Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Bonfires on the Border- Armistice Day,1956
In the early hours of Armistice Day 1956 Saor Uladh and the Christle Group, in a joint operation, destroyed 12 targets, including 6 customs huts along a 150 mile stretch, the length of nearly the entire border. Taking part in the raid were, among others, Liam Kelly and Pat Murphy from Saor Uladh, and Joe Christle himself.
The customs posts destroyed were "Mullan and Clontivern Fermanagh; Moybridge, Aghnacloy, Tyrone; and Middletown, Carnagh and Tullyodonnell in Armagh." Of these, 5 were destroyed with explosives and a sixth burnt down. One of the attacks was even witnessed by some IRA volunteers (including Charlie Murphy) who were casing targets of their own when the explosives under a nearby hut went off.
The following minutes from House of Commons provides some insight into the British view of events:
"Christopher Armstrong (representing County Armagh), asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the blowing up and burning of Customs stations on the Irish border on Remembrance Day.
Mr Henry Brooke: Customs land boundary posts were destroyed as a result of explosion and fire. There was no loss of life or injury. Arrangements have been made for the Customs to operate from temporary accommodation, and investigations by the Royal Ulster Constabulary are continuing into these outrages.
Christopher Armstrong (Co Armagh):
As it seems unlikely that it will be possible to take effective steps to stop the periodic explosions on the Irish border, can my right hon. Friend say whether it is proposed to rebuild these Customs huts in the cheapest possible material, as they have been built before, and, if so, whether arrangements will be made for important papers to be removed at night?
I would not like to make any forecast about the steps that we shall take when we have done all we can to clear up what happened on these occasions. I fully appreciate the importance of looking after papers, and that is always done.
Patrick Gordon Walker:
Can the right hon. Gentleman say why these stations were not guarded?
They were unmanned that night—
Patrick Gordon Walker:
—because it would be most helpful to smugglers if they knew that Customs officers throughout the night always sat in the same place.
Mr Alan McKibbin (from East Belfast):
Does my right hon. Friend not consider that it speaks well for the loyal people of Ulster, who are so anxious to remain in friendship with their neighbours in Eire, that throughout these raids they have remained so restrained? Does not he also consider that, inasmuch as Her Majesty's Government are going to take any action, it should not be restricted to representations?
Mr Henry Brooke:
The implication of the latter part of that supplementary question goes far beyond my responsibilities. I am anxious for restraint in all directions.
In the end its most serious implication was for the IRA as it put pressure on them to commence their own campaign. Columns from around the country had been assembled in Co Meath that very weekend. Several unforeseen developments had urged them to commence Operation Harvest prematurely (they had been preparing intensively for several months) and there was heated debate between those who favored starting November 12 and those who favored waiting for a more opportune time. News of the attacks reached them whilst this was going on and Tony Magan feared that should any more follow the RUC would seal up the border. The matter was decided and the next morning the columns filtered across the border and lay in wait to start their campaign.
Customs Posts had been a popular target in the past. Brendan Behan's first operation was burning down Customs in honor of the investiture in 1937. "We burned them down on both sides with great liberality" he recalled. As a song by Brian O'Higgins on a customs attack in the 20's said so well:
"Here´s to the lads that played the game,
Here´s to the minds that planned it,
Here´s to the hands that lit the flame,
Here´s to the winds that fanned it:
May it blaze again from shore to shore
Consuming our land´s disorder:
May it leap and roar from shore to shore
Till it burns away the Border!"
-The IRA, Tim Pat Coogan
-The Secret Army, J Bowyer Bell
-The Lost Revolution, Hanley and Millar
-"A Rebel Spirit," Seamus Linehan
-Fermanagh Record 1950-59
-"Brendan Behan Sings Irish Rebel Songs"