On the evening of Saturday August 23rd 1958, James Crossan travelled to Swanlibar, near the Cavan-Fermanagh border, with his neighbour Seán Reilly. The purpose of their journey was to procure a tricolour that was to be flown at a Republican demonstration the following day. While in Swanlibar, they fell into the company of Stanley Moffat, a B-Specials sergeant, Glover Rooney, a Fermanagh cattle-dealer and another man. Ben McHugh, a friend of Crossan’s, joined them and they sat socialising into the early hours of Sunday morning. Glover Rooney had parked his van at the border and Seán Reilly offered to drive them to it. The six men left Swanlibar together and at the border Moffat, Rooney and their companion were dropped to the van.
The details of what happened afterwards are somewhat unclear. An hour and a half after Crossan, Reilly and McHugh left the three other men at their van, there was a shooting incident. It seems Reilly had fallen asleep in his van and was awoken by the sound of gunshots, before driving home in panic. McHugh was arrested by the RUC at the Mullan Customs Post on the border. Crossan was found dead inside the Cavan side of the border with a gunshot wound to the right side of his chest. The RUC claimed that Crossan and McHugh had approached the Customs Post from the Cavan side of the border, and had failed to stop when ordered to do so. They said they had opened fire when the two men dashed for the border, ignoring repeated calls for them to halt. The location of Crossan’s gunshot wound called into question the RUC story that he was shot while running from them. At the inquest the following day in Enniskillen, none of the trio who had been dropped to their van at the border were called upon, nor were McHugh or Reilly. The inquest returned a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’ by the coroner, who didn’t call on any other witness. The RUC concluded that Crossan and McHugh had been on a recon mission for the IRA, but that was part of their attempt to justify the murder. Put simply, the truth is that Crossan was cold-bloodedly murdered, he was not on active service when he was killed and was an easy target.
Crossan, from Bawnboy in Cavan, had been an IRA intelligence officer and Sinn Féin organiser for County Cavan. He had been part of the Teeling flying column and participated in the attack on Derrylin barracks on 12th December 1956, the opening night of Operation Harvest. He received a Republican funeral and was buried in Kilnavert Cemetery, County Cavan, on August 26th. He was 26 years old when he was gunned down by Britain’s colonial police. It was of course far from the last time that the RUC murdered a Republican activist. Crossan was sorely missed by his comrades. His death, combined with the death of Óglach Patrick McManus in July, had seen the South Fermanagh/North Cavan area lose two of it’s best operatives over the summer of 1958.