Robert Laurence Nairac GC (Direct Recipient)

b. 31/08/1945 Mauritius. d. 15/05/1977 Ireland.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 14-15/05/1977 Armagh, NI.

Robert Laurence Nairac (1945-1977) was born in Mauritius, then a British Crown colony, on 31st August 1948, to an English mother (Barbara Dykes) and a father (Maurice Nairac) of French-Mauritian origin, his mother was Anglican and his father a Catholic. His father was an eye surgeon who worked first in the North of England and then in Gloucester. Nairac was the youngest of four children, with two sisters, Rosemonde and Gabrielle, and a brother, David. David died of myocarditis in 1962, aged 24.

Robert L Nairac GC

Nairac attended preparatory school at Gilling Castle, a feeder school for Ampleforth College, a Catholic public school, which he attended a year later. Whilst at Ampleforth he academically excelled, was head of his house and played rugby for the school. He became friends with the sons of Lord Killanin and went to stay with the family in Dublin and in Spiddal in Connemara, County Galway.

He read medieval and military history at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he excelled in sport; he played for the Oxford University Rugby 2nd XV and revived the Oxford University boxing club, with which he won four blues in bouts with Cambridge. He was also a falconer, keeping in his rooms a bird that was used in the film Kes.

He left Oxford in 1971 and entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst under the sponsorship of the Grenadier Guards, with which he commissioned upon graduation. After Sandhurst he undertook post-graduate studies at the University of Dublin, before joining the regiment. Nairac’s first tour of duty in Northern Ireland was with No.1 Company, the Second Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. The Battalion was stationed in Belfast from 5ths July 1973 to 31st October 1973. The Grenadiers were given responsibility first for the Protestant Shankill Road area and then the predominantly Catholic Ardoyne area.

After his tour had ended he stayed on as liaison officer for the replacement battalion, the 1st Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The new battalion suffered a baptism of fire with Nairac narrowly avoiding death on their first patrol when a car bomb exploded on the Crumlin Road.

Rather than returning to his battalion, which was being transferred to Hong Kong, Nairac volunteered for military intelligence duties in Northern Ireland. Following completion of several training courses, he returned to Northern Ireland in 1974 attached to 4 Field Survey Troop, Royal Engineers, one of the three sub-units of a Special Duties unit known as 14 Intelligence Company (14 Int). Posted to South County Armagh, 4 Field Survey Troop was given the task of performing surveillance duties. Nairac was the liaison officer for the unit, the local British Army brigade and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

He also took on duties which were outside his official jurisdiction as a liaison officer – working undercover, for example. He apparently claimed to have visited pubs in Irish republican strongholds, sung Irish rebel songs and acquired the nickname “Danny Boy”. He was often driven to pubs by the future Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, who was then an army officer.

Nairac finished his tour with 14th Int in mid-1975 and returned to his regiment in London and was promoted to captain on 4th September 1975. Following a rise in violence culminating in the Kingsmill massacre, British Army troop levels were increased and Nairac accepted a post again as a liaison officer back in Northern Ireland. On his fourth tour, Nairac was a liaison officer to the units based at Bessbrook Mill. It was during this time that he was abducted and killed.

On the evening of 14th May 1977, Nairac drove alone to ‘The Three Steps’ pub in Dromintee, a village in south County Armagh. He is said to have told regulars of the pub that he was Danny McErlaine, a motor mechanic and member of the Official IRA from the Irish Republican Ardoyne area in North Belfast. The real McErlaine, on the run since 1974, was killed by the Provisional IRA in June 1978 after stealing arms from the organisation. Witnesses say that Nairac got up and sang a republican folk song, “The Broad Black Brimmer”, with the band who were playing that night. At around 11.45 p.m., he was abducted following a struggle in the pub’s car park and taken across the border into the Republic of Ireland to a field in the Ravensdale Woods in the north of County Louth. Following a violent interrogation during which Nairac was allegedly punched, kicked, pistol-whipped and hit with a wooden post, he was shot dead in a field. He did not admit to his true identity. Terry McCormick, one of Nairac’s abductors, posed as a priest in order to try to elicit information by way of Nairac’s confession. Nairac’s last words according to McCormick were: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned”.

His disappearance sparked a large-scale search throughout Ireland. The hunt in Northern Ireland was led by Major H. Jones, who as a colonel in the Parachute Regiment was to be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in the Falklands War. Jones was Brigade Major at HQ 3rd Infantry Brigade. Nairac and Jones had become friends and Nairac would sometimes eat supper at the Jones household. After a four-day search, An Garda Síochána confirmed to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) that they had reliable evidence of Nairac’s killing.

The location of the body’s resting place remains a mystery. Nairac is one of three IRA victims whose graves have never been revealed and who are collectively known as ‘The Disappeared’. In November 1977, Liam Townson, a 24-year-old IRA member from the village of Meigh outside Newry, was convicted of Nairac’s murder. Townson was convicted in Dublin’s Special Criminal Court of Nairac’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He served 13 years in prison and was released in 1990. In 1978, the RUC arrested five men from the South Armagh area. Three of them – Gerard Fearon, 21, Thomas Morgan, 18, and Daniel O’Rourke, 33 – were charged with Nairac’s murder. Michael McCoy, 20, was charged with kidnapping, and Owen Rocks, 22, was accused of withholding information. Fearon and Morgan were convicted of Nairac’s murder. O’Rourke was acquitted but found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for ten years. McCoy was jailed for five years and Rocks for two. Morgan died in a road accident in 1987, a year after his release. O’Rourke became a prominent Sinn Féin member in Drumintee.

Two other men, Terry McCormick and Pat Maguire, wanted in connection with this incident, remain on the run. On 13th February 1979 Nairac was posthumously awarded the George Cross. The medal was presented to his parents and sister Rosamunde at an investiture at Buckingham Palace on 1st May 1979. His medals are held by the Grenadier Guards RHQ, with a replica set displayed at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.