Attack on RUC Birches barracks

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Attack on The Birches RUC barracks
Part of The Troubles
Location The Birches, County Armagh, Northern Ireland
Coordinates 54°27′45.02″N 7°1′50″W / 54.4625056°N 7.03056°W / 54.4625056; -7.03056Coordinates: 54°27′45.02″N 7°1′50″W / 54.4625056°N 7.03056°W / 54.4625056; -7.03056
Date 11 August 1986
Attack type
shooting, bombing
Weapons automatic rifles
explosive charge
Deaths 0
Non-fatal injuries
3 civilians
Perpetrator Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade

On 11 August 1986 the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at The Birches, County Armagh. The base was first raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a 200 lb bomb, which was driven through the gate of the base in the bucket of a JCB digger.[1]


In 1983 the IRA's Tyrone Brigade killed four members of the Ulster Defence Regiment in the Ballygawley Land Mine Attack.[2]

In December 1985 it launched an Attack on Ballygawley barracks, destroying the RUC base in Ballygawley, killing two RUC officers and wounding three.[3]


It was a complex attack that involved several units including teams of dickers, an armed team and bomb-making experts.[4] Before the attack on the Birches took place a diversionary incident was staged at Pomeroy to draw security forces away from the real target. Another team hijacked a JCB digger, getaway vehicles and scout cars at Washing Bay not far from Dungannon.[4]

A JCB digger would be used to deliver the bomb to its target. The IRA did not expect any resistance as the RUC station was unmanned at the time of the attack. The IRA first raked the base with automatic gunfire while a JCB digger with a bomb in its bucket was driven through the high wire perimeter fence which surrounded the barracks, the fence was suppose to protect the base from grenade attack or anti-tank type weapons. Once the digger smashed through the fence a volunteer lit a fuse and the bomb exploded after the IRA had retreated to safety, the blast destroyed most of the base and also damaged nearby buildings, the IRA team then made its getaway. According to journalist Mark Urban the armed members of the unit evaded British security force roadblocks by escaping in a boat across Lough Neagh.

In total about 35 people were reportedly involved in the Birches attack, from planning, executing the attack & creating an escape route. A partially-disabled American tourist and two local civilians were slightly injured in the blast.[4][5]


A member of the British security forces who gave Mark Urban a briefing on the Birches barracks said of the attack:

"The Birches RUC station was destroyed by the bomb,creating problems for the authorities about how to re-build it. The Tyrone IRA was able to combine practical skills such as bomb-making and the welding needed to make mortars with considerable resources. Its members went on operations carrying the latest assault rifles and often wore body-amour similar to that used by the security forces, giving them protection against pistol or sub-machine-gun fire. By 1987 they had also succeeded in obtaining night-sights, allowing them to aim weapons or observe their enemy in darkness."[4]

The IRA unit's next major target was the RUC police station at Loughgall. This operation was a disaster for the IRA as the operation ended with the IRA unit being ambushed by the SAS and the whole IRA unit of eight, along with a Catholic civilian, were shot dead.[6]

News Report

  • "IRA attacks on RUC Stations Birches and Ballygawley 1986 - YouTube". Retrieved 3 March 2017. 


  • Peter Taylor, The Provos: The IRA and Sinn Féin
  • CAIN project
  • Big Boys' Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle Against the IRA


  1. ^ Peter Taylor - Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Féin p.315
  2. ^ Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 3 March 2017. 
  3. ^ Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 3 March 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d Mark Urban. Big Boys' Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle against the IRA, pp. 221-23
  5. ^ Alford, J. (26 February 1987). "The Anglo Irish Agreement - A Legacy of Violence" (PDF). 
  6. ^ Malcolm Sutton. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". Retrieved 3 March 2017. 
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