3 September 2009 Edition
Derry's and Antrim's 'colossal contribution' to freedom struggle highlighted
HUNDREDS of republicans gathered in Gulladuff, County Derry, last Sunday to hear Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney deliver a moving tribute at the Annual Counties Derry & Antrim Republican Commemoration at the Garden of Remembrance at Gulladuff.
As always, the annual commemoration proved to be an occasion for the renewal of friendships between the many people from Counties Derry and Antrim who down through years have made a major contribution to the struggle for Irish freedom, independence and social justice, not just at a local level but at a national level also.
In attendance were the many men and women from across the area who served long years of incarceration in jails throughout Ireland and England for their republican beliefs.
Faces in the crowd included Mary Davey, wife of murdered Magherafelt Sinn Féin Councillor John Davey, and who herself has been a formidable party activist since the outbreak of conflict in the North in late 1960s.
Listening attentively to the Roll of Honour being read by young republicans Liam Duggan, Maria O’Kane and her grandson, Seán, was Mary Bateson from Ballymaguigan. Mary’s son, Johnny, died alongside his comrades and fellow Ballymaguigan men, Jim Sheridan and Martin Lee, while on active service in Magherafelt on 18 December, 1971. They were the first Volunteers from the South Derry Brigade, Óglaigh na hÉireann, listed on the local Roll of Honour covering the period 1969-1994.
Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney was the guest speaker at the commemoration.
In a moving tribute to the area’s republican dead, he said that everyone came to Sunday’s commemoration with their own particular reminiscences, reflections and memories.
Some of Declan’s own included republicans stalwarts such as Kevin Agnew, John Davey, Margaret McKenna, Peter Gallagher amongst many others.
He said that for him it was a personal honour to be invited as guest speaker by the organisers and made reference to the participation of so many young people in the event.
“While Lavey footballers, hurlers and camogs might differ, for many years Gulladuff was just a place the rest of us passed through... until John Davey bought this hall in 1981. Then it became a place for meetings, organising, scoraiocht and more.
“But all that changed again in 2004. The opening of this memorial garden, with its monument of etched names, and the Republican Centre have immortalised the memory of the patriot dead spanning over 200 years from Derry and Antrim.
“But this place in Gulladuff is also recognition of the loss and sacrifice of the families of our patriots, and resolve of our republican community in this part of Ireland.
“This place is an awesome tribute. It is a chronicle of republicanism in these counties.
“The wall tells a story of unbroken activism over 200 years. Men, women, youth, Óglaigh, Sinn Féin members, and ardent supporters, who played a role in the national struggle.
“But the wall is more than names, dates and places. It’s about people, about individuals.
“The list conceals something else. That all this collection of patriots were also thinkers, strategists, political activists, planners, political soldiers, leaders and visionaries.”
One who personified all of these qualities, Declan Kearney said, was surely Volunteer Antoine Mac Giolla Bhríghde, whose 25th anniversary we will also celebrate later this year.
“Antoine the planner, organiser, leader, political and cultural activist, republican soldier, and revolutionary. The quiet, discreet, well dressed man who also understood the need to build the support base of republicanism.
“Antoine’s life encompassed the sum of all the stories of struggle which this garden has immortalised.
“These counties have made a colossal contribution to the cause of national freedom and independence.
“I see it in the faces gathered today, those who have survived, and yet with sacrifice and determination carried the struggle into the jails, the fields, the garrison towns and built the electoral and political strength Sinn Féin enjoys today.
“I see IRA and Sinn Féin leaders and activists who led from the front, who shouldered the big decisions and initiatives which created the rising tide of support in these areas, IRA Volunteers who shaped the new mode and today bring the same commitment to political and democratic activism that they invested in active service.”
ORANGE STATE GONE
Another date on the monument reminds people of another watershed anniversary this year: the 40th anniversary of Francie McCloskey’s killing in Dungiven.
“That summer of 1969 gave way to pogroms in Belfast, killings of Catholics and more attacks on civil rights protesters,” Declan Kearney recalled.
“The Orange state imploded and republican resistance burst onto the streets. Much has happened since then. 1969 became the beginning of the end of the Orange state.
“Nationalists stood up and the IRA reorganised. War ensued. Armed struggle paved the way to negotiations. Negotiations forced change and increased support for Sinn Féin. We made the right to equality unchallengeable in the North and all of this is leading only one way – to a united Ireland.
“And this simple fact explains the disarray within political unionism today. The entire rationale of unionism has now been undermined. And as political unionism fractures, it seeks to resist and slow down change.
“Who here could have imagined in 1969 the unionist one-party state being displaced by Sinn Féin as the biggest party in the North in 2009? Or that unionism could only again have power at Stormont if shared in equal partnership with republicans and nationalists?
“But even more, who in unionism could have foreseen all this?
“I say all this not to be triumphalist but to point to the evidence of our strategy making change.
“But the European election result is a snapshot of where unionism is at, and how wider nationalism can see the bigger picture.
“And that bigger picture is all about continued support for Sinn Féin and a steady trajectory to a united Ireland. Consider our electoral surges across Derry and Antrim. These counties are a microcosm of what is going on in the North.
“Of course unionism disagrees with us, and some on the edges of republicanism also disagree. We have a duty to engage with them all, to make political outreach, and to offer genuine dialogue.
“We need to be persuaders. If we want a united Ireland we have to persuade others that ours is the road to take.”
POLICING AND JUSTICE
Declan Kearney said newly-appointed PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot has much work to do. The leading Sinn Féin strategist said:
“We will work with him but we will also hold him fully to account in his new post. He needs to understand that policing has still to be utterly transformed in the Six Counties... and that cannot be done in the image of policing realities in England.”
Kearney also emphasised the need for the DUP to understand that Sinn Féin’s patience should not be abused or mistaken as a sign of weakness.
“To those in unionism who want to turn the clock back, we say this: Republicans expect equality in society and we demand proper political partnership in government. The big negotiations are over... and equality and partnership in government are non-negotiable.
“The British Government and unionism also need to understand that our generations have thrown off the yoke of second-class citizenship. The Orange state isn’t coming back. Orange or unionist supremacy doesn’t wash with us. We’re not prepared to sit at the back of the bus. This generation of republicans are in the driving seat and we’re on a non-return journey to equality, justice and a united Ireland.”
Donegal Martyrs Flute Band: On a non-return journey to equality, justice and a united Ireland