Sunday 26 May 2019

Battle of Courtbane attracts world media

August, 1971 ONE of the most talked about incidents of the Northern troubles that spilled into Louth took place on the first Sunday of September, 1971 and which was given a notorious label ' The Battle of Courtbane' by the media.

During the incident a British soldier lost his life following which there was a major dispute between the British and Irish Government over the slow response from the Gardai and the Irish Army to the incident, and an even bigger issue of contention was the claim by the British that the fatal shots were fired from the Republic side of the Border.

In addition the British Army lost a Ferret Scout car which was looted and burned by a crowd that had trapped the scout car south of the Border.

It was approaching lunch time on the Sunday when two British Army Ferret Scout cars based in Crossmaglen approached the Border at Courtbane. They drove across the Border and travelled for about a mile almost to Shelagh school.

Local people were alerted and when the two scout cars turned round to travel back across the Border they were surrounded by about 150 local people. The locals used materials, including cement blocks which the British had brought to the area in a failed attempt to close the road, to block the route back across the Border.

The local people were incensed at the constant unauthorised crossings by the British Army, and were determined to take a stand.

Having trapped the two scout cars the four soldiers occupying the vehicles left them and walked across the Border, one of the scout cars was attacked, the ammunition taken and the car set on fire. Two soldiers succeeded in returning to the area and driving the other car across the Border.

However, an IRA unit became involved, and there was an exchange of gunfire between the IRA and the British Army. The British claimed that the shots that killed a soldier were fired from the Republic side of the Border, but local people and a subsequent Garda investigation concluded that all the gunfire took place north of the Border.

A second solider was injured in the exchange of fire and it was also claimed that an IRA man was injured.

The Gardai and the Irish Army arrived on the scene, but the British Government protested to the Irish Government that there was an unacceptable delay in the Irish security forces arriving.

Taoiseach, Jack Lynch met British Prime Minister, Edward Heath days after the incident and at the meeting the British vented their anger at the incident. But the Irish for their part complained at the constant unauthorised crossings by the British Army into the south and the fears this brought to local people.