4 September 2008 Edition
Huge turn-out to commemorate the Drumnakilly Martyrs
BY DECLAN McALEER
“A FITTING TRIBUTE” and “the lads would be proud” were two of the most frequent comments made during last weekend’s events to mark the 20th anniversary of the deaths of IRA Volunteers Brian Mullin, Gerard Harte and Martin Harte, killed in an SAS ambush at Drumnakilly on 30 August 1988.
The programme of events commenced on Thursday evening with the launch of a commemorative exhibition in Loughmacrory clubrooms. The exhibition consisted of photographs and personal memorabilia which reflected on the lives of the three Volunteers. A section of the display charted the republican struggle in mid Tyrone.
On Friday, a memorial stone was unveiled at the ‘Bard’ Mullin family home in Foremass. Addressing the commemoration, veteran republican and family friend Stan Corrigan spoke of the dedication and courage shown by Brian and his two comrades, Gerard and Martin.
Stan also spoke of the warm welcome that was always extended to visitors who came to the ‘Bard’ family home. He paid a special tribute to Brian’s mother, Cissie. who never flinched in the face of years of crown forces’ harassment and house raids.
Stan also made reference to Brian’s brother, Patrick, who served two terms of imprisonment in Magilligan and in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh during the Blanket and No Wash protests.
Music for the occasion was provided by Brian’s nieces.
Following the unveiling at the Mullin home, the Drumnakilly Martyrs Memorial Lecture took place in Loughmacrory clubrooms.
This was attended by over 300 people and was addressed by a panel which included Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Loughmacrory GFC stalwart Seamus Mullan, and Long Kesh escapees Joe Corey and Seamus ‘Spanner’ Campbell.
For over two hours the packed hall was captivated by stories from the Blocks and a very moving and personal tribute delivered by family friend and fellow clubman of the Harte brothers, Seamus Mullan.
Joe and Seamus enthralled the crowd with the inside story of how they, along with 36 other comrades, escaped from Long Kesh in September 1983. This was one of the biggest break-outs in Irish history, from a jail that was supposed to be one of the most secure in the world.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin made a very powerful and inspiring contribution which charted the milestones of republican resistance. Ó Caoláin’s speech reflected on the historical, social and political conditions which led many young men and women like Gerard, Martin and Brian to take up arms and fight for freedom and justice.
On Saturday, the annual under-12s Harte Memorial Football Tournament took place. Eleven teams from County Tyrone took part, along with the Emyvale club from County Monaghan.
All the teams who took part played with great passion and determination. The level of skill that was on display throughout the morning and afternoon vividly demonstrated that Gaelic games are flourishing in both counties, which is reassuring for the future of the tournament and for future Ulster and All-Ireland success.
In the final, Galbally overcame Greencastle and, following this, presentations were made to the teams by representatives of the Harte family.
On Saturday afternoon, over 2,000 people from throughout Ireland assembled in Loughmacrory for the parade and opening of a memorial garden.
The parade was led by members of the Harte and Mullin families and five bands took part.
The procession traced the original route of the funeral for the Harte brothers from Ballybrack Road to the Chapel yard, where it briefly paused before moving on to the memorial garden.
At the memorial garden, proceedings were chaired by local republican Martin Donaghy. Wreaths were laid on behalf of the Republican Movement, the Milligan/Harte Sinn Féin Cumann, Loughmacrory GFC, and the Harte and Mullin families.
A decade of the rosary was recited by veteran republican James McElduff. James was interned in the 1950s and 1970s.
The proceedings were then addressed by Kerry North TD Martin Ferris.
In a rousing and highly evocative speech, Ferris paid tribute to the supreme courage and sacrifice of the three Volunteers and their families.
Ferris congratulated the Drumnakilly Martyrs Commemoration Committee for organising such a fitting weekend of events to remember the three Volunteers. He made particular reference to the fine monument which was unveiled.
During his speech, the TD criticised some sections of the media who attempted to vilify the three Volunteers and who still attempt to misrepresent republicans today.
Towards the end of his oration, Ferris directly addressed Gerard’s son, Colm, and Martin’s son, Declan. He said that they should be very proud of their fathers and reassured them that their deaths were not in vain because republicans will continue to pursue the objective of a united Ireland with absolute determination.
Caoimhe Curran concluded the proceedings with a solo version of Amhrán na bhFiann.
The commemoration was followed by an anniversary Mass and an Irish night in Loughmacrory clubrooms. Music was provided by Gerry Cunningham and Pat Casey. During the evening, presentations were made by the organising committee to the families of the three Volunteers and to Brian’s girlfriend, Eileen.
Speaking after the weekend of events, Seán Harte, brother of Gerard and Martin, said:
“Although 20 years has passed, the pain of the lads’ deaths remains. This was a very poignant and emotional weekend for the families but we are immensely proud that the friends and comrades of Gerard, Martin and Brian have taken the time and effort to commemorate them is such a fitting way.
“What is perhaps the biggest source of pride is that the people of Loughmacrory, Foremass and beyond came out in their thousands to attend the various events. Although the pain will remain, it is gratifying to know that their courage and sacrifice has not been forgotten.”
In honour of republican Tyrone
CAVAN/MONAGHAN TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin delivered the Drumnakilly Martyrs 20th Anniversary Commemoration Memorial Lecture in honour of IRA Volunteers Gerard and Martin Harte and Brian Mullin.
Caoimhghín spoke of how the three were children when the Civil Rights movement took to the streets in the Six Counties but they were young men “when a reorganised IRA arose from the ashes after the Unionist one-party state and the British Army tried to crush the nationalist community of the Six Counties”.
“They experienced at first hand the brutality of British crown forces here in their home county of Tyrone. They witnessed the campaign for the prisoners who were being tortured in the H-Blocks and Armagh Prison and the intransigent response of a British government which allowed ten of them to die on hunger strike.
“Seeing all these things and living that reality, the three young men we honour today, like so many others of their time, joined the ranks of Óglaigh na hÉireann. In spite of the risks of imprisonment, injury or even death, they volunteered to take part in the struggle against British rule.
“In taking that decision they were, as I have said, responding to the needs of their time. And they were also in the Fenian tradition.”
The Cavan/Monagan TD then reflected on that tradition, tracing republican history from the foundation 150 years ago of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, popularly known as the Fenians, through to the Easter Rising, the general election of 1918, when “the Irish people struck the next blow for freedom, not with arms but with their votes”, the suppression of the First Dáil Éireann, the Treaty, the Civil War and partition. It was partition, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said, that took a terrible toll on the nation and set in stone the politics of Ireland for most of the 20th century.
“If we move the clock forward to 1968, 40 years ago, we find that it was in County Tyrone the first steps were taken in a new movement for change. Inspired by Nana Gildernew, grandmother of Michelle Gildernew, people took direct action for housing rights in Caledon. This led to the first march of the Civil Rights movement from Coalisland to Dungannon, exactly 40 years ago last Sunday, on 24 August 1968.
“When Gerard, Martin and Brian were boys, the forces of unionism would not tolerate the reasonable demands and the peaceful protests of the Civil Rights movement. They battered the 6 October march in Derry off the streets. They unleashed sectarian thugs to attack the Belfast to Derry march at Burntollet. In August 1969, they facilitated pogroms against the nationalist community in Belfast and attacked nationalist Derry. Two years later, internment without trial followed. Internment poured petrol on the flames of conflict.
“The nationalist people of Tyrone were stoic in their endurance of the worst that British repression could heap upon them – internment, torture in detention centres, house raids, arrests and assassinations. For many people across Ireland and around the world a light was shone on republican Tyrone and its heroic resistance by the hunger strike and death of Martin Hurson of Cappagh in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in 1981. His sacrifice and that of his nine comrades smashed the criminalisation policy of the British Government and began a new phase in the struggle for Irish freedom.”
The Sinn Féin TD hailed ‘The Great Escape’, in September 1983, when 38 IRA prisoners escaped from the H-Blocks, supposedly the most secure prison in Western Europe, and he paid tribute to those who took part and to remember the Volunteers who participated but later died on active service, including Pádraig McKearney of County Tyrone and Séamus McElwaine of County Monaghan.
Amidst the tragedy there was hope, Caoimhghín recalled. Republicans in 1986 had adopted a new course, recognising that, for the struggle to succeed in the long-term, real political and electoral strength must be built throughout the 32 Counties and that included giving the people real representation by taking seats in Leinster House. Throughout 1988 Gerry Adams and John Hume had held a series of meetings that were unproductive in the short-term but that sowed the seeds of the Peace Process.
“But in August 1988 no such process was in prospect. The policy of the British Government and the collaboration of the Dublin Government ensured that the conflict would continue. Republicans were harried, imprisoned, assassinated and censored but never bowed or broken. Young people such as Gerard, Martin and Brian were still prepared to risk all in their effort to bring about national unity, real freedom and lasting peace.
“We remember with pride these three Volunteers and all who died from the ranks of Óglaigh na hÉireann, the undefeated Irish Republican Army. We remember too, among the many others who have given stoic service to the republican struggle in this county, Sinn Féin councillors Barney McAleer, Mickey McAnespie, Patsy McMahon and Cathal Quinn. I recall too this evening another son of Loughmacrory who, like so many other sons and daughters of this county, gave a lifetime of quiet but willing service to the republican cause, the late Pat McGlynn whose second anniversary occurred this month.
“I measc laochra na hÉireann go raibh a anamacha uilig dílse.”