5 April 2007 Edition

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35th anniversary of Volunteers' deaths in Bawnmore

On 7 April 1972, just after two o’clock in the afternoon, the small  nationalist estate of Bawnmore, on the fringes of North Belfast, was rocked by an explosion in a row of garages in Bawnmore Grove. The premature explosion claimed the lives of three young IRA Volunteers - John (Jackie) McErlean, Samuel Hughes and Charles McCrystal – members of ‘E’ Company, 3rd Battalion, Belfast Brigade Óglaigh na hÉireann.
Born in 1954, Charles McCrystal’s parents Joe and Annabel had a large family of 13 children and Charles was their youngest son. Charles was a very quiet natured young man. When he left school he worked as a milk delivery man. He was 17 years old when he died.
John McErlean, known as Jack, was born at 21 Mary’s Place, Whitehouse on in 1954. He was the eldest of a family of five brothers and three sisters born to his father, Jack senior, and his mother Kathleen. When Jack was ten years old the family moved into a house in the new Bawnmore estate.
He was educated at the Star of the Sea Primary School, Greencastle, and Stella Maris Secondary School. On leaving school he attended Feldon House Training Centre to train as a mechanical engineer. He received a City and Guilds Certificate for this, which his parents received a few months after his death. He enjoyed discos and attended the local one in the Fountain Hall, Whitewell Road, where he was supposed to be going on the night he was killed.
Samuel John Hughes was born on 26 February 1955, the youngest boy of seven brothers and two sisters. When Sammy was eight years old his family moved to 52 Bawnmore Park, Mill Road, where he lived until his death.
Samuel attended the Star of the Sea Primary School and then Stella Maris Secondary School. He left school at 15 and joined Abbey Meat Packers as an apprentice butcher.
With many other young people Sammy joined the Republican Movement after the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972
Bawnmore suffered heavily from the activities of unionist paramilitaries and the families of all three Volunteers would suffer further bereavement at their hands.
Later in 1972, Joe McCrystal, a brother of Charles was shot dead by the UDA. On 11 February 1974, Jack McErlean’s 18-year-old sister Margaret was travelling to work with a number of friends when unionist paramilitaries ambushed their car. Sixteen-year-old year old Thomas Donaghy died on the way to hospital, and Margaret died a week later on 18 February. Also injured was a sister of Samuel Hughes, who survived, but whose husband was later shot dead by loyalists.
The Volunteers’ anniversary coincides with this year’s Easter Parade on Saturday, 7 April. The parade assembles on the Whitewell road at 4.30pm, to march to the memorial garden in Bawnmore at 5pm. The commemoration will be addressed by former republican prisoner Jennifer McCann, now a Sinn Féin MLA and a native of the Newtownabbey area.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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