Files shed new light on IRA’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ in border region

One of the houses burned out at Altnaveigh near Newry in 1922
One of the houses burned out at Altnaveigh near Newry in 1922

Details of nine IRA men who crossed the border to massacre six Protestant civilians near Newry in 1922 – and the attempts to cover up the atrocity – are contained in files that have been released by the Irish government.

In what became known as the Altnaveigh Massacre, the 30-strong IRA unit also bombed or burned down more than a dozen properties.

The files – from the Military Service Pensions collection in Dublin – show that Michael Collins had ordered covert attacks in Northern Ireland to continue despite a truce during the War of Independence,

Republicans defended the mass murder as revenge for alleged attacks carried out by police B Specials in the area, however, many unionists and some academics claim the IRA was deliberately forcing Protestants from their homes.

In his book ‘The IRA at War,’ Professor Peter Hart referred to “campaigns of what might be termed ‘ethnic cleansing’” against Protestants being carried out during 1922.

Although an IRA brigade report in the files leaves the details section under the heading ‘Altnaveigh Shootings’ blank, other records refer to a “special job”.

Future Fianna Fail minister Frank Aiken was named by one of the killers as having been involved on the night, however, other accounts place Aiken at a different ambush several miles away.

One of the men involved, James Marron, reports that his unit had orders to “burn every house and shoot every male” in what he described as “a stronghold of the B Force murder gang,”

Marron said it was originally decided not to record the details in writing as those involved lived in the area and any leaked information could put their lives in danger.

He also reported some psychological disorder following the atrocity, One other IRA man is said to have handed in his gun while others left the country soon afterwards, RTE has reported.

The Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions files collection has so far released information on 85,000 people – including one women who claimed she spend £400 on food for on-the-run IRA men.