16 July 2009 Edition
Tyrone Volunteers Day honours our freedom fighters
WEST TYRONE MP Pat Doherty addressed this year’s Tyrone Volunteers Day last weekend. The parade and commemoration is held annually on the anniversary of Tyrone Hunger Striker Martin Hurson. Two bands took part in this year’s mobilisation – the Martin Hurson Memorial Band and the South Derry Martyrs Memorial Band.
Following the final of the annual Martin Hurson Memorial Football Tournament, the parade made its way from Galbally Community Centre to Cappagh, where the proceedings were chaired by local republican Paul Kelly.
In his address, Pat Doherty said:
“Throughout the course of the recent phase of armed struggle, Tyrone has lost more than its fair share of young men and women. Fifty-six Volunteers from the Tyrone Brigade were killed in action during the past 40 years.
“Nine of those Volunteers killed in action were from Cappagh and Galbally and, given the close-knit nature of this community, there is barely a family in this part of Tyrone who is not related in some way to one or more of the Volunteers who gave their lives.
“When I reflect back on the events of 1981 it conjures up a whole range of emotions. The principal emotion is one of sadness that we lost 10 comrades but also an immense sense of pride that 10 ordinary men, and many others like them, took on the might of the British Empire with nothing more than a blanket and the sheer courage of their convictions, that they were freedom fighters, fighting a just cause. They were determined and succeeded in breaking Britain’s attempt to label them as common criminals.”
The West Tyrone MP pointed out that Tyrone has always played its part to the full in the struggle for Irish freedom, from 1916, when St Patrick’s Hall, Coalisland, was the assembly point for the Volunteers from Ulster.
“The Volunteers of Tyrone played their part in all of the other phases of struggle. The flame was kept burning here during the lean years of the 1930s and 1940s, while in the 1950s Tyrone was a hotbed of resistance during the Border Campaign.
“Indeed, during this time the county returned two republican MPs – Tom Mitchell (Mid-Ulster) and Phil Clarke (Fermanagh/South Tyrone) – who were imprisoned as a result of the historic raid of Omagh Barracks. It was during this era that young Martin Hurson came into the world, on 13 September 1954.
“Like all of the Volunteers, Martin was an ordinary country lad. He was a very hard worker, both as a fitter/welder and on the family farm at Aughnaskea. He was a great son and was very close to his mother, whose death affected him greatly.
“Martin was arrested in 1976 together with local men Kevin O’Brien, Dermot Boyle, Peter Kane and Pat O’Neill. After severe beatings in Omagh and relentless beatings while on the blanket and No Wash protest in Long Kesh, Martin made the conscious decision to follow in the footsteps of Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara and Joe McDonnell and joined the Hunger Strike.”
Unfortunately, on 13 July 1981, at approximately 4am, and after 46 days, Martin became the sixth Volunteer to die on hunger strike. Four more – Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Mickey Devine – were to follow Martin before the strike ended in October 1981.
“Within two years of Martin’s passing, Britain’s policy of criminalisation was broken and the five demands were granted. In 1983, Martin’s comrades carried out the Great Escape when 38 Volunteers burst through Long Kesh gates on 25 September. Amongst their number was Tyrone Volunteer Pádraig McKearney, who was later killed in action at Loughgall on 8 May 1987.
“Martin’s death and those of his nine comrades not only made national and international headlines but also inspired a generation of freedom fighters. Undoubtedly, young Seamus Donnelly, who lived on the same lane as Martin, was inspired by his courage and sacrifice.
“Seamus also gave his life in the cause of Irish freedom at Loughgall with seven comrades, including three others from the Cappagh and Galbally area: Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly and Declan Arthurs.
“Many more Volunteers were to follow in the same path. Some, like Martin Mc Caughey, were killed in action by the SAS, while others like John Quinn, Dwayne O’Donnell and Malcolm Nugent were killed outside Malachy Boyle’s pub by British agents.
“In addition to the many Volunteers killed, others spent long years in jail. It is estimated that as many as 15,000 republicans have been imprisoned as a result of the conflict and have served over 100,000 years in jail between them. This part of Tyrone has a huge ex-prisoner population and we must remember that many of these young men and women sacrificed their lifeblood and the best years of their lives locked in a prison cell for their political beliefs.
“However, despite the sacrifice, pain and endurance of everything that the British inflicted in the form of repressive legislation, internment, shoot-to-kill or collusion, the people of Tyrone never wavered. You never flinched in your support for the freedom struggle and in your burning desire for Irish reunification.
“Every time that the Brits thought that they had you beaten, for instance after the Hunger Strike and Loughgall, the Volunteers of Tyrone, supported by the people, regrouped, reorganised and hit back.”
Pat Doherty recalled Bobby Sands’s quote: “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”
Pat Doherty followed on:
“Whatever we do, either collectively or individually, we all must strive towards a day when Ireland is reunited and our children can live together in an Ireland of equals free from fear, harassment and discrimination.
“It is only when we reach that certain day will the hopes and dreams of Martin and the other Volunteers of Tyrone be fully realised.”
100TH ANNIVERSARY OF NA FIANNA: Fianna Éireann colour party with Martin mcGuinness