ORANGE VICTIMS DAY: How UDR hero turned tables on heavily armed IRA gang

Eric Glass in his Orange collarette. Photograph: John McVitty
Eric Glass in his Orange collarette. Photograph: John McVitty

An Orangeman for almost 60 years, Eric Glass has served both the Fermanagh community and his country with distinction.

He joined his local lodge at Aghadrumsee near Rosslea aged 18, signed up for the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) part-time and would become the most highly decorated soldier of the Troubles.

Part-time UDR corporal Eric Glass was the most highly decorated soldier of Operation Banner (the Troubles)

Part-time UDR corporal Eric Glass was the most highly decorated soldier of Operation Banner (the Troubles)

By 1972 he was on the radar of the IRA and was forced to move house under threat. He set up home in Maguiresbridge and has been a member of LOL 450 ever since – serving 17 years as deputy district master.

Eric was wounded during an IRA attempt on his life in 1978 while driving a council minibus. Despite this brush with death, the part-time corporal with 4 UDR continued to serve his community in the role of dog warden.

The IRA continued to stalk Cpl Glass but were badly mistaken in thinking they had chosen an easy target.

Having been lured him into a border ambush with a false report of a dangerous dog, Eric turned the tables on the heavily armed four-man IRA gang – shooting dead one of the attackers with his personal protection pistol and driving off the other three – despite suffering gunshot wounds to his legs.

I lost nearly all of my friends around Newtownbutler, Magheraveely and Rosslea, most of them were in the Orange Order

His actions at the isolated farmhouse would earn him the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for gallantry.

The award of the DCM - second only to the Victoria Cross - was a proud moment but serious disappointment was to follow. Eric’s injuries were to cost him his much-loved job with the council and also his UDR career.

Speaking to the News Letter in 2011, he said: “I just happened to be an ordinary person called on to do something extraordinary at the time, but I worked with a lot of very brave [UDR] men and women.”

The IRA terror campaign had a devastating effect both on Eric’s UDR colleagues and his Orange brethren.

“I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Twelfth, except for the time I was in hospital for nine months after being shot. It’s a very special day to me and I wouldn’t miss it.

“I would have lost nearly all of my friends around Newtownbutler, Magheraveely and Rosslea. Nearly all of my school friends, and most of them were in the Orange Order as well.”

Now aged 72, Eric is delighted with his own recovery from IRA-inflicted injuries, and that his rural lodge has also survived the onslaught of the Troubles.

“Myself, I’m keeping the best nowadays. It’s hard to kill a bad thing,” he joked.

William Irvine is another Fermanagh UDR man who narrowly escaped death at the hands of the IRA.

A life-long member of Glassmullagh LOL 446 in Ederney, William was recently awarded his 50 years’ service certificate.

William, who worked full-time as a school bus driver, owes his life to an elderly neighbour who defied any armed IRA gang to raise the alarm about the murder plot in 1989.

“My father and uncle were worshipful masters of the lodge so there’s a family history there,” he said.

“The Twelfth is always a special day and I don’t think it has changed a lot over the years.”

Reflecting on his UDR service, he said many good men and women made the ultimate sacrifice.

“I joined the UDR on 15 September 1972 and I served for 31 years. Over those years I lot a lot of good friends.

“Things were bad at that time. In 1989 I was at home when a house not far from me was taken over by three masked men.“

He said the IRA gang burst into the house and held the elderly occupants hostage over-night. One of the terrorists remained close to the front of the house as two others left in a car belonging to the householders shortly after 8am.

However, one of the elderly men slipped out across fields and raised the alarm.

Just as William was about to drive off in the school bus, he received a telephone call warning him that armed IRA members were in the area of his home. He stayed in the house and later heard the gunmen had been lying in wait at the end of his laneway in the hijacked car.

“Only for my Catholic neighbour going against the warning and raising the alarm I don’t think I would have been here now.

“I was one of the lucky ones to survive something like that...and I’m still in the Orange Order to this day.”

• News Letter interview with Eric Glass DCM - Ex-UDR man recalls gun battle with IRA gang