Captain Robert Laurence Nairac
Captain Robert Laurence Nairac GC (31 August 1948 –15 May 1977) was a British Army officer who was abducted from a pub in south County Armagh during an undercover operation and killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) on his fourth tour of duty in Northern Ireland as a Military Intelligence Liaison Officer. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1979.
Whilst several men have been imprisoned for his murder, the whereabouts of his body remains unknown.
There have been persistent allegations that he was working in collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. An Irish judicial inquiry found no evidence to support such allegations.
Nairac was born in Mauritius to English parents. His family – long settled in Gloucestershire – had ancestors from the south of Ireland. His family name originates from the Gironde area of France. His father was an eye surgeon who worked first in the north of England and then in Gloucester. He was the youngest of four children, with two sisters and a brother.
Nairac, aged 10, attended prep school at Gilling Castle, a feeder school for the Roman Catholic public school Ampleforth College which he attended a year later. He gained nine O levels and three A levels, was head of his house and played rugby for the school. He became friends with the sons of Lord Killanin and went to stay with the family in Dublin and Spiddal in County Galway.
He read medieval and military history at Lincoln College, Oxford, and excelled in sport; he played for the Oxford rugby 2nd XV and revived the Oxford boxing club where he won four bluesin bouts with Cambridge. During this time he was in a boxing competition which placed him against Martin Meehan, later a senior IRA commander, with whom he went three rounds. He was also a falconer, keeping a bird in his room which was used in the film Kes.
He left Oxford in 1971 to enter Royal Military Academy Sandhurst under the sponsorship of the Grenadier Guards and was commissioned with them upon graduation. After Sandhurst he undertook post-graduate studies at Dublin University, before joining his regiment.
Nairac has been described by former army colleagues as “a committed Roman Catholic” and as having “a strong Catholic belief”.
Military Career In Northern Ireland
Nairac’s first tour of duty in Northern Ireland was with No.1 Company, the Second Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. The Battalion was stationed in Belfast from 5 July 1973 to 31 October 1973. The Grenadiers were given responsibility first for the Protestant Shankill Road area and then the predominantly Catholic Ardoyne area. This was a time of high tension and regular contacts with paramilitaries. The battalion’s two main objectives were to search for weapons and to find paramilitaries. Nairac was frequently involved in such activity on the streets of Belfast. He was also a volunteer in community relations activities in the Ardoyne sports club. The battalion’s tour was adjudged a success with 58 weapons, 9,000 rounds of ammunition and 693 lbs of explosive taken and 104 men jailed. The battalion took no casualties and had no occasion to shoot anyone. After his tour had ended he stayed on as liaison officer for the replacement battalion, the 1st Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The new battalion suffered a baptism of fire with Nairac narrowly avoiding death on their first patrol when a car bomb exploded on the Crumlin Road.
Rather than returning to his battalion, which was due for rotation to Hong Kong, Nairac volunteered for military intelligence duties in Northern Ireland. Following completion of several training courses, he returned to Northern Ireland in 1974 attached to 4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers, one of the three sub-units of a Special Duties unit known as 14 Intelligence Company (14 Int). Posted to South Armagh, 4 Field Survey Troop was given the task of performing surveillance duties. Nairac was the liaison officer among the unit, the local Army brigade, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
However, he also seems to have taken on tasks which were outside his jurisdiction as a liaison officer – working undercover, for example. He apparently claimed to have visited pubs in republican strongholds and sung Irish rebel songs and acquired the nickname “Danny boy”. He was often driven to pubs by now-Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, who was then an Army officer. Former SAS Warrant officer Ken Connor, who was involved in the creation of 14 Int, wrote of him in his book, Ghost Force, p. 263:
“Had he been an SAS member, he would not have been allowed to operate in the way he did. Before his death we had been very concerned at the lack of checks on his activities. No one seemed to know who his boss was, and he appeared to have been allowed to get out of control, deciding himself what tasks he would do.”
Nairac on his fourth tour was a liaison officer to the units based at Bessbrook mill. It was during this time that he was killed.Nairac finished his tour with 14th Int in mid-1975 and returned to his regiment in London. Nairac was promoted to captain on 4 September 1975. Following a rise in violence culminating in the Kingsmill massacre, army troop levels were increased and Nairac accepted a post again as a liaison officer back in Northern Ireland.
Shooting By The PIRA
On the evening of 14 May 1977, Nairac arrived at The Three Steps pub in Drumintee, South Armagh, by car, alone. He is said to have told regulars of the pub that his name was Danny McErlaine, a motor mechanic and member of the Official IRA from the republican Ardoyne area in north Belfast. The real McErlaine, on the run since 1974, was killed by the IRA in June 1978, after stealing arms from the organisation. Witnesses say that he got up and sang a republican folk song “The Broad Black Brimmer” with the band who were playing that night. At around 11.45 p.m., he was abducted following a struggle in the pub’s car park and taken across the border into the Republic of Ireland to a field in the Ravensdale Woodsin County Louth. Following a violent interrogation during which Nairac was punched, kicked, pistol-whipped and hit with a wooden post, he was shot dead. He did not admit to his true identity at any time. Terry McCormick, one of Nairac’s abductors, posed as a priest in order to try to elicit information by way of Nairac’s confession. Nairac’s last words according to McCormick were: ‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned’.
His disappearance sparked a huge search effort in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The hunt in Northern Ireland was led by Major H. Jones, who as a colonel in the Parachute Regiment was to be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in the Falklands War. Jones was brigade major at HQ 3rd Infantry Brigade. Nairac and Jones had become friends and would sometimes go to the Jones household for supper. After a four day search, the Garda Síochána confirmed to theRoyal Ulster Constabulary that they had reliable evidence of Nairac’s killing.
An edition of Spotlight broadcast on 19 June 2007, claimed that his body was not destroyed in a meat grinder, as alleged by an unnamed IRA source. McCormick, who has been on the run in the United States for thirty years because of his involvement in the killing (including being the first to attack Nairac in the car park), was told by a senior IRA commander that it was buried on farmland, unearthed by animals, and reburied elsewhere. The location of the body’s resting place remains a mystery. Nairac is one of nine IRA victims, whose graves have never been revealed and who are collectively known as ’The Disappeared’. The cases are under review by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains.
In May 2000 allegations were made claiming that Nairac had married, and fathered a child with a woman named Nel Lister, also known as Oonagh Flynn or Oonagh Lister. In 2001, DNA testing revealed the allegations to be a hoax.
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