Vol. Seamus O Lionochain
Seamus O Lionochain (Linehan) was a member of the Cork Volunteer Pipe Band and later the Cork Brigade. He was arrested with two others in an attempted attack on the radar station at Torr Head and spent 7 years in Crumlin Road Jail.
Seamus is currently working on memoirs, "A Rebel Spirit," which is being put up on Facebook. You can read them here:
If you're on facebook, share the page with your friends, its a must read for anyone interested in Irish history, and a rare (well detailed) window into what it was like for volunteers of the era.
The following selection posted here is a small portion of what Seamus has written covering his joining, training, and deployment to the north - There's much more at the link above relating his experiences growing up in Cork in the late 30's and 40's, the capture at Torr Head, and years as a POW in Crumlin Road Jail, with more on the way.
Joining the IRA
I was only 14 years old when I first joined The Republican Movement in 1950. My brother Mick was a member of The Cork Volunteers Pipe Band, he was a piper and he had been playing the pipes for a number of years. A school friend of mine was also a member and he encouraged me to join the band. Eventually when I did join, I decided to learn how to play the pipes and within six months I was playing out with the band.
From then on I really enjoyed my association with the band, we traveled the length and breath of County Cork playing at feiseanna, matches, meetings, dances and funerals, and we often played further afield in Kerry, Limerick, Clare and Waterford. The band was well known as being a unit of the IRA and was founded by the late murdered Lord Mayor Tomas Mac Curtain, in 1913, and was always available to attend at Republican functions throughout the country and even outside the country too in places like Dublin. We had some great times and made some great friends at all the different locations and we spent many happy days and nights in Ballinhassig Ballinaspittle Bandon Carrigtwohill Cobh and we have special names to tie into these places. In early 1952 the Republican Movement began to reorganize throughout the length and breath of Ireland and in Munster the band were involved in playing at all public meetings organized in Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford. It was very inspiring to listen to the speeches at these meetings usually delivered by Billy Earley, Jim O Regan, Tomas Mc Curtain, Mick Mc Carthy and Derek Mc Kenna. All of those men were very dedicated republicans and devoted all their time and energy into promoting and organizing the IRA not alone in Cork but throughout the country. Tomás was the son of the late Lord Mayor who had been assassinated by Crown Forces in 1920 and his sincerity, dedication and bravery puts him in the same category as all the brave leaders who went before him.
In late 1953 the band decided to organize a draw to raise funds and it was a big undertaken. The three main prizes were two weeks holidays in various locations around Ireland and there were many other prizes as well. As well as selling books of tickets we also put very colorful draw cards into various shops and pubs around the city and we also distributed them to fellow republican branches around the country.
A few weeks before the draw was to take place, we decided to collect all the cards from the outlets in the south side of the city. I was with Jack Mulcahy and Mick Murphy and as we started to collect in Barrack Street we discovered that someone had been there before us and using a false ID, had collected all our cards and money. Lucky for us, the barman in The Brown Derby was able to give us his name and address so we decided to pay him a visit. At this stage both Jack and Mick were after a few drinks and were a bit merry. When we arrived at the address in the North side our friend answered the door and he was a bit merry too. After a short discussion he admitted that he had stolen the money but he said that he had spent it all. When it was put to him that he would have to repay it in full he told us to go and fluff ourselves. In the twinkle of an eye and faster than John Wayne, Jack pulled a small gun from his pocket and pressed it under your man’s chin and warned him that if he did not repay the money in full he would blow his head off. The poor man got such a shock that he collapsed on the ground screaming and begging for mercy. When he eventually promised that he would repay every last penny of it by installments Jack relented and put the gun back in his pocket and we left him there shaking in terror. As a matter of fact that man visited The Thomas Ash Hall [the Ash] every Sunday morning for nearly two years until all of the money was repaid.
That night, having said good-bye to Mick, who lived in the north side, Jack and I walked back to town and on the way back he showed me the gun and how to operate it. It was the first time that I ever saw a real gun and having it in my hand was a great feeling. Before I left Jack that night he asked me if I had ever thought of joining the I.R.A. and I told him that I certainly had considered it but that I had one major problem and that was that my mother was very strict on time and I had to be in home every night by half past eleven. He thought that was hilarious but said that maybe we could overcome it. I agreed to meet him the following Tuesday night in the band room and that he would bring me into the Army room to discuss it with the Brigade Staff.
On Tuesday night, in April1954 together with Jack, I met with the Brigade Staff, which consisted of Tomas Mac Curtain, Billy Early, Mick Mac Carthy, Derrick Mac Kenna and Jim O Regan. When I told them of my dilemma they said that it could be arranged for me to be at home before curfew after training classes but it would be necessary to attend at weekend camps from time to time. I told them that I could overcome that by using the Band as a cover. After some discussion and a question and answer session I decided to join and I took the declaration of allegiance to the Republic under the guidance of Tomás Mac Curtáin. Then they asked me if I would be prepared to take part in operations against Crown Forces in the Six Counties in the near future and I agreed. It was arranged that I would commence training on the following Tuesday night and I was instructed to be at Togher cross at seven o clock and I would be brought to the training area. As I left the hall that night I felt proud and elated at the idea of following in the footsteps of my father, another Jimmy Linehan who had been one age to myself when he first joined the IRA in 1917. Strange as it may seem, not every Tom, Dick or Harry was accepted into the IRA in the fifties. A thorough check was carried out into your background and you had to be good living, well respected and of impeccable character. Unlike later years, there were no bank or post office robberies, no punishment beatings, and no military action whatsoever in the 26 Counties and at that time we never heard of the word sectarianism. The officers in charge kept themselves apart from the rank and file and commanded respect. If any volunteer got involved in a row in any public place such as a dance hall or a pub or was known to be boasting of his involvement with the IRA, he was instantly dismissed. The only aim of the IRA was to drive the British Army out of the 6 Counties and after that the Irish people would deserve whatever government they would elect in a free 32 County Ireland.
The following Tuesday night I was waiting at Togher cross from seven o clock to eight o clock and no one contacted me At eight o clock I decided to return to the city and when I got on the bus I saw a friend of mine, a veteran Republican, Dan Bolger sitting on the back seat I sat beside him and after some small talk he asked me what I was doing out at the end of Togher. When I told him what had happened he cursed and said that he had being escorting men to the training area for more than an hour but no one had mentioned my name to him. The following week I met with Liam Mulcahy at The Lough Church and we took the bus out to Togher When we got off the bus we walked about a mile and a half to the training area and my training began. During the next number of weeks we trained there and in other places and our training consisted of scaling walls while armed, overcoming sentries, moving silently through woods attacking outposts, defending positions and making our way through enemy positions without been seen or heard. During that period we also attended a few weekend camps and for each camp I told my mother that I was going away with the band but I do not think she believed me. Some of the lads often told me that they had been in the IRA for a long time before they ever saw a gun but on that first night in Togher I was handed a revolver and told that at every subsequent parade we would get used to carrying a weapon so that when the time came to go North we would be experienced in carrying all types of weapons. As a matter of fact within a short period of time we were informed that those of us who were involved it the Togher group would see action in the North before the year was out and it transpired that we were in fact training for the Omagh raid. As well as outdoor training we were given intensive indoor training in all the different weapons, revolvers, rifles, Thompson submachine guns, and the Bren machine gun. We learned how to strip, clean and reassemble the weapons until we were competent enough to do it in the dark and then we were trained in firing each weapon but we were not as competent as John Wayne. After that we were given a crash course on explosives, which entailed the making of bombs and the manufacture of home made explosives. We also did a course on map reading and a practical course on using a compass. On top of all that we were encouraged to read specific books on guerilla warfare and in particular all books that covered the war between the Jews and the Brits in Palestine. War films were very popular at that time and we were instructed to go and see any films that dealt with the resistance fighters during the Second World War. From April until the Omagh raid in October 1954 all of our spare time was taken up in preparing for the big day and we had little time for anything else, however, because of our age, another lad and myself were told that we were too young for this operation. The tale of that raid is comprehensively covered in J. Bowyer Bells book, The Secret Army, and although it was a military failure, the propaganda and publicity attached to it brought recruits flocking in to all sections of the republican movement.
Over the next two years I got to know a lot of them and made some great friends not alone in the Cork unit but in other units that we met up with at the various camps. Getting to those camps was sometimes an adventure in itself like one we attended in the Dublin Mountains. Three of us traveled by train to Dublin and our instructions were to go into the Phoenix Park and approach a man standing near a monument who would be reading a newspaper. As we entered the Park the heavens were opening and when we found our man, the paper he was supposed to be reading was practically shredded from the rain. We went up to him and using our code said happy New Year and with a scowl he replied I fluffing hope so for Ireland. He brought us then to where there was a car waiting to take us to the camp and before he went back to his position he asked the driver if he had a dry newspaper as the one he had was fluffed. In the Cork area I was kept busy in assisting with the training of the new recruits and at least two nights a week were spent in traveling to units in East and West Cork with Billy Early, inducting new members and arranging specific training courses. While the training intensified we were also kept busy on another front, that of taking over and reorganising Sinn Fein. As there was only one active Cumann in the city it was easy to infiltrate and when it came to the annual general meeting the new members were in the majority and the old guard were voted out of existence. We then set about organising new branches around the city and three of us were designated to start a Cumann in the Barrack Street area. We rented the use of a room in a house owned by a veteran of 1916 and began a leaflet drop around the Lough parish and one of the first to respond and join up was Daithi O’Connell. Our membership gradually increased until we had about twelve and then we set about flooding the south side with Sinn Féin propaganda, putting up posters, selling the United Irishman paper and doing leaflet drops around the area. After about six months, when we had a membership of fifteen, I withdrew from the scene because I was never really interested in the political side of the Movement and I concentrated all my time and energy to the IRA.
Preparing for Active Service
Early in December of 1956 while sweeping on the South Mall I was contacted by Derek Mc Kenna who told me that there would be a very important parade that night and we were to assemble at the top of the Mardyke at seven o clock. He told me that on the way home I should call to Paddy Murphy and collect a parcel and bring it with me to the parade. When I asked him if there was something big going down he smiled and said, “This could be it”. On the way home I called to Paddy Murphy and he gave me a medium sized parcel, I asked him what it contained and he just smiled and said be very careful with it. I tied it on to the carrier of my bike and cycled home. I left the bike outside the door and brought the parcel into the house, I left it on the bottom step of the stairs and went into the dining room. My mother must have been watching me arrive because straight away she went out into the hall, spotted the parcel and roared “get that bomb out of this house - she was like a demon- I tried to tell her it was not a bomb but she came towards me and when I saw the look on her face I took off like lightning, parcel under my arm, hopped on my rothar and headed off for the Mardyke. Even at that time she was quite capable of giving me a clatter so I wasn’t taking any chances.
I hid my bike in a garden in the Western Road and walked the rest of the way to the top of the Mardyke. When I got there some of the lads had already arrived and of course all the talk was speculation as to whether we would be going north that night. I had serious doubts about it but I kept my council to myself, common sense was telling me that if we were going north we would have been told to make our excuses at home and to others as to the reason why we were going away for a while, we would certainly not be telling anyone that we were going North. When the top brass arrived, myself and another section leader were called to one side and told that the night’s exercise would be a dummy run to see how the lads would bear up. When we rejoined the others we told them that we would be driven to Crossbarry and from there we would make our way across country to a spot where two lorries were waiting and we would be given further instructions there. The reaction from the lads was elation, and the comments I got was thank God, at last, buiochas le Dia and of course some expletives as well. We were driven to Crossbarry at intervals of about ten minutes in three vans and two cars and when we all assembled together again we were told that this was it, three months of intensive training had gone well and we were now ready to go into action. We were also told that other units from around the country were also heading North that night and we would meet up with some of them at a camp just south of the border and we would train with them before crossing the border and going into active service within a week to ten days. We then started off on a route march around West Cork, crossing fields, bogs, ditches, woods and streams and finished up knackered on the outskirts of Cork city, where the vans and cars were waiting to bring us back to the mardyke. Tomás Mac Curtáin, on behalf of the Brigade Staff then congratulated us on our turn out and on our willingness to go North on such short notice and explained that when the call would come we would be given ample time to put our affairs in order.
On the following Tuesday night, at our regular training session we were told that preparations were well advanced for an early start to the Campaign in the Six counties and we were advised to get our kit ready. Each of us was told to get a first aid kit, a heavy pair of boots, a battle dress [an old British Army uniform bought in the Coal Quay], clothes etc. and put them all into a large kit bag and on the following Monday night those of us living on the south side were to bring them to Rocksavage Lane off Anglesea Street and place them in the boot of a car parked in a gateway [we were given the number of the car]. Those living on the North side were instructed to bring their kits to a car in a Lane behind the North Cathedral. The next few days were hectic, and the first task I set about was getting the kit assembled. I first called into Gerald Carroll at his chemist shop in Barrack Street and asked him could he put a first aid kit together for me and when he inquired as to its use I told him it was for camping. He told me to call back in two days time and it would be ready, I next called to a pawnshop at the foot of Barrack Street and bought a pair of strong boots. The following day I went into the Coal Quay and bought the battle dress and I stored them in the band room with the boots. The next item I had to buy was a dagger and that was a bit tricky, I called into Murray’s fishing tackle shop in Patrick Street and after purchasing a few hooks and weights I picked out a knife and the guy serving me started laughing and asked me if I was going shark fishing. He tried to sell me every knife in the shop except the one I wanted but I eventually persuaded him that I needed the big knife to fillet the fish on the riverbank before bringing them home. After that I had to purchase some other items including some packets of pepper [to be used to throw dogs off the scent if we were being hunted] and a kit bag.
Two days later I called in again to Gerald Carroll for the first aid kit and when he saw me, he brought me into the back room and showed me the kit he had assembled. It was more like a mobile operating theatre than a first aid kit and I started to laugh, he had two scalpels, tweezers, a sewing kit for stitches, six injection units to ease pain, bandages, morphine and an assortment of other medicines and tablets and God only knows what else so I said to him that we were not going to Korea at all and I doubted if I had enough money to pay for it all. When he answered me he was nearly crying and he said, look, first of all there is no charge and secondly, I think I know where you are going and I only wish to God that I could be with you there too, this is just a small contribution to the struggle and if you need anything else do not hesitate to come back to me and even if I have not got it I will get it for you and another thing, if you are ever in a spot and need help just give me a ring and I will come to your assistance. [Pity there was not a phone kiosk at Torr Head]. I thanked him and again made my way to the band room and stored all my gear in the kit bag.
Gerald was an elected Fianna Fail councilor on Cork Corporation and at the same time he was a staunch Republican, and as a matter of fact he would later be a founder member of Aontacht Eireann in Cork. I had known him for years because our family had a Book in his parent’s grocery shop in Barrack Street. His only failing was a weakness for drink and it eventually caught up with him and he died a young man. As a matter of fact I played the pipes at his funeral and Kevin Davis, who had charge of his burial told me that he had put a bottle of stout, a box of matches and a packet of cigarettes into his coffin to help him along the way.
The following Monday night I made my way to Rocksavage Lane and placed my kit in the boot of the car and as a matter of fact the car belonged to Granda Paddy and little did I realise that night that some years later he would sell me his daughter, Kay, and she did not come cheap either, she cost me the best part of a weeks pocket money. After leaving the kit I went back to the Hall and at a special parade we were told that we would be traveling North on Friday night leaving Mayfield at about 8.pm but that we should be at the assembly point at approximately 7.pm. As luck should have it, that weekend the band were due to go to Tralee to play at a commemoration for Charlie Kerins and as there was a petrol shortage due to the Suez crisis they would not be coming back until Monday. After the parade the other section leader and myself were told that we would have to attend a Staff meeting every night until Thursday night to get every things in order and it was a very busy week for us. One thing that surprised us was that the Staff did not appear to have any information as to what the procedure would be after we arrived at a camp on the southern side of the border. They could not tell us if the Cork Brigade would operate as a Flying Column on its own or if we would be split up to operate with other groups and as a matter of fact they had not a clue as to what could happen once we departed from the camp to go North.
The Border Camp
The journey to the North in the back of that cattle lorry was horrendous, we were sitting on straw and it was smelly and damp and we were freezing with the cold. We could not smoke in case the straw caught fire and we had to remain silent whenever the lorry slowed down or stopped, and the only thing we had to eat was some chocolate and sweets. When we eventually arrived at our destination, a big rambling old farmhouse near Dunboyne in County Meath, we must have resembled the poor Jews arriving at the gas chambers as we got out of the lorry. We went into the house and we were greeted with a big cheer, there were lads there from all over the country, some of them we had met at training camps and over the next few hours we got to know the others. We were given a mug of tea and a ham sandwich and told to enjoy it, as there would not be any more until the following morning. Later on we were each given a sleeping bag and told to go across the yard to a huge barn and that the top floor had been cleared for us. When we got there we discovered that the top floor was as big as a dance hall and there were about 40 of us billeted there. We picked our spot, got into our sleeping bags straight away because it was literally freezing but we got little or no sleep that night. Most of us were talking all night, exchanging yarns, inquiring about various characters and speculating as to what lay ahead. Eventually things quieted down a bit and I was just dozing off when a few fellows started a singsong and before long everybody joined in. After some time two of the brass came over from the house and gave out like hell over the racket but there was no light in the barn and they beat a hasty retreat after a barrage of missiles were hurled in their direction. I do not know what time I eventually went to sleep but when I woke up the barn was half empty so I got up and went down to the yard
We were all standing around in little groups talking and smoking and then we were told to go around to the front of the house where we would get something to eat, you guessed it, a mug of tea and a ham sandwich. After awhile Billy Early came out of the house and got the entire Cork contingent together and said there had been a change of plans. It seems that the initial plan was to spend at least ten days in that place being briefed on the areas we would be going to and what the likely targets in the areas would be and also that the Cork group would operate as a flying column in one specific area. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, that plan would have to be changed, and I had to go in with him to meet the brass. When we went in there were about fifteen others in the room and when the meeting convened it was headed up by five members of the Army Council including, Tony Magan, Chief of Staff, Sean Cronin, Director of Operations and architect of the plan of campaign called Operation Harvest, and three other senior officers. Tony Magan opened the meeting by explaining to us that at least three years of hard work and detailed planning had gone into the preparation of Operation Harvest and nothing was left to chance. Senior Officers and Volunteers had made many trips across the Border to size up targets, map out the terrain, gather intelligence, and record the movements of the R.U.C. and the British Army, procure the necessary weapons, arrange for billets and safe houses and prepare the units around the country for active service. They were very happy and satisfied with the preparations and every detail and source of information had been checked and rechecked over and over again. It was decided that the Campaign should start on the night of the eighteenth of December but an incident had occurred a few days previously that necessitated a change of plans.
On the previous Monday night they had a very detailed meeting and briefing with key officers from around the country and had discussed in great detail the location of all the opening nights targets and the allocation of the various Flying Columns to specific areas. The O.C. of the Belfast Brigade was among those present and the following day, as he got off the train in Belfast, he was picked up by the R.U.C. and was taken away for questioning. They were not sure if he was still detained but in the absence of any communication from him they could not take a chance so they had decided to bring forward the opening night of the Campaign to the twelfth. As well as that they would have to rearrange the make up of the various Columns and change the areas to which they were being sent. It also meant that all units would have to cross the Border the following day Sunday and arrangements were already in place to facilitate a smooth crossing. A major row then broke out and most of those present felt that there should be no change in the plans. It was pointed out to the Staff that after all the hard work and careful preparations of the past few years some vital details could be omitted and the breaking up of the Flying Columns who had trained and worked so hard together would be crazy. It was suggested that two or three men should drive straight away to Belfast to either meet the OC or to inquire into his whereabouts and if they happened to meet with him they should bring him back to our camp that night. That suggestion was over ruled and Tony Magan then said that another incident had occurred that very morning which necessitated a change of plans.
A number of custom posts had been blown up by Saor Uladh, a breakaway group led by Liam Kelly, which again necessitated a change of plans. He explained that if Saor Uladh carried out any further attacks before the eighteenth the possibility was that the R.U.C. might seal off the border and it would totally up scuttle our plans. After some further discussion, sometimes heated, it was agreed that we would go ahead with the change in plans. After the meeting we went back out to the lads and informed them as to what was happening and in fairness to them they were all happy to go along with the leaders. A short time later myself and the other section leader were called in to see Sean Cronin, and he asked us to give him the names of the entire Cork contingent and we gave them as they came into our minds. He did the same with the other counties and when he had all the names recorded he sent for us again. This time he told us that he had placed them all into separate Flying Columns and he gave us the list of where the Cork lads were going. We were surprised and dismayed at the way he had split up the Cork lads by just drawing a line under the first few names and allocating them to a particular column and continuing in the same vein until the list was exhausted. We suggested to him that he should revisit the lists again and we would advise him as to the expertise of the Cork lads, who would work well together, who were the engineering experts, who were the experts for the various weapons and so on, but he overruled us and the rest of our lads were as disgusted as ourselves when we explained the situation to them. We spent the rest of that day just hanging around, meeting the rest of the various columns and in the evening we gathered together in the barn swapping yarns and telling tall stories, and of course one fellow from Cork was telling blue jokes, until this lad suggested that before bedding down we should say the Rosary and offer it up for the success of our mission and for our safe keeping, which we did. The same fellow was a great man for the Gaeilge and spoke it a lot and because he had foxy hair, in later years it has been suggested that in fact it was Sean Sabhat, and quite recently it was confirmed that it was indeed Seán who had been in our company that night.
At about 10 30 am the following morning the exodus to the North began. Our kit bags had arrived so we changed into our battle dress, covered by an overcoat and in three cars our group headed off. The journey to the border was uneventful and eventually we drove into an isolated farmyard. There was a huge shed in the yard and as we drove in the doors swung open and when we were inside, the doors were closed behind us. In the shed we transferred into three northern registered cars with three northern drivers already at the wheels. We met Daithi O Connell there and he explained to us that if we were stopped by any mobile custom patrols, only the driver would speak with them, and we were suppose to be travelling to some big inter-county G.A.A. match and the driver would know all about it. The exit doors on the other side of the shed then opened and just as we were about to take off, Daithi thumped the bonnet and, in a flat Cork accent said, “give it tiv um lads”. Once we drove out of the shed we were actually in the Six Counties and apart from one encounter with a mobile custom patrol, the remainder of the journey to north Antrim was uneventful. When we arrived at our destination it was pitch dark and as we got out of the cars near the foot of a mountain we were told to follow the path up the mountain for about a mile until we came to a shepherds cabin and we could sleep there that night but we would have to leave early in the morning so that we would be on the summit before dawn. The heavens opened as we made our way up the mountain and by the time we reached the cabin we were drenched to the skin. The cabin consisted of one room and the only cooking device there was a small primus stove, a double bed in the centre and on a small table was a bag of tea, two sliced loaves, a bottle of milk and four pannies [tin mugs]. There were ten of us there and it took about two hours before we all had a mug of tea, we decided to keep the bread for the mountain the following day, and then we tried to get some sleep. Four fellows went into the bed and the rest of us just curled up on the floor but got little sleep as we had no sleeping bags, we were drenched to the skin and there was a cold mountainy wind coming in under the door. [I can still feel the cold as I write this].
The next morning we headed off up the mountain at five a.m. and the weather was appalling with sleet and rain blowing into our faces and all we were wearing was our battle dress, our overcoats were too wet and heavy since the previous day. When we reached the summit our column commander put us to work digging out a foxhole into the side of the mountain, which would be our base for some time to come. The only problem was that the mountain was all turf and as we were digging out the sods with our knifes, the hole kept filling up with water but he insisted that we keep on digging and we were at it up to about 4.30.pm.until it was too dark so we had to stop. He was a very lucky man that he was not buried there, because in between, when it was decided that we should stop for a mug of tea, the man in charge of the grub told us that the oil from the primus had spilled on to the bread and now we had no bread and no oil for the primus. At six o clock, by prior arrangement, a local volunteer came up to guide us back to the cabin and when we got there we were a sight for sore eyes, but glad to be in out of the cold and the sleet. When the local saw our plight he said he would get us oil and sandwiches and he headed off at once and in fairness to him he came back within an hour with the oil and sandwiches and we felt like royalty with so much food around us. Later on another volunteer called in and our O.C. asked him about the chances of getting some timber for our foxhole and he said he would make some inquiries and call back again later. He came back at about 11 and said he needed two volunteers to go with him so D.C. and myself were chosen to go with him. We had to walk at least two miles around the side of the mountain until we came to a farm yard and found that some building work was going on there and there was a stack of timber in the yard. We took three lengths each of three by two and as we were leaving the yard a dog started to bark so the local started to run and we passed him out, and when he caught up with us I asked him if we had permission to take the timber and he said no, we were stealing it. It was about two o’ clock when we got back to the cabin and all the rest were asleep except the other local who was on guard duty.
The following morning we went back up the mountain again at 5.am and again we spent the day digging and cutting out sods of turf with our knives but to no avail, the ground was too soft and the hole just kept filling up with water. We stopped digging when it got dark and waited for our guide to arrive but he failed to come. At seven o clock we decided to go down ourselves but we failed to find the cabin so we went back up part of the mountain again and came down a different way but with the wind, the rain and the darkness we were well and truly lost. We eventually came to the road at the foot of the mountain and we walked along the inside of the ditch until we came to a disused house, we pushed open the door and the place was full of chicken and I do not know whether it was the chicken or ourselves got the bigger fright. Our leader decided that he would head off to try and make contact with somebody and in the meantime we were to remain with the chicken but if he did not return within an hour we were to go back up the mountain again and wait there until someone made contact with us
A half an hour had gone by when the door was pushed open and a torch was shone in, it was the man who owned the chicken and when we realised that it was a stranger, instinctively we all went for our knives and when the poor man saw them flashing in the light he gave an unmerciful scream of sheer terror and took to his heels, and to this day he is probably still relating that story in his local pub. We immediately went out on to the road and went inside the ditch and luckily for us our man came back in a van with a local and when we told them what had happened the local, as a precaution, took a different route back. This time, instead of going back to the cabin we were driven in to a small village and taken into a room at the rear of a shop. We were each given a new clean shirt and then we got tea and HAM SANDWICHES and at least the room was dry and warm. Later on Tony arrived and said we had a serious problem in getting the explosives and arms that were promised to us, it seems that the Belfast Brigade, for security reasons, had been ordered to step down and they refused to hand over their weapons and explosives to us, so himself and another local were going in to Derry to try and get what we needed. It was some hours later before he returned but at least he succeeded in getting what we required and straight away we set about assembling a huge bomb in a very large toolbox, and when we had primed it we put it into the van. We next assembled a few smaller bombs and then we loaded and primed a haversack full of grenades and put the lot into the van. The arms were then distributed and I was given a Lee Enfield 303 rifle and ammunition and I was happy at that as I had used one previously. Tony then addressed us and said that as a result of the action of the Belfast Brigade we were now behind time and the alert would have gone off by now so we would have to be extra vigilant. Our plan was to destroy two bridges over the river Bann, after that we would mount an attack on the British Army barracks in Ballymena and then we would destroy the scanners at the RAF radar station at Torr Head. As we left the room there was a woman and a girl at the door and they sprinkled us with Holy Water but seeing the way things worked out later, the water must not have been blessed at all and as the van and the car headed off we were really on a high.
We had no problem in dealing with the two bridges but as we neared Ballymena we discovered that the barracks was all lit up so we parked the van and made our way on foot to see what was happening, and no doubt because we were so late, they were on full alert and as we needed the element of surprise it was decided not to attack but to proceed to Torr Head. That was the last time we spoke with the lads in the car and as the man said, the rest is history.
In retrospect it is easy to criticise and find fault with all that went wrong with the ‘ 56 campaign and some put it down to bad planning, insufficient training and preparation, lack of proper weaponry, underestimating the enemies capabilities, lack of proper leadership and so on. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and personally, I am not in to the blame game at all. The planning and execution of the campaign was undertaken by men who were dedicated to the cause of Irish freedom and in many instances had to overcome imprisonment, untold hardship and many obstacles to organise, plan and execute the most daring and widespread campaign of resistance against the British forces in the six counties since 1921 and above all they were ordinary working class individuals and not the products of military academies. The fact that the local population did not rise up to support us is immaterial, in all phases of the struggle, the vast majority of our people were indifferent to what was going on and were just busy getting on with their lives. It was never envisioned that we would succeed in driving the Brits out; it was just the idea of rekindling the flame and passing on the torch to the next generation.