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6 November 1997 Edition

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Tragedy on the border

Pat McGinn recounts the story of the Edentubber Martyrs who were killed in a premature explosion during the IRA border campaign forty years ago

Forty years ago, in the early hours of Monday 11 November 1957 five republicans were killed in an explosion which demolished a small cottage at the foot of Edentubber Mountain in County Louth, 300 yards from the Carrickarnon Border post on the main Dundalk/Newry Road.

Gardai, who were on the scene shortly after the explosion, found human remains scattered by the blast and it was only after lengthy examination of the remains that it was definitely established that five men had been killed. The Newry Reporter wrote, `As the early morning mists cleared from the rocky defile abounding in that area, the grim gaunt evidence of the terror of the earlier hours was visible. The blast was heard over 5 miles away. Little remained of the building but a heap of scattered rubble. A small portion of one wall was still standing. Wood splinters and masonry and parts of shattered furniture littered fields up to 150 yards away.

Four Thompson sub-machineguns and ammunition were found among the wreckage. The Newry Frontier Sentinel reported, `The finding of a machine gun strapped to a bicycle led to the belief that the men were starting out on an expedition when a landmine they were handling exploded.'

The Dead

The owner of the cottage was 54 year old Michael Waters, a forestry worker. Tommy Callan, a farmer, of Deerpark, Ravensdale said that he had called to visit Michael Watters and he asked him to come for a walk, but Michael had declined saying he had a touch of the flu.

Paul Smith, 19 years old, was born and lived at the Gardens, Bessbrook. He was the eldest of a family of seven and had three brothers and three sisters. He was educated at the Christian Brothers School in Newry and was an articled architectural apprentice. He had left home six monhs earlier to work in Dublin. His mother identified the remains. His father Bernard, an employee of Bessbrook Spinning Company had been returning from Transport House in London where he had attended an interview in connection with the job as organiser of the ATGWU.

Oliver Craven, from Dominic Street, Newry was one of a family of three boys and four girls. He was a labourer and unmarried, and had been away from home for about six months. His body was identified by Daniel Craven, his brother.

Patrick Parle was employed as a compositor with a local printing firm and was the son of Mary Parle and the late Murtagh Parle of Wexford. Patrick was a keen GAA player and was a founder member of the Parnell Hurling and football club. It had been reported that he had been absent from home for some time.

George Keegan, a baker, was a single man and also had been away from home for some time. His father Patrick Keegan was a Commandant in the North Wexford Brigade IRA during the War of Independence and a member of Enniscorthy UDC until his death five years earlier.

The Funerals

The remains of all five men were taken form the Blessed Oliver Plunkett home Dundalk, to St. Patricks Cathedral where they were placed in the Mortuary Chapel. Vast crowds accompanied the remains which were draped with tricolours and travelled on one lorry, and all the traffic was at a standstill as the cortege passed through the town. On Thursday 14 November Requiem mass was said, after which the coffins of the Wexford men were taken away on the first stage of their journey south. Throughout the day people from Dundalk, South Down and South Armagh filed past the coffins of the remaining three over which was mounted a guard of honour of Fianna Eireann scouts.

In the afternoon the coffins were removed from the Cathedral and placed on a wreath-bedecked lorry and headed for interment in St. Patrick's Cemetery Dundalk. Ahead in processional order marched members of the Fianna Scouts, Cumann na mBan, Sinn Féin led by the Dundalk Emmet Brass and Lead band playing the sombre strains of the Dead March in Saul. Along the footpaths silent crowds watched the funeral procession pass and then joined in the cortege. At the grave in the Republican Plot a guard of honour and colour party was mounted and then the three coffins borne by relatives of the men were lowered, one on top of the other.

John Joe McGirl, Sinn Féin TD for Sligo and Leitrim, delivered the graveside oration. In the course of it he said: ``The tragedy which brought to a sudden end the lives of five great Irishmen is a tragedy of the Irish nation, the tragedy of an Ireland that is unfree and divided. These men came from the North and the South to join together to end the tragedy of our nation and her people.

``Michael Watters was symbolic of the mass of the Irish people who have borne the burnt of the struggle for Irish freedom. The road they travelled was the hard road, but its signposts were unmistakable.

For 35 years the nationalists in the North looked to their brother Irishmen in the South for a direct lead against British occupation. They were sadly disillusioned by the inept approach to the problem of occupation by their fellow Irishmen in the south. Having examined and employed all peaceful approaches to the unnatural division of our country they once again asserted their God-given right to freedom and have fought side by side with gallant men from the South.''

Many who attended the funeral complained that whilst going to and coming from the service RUC patrols and `B' Specials had stopped them and taken notes of cars and occupants before they were allowed to proceed.

The Inquest into the events at Edentubber was somewhat harrowing. At the end of it coroner J H Murphy extended his sympathy to the relatives of the five killed. Superintendent W. Leen and the jury also joined with the coroner with their sympathies. Gardai-Superintendent Leen Dundalk also stated that a priest ahd been taken to the scene immediately after the explosion by a second gardai car and he had gone among the debris and annointed all the men.

At the inquest a body watch belonging to one of those killed had been found. It had stopped at exactly 12.50am.

11 November 1997 will be the fortieth anniversary of the Edentubber Martyrs.

There is no trace today of Michael Watters' home, but a monument in the form of a Celtic Cross, unveiled on the first anniversary of the explosion, marks the spot to which republicans have returned each year since.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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