16 October 2008 Edition

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Fógraí bháis: Eugene Cosgrove

After a long illness the death occurred recently of Eugene Cosgrove, Corragunt, Roslea, County Fermanagh. He passed away peacefully at home on Tuesday morning, 16 September 2008. He leaves to mourn him his wife Teresa, son Michael, daughters Caroline, Angela and Marita, son-in-law, brothers, sisters, grandchildren and wider Cosgrove and McAleer families.
Though not unexpected, it was with great sadness that the wider community learnt of Eugene’s untimely death, this was particularly felt among his many friends and comrades in the Republican Movement.
Eugene was not only a fine husband, father and brother, he was much more than this. He was a member of the Irish Republican Army, community activist and a fine Irish man in every sense of the word.
Eugene passed away a relatively young man but packed more into those years than many would do in two or three lifetimes.
He was born in Corbane, the eldest of ten children. His home was only a short distance from the artificial border that separated his native Fermanagh from the hinterland of Knockatallon in County Monaghan, the effects of Partition was to have a huge impact throughout his life.
In his early life Eugene had a great interest in Irish music and culture which was reflected in his attendance at every Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. He was also very proud of his granddaughter Lucy’s attendance at the first Irish language Bunscoil established in the county.

Like many young Irish people in the 1960’s Eugene had to travel to England to seek employment because of the economic hardships in Ireland. Teresa soon joined him and they were married. Their return to Ireland in 1972 coincided with the war between the IRA and the British state. After Eugene and the family were settled into a home, he joined the IRA himself, an Army in which he remained a committed and disciplined member for the rest of his life.
In the mid 1970s, when the IRA was reorganising into what became known as a ‘cell system’, Eugene was quietly organising with others in the Roslea area to build an effective armed campaign against enemy forces. Eugene knew the border like the back of his hand, something he used to great effect in his role as an IRA Volunteer. One of those who came into Eugene’s unit at that time was his neighbour Seamus McElwain, then only in his teens.
In March 1980 as an IRA unit was preparing an ambush in the Roslea area Eugene, along with Seamus and four others were arrested by the British Army. After 14 months on remand in Crumlin Road Jail, Eugene was sentenced to 10 years. In prison he became known as the ‘oul lad’. This was because he was in his early 30s.
On a recent visit up Belfast’s Falls Road, Eugene met a republican ex-prisoner who had  forgotten his name but recalled his prison nickname, Eugene’s answer was “your not such a young fellow yourself now” – the same man was over 50.

Eugene viewed Long Kesh as another theatre of struggle and would regularly write to his children on the outside and encourage them to get involved in political and community activism. He was very much involved in the pre-planning, execution and rearguard of one of the most audacious IRA operations during the conflict – the 1983 escape of 38 prisoners from Long Kesh 25 years ago. What is not widely known is that Eugene and Seamus had been working on a different escape plan. Howewer when they were brought in as part of the bigger operation, they willingly threw their weight and resources behind the plan.
On 25 April 1986 Eugene was released from Long Kesh and within 12 hours his friend and comrade volunteer Seamus McElwain was shot dead not far from where they had originally been arrested. Seamus was looking forward to meeting Eugene again. He had arranged to meet Eugene the following night but sadly this was never to happen.

Those last days of April 1986 should have been a happy time for Eugene after five years  apart from his wife and family however they were to be traumatic. He had to help plan the burial of his comrade Seamus. In these circumstances many a person would  have taken time out or indeed said ‘I’ve done my bit’ and naturally that would have been accepted. But the circumstances had thrown him back into the thick of things again. Not only did he assist in reorganising the Republican Movement in the area he was also the inspiration behind community development locally particularly around the idea of rebuilding Derrygannon Hall, which stands today as a proud legacy and testament to his local commitment, hard work and visionary leadership.
He was also a key figure in the Border Roads Campaign. It was always a cat and mouse game between himself and the British Army and in all the battles he never once allowed them to confiscate any machinery in the process of keeping the roads open. Eugene was also a founder member of Iarchimí (Fermanagh Ex Prisoners Committee) and Firinne, a local organisation established to represent victims of state violence.
Even when he was diagnosed with cancer less than two years ago he continued to be involved and never lost his motivational character. Last year when Eugene celebrated his 60th birthday he donated all funds raised to local cancer charities.
He was also a man that wanted to keep alive the memory of those who had fallen during the war and the many monuments in the local area are testament to this.

Eugene Cosgrove was a selfless person. Everything he did was in the interest of the struggle for freedom, he was a very proud member of the IRA and spoke in recent times to close comrades of his pride and honour in having taken part in the struggle for Irish freedom. Like many comrades he had difficulties with some of the initiatives taken by the Republican Movement in recent times however, he remained steadfast in his commitment to the republican strategy. He was not a man that embraced platforms. He was an unassuming person but was an inspirational leader, the engine of the area and beyond.
Eugene accepted his illness with the same fortitude and bravery that he applied to the struggle throughout his life. He told a number of close friends recently that he wasn’t afraid to die.
The large crowd at Eugene’s funeral and wake is recognition of how Eugene was respected. There were comrades from all over Ireland who came to pay their respects. Eugene’s family are proud of him and his community is proud and grateful to him for the legacy he has left behind. The Irish Republican Army and republicanism is proud of having had a person of his calibre, vision and leadership.
I measc laochra na nGael go riabh sé.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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