Darkley killings

The Darkley killings or Darkley massacre was a gun attack carried out on 20 November 1983 near the village of Darkley in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Three gunmen attacked worshippers attending a church service at Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church, killing three Protestant civilians and wounding seven. The attackers were rogue[citation needed] members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). They claimed responsibility using the cover name "Catholic Reaction Force", saying it was retaliation for recent sectarian attacks on Catholics by the loyalist "Protestant Action Force".[1] The attack was condemned by INLA leadership.

Darkley killings
Part of the Troubles
Former Church - Mountain Lodge Pentecostal - geograph.org.uk - 1406696.jpg
The church where the killings took place
Darkley killings is located in Northern Ireland
Darkley killings
LocationDarkley, County Armagh, Northern Ireland
Coordinates54°13′05″N 6°40′20″W / 54.2181°N 6.6723°W / 54.2181; -6.6723Coordinates: 54°13′05″N 6°40′20″W / 54.2181°N 6.6723°W / 54.2181; -6.6723
Date20 November 1983
19:00 (GMT)
Attack type
Mass shooting
PerpetratorsMembers of the INLA using the covername "Catholic Reaction Force"


In the months before the Darkley killings, several Catholic civilians were killed by loyalists. On 29 October 1983, a Catholic civilian member of the Workers' Party, David Nocher (26), was shot dead in Belfast.[2][3] On 8 November, Catholic civilian Adrian Carroll (24) was shot dead in Armagh,[2][4] UDR personnel were later convicted but the convictions were cleared on appeal for three of them (see UDR Four case).[5] Carroll was the brother of an INLA member who was killed a year earlier.[6] These attacks were claimed by the "Protestant Action Force" (PAF), a cover name used mostly by members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). It is believed the Darkley killings were primarily a retaliation for the killing of Carroll.[6]


On the evening of Sunday 20 November, about sixty people were attending a church service at Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church.[1] The small, isolated wooden church was outside the village of Darkley, near the border with the Republic of Ireland and several miles from Armagh. As the service began, three masked gunmen arrived,[1] at least one of whom was armed with a Ruger semi-automatic rifle and opened fire on those standing in the entrance. Three church elders were killed: Harold Browne (59), Victor Cunningham (39) and David Wilson (44).[1][7] The fatally wounded Wilson staggered into the service, where he collapsed and died.[1] The gunmen then stood outside the building and sprayed it with bullets, wounding a further seven people,[1][8] before fleeing in a car.[6] The service was being tape-recorded when the attack took place. On the tape, the congregation can be heard singing the hymn, "Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb", followed by the sound of gunfire.[1] All of the victims were Protestant civilians.[1]


In a telephone call to a journalist, a caller claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the "Catholic Reaction Force". He said it was "retaliation for the murderous sectarian campaign carried out by the Protestant Action Force" and added, "By this token retaliation we could easily have taken the lives of at least 20 more innocent Protestants. We serve notice on the PAF to call an immediate halt to their vicious indiscriminate campaign against innocent Catholics, or we will make the Darkley killings look like a picnic". The caller named nine Catholics who had been attacked.[1]

The name "Catholic Reaction Force" had never been used before, and police said they believed the attack was carried out by members of the INLA.[6] The INLA condemned the attack and denied direct involvement, but said it was investigating the involvement of INLA members or weapons.[9] A week later, INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey admitted that one of the gunmen had been an INLA member and admitted supplying him with the gun,[10] but said there was no justification for the attack. The INLA member's brother had been killed by loyalists. McGlinchey explained that the INLA member had asked him for a gun to shoot a known loyalist who had been involved in sectarian killings.[10] However, "clearly deranged by the death of his brother", he "used it instead to attack the Darkley Gospel Hall".[11] McGlinchey said: "he must have been unbalanced or something to have gone and organised this killing. We are conducting an inquiry".[10]

There were reprisal sectarian attacks on Catholics in North Belfast, Lisburn, and Portadown within 24 hours of the Darkley massacre.[12] On 5 December, fifteen days after the Darkley attack, the PAF shot dead INLA member Joseph Craven (26) in Newtownabbey.[2]

The name "Catholic Reaction Force" was used several other times. In August 1984 it was used to issue a threat to newspapers against the families of RUC officers, after a Catholic man (Sean Downes) died after the RUC shot him with a plastic bullet during an anti-internment march on the Andersontown Road, Belfast.[13] In May 1986 it was used to claim the killing of Protestant civilian David Wilson (39), who was shot while driving his firm's van in Donaghmore. The IRA also claimed responsibility, saying Wilson was a member of the UDR.[14] The "Catholic Reaction Force" declared a ceasefire on 28 October 1994.[15] In 2001 the name was used to claim two attacks on homes in which there were no injuries,[16] and in 2002 was used to issue a threat to hospital workers suspected of links to the security forces.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i David McKittrick; Seamus Kelters; Brian Feeney; Chris Thornton; David McVea (2001). Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles. pp. 963–964. ISBN 978-1840185041.
  2. ^ a b c Sutton, Malcolm. "Sutton Index of Deaths: 1983". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN).
  3. ^ McKittrick, Lost Lives, pp.956-957
  4. ^ gov.uk, Police Legacy FOI Team (20 July 2018). "Request for information" (PDF).
  5. ^ "UDR soldier cleared of Catholic murder: 'I've suffered far more than the guys who were found guilty and were then compensated'". Belfast Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d "Gunmen Fire Into Ulster Church; 3 Protestants Killed, 7 Wounded". The New York Times. 21 November 1983.
  7. ^ "Sutton Index of Deaths". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  8. ^ "Chronology of the Conflict: 1983". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN). Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  9. ^ The Starry Plough. November/December 1983 issue. p.5
  10. ^ a b c Ireland's Terrorist Dilemma. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1986. pp.104-105
  11. ^ Coogan, Tim. The IRA. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. pp.535-536
  12. ^ Fortnight Magazine, Issue 200, p. 9-10. Fortnight Publications, 1984.
  13. ^ Aberdeen Evening Express, 15 August 1984.
  14. ^ McKittrick, Lost Lives, p.1037
  15. ^ "Chronology of the Conflict: 1994". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN).
  16. ^ "Controlled explosion on suspect device". BBC News. 21 August 2001.
  17. ^ "Hospital staff get threats". The Guardian. 6 August 2002.