Captain Robert Nairac, GC (Northern Ireland)

Robert Nairac was born in British Mauritius in 1948, not in Ireland as some journalists have stated, and his only connection with Ireland before joining the army was  during his time as a postgraduate student at Trinity College Dublin  where he studied Irish history.

Nairac was not an  SAS officer, as some journalists have also wrongly stated, he  was a Captain in the Grenadier Guards and served at least three tours of duty in Northern Ireland with his regiment before volunteering to undertake selection and training for intelligence work.

Taken in Northern Ireland before joining intelligence

As the disappearance and murder of Robert Nairac continues to be surrounded by myths, conspiracy theories and speculations the following is based on what is generally regarded as facts.

Robert Nairac was an intelligence liaison officer based at Bessbrook Mills which like Forkhill and Crossmaglen  were the most dangerous parts of Northern Ireland where roadside bombs were common and travelling in and out of the area had to be by helicopter. In these remote areas near the border with the Irish Republic  strangers were not welcome and were viewed with suspicion.

Left- taken whilst working under cover

Whilst travelling alone in this hostile area and meeting contacts Robert Nairac was using the name Danny Mcalevey from the Ardoyne in Belfast which was also an IRA stronghold. According to several writers he was happy with his cover identity and was seen visiting various places in South Armagh and the surrounding area which journalists at the time called Bandit Country because of the bombs and snipers who sometimes operated from the safety of the Republic.  

Bessbrook

On Saturday 17 May 1977, it is thought Nairac planned to meet a contact at the Three Steps Inn at Drumintee which was another dangerous area close to the Irish border and some writers claim he had made several visits to this bar.

Robert Nairac was wearing a black donkey jacket, a pullover, flared grey trousers and scuffed down suede shoes and took with him his Browning 9mm pistol and two additional full magazines. Although he also had an SLR and 80 rounds of ammunition he left this in the armoury.

Whilst signing out of the base he said he would only be going out for a few hours and would return  by 23.30 hrs. He then drove out of Bessbrook Mill in a red Triumph Toledo at 21.30 hrs.

His car had a radio concealed under the seat and using his call sign ’48 Oscar’ he told the operations room at Bessbrook he was travelling towards Drumintee.

The Three Steps

At 21.58 hrs he reached the pub and told the operations room he was closing down radio contact.

Several eyewitnesses recall Nairac drinking and speaking to customers but how his cover was blown may never be known.

Several customers recall Nairac fighting in the carpark with five to seven men and was holding his own before eventually being overpowered, thrown into the back of a car and driven away at speed.

Taken prior to is abduction by the IRA

It is known Robert Nairac was driven over the border and tortured for several hours but refused to divulge any information and stuck to is cover story of being Danny Mcalevey from the Ardoyne.

Later the IRA said he was a brave man till the end and never spoke and was eventually shot in the head.  Robert Parker in his book Death of A Hero, makes the valid point that if Robert Nairac had talked all his contacts would have been killed by the IRA and they owe their lives to his bravery.

According to a report by the Irish Times the Garda (Irish Police in the Republic) found blood, teeth and hair but could not find his body and after the Good Friday Agreement the IRA refused to tell the Garda where the remains  of Captain Robert Nairac are buried.

Robert Nairac’s GC and GSM with Northern Ireland Clasp

Citation for the award George Cross

“The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the George Cross to: Captain Robert Laurence Nairac (493007), GRENADIER GUARDS.

 Captain Nairac served for four tours of duty in Northern Ireland totalling twenty-eight months. During the whole of this time he made an outstanding personal contribution : his quick analytical brain, resourcefulness, physical stamina and above all his courage and dedication inspired admiration in everyone who knew him. On his fourth tour Captain Nairac was a Liaison Officer at Headquarters 3 Infantry Brigade. His task was connected with surveillance operations.

 On the night of 14/15 May 1977 Captain Nairac was abducted from a village in South Armagh by at least seven men. Despite his fierce resistance he was overpowered and taken across the border into the nearby Republic of Ireland where he was subjected to a succession of exceptionally savage assaults in an attempt to extract information which would have put other lives and future operations at serious risk. These efforts to break Captain Nairac’s will failed entirely. Weakened as he was in strength-though not in spirit-by the brutality, he yet made repeated and spirited attempts to escape, but on each occasion was eventually overpowered by the weight of the numbers against him.

 After several hours in the hands of his captors Captain Nairac was callously murdered by a gunman of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who had been summoned to the scene. His assassin subsequently said: “He never told us anything”. Captain Nairac’s exceptional courage and acts of the greatest heroism in circumstances of extreme peril showed devotion to duty and personal courage second to none.”  

Further reading:

John Parker, Death of a Hero: Captain Nairac GC and the undercover war in Northern Ireland

John Parker, Secret Hero: The Life and mysterious death of Captain Robert Nairac

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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