29 July 2004 Edition

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Belfast to host Volunteer Pete Ryan tribute

A republican tribute night to IRA Volunteer Pete Ryan, who was shot dead in a British shoot-to-kill operation in 1991, is to be held in Gort na Mona GAA club in Belfast on Friday 8 August.

Ryan, a native of Ardboe in County Tyrone, was among a group of eight republicans who carried out one of the most daring escapes from British custody in the course of the conflict when they broke free from Crumlin Road Jail in 1981.

The others to escape were brothers Gerard and Tony Sloan, Angelo Fusco, Michael McKee, Joe Doherty, Paul Magee and Robert Campbell, and their freedom bid, which came at the height of the 1981 Hunger Strike, provided a major boost for a hard-pressed nationalist community.

The eight POWs shot their way to freedom in one of the most daring escapes ever. The IRA Volunteers overpowered a number of warders and locked them in a cell before taking on the might of the British crown forces outside the prison. In a dramatic shootout, the eight Volunteers made good their escape and evaded a heavy British presence.

On Sunday 21 June 1981, one of the escapers, Paul 'Dingus' Magee, made a dramatic appearance on the platform at the end of the ceremonies at the annual Bodenstown commemoration to be greeted by thunderous applause and prolonged cheering.

Tribute organiser Paddy Adams told An Phoblacht that "within hours of the jail break, the escapers had become popular heroes with a poster and poem campaign commemorating the escape being speedily produced, and the months of sadness and anger brought about by the Hunger Strike were temporarily relieved by the atmosphere of celebration".

Ironically, it was almost ten years to the day of the anniversary of the escape that Pete Ryan was shot dead by British undercover operatives in Coagh, County Tyrone on Monday 3 June 1991. Ryan, along with his comrades Lawrence McNally and Tony Doris, was killed SAS units fired over 200 bullets into their car, which then burst into flames.

During the tribute night, which will be chaired by Sinn Féin Councillor Marie Moore, escaper Robert Campbell will tell the story of the Crumlin Road escape.

Tribute will also be paid to the late Volunteer Harry Burns, who played a major role in bringing the escapers across the border.

Said event organiser Paddy Adams: "We have invited members of the Ryan family to the event, along with many prominent Tyrone republicans because we want them to know the respect that Pete is held in by republicans throughout Belfast."

o A Tribute to Pete Ryan, Gort na Mona GAC, Friday 6 August. Doors open 8pm

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1