Seán McManus' Brother a Hero of IRA Border Campaign

Patrick McManus

By Kieron C. Punch

'My American Struggle': A Priest's Bold Bid To Put Injustice in Uls...

During the early hours of December 12, 1956, Irish Republican Army flying columns, composed largely of men from the lower 26 counties, attacked targets in 11 widely separate places in British-ruled Northern Ireland.

The coordinated attacks were based loosely on a plan code-named "Operation Harvest," which had been devised by Seán Cronin, the IRA's Director of Operations. The objective for this campaign was, in the words of a statement issued by the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau, "… to break down the enemy's administration in the occupied area until he is forced to withdraw his forces." The aim was to destroy the physical infrastructure of British rule in border areas of the North, thereby creating isolated and liberated power bases from which to extend the offensive.

Among the IRA Volunteers in action that first night was 29-year-old Patrick McManus, the eldest of 12 children of farmer Patrick McManus and his wife, Celia, from Clonliffe, Kinawley, County Fermanagh, in that part of the province of Ulster the British chose to continue ruling.

Redemptorist priest and founder of the Irish National Caucus, Father Seán McManus, recalls in his newly published memoir, "My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland," that it was only three days earlier that his brother Patrick, who managed the farm, gathered his family in the kitchen to announce "he was leaving home as a soldier of the IRA, that we would not see him again until Ireland was free . . ." He left in the morning, after a hurried goodbye. Father McManus, in fact, dedicates his book and devotes an early chapter to his brother and the impact his death had on Seán and his family.

. . . a lone piper played 'Wrap the Green Flag 'Round Me, Boys.'

By December 12, Patrick McManus and a handful of local Volunteers had joined up with Noel Kavanagh's column two days later as it attacked three bridges near Lough Erne. The column was soon in action again with attacks on Roslea and Derrylin RUC stations on December 14, and a follow-up attack at Derrylin at the end of the month during which Constable John Scally became the first fatality of the campaign.

The commencement of the offensive caused consternation in the Stormont and Dublin governments; they were quick to react with the introduction of repressive legislation. Much of the IRA leadership, and many known Republicans, were arrested during January 1957. Among those locked up in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison was Noel Kavanagh and his deputy column commander, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. Responsibility for operations in south Fermanagh then devolved to Patrick McManus and, according to Seán Cronin, he proved to be "a born guerrilla leader," inspiring his men by example and coming closest of all IRA commanders to establishing a liberated area.

By spring 1958, however, the introduction of internment in the lower 26 counties, and ever increasing pressure from more than 17,000 members of the RUC, B-Specials and the mobile commando platoons of the crack RUC Reserve force had caused the campaign to degenerate into little more than low level acts of sabotage, including the cratering of roads.

The Border Campaign was an ambitious plan to use the tactics of flying columns developed during the Irish War of Independence. This is an account of the campaign, immortalized in Dominic Behan's ballad "The Patriot Game." Click on image to buy the book.

With McManus now serving on the IRA's Army Council, plans were made to reinvigorate the campaign with a renewed offensive that would start July 15. That evening, McManus was driven to a field near the townlands of Drumcask and Derryrealt, County Cavan, so that he could retrieve a mine from a hidden cache. As he was returning to the waiting car, the mine he was carrying, thought to have contained between 30-50 lbs of gelignite, exploded, killing McManus instantaneously and injuring his comrades, Peter McGovern and John Owens, who were sitting in the car.

Patrick McManus had expressed a wish that he not be "buried under the Union Jack." He was therefore buried not far from where he died, in Killaduff Cemetery, Swanlinbar, County Cavan, in the part of Ulster governed by Ireland. Thousands of people attended the service, during which a lone piper played "Wrap the Green Flag 'Round Me, Boys."

Seán McManus, who has gone on to devote the better part of his life to obtaining "peace with justice" in all of Ireland, would later recall the moment he learned of his brother's death. "It remains to this day my most vivid, traumatic moment," he writes in "My American Struggle. "No family could have been more devastated, yet no family could have been more proud." WGT

TWG's UK correspondent Kieron Punch is a Coventry-based writer and
researcher, and previously authored's series on
'The Forgotten 10.'

This feature was edited by Liam Murphy and Gerry
Regan and produced by Joe Gannon.

Copyright © 2011 by Kieron Punch and
GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed
without prior permission from the author.
Direct questions about permissions to

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Tags: IRA Volunteers, Irish Freedom Struggle, Military History, Patrick McManus, Sean McManus


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