10 May 2007 Edition
Commemoration : Volunteers' courage and integrity beyond question
Huge crowds pay tribute to Loughgall Martyrs
BY PEADAR WHELAN
As Irish republicans move onto the new terrain of joint government with the DUP and prepare to confront new political challenges, the air of expectancy is tinged with the realities of the past and the suffering republicans have experienced through decades of war.
In those decades hundreds of republicans lost their lives with County Tyrone suffering heavily. Of all the losses suffered in Tyrone the heaviest loss of life was when the SAS ambushed an IRA active service unit at Loughgall in 1987 killing eight Volunteers and a civilian Anthony Hughes.
The 20th anniversary of the Loughgall killings fell on 8 May, the day the new Six County Assembly and Executive came into being. Two days prior to that, on Sunday 6 May republicans from all over Ireland paid their own tribute to the Loughgall Martyrs, as they marched in solidarity with their families through the picturesque East Tyrone countryside from Galbally to Cappagh.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the party nominee for the post of Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness were joined at a commemoration ceremony by other members of the Sinn Féin leadership including Fermanagh/ South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew to mark the anniversary.
Speaking from the event in his Mid-Ulster constituency McGuinness said:
“We must never forget the sacrifices of many republicans and their families in the course of the last 35 years. Their courage and their integrity are beyond question. Ireland has undergone many changes in the 20 years since the events at Loughgall which saw the deaths of eight IRA volunteers and a civilian in an SAS operation. There remain many unanswered questions about the events of that evening and they are questions that the families of those killed are entitled to be answered.
“Just as Ireland has undergone many changes since 1987 so too has the republican struggle. The IRA have taken courageous decisions which I believe have advanced and strengthened our struggle and which open up for the first time since partition a democratic and peaceful path towards Irish unity and independence. Republicans are now on a political offensive. The challenge for Sinn Féin is to deliver on the undoubted potential which now exists.
“The new power sharing Executive which I will jointly head with Ian Paisley will begin its work on Tuesday. We are determined that this latest political initiative will not fail. We want to build a new relationship with unionists on this island. We want to demonstrate to them the benefits of sitting down and resolving problems ourselves and overcoming challenges without the need or interference of British Ministers with no mandate in Ireland.
“In the coming weeks we have an opportunity to bring our unique republican analysis to the doorsteps in the South during the election campaign and into the government in the North. I am confident that people will once again respond in large numbers. Sinn Féin stand on the verge of holding real and meaningful political power. It is political power that we will use to make a real difference to people’s lives and all of the time ensure that our struggle moves forward.
“Sinn Féin are up for the challenges which lie ahead. We will bring to all of this our desire to overcome difficulties while at the same time setting all of our work within the context of our primary political objective which is to deliver Irish reunification and a genuine process of national reconciliation on the island.”
Clearly the Loughgall Commemoration Committee performed a fantastic job in organising for the 20th anniversary march as thousands of Tyrone republicans turned out last Sunday. As well as Tyrone republicans, Sinn Féin cumainn from all across the Six Counties travelled to Galbally for the commemoration march.
South Armagh was well represented and republicans from Fermanagh, Belfast and Derry were there. Wexford was represented by the Volunteer Ed O’Brien Cumann and the Republican Flute band formed in memory of the Wexford IRA Volunteer.
The crowd at the commemoration was so big that the colour party at the head of the parade had turned onto the road to Cappagh before the last marchers left the assembly point at the car park of the Galbally Pearse’s GAC.
As the parade made it’s way in the small village of Cappagh it paused at the spot where IRA Volunteers John Quinn, Dwayne O’Donnell and Malcolm Nugent and civilian Thomas Armstrong were shot dead by the UVF in March 1991.
The four deaths were another example of British collusion with unionist paramilitary death squads. Cappagh was an area where the crown forces feared to operate so the ease with which the killers carried out the attack and made their escape pointed towards collusion.
“There is no better leadership”
At the republican monument in the village Tríona Kelly read out the names of the Loughgall Martyrs. Her father Patrick was one of the dead. The other Volunteers who died were Pádraig McKearney, Gerard O’Callaghan, Tony Gormley, Declan Arthurs, Séamus Donnelly, Eugene Kelly and Jim Lynagh.
Collette Donnelly, a sister of Séamus, played a lament on the whistle against the backdrop of Cappagh’s green hills and the gathering black clouds.
The main address was delivered by Belfast republican Brian Keenan who linked the political developments of the present to the political conditions of the past that saw republicans engage in armed struggle. He commended the leadership of the republican struggle for bringing republicans to where we are now and said, “there is no better leadership”.
Acknowledging the difficulties that many republicans have with recent decisions, particularly the decision to go into the policing structures, Keenan pointed out that communities need a policing service. However he said, “the PSNI will have to win the trust of republicans and nationalists before people will accept them. It is also up to us to take them to task and Sinn Féin will be in there to make sure the PSNI will be properly scrutinised”.
Concluding his address Keenan recalled the words of Wolfe Tone saying that republicanism was about uniting Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, “whatever the difficulties of the past we have to make peace with our enemies and that is the challenge facing us now”.