A member of the Royal Black Institution has told how his neighbours bravely thwarted an attempt on his life by the IRA during the Troubles.
Sir Knight William Irvine, 73, a retired farmer and school bus driver, was the target of a three-man republican terror gang who were intent on murdering the UDR man as he left his Fermanagh home on his morning bus run.
But just as Sir Knight Irvine was about to drive off in his vehicle, his wife ran out of the house to tell him he was wanted on the phone – and that’s when he found out that the IRA gunmen were lying in wait to launch their deadly ambush.
Having been held hostage overnight by the IRA gang, the neighbours – two Catholic brothers – defied the orders of the would-be assassins, with one of them racing across fields to reach a neighbour’s telephone and raise the alarm.
Their actions that day saved Sir Knight Irvine’s life.
The married father-of-two recounted the frightening episode as part of the Royal Black Institution’s ‘Time to Remember’ series, which over the last month and into the New Year is recognising the bravery and sacrifice of those who served their country in defence of democracy and the freedoms we enjoy today.
Sir Knight Irvine’s story is particularly poignant as 2020 has been the 50th anniversary of the formation of the UDR.
Sir Knight Irvine, from the townland of Glasmullagh in north Fermanagh, is a member of RBP 1235.
He joined the UDR in the early period of the Troubles “because there was a lot of activity in the border areas and farmers were leaving their land”.
“I thought that by joining I would be doing something to help the local community,” said Sir Knight Irvine.
His company served along the North Fermanagh border area, from Ballinamallard to Belleek and down to Pettigo.
He served 19 years with the UDR and then a further 12 with the RIR.
On the night of Remembrance Sunday 1989, three armed and masked men arrived at a farmhouse about a quarter-of-a-mile from Sir Knight Irvine’s home. They burst in and pulled out the telephone. Saying they were from the IRA, they told the two brothers they were staying until morning and no harm would come to them if they did as they were told.
After a terrifying night during which the three terrorists cleaned and loaded their weapons, around 6am two of them left the property and did not return. It’s thought they went out to observe for Army patrols.
Two hours later, the third man left the farmhouse, telling the brothers not to leave the property for another hour. As he was going, he lifted a pair of boots at the door and threw them outside. The brothers said nothing. They heard a car starting up and it drove off in the direction of Sir Knight Irvine’s home.
As soon as the car left, one of the brothers retrieved his boots and headed across the fields to a neighbour’s property to raise the alarm.
Sir Knight Irvine was revving up his bus in his driveway when his wife ran out to him with news of the urgent phone call.
He stayed in his house and the assassination attempt was foiled.
The terrorists’ car was later found with the back window removed, in preparation for a gun attack on Sir Knight Irvine as he sat in his bus.
“Thanks to my neighbours, two gentlemen, two Roman Catholics,” said an emotional Sir Knight Irvine.
“I can say, only for them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Despite the episode, Sir Knight Irvine continued to put his life in danger and serve in the UDR.
“Would I do it all again? Yes I certainly would – one or two incidents in 30 years isn’t all that much.
“I had good times in the UDR and made a lot of friends.
“A highlight was when I represented my company, battalion and regiment at the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall, which was a wonderful experience. I was honoured to do it.”
Sovereign Grand Master, Rev William Anderson, thanked Sir Knight Irvine for sharing his story and hailed the bravery of everyone who served in the UDR.
“They answered the call to defend Northern Ireland from evil terrorists, and we will never forget their courage,” said Rev Anderson.
To watch Sir Knight William Irvine tell his story in his own words, click on the link: