Late IRA man Eamonn McCourt ‘killed one of his own comrades by mistake’

Eamonn ‘Peggy’ McCourt – whose funeral procession has come under fire over possible flouting of Covid rules – allegedly killed one of his IRA comrades by accident, according to one account of the shooting incident.
Eamonn McCourt pictured next to Martin McGuinnessEamonn McCourt pictured next to Martin McGuinness
Eamonn McCourt pictured next to Martin McGuinness

The ‘friendly fire’ death is said to have happened during a confrontation between an undercover soldier and Mr McCourt’s IRA team, and a version of this altercation is contained in the book ‘Undercover War: Britain’s Special Forces and their secret battle against the IRA’.

It was written by Harry McCallion, a Scottish former SAS man who served with South African special forces and the RUC, and later became a barrister and author.

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The book (which diverges from other accounts of the shooting) claims that on May 28, 1981, the IRA unit stopped a civilian called Daniel Moore in Londonderry’s Creggan estate.

They told a “terrified” Mr Moore that they were taking his car, and locked him in a shed for an hour and a half.

According to the author, it appears Mr McCourt and three other IRA men then went cruising around the city in search of a “security force target”.

An undercover military unit got wind of this, and in turn went searching for the IRA squad – one of them in a brown Opel which was known to have already been “clocked” earlier by IRA spotters.

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The IRA team spotted and recognised the Opel, ran it off the road, and got out to confront its driver.

Mr McCallion’s account says Mr McCourt had an Armalite rifle and ran around to the front of the soldier’s car, while two other IRA men approached from the side and behind.

It says the driver then pulled out a pistol and shot one of the men, Charles Maguire.

“Eamon [sic] McCourt immediately responded to the gunshots by opening fire with an automatic burst from his high-velocity rifle,” the book says.

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“The .223 rounds smashed through the front window of the car but missed their intended target.

“Instead of hitting the driver, they passed along the length of the vehicle, existed the rear window and slammed into the waiting [George] McBrearty, killing him instantly.

“While McCourt struggled to control the recoil of his rifle and bring it back into line, the operator [the soldier] switched to his new target and fired through the shattered glass. McCourt was hit five times.”

The undercover soldier then escaped, and “McCourt was taken to a local hospital by ambulance... he was later sentenced to five years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to attempted hijacking and possession of two rifles with intent”.


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This is different to the account of the same event contained in ‘Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government’, written by seasoned Troubles reporter Liam Clarke and his wife Kathryn Johnston.

Their account says McBrearty – not Maguire – was the first man the soldier shot.

It also says the soldier’s pistol was in the sunshade (not a holster beside him, as in the McCallion account), and makes no explicit mention of a ‘friendly fire’ shooting between the IRA men.

The Clarke/Johnston account also says McCourt was sent to hospital in a taxi, not an ambulance.

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And a third account of the shooting, this time by author Peter Taylor, also says McBrearty, not Maguire, was the first to be shot by the soldier, and says that Maguire had stayed in his car (unlike the other two accounts where he got out).

The Taylor account quotes Mr McCourt directly: “It lasted seconds but it seemed like an eternity.

“I knew I was hurt bad. I was hit in the stomach, my chest, the arm, and the back. Five times. But I said to myself that I wasn’t going to die, I was just gonna keep fighting on ‘cos I had a family to get back to like everyone else.”


There appears to be relatively little mention of Mr McCourt in Sinn Fein’s official organ An Phoblacht, which is unusual for a well-known party activist.

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However it does contain a reference to him as being on the ‘Creggan Monument Committee’.

In a Sinn Fein video paying tribute to him, ex-Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney said he embodied a “culture of resistance” against “second class citizenship”.

He said: “those who worked alongside him speak of him as a fearless, thoughtful, courageous and dedicated oglaigh.

“Someday, when its more appropriate, when our history is recorded, that the role played [sic] by Peggy will be shared and cherished.

“He epitomised no part too small, no part too big.

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“For peggy it was a case if it needs done, let’s get it done, and done well.

“Much of what he did in life and struggle was to allow you to grow up in a world where inquality and injustice would not deny you your right to prosper.”

The News Letter’s coverage so far of the story:

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Alistair Bushe