Bandit country | 

Richard Madeley reveals IRA bullet narrowly missed his head during Northern Ireland visit

'The first time I went to Northern Ireland I was shot at. Nothing personal, I don’t think'

Aaron Tinney

Richard Madeley has revealed he was shot at by an IRA gunman on his first visit to Northern Ireland.

The presenter (66) said he was blasted at as a naïve reporter embedded with troops in South Armagh.

Richard said: “The first time I went to Northern Ireland I was shot at. Nothing personal, I don’t think – I was a young local newspaper reporter on foot patrol with a bunch of squaddies from my London news patch.

“We were in what was known back then as bandit country – the narrow lanes, thick hedgerows and rolling green hills of beautiful South Armagh, close to the border with Eire.

“There had been a lot of shootings, kidnappings and bombings there and South Armagh was one of the more dangerous postings for a British soldier.

“But all seemed peaceful as we walked down a pretty footpath between lush meadows. Grazing cows lazily lifted their heads and stared at us in bovine curiosity as we passed.

“The men were laughing and joking, so I relaxed too. I stopped worrying about anti-personnel mines in the hedgerows or snipers in the woods above us.

“I’d just stopped to light a cigarette when there was a loud crack, seemingly right above my head. (Later I would learn this is the noise a high-velocity bullet makes as it breaks the sound barrier – literally a miniature sonic boom.)”

Richard added he stupidly stopped to ask what was happening before being howled at to duck.

He went on: “I turned to ask my new friends what was happening but they'd vanished as if by a magician’s spell. In fact, every man jack of them had dived into a deep ditch.

“‘Get the f**k down, you stupid f****r!’ the sergeant roared at me… I did.

“There were no more shots and eventually we resumed the patrol. I walked on in thoughtful silence.”

Richard said he recalled his brush with death while interviewing Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald last week on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

He added:  “I reminded Good Morning Britain viewers that Sinn Fein just made history by becoming the first nationalist party to win the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. Sinn Fein... in democratic charge of Ulster!

“I turned to McDonald after my intro and said: ‘If I’d uttered those words 10 years ago I would’ve sounded completely crazy.’

“She nodded agreement but said we now live in different times, adding, in effect, that ‘the people have spoken’.

“Later, McDonald referred to Britain as ‘this wonderful country of yours’, and I was compelled to interrupt her, mid-sentence.

“‘You're the leader of Sinn Fein and you just described the UK as a wonderful country! That’s something else I wouldn’t have believed possible even five years ago’.

“‘Well, it IS a wonderful country,’ she repeated, going on to announce plans for a democratic referendum on a united Ireland, similar to the one held on Scottish independence in 2014.

“A properly constituted referendum. Not bombs. Not gunshots. Ballot boxes.”

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