Disclaimer – Reaper Feed does not condone or support any of the political views or actions of the various paramilitary groups active in the conflict in Northern Ireland. Our coverage of the conflict is aimed at providing an insight into the horrors of sectarian conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it.
In our recent piece where we covered hanging out with an IRA commander on the streets of Belfast, we received various requests from our readers to write an article on a certain figure we mentioned in the article. A man who is said to have ordered an RPG attack on the pub we enjoyed a pint of Guinness in. A former paramilitary commander who survived a point-blank gunshot to the head and other various assassination attempts as well as a blood-soaked internal feud and now lives in exile on the coast of Scotland. Your requests have been answered, this is the shocking story of one of Belfast’s main loyalist paramilitary leaders: Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair.
The Troubles Summary
Firstly, we’ll give you a brief Northern Ireland conflict summary in true Reaper Feed style. The Troubles erupted during the late 1960s and were primarily political and nationalistic and propelled by centuries of blood-soaked history between Irish and the English. The conflict in Ireland had an ethnic or sectarian dimension and raged for almost thirty years until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and became the longest operation ever undertaken by the British Army.
Throughout the conflict, extreme violence took place in both Ireland, England, and Europe. The Troubles were fought between Irish Republicans like the IRA who wanted a united Ireland and for Northern Ireland the leave the UK, the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries like the UDA who wanted Northern Ireland to remain British. The Irish Republicans were largely catholic whereas the Loyalists were mostly protestant.
Throughout the Troubles in Ireland, Republican militant groups like the IRA waged a guerrilla war against the British Army and Loyalist paramilitaries via bombing campaigns, shooting attacks, kidnappings, and other forms of terror. Loyalist militant groups like the UDA launched similar attacks against Republican militants as well as the general Catholic community in Belfast. The British security forces waged a hard-fought counter-insurgency war mostly against the IRA. As well as violent warfare, The Troubles also spawned various riots, mass protests, and acts of civil disobedience which collectively led to extreme levels of segregation and the formation of no-go areas for Catholics and Protestants alike.
“Who Should Be Held Accountable For A Shared History Of Violence? It Was A Question That Was Dogging Northern Ireland As A Whole.”– Patrick Radden Keefe
It’s shocking how many people died during The Troubles. By the signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, there were over 3,500 deaths in The Troubles in Belfast (mostly civilians). In the years since there has still been sporadic violence and killings but nothing comparable to the height of the Northern Ireland conflict.
Throughout the troubles in Northern Ireland, various paramilitary commanders formed an infamous reputation for themselves in both the Irish Republican and Loyalist sides. Their reputations were made often through a combination of extreme violence, disregard for law and order, and audaciousness during their operations.
In 1963, just a few years before the Troubles erupted in violence that would last for decades, Johnny Adair was born in Belfast near the infamous Shankill Road. He was the youngest child of seven other children born to an Ulster Protestant family. Interestingly, Adair’s father, Jimmy Adair, was not interested in loyalist politics and was friends with various members of the Irish Nationalist community in other areas of Belfast. He maintained these friendships even as Johnny began to emerge as a paramilitary leader of Loyalist forces, which was inherently risky.
As a teenager, Johnny Adair began to demonstrate his ability for leadership when he gathered his loyalist friends to form a skinhead gang engaging in crimes that were rapidly increasing in violence. The gang’s main hangout was outside a club called Buffs and here they attracted more loyalist members from around the Shankill Road area. The gang soon became linked with the infamous British far-right group, the National Front when Johnny Adair formed a punk rock band called Offensive Weapon which was anti-communist and praised the NF.
At the age of 17, Johnny Adair struck up a relationship with a female skinhead who would become his future wife, Gina Crossan. At this stage, Adair’s street gang held a formidable and violent reputation. In 1981, the gang initiated a violent attack at a concert in Belfast featuring The Specials. The gang deemed the event as ‘anti-racist’ and violently beat concert-goers and giving Nazi salutes.
Two years later in the summer of 1983, Adair’s gang formed a large part of what was to become known as the ‘March of the Gluesniffers’ when over 200 skinheads began to riot with a left-wing march that was taking place against nuclear weapons. The march got its name due to the significant amount of substance abuse within the skinhead gangs. However, this display caught the attention of the Ulster Defence Association and led to South Belfast Brigadier John McMichael declaring that he wanted its members forced out of Belfast. Johnny Adair was given a classic Belfast ultimatum: get kneecapped or join the militant youth wing of the UDA. Adair naturally took the latter option but few could predict where this path would lead Adair.
At the age of 18, Adair joined the UDA proper in 1984. Alongside some of his childhood friends, he was placed into an active armed unit of the UDA named C8. This unit was tasked with launching gun attacks on police vehicles, starting violent riots, and petrol bombing businesses that were considered to be employing Catholics. The C8 unit soon gained a reputation for their ambition to enact extreme violence in the name of the loyalist cause and even launched a plot to murder Pat Finucane who was an Irish nationalist solicitor however this plan was canceled by the UDA leadership.
In 1987, South Belfast Brigadier John McMichael was now a Deputy Commander of the UDA and a powerful figure of the loyalist cause when the Provisional IRA assassinated him with a car bomb. Shortly after, threats of further assassinations forced the Supreme Commander of the UDA, Andy Tyrie, to resign without a replacement. With other major UDA figures in prison, the group was desperate for new leadership and this is where Johnny Adair’s violent career began.
Identified as one of the most ambitious footsoldiers of the UDA, Adair soon became the figurehead of the 2nd Battalion of the UDA’s C Company. Adair brought his childhood friends with him and created what he called the ‘Dream Team’ consisting of trained gunmen capable of extreme violence. In 1993, Adair would go on to become a brigadier in the UDA and his violent attacks on the Catholic community certainly didn’t go unnoticed. Before long, he was firmly in the sights of the IRA.
One of the UDA headquarters on the Shankhill road was located in a discreet above a fish and chip shop. In October of 1993, Adair and other UDA figureheads were planning to hold a meeting there when the IRA received intelligence about the gathering. Whilst attempting to plant a bomb in the building, it detonated prematurely killing one of the IRA attackers, one UDA member, and eight civilians waiting for their food in the fish and chip shop. In revenge, the UDA launched a gun attack on a pub called the Rising Sun where eight civilians were shot dead. These tit for tat killings were quintessential features of the troubles in Northern Ireland and only fuelled the ongoing violence in the conflict.
During the 1990s, Adair was often filmed patrolling his territory around the Shankhill Road in a bulletproof vest with his small army of men and two German Shepherd dogs both wearing t-shirts of C Company. He would often pay children around the area vast amounts of money for menial tasks such as walking his dogs. On loyalist events such as the 12th of July, the area was full of masked men firing handguns into the air against the backdrop of burning bonfires as loyalist slogans filled the air.
In 1995, Adair’s string of violent operations caught up with him and he was arrested and charged with directing terrorism. In court, it became clear that Adair and his killing units had been responsible for the random murders of various members of the Catholic community and Adair was accused of being dedicated to a cause again those who he “regarded as militant republicans – among whom he had lumped almost the entire Roman Catholic population”. It’s believed that Adair and his unit murdered around 40 people during the height of his reign. In an interview with a Catholic reporter, Adair states that usually Catholics would be traveling in the boot (trunk) of his car rather than in the passenger seat.
Adair received a 16-year jail sentence for his crimes and was sent to the infamous Maze Prison in Belfast where loyalist prisoners were assigned their own block where it’s reported that Adair was able to sell drugs to other loyalist prisoners and earn over £5,000 every week. In a documentary, Adair claimed that some of the best parties of the 1990s were held inside the Maze prison. Prostitutes, alcohol, and drugs were prevalent amongst the feared prison populations of UDA and IRA militants and were often smuggled inside in a variety of ways, including wooden legs.
Jackie Robinson was a former girlfriend of Adair and claimed that throughout his sentence in the Maze Prison, she would visit him multiple times for sex and said that the use of prostitutes inside was prevalent. She penned a book called ‘In Love With a Mad Dog’ where she stated that after a UDA killing had been carried out, he would become highly aroused and afterward be “particularly wild in bed”. In 1997, Adair married Gina Crossan at the Maze Prison.
In 1998, as negotiations were underway regarding the Good Friday Agreement which was intended to bring peace to Northern Ireland after decades of conflict, Adair and other incarcerated UDA figureheads mostly opposed the peace plan due to the recent Republican-led murder of Billy Wright who was the leader of the infamous paramilitary group, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). The British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland visited the men inside the prison to persuade them to cooperate with the peace plan. By 1999, Adair alongside a huge amount of other deadly UDA and IRA prisoners were released as part of the early-release scheme for paramilitary prisoners under the Belfast Agreement.
The same year, Adair placed enough faith in the peace process to attend an open-air UB40 concert with his wife Gina. As UB40 performed their latest hit ‘A Train is Coming’ a gunman lurking in the crowd approached Johnny Adair from behind and fired a bullet into the back of his head at point blanc range. The bullet was a damp round and rather than blowing Adair’s brains out, it simply grazed his skull allowing Adair to fight back against the attacker and he lived to see another day. The following year, Adair was attacked with a pipe bomb by the IRA.
During the post-peace process years, what happened between Johnny Adair, the UDA and other loyalist paramilitary organizations are often difficult to piece together. To sum it up in simple terms, it involved violent rivalries over territory, political differences, and fierce competition over the money earned from various organized crime. By the summer of the year 2000, the situation was about to implode.
In an apparent effort to restore some order to the violently splintering loyalist groups, Johnny Adair organized a ‘day of loyalist culture’ for the residents of the Shankill Road on the 19th of August 2000. Various high ranking UDA leaders were present as well as those considered as heroes such as Michael Stone who launched the infamous attack at the Milltown Cemetery. The day featured the standard Belfast show of strength with a gunfire salute into the air and loyalist marching bands. But despite the aim of the day was to bring loyalist forces together, it instead saw the bloodthirsty feud between the rivals of the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Clashes began outside bars known for being loyalist hangouts such as the Rex Bar and the Diamond Jubilee. Gunfire erupted between the rival groups and various UVF members were violently beaten. The violence went on into the night as UDA members began to purge the UVF and their families out of the area by violently attacking their homes.
Two days later, the UVF launched a violent retaliation and murdered two of Adair’s closest men, Jackie Coulter and Bobby Mahood, who were gunned down as they sat in a car apparently discussing ways to ease the current loyalist feud. In retaliation, Adair’s C Company burned down the headquarters of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) which was linked to the UVF. Due to his ingrained involvement in the violence, Adair was arrested and returned to prison where his early release agreement was revoked. 5 more people were assassinated in the violence before the feud ended.
In the spring of 2002, Adair was released from jail and welcomed by over 300 loyalist supporters waiting for him outside the prison. The politics inside the loyalist scene were still intense and Adair set about to try and fix them again. Adair formed an alliance with a small splinter group of the UVF called the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) which was commanded by a man called Mark “Swinger” Fulton. However, this move ruffled feathers within the UDA as some members saw it as Adair seeking outside support in an attempt to seize the UDA leadership. Others were heavily opposed to working with the LVF due to their open involvement in selling drugs. Once again, the loyalist territory exploded in another feud.
Across the Shankill area, various homes were raked with machine-gun fire and burned down by rival factions. A high ranking UDA member and rival of Adair was killed after he was shot in the face. To stop the feud, a loyalist meeting was held between Adair and the various other brigadiers. Adair smuggled a handgun into the meet fearing he was being set up. Alongside his right-hand man John White, Adair was subsequently expelled from the UDA for life after being accused of ‘treason’. Adair’s response was ‘fuck them’ and attempted to form the West Belfast UDA as a separate group with its own rules and began lining the streets of the Shankill road with ‘”West Belfast UDA – Business as Usual” banners. Despite his audaciousness, Adair had lost the support of some of his oldest comrades, and more attempts on his life were launched.
In the winter of 2003, Adair was jailed once again after engaging in various unlawful behavior. Whilst inside, various UDA figures were gunned down in murders blamed on Adair’s C Company. As a result, the mainstream UDA grouped together to form a powerful group against Adair under the command of South Belfast brigadier Jackie McDonald. This new faction invaded Adair’s territory of the Shankill Road with hundreds of heavily armed men in the early hours of the morning on February 6th, 2003. Adair’s wife and around twenty of his loyal supporters, fled Belfast to mainland Britain to avoid certain death.
After the forced expulsion of Adair’s C Company from Belfast, his family and supporters found themselves in exile in the industrial city of Bolton in Northern England where they were branded ‘the Bolton Wanderers’ after the name of Bolton’s football club. The reason for them being there was due to many members of the infamous Neo-Nazi group Combat 18 (C18) being based in Bolton. C18 was closely linked to the LVF and following the murder of LVF leader Billy Wright, Johnny Adair fostered a good relationship with the group as their contact man. As a result, the homes of these Nazi activists were offered as a refuge to Adair’s supporters and family. This enthusiasm for offering protection didn’t last long when some homes in Bolton were sprayed with machine gunfire by suspected loyalist rivals.
In January 2005, Adair was released from prison and flown to Manchester via helicopter. He spent a brief period around Bolton before relocating to the coastal town of Troon in Scotland. In 2006, Johnny Adair was the subject of a documentary focusing on him and another character known as Nick Greger or Nazi Nick, a German far-right activist who has also been jailed for terrorism and attempting to overthrow the government of South Africa. The pair embarked on a bizarre trip to Uganda with the intent of building an orphanage there. In Africa, Johnny Adair was filmed handling and firing high powered rifles at a gun range in Africa, bemused he stated that it was the first time he had done so without wearing any gloves.
“I’m trying to get a war started and get as many guns and explosives as I can.”– Antoin Duffy in a leaked conversation to his girlfriend
In 2015, Johnny Adair received the latest threat on his life from three Irish Republicans named Antoin Duffy, Martin Hughes, and Paul Sands. The three men were found guilty of planning to murder Adair and fellow exiled loyalist Sam McCrory. The main ringleader, Duffy, had planned the murder from inside a prison cell in Scotland and was actively sourcing weapons whilst on home leave. The plan was to execute McCrory using a handgun and then target Adair using an AK 47 with armor-piercing rounds, which he called “the big fella”. However, their planned operation was being tracked by Mi5 and all of the men received significant prison sentences.
For an in-depth look at Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair from the man himself, we highly recommend this interview from the fantastic James English, who specializes in groundbreaking interviews with some of the most infamous figures of modern Britain: