13 November 2008 Edition
Ideals of Edentubber Martyrs drive us on today
THOUSANDS of republicans assembled on the Louth/Armagh border on Sunday, 9 November, to commemorate the tragic deaths of five republican activists during the 1956-62 IRA Border Campaign when a landmine exploded prematurely.
The five who died at Edentubber, a few hundred yards from the border crossing at Carrickarnon, and since known as the Edentubber Martyrs, included the owner of the cottage, 54-year-old Michael Watters; Paul Smith, 19 years old, who was born and lived at the Gardens, Bessbrook; Oliver Craven, from Dominic Street, Newry; and Patrick Parle and George Keegan of Wexford.
The theme of this year’s Edentubber commemoration was the role of women in the struggle for Irish freedom and the main address was delivered by Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún. Below we reprint an edited version of that address:
Fifty-one years ago, close to the spot where we gather today, five republicans, IRA Volunteers, lost their lives in a premature explosion: Paul Smith from Bessbrook, Oliver Craven from Newry, George Keegan from Enniscorthy, Paddy Parle from Wexford Town and Michael Watters, who owned the cottage where the fatal explosion occurred.
Bliain is caoga ó shin, cóngarach don áit ina bhfuilimid bailithe le chéile inniu, chaill Cúigear Poblachtach, baill Óglaigh na hÉireann, a mbeatha ag pléascadh roimh am. Paul Smith ón Sruthán, Oliver Craven ón Iúr, George Keegan ó Inis Córthaidh, Paddy Parle ó Bhaile Loch Garman agus Michael Watters, ar leis an teach é san áit ar tharla an pléascadh marfach.
Is fada an t-am sin bliain is caoga, agus sin ráite gach bliain ó tharla sé ón oíche thubaisteach sin tháinig Poblachtaigh le chéile anseo, chun cuimhneamh a dhéanamh orthu siúd a chaill a mbeatha agus chun machnamh a dhéanamh ar an áit a raibh ár streachailt.
Fifty-one years is a long time, however in every year since that tragic night, republicans have came together here to remember those who lost their lives and take stock of where our struggle was at.
In the course of recent years, and again over the past 12 months, our struggle has undergone significant changes. Different times have placed different demands on us all as activists.
But we are not driven by circumstances – we are driven by our republican vision and in our absolute belief that the partition of our country is wrong and that the British Government has no place in running the affairs of Irish people. These are the very same ideals which brought the IRA to this place all those years ago.
Indeed, the then Sinn Féin TD, John Joe McGirl, in his oration at one of the funerals, said:
‘The tragedy which brought to a sudden end the lives of five great Irishmen is a tragedy of the Irish nation, the tragedy of an Ireland that is unfree and divided. These men came from the North and South to join together to end the tragedy of our nation and her people.’
We have taken the role of women in the struggle for Irish freedom as a theme of our commemoration. It is a very appropriate theme because this very week marks the centenary of the organisation which fought for and won the right to vote for Irish women, the Irish Women’s Franchise League.
The IWFL was founded on 11 November 1908 by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Margaret Cousins. Hanna was a staunch republican as well as an active feminist. Her terms in prison reflected her activism – in 1912 for women’s rights, in 1913 for supporting the workers in the Great Lock-Out, in 1914 for opposing recruiting to the British Army, in 1918 for demanding Irish independence, and in 1933 for breaking the ban on her entering the Six Counties. And there were thousands of women like Hanna, most of whom never gained the limelight of history but without whom there could be no freedom struggle.
Ninety years ago, in December 1918, Irishwomen had the vote for the first time. They played a key role in the Sinn Féin victory which led to the establishment of the First Dáil Éireann.
Women’s rights were enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the commitment to equality was continued in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil. Constance Markievicz was one of the first women Cabinet ministers in the world. And, like Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and the vast majority of women republicans, she was a strong opponent of the Treaty and the partition of our country.
For us as Irish republicans in 2008, the end of partition and the unity of our country is a live political project, as is our commitment to the equality agenda. We have set out a clear political strategy to achieve our republican and democratic goals. In the new phase of struggle, those goals will be pursued through exclusively peaceful means.
The building of political strength and the use of that strength to bring about fundamental political, social and constitutional change is key.
Women today are proud to carry forward that progressive republican and feminist tradition. We recall the words of Mairéad Farrell that Irishwomen have been oppressed both as women and as Irish people. Much progress has been made through the efforts of women in struggle but much remains to be done.
There are the powerful forces in both jurisdictions, however, who will continue to do their best to maintain the status quo. They may not put it in as clear terms as they once did but there are those whose primary political objective is the defeat of Sinn Féin and the defeat of the republican struggle. We must be conscious that there are those who have benefited from partition, even though it has been very damaging for the country as a whole. There are those who have benefited from inequality and injustice.
Let me say to them today: be you a rejectionist unionist in the North or an opponent of reunification in the South, the cause of Irish unity is going forward, and an ever-growing number of people see it as the way ahead.
People should not be surprised or confused by the current situation in Stormont.
Remember: the DUP were a party formed to oppose power-sharing.
Remember: Peter Robinson fronted the ‘Smash Sinn Féin’ campaign. They led the opposition to the Good Friday Agreement before embracing the all-Ireland institutions it established.
They are reluctant partners in government. We knew that when we brought them over the line in the first place. But the core of the current difficulties goes beyond policing and justice. This is about holding the DUP to their commitments. It is about ensuring that the equality demands of the Good Friday Agreement are delivered. It is about puncturing the notion held by some within the ranks of the DUP that they will operate these institutions on their terms and their terms alone.
That isn’t going to happen!
If unionists are ever going to exercise power then they will do so acting in partnership with nationalists and republicans and within the framework set out in the Good Friday Agreement, with all of the checks and balances that includes.
One aspect of that will be the joint nature of the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
Unionism needs to grasp this reality. It remains to be seen whether Peter Robinson is capable of leading unionism into a new future built upon equality and partnership or whether he will repeat the failures of past unionist leaders harking back to days of domination, discrimination and inequality.
But whatever decision he makes – and I hope he opts to show political leadership and courage – our task of building the struggle continues. Sinn Féin has already demonstrated a commitment to this process and to finding a resolution to the current crisis. But make no mistake, we are equally determined to pursue our primary goal of Irish unity and independence.
Nuair a cuireadh deireadh le hOibríocht Harvest 1962, chreid cuid mhór daoine go raibh deireadh le Poblachtachas Éireannach. Shíl ár namhaid, gan chúis, nach mbeimis ábalta atógáil a dhéanamh agus an streachailt a chur i mbéal an phobail arís eile.
Chruthaíomar go raibh siad mícheart. Tá níos mó Poblachtach ins an oileán seo anois ná mar a bhí ag am ar bith eile ón chríochdheighilt. Is é an ról atá againn seilbh a ghlacadh ar an dea-thoil atá againn amuigh ansin agus gluaiseacht fhíornáisiúnta ar son an athraithe a neartú. Gluaiseacht a bhfuil borradh fúithi gan stad gan staonadh. Gluaiseacht atá ábalta tionchar a imirt ar mhaithe leis an athrú.
Cinnteoidh sin todhchaí bunaithe ar an aontacht agus ar an chomhionannas agus todhchaí a fhágann teipeanna san am atá chuaigh thart sna leabhair staire.
When Operation Harvest came to an end in 1962, many believed that Irish republicanism was finished. Our opponents foolishly thought that we would never be able to rebuild and, more importantly, repopularise the struggle. We have proved them wrong. There are more republicans on this island now than at any time since partition.
Our job is to harness the goodwill towards us that is out there and build a truly national movement for change – a movement whose momentum will become unstoppable and whose ability to effect change will guarantee a future built upon unity and equality and one which consigns the failures of the past to the history books.
Ach níl an streachailt furasta. Ní raibh sí furasta i 1957, ní raibh sí furasta i 1969 nó i 1981 agus b’fhéidir go bhfuil sí difriúil, ach níl sí furasta i 2008. Ach níor chreid duine ar bith againn nach mbeadh sé amhlaidh.
Táimid réidh don bhóthar fada romhainn. Caithfidh iad siúd atá ag éileamh an t-athrú is mó na rioscaí is mó a thabhairt orthu féin. Ní féidir linn fanacht inár seasamh gan bogadh. Ach tá freagracht ar an ghlúin seo de Phoblachtaigh chun an jab a chríochnú.
Ní thabharfaidh duine ar bith saoirse dúinn ar phláta. Ní bheidh deireadh simplí le críochdheighilt. Is é an ról atá againn mar Phoblachtaigh é seo a bhaint amach.
But struggle is not easy. It was not easy in 1957, it was not easy in 1969 or 1981 and it may be different but it is not easy in 2008. But none of us expect it to be. We are in this for the long haul. Those of us who demand the most change have to take the biggest risks. We cannot stand still. But this generation of republicans has a responsibility to finish the job. Nobody will hand us freedom. Partition won’t simply end. Our job as republicans is to make this happen.
We will shortly face into elections, North and South. There will be a sustained effort in these campaigns by the opponents of Irish unity and Irish republicanism to stop the advances we have made in recent years. But I believe that we, as Irish republicans, are up to the task. So let us leave here today, reinvigorated and determined, focused on what we have to do in the time ahead, and let us ensure that when we come back again here next year this party and this struggle is stronger and we are further along the road to realising the objectives which saw five IRA Volunteers lose their lives here 51 years ago.
Edentubber Martyrs: Michael Watters, George Keegan, Paul Smith, Oliver Craven and Patrick Parle