On August 22nd 1972, an accidental explosion at the customs station on the Dublin Road in Newry claimed the lives of three IRA volunteers. A number of civilians also perished in the tragedy.
Patrick Hughes was raised on the Derramore Road in Bessbrook, County Armagh. At the age of 16 he joined the British Army, with whom he served in Germany, North Africa and Kenya. He and his wife had seven children, one of whom (Michael) was himself killed in October 1974 by British soldiers. After spending nine years in the British Army, he opted out in order to be closer to his family. After returning home to Bessbrook for seven years, the Hughes family moved to Newry. When the troubles flared, Patrick was appalled by the actions of the army he had once served with, so much so that he ended up joining the IRA. His passion for animals, DIY and gardening was his cover for his Republican activities. His military experience and knowledge proved to be a useful asset for Patrick and his comrades. When he died, the community was shocked to hear of his IRA involvement. He had aroused the suspicion of nobody, being a model volunteer. He was 34 years old.
Oliver Plunkett Rowntree was born into a Newry Republican family in 1949. He excelled academically and finished his education in Dublin’s Trinity College. He became heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and joined Na Fianna Éireann while still a teenager. A lover of his country’s culture, he was a fluent speaker of the Irish language and also played Gaelic Football with the John Mitchel’s club. In the early 70’s he was arrested and charged in the Free State due to his clandestine activities, however the evidence proved to be flimsy and he was promptly released. By 1972 Oliver’s home had become a base for the planning of operations, with him having become O/C of the Newry IRA at this time. As a former member of the Stickies, Oliver saw feuding with former comrades to be a futile exercise. In fact he was in favour of launching joint operations against what he saw as a their common enemy- the British forces of occupation. A crowd of thousands turned up at his funeral, which saw him receiving a unique tribute- two firing parties fired a volley over his coffin, one from the IRA and the other from the Stickies. He was 23 years old. His twin brother Colman remained a member of the stickies until his death two years later, also in a premature explosion.
Noel Madden was educated in his native Newry, before leaving school at 15 in search of employment. He became an apprentice painter and once he became fully qualified he was sought by many local firms because of the high quality of his work. He also enjoyed socializing at the weekends, as well as fishing. With many nationalists already facing social deprivation and discrimination in the Orange state, the sight of British soldiers on the streets and the re-introduction of internment was the final straw for many people. Noel and many other youths felt compelled to join the IRA and fight for a better society for all sections of the community. As a volunteer, Noel participated in many operations. The death of another Newry volunteer in an accidental explosion, Colm Murtagh, on August 9th 1972 had a profound impact on him. Sadly he was to suffer a similar fate less than a fortnight later. His death came as a shock to his family who had been unaware of his IRA activities. He was 18 years old.
— RSF Chill Mhantáin