Captain Nairac: '˜The consummate, perfect soldier'
Captain Robert Nairac, who was abducted and murdered in south Armagh 40 years ago today, is now remembered as a 'legend' in his own regiment who was awarded the George Cross '“ despite dying at only 29 years of age.
The undercover Grenadier Guards Captain was murdered by the IRA on May 14, 1977 after visiting a pub in Dromintee in south Armagh, possibly to meet a contact.
Six people have been convicted of his murder, however his English parents went to their graves without the comfort of having his body returned for a Catholic burial.
Born in Mauritius in 1948 to Barbara, a Protestant, and Maurice, a Catholic, he went to private Catholic school at Ampleforth and then Lincoln College Oxford where he studied Medieval History
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Robert went on to become an expert angler and falconer and at school made friends with an Irish student, going on to visit friends in Dublin and stay with a family in Spiddle in Connemara.
In 1971, aged 23, he joined the Grenadier Guards and was first posted to Belfast two years later where he became well known while patrolling streets of Ardoyne.
But by his fourth tour he had become an experienced military intelligence officer based at Bessbrook Mill – and was drawing ever closer to his brutal fate.
A former guardsman in the same regiment, Alan Barry, says Capt Nairac is still held in the highest possible esteem in the Grenadier Guards.
“Captain Nairac is so well thought of that his portrait hangs in the Grenadier Guards officers’ mess at Wellington Barracks in London,” he told the News Letter. “His picture and his life story are also prominent in the regiment’s museum there
“He was a brave man. He was an officer and he led by example. He did not expect his men to do anything he would not do. He volunteered for Northern Ireland because he loved Ireland and thought he could make a difference. He interacted with the Irish community and genuinely believed peace should be brought back to Ireland.
“I know people who served with him. They all described him as a leader of men – the consummate, perfect soldier.
“He still has two elderly sisters – it would be amazing if they could give him a Christian burial.”
The claims that the captain was involved in murder were “unproven and completely false” he says. “He was not even in those areas at the time,” he added.
“We did not collude with loyalists to murder civilians or IRA. Even the RTE documentary [on May 2] cleared him of involvement in that. He was an officer in my battalion, he was a legend in our regiment.”
On 13 February 1979 Nairac was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his service. The citation reads in part:
“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 ... 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.”
Mr Barry, who was born in Dublin, met Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness at a rally in Dublin in 2016, with the intention of seeing Captain Nairac’s body returned.
“I was very impressed with a lot of what he had to say,” he said. They met afterwards and warm words and warm handshakes were exchanged.
“I asked him privately about Robert Nairac and we shook hands and emailed each other.
“I got a very polite email back which said he was committed to the commission for the disappeared and cannot interfere in that.
“In public we shook hands but now I think that was all an act. The IRA know where his body is and we want it back. They got to bury their dead with full honours. All we want is to do the same.”
A Sinn Fein spokesperson responded that it has “consistently called for anyone with information that could lead to the retrieval of bodies in the outstanding cases, including Robert Nairac, to come forward to the Commission [for the disappeared]”.
• Anyone with information on the Disappeared can contact the ICLVR in complete confidence on 00800 555 85500, by writing to ICLVR, PO Box 10827, Dublin 2. or via the website www.iclvr.ie
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