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John McKeague (died 29 January 1982) was a prominent Ulster loyalist who founded the paramilitary group the Red Hand Commando in 1972.[1][2] Authors on the Troubles in Northern Ireland claim that McKeague, a paedophile and well-known homosexual, abused boys during the Kincora Boys' Home scandal and was a long-time British agent.[3][4] He was shot dead by the INLA in Belfast in January 1982.[5]

McKeague was a member of rhe Free Presbyterian Church, led by Ian Paisley. He also supported the Ulster Protestant Volunteers.[1] Later, he joined Tara, an evangelical Protestant group which called for the outlawing of Roman Catholicism in Northern Ireland and called on members to undertake weapons training. He later became the group's deputy leader.

In 1969, McKeague founded the Shankill Defence Association (SDA), to defend the Shankill Road from Catholic rioters at the start of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Its primary role in the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969 was to organise Protestants to attack Catholic areas.[6] In November 1969, McKeague was cleared of a charge of conspiracy to cause explosions.[7]

McKeague stood as an independent Unionist in Belfast North in the 1970 UK general election, but polled only 0.75% of the vote. He also began producing Loyalist News. His mother, Isabella McKeague, was killed on 8 May 1971 by a Loyalist group. She died in a fire which followed an incendiary bomb attack on the shop below her flat in Albertbridge Road, Belfast.[8][9] In 1971, the SDA merged with similar Protestant groups elsewhere to form the Ulster Defence Association. Following a dispute, McKeague left and established the Red Hand Commando in summer of 1972; it soon became an integral part of the Ulster Volunteer Force.[1] Following various attacks by his paramilitary organisation, in February 1973 he became one of the first loyalist internees and was later imprisoned for three years on an armed robbery charge (a conviction he disputed).[citation needed] He started two hunger strikes in protest against the Special Powers Act and prison conditions while in jail.[10]

On 3 October 1975, Alice McGuinness, a Catholic civilian, was injured in an IRA bomb attack on John McKeague's shop on the Albertbridge Road. She died three days later. McKeague's sister was severely injured in the same bombing.[11][12]

McKeague became a leading figure in the Ulster Loyalist Central Coordinating Committee, and within it strongly advocated Ulster nationalism. With John McClure he contacted Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Joe Cahill of Sinn Féin and initiated talks in an attempt to find a common platform for an independent Northern Ireland. This collapsed after Conor Cruise O'Brien discovered and revealed the activity.

With the majority of the Loyalist Central Coordinating Committee reluctant to advocate the unpopular policy of Ulster nationalism, McKeague helped establish the Ulster Independence Party, then in 1979 became deputy leader of the Ulster Independence Association.

McKeague was believed by Military Intelligence to have been behind the sadistic murder of a ten-year-old boy, Brian McDermott, in East Belfast in September 1973.[13]

On 29 January 1982, the INLA shot dead McKeague in his shop on the Albertbridge Road, East Belfast.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Northern Ireland - development of loyalism
  2. Martin Dillon, The Dirty War, p. 200
  3. Martin Dillon, The Shankill Butchers (1989), p. 23, ISBN 0-09-973810-4
  4. Henry McDonald, The Observer, 13 August 2000, Rough justice for Ulster's 'paedophiles'
  5. Revised and Updated Extracts from Malcom Sutton's Book
  6. Religion and Violence: The Case of Paisley and Ulster Evangelicals
  7. Abstracts on Organisations - 'S'
  8. The Age, 8 May 1971
  9. CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths 1971
  10. History Ireland, "Butcher of Bombay Street", p.66 (article by Patrick Maume) July 2009
  12. History Ireland, July/August 2009, p.66 ('Brief Lives' article by Patrick Maume)
  13. Martin Dillon, The Shankill Butchers, p. 23

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