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Kevin McKenna (Irish: Caoimhín Mac Cionnaith; 25 June 1945 – 25 June 2019) was an Irish republican and volunteer in the Tyrone Brigade and Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).[1] McKenna, a guarded, reclusive figure, was the longest-serving chief of staff of the IRA, serving from 1983 to 1997.[2]

Kevin McKenna
Born(1945-06-25)June 25, 1945
near Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Died25 June 2019(2019-06-25) (aged 74)
AllegianceProvisional Irish Republican Army
Years of servicemid 1960s –
RankChief of Staff
ConflictThe Troubles


From Brantry, near Dungannon, County Tyrone, McKenna was born on 25 June 1945.[3] From the mid-1970s, he lived in Smithborough, County Monaghan.[4]

McKenna joined the IRA in the mid-1960s before he emigrated to Canada. After internment was introduced in Northern Ireland Kenna return to Ireland and again became involved in IRA forming a new active service unit (ASU) based in the Eglish and Aughnacloy areas. When McKenna returned from Canada, he had enough money to purchase a car, and this mobility, allied with the fact that he was single and committed, aided him in rising quickly through the ranks of his local IRA unit.

Following the departure of Brendan Hughes, no relation to the Belfast figure of the same name, McKenna became the commander of the Tyrone Brigade in 1972.[5]

Tenure as Chief of StaffEdit

In September 1983, Beano Lean, the adjutant of the Belfast Brigade, became the latest in a string of informers against the IRA. Although Lean later withdrew his statement, it did cause the then chief of staff (CoS) Ivor Bell to be briefly imprisoned. Under the rules of The Green Book, Bell automatically lost his rank and was replaced by McKenna, who at the time was seen as a strong supporter of Gerry Adams.[6]

Tension with East Tyrone ASUEdit

From early in McKenna's tenure as CoS, there were growing tensions between the Army Council and more militant East Tyrone Brigade. There had been underlying tension between McKenna and Pádraig McKearney since the 1983 Maze escape and this was exacerbated when McKenna turned down a plan by McKearney and Jim Lynagh to form flying columns. His credibility was undermined after the 1994 ceasefire and was subsequently replaced by Thomas "Slab" Murphy.[7]

In 1970, he went to Northern Ireland and was attached to the South Fermanagh Battalion of the IRA and later became Officer Commanding (OC) of the IRA in the Fermanagh/Monaghan/Armagh area. In 1973, he was promoted to the IRA General Headquarters Staff (GHQ) and after the arrest of Séamus Twomey later that year, he was appointed chief of staff. He remained in this position until his own arrest and imprisonment in Portlaoise jail in 1974. After his release, he resumed his work with the IRA GHQ and, after a year, he was sent on a mission to the US, where he was arrested and detained for one year. He subsequently undertook a number of missions in various parts of the world on behalf of the IRA.


  1. ^ ""True tale of IRA 'martyrs' revealed"". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 October 2007.
  2. ^ "Allegations of IRA killer will be heard in Omagh trial". Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  3. ^ "IRA leader Sean McKenna to be buried today". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-06-27.
  4. ^ Young, Connla (27 June 2019). "One of the IRA's most influential leaders during the Troubles has died". The Irish News. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  5. ^ A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002. (PB) ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-71-399665-X p.385
  6. ^ A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, 2002. (PB) ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (HB) ISBN 0-71-399665-X p.243
  7. ^ A Secret History of the IRA (2002) by Ed Moloney; ISBN 0-393-32502-4 (pb)/ISBN 0-71-399665-X (hb), pg. 559