 November 1975 and resulted in the deaths of three soldiers.


During the mid 1970s, the most violent decade of the Troubles in Northern Irelandmarker, the monitoring of the border between South Armagh and the Republic of Irelandmarker by the British Army was carried out from several static observation posts (OPs), in order to prevent attacks launched from beyond the frontier. These part-time manned positions were highly vulnerable to guerrilla actions, as proved by a 1974 bomb attack which claimed the lives of two Royal Marines at the outpost of Drummuckavall.

It was not until 1986, when the first surveillance watchtowers were erected by the code named operations "Condor" and "Magistrate" that the army tried to regain the initiative in the region from the IRA.

The intelligence and control over the area relied until then, and for a lapse of ten years, mostly on mobile posts, comprising small uncovered infantry sections.

The ambush

A section of four members of the Royal Fusiliers regiment, coming from Crossmaglenmarker, mounted an observation post at 2:00 on 21 November 1975. Unknown to them, an IRA unit of about 12 volunteers had spotted their position with the help of some local people, who had been watching the previous movements of the troops. The next day, at 16:20, heavy gunfire erupted, killing three Fusiliers and disabling the communications equipment. The Lance Corporal in charge of the party, unscathed during the first burst, was seriously injured when he tried to react, after the IRA men asked him to surrender.


Shortly after the ambush, Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, issued a famous statement dubbing South Armagh Bandit Country.The next year, the British Government officially deployed the Special Air Servicemarker (SAS) into Northern Ireland in order to deal with the IRA. The secretive and undercover nature of this elite force made of them the best choice to infiltrate the South Armagh area.

As a complement to the SAS operations, the British Army also changed tactics. Major General Dick Trant established small teams of troops, called COPs (close observation platoons), with the purpose of collecting information, often in plain clothes or camouflaged in the landscape. They were also able to set up ambushes, like the ill-fated Operation Conservationmarker in 1990.


  1. Harnden, page 254
  2. "'Before the towers went in they [the IRA] almost had complete freedom of movement and could pick the time and the place' he [Lt. Colonel Tim Spicer] said. 'They had a number of aces in their hand, and our intention was to try to take the initiative from them through total surveillance combined with impredictable patrols.'"Harnden, page 253
  3. "The SAS was a finite resource and was soon being used throughout Northern Ireland so there was a need for regular soldiers to be trained to operate covertly. This led to the establishment of Close Observation Platoons (COPs) by Major General Dick Trant in 1977. (...) As well as carrying out surveillance, COPs -which are tasked by RUC Special Branch rather than by the Army- have also been used in South Armagh to mount ambushes." Harnden, page 169
  4. Harnden, pp. 67-68
  5. Harnden, page 68
  6. Harnden, page 158


  • Harnden, Toby;Bandit Country:The IRA & South Armagh. Coronet Books, 1999. ISBN 0340717378

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