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Northern campaign
Date2 September 1942 – December 1944
Mainly the border area between Northern Ireland and Ireland
Result British Victory

Northern Ireland


Commanders and leaders
J. M. Andrews
Basil Brooke
Éamon de Valera
Hugh McAteer
Charlie Kerins Executed
Unknown ~300-500 volunteers
Casualties and losses
6 killed
Unknown wounded
3 killed
Unknown wounded

The Northern campaign was a series of attacks by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) Northern Command between September 1942 and December 1944 against the security forces in Northern Ireland. The action taken by the Northern Irish and the Irish governments as a result of these attacks shattered the IRA and resulted in the former being free from IRA activity by the end of World War II.[1]

The campaign

The Taoiseach of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, complained about the occupation of Irish soil with the arrival of American soldiers in Northern Ireland as part of the war effort against Nazi Germany.[1] This influx of foreign soldiers encouraged the northern command of the IRA, under the auspices of newly appointed commander Hugh McAteer, to reorganise and on 25 March 1942 agree a new campaign against the British military and war effort in Northern Ireland.[1]

Over the first few months of the campaign, a few attacks against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Strabane, Dungannon, and Belfast, resulted in the death of two RUC constables and the wounding of two others.[1] Six IRA members, including Joe Cahill,[2] were arrested during the Belfast incident and sentenced to death for the murder of one of the constables.[1] A petition signed by around two hundred thousand people calling for mercy was gathered by those calling for a reprieve, and several days before the date of the executions, all but one was commuted.[1] The sole IRA member executed was Tom Williams who was hanged at Crumlim Road gaol, Belfast, on 2 September 1942, resulting in the IRA intensifying their attacks.[1]

After the bombing of Randalstown RUC station, and more gunfire attacks against the RUC in parts of West Belfast and across the border area between Northern Ireland and Ireland, around 320 members and suspected members of the IRA, including Hugh McActeer, were arrested across Northern Ireland.[1] One historian, Bowyer-Bell, reports a total of 60 armed attacks by the IRA in the three months up to December 1942, carried out by the remaining fifty to sixty IRA members still at large.[citation needed]

In the first few months of 1943, jail breaks at Crumlin Road and Derry gaols saw 23 IRA members, including McAteer, escape.[1] This however failed to inspire a resumption of activity.[1] Many of the escapees had crossed the border into County Donegal in Ireland and were subsequently recaptured by the Irish Army.[1] The few others that escaped arrest sought refuge from pursuit rather than resuming their attacks.[1]

IRA northern command units in south Londonderry and south Armagh were no longer able to function as required, and contact with units in Counties Cavan and Monaghan started to wane.[citation needed] Bowyer-Bell states of the late-1943 to mid-1943 period that the local commanding officers preferred to avoid arrest, and that anything associated with the IRA such as parades, training, and even meetings ended with fear of internment at Curragh.[3]

By the end of World War II in 1945, the northern command of the IRA, largely as a result of the stern response from the Irish government, had been reduced to a few wanted men with Northern Ireland entirely free from IRA activity.[1] The Northern Ireland government couldn't publicly acknowledge the fact their neighbour had essentially defeated the IRA,[1] and the Irish Minister of Justice, Gerald Boland, was heard to boast during the period that "the IRA was dead and he had killed it".[4]

Chronology of campaign

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Following the initial raid in September, the RUC and Irish Special Branch stepped up their efforts against the IRA. A series of arms finds and arrests were made.




  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Jonathan Bardon (2001). A History of Ulster. The Black Staff Press. p. 583. ISBN 0-85640-764-X.
  2. ^ "Timeline 1942". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  3. ^ Bowyer Bell, J. – The Secret Army – The IRA, page 229. 1997 3rd Edition.
  4. ^ Bowyer Bell, J. – The Secret Army – The IRA, page 235. 1997 3rd Edition.
  5. ^ Bell, J. Bower (2004). The Secret Army: The IRA. New Brunswick, USA: Transactions Publishers. p. 228. ISBN 1-56000-901-2
  6. ^ Report of the General Headquarters Staff Council, Sunday 14 February, Northern Command Area.
  7. ^ McGrath, Sam (6 February 2022). The life and death of IRA Volunteer Jackie Griffith (1921-1943) (Report). Retrieved 29 March 2022.
  8. ^ A View North History comes to life in Republican News by Jack Holland Archived 28 September 2007 at

Further information

The Secret Army – The IRA J Bowyer Bell 1997 3rd Edition, ISBN 1-85371-813-0

See also