Crossing Borders and Double Crossing

First carried in Fortnight Magazine

The man who claims to have supplied Gardai with the bug that Charles Haughey eventually used to eavesdrop on adversaries had a long career in the shadows. George Clarke of RUC Special Branch had been running informers in the Republic from the very early 1970s. Between September and December 1971, those violent volatile months following the introduction of internment, he made 47 visits south of the border. It was to fish but not at rivers. At one point during his long agent running career he attended the Provisionals’ annual Bodenstown rally which honours the United Irishmen leader Wolfe Tone. Viewing the crowd he might well have thought ‘this kingdom shall be mine.’

Of all those he baited and hooked his best catch would appear to have been fortuitous, a 1973 walk-in who gave RUC Special Branch vital information about the London Bombings. If Clarke’s account is correct this information, while not able to prevent the bombing of the British capital, led to the arrest of those involved, most notably the Price sisters, Dolours and Marian.

So weak was the coordination between the two police forces in 1970s Ireland that ‘McMahon’, then a Gardai informer inside the IRA, was advised by the Gardai to take his information about the imminent London attack to the RUC as he would be more likely to get his asking price for it. This blasé attitude perhaps explains the inability of the London police to foil the operation, its intervention restricted to spoiling the getaway.

‘McMahon’, whose real identify is well known, was not named by Clarke although he provided sufficient detail to allow anyone not already aware the means to find out. The informer had worked for the British during an earlier IRA campaign in the 1950s and ‘60s. Although Clarke described him as a senior member of the Provisional IRA, it would be more accurate to see him as well positioned at a crucial intersection.

Border Crossing is a book that does not cross many lines in terms of revelations. Considering himself ‘highly intelligent’ he made few slips in his determination to give little away. The readers are left with a clever narrative but little balance. Highlighting Branch flaws comes over as a device for enhancing the author’s credibility which he then employs to defend his team. Where it is revealing, Border Crossing flags up systemic defects in the nature of cooperation between RUC Special Branch and its Gardai equivalent in the intelligence field, which was ad hoc and informal, even when effective. This is illustrated by the fact that it was McMahon who actually made the tie up between the separate intelligence agencies. As Clarke put it the notion of being introduced to Gardai Special Branch by an informer in the IRA was ‘unbelievable, really unbelievable, like something from a novel.’

McMahon’s house, where contact was often made, was a location where Clarke would bump into a range of IRA characters including the legendary Michael McVerry from South Armagh. Luckily for Clarke, McVerry trusted the informer sufficiently to have any potential doubts about Clarke smothered before they could take embryonic form. Clarke showed a surprising measure of respect for McVerry and acknowledged that he died bravely during an IRA operation against the RUC.

In 1973 the Branch regarded the British military intelligence gatherers as ‘upper class twits’ who were only interested in ‘kills’ or ‘trophies.’ The inference to be drawn is that killing Irish people was on a par with stag hunting to them. Robert Nairac was one such type who had little regard for the law he was ostensibly meant to uphold. Although Nairac’s SAS membership has been disputed since his death at the hands of the IRA in 1977, Clarke, who worked with him and actually used him as a baby sitter, makes it clear that he was a senior officer in this most murderous of regiments.

Clarke’s early police background was in the Lower Falls where he once saved the lives of two children during a house fire. Even then he was adopting a system of monitoring and observation against petty criminals which marked him out in the eyes of his superiors as the best practical cop in town; an intelligence led mindset ideal for transfer to Special Branch. In its ranks he served in the South Down area which served as a gateway to Louth.

Border Crossing seeks to play down allegations of collusion between the British security forces and loyalists, arguing that no Special Branch operative would provide information that would lead to murder. However he provides confirmation about the dirty war when he discloses that he was at one time in discussions with other members of British security forces about planting a bomb in the Dublin HQ of Sinn Fein.

Here I was asking a member of the IRA to place a bomb on behalf of the British Security Services at the Headquarters of Provisional Sinn Fein in Dublin, in anther country.

In the post war era where memoirs are adding to our understanding of that war, this contribution while welcome could have been so much more positive. The pages of this book are not what they should have been – a window on the murky world of RUC Special Branch; the insider complement to the findings of former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.

George Clarke, Border Crossing. Gill & Macmillan: Dublin. ISBN 978-0-7171-4568-3.


  1. In the world of the shadows- there
    will always be big stories told-
    told by those who wanted to serve
    but were bought and sold

    cops were bought and sold- british army members were bought and sold-
    thats why they had more numbers killed than Provo volunteer's

    When a Provo was killed- the media said tout- when a brit solider was killed the media said hero-

  2. michaelhenry
    what the hell are you blabbering about?
    Your phones ringing there, probably yer handler in the SF/SB executive haha

  3. Michaelhenry,

    I have to admit I have no idea what you are saying

  4. Anthony,

    That Clarke had discussions with colleagues and informers about planting a bomb in Dublin is appalling, but not really suprising. So much for clean hands. But can Sinn Fein really complain? The PIRA bombed the Tories in Brighton; they also planted bombs in built-up urban areas and tolerated the large numbers of civilian casualities that were bound to happen as a result. Sometimes, such as in Tullyvallen and Kingsmill, they explicitly targeted civilians. Sinn Fein supported the PIRA, so for them to complain about a dirty war being fought by the British is rank hypocrisy.

  5. AM-

    Made sense to me when i wrote it-
    saying that i was well into my spirit zone at the time [ drink not ghosts ]

    You still hear that ringing noise larry- maybe time for the doctor- or are you opposed to them also-

  6. "'McMahon’, whose real identity is well known"

    Er, could someone tell me who the hell is McMahon if his identity is well known?

    I remember michaelhenry on and Slugger before they banned him. I think he was hit by an oil tanker on the West Link while trying to write Vote Sinn Fein in on the road.

  7. Michael

    “In the world of the shadows- there
    will always be big stories told-
    told by those who wanted to serve
    but were bought and sold”

    Haiku poetry on the Quill I am impressed.

    Would it be a fair assessment that the struggle was bought and sold for the GFA?
    I particularly like the line “in the world of shadows” as there shall always remain that dark-side of the leadership who prefer lurking in said shadow.

  8. Mackers,
    Who was McMahon, Albert thinks John Joe Magee? I think George Poyntz? Suppose it does not really matter both equal in low life status, just curious.

    Sounds a really interesting read. I am back reading Kevin Bean's 'The New Politics of Sinn Fein' love the book.

  9. michaelhenry
    Do you mean the way that Adams and McGuinness were bought and sold (out)? Like Larry and AM I have no clue as to what you are on about.

  10. Dixie,
    Very good, I kind of remember michaelhenry on Slugger.
    Didn't know he got thrown off though.

    Great to hear from Tain Bo again.


  12. Brian,


    I have'nt encountered this biscuit selection before - the earl grey would definitely be too wet without one.

  13. Tain Bo-

    Glad your back- glad you caught on to what i try to say- missed your comments-


    i would like to know who that fcuk was also- we had some arguments on slugger- you could have beat me every time-but you took republican arguments very personal-


    keep up- you might just learn some-thing- you git


    I got the boot so hard from other sites- that i landed on the Quill-
    one small step for me- one giant leap for some dissidents-


    Just when you think Brian Clarke has reached his comic peak, he comes up with a piece of surreal genius like this headline. Royal arse biscuits?!? Oh how I laughed!

  15. Michael

    Thanks mucker, considering I lost my bet and in good faith I am now an unconfirmed supporter of PSF.
    I sent of my application through the “Royal Mail” complete with commemorative stamp of Billy & Kate.
    Following in the footsteps of Oliver Cromwell, I think Gerry and Martin plan on sending the dissidents to hell or Connachta or perhaps that is just wishful thinking on their part?

    I will give you credit Mickey unlike the Berlin wall your detractors on TPQ just can’t knock you down.

    Best a luck and keep hammering away at the PSF challenged.

  16. Fionnuala

    Thanks! It is good to be back.
    Trying to catch up reading the comments we might have to get Anthony to change the name of the blog.
    “The Mickey Henry and Brain Clarke show.”

    I hope things are well with you and your family.

  17. RIP the 'bin-lid' looks like he had a Donaldson or McGuinness in the compound.

  18. Mackers,
    wheres Marty? someone said he disappears when there is an election.
    eirigi is going well, long may it last!

  19. Nuala,

    you would be on the money with McMahon I guess.

    I have no idea where Marty is. He might be on a break.

    eirigi has generated a lot of interest from what I can gather. Was in Lenadoon at the weekend and there seemed to be groundswell of support for Chopper. Still election day does things to people and it is votes in the box that count. Hopefully he will make it.

  20. Michaelhenry,

    Sinn Fein look ok to you when you are on the spirits.

    You must be on the canvass – we have missed you.

  21. never heard any mention of eirigi over the election. pitty.
    still 4 more yrs of peace secured. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  22. Larry,

    they are running in the council elections and the count hasn't started there yet

  23. Alfie

    ‘That Clarke had discussions with colleagues and informers about planting a bomb in Dublin is appalling, but not really surprising.’

    A state laying claim to democratic principles is always compelled to be above such considerations as Clarke’s otherwise it confers legitimacy on those it claims are subversives. If the state will not refrain from murdering its own citizens why would anyone else?

    SF hypocrisy on the matter hardly negates that.

    Tain Bo

    ‘we might have to get Anthony to change the name of the blog. “The Mickey Henry and Brain Clarke show.”

    Michaelhenry has some bizarre takes but he is most certainly not a weirdo with a fecal fetish. We let the shit man’s links go up until he began plastering them on obituaries. So he is booted out. He is complaining about being censored!

  24. Anthony

    I like seeing Mickey flying his flag here and admit at times his posts provide some comic relief.

    As for the “shit man” I would pass his posts by for the obvious reasons.( I assume many readers avoided his links?)
    He may well cry “censorship” and protest being booted out his argument carries about as much weight as a balloon.

    “We let the shit man’s links go up until he began plastering them on obituaries.”

    Justified discretion on the part of TPQ and without a doubt censorship does not apply.

  25. Tain Bo,

    I doubt if anybody reads the shit man's links. They are demented. I think the blogosphere seriously undermined censorship. Anybody with a computer linked to the net can have their own blog and have their stuff carried. A writer can't really be censored in the blog world.

  26. Anthony,

    I have always admired your ability to facilitate a wide sprectrum of opinion on TPQ. And I if anyone could testify you that. I don't think this is a question of censorship but a judgement on prudence and commen sense if we are not to descend into farce. I think Brian's posts cross the line in this respect and particularly so when they impinge on obituaries.

  27. Anthony & Tain Bo,

    I've read only one of the articles that Brian "The Shit Man" Clarke posted here; indeed it was deranged. But his headlines were often very funny. The one about the "arse biscuits" made me laugh out loud. I mean, what the fuck is an arse biscuit???

    PS. Michael Henry told me to tell everyone on the Quill that he has been in America this past week if anyone was wondering why he hasn't been posting.

  28. Alfie

    I looked up “arse biscuit” on the urban dictionary as, “I mean, what the fuck is an arse biscuit???” made me laugh.
    The aptly named “shit man” qualifies in one of the definitions “talking shite.”

    Anthony’s description is accurate “a weirdo with a fecal fetish.”
    Anyway mucker enough of that, thanks for the laugh.

  29. Anthony

    Thanks for pointing out the difference between Mickey and the shit man. My attempted sarcasm was not meant to put Mickey in the weird category.
    My apology to Michael as I would not have said it if I had known how weird Brian is, as I never read his links.

  30. Tain Bo

    I doubt if many read the shit man. It was pure derangement. Maybe he has choked on his own arse biscuits.


    Appreciated. If he had anything interesting to say we would carry it. Apparently he has a history of using blogs to hang his nonsense on. Won’t be doing it here. All manner of views will be considered but not all clowns will feature.


    Totally deranged. When he started abusing obituaries he got the boot.