Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bodenstown - 58

Bodenstown, 1958.

"Sweet, sweet tis to find that such faith can remain
To the cause and the man so long vanquished and slain."
(Thanks t GB)

From the '98 to '57- Interview with Vol Bob Kehoe (Wexford)

 Many phases of the struggle
AP/RN 1998

Roisín de Rossa interviews Bob Kehoe from Wexford, a Border Campaign veteran who this year marched with the pike men and women to remember 1798


This year has been an amazing year in County Wexford as hundreds of pikemen and women have commemorated the part played by their ancestors in 1798.

History has lived again in every parish as their pike people walked in the steps of the 30,000 men and women from County Wexford who died in the revolution 200 years ago, and as they celebrated the struggle for the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity which inspired the 1798 revolution and generations of republicans since.

In 1798 survivors of the battle at Vinegar Hill and the terrible slaughter that followed it fought their way north in the hope of joining their comrades in Antrim. In the 1950s, Bob Kehoe, another Wexford man, trod in their steps. He was one of a handful of men who went to Louth to join the fight in the 50s campaign - they were `The Vinegar Hill Column.'

d at Edentubber this year, Bob returned after 41 years to the site of the terrible night when his comrades were killed by the bomb they were preparing in order to attack the brand new automatic telephone exchange across the border. No one will ever know the horror of that night wandering on a desolate hillside by the cottage after the explosions.

Bob Kehoe, who was very sick, was not allowed to go on the operation. He left the cottage only minutes before the two explosions. Paul Smith (Bessbrook), Oliver Craven (Newry), and Michael Watters, who owned the cottage where the bomb was being made up, and Bob's comrades who had come from Wexford with him - Paddy Parle and George Keegan - were all killed.*

``Paddy Parle, he was a great fellow - real happy-go-lucky,'' says Bob. ``I was walking out the door. Bit disappointed, d'you know, and I looked back at him. He quoted Pearse - Pearse was his idol - he was always quoting him - `Farewell, farewell, beloved land, farewell, the May dawn breaks the last my eyes should see, Here in my own lovely land, farewell.' A few minutes later - the blast''.

A man was sent back to Wexford to tell them how all three Wexford men were dead. It was only later that Bob was discovered. ``They brought the coffins on a lorry back to Dundalk,'' he says. ``There were crowds lining the streets, to pay respects in Dundalk, and then afterwards in Wexford. Thousands came. There was a lot of encouragement from local people. They along with Dublin had risen in 1916. They knew their history. They took a great pride in the Wexford men. This year has revived all that again for Wexford. History has been relived in a way.''

At this year's Edentubber commemoration Bob laid the wreath at the memorial. It was a very moving occasion. Local bands played the beautiful Wexford tunes, Boulavogue, Kelly of Killane, Boys of Wexford. There were colour parties including the New Women's Colour party from South Armagh which is so much acclaimed, and marked the bravery of the women who fought in 1798. There was a guard of honour for the two Wexford men, Bob and Liam McGarry, a comrade from Kilmore, and 100 pikemen from all over the county.

``It was an occasion of terrible sadness,'' Beth, Bob's wife, says. Tears fell as he laid the wreath.

``We'd come up to fight. There was no more about it,'' he says.

Then, with delight and a wink of enjoyment, he says, modestly, ``and we weren't bad. We concentrated on the communications networks - knocking out the bridges, the customs posts, had the odd pot at an RUC man. It was hard to find a Brit around there. We fought with one hand tied behind our backs. The B-specials were taboo. In fact it was B-men who were guarding the customs out at Edentubber, so we had to torch it. But we did a good job on it.''

In December, after the June `56 convention, two men had come down to Wexford from HQ asking for men to take part in training `at a very advanced stage', and Bob was the first to volunteer. ``We'd seen what was happening to the people in the North at the time... And we knew our history - through the 1948 commemorations - what had been done in Wexford 1798. I heard Fr. Murphy, PP of Glynn at the time, staunch republican, always in his black beret, speaking at Bunclody, `We must continue the struggle begun by our forefathers so that the Tricolour can float, North and South, East and West'.''

Bob tells how the Irish Press serialised Tom Barry's `Guerrilla Days in Ireland'. ``We all read it. He was the hero. And Dan Breen's `My Fight for Irish Freedom' - a great cowboy read. And then there was the battle of Longstone Road. That inspired all of us.''

Bob, a teenager, joined up, and set about organising the IRA in the county which had been much weakened by so many republicans joining de Valera's Fianna Fail and what they still believed to be the Republican party, and by the repression, the isolation, the executions, the hunger strikes and terrible prison struggles of the 40s.

However in `56 he was needed in Wexford and had to stay back when the first Wexford men went up to the border, and it wasn't until the raid on Gough Barracks, and subsequent arrests, that IRA men were back down to Wexford asking again for more volunteers `for training at an advanced stage.'

Eight men went. They were the Vinegar Hill Column: Liam McCarthaigh (Wexford and Cork), George Keegan (Enniscorthy). Paddy Parle and Labhras O'Donaile (both from Wexford Town), Bob Kehoe (Galbally), Paddy Berry (Duncormack), Liam McGarry (South Wexford), Ned Ryan (Oulart) and Frank Armstrong (Boulavogue). They left Wexford for active service on the Monaghan and Louth borders.

A young lad from one of the bands came over to Bob at the commemoration and asked him to come over to them and talk to them. He remembered his grandfather telling him of those times when the Wexford men were up to fight in Louth, Down and Armagh.''

At a reception after the commemoration Bob met Lilly Watters, Michael's sister-in-law. She threw her arms around his neck, ``Why had it to take 41 years to meet,'' she said.

She presented him with an old bottle of stout. ``It is God's will that you have it,'' she said. Only two things were recovered from the house, the bottle and a first communion picture of Michael's niece, who was also at the commemoration that day.

After the tragedy at Edentubber in November of `57, Bob was transferred to the Donegal border and was active through Pettigo, Beleek, until he was arrested at Ballintra in December. He was sentenced for three and six months consecutive for failure to account for his movements and IRA membership. ``You, Kehoe,'' spat Judge Huaigh, ``didn't recognise the court. For that I sentence you to six months.''

Bob landed into Mountjoy on 17 December, 41 years ago today. He was three stone underweight, and on his second morning there was refused the special grub of a pint of milk and porridge that the Republican prisoners had won after refusing to eat the prison dinners. Straightway the OC, Sean Daly, called a meeting. A hunger strike was agreed, and four volunteered: Willie Gleeson, Sean Daly, Jim Coyle and Bob Kehoe.

By January of the new year, Bob got a septic throat. He refused to go to hospital. The Governor buckled and went to the Minister of Justice to inform him that he would not take responsibility for the men, and in particular for Kehoe who, without treatment, was going to die. The Governor returned to the jail and reported back to OC Daly what he had won for them - more than what the republican prisoners had demanded! The prisoners were then separated to D-Wing with political recognition.

Immediately in D-wing they began to cut their way out, ``using a surgeon's saw which had great teeth and could handle the pine wood floor,'' says Bob. Sadly the escape was foiled - by an informer. However Bob was not long in attempting another escape, which again very nearly succeeded - the grappling hook, thrown over the wall, landed well at the feet of two great cumann na mBan women, there to enable the escape, but was just four inches short to grip the wall, and the screws landed on the assembled escapees. A hard hand-to-hand fight ensued with the screws - a few got broken ribs. Bob lost his teeth with a baton blow across the face.

In September `58, Bob was transferred from the Joy to the Curragh where Republicans were interned. A soldier's first duty is to escape and he hadn't been long in the Curragh before on 2 December, 19 men escaped through and over the wire. 16 got away.

One of the men who escaped with Bob that time was Seosamh O'Cuinneagain, an old comrade of his from Enniscorthy - ``he was in the lead as we ran over the Curragh''. Loyal to the last to his fellow Wexford men, Bob said he was not going on the escape unless Seosamh came too.

``Seosamh had been a marvellous organiser in the county. There was at the time a Sinn Fein cumann in almost every parish. They sold several hundred copies of their paper in the county. People would say, as the paper sellers came round, `we've our man up there, you know.' They were very proud of us.''

On the way back from Edentubber on the bus, Beth noticed a pikeman who appeared distraught. She asked him what was troubling him. ``I am ashamed to be on this bus,'' he said, ``so ashamed. I helped to put the wire up round that man [Bob]''.

``I felt so sorry for him,'' she said.

Bob spoke at the reception after the commemoration of `the several phases' in the fight for freedom. There was 1918 after the 1916 executions, when Sinn Fein won an overall majority and set up the First Dail. ``We were young, inexperienced in the 50s, yet we had four TDs elected in `57. We now have two MPs and one TD. There is no reason why the men and women of the present day can't do what our forefathers did in 1918. They can do it if they put their shoulders to the wheel, now,'' he said.

At one of the first `98 commemorations this year in Wexford, in Horetown Cemetery, Bob recalls, a Protestant minister, the Rev. Norman Ruddock, said in his address, ``It took 40 years to get rid of the border between East and West Germany, yet we have failed to get rid of an artificial border in 200 years. I can't understand why we can't march as one to Wolfe Tone's grave in Bodenstown and reclaim our Irish Nation.''

Bob says we should go there next year. He says the Reverend's words were never referred to anywhere in the media. He wasn't asked to speak again. Buried in Norman Ruddock's graveyard at Killurin are Anne Flood who killed a Hessian captain and Matthew Furlong, who had been adjutant to Bagenal Harvey and was shot down at New Ross, as he carried the flag of truce.

``But there were people who didn't want to hear a Protestant minister say this, and at the same time, they would say it was sectarian to commemorate the men and women of the 1798 revolution; politicians, like Seamus Brennan, who advised Wexford to keep the `pike in the thatch' in this year's commemorations; those who feared a democratically elected Senate in Wexford, who wanted to make sure it ended in December 1998; those who feared to take part as pikepeople when Gerry Adams came to the Vinegar Hill Commemoration in February, who said it was too `political'. What did they think 1798 was all about? But these people are slowly being isolated as people get to know their history again.''

Bob recalls going to commemorations for the 150th anniversary of `98 with his father. ``I didn't get to them all. I didn't have a bike of my own in those days. But the commemorations this year were better,'' he says. ``In 1948 the commemorations concentrated very much on the leaders, this time it was on the ordinary people.''

The Carrigbyrne pikegroup was the first group formed for the 200th anniversary. ``We started organising in 1997. We had over 200 pikemen and women, sometimes 300, drawn from 16 parishes in the County and organised by Bill Murray. An FCA man trained us. It has been great. We made the documentaries of the 1798 Rising (for RTE, TnaG and BBC).

``People came in their droves to Dublin. There were 2000, from all over Ireland marching that day. The Comoradh Committee wanted to close it all down by 6 December. How can they close it down? You can't close history down.''

Which of the `78 commemorations meant most to them this year? ``Oulart, I think, apart of course from Bodenstown. It was after all a victory, and we hadn't a flurry of politicians there that time. They want to keep the political arena to themselves, to isolate us outside. We've a real chance to change all that now with the [local] elections coming up,'' Bob says. ``This year has brought a lot of pride into the county - it has focused people on their history and what was done to the people, and what has gone on in the north over 30 years.

``The men who broke out after Vinegar Hill who went North. Sure we just did the same.'

Wexford Memories of the Border Campaign

  (There is no author listed for these wonderful recollections. A book on Wexford and the Campaign was recently published, "From Vinegar Hill to Edentubber" by Ruan O'Donnell.)

20 December 2007

Wexford memories of the 1956-'62 Border Campaign


THE IRA unit in the Wexford Town area was re-formed in 1954 when Seamus Mac Suain returned home from abroad, taking over from the former Curragh internees and ex-prisoners who had kept the organisation intact through an underground network of meetings similar to the IRB organisation of a past generation.

Their main objective was to hold the Army intact until a younger generation of Volunteers was ready to take over. These veterans had, by the mid-1950s, married and settled down to domestic life with all the mundane problems of young families and had neither the energy nor time for the serious effort required. Besides, it was considered that they had endured enough hardship. Mac Suain’s initial support came from Liam McGarry, Tommy ‘Brownie’ Nolan, Richard ‘Mangans’ Hynes, Jimmy ‘Wheesie’ Murphy and Aidan Duggan.

There had not been a Sinn Féin cumann in the county for many years and few were interested in forming one. Despite the weak state of the Republican Movement in the aftermath of the mass imprisonments and heavy tactics of the government during the 1940s, the local Easter Commemoration Committee still continued to enjoy enthusiastic support with a substantial annual turn-out at the Crosstown Memorial Plot.

After several abortive attempts, the Paddy McGrath Sinn Féin Cumann was eventually formed in 1955 and has been in operation since (though the name has changed).
The radio news that followed the series of border raids of 12 December 1956 at first filled us with feelings of elation followed later by a sense of disappointment of not having taken part: a repeat of the 1916 Rising when Wexford Town had failed to rise. Despite that setback, a strong Sinn Féin cumann had been formed in Wexford Town in 1956 and young people were again openly promoting the republican cause through sales of The United Irishman newspaper and other activities.

Despite the shortage of numbers in the Republican Movement, most Wexford people were quietly proud of their republican heritage and resistance to British rule. The fields and streets of our county had run red with the blood of thousands in 1798 and we were constantly reminded of that struggle.
The numbers of active IRA Volunteers in the unit over the period from ‘54 to ‘58 came to approximately 30 but they were supported by many background workers. There seemed to be no shortage of arms for training purposes. We could do everything with the various weapons except what they were designed for, there being a chronic shortage of ammunition.

In 1954, the IRA staged a spectacular raid when they cleaned out the British armoury at Gough Barracks in Armagh.  It was major news and had a profound effect on republican morale throughout the country. We were later to be supplied with some of the arms seized.

Then, in October, another spectacular occurred when the Omagh Barracks was raided and Volunteers (some later to be nationally well-known) were captured and imprisoned.

Emigration took its toll and this, together with ‘doing what comes naturally’ and other factors, combined to deplete our numbers in early ‘56. Jack Dunne, a veteran republican returned home from Kilkenny to work in the Wexford Gas Company and despite his hearing handicap, was totally committed and a steadying influence.

Sinn Féin did little to address the many social problems at the time, concentrating instead on “breaking the connection with England”. Selling papers, Easter Lilies, tickets, commemorations and ceilithe was quite enough to go on with. Selling dozens of the United Irishman around the pubs each month was a soul-destroying task facing cumann members and it did more to drive people out of the Movement than any hostile laws. But the commemorations and ceilithe became social occasions, particularly Easter Sunday and the annual pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave at Bodenstown, County Kildare. Open-air rallies were common both in the Bull Ring and the Square in Enniscorthy where we became experts at the rent-a-crowd tactic. At the height of the resistance campaign there were 16 Sinn Féin cumainn in the county.

Due to a communications breakdown the Wexford unit did not participate in the 12 December 1956 attacks on installations but the Enniscorthy unit did and they acquitted themselves admirably. The Radio Éireann news bulletins on the morning after the attacks did raise our spirits and we were determined not to be left out of the next wave.

Then the Coalition Government fell and Fianna Fáil regained power. The Establishment closed ranks once again and republicanism was effectively ostracised in both states on the island of Ireland. The Special Powers Act was in full force in the North and the repressive Offences Against the State Act was reactivated in the South. The jails were filling up and republicans were under surveillance at every turn of the road. However most of the gardaí in Wexford had taken part in the earlier fight for freedom and would have understood our aims. Older Republicans were used by gardaí as their conduit if we were seen or rumoured to be breaking the law.

The Church in Wexford, ever part of the Establishment, acted to form though some clerics were initially supportive.  After the Edentubber tragedy, the then Bishop of Ferns sent priests out to selected secondary schools, warning of the dangers to the faith. In contrast, priests from the border areas came and ministered to us.

Paddy Parle and Liam McCarthy (Liam McGarry was then based in Mayo) got things moving again and the unit was re-activated. Parle had returned from abroad and was working in English’s Printing Company.
The main strategy was to strike a blow against the British Army of occupation in the hope that the Irish people would eventually unite and demand freedom. None of us expected to win the battle, but we hoped to stir the national consciousness.

September 1957 dawned and we were called up at last. Frank Armstrong led us to a training camp at the Cull Bank, where it was a case of training all night and sleeping all day for security reasons.
The following weekend, Seán Hennessy picked us up and we arrived in Dublin, in the dead of the night to be collected the following day and brought to Frank and Vera Lanny’s home at Anyart, outside the town of Castleblayney in County Monaghan, the first of the many safe houses we were to know so well. There we were presented with the special anorak with Tricolour flash on the arm which we were told was required to comply with the Geneva Convention.

From ‘Blaney we were billeted in a succession of farms, houses and barns all along the borderline from Dundalk to Monaghan. The people were very kind to us and we felt at times that they were doing without themselves to feed their guests.
There were eight from Wexford and some Armagh Volunteers in the group which assembled on old Jim Finn’s farm, near Iniskeen, under the command of Limerickman Paddy Kelleher and aptly named ‘The Vinegar Hill Column’ by the Chief of Staff, Charlie Murphy, a Dublin man with Boolavogue connections. That was the last contact I had with either Paddy Parle or George Keegan, who would both be dead within weeks

The other Wexford Volunteers present were P Berry, from Duncormack; Bob Kehoe, Galbally; Liam McCarthy, a native of Mallow working in Wexford Post Office; Ned Ryan, Oulart; Frank Armstrong, Boolavogue; and myself. From Iniskeen we split up and departed to other locations near the Armagh border.

That little farm on the border at Iniskeen was probably the last of the Flying Column camps we had heard so much about from the Tan War. There was nothing romantic, however, about 20 young men sleeping rough in a barn on a bachelor’s small farm in the middle of nowhere. We did not expect hotel fare, nor did we get it, but there is nothing like the experience of the real thing.
Paddy Parle led everything from the Rosary, the singing and the general banter whilst the technicians working on the large kitchen table primed grenades and very heavy mines which we had on occasions to lug back and forth across the border.

The first of the Soviet Union’s Sputniks had been launched in space in October and could be seen each night in the Northern sky. We found it difficult to understand the Northern accent, especially the Ulster Scots words used in rural areas. The opposite sex was the most popular topic of conversion though girls were neither seen nor heard. Frank Armstrong, a seasoned Army man, expressed his surprise in ‘56 going into action with Seán Garland and him bemoaning the fact that he was missing a good dance that night in the Crystal Ballroom.

Volunteers were considered very fortunate to be billeted in a house with a TV but, due to the security situation, we were usually ‘confined to barracks’ and reading matter became a problem.

One house I was billeted in had a complete set of Annie Smithson books and a copy of Ethel Mannin’s famous book, Late Have I Loved Thee. These I had disposed of within days and was hungry for more. Emigrant family members regularly posted home banned magazines such as Reveille, Tit Bits, and The Daily Sketch.

My closest comrade across the fields was not too fortunate as his host, a retired sailor, had never learned to read and had no stock of literature, not even a newspaper.  Due to his perceived anti-clerical reputation, the local branch of the Legion of Mary continually plied him with religious literature, which he used to kindle the turf fire.

Castleblayney then was a typical market town with little sign of life during the week. It was well-known for its ballroom, Muckno Lakes (‘The Killarney of the North’), Faugh’s Football Club, furniture manufacturing and, as in all areas close to the border, smuggling. Unlike today, there were few if any cars and parking did not create a problem.

My ‘farmhouse holiday’ came to a sudden end on the night of 10 November when we were assembled at the Lanny home at Annyart, near Castleblayney, for a proposed attack on the barracks at Crossmaglen. Our mission, part of a three-pronged attack on installations was planned as a diversionary tactic, to draw the enemy towards that area, away from Middletown and the Newry area where the other operations were planned.
There were only four in our party, led by Paddy Kelleher. George Poyntz, our driver, was an ex-Irish-Army man who lived and worked in Castleblayney. Then there was Eugene McGuinness, from County Armagh, and myself.  After receiving instructions, chewing gum for the nerves and reciting the obligatory Rosary with Vera, the woman of the house, Poyntz had the engine of the van running and we took off towards our destination.

At Cullaville, the road was blocked but a local man was more than happy to surrender his van which took us to the perimeter of Crossmaglen.

There we were ordered to make a few dummy mines with the large old-style Jacob’s biscuit tins. These would be later spread across the main road, wired and primed with sod and stones. It was an exceptionally bright, moonlit night as we set about our task when the horizon was suddenly lit up, accompanied by two loud bangs like claps of thunder from the Newry direction. McGuinness remarked: “There goes the transformers but they’re too early.” It was five minutes to one o’clock on 11 November: Armistice Day. The fact that there were two loud explosions gives rise to the theory that the deaths may have been deliberate and Bob Kehoe insists that there was only one mine.

The reason I am attempting to relate all these minor details is to give an insight into what later transpired regarding George Poyntz, our driver, who was exposed as a British agent during the long war, in the 1980s. The local people we stayed with did not trust him and they were right about others also. The question is: was he an agent back then?

When our task had been completed, the van was abandoned at the border, where we then split into pairs, taking to the countryside towards Castleblayney.  For long hours we tramped over and around “the little hills of Monaghan” until we reached safety at dawn. We were not expected but as the barn door was invitingly open we settled into an exhausted sleep on the barley animal feed.

Our sleep was shattered some hours later when the son of the family woke us in a state of shock to tell us the radio had reported several men had been killed in an explosion near Newry.

There were few details and it was some days before all five were identified as some bodies had been badly mutilated. An undertaker told me how he picked pieces of flesh off the bushes around the area of the house which was completely destroyed.
The deaths at Edentubber were a tragic setback to the resistance campaign and we found ourselves scattered and confined to safe houses in the major towns of Dundalk, Drogheda and Dublin City for some time afterwards.

‘round lonely Edentubber,
The banshee loudly wails
For five brave Volunteers who died,
The pride of Granuaile.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pat Dawson's war

 Pat Dawson - Donegal's surving border fox

 Published: 19 April 2007
Donegal Democrat

Coming as he did from a such strong background of Republicanism, it might have been no surprise that one of the five I.R.A. men stopped on the road between Lifford and Castlefin with five machine guns, 800 rounds of ammunition and a quantity of gelignite in their possession was Letterkenny man Pat Dawson.
The Garda patrol that hailed down their vehicle comprised of just two members of the force and while all of Dawson's fellow Republicans were from outside Donegal, there was probably enough of a finger of suspicion pointing in the direction of the local representative even without the horde of hardware on board.

"They took all our names and asked us to escort them to Lifford Garda Station. It would have been very easy for us to overpower them, no problem whatsoever, but there were very strict orders. There was to be no action on this side of the border, neither Gardai or Army were to be interferred with so we stuck strictly to that but we would have got away if we had wanted to," remembers Pat who was born in the Rosemount area of Letterkenny and raised in Mount Southwell.

It was April 13th, 1957, five months into the I.R.A. border campaign of 1956-1962 and actions were continuing against the British occupying forces. Pat and his colleagues, including Gerry McCarthy, Vincent Conlon, Larry Batson and a man called Lynch from Dublin, were on route to Letterkenny when they were stopped and questioned.

Army and Garda personnel had arrived in Lifford when the five suspects were brought to the local Garda Station. Among them were Superintendent Tom Kelly and Detective Sergeant Patrick McLaughlin from Malin who was later to become Commissioner of the Gardai.

"Pat was interrogating me and he said "we're two Donegal men, I'll ask you questions and you'll only tell me lies." And I said, no, I'll not tell you anything because I'm not going to speak to you. He said he was interested in the detection of crime and the solving of crime. He wasn't interested in this border trouble. So we shook hands and had a smoke."

Later, Pat Dawson attempted to burn a little piece of paper in the fire in one of the rooms at Lifford Station. "As I made for the fire, two Gardai pounced on me and flattened me to the ground. One of them, I think, put a revolver to the back of my head. And Tom Kelly, the Superintendent, roared: "get up of that man and leave him alone".

Eventually the five I.R.A. men were taken to Letterkenny Garda Station where Dawson came in contact with another familiar face. "Sergeant McDaid said to me he knew me well and the family. 'Come on up to the wife and come down again in the morning, he said to me. And I said, 'if I get out that door, I'm not coming back again. 'Ah, Christ, you can't do that', he said. And I said, 'look if I can escape from here, I will. I'm not giving my word on anything else.' So he apologised then, and said he'd have to lock us up. So they threw mattresses in one of the day rooms and we stayed there for the night. Sgt. McDaid said, I'm gonna have to put a Guard on this door but everything was very friendly, there was no animosity between us at all."

Pat and his I.R.A. colleagues spent a couple of nights in Mountjoy before returning for the trial. "Gerry McCarthy made a very fiery speech and a very good one and pointed out very clearly that the fight was against the British occupation forces and the weapons were for use against the British occupation forces, not against any power of the State. We were, he said, fighting for our children and our childrens' children. The whole court erupted, clapping and cheering, so Judge Larkin said, 'anymore and I'll clear this courthouse.'

"There was a massive crowd outside with people cheering us and throwing cigarettes and sweets into the patrol car. On the way from the Garda barracks to the court, I wasn't handcuffed because I was the local fellow. But on the way from the courthouse to Dublin, I was handcuffed and I remember they were tearing my wrists at the time.

"I remember too at the Garda barracks, these two men arrived who were involving in building the Letterkenny hospital armed with massive boxes full of sweets, fruit and cigarettes. All the boys working at the building of the hospital had gathered up some money and that's what they bought us."

The court handed down a three months prison sentence and on the way to Mountjoy, Detective Sergeant McLaughlin stopped the convoy in Longford and bought the jail bound five fish and chips.'Take this now, boys, because you'll get nothing in the 'Joy,' he told us.

Upon arriving at the jail, Pat left his small bundle of personal belongings on the floor and was immediately ordered by a Prison Warden to pick it up. "Do you realise you're in prison, turn your back on that and it'll be gone!', " he said to me.

The entire D Wing at the 'Joy was confined to the eighty or so Republican prisoners. Dawson's colleague, McCarthy, was elected O.C. with the result that the Letterkenny man was privy to the information that others may not have been.

"It wasn't exactly a picnic. The food was terrible - "I saw better given to pigs" - and the conditions were desperate. The beds were very poor and there was a spot in the corner where you did what you had to do. You slopped out in the morning and washed your utensils in cold water. McCarthy kicked up a row and said we needed boiling water.

"One fellow had a nervous breakdown so two of us were asked to volunteer to stay with him and the only cell that held three people was the condemned cell. Me and a fellow called Nolan from Dublin volunteered to stay in the condemned cell."

Knowledge is power, however, and the fact that a warder from Clare knew Pat's uncle Jim Dawson who was Superintendent there helped to fill hungry bellies. "He smuggled sausages and bacon into us and we fried them in this tin lid and we sat in the dark eating them. We could hear a fellow in the cell next to us shouting: 'Whose frying the bloody sausages?"

Another warder on duty Joe Sweeney from Burtonport said he knew Pat's father, Mick, and subsequently provided the Letterkenny prisoner with a welcome cup of tea in a real cup.

Eventually Interment came in and all of the Republican prisoners were taken to the glass house, visitors prison, in the Curragh and stopped for one or two nights there.

After they were bound for the Curragh interment camp. "Thomas McCurtain, son of the murdered Lord Mayor of Cork, was our OC. We were asked to work by kneeling to wash the floor and holding our feet up off the ground. So Thomas said we are political prisoners, we're not going to work."

A batch of military policemen were sent in but in the end a solution was worked out.

They were hard times but they were also times of good humour. "The 180 fellows I was with in the Curragh were the best bunch of fellows I was ever with. You might have seen an argument but you never saw a fight. If a fellow was in bother, you went to help him out. Republicans weren't anti-church or anti-religion by no manner of means." Pat himself was part of the Legion of Mary and they sold little religious goods to the men in the camps, crosses, rosary beads and prayer books, bought in by the spiritual director, Fr. McGurk. "A number of us were refused absolution because the priest said we were members of an illegal organisation. I said I was never a member of an illegal organisation. I said, I didn't know being a political prisoner was a sin.

"Fr. McGurk was told to have no association with us and he got out as spiritual director and I understand he went to Africa.

A new priest came in and didn't have any association with us at all. It turned a lot of fellows in the Republican movement against the church."

There was always, of course, thoughts of getting out before the scheduled time. One section of the camp organised football matches and it was arranged there was going to be an escape. "Two grass mats were made and Rory O Bradaigh and Dave O'Connell were covered with them. There was no defence around the pitch, just barbed wire. We all went backways and forwards and they couldn't keep account of us and the two fellas escaped.

"Shortly after that I got paroled because there was a problem at home with a site on the High Road and people interfering with it.

Then I was questioned by the branch, was it Rory O Bradaigh and Dave O'Connell I was talking to in my aunt's house in Castle Street? No, it wasn't," I said.

Pat recalls been given a paper to sign by his uncle Jim Dawson which demanded that the prisoner have nothing more to do with the Republican movement. "If you signed it you got released. I stood up to leave and he said sit down, you bad tempered little so and so. Years later, he said to me, as a policeman I had to ask you to sign it but I was equally as proud of you that you didn't because you knew what you were doing"

The Letterkenny man fell victim to the infamous flu in 1957. "I remember waking up in the hospital ward but I didn't remember getting there. The humour did help us but the conditions were bad. There was 80 in a hut lying on boards, at arms length from one another. There were two toilets for 80 men in the camp."

On the I.R.A.'s border campaign which ran until 1962, Pat admitted to experiencing some measure of tension on any of the operations he embarked on. "But once you got there to do what had to be done, the fear left you."

He came close on one or two occasions but says: "Thank God, I never had to shoot anybody. We were told if anybody stops you, you shoot him. Bombing operations were different. Somebody might get hurt in them but you weren't out to kill anybody. But to shoot anyone in cold blood, it's a very hard thing to do."

So was he active after his release from the Curragh at the end of November, 1959? "The rules were, when a man goes to prison and when he's released, he has to report to the OC and say I'm now available for active service. And if you didn't go back, it was assumed you weren't going to be an active person."

The I.R.A. of the time were fighting a gentlemanly war, insisted Pat. "We weren't a true guerrilla force but we did what we had to do. You didn't agree with everything that happened but in war things do happen.

"I never agreed with going into a man's house and shooting him dead. I didn't agree with a man being shot in front of his family. If a man was shot in an ambush or in setting a booby trap that was different and you were entitled to defend yourself. But I don't think anybody with a conscious could agree with everything that happens in a war situation."


Monday, October 21, 2013

The Newry Curfew

 Defiant Townsfolk Opposed The Infamous Newry Curfew


OUTRAGE and defiance was the reaction of many townsfolk to the imposition of the infamous Newry curfew, 50 years ago, - the only place in the North to be so afflicted.

“Unconstitutional, unjustified and unreasonable; a direct violation of the liberty of the subject,” declared solicitor P.G. Curran, in challenging the Curfew Order. This had been imposed by Minister of Home Affairs, Colonel Topping on Aug 12, 1957, after a series of I.R.A. bomb attacks, including Victoria Locks*, which closed Newry port.

Defending Bernard Larkin of St Patrick’s Avenue, who was charged with a breach of the Order, Mr Curran, - later Coroner for South Down, - described the curfew as “drastic and penal,” pointing out that it had been signed just six hours before coming into effect. Larkin was found guilty and fined £1.
This controversial measure stipulated that everyone had to be indoors from 11 pm to five a.m., unless they had an official permit from the RUC. Those who qualified included doctors, nurses, clergy and journalists. Later, bakeries and transport companies were also exempted.

However, public houses, clubs, cinemas, halls and other entertainment or sporting venues had to close early. Also, meetings of Newry Urban Council and various organisations had to be curtailed, so that members and officials could reach their homes before the curfew. This novel situation applied to the area within the urban boundary, as well as the townlands of Derrybeg, Ballinacraig, Ballinlare, Carnegat, Corrinshegoe, Lisdrumliska and Carneyhaugh.

As the curfew time approached, on that first night, a large crowd gathered around the “Big Clock” at Margaret Square in the town centre. This had been the traditional scene of political, civil rights and trade union rallies, as well as the climax of the “Welcome Home” reception for the victorious Down GAA squad in 1960.

Recently, Newry trader and community leader, Bertie Flynn recalled the “great craic” at the protest parties, which were held at that venue during the notorious curfew, with singsongs and bottles of beer passed around.

And former vice-chairman of Newry and Mourne district council, Jackie Patterson, who was 12-year-old at the time, described how the “B” Specials, in riot-gear, baton-charged the protesters. However, protesters like Gussie Begley, Dickie Rodgers, Hillard Turley, Jimmy and Harry Morgan, the McCann, Kearns and Sarsfield brothers, Shamie Crawley, Barney Larkin and Robbie Curran were able to evade their pursuers, by using the warren of little entries between Water Street and North Street.

Community activist and cobbler, Joe Campbell from Castle Street, now residing at Dromalane, explained that, having been in lodgings on the Crumlin Road in Belfast at the time, he had been unable to play an active role in the anti-curfew campaign. However, “wee Joe” had taken a keen interest in events at the frontier town.

Covering the situation as a photo-journalist, I can vividly recall the feeling of real fear, fleeing along with the crowd past the Catholic Workingmen’s Club. I could hear the heavy thud of boots from the pursuing, baton-wielding “Specials,” a few yards behind. Nipping down O’Hagan Street I escaped, as the chase continued up Mill Street.

However, the curfew led to a bitter clash between nationalist and unionist leaders in the frontier town. Chairman of Newry Urban Council Max Keogh, editor of the `Frontier Sentinel` and later M.P. for South Down, issued a statement, appealing for the Order to be lifted. He asked the Minister “not to be influenced by a small, insanely-bigoted clique, which exults in any measure, repressive to their opponents in religion or politics.”

And he stated: “This is a most drastic step for the Government to take. To curtail the liberty of the subject in any country is a most serious matter. I do not think that the terrorist attacks in Newry justified such action. The vast majority of people in our town, of all shades of religious and political opinion, would support the call for the curfew to be lifted.”

But Unionist Senator Joseph Fisher, on behalf of the Newry Unionist Association, angrily rejected the council chairman’s claim, accusing him of “completely misinterpreting the present situation in Newry, and approaching it from a purely political point of view.

“Mr Keogh speaks about the adverse publicity, which the Curfew Order is alleged to have brought to the town. But he ignores entirely the long list of 19 I.R.A. outrages, listed by the Minister. It is those, and not the Minister’s action, which have given Newry the very worst kind of publicity.”

Senator Fisher added: “The people of our political and religious opinion feel no grievance with regard to the curfew. But we feel very strongly about the continuous, outrageous destruction of the town’s public services and buildings are having on the town’s prosperity.

“What Newry needs is a curfew on all those religious and political prejudices, which Mr Keogh has displayed. And also the cultivation of a spirit of tolerance, by which people may develop an attitude of true co-operation. I call on him to use every influence to ensure that all sections of the community co-operate with the authorities in preserving the peace.”

The County Grand Master of the Black Preceptory, H.H. Cushnie declared: “If any place on earth deserves a curfew, it is Newry. Right through from 1919, it has been a blot on our country. Loyalists would not like to see the curfew lifted. Let those responsible stew in their curfew juice. Every loyalist will happily put up with any inconvenience that the curfew may bring. Let it stay until our enemies learn to conduct themselves.”

But the MP for South Down, Joe Connellan criticised “comments from a particularly bigoted section of the Unionist community, both inside and outside the town. They have called for a continuation of this measure as a punitive operation, aimed at one particular section of the people.

“This curfew is only one of the many grievances affecting the town of Newry. For it has the unenviable distinction of having the highest percentage of unemployment in these islands. On top of that, it has suffered most from IRA atrocities.”
Meanwhile, the Newry Branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union called on the Minister to “have this ridiculous state of affairs terminated without delay. All fair-minded people must realise that this action is calculated to strike at a particular section of the community.”

All street-lighting throughout the town had been switched off. So there was a tremendous sense of excitement and anticipation at the introduction of the curfew, with hundreds of defiant young people gathered in the town-centre. Scouts had been posted at the Mall and the Town Hall, to alert the demonstrators about the approach of the police.

Adults, who had to leave the pubs and clubs early, brought bottles of beer and spirits, which were distributed. And since Boden’s bottling plant was situated about 200 yards away in Water Street, with some of the protesters being employed there, a sympathetic manager “turned a blind eye” as crates of Guinness were removed, to keep up the spirits at the “Big Clock.”

The singing, cheering and chanting increased in volume, as about a dozen police tenders arrived at the scene. A senior RUC officer remonstrated with the crowd to go home quietly; but the shouting and chanting continued unabated.

A detachment of “B “ Specials in riot gear formed a line, drew their batons and charged the protesters, who made their escape via the various alleyways. Those from the Church Street area took the Lindsay Hill route, while their companions from the Castle Street and High Street direction used the little entries between Water Street and North Street. A small group were arrested, and taken to the local police station.

Cllr. Jackie Patterson reported that some of the escapees took refuge at the Ulster Transport Depot, now Woolworths, where the maintenance crews would allow them to hide in the buses, or in the mechanics’ pit under the vehicles.

“Parents were very worried, in case some of their sons might get caught up in the trouble. But, belonging to large families, we covered for each other, saying that a missing brother was at a relative or friend’s house. And since there were no phones, it would be difficult to check.”

After the first few nights, the “B” Specials were replaced by regular RUC personnel. Obviously it was felt that the heavy-handed tactics of this notorious force were only making the situation worse. And though the protests continued, police tactics changed, using their vehicles to push the demonstrators down Hill Street. They took up positions on the various bridges, intercepting all traffic and pedestrians.

Finally, after a period of four weeks, the historic curfew was lifted, though the Minister for Home Affairs warned that the situation would be reviewed within a few weeks. During that month, there were no further bomb-attacks.

However, three months later, the most serious episode of the I.R.A. campaign occurred at Edentubber, when five men were killed as a bomb exploded prematurely in a house. Gardai found human remains scattered over a wide area by the blast. Picking my way through the rubble of the demolished cottage, I noticed a large, gritty object. It was a portion of a human jaw, with teeth attached. Four Thompson submachine guns and ammunition were also found in the wreckage.

A large crowd accompanied the remains of local man, Michael Watters; Newry-born Oliver Craven, Paul Smith from Bessbrook; along with two Wexford men, Patrick Parle and George Keegan, through Dundalk, from the morgue to St Patrick’s Cathedral, where Requiem Mass was celebrated.

Sinn Fein TD, S. McGirl stated in a graveside oration: “These men came from North and South to end the tragedy of our nation and its people. Having employed all peaceful approaches to the unnatural division of our country, they once again asserted their God-given right to freedom.”

Since that day in November, 45 years ago, various brands of republicanism have held annual commemoration ceremonies at the monument, where the ill-fated cottage once stood. The Curfew Order has never been re-instated, despite the recent “Troubles.”

(*- This was actually the work of Saor Uladh- Mick3)

A series of reminisces of the Curfew published in the Newry Journal:






Friday, October 18, 2013

Sinn Fein Election Manifesto - 1955

Sinn Féin Election Manifesto, 1955

In the Election of 1918 the Irish People, by an overwhelming majority repudiated the claims of England and her parliament to rule them and they established the Irish Republic which was proclaimed in arms in 1916. The Republican Government and State then established were later overthrown by England and the nation was partitioned into two statelets. The cardinal objective of the Irish People is the restoration of the Republic thus unlawfully subverted.

The resurgent confidence of Irish men and women in their own strength and ability to achieve the full freedom of their country and the right of its citizens to live in peace, prosperity and happiness has enabled Sinn Féin to contest all 12 seats in this Election and give an opportunity to our people in the Six Counties to vote for Ireland, separate and free.

Sinn Féin candidates are pledged to sit only in a republican Parliament for all Ireland. Apart altogether from the futility of the procedure, sending representatives to an alien legislature is in effect attempting to give it semblance of authority to legislate for and govern the people of North-East Ulster. Sinn Féin candidates seek the votes of the electorate and the support of the Irish people as the representatives of the Republican Movement now on the onward march towards achievement of the National ideal -- the enthronement of the Sovereign Irish Republic.

The winning of seats in these elections will not be regarded by Sinn Féin as an end in itself, nor will the results, whatever they be, effect in any way the determination of Republicans to forge ahead towards their objective. Neither will the number of votes recorded for the Republican candidates be looked upon as something in the nature of a plebiscite affecting in any way the right of Ireland to full and complete freedom. That right is inalienable and non-judicable and must never be put in issue through referendum of a section of population nor of the people of the country at large. Through the medium of the election machinery, Sinn Féin aims at providing an opportunity for the electorate, in all constituencies, and for the people of the country to renew their allegiance to Ireland, and by their support of the Republican candidates demonstrate to England and to the world the right of an ancient and historic nation to its complete and absolute freedom and independence.

Sinn Féin has been charged with disruptionist tactics. The aim of Sinn Féin today as always is to secure unity of thought, purpose and deed in the achievement of separate nationhood. Bigotry, persecution and sectarianism have no place in the Sinn Féin programme. Republican policy has ever been to secure civil and religious freedom for the Irish Nation and the individual citizens.

Ireland and all its resources belongs to the Irish people. Sinn Féin will, with the consent of the Irish people, organise and develop the resources of the nation for the benefit of its citizens irrespective of class or creed. The continued occupation of Ireland by England makes such development impossible, since England has succeeded in making effective in Ireland the Imperial dictum of "Divide and Conquer" thereby impoverishing not only the Irish people but the material resources of the country as well.

Sinn Féin appeals to all Irishmen to forget all past dissension's and to demonstrate by their support of the Sinn Féin candidates their opposition to English occupation and their determination to achieve National Independence.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"He Fell Beneath A Northern Sky"

' He fell beneath a northern sky'

Written by Ruan O'Donnell
( From the excellent but now defunct www.edentubber50th.com/pages/south.php
Sean South was killed on New Year's day during the most famous raid of the IRA's Border Campaign. That offensive is underestimated in terms of its impact on subsequent events in the North, says Ruan O'Donnell
On New Year's Day 1957, 14 IRA Volunteers took part in an assault on an RUC barracks in Brookeborough, Fermanagh. The attack had been anticipated and two raiders, Sean South from Limerick and Fergal O'Hanlon from Monaghan, were mortally wounded by intense defensive fire. Vincent Conlon, an Armagh native who had returned from Philadelphia to participate in the campaign, drove the group to safety despite being wounded. The damaged state of the commandeered truck, however, necessitated a difficult retreat on foot along a smugglers' track into Monaghan. South and O'Hanlon were left at Baxter's Cross where they were found dead in follow-up searches by the RUC and British Army. The attack created a sensation and quickly inspired two popular rebel songs: ‘Sean South of Garryowen' and ‘The Patriot Game'.

The Brookeborough raid is the best-known incident of the Border Campaign which began 50 years ago in December 1956. This remains one of the least documented IRA offensives, dwarfed in scale by the most recent ‘armed struggle' and the reactionary political climate of the 1970s. A cursory examination of the period reveals that the experience of the republican movement between December 1956 and February 1962 has been underestimated in terms of its inherent significance and impact on subsequent events in the North. The communiqué issued by IRA general headquarters on 12 December 1956 declared that a “decisive stage” had been reached in the “age-old struggle of the Irish people versus British aggression”. While this optimism was misplaced, it was not as bizarre as it appeared in hindsight. From 1948, the IRA had undergone one of the most extensive re-organisations in its turbulent history. Sinn Féin, after a decade of estrangement from the IRA, was adopted as its ally in a bid to counter political isolation.

The United Irishman newspaper was founded to propagate the republican line and communications were re-established with North American groups capable of supplying moral, financial and materiel support. Communists were barred from IRA membership to lessen the prospect of left-wing infiltration and General Army Order No 8 prohibited violent clashes with the security forces of the Republic. For the first time since the civil war, the IRA posed no direct subversive threat to the state. John A Costello's Fine Gael-led coalition government, dependent on Sean McBride's semi-constitutional Clann na Poblachta party, was disinclined to suppress the resurgent militants.Under the direction of Tony Magan, Thomas MacCurtain and Paddy McLogan, a tightly-disciplined ‘new' IRA was recruited and trained.

The more mature ‘40s men' and others were pressed into supporting roles and one veteran Cork republican was turned away on the grounds that the IRA “did not want gunmen”. Instead the IRA secured the services of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Sean Garland, Seamus Costello, Kevin Mallon and JB O'Hagan, men who resurfaced in prominent positions in the 1970s. Sean Cronin, future chief of staff, revolutionised IRA training techniques in 1955-56 using skills learned while an Irish army officer in the 1940s. Weaponry was stolen from British military bases in the North, most notably from Gough Barracks, Armagh, in June 1954. An unsuccessful raid on Omagh Barracks in October 1954 created high-profile political prisoners whose defiant conduct when on trial received international press. One of them, Phil Clarke, was elected MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, a precedent followed by Bobby Sands in the same constituency in 1981. Clarke and fellow IRA prisoner Tom Mitchell, MP for Mid-Ulster, helped garner 152,310 votes for Sinn Féin in May 1955. This suggested widespread sympathy for the republican position. More than ever before, Sinn Féin grasped the utility of tactical interventions in Westminster elections. Hopes were entertained that Ireland's admission to the UN in 1955 would provide a platform where the injustice of partition could be addressed.

The IRA, therefore, had reason to believe it could place the issue of partition on the international agenda. The Border Campaign was no romantic whim.Impatience within the Dublin Unit of the IRA led to a damaging split in the summer of 1956. Joe Christle's faction broke away and formed an alliance with Liam Kelly's Saor Uladh group in mid-Ulster. Kelly, a Clann na Poblachta appointee to the Seanad, had masterminded attacks on customs posts and RUC barracks from late-1955. Several key men were lost to the IRA forcing its ruling army council to postpone Operation Harvest until December 1956. ‘Organisers' were sent into the North to liaise with local units which often lacked equipment and personnel. Problems with the transport and munitions earmarked for ‘active service' volunteers caused further delays and reduced the scope of planned actions. Nevertheless, in the early hours of 12 December, a spate of attacks resulted in the destruction of a BBC transmitter in Derry, Magherafelt courthouse and a Territorial Army facility in Enniskillen. The element of surprise was lost in Armagh city where a gun battle took place and another IRA party was ambushed en route to destroy the radar station at Torr Head, north Antrim. Raiders heading for military installations in Omagh, Tyrone and Bishopscourt, Down, were obliged to turn back. The authorities in Dublin, Belfast and London were initially surprised by the scale of the offensive which eventually caused several million pounds worth of damage.

The violence attracted much media attention but the dynamism necessary to form durable bridgeheads within the North did not materialise. This was partly owing to the restrictions placed on IRA rules of engagement. B-Specials, perceived as unionist paramilitary auxiliaries, were off-limits and IRA units were required to seek the surrender of RUC men before opening fire or detonating mines. This was consistent with the plan to use sabotage to destabilise Stormont without triggering Loyalist excesses. A ‘clean' campaign, it was hoped, would galvanise national support and pressurise the government into raising partition in New York. This did not occur. The lack of opportunity severely curtailed the potential for successful IRA operations and a chronic shortage of heavy weapons complicated the task of directly confronting the British Army in Ireland. Nationalist communities in the North realised that the long-promised “decisive” campaign still lay in the future. Blasting transformers, power lines and customs huts would not suffice, although attacks on economic targets in Newry were sufficient to elicit a declaration of martial law.

IRA assaults on Derrylin, Lisnaskea, Roslea and Brookeborough barracks met with mixed results and three controversial fatalities. IRA men South and O'Hanlon were killed in Brookeborough on 1 January 1957 and the impressive size of their funerals and votes of sympathy from several county councils unnerved the government. When the death of RUC man John Scally at Derrylin was followed by that of Constable Cecil Gregg near Forkhill, Armagh, on 4 July 1957, the Dáil moved to stifle the campaign with the blunt tool of internment. The majority of the IRA command structure and Sinn Féin leadership was soon behind the wire in the Curragh where internal tensions festered.McBride's dissatisfaction with Coalition had hastened the return of Eamon de Valera as a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach on 20 March 1957. Whereas Costello could not have acted decisively against republicans without losing power, de Valera's recourse to emergency legislation mirrored the alacrity of Stormont. McBride, ironically, advised on an anti-internment test case taken to the European Commission of Human Rights in 1957.

By the time the last internees had been released in March 1959, the Irish government was being subjected to unprecedented scrutiny in Europe. This gained significance in the 1970s when the Dáil was obliged to discount internment as a possible weapon against the Provisional IRA. Several major IRA attacks and a host of minor incidents did nothing to improve the negotiating position of Sinn Féin which steadily lost voter support. The increased use of the Special Criminal Court in late 1961 and public apathy in a time of deep economic crisis, hastened the IRA cessation of 26 February 1962. Chief of Staff Ruairí Ó Brádaigh drafted the requisite “dump arms” order which pledged another campaign when circumstances permitted. The experience of the IRA during the Border Campaign enabled Cathal Goulding and others to shift the political core of the movement firmly to the left. In the mid-1960s the IRA was run down and Sinn Féin built up. Ultimately, when the Northern crisis re-erupted in 1969-70, the legacy of the previous campaign was studied in a manner that all but guaranteed a far more intense form of “armed struggle”. Substantial commemorations of the Brookeborough Raid are being held in Limerick, Fermanagh and Monaghan in coming weeks.

Ruan O'Donnell is a professor of History at the University of Limerick

Vol Leo Steenson

An Op Harvest volunteer displaying a machine gun captured in a raid
  Taken from the 1967 edition of "The Easter Lily" by Sean O'Callaghan.*   
    Volunteers in photos - even now iconic ones- usually go uncredited but in this case we know that it is in fact Leo Steenson.
     Leo was born and raised in Lower Falls, Belfast and worked as a maintenance fitter. Upon joining the Belfast Brigade in the early 50's he was instructed to apply for work with the British Civil Service's War Office. He did so, and for a while he and some other volunteers ran a highly successful spy ring within the Office, collecting information and passing it on to the IRA. In time however it was exposed -with much damage to the Brigade, and a good bit of scandal on the British side- and Leo was forced to go on the run. Friends (including a well-known boxer) helped smuggle him over the border to Dundalk, in the relative safety of the Free State, and from there he took refuge with relatives in the seaside village of Annagassan.      
     He settled down in Dublin, where he married Cuman na mBan volunteer Marion Murphy, and became a valued member of the republican scene there. (He appears in the IRA guard at Brendan Behan's Behan's funeral in 64.)
    In 1966, during the 50th anniversary of 1916, he was in the color party of the Movement's well attended and triumphant Easter parade. Jealous Gardai baton charged them several times, but were beaten off. In retaliation he and a number of other comrades were dragged out in a dawn swoop and given various sentences- Leo receiving 6 months in jail. Reports describe their complaints of incessant Gardai harassment which rivaled anything he would have experienced in Belfast. 
     Committed to the social aspect of Republicanism, he later sided with the Officials and remained a "significant but low key"** member of the Dublin Brigade in the following decades. Among his many other tasks, he was called on more than once to help volunteers on the run from the North as he once had been. 

  *- Different from the latter day informer of the same name! Also authored "To Hell or Barbados."

**- "The Lost Revolution", Hanley and Millar. Among those he assisted was Joe McCann, with whom he transferred weapons. He was present when his O/c Jim Flynn was shot and only escaped death himself when the assailant's gun jammed

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tom Mitchell - Volunteer and MP

 Tom Mitchell- Volunteer and MP


(As an aside, does anyone know what's become of him? He seems to have disappeared off the radar after the 60's.)
 Just a heads up that we've well passed the 1000 viewers mark!

 Go raibh mile maith agat to all who have been reading and following and everyone who's expressed their interest and encouragement.

If anyone has any comments, questions or info and contributions, my e-mail is miceal3@hotmail.com

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Robert Emmet Mural Unveiling (1953)

 Unveiling of the Robert Emmett Mural in Ardoyne, 1953:
Rushlight Magazine editor Joe Graham recalls the celebrations around the unveiling:

"My Father Nails His Colours To The Mast

The year 1953 was the 150th anniversary of the Robert Emmet United Irishmen’s Rebellion of 1803 and down the Falls and in Carrick Hill the Irish National Flag, the Tricolour, was being displayed from peoples houses. Over in Ardoyne on a Crumlin Street gable wall a mural was painted to remember Robert Emmet. I recall standing there, I would have been about nine years of age, watching the man paint the mural, no doubt one of the little boys who lived in the street, standing near me was Martin Meehan. My uncle Hughie Mullan’s band, the Sean Healey Memorial Pipe Band, in which he was Drum Major, paraded round the buntings bedecked streets. The Tricolour flew proudly from my grand mother’s house in Jamaica Street in remembrance of the bold Robert Emmet, whose name my grand mother never uttered without adding, ‘The darlin’ Of Erin’.

In Ballymurphy up to this point only Union Jacks had been flown by Loyalists around  periods like the 12th of July, and often enough a man called Billy Savage was arrested and imprisoned for tearing down the Union Jack displayed there at Ballymurphy Road by Arch Loyalist William Mooney, no Tricolour had ever flown in the estate up to this time. However, a milestone was about to be turned, and that occurred when my father displayed the Tricolour on a long flag pole from an upstairs window. During the night hours it was illuminated by two 150 watt electric bulbs affixed to the pole, my father explaining, ‘a flag should never fly in darkness’. Well, while my father, was marking his colours, my mother , Kitty, must have been thinking ‘since we can’t have a pipe band parading round the streets of Ballymurphy we will have the next best thing’. On the day of the Emmet celebrations she had the radiogram lifted out into the garden and all day long rebel records were played, Mr. Mooney, the Orangeman, woke to the strains of “Father Murphy From Boolavogue”, had his breakfast with, “Kevin Barry”, dinner with “Sean Tracey” and supper with “Bold Robert Emmet The Darlin’ Of Erin”. A sub theme for the whole event could just as well have been “Remember Billy Savage.” Needless to say there was a visit to our house by the R.U.C. to protest about the “offensive flying of the Tricolour”, they left rather sheepishly when our Protestant neighbours asked them , “Who is offended, we are not, did you drive all the way up from Springfield Road Barracks to be offended” ?"

GRMA to ArdoyneRepublican for the photos, and Joe Graham for the recollections.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Vol. Patrick McManus

 Article on Patrick McManus, "born guerrilla leader" whose life was cut short, like so many others, in a premature explosion (1958).