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

5 thoughts on “Captain Robert Nairac, GC (Northern Ireland)”

  1. People of such courage and bravery who risk terrible suffering for the good of others are unique and outstanding human beings.This man suffered but was loyal to the end.God bless his undoubted courage and giant Spirit.All who engage in such work are selfless human beings.Thank you to you all.Christine.MA.

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    1. Hi Alan,

      I couldn’t agree more with your praise of Robert Nairac’s character and actions. But, please permit me a minor correction: Nairac never did postgraduate work on Irish History or anything else. He went, with only a short gap, from Oxford University, where he had studied Modern History, to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and was commissioned the following year. I don’t know where or how the widely-believed tradition evolved that Nairac was an alumnus of Trinity College, Dublin. Confusion might have arisen with one of his distant Dublin Protestant Nairac cousins, who had studied there in the past, or it may have been part of Nairac’s cover story. Trinity College do not know how the story arose.

      Kindest regards,

      Alistair Kerr

      A W J Kerr (author of ‘Betrayal: The Murder of Robert Nairac GC’)

      25 May 2022 when he was working undercover.

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  2. Dear Alan,

    Further to our recent exchange of emails; on the subject of Robert Nairac’s alleged postgraduate work at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD), one of my acquaintances has suggested that Nairac almost certainly possessed a reader’s ticket for TCD, for use during the academic vacations. Unfortunately this cannot be verified; TCD does not keep records of outside readers’ tickets as far back as the 1970s. However this theory seems plausible as an explanation of the persistent rumours that Nairac had studied at TCD.

    As you probably know, students, undergraduate or postgraduate, at British universities can enjoy a reciprocal arrangement which permits them to use the facilities at the nearest university to where they are passing the academic vacations. My friend Richard T, who was studying at Cambridge but whose parents lived near Oxford, was able to obtain an Oxford University reader’s ticket to use the Bodleian and other University libraries when he was at home during the vacation. TCD regarded itself as a British university for many years after Ireland became independent; in the 1970s it would have participated in this scheme. All that was required was a letter from one’s Tutor or Director of Studies confirming one’s bona fides.

    Nairac spent a number of holidays in Ireland with his friends the Morris brothers – the sons of Lord Killanin – at Lord Killanin’s houses in Galway and Dublin. Given Nairac’s enthusiasm for Irish history, and the fact that he was reading Modern History at Oxford, it would be surprising if he had not availed himself of TCD’s excellent library facilities while he was in Ireland. That would not of course amount to ‘postgraduate studies’, but it seems a plausible explanation for the persistent rumours that Nairac had studied at TCD.

    As I may have mentioned earlier, some of Nairac’s distant Dubliner Protestant cousins really had studied at TCD, albeit at an earlier period. Confusion between Robert Nairac and one of the Dubliner Nairacs could have been another factor. So might the fact that Nairac had applied, unsuccessfully, to both Trinity College, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge; again, confusion could have arisen between the three Trinity Colleges.

    With kindest regards,

    Alistair

    A W J Kerr
    26 June 2022

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