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13 December 2007 Edition

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Book review

A tragic explosion recalled


From Vinegar Hill to Edentubber: The Wexford IRA and the Border Campaign
By Ruán O’Donnell
Published by
Cairde na Laochra
Price €10

Reviewed by Aengus Ó Snodaigh

On the cusp of midnight 11 November 1957 five IRA Volunteers died in a premature explosion at Edentubber on the Louth-Armagh border. The memory of the lives of the fallen Volunteers is resurrected for us by Ruán O’Donnell in this small, well-written book. Two County Wexford Volunteers Patrick Parle from Wexford town and George Keegan from Enniscorthy, along with Paul Smith from Armagh, Oliver Craven from Newry, County Down and Michael Watters from Edentubber, County Louth perished in the explosion.
O’Donnell has been lucky in having living sources which can recall the events leading up the Edentubber explosion and after. In many other cases, and in much of the history of republicanism a wealth of knowledge has been lost over the generations, because of the secrecy surrounding the events, the organisation, the fact that the players are still active and often because of the unassuming altruistic nature of most Volunteers and supporters. Very little was committed to paper and what was, was often destroyed once read.
So Ruán O’Donnell has accomplished a feat in putting together a very easily read history of a pivotal event in Operation Harvest – ‘The Border Campaign – of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Recounted in the pages of this short booklet is the tale of how Wexford IRA was reformed and reorganised following the 1940s campaign and the divisive decision of the IRA to court-martial its chief of staff and Wexford man Stephen Hayes. How lack of armaments, emigration, abject poverty and the Rás Tailteann all played a role in shaping the Vinegar Hill Column.
As Labhrás Ó Donghaile recalls in the book:
“That little farm on the border at Iniskeen was probably the last of the Flying Column camps we had heard so much about in the early history of the century. There is little romantic however, about 20 young men sleeping rough in a barn on a bachelor’s small farm in the middle of nowhere”.
As if to confirm this he relates the story of hardships they and their hosts faced during their period of active service on, in and around Monaghan, Louth and South Armagh:
“One of our billets was on a small farm straddling the border where three old bachelor brothers lived in the most primitive conditions. We had arrived complete with enough food provisions for a few days, but on arising the first morning we found our food larder completely empty. The brothers had ravished every morsel of the food. It was probably the best feed they had in years. Needless to say we did not delay in that spot.”
Of interest is the question of what role, if any, life-long British agent George Poyntz played, as O’Donnell says “it is unlikely that the truth will ever be known”. Like much in Ireland’s centuries long struggle for freedom, much is clouded in the murky world of the British secret service and its operatives.
What O’Donnell has achieved in this book is to shine light again on the history of events brushed to one side for decades by the establishment, and it is a fitting tribute in this the 50th anniversary that the tale of the heroic five who perished that fateful evening in Edentubber is recounted.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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