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29 June 2023

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Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle remembered by Irish republicans in Scotland

• Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle

Irish republicans from across Scotland gathered in Motherwell on Saturday, 17 June, to remember Commandant Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle, a former resident of the nearby village of Newmains, at a commemorative dinner.

O’Boyle is most notably remembered today, and particularly in his native Donegal, as ‘the last man killed in the civil war.’

Born in Lackenagh, Donegal, in 1898, O’Boyle demonstrated a keen interest in Irish history from an early age. Indeed, after expressing his admiration for the 1916 rebel leader, Joseph Plunkett, he was labelled with the nickname ‘Plunkett’.

In 1919, at the age of 21, he was forced to leave his job on the railways after several run-ins with the local RIC. The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) was operating a policy of not carrying Crown Forces at that time.

O’Boyle left for Scotland and settled at Stable Court, Newmains. There he took up work as a brusher in a local colliery. It was also in Scotland that he also joined B Coy, 2nd Battalion, Scottish No. 1 Brigade of Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Like many IRA volunteers in Scotland, he was primarily involved in procuring and transporting weaponry back to the revolutionary movement in Ireland. In 1920, he was apprehended by police in Bothwell and later charged with possession of explosives. He received a sentenced of five years penal servitude. 

O'Boyle commemoration 2

• Pearse O'Doherty speaking at the centenary dinner honouring Neil 'Plunkett' O'Boyle.

Released as part of the treaty amnesty in 1922, Plunkett returned to his native Donegal and rededicated himself to the republican struggle in opposition to the treaty.

Despite the official ceasefire order of April 1923, O’Boyle and his men found themselves surrounded by a Free State raiding party, while staying at a house in Knocknadruce, Wicklow, on 15 May 1923. When the raiding party threatened to throw hand-grenades into the building, which also contained the homeowner and her daughter, O’Boyle agreed to surrender himself.

After exiting the house and walking slowly towards his awaiting captors, with both arms raised above his head, Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle was summarily executed by the Free State commander on the scene.

It was appropriate that Saturday’s dinner was addressed by Pearse Doherty, TD for the Donegal constituency and a self-described “son of Donegal, but child of Glasgow.” The dinner was also attended by the former MP for West Belfast and former Vice President of Sinn Féin Pat Doherty, who was also raised in Glasgow. 

O'Boyle commemoration

In his address, the Donegal TD paid tribute to Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle, saying “He was a brave leader and his commitment to the Republic, his comrades, and the Irish people never waned. The dignity of his cause stood against the brutality of the Free State forces right to the end.”

He added, “But his legacy endures. A hero of republican struggle. His name deserves a very special place in the history of Irish freedom and I commend you for organising this centenary event.”

Turning to the modern today, the Sinn Féin TD continued, “Here we are today, Irish republicans unbowed, unbroken, gathered to remember the life and sacrifice of our comrade Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle. We are committed to the ideals that he lived for and that he died for. Committed to the Republic that he fought for. We are the legacy bearers of Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle and others like him.

“Look at the journey that we are on and look at the destination that we are about to achieve. The goal of a united Ireland is within our grasp. A century later, we stand on the stage of history once again. The promise of the Irish Republic, that promise that was made on the steps of the GPO in 1916. That promise of freedom, unity, and justice is within our reach.”

Reflecting on the recent local elections in the North, Pearse Doherty stated, “Just last month, Sinn Féin took its place as the largest political party across the North in council elections. Just last year, Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the North in the Assembly elections.”

O'Boyle commemoration 3

• Sinn Féin's Pearse O'Doherty speaking at the centenary dinner honouring Neil 'Plunkett' O'Boyle.

He continued, “And it is not just in the North that Sinn Féin is on the march. In the south, we are building on the historic general election of 2020 and we are looking forward to leading the next government in the south – and in the north. And a chairde, none of this happened by change. None of it just happened overnight. What we are witnessing now is the product of years, and indeed decades, of work, of organisation, of diligence by republican activists such as yourselves and others back home in Ireland.”

The dinner was organised by the ‘Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle Cumann of Cairde na hÉireann, which covers the Wishaw and Motherwell area. In his closing remarks, Pearse Doherty praised the work of Cairde na hÉireann in Scotland, adding that, “Cairde na hÉireann has long stood up for equality for Scotland’s Irish community but by also promoting the cause of Irish freedom here in Scotland, you have promoted the cause of Irish freedom back home in Ireland.”

He concluded his address, “I am convinced that we are the generation, all of us, here in Scotland or back home in Ireland, those who continue to allow that flame of Irish freedom to burn in their heart. We are the generation who are going to finish this job. We are the generation who are going to bring about Irish unity. We are the generation who are going to deliver on what Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle and so many others gave their lives for”. 

“So, stay the course. Continue your activism and continue to remember that what we are involved in is a noble cause. A cause that will see Ireland free once again. A cause that will bring about a Nation once again.”

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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures

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