Betrayal: The Murder of Robert Nairac

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  • Author:
    Alistair Kerr
    On the 15th of May, 1977, Robert Nairac went to meet a potential informant at a pub, The Three Steps Inn, at a place called Drumimtee. Shortly after midnight he disappeared and no trace of him has ever been found.It is without doubt a fact that he was murdered by the Provisional I.R.A, and members of that organisation have been identified and tried for the murder but no body has ever been located.

    Nairac was a captain in the Grenadier Guards and at the time of his murder was working - ostensibly - as Military Liaison Officer (MLO) and co-located with, amongst others, the S.A.S. He was not a "badged " member of that organisation although he had received considerable training with them.

    His visit to that particular bar that night - an establishment deep in the so-called bandit country of South Armagh and well known as a haunt for terrorists - was recorded and approved, albeit with safeguards supposedly in place. These measures appear not to have been correctly implemented and so the scene was set for disaster.

    The story of Robert Nairac will be familiar to a lot of people, especially those who were part of Operation Banner. The setting of his main base of operations, Bessbrook Mill, has a place in the thoughts of most who served in the Province and indeed may have seen or known him.This new book on Captain Nairac seeks to flesh out his story and present a clearer picture of both the man and the events.

    The author has done a fine job of delving into the man, his background and family. Nairac was without doubt a charismatic and charming man. An excellent soldier who was marked for stardom, indeed his promotion to Major had already been approved which was unusual for one so young in both age and service. He was a talented sportsman, excelling in boxing and rugby.

    Possessed of a fine voice and a competent guitar player, he was at ease either with classical music or popular songs. Popular with his troops and respected by all who served with him and even with a number of the locals.

    The book doesn't especially give defining answers yet it does clear away a great deal of the fog that still surrounds the mystery of his disappearance. The author has researched his subject closely and well and his sources are enviable.

    There is still dissent about the actions, and behaviour of Captain Nairac, even all these years later, and Alistair Kerr does not shrink from from addressing these issues. Undoubtedly there are smoke and mirrors at high levels, accusations and counter claims about his methods and criticisms of his behaviour and the author does not shrink from presenting these whilst offering justifying and mitigating reasoning.

    Altogether an excellent book, one that opened my eyes to the circumstances of the event and stripped away the impressions gained from headlines and reports. Well worth reading and an essential book for those who served in the province, as well as being a most useful account of a period that is coming back to haunt us.

    4.5 MH

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  1. Bushmills
    My suspicion has always been that players from the RA were late for a meeting at the pub and Cap't Nairac fell victim to a couple of wannabe yobbos.
  2. Vladimir_Ilyich_Crab
    I clocked the comments/reviews of this book here on Arrse, and thought I'd give it a go. Actually, when I served in NI many moons ago, I thought the troubles merited genning up on and purchased many a book. As a result, I was aware of the murder of Nairac and a book so highly recommended almost demanded a purchase - I found a new copy from an ebay seller for under £13, it arrived Monday last week and I finished it Friday.

    I found it to be very well written and meticulously researched. Actually, I was surprised on finishing, that Alistair Kerr detailed the murder early on and then explained the background, which for me would have ratcheted up the tension whilst remaining academic in outlook. Even so, at times I found myself absolutely captivated, and the un-put-downable plaudits are correct..

    Kerr is the complete opposite of the Nairac detractors - he is clearly a supporter and at times his bias even when describing some of the less edifying bits of Nairac's life, nearly bordered on too much for me. That said, Kerr is absolutely systematic in demolishing some of the misinformation, propaganda and down right lies against which Nairac has been unable to defend himself. To that end, it balances and realigns the whole narrative taking into account all previous information - if it was out there, Kerr considered it.

    Some bits were overly academic for my preference - I for one didn't need a history lesson on wider Ireland and found myself skim reading those bits to get back to the Nairac affair. My own failings thought shouldn't detract from the overall quality of this book.

    What I did find fascinating was the lengths to which Kerr was happy to challenge anybody, including the SAS, on their actions before during or after. There are still massive amounts of unanswered questions and I doubt this work will be superseded until the files are released after 50 or 100 years.

    TL;DR - if you have any interest in the Troubles or humint, you should read this book.
      Alec_Lomas and old_fat_and_hairy like this.
  3. Coldisthesea
    The comment section isn't letting me post a review I just wrote for Goodreads (too long), but if you're interested it's here.
    I thought it was a phenomenal, stunning, deeply researched book, and definitely dispels a lot of the sensationalist writing that has stood as the record of Nairac's military service, disappearance and character.
      old_fat_and_hairy and Auld-Yin like this.
  4. slab
    There's rarely a book that I can't put down - this was one of them. Nairac's murder formed part of the backdrop to my teenage years and until I read this book went along with the "talented but foolhardy" label that most tacked onto Nairac's reputation. Kerr's book is a masterpiece of incisive argument and compelling text, and gives a rounded and even handed account of a great man in all his complexities. Also the manner in which Kerr blends in the larger themes - Ireland, Ampleforth, the SAS and so forth - add depth and understanding without complicating the main narrative. An essential read for any serious student of history and/or for the many of us that served on Op Banner.
      Alec_Lomas likes this.
  5. Alec_Lomas
    This is the most absorbing book that I've read in a decade. It has been forensically researched. As I hail from the Province, being raised in the Catholic Creggan, this book has a particular interest for me as Bob Nairac remains one of the disappeared.
    Equally I knew and worked alongside two of the principal characters featured and which the author takes to task. I'll remark that I never met Capt. Nairac, but was guilty of repeating the opinions of others on this officer's perceived working procedures.

    Alistair Kerr ballistically uses fact and rationale to counter the canardistas, calumnists and detractors of this young man's military life. He opines on the agendas created in the wake of his brutal murder. No organisation is spared comment and justifiably so. The Province was in a state of flux. As we now are aware, highly questionable political decisions had been made while the military, police and intelligence service were at odds as to what course of action each should be taking. It required personalities of unusual character to commute between all of the offices and to include the 'civpop' in order to get on with a task. Bob Nairac was one of those characters.

    Far from being the rogue male, Capt Nairac GC was a highly organised, motivated, focused individual, a complete contrast to the scruffy, Irish accented minstrel, casual in his radio procedures as rumour would have you believe. Kerr addresses these views with chilled logic. I defy anyone having read this book to remark otherwise.

    Andrew Kerr has produced an excellent tome. Well done sir!
    1. Auld-Yin
      I think it is Alistair Kerr ! :)
      Auld-Yin, Dec 12, 2015
  6. ClerkenwellSilk
    I knew Robert Nairac very well and Alistair Kerr has caught the essence of Robert brilliantly. The author's research has been meticulous; his writing is engaging and at times gripping. His contacts and experience in the military and the establishment are first class, but he is independent minded and realistic. "Betrayal; The Murder of Robert Nairac GC" is hard hitting, judges fairly and spares no-one, whatever their rank or position. The basic story of Robert's May 1977 kidnapping, torture and murder is well known. But the surrounding circumstances have so far been mysterious and every kind of myth and rumour has flourished. Alistair Kerr has made clear the circumstances, confronted and dispelled the myths and rumours, and in the process has uncovered and exposed a good deal of misconduct, or worse. And as a bonus, for those not well versed in Irish history (the last medieval country in Europe), the author's explanations and descriptions of how and why the troubles began and continued are especially illuminating. Alistair Kerr has written a powerful and spell binding biography.
  7. metellus cimber
    The author makes the point somewhere that the real betrayal was the assault on Nairac's reputation after his death by people in the Army and British politics; as well as by Irish Republicans (which was to be expected). He was used as a political football and, being dead, could not do anything about it.
      sirbhp and Alec_Lomas like this.
    1. old_fat_and_hairy
      Ah, yes, that's a good point, that was certainly a thread of the book. I must have had my dumb head on last night. Undoubtedly there has been a campaign to discredit him, sometimes subtle and other times less so. As you say, the Republican theme was to be expected but not, perhaps, the other.
      old_fat_and_hairy, Nov 17, 2015
  8. Alec_Lomas
    I've ordered the book. Doubtless, the answer will be revealed in the narrative, but the use of - 'Betrayal' in the title states an opinion.
    1. old_fat_and_hairy
      Yes, it's a bit of a didactic title in that respect. The book stops a little short of being a hagiography but does show strong bias toward the subject. Having read it, I'm not sure about any betrayal. Certainly incompetence played a part as well as what appears to be a sort of jealousy, but that may just be my take on it. I'd be interested to know what you think.
      old_fat_and_hairy, Nov 16, 2015
  9. metellus cimber
    In strict fairness, Tytus, Nairac did not try to pass himself off as Northern Irish. His cover story was that he was Irish, but from another part of Ireland - Galway or Dublin - which he knew far better than he did the North, and that he had knocked around a lot, "working away"; in Canada among other places. Hence anything odd about his accent. Some of the people who killed him later told the BBC's Roisin McAuley that they had thought that he was a Loyalist militiaman on a recce, planning a strike on the Three Steps, a well-known Republican bar. If that is so, his accent must by then have been pretty good. Roisin herself told me this a year or two ago.
      Effendi likes this.
    1. Tytus_Barnowl
      Belfast ears will detect changes in accent. Enough to arouse suspicion. I can pin accents down to county level, and even some town levels.
      Tytus_Barnowl, Nov 15, 2015
    2. army1
      there was a rumour that Nairac was a hero who even through torture never once gave up any one or gave out any info and the the ira had a hell of a lot of respect for him for his strong will ,, just a shame the ***** had to kill him , RIP Sir
      army1, Nov 23, 2015
  10. Tytus_Barnowl
    Not read this book yet, I know the story of Robert Nairac very brave man that he was. However, anybody who tries to pass themselves off as a native of NI WILL FAIL. It has always been that way, just acknowledge the term "Belfast ears".