Kevin McKenna (Irish republican)

Kevin McKenna
Born 1945 (age 7071)
near Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Allegiance Provisional Irish Republican Army
Years of service mid 1960s –
Rank Chief of Staff
Conflict The Troubles

Kevin McKenna (Irish: Caoimhín Mac Cionnaith; born 1945) is an Irish republican and former volunteer in the Tyrone Brigade and Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).[1] McKenna who is guarded, reclusive figure, is the longest serving Chief of Staff of the IRA, serving from 1983-97.[2]


McKenna joined the IRA in the mid 1960s before he emigrated to Canada. After internment was introduced in Northern Ireland Kenna return to Ireland and again became involved in IRA forming a new active service unit based in the Eglish and Aughnacloy areas. When McKenna returned from Canada he had enough money to purchase a car and this mobility, aliied with the fact that he was signle and committed aided him in rising quickly through the ranks of his local IRA unit.

Following the departure of Brendan Hughes in 1972, McKenna became the commander of the Tyrone Brigade.[3]

Tenure as Chief of Staff

In September 1983, Beano Lean, the adjutant of the Belfast Brigade became the latest in a string of informers against the IRA. Although Lean later withdrew his statement it did cause the then Chief of Staff (CoS) Ivor Bell to be briefly imprisoned. Under the rules of the The Green Book, Bell automatically lost his rank and was replaced by McKenna, who at the time was seen as a strong supporter of Gerry Adams.[4]

Tension with East Tyrone ASU

From early in McKenna's tenure as CoS there were growing tensions between the Army Council and more militant East Tyrone Brigade. There had been underlying tension between McKenna and Pádraig McKearney since the 1983 Maze escape and this was exacerbated when McKenna turned down a plan by McKearney and Jim Lynagh to form flying columns. His credibility was undermined after the 1994 ceasefire and was subsequently replaced by Slab Murphy.[5]

In 1970, he went to Northern Ireland and was attached to the South Fermanagh Battalion of the IRA and later became Officer Commanding (OC) of the IRA in the Fermanagh/Monaghan/Armagh area. In 1973, he was promoted to the IRA General Headquarters Staff (GHQ) and after the arrest of Séamus Twomey later that year, he was appointed chief of staff. He remained in this position until his own arrest and imprisonment in Portlaoise jail in 1974. After his release, he resumed his work with the IRA GHQ and after a year he was sent on a mission to the USA, where he was arrested and detained for one year. He subsequently undertook a number of missions in various parts of the world on behalf of the IRA.

In the 1986 split in the Republican Movement, McKenna sided with Republican Sinn Féin and refused to recognise the legitimacy of Dáil Éireann in Leinster House. McKenna felt that the decision to recognise the Irish state was a “greater treachery even than Collins and company”.


  1. ""True tale of IRA 'martyrs' revealed"". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 October 2007.
  2. "Allegations of IRA killer will be heard in Omagh trial". Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  3. A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002. (PB) ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-71-399665-X p.385
  4. A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002. (PB) ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-71-399665-X p.243
  5. A Secret History of the IRA (2002) by Ed Moloney; ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (pb)/ISBN 0-71-399665-X (hb), pg. 559
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