Seamus Ludlow never stayed out after midnight. He was 47 but he lived with
his elderly mother and he knew she worried. Annie was bedridden. "Are you
home yet Seamus?" she'd keep shouting down the hall until he returned from
"He was a mammy's boy, no question about it," says his nephew Jimmy Sharkey.
"He was a grown man who never grew up. He was so quiet you wouldn't know he
was in the house.
"No-one was more inoffensive. When my granny gave off at him, there'd be no
back cheek; he'd just leave the room. He wasn't an idiot mind you, just a
Seamus was a forestry worker. He lived at Thistle Cross, outside Dundalk,
with Annie, his sister Nan, and her 10 children. "Seamus and I shared a
bedroom. He was more like a brother than an uncle," says Sharkey. "He
always told us, 'never bring trouble to the door'."
Another nephew, Michael Donegan, agrees: "The only extraordinary thing about
him was his death." On May 2 1976, Seamus Ludlow was abducted and killed by
loyalists. One is widely believed to have been an MI5 or RUC Special Branch
agent; another two were allegedly UDR men.
Thumbing a lift home from the Lisdoo Arms about 11.40 p.m., Seamus
unwittingly got into his killers' car. He was shot three times from
point-blank range; his body dumped. Annie, 79, wasn't told that. The family
just said he'd been knocked down. They thought the truth would break her
heart. She died a year later anyway.
No-one has ever been charged with the murder. A preliminary hearing, in
advance of a full inquest, opens in Dundalk courthouse on Tuesday. The
family allege "massive wrong-doing" by both the Irish and British
"They talk about cross-Border co-operation - we had a cross-Border
cover-up," says Donegan. "I don't say this lightly but there are top
political and security figures effectively with blood on their hands," says
"We suspect there was a secret agreement whereby the South turned a blind
eye to British security forces, and their agents, operating across the
The family has been continually refused a public inquiry. They say that's
difficult to understand because Seamus wasn't even a republican; he was a
Fine Gael member. "He wasn't very active but he attended a few meetings and
put up posters at election time," says Sharkey.
"The then Defence Minister, Patrick Donegan, visited the house privately
after the murder but not one Fine Gael minister or TD attended the funeral.
A member of their own party was murdered, yet their correspondence to us
remains cold and matter-of-fact.
"Fianna Fail is no better. I met Bertie Ahern while on a wider victims'
delegation, but he has refused a separate meeting with our family since.
We had a bad-tempered meeting with John O'Donoghue who treated us with
"We've every sympathy for the McCartney sisters, but it's sad to see how
much Southern politicians do for them and how little for us." The family's
solicitor, James McGuill, says Michael McDowell has been one of the few
helpful politicians and was instrumental in securing the new inquest.
It had been a normal Saturday for Seamus Ludlow. After finishing work at
Ravensdale Forest, he got cleaned up, and headed to the pub. "He'd have a
few bottles of Guinness and a game of cards or darts," says Sharkey. "He'd
no interest in chasing women."
"He didn't know many people outside the family or work," says Donegan. "He'd
never been more than a few miles down the road in his life. He was a good
man for digging wells and planting hedges. He played the mouth organ. He'd
have a few tunes for his mother in the bed to cheer her up. The highlight of
his year was dressing up as Santa for the kids at Christmas."
A "Catholic bachelor" is how the family publicly described afterwards. He
was a soft target for the three Red Hand Commando members and one UDA man,
from Co Down, in their yellow Datsun. The family believe they'd crossed the
Border to kill a Dundalk man, now deceased, whose name is known to the
Sunday Tribune. He had both IRA and British intelligence links.
"They couldn't find him and they were psyched up to kill. It was a case of
'any Taig will do'. Seamus was in the wrong place at the wrong time," says
Donegan. The next afternoon, a family out walking noticed that the cows in
a field in Johnston's lane, off the Bog Road, were agitated by something in
the ditch. They went over. It was the body of Seamus Ludlow.
"The Gardai were smart. Publicly, they said 'we're keeping an open mind';
privately, they briefed the family Seamus had seen something and been killed
by the IRA as an informer," says Donegan. Senior republicans visited the
house and denied this. Young family members believed them; older ones took
the Gardai's word.
There was strange behaviour. Kevin Ludlow, Seamus's brother, was the sole
family member informed of the original inquest that August. He received only
45 minutes' notice. He was working in the North and didn't make it back in
time. So none of the Ludlows, nor their legal representatives, were present
to ask vital questions or protest at the failure to present forensic or
The family later discovered the murder weapon was a .38 Smith and Wesson,
standard issue to the UDR. "One of the bullets fired remains with Gardai.
The other two were sent North for forensic examination - they've gone
missing," says Sharkey.
"There is no record in RUC files of any search for the yellow car which we
believe passed through several owners before ending up in the scrap yard."
It wasn't until the mid-1990s the family found out the full extent of the
"In 1977, the RUC identified three of the suspects," says Sharkey. "They
gave a file with their names to Gardai in 1979, but we were never informed
of this. Until the 1990s, family members were still being told the IRA was
"We want to know why the RUC didn't give Gardai the information in 1977. We
want to know why, when they were told, Gardai didn't seek these men's
extradition, or at least request the RUC arrest and interrogate them. Why
did the RUC do nothing for two decades and why did Gardai let them?''
In 1998, the RUC did arrest and questioned four loyalists about the murder.
They were released without charge. One - an alleged informer who has been
interrogated about several other murders including that of former Sinn Féin
vice-president, Maire Drumm - was flown over from England. He insists he is
Chief Supt Ted Murphy headed an inquiry into the original Gardai murder
investigation. The family have never seen his 1998 report. They're also
still awaiting Mr Justice Henry Barron's private report into Seamus's
murder, presented to the Government last October.
"We were granted a new inquest three years ago and we're still only at the
preliminaries," says Donegan. "I'd like to believe things are moving, but
Sharkey agrees: "Our experience shows that while this state rightly makes
demands from the British for Northern Catholics, it's not too keen on
justice and transparency for its own citizens."