New Book Reveals Who Was Behind The 1959 Ballsmill Ambush

In My Life in the IRA, the first book to be released about the IRA’s Border Campaign (12 December 1956–26 February 1962), former Director of Operations for the IRA Michael [Mick] Ryan makes the shock revelation that he was responsible for the 1959 Ballsmills ambush that seriously injured Constable William Johnston (28) and Special Constable Trevor Boyle (21). He details how he and his team reached the ambush site at 5 a.m., set up the landmine and waited until the jeep that was escorting a post office van arrived, and how he personally detonated the mine:

New Book Reveals Who Was Behind The 1959 Ballsmill Ambush

‘My Life in the IRA’ Book Cover

As it reached my marker I touched the open end of the flex to the battery; I did this by touch, as I had to keep my eyes glued on my marker. The mine exploded.

The jeep was hit all right, because I could see some parts of it fly into the air and land a few yards away. We were showered with clay and debris. The three of us immediately opened fire on the jeep, or where we thought it was lying. The two of us with Thompsons each fired off our twenty-round magazine in a few bursts, while the rifleman got off a couple of rounds.

The entire operation only took about thirty seconds. But, as the armoured car was now half a minute away, we couldn’t afford to move in on the jeep to finish off the survivors. I thought, even as we were firing, that our bullets were wasted, because it seemed that none of the occupants of the jeep could have survived the blast.

Born in 1936, Mick Ryan grew up in East Wall, Dublin, in a working-class community permeated by the history of Ireland’s struggle for independence. As a boy his father had been one of the many civilians injured in the Easter Rising. His grandfather was one of the few tram inspectors who joined the strike following the 1913 lockout. The book tells the story of a difficult childhood in Dublin, how Mick left school at thirteen to work as an office boy, how he developed an intense interest in Ireland’s struggle for freedom and felt a deep sense of regret that he had not been born early enough to participate. It details the events the led a patriotic boy to join the IRA, the training he undertook and how he spent his life moving from billet to billet, including details of numerous missions he carried out on behalf on the IRA.

Published by Mercier Press, My Life in the IRA is available nationwide and online from 10 January 2018. RRP €19.99.


The insight into the madness, the horror and futility of the IRA’s shambolic border campaign is what makes this book well worth reading.Vincent Browne

About the Author


Mick Ryan grew up in Dublin’s East Wall. From an early age he was entranced by stories of Ireland’s fight for freedom and he joined the IRA as a teenager. He participated in the launch of the Border Campaign and, with the exception of two brief periods in prison, was active throughout the campaign.

Padraig Yeates is an editor, journalist, trade unionist and author. He has worked for many years for The Irish Times and is the author of the Dublin quartet: Lockout: Dublin 1913; A City in Wartime: Dublin 1914–18; A City in Turmoil: Dublin 1919–21 and A City in Civil War: Dublin 1921–24.


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