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  • Christina Drummond

Ranger Cyril John Smith QGM, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Irish Rangers

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1990, Ranger Cyril John Smith QGM, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Irish Rangers, was killed when a bomb exploded at the border checkpoint at Killeen, near Newry in Northern Ireland.

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Ranger Smith was remembered by a neighbour as a young man who was always pleasant and willing to go out of his way to help anyone. He had been instrumental in the forming of a boxing club in his home town, and had won many medals in the sport, both before and after joining the army. It was a great disappointment to him that he was not allowed to play Gaelic Athletic Association football, being a member of the British forces. After deciding to join the army, he had chosen the Royal Irish Rangers, as at the time they were not being deployed to Northern Ireland – however, that changed and he found himself serving there in 1990.

On the day of his death, he was the duty road man as 4 Platoon, B Company, manned the Permanent Vehicle Checkpoint at Cloghoge Mountain, on the A1 south of Newry. A civilian, James McEvoy, had been woken at his home in the night by masked gunmen, told his family would be held hostage and his two sons shot if he did not do as he was ordered – what they required of him was to drive a vehicle to the checkpoint and tell the soldiers they had forty minutes before the bomb he was carrying went off. Tied into the vehicle, and followed at a distance, he had no hope of escape nor survival, and on arrival at the checkpoint he did as he was told. Ranger Smith acted quickly, managing to remove Mr. McEvoy from the vehicle and get him to safety, then ran back to the checkpoint despite warnings – he was heard to shout, “I have to go back and make sure the rest of the boys are safe.” Ranger Smith was credited with saving the lives of his colleagues that night, but sadly as he ran past the vehicle again the bomb exploded, killing him instantly.

For his actions he was posthumously awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, in recognition of his bravery. At his funeral the priest said, “He ran back to warn his companions that they were in danger. He could have run to safety, but he gave his life for his colleagues.” James McEvoy died less than a year later at the age of sixty-nine, it is believed by his family that the trauma he suffered that night hastened his death.

Cyril, from Carrickfergus, was 21 years old and engaged to be married.

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