Many IRA killings were 'not excusable' - Former gunman

A former IRA gunman has said the organisation's actions were sometimes "not excusable".
James Wilson
James Wilson

10.46 20 Sep 2022

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Many IRA killings were 'not ex...

Many IRA killings were 'not excusable' - Former gunman

James Wilson
James Wilson

10.46 20 Sep 2022

Share this article

A former member of the IRA has admitted that some of the organisation’s actions during the Troubles were “not excusable” - while adding that he was always warned to be careful not to kill civilians.

As a young Irish American John Crawley joined the US marines and afterwards the IRA. It was a decision that would see him serve at the heart of the organisation and spend time in jail for his actions. 

However, he does not remain uncritical of the IRA and some of the military decisions it made: 


“There were many things that happened that were not excusable and I would not excuse them,” Mr Crawley told The Pat Kenny Show. 

“Some of these atrocities - and I’m not taking away from the responsibility of the IRA for one minute - but the dark hand of British intelligence was involved in some of these. 

“And I think some of that might come out in the next couple of years.

“But who would deny that the British and Americans were right to invade Europe on D-Day? But do they bear a culpable responsibility for the 20,000 French civilians killed the night before by American bombing? 

“When I was in the IRA I was told constantly, ‘Be careful, be careful not to kill civilians.’” 

From the marines to the IRA

John Crawley - an IRA member who also served in the US military.

Having served in an élite unit of the US military, Mr Crawley was surprised to find that this experience was of little interest to the IRA leadership: “Very few people had professional military training,” he recalled. 

“But what shocked me was, at a leadership level, there was no interest… I had been an instructor in a special operations unit in the marines and the only asset they felt that I had that I could contribute to the struggle was I had an American accent - and I could go into gun stores and buy guns! 

“I was actually quite taken aback by that.” 

His efforts to give military advice to Martin McGuinness were similarly met with disinterest: 

“I had heard from the British that he was our greatest military thinker,” Mr Crawley continued. 

“Now I’m not condemning Martin McGuinness for not having military training, I mean he came out of a guerilla organisation and a situation as it evolved. 

“And he was an intelligent man - and I liked him, I did like Martin - but I was very taken aback that he seemed to have no interest in anything I had to say. 

“To put it in a nutshell, I felt like I was bothering him.” 

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II famously shook hands with Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, then-Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, in Belfast in June 2012. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II famously shook hands with Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, then-Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, in Belfast in June 2012. Picture by: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

He has recounted his experiences in a book, The Yank: The True Story of a Former US Marine in the Irish Republican Army, which is described as “brutally honest, no-holds-barred recounting of his experience”. 

Still, he remains coy about some aspects of his time in the IRA - most notably when he turned his gun on a British soldier: 

“I describe an incident in the book that the British say didn’t happen,” he explains. 

“And I just have to leave it at that, I don’t want to push the boat any further out than that.” 

Good Friday Agreement

He is a supporter of the peace process but is wary that it will not deliver “republican goals”. 

“We were told at the very beginning that it [the Good Friday Agreement] wasn’t a republican document,” he claimed. 

“And a friend of mine with close links to the Army Council - I’ve never known my friend to lie about anything - told me that a member of the Army Council told him that there was not a single republican fingerprint on this document.

“I was just want to make something clear; I totally support the peace process, I am completely for the peace but I think as a republican I am entitled to be critical of a process that can’t lead to republican gaols because the United Ireland envisioned by the Good Friday Agreement is predicted on all the old sectarian divisions.

“It maintains that sectarian dynamic into the new Ireland, it maintains the British/Irish cleavage, it maintains institutional links with the British Crown.”

Main image: John Crowley. Picture by: John Crowley.

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