Attack on Derryard checkpoint

Attack on Derryard PVC
Part of the Troubles and Operation Banner

Republican memorial at Carragunt bridge, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, often crossed by Provisional IRA forces during the Troubles to attack British targets inside County Fermanagh
Date13 December 1989
LocationDerryard, near Rosslea,
County Fermanagh

54°15′27.9″N 7°10′58.4″W / 54.257750°N 7.182889°W / 54.257750; -7.182889Coordinates: 54°15′27.9″N 7°10′58.4″W / 54.257750°N 7.182889°W / 54.257750; -7.182889
Result British Army complex stormed
IRA bombing attempt failed
Provisional IRA

 United Kingdom

Commanders and leaders
Thomas Murphy
Michael Ryan
Corporal Robert Duncan
11 in attacking unit
9 providing tactical support
9 in the complex[1]
4 on nearby patrol
1 helicopter
Casualties and losses
None 2 killed
2 wounded
Location within Northern Ireland

On 13 December 1989 the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked a British Army permanent vehicle checkpoint complex manned by the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) near the Northern Ireland–Republic of Ireland border at Derryard, near Rosslea, County Fermanagh. The IRA unit, firing from the back of an armoured dump truck, attacked the small base with heavy machine-guns, grenades, rockets and a flamethrower. A nearby British Army patrol arrived at the scene and a fierce firefight erupted. The IRA withdrew after leaving a van bomb inside the complex, but it did not fully detonate. The attack left two British soldiers dead and two wounded.


According to journalist Ed Moloney, the IRA Army Council, suspecting a great deal of infiltration by British double agents at the grassroots level of the IRA, decided to form an experimental flying column (instead of the usual active service unit) to mount a large-scale operation against a permanent vehicle checkpoint along the border. It hoped that this would prevent any information leak that could result in another fiasco like the Loughgall Ambush of 1987.[2]

Moloney maintains that the planning was in the charge of Thomas Murphy, alleged leader of the South Armagh Brigade, and that the raid was to be led by East Tyrone Brigade member Michael "Pete" Ryan. Journalist Ian Bruce instead claims that the IRA unit was led by an Irish citizen who had served in the Parachute Regiment, citing intelligence sources.[3] The column was made up of about 20 experienced IRA volunteers from throughout Northern Ireland, 11 of whom would carry out the attack itself.[2]


The target was a permanent vehicle checkpoint at Derryard. Described as a "mini base", it included an accommodation block and defensive sangars.[1] It was manned by eight soldiers of the 1st Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers and a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer.[1] The 11 IRA members would be driven to the checkpoint in the back of a makeshift Bedford armoured dumper truck. They were armed with 7.62mm AK-47s and 5.56mm Armalite AR-18s, two 12.7mm DShK heavy machine-guns, RPG-7s, different kinds of grenades, and a LPO-50 flamethrower.[4][5] The heavy machine guns and the flamethrower were mounted on a tripod on the lorry bed.[5] To assure widespread destruction, the column would detonate a van bomb after the initial assault.[2]

The attack took place shortly after 4PM.[6] IRA members sealed off roads leading to the checkpoint in an attempt to prevent civilians from getting caught up in the attack.[2] The truck was driven from the border and halted at the checkpoint. As Private James Houston began to check the back of the truck, the IRA opened fire with assault rifles and threw grenades into the compound.[4] Two RPG-7s were fired at the observation sangar while the flamethrower stream was directed at the command sangar. Heavy shooting continued as the truck reversed and smashed through the gates of the compound.[1][4] The IRA sprayed it with gunfire from inside and threw grenades, nail bombs and petrol bombs.[1] The defenders were forced to seek shelter in sangars, from where they fired into their own base.[1] As the truck drove out of the now wrecked compound, a red transit van loaded with a 400 lb (182 kg) bomb[2] was driven inside and set to detonate once the IRA unit had made its escape. However, only the booster charge exploded.[4]

The attack was finally repulsed by a four-men Borderers section from the checkpoint that was patrolling nearby, with the support of a Wessex helicopter. The patrol fired more than 100 rounds at the IRA unit.[1][4] A farmer some distance away saw an orange ball of flames and heard gunfire 'raking the fields'.[6] The IRA column, at risk of being surrounded, fled toward the border in the truck.[2][7] It was found abandoned at the border with a 460 pounds (210 kg) bomb on board.[1]

Two British soldiers were killed in the attack: Private James Houston (22) from England and Lance-Corporal Michael Paterson (21) from Scotland.[6] Corporal Law was badly wounded by shrapnel[8] and later airlifted for treatment.[1] Another soldier suffered minor injuries.[9]


There was outrage in Westminster and among unionists, as a supposedly well-defended border post had been overrun by the IRA and two soldiers killed. On the other hand, according to Moloney, there was also some disappointment among republicans. Despite the positive propaganda effect, the quick and strong reaction from British troops convinced some high-ranking IRA members that the Army Council had been infiltrated by a mole.[10]

A senior British military officer, when quizzed about the IRA attack, said:

They are murdering bastards, but they are not cowards. This team actually pressed home a ground attack right into the heart of the compound. That takes guts when there are people firing back.[1]

KOSB officers and security sources believed that the IRA unit involved was not locally recruited, putting the blame instead on IRA members from Clogher (County Tyrone) and South Monaghan (in the Republic).[1] The same sources said that the attack was executed "in true backside-or-bust Para style".[3]

From 1990 until the end of the IRA campaign in 1997, there were a number of further bloodless, small-scale attacks against permanent vehicle checkpoints along this part of the border using automatic weapons, particularly in County Fermanagh[11][12] and against a military outpost at Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.[13][14]

Two British soldiers, Corporal Robert Duncan and Lance Corporal Ian Harvey, were bestowed the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM),[15] whilst Lance-Corporal Paterson received a posthumous mention in dispatches for his actions during the attack. The checkpoint was dismantled in 1991.[16][17]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "Calculating, professional enemy that faces KOSB" by Ian Bruce. Herald Scotland, 15 December 1989
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Moloney, Ed (2003). A secret story of the IRA. W.W. Norton & co. ISBN 0-393-32502-4. p.333
  3. 1 2 Ex-Para 'led attack by IRA which killed Scots soldiers' by Ian Bruce, Herald Scotland, 2 January 1990
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Rowlands, David. "The Derryard Action, County Fermanagh, 13th December 1989". Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  5. 1 2 Fremont-Barnes, Gregory (2015). A History of Counterinsurgency. ABC-CLIO. p. 268. ISBN 1440804257.
  6. 1 2 3 McKittrick, David (1999). Lost lives: the stories of the men, women and children who died through the Northern Ireland troubles. Mainstream, p. 1187; ISBN 1-84018-227-X
  7. Anne Palmer (14 December 2004). "Tribute Paid To Soldiers Killed In IRA Attack". The News Letter. Archived from the original on 25 December 2004. Retrieved 30 March 2007.
  8. "2 British Soldiers Killed in Raid". Associated Press, 14 December 1989.
  9. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 10 Jul 1990".
  10. Moloney, p. 334
  11. "IRA cease-fire ends". Associated Press, 27 December 1990
  12. "Ceasefire Ends With IRA Attacks: Gov't Presses Ahead with Forum". Irish Voice, 19 April 1994.
  13. Probe Shooting by Police, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 January 1991.
  14. Evening Herald, 28 May 1994
  15. Supplement to the London Gazette, 6 November 1990
  16. "500 more soldiers sent to Ulster". Herald Scotland, 20 March 1991
  17. The Irish Emigrant, March 1991, issue No.216: Quote: "Northern Secretary Peter Brooke announced that two permanent cross-border checkpoints in Co.Fermanagh (Boa Island and Derryard) are to be dismantled. This is seen partly as a result of recent "proxy" attacks on such posts, but Mr Brooke made the apparently valid point that increased mobile patrols and random checkpoints are more effective".

External links

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