US Navy sailors joined IRA during the Troubles says new book

A new book about British army soldiers serving in Northern Ireland claims that a number of US Navy members joined the IRA during the Troubles. A scene in Derry on January 30, 1972.YouTube/ Fi Lo

In” An Army of Tribes: British Army Cohesion, Deviancy and Murder in Northern Ireland,” author Edward Burke writes that hatred for the British soldiers in Northern Ireland was not only confined to the locals.

The US Navy ran a US naval communications station in Derry until 1977. One out of every three of these American sailors married local Derry girls, and many shared the local nationalists’ hatred of the British army, with fights between the US navy and British soldiers breaking out frequently.

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“These guys treated the [British] army with the sort of hostility that they would show the police in the United States. They tended to view things in black and white,” says a former US navy yeoman stationed in Derry during 1972.

Shortly after Bloody Sunday, which provoked many US Navy to choose sides, one sailor, whose wife’s relations lived in the Rossville flats in the Bogside, at the center of the shootings, tried to join the IRA with another sailor.

A local brought the two men to a house in the Bogside, where they were met by members of the IRA, led by Martin McGuinness. “An Army of Tribes: British Army Cohesion, Deviancy and Murder in Northern Ireland” by Edward Burke. Credit: Liverpool University Press “McGuinness thanked us for offering to help, said that he appreciated our sympathy, but that the best thing we could do [was] to stay out of it,” remembered the sailor.

According to one British army intelligence report, an American sailor was suspected of being a driver for senior IRA volunteers. Burke writes how a former British army officer would later recount how he discovered US sailors moving weapons for the IRA.

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Local loyalists were also aware of the US navy ties to the IRA. Armed US navy personnel were sent to protect the US navy transmitter base in Dungiven, fearing that it might be attacked by loyalist paramilitaries. In July 1972, bomb threats were made against the base during a ceremony.

Edward Burke is an assistant professor in international relations at the University of Nottingham. “An Army of Tribes: British Army Cohesion, Deviancy and Murder in Northern Ireland ” will be published by Liverpool University Press on February 28th.