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29 July 2010

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Fógraí Bháis: Junior McPhillips

A legend on the border

Junior (second left) with Pat Treanor, Jim Monaghan, Sean Kinsella and Michelle Gildernew at the Clones Sinn Féin Honourees Dance in June

JAMES ‘JUNIOR’ McPHILLIPS, a former POW, died in his native Clones on July 1st at 63 years of age.
His death came as a great shock to the local community, where his warmth and sense of fun had won him a wide circle of friends. It also came as a shock to those with whom he spent more than 17 years incarcerated in Portlaoise Prison.
Born and reared in Clones, Junior spent a period in the 1960s working in London but returned home in the early 1970s to play his part in the struggle for freedom. This was a time of intense IRA activity along the Fermanagh border.
Along with other young men from the Clones area, he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1974. As a POW, Junior was a legend and even during the darkest days his happy disposition helped keep spirits high amongst his comrades.
He had a witty response to whatever remark was directed at him. Throughout his wake, comrades from across Ireland travelled to the family home in Clones where they related the many stories about Junior, his exploits and his one-liners.
Returning to Clones following his release in 1991, Junior quickly established himself as a much-loved local character.
He set up business as a window cleaner – or as Junior described it, “a Vision Technician” – and through his work came into daily contact with a wide variety of people across the community.
His republican beliefs found a new home in the Fáilte project for ex-POWs of which he became a director. It is a measure of the man’s personality that he retained close friendships with present as well as former activists.
Junior was a well-read man and could converse on any topic under the sun. He had a particular interest in the anti-colonial wars of the 20th century and was never happier than when involved in an in-depth discussion on the causes and effects of such conflicts.
When Junior was present, a conversation about the future of childcare in Clones might easily wind up with a re-run of the Korean War or the role of the French in Algeria!
In 2008, Junior was honoured by the local Tony Aherne Sinn Féin Cumann for his lifelong contribution and service to the Republican Movement.
Shortly before his death, a local priest met Junior on Fermanagh Street. Observing that he was cleaning windows, the priest remarked, “Hard work never killed anyone.” “Well,” replied Junior, “that theory has yet to be proven.”
There was a massive turn-out at his funeral from republicans all over Ireland, as well as a very large local attendance representing all political and religious opinion.
His Tricolour-draped coffin was flanked by former POWS to his final resting place.
Junior was predeceased by his brother, Laurence, and his sister, Etta, who died earlier this year. He is survived by his sister, Doreen, who throughout the long years of his incarceration had been a devoted friend, visiting Junior in Portlaoise virtually every week.
The Republican Movement extends sincere and heartfelt sympathy to Doreen and to the wider family circle in their time of grief.
I measc laochra na Gael go raibh a anam dhílis.

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