15 November 2007 Edition
Huge crowds mark 50th anniversary of Edentubber Martyrs
Advancing republicanism in a new phase of struggle
BY SEÁN Mac BRÁDAIGH
The largest crowds ever seen for an Edentubber commemoration turned out on the Louth/Armagh border on Sunday, 11 November, to mark the 50th anniversary of the deaths of five republican activists killed during the 1956-62 IRA Border Campaign when a landmine exploded prematurely.
The five who died at Edentubber, a few hundred yards from the border crossing at Carrickarnon, and since known as the Edentubber Martyrs, included the owner of the cottage, 54-year-old Michael Watters; Paul Smith, 19-years-old, who was born and lived at the Gardens, Bessbrook; Oliver Craven, from Dominic Street, Newry; and Patrick Parle and George Keegan of Wexford.
Thousands of republicans from the four corners of Ireland, led by colourful banners of various Sinn Féin cumainn and a large number of republican marching bands, made their way from Carrickarnon to the monument at the foot of Edentubber Mountain, which marks the spot where the cottage of Michael Watters once stood.
On the way, marchers were treated to pageantry recalling the era of the Border Campaign with people in period dress representing IRA Volunteers, customs officers and civilians. The spectacle was enhanced with the inclusion of a 1950s-style border customs post and vintage cars from the period.
Along with all the border counties, Wexford, the county from which two of the Edentubber Martyrs hailed, was well represented on the parade, as was Limerick, the home city of IRA Volunteer Seán Sabhat, who was killed at Brookeborough in 1957 along with Fergal O’Hanlon from Monaghan.
Ceremonies at Edentubber were chaired by Sinn Féin TD for Louth Arthur Morgan who warmly welcomed veterans of the 1950s campaign and in particular the families of the five republicans killed at Edentubber. Morgan also welcomed the relatives of those who died in any phase of the Irish freedom struggle. Relatives of each of the Edentubber Martyrs laid wreaths at the monument.
Arthur Morgan acknowledged the absence of two men whom he described as “great republicans”: Donal Duffy and and Pat Harte, who died earlier in the year.
“Donal Duffy piped this parade every year since it commenced in 1958. He piped many other republican commemorations and funerals as well. Unfortunately, poor Donal is no longer with us.
“Pat Harte spent countless hours maintaining the monument here in the condition that you see it. Ar laimh dehis Dé go raibh a anamacha,” Morgan said.
Following the laying of wreaths and the playing of The Last Post and Reveille and a lament on the pipes, Ellen Maguire sang The Edentubber Song.
The main address at Edentubber was delivered by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP.
“Irish republicanism owes a huge debt of gratitude to the courage and self-sacrifice of the republican activists of the 1950s,” Adams said. “They kept faith with the republican past and they ensured the future of our struggle.”
Commenting on the disappointing general election results earlier this year, efforts by political opponents to undermine Sinn Féin, and claims by Fianna Fáil that it will crush the party, the Sinn Féin leader said:
“This party and republicanism is set to continue to grow in the time ahead. Why am I so confident? Because republicans have demonstrated time and time again our unswerving commitment to our national objectives and an ability to strategise and plan and build republican politics in an unprecedented way. We are doing that now.
“During the summer, the Sinn Féin leadership commenced a critical and inclusive analysis of our election performance in the south. The resolve shown by party members since the election has been inspiring. What is abundantly clear is that activists and supporters are up for the challenge of building the party and achieving our political goals.”
Responding to accusations of republican involvement in crime and the recent murder of Paul Quinn, Gerry Adams said that, as Sinn Féin seeks to advance its republican goals, there will be those who “fear our agenda for change”. Adams continued:
“They will continue to attack us. The opposition to genuine republicanism is considerable. It encompasses powerful vested interests that support and in turn are supported by the conservative parties. It includes a small number of anti-republican journalists who seek at every opportunity to make allegations trying to link republicans with criminals and criminal activities.
“A few weeks ago, Paul Quinn was murdered in County Monaghan. He was murdered by criminals.
“It was a crime which people across Ireland have rightly condemned. An alliance of some unionist and SDLP politicians, criminal elements and some former republican activists have sought to exploit this dreadful killing to undermine Sinn Féin. They will not succeed.
“I want to make Sinn Féin’s position absolutely clear on this point. We have a zero tolerance attitude to all criminal activity. We want to make the policing institutions and the judicial systems accountable. We will continue to resolutely oppose political policing, North and South. This is totally unacceptable. But let me be very direct. Sinn Féin is committed to law and order. We fully support the fight against crime. We support An Garda Síochána and the PSNI, and the criminal justice systems, North and South, and the effective delivery of fair and impartial justice.”
Referring to an anticipated statement from the UDA that day on its future direction, Gerry Adams said:
“Right-thinking people will support real efforts by thinking loyalists to move the UDA or other loyalist paramilitaries into the peace process. So, Sinn Féin welcomes in a positive way any progress on this front. We are very mindful, however, that the UDA was established by the British Government; that it was a front for them; and that it is consumed in criminal activities, including drug pushing. So there can be no tolerance for this. Attempts to bribe organisations like this, as the British did in a very cynical way, are unacceptable. What the UDA needs to do is to get off the backs of the unionist people and remove itself as a threat to those ordinary Catholics who have most often been its victims.”
Commenting on suggestions that Fianna Fáil might organise in the Six Counties and on the future of the SDLP, the Sinn Féin leader said:
“Some commentators have speculated on the effects of Fianna Fáil organising on an all-Ireland basis. We welcome this development. In its own way it can help erode the partitionist mentality that pervades so much of Fianna Fáil’s politics. Its potential effect is a greater worry for the SDLP and for the future of that party.
“The SDLP has always enjoyed enormous political patronage from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the PDs and Labour. The SDLP is now a party without direction, unable to come to terms with its own electoral setbacks, trying to carve out a space in the Assembly as a party in government and in opposition at the same time, and undecided as to whether it joins the UUP or Fianna Fáil. Either way, the Northern electorate has seen the future and it is a future without the SDLP.
“As for Fianna Fáil... If its intention is to seek a mandate on a 32-county basis, then now is the time for the Taoiseach to act on those key all-Ireland commitments arising out of the Good Friday Agreement which he has failed thus far to deliver. Principal among these is his failure to provide representation in the Oireachtas for citizens in the Six Counties.”
The Sinn Féin president also spoke about other republicans who “in small militaristic groups attack us with great bitterness”.
“Martin Meehan and his wife, Briege, received five death threats from these elements in the week before his untimely death. No republican objectives are advanced by such behaviour. On the contrary, the activities of these groups play into the hands of those who are against change. These groups have no strategy, no programmes, no popular support and no real capacity, militarily or otherwise.
“They have chosen random acts of intimidation and isolated acts of individual violence which are politically ineffective and result only in pain and suffering for the individuals targeted and their families. The overall effect is retrograde at every level and in every sense when what is required is forward momentum. I would appeal to them once again therefore to cease all activities. I will engage with all or any of these groups to persuade them of the imperative for everyone genuinely interested in republicanism to advance it in a peaceful manner.”
Finally, Gerry Adams spoke of his confidence for the future:
“We have laid the foundations for greater progress and more advances in the time ahead. This leadership, the thousands of republican activists, and the hundreds of thousands of citizens who are in increasing numbers voting for our party, are able and determined to advance republicanism in this new phase of struggle. I am confident of achieving our goals.
“I have confidence in republicanism, in republicans and in our strategy. Together we can build a united, sovereign Irish republic based on equality for all. This will be the only truly fitting monument to those who died here at Edentubber and all those who died in the cause of Irish freedom – a free, independent, united Ireland.
“Ar aghaidh linn le chéile.”