On 9 March 1971, the senseless killings of three young Scottish soldiers
sparked a flame of anger that has burned ever since among the pro British, Protestant
(and Loyalist ) community in Northern Ireland.
John McCaig (17), his brother Joseph (18), and Dougald McCaughey (23), all of the Royal Highland Fusiliers,
were on this day murdered by the Irish Republican Army (IRA)
they were lured to their deaths by people pretending to be friends, and shot by a roadside
while still clutching their beer glasses.
They were not the first victims of the modern Irish troubles
the most authoritative analysis of the conflict lists sixty five killings before theirs.
They were not the first British soldiers to die, nor the first to be killed by the IRA.
But in a way that defies logical analysis, those three murders marked
and were almost immediately seen to mark a point of no return.
Time after time, men who went on to become Protestant paramilitary activists
sometimes vile sectarian killers have recalled that as their moment of conversion to violence.
British army units thereafter began to act in a more ruthless, vengeful spirit towards
Ulster Catholics not least Scottish units, some of which soon gained a fearsome reputation
for near random brutality among Republicans.
And the IRA itself, previously posing (or maybe, genuinely seeing itself) as the defender of Catholic communities,
seemed liberated by the murder of the three Scots to pursue ever bolder and more indiscriminate acts of