27 November 2008 Edition
Spotlight on Collusion as Phelim McNally remembered
BY PEADAR WHELAN
JUST outside the small town of Toomebridge, which straddles the border between Antrim and Derry, there is a signpost pointing travellers in the direction of Ballyronan.
Following the road you pass through countryside that is both beautiful and bleak, especially on a November afternoon, heavy with gusting, wintry gales that drives the ice cold air through the layers of your clothing.
Driving as you do along the Loughshore your journey takes you through the townland of Ballymaguigan and on to the neighbouring parish of Ballinderry.
The roads and hamlets of Ballinderry are festooned with the blue and white of Ballinderry Shamrocks whose senior footballers are set to face Crossmaglen Rangers this coming Sunday in the Ulster club final.
It could be any parish in Ireland in the grip of anticipation as it’s team faces into a GAA fixture, the outcome of which might shape the mood of a club and the community for years.
So as you veer left out of Ballinderry and into Tyrone, picking up the signs for Coagh, Moortown, Ardboe and The Battery the road brings you to the shores of Lough Neagh.
The gusting winds are whipping the waters of the Lough into a frenzy of white topped waves.
For the day tripper the scenery, the rugged countryside and the bleak, wild shores of the Lough are engrossing.
But when I made that journey last Sunday 23 November, I was not on a day trip but making my to the home of Francie McNally to witness the commemoration marking the 20th anniversary of the death of Phelim McNally.
Though I admired the countryside and marvelled at the power of nature as it fought with the waters of the Lough I also marvelled at the fortitude of the people from the areas I passed through. For almost four decades they stood strong in the face of a relentless campaign of terror carried out by the forces of a British state that has yet to learn that the desire of the Irish people to be free is stronger than its murder machine.
The roads I travelled along and their beauty held fear and murder through the years of war for the nationalist people of these townlands. Where I experienced beauty the local population knew only threat as the crown forces and their loyalists surrogates stalked the land.
Phelim McNally was a 28-year-old father of five children and on the night of 24 November 1988 he was gunned down in the kitchen of his brother’s home on the Derrycrin Road.
Phelim was on his way home from visiting his pregnant wife Pauline who was in Ballymena Hospital and dropped in to see his brother Francie, who represented Sinn Féin on Cookstown council at the time.
As they talked in the kitchen the killers arrived. Francie, on hearing a noise, went to turn on the security lights installed at the back of the house. The two bursts of automatic gunfire he heard next were the ones that took the life of his brother.
There is no doubt Francie McNally was the intended target of the pro-British gun gang on that night. Indeed he had been threatened on many an occasion by the UDR and the RUC. On the night of the attack the RUC held Francie at a checkpoint and repeatedly asked if he would be home that night.
After the killing a UDR patrol stopped a local man and said they heard, ‘you need to get yourselves a new councillor’.
The gun used to kill Phelim was part of the consignment brought into Ireland from South Africa by Brian Nelson. Nelson was a member of British Military Intelligence and organised, with the blessing of the British government, the shipment of AK 47s, RPG7 rocket launchers, grenades and hand guns to be brought into Ireland and used to re-arm unionist death squads.
Phelim McNally was just one of hundreds of Catholics and Nationalists to be butchered by these weapons. But his family, in organising Sunday’s commemoration, were making sure that he is never forgotten. Nor should we forget the pain that his family has carried since November 24 1988. Nor should we forget the hardship that Christopher McNally has had to live with.
Christopher was born within hours of his father’s killing so grew up not knowing him. It was poignant therefore that he should unveil the marble, harp-shaped memorial – the memory stone to his father at the place where Phelim was killed.
We can only guess what went through the young man’s mind on Sunday. He had never been to his uncle Francie’s house, nor had his five siblings been there since the death of their father.
It was fitting, too, that Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin MP for the area and joint First Minister in the North’s Executive, unveiled the monument with Christopher.
After the unveiling, McGuinness addressed the large turnout of family, friends, neighbours and republicans from across the adjacent parishes who came in support of the family.
He reminded them, if they needed reminding, of the effect that British government sponsored collusion had on the population throughout the mid-Ulster area.
He spoke of the efforts being made by people across the broad spectrum of nationalist political life to uncover the truth behind collusion.
Of course the strategy of assassination that has come to be known as, ‘collusion’, goes to the very heart of British government policy so uncovering the truth of collusion will shake the British establishment to its core. It is no surprise therefore that the British will thwart any and all attempts to expose their control of the loyalist counter gangs.
The McNally family has done its part to pierce a hole in the collusion cover up. By remembering Phelim they have told his killers and their puppet masters that they want the truth, “for Phelim’s memory, for his children and for the families of the others killed”.
Former Sinn Féin councillor Francie McNally at the newly unveiled memorial to his brother Phelim