24 July 2008 Edition
Plaque to Alo Hand unveiled in Clones
THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the deaths of three Irish republicans who took up arms against British occupation in the North of Ireland in the 1950s: IRA Volunteer Patrick McManus died in a premature explosion near Swanlinbar, County Cavan; James Crossan, the Cavan Sinn Féin organiser who was assassinated by the RUC on the southern side of the border, also near Swanlinbar; and Aloysius ‘Alo’ Hand, of North Monaghan, who was killed by British forces at Clontivrim, County Fermanagh.
Alo Hand was a member of Saor Uladh, a short-lived armed republican organisation involved in a series of operations against crown forces in the North in the 1950s. While the Republican Movement’s then monthly newspaper, The United Irishman, acknowledged that Alo Hand was not a member of the IRA, it expressed sympathy to his family and said he “died from British bullets in the occupied part of Ireland”.
On Sunday, 6 July 2008, the Volunteer Alo Hand Committee unveiled a memorial plaque at 31 O’Neill Park, Clones, to mark the 50th anniversary of Alo Hand’s death on the 2 July 1958 at the age of 20.
A large crowd braved poor weather
conditions for the unveiling where an extract was read out from a commemorative booklet published in 2003 marking Alo’s 45th anniversary. Alo Hand’s comrade, Packie Treanor, who was with him when he was killed, and who was shot and injured and spent the next five-and-a half-years in Crumlin Road Jail, gave his recollection of the events of that night.
Newspaper reports from the time stated that Alo led a party of 12 armed men intent on launching an attack on an unnamed target in the North, that he was killed after an exchange of gunfire and that this group retreated back towards the border after the exchange. This was untrue and the real story of that night’s events can now be told.
On an otherwise typical midweek night, Alo had taken his girlfriend to the cinema in Clones before returning home for something to eat. After changing into old clothes he told his sister, Cecilia, that he was going out to hunt rabbits and left the house. At 5am the following morning, the Hand household awoke to the news that Alo was dead – killed by the RUC one mile out from Clones.
On the night of 2 July, a group of five Saor Uladh Volunteers had embarked on a reconnaissance mission just into the Fermanagh side of the Monaghan border. It was approximately 1am in the morning as the group edged along a railway line screened by the trees and bushes.
“There was only five of us in all,” Packie Treanor recalls. “We two were in front and we were armed. So was one of the fellas behind. The other two had no guns at all – that’s why the man in charge on the night held back. He didn’t want them to be in any danger.”
Alo Hand had taken the lead in the group and was being extra cautious as the bridge at Clontivren was considered quite open.
Contrary to newspaper accounts at the time, no warning was issued as the first shots were fired. Neither was there a chance to return fire on the part of those ambushed.
“Alo was down low, moving a small bit at a time and the next thing a flare was put up, there was a roar of ‘Halt!’ and – at the same time – there was a burst of gunfire. They didn’t call halt first. There was a shout followed immediately by a burst of fire. They both seemed to come at the one time.”
Alo was killed instantly, directly in front of Packie, who was hit twice, once in the leg, shattering his shinbone, and once through the left side of his chest. After lying in semi-consciousness for several hours, Packie was eventually uncovered and subjected to abuse and a crude interrogation at the scene. He was then taken to Enniskillen Hospital via Lisnaskea, where members of the local RUC allowed a hostile crowd to gather and abuse him verbally. Packie was given 14 years for possession of a Thompson machinegun and served the next five-and-a-half years in Crumlin Road Jail.
Unionist politicians were ecstatic at the shooting. At the inquest the Fermanagh coroner, JR Hanna, said Hand was one of a group entering the North “for some illegal and warlike purpose. They came armed, prepared to give death and one of them received death. The men were ordered to drop their guns and halt. Instead, they opened fire.” The coroner ordered the jury to return a finding of “justifiable homicide”. No expression of sympathy was passed to the Hand family at their loss and no questions were raised as to the circumstances of the shooting.
Alo Hand’s brother, Francis, had the difficult task of identifying the body in the hostile environment of Enniskillen. Three other brothers returned from England for the funeral, a reminder of the dire economic situation of 1950s Ireland.
Alo’s remains were brought to the border by the RUC to be met by a body of gardaí and a large crowd of local people who escorted the Tricolour-draped coffin to the family home in O’Neill Park.
The funeral, on Friday, 4 July, was attended by over a 1,000 people. Four of Alo’s brothers carried the coffin from the church before handing it over to members of Saor Uladh, who draped the coffin in the Tricolour before carrying it in relays to Clones Cemetery. Members of the Hand family then carried the coffin to the graveside as plainclothes gardaí mingled with the mourners.
The Last Post was played as a Saor Uladh guard of honour stood to attention at the side of the coffin. Also present at the graveside were members of the O’Hanlon family from Monaghan Town. Fergal O’Hanlon had been killed in a similar incident along with Seán Sabhat over a year prior to the death of Alo Hand. The large crowd listened gravely as the funeral oration was delivered by Frank Morris, from Greencastle, County Tyrone. He said: “Alo was a veteran of many stern engagements. He was absolutely fearless and was an inspiration to all with whom he came into contact. He was modest, clean-spoken and God fearing. He has gone to take his place among the heroes.”
In his concluding remarks at the graveside, Frank Morris said:
“Let there be no talk of vengeance, no idle boasting. The cause is not lost, the struggle is not over. With God’s help, what we have begun we shall finish”.
Alo Hand’s struggle for justice and freedom ended prematurely in July 1958. The republican struggle for justice and freedom continues unabated