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Brutal murder Newry boxer who beat Captain Robert Nairac before IRA execution dies in exile in USA

A former Irish champion boxer, Terry McCormick was 34 when he forced Nairac from a south Armagh pub, suspecting he was a spy

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Captain Nairac went on patrol dressed as an IRA man – he even carried the IRA’s favourite Thompson machine-gun and wore an Easter lily on his beret

Captain Nairac went on patrol dressed as an IRA man – he even carried the IRA’s favourite Thompson machine-gun and wore an Easter lily on his beret

Captain Nairac went on patrol dressed as an IRA man – he even carried the IRA’s favourite Thompson machine-gun and wore an Easter lily on his beret

A former champion boxer who played a leading role in the IRA murder of British Army Captain Robert Nairac has died in exile in the United States, the Sunday World can reveal.

Newry man Terry McCormick passed away last week in his Pennsylvania bolthole.

A painter by trade, he had been hiding out under an assumed name in Philadelphia for the past 44 years.

McCormick (78) had been ill for some time. He died after suffering a stroke.

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Terry McCormick

Terry McCormick

Terry McCormick

Friends who spoke to the Sunday World this week maintain McCormick - who never spent a minute behind bars for his crimes - suffered a lifetime of guilt over the Nairac murder.

They say he suffered deep depression as a result of his role in the abduction and death of Captain Nairac on May 14 1977.

A close friend told the Sunday World last night: "Terry never got over what happened to Captain Nairac. The young soldier lost his life, but Terry ruined his own life."

A former Irish champion boxer, McCormick was 34 when he forced Nairac from a south Armagh pub, suspecting he was a spy.

And along with other IRA sympathisers, he beat the 28-year-old intelligence officer senseless. And pretending to be a priest, he attempted to con the Catholic soldier into making a confession.

McCormick then marched Nairac across a border field where IRA man Liam Townson put a bullet in his head.

Nairac's badly beaten body was never returned to his family for Christian burial.

Within days of the shocking murder, McCormick - who wasn't actually a member of the Provos - left his wife and family in Newry and headed to the States.

He settled down under an assumed name in Philadelphia, where he eventually found another partner and together they raised a family.

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Last night, a one-time friend who had visited him in Philadelphia told us: "There was always a deep sadness in Terry. He was riddled with guilt.

"If he'd stayed in Ireland he would have been out 30 years ago, but he fled to America and he lived with the consequences."

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Nairac’s Army ID card was found in his room in Bessbrook barracks after his death

Nairac’s Army ID card was found in his room in Bessbrook barracks after his death

Nairac’s Army ID card was found in his room in Bessbrook barracks after his death

He added: "Terry never got over what he'd done. And until the day he died, he wanted the Provos to give Captain Nairac's body back."

As others involved in the savage murder were rounded up on both sides of the border, McCormick fled to the States.

Friends say he endured a life of sleepless nights as result of his deep-seated shame over his role in the young soldier's execution.

In 2007, McCormick told BBC reporter Darragh McIntyre: "I'm absolutely ashamed of what happened that night. I'm absolutely disgusted with myself."

Captain Nairac - a military intelligence officer based at Bessbrook Mill outside Newry - was shot by the IRA in a field close to the border.

He was on a secret mission to meet a new republican contact. It is known he had visited the pub the night before, but he failed to meet his man.

Nairac's body was secretly buried and it has never been given up. Rumours at the time suggested it has been put through a meat processing plant and fed to animals on a farm.

Despite repeated pleas for the return the soldier's remains, Provo hardliners in south Armagh have steadfastly refused.

Two years after Nairac went missing, the Grenadier Guardsman was posthumously awarded the George Cross. And a number of years ago, campaigners succeeded in having Captain Nairac's name added to a list of persons still missing as a result of the Troubles.

Larne-born McCormick was the first to assault the hapless soldier outside the Three Steps Inn near Dromintee.

Nairac - wearing a dark donkey jacket and jeans, with a shock of long curly hair - had confidently muscled his way through a throng of Saturday night revellers.

And according to Desmond McCreesh the bar owner, he ordered a pint of Smithwick's ale and 20 Major cigarettes.

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Nairac in uniform in Belfast’s Ardoyne

Nairac in uniform in Belfast’s Ardoyne

Nairac in uniform in Belfast’s Ardoyne

Minutes later, Nairac was kicking up a fuss at the bar, insisting his cigarettes had been stolen. Investigators are convinced this may have been Nairac's way of letting his contact know who he was.

Anxious to blend in, the undercover soldier - who had taught himself to speak in a dubious Belfast accent - even sang a couple of rebel songs with the pub folk group.

His rousing versions of The Broad Black Brimmer and The Boys of the Old Brigade went down well with the partisan crowd. The band even asked him to sing more, which he did. And afterwards he joined a number of locals who were enjoying the music.

As a cover story, Nairac claimed to be 'Danny McErlean'. He said he was an Official republican from Ardoyne in north Belfast and that he was working in the area. But he unwittingly drew attention to himself when he asked a woman in his company the best way to cross the border without attracting security force attention.

Terry McCormick was immediately suspicious. He had boxed with the Star Club in north Belfast and he was familiar with the accent. To him, 'Danny McErlean' sounded nothing like an Ardoyne man.

McCormick told his IRA pals he suspected 'Danny' was an undercover soldier and he wanted to take him outside to give him a hiding.

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Nairac in his Grenadier Guardsman ceremonial uniform a year before his death

Nairac in his Grenadier Guardsman ceremonial uniform a year before his death

Nairac in his Grenadier Guardsman ceremonial uniform a year before his death

He even asked one of the women present to dance with the stranger in the hope of finding out if he was armed. He wasn't at that stage.

Nairac had left his pistol outside in his specially adapted Triumph Dolomite car.

Around closing time - with the spotlight continuing to focus on him - two republican sympathisers approached Nairac.

And they told him McCormick wished to speak to him in the car park. He walked outside followed by three men, including McCormick.

Near the red Triumph, a heavy blow from McCormick's fist floored Nairac.

The soldier had just grabbed his Browning pistol from the car. And as it spilled onto the ground, McCormick shouted to the others: "He's got a gun!"

After a scuffle, the dazed soldier was bundled into a Cortina car and, with McCormick and another man holding him in tight arm lock, it sped south of the border.

Shortly after midnight, at a bridge over the Flurry River in Ravensdale Forrest, Nairac was dragged from the vehicle.

McCormick and the others set about beating the soldier senseless. All the time, they demanded to know who he really was and what he was doing there.

McCormick believed the stranger was an SAS member on a reconnaissance mission, but he was confident he could handle him in a fight.

But Nairac had been a boxing blue at Oxford University. He fought like a tiger to save his life. And four times he came within a hair's breadth of escaping.

In the end, McCormick's powerful and relentless blows proved too much for the surrounded soldier. Liam Townson, an IRA man, then arrived in the field with a handgun. As Nairac veered in an out of consciousness, McCormick shamefully tricked him into beginning his last confession by posing as a Catholic priest.

Minutes later, Townson fired a bullet into Captain Nairac's skull.

Townson, originally from Meigh in south Armagh, was wanted for questioning in Northern Ireland and was on the run in the south at the time.

He had been out drinking all day before receiving a request to collect a gun to shoot the badly beaten soldier.

When he was arrested by the Garda at a Dundalk farmhouse days later, Townson sang like a canary. He made seven statements in which he admitted shooting the soldier, and he was charged with murder.

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Nairac just before he was murdered

Nairac just before he was murdered

Nairac just before he was murdered

As Townson was heading for a life sentence behind bars, his accomplice McCormick left Ireland for ever. He settled in the Philadelphia area where he found work as a painter and decorator.

He was one of 187 republicans who received on-the-run letters to enable them to escape justice in the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement. But he never returned to Northern Ireland.

However, the Sunday World can today reveal that McCormick was so riddled with guilt about what he had done that he prayed for Nairac every night before he went to sleep.

In a BBC Spotlight Special programme 14 years ago, McCormick admitted: "I told Nairac that he had better make a confession, because unless he told the truth, he was going to be shot.

"He proceeded... 'Bless me Father for I have sinned..."

In his semi-conscious state, the delirious soldier was unable to continue. And with blood bubbling up in his mouth, Nairac was forced further into the field where Townson shot him.

Releasing details in a republican newspaper of Nairic's tragic end, the IRA claimed it had rumbled and interrogated an uncover SAS soldier, who then spilled his guts on British Army dirty tricks before he died.

But it just wasn't true.

But Captain Nairac died without revealing a single thing to his captors. He never even told Townson and McCormick his real name.

A full 30 years after McCormack bolted to the United States, the award-winning BBC Spotlight team tracked him down to his secret hideaway.

He agreed to do an interview provided his face wasn't revealed.

Clearly troubled by his past, McCormick said a senior republican had informed him that shortly after Nairac was shot that his body had been buried. But it was partly disinterred by an animal and was then was moved at the insistence of the farmer who owned the land.

Expressing regret over the events in Ravensdale, McCormick said: "If me doing this interview can help in any way recover the body of Captain Nairac, it would make me fell a lot better."

Terry McCormick was one of several boxing brothers who were brought up in St John's Place, Larne. He was Ulster and Irish Junior Welterweight Champion in 1965, representing the Star Club from north Belfast. And before that he was a schoolboy and juvenile champion.

But when the UVF attacked the McCormick home on September 16 1972, the family fled the Co Antrim port town for Newry.

McCormick continued boxing and found work as a painter and when he married, he moved to Jonesborough in south Armagh. He also established links with the Provisional IRA, although he never joined the group.

But he was still trusted enough to join an IRA interrogation team checking out the bona fides of a suspect stranger in the Three Steps Inn in Dromintee.

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Crime scene: Flurry Bridge

Crime scene: Flurry Bridge

Crime scene: Flurry Bridge

In reality, he was brought into provide muscle in the event of the fit-looking suspect proving to be too difficult.

In November 1977, Townson - a 24-year-old IRA man - was convicted at Dublin's Special Criminal Court of Captain Nairac's murder.

Under Garda interrogation he admitted he was drunk when he executed the British officer. In seven statements, he named all those involved.

Townson served 13 years behind bars before being released in 1990 and eight years later, he was part of a Sinn Féin election team.

Today, he helps out at a visitor centre for tourists in south Armagh.

Forty-four years later, the identity of the man Captain Nairac had arranged to meet in the Three Steps Inn has never been established.

But following the death of Terry McCormick in Philadelphia, his friends in Newry are wondering if McCormick was the man Nairac planned to meet on the night he died. "The answer is we'll never know now," one said.

hjordan.media@btinternet.com

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