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19 October 2023

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Jack McElduff - A link to our proud and noble past

The death occurred on Friday 29 September, of veteran republican John Vincent (Danny) McElduff, known as 'Jack' or 'Danny' to his friends and comrades. A lifelong Irish republican and former political prisoner in England, McElduff had lived for many years in Co Sligo but hailed from Loughmacrory, Co. Tyrone.

Jack’s cortège made the long journey from Coolaney in Sligo to Loughmacrory where it arrived on the evening of 1 October. He was laid to rest after Mass in St Mary’s Chapel on Monday, 2 October.

The graveside oration, delivered by Sean Hughes is published in full below:

 “It is an honour for me to speak here today as we lay to rest a very brave and dedicated IRA Volunteer Jack McElduff. Republicans across many parts of Ireland were very saddened as news spread in recent days of the passing of Jack.

A well known and widely respected republican, not just in Tyrone and Sligo but far beyond, Jack’s activism never wavered over the course of his life. ‘A life in struggle is a life well lived.’

Jack McElduff - or Danny to his many friends in Sligo - was a quiet spoken man with a sharp intellect and keen sense of humour, whose life is in itself a history of modern republicanism.

This area, at the foothold of the Sperrins, is a very special place. It has been a bastion of republican resistance spanning hundreds of years.

The United Irishmen, the Fenian risings, the rapparees - all have deep roots in this part of mid-Tyrone. It is an area stepped in language, culture and heritage.

Joe McGarrity from Carrickmore, along with John Devoy and the Clan na Gael in America raised the finance for the 1916 rising. Eoin McNamee, Chief of Staff of the IRA in the 1940’s hailed from Greencastle, and Volunteers Gerard and Martin Harte who died on active service alongside volunteer Brian Mullan rest here in this graveyard. Jack McElduff came from this stock, from that proud tradition of resistance to British rule. 

Born to a staunch republican family in Loughmacrory – his father Jimmy was a captain in the IRA’s 2nd Northern Division in the 1920s. Whilst two of Jack’s brothers - Jimmy and Joe, were interned in later years for their republican activities.

Jack’s journey as a republican activist began in his earliest days as a seven or eight-year-old, sitting in his father’s company on many an evening when republican veterans would call to the house to listen to the radio, discuss current issues and debate republican politics into the early hours, and who knows maybe share a bottle of póitín with the craic.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Jack became politically aware and soon was at the forefront of Tyrone republicanism and rctivism.

Speaking some years ago, he reflected on key events which influenced his political thinking and led him to taking up arms. One such event occurred in the 1950s when republican prisoner Liam Kelly was released from jail.

Kelly was welcomed back to Pomeroy by crowds of several thousand and when the RUC moved in to seize tricolours, serious rioting broke out involving many young local men, including Jack.

Jack’s earliest involvement in republican activity was in the aftermath of Operation Harvest, working with JP McMullan, gathering up arms for us to rise on another day.

Jack was impacted by the Civil Rights campaign in the late 1960s and in how the people’s resistance to oppression and discrimination developed. He remembered the brutal attack by the RUC on civil rights protesters at Burntollet, and how the reaction of the people moved the struggle to a new level.

Nationalists had come onto the streets to demand basic civil rights and the Six Counties orange state turned their baton and their guns on them. The power and privilege of the Orange State was being protected by British guns. The IRA came back onto the streets to defend the people.

And so it was that when conflict re-ignited on this island, Jack McElduff was not found wanting. Jack made a conscious decision to be part of the struggle against British rule and so joined the ranks of Óglaigh na hÉireann, continuing in that proud family tradition.

After being active here in Co. Tyrone, Jack made the courageous decision to move to England and bring the war to the ‘belly of the beast’.

In England he worked in construction but alongside that played an important role in leading an IRA unit, operating with Volunteers such as Mayo’s Michael Gaughan who later died on hunger strike.

He retained many fond memories of his fellow Volunteers from those days - of their bravery and fortitude in times when resources were few and the chance of being caught or killed was a stark reality.

When Jack was eventually captured in 1971 with Michael Gaughan, James Moore and Frank Golden he was badly beaten in the custody of the British and fully expected a severe sentence.

Being a very capable and intelligent man, he defended himself against 13 charges and was ultimately sentenced to three years. He spent time in Brixton and Wormwood Scrubs jails before being moved to Albany

The early 1970s was a particularly harsh time for a republican to spend time in an English prison. A small group of Irish republican prisoners including Jack and Michael Gaughan had to defend and assert themselves in a jail designed to break them, and which also contained dangerous English criminals, such as the Kray twins.

Not only did they defend themselves, they also defended the rights of others, such as prisoners of Caribbean descent who were being victimised and under severe physical attack from notorious English gangsters.

Jack had a huge admiration for Michael Gaughan and was deeply impacted by Michael’s death on hunger strike after being force fed. On release, Jack returned to Ireland, reporting back to his comrades in the Sligo and resumed active service immediately.

Jack lived for a period on Tory Island and at one point, he also lived in Holland where he was active while working on the barges and shipping industry. He continued to play a full, active and important part in the struggle, showing courage, loyalty and dedication.

Jack was always to the forefront, taking many risks without a second thought for himself.

No task was too big or too small for him. He did what was asked of him and he did what needed to be done.

Those were tough years, with a lot of poverty, and he credited his partner, Audrey Kaufman, for her resilience and support and keeping the family together.

Jack with Ella O’Dwyer (also a POW in England), who was interviewing him for the ‘Republican Legends’ book on Michael Gaughan

• Jack with Ella O’Dwyer (also a POW in England), who was interviewing him for the ‘Republican Legends’ book on Michael Gaughan

Jack was a strong supporter of the development of Sinn Féin as a serious political force on the island, north and south. From Sligo, he had huge influence on the party here in Mid Tyrone. Indeed, his brother Jimmy was the first Sinn Fein councillor in Loughmacrory, paving the way for the growth and expansion of the party we now have today.

And over the years, the legacy of the McElduff clan’s involvement has been continued by Jack’s niece and nephew Anne-Marie and Barry and indeed Jack’s brother in law Mickey McAnespie, a former councillor, rests here in this graveyard.

Jack saw himself as a revolutionary activist and understood and advocated for the various strategies adopted by republicans over the years, including the development of republican politics and the republican peace strategy.

Totally committed, right up until the very end, travelling to his Cumann meetings until recent times. Jack McElduff was the epitome of a republican activist. He was a solid, unwavering rock of sense.

He was a modest, unassuming comrade and friend, who will be sorely missed by his family and his many friends and comrades the length and breadth of this country. A genuine, straight talking republican who would tell you it…as it was!

Comrades, we have lost an historic link to our proud and noble past, going back many years. As I said earlier, Jack’s life is a history of modern republicanism. In his time, he witnessed: oppression, prison, hunger strikes, life ‘on the run’ and then the development of a political strategy to achieve Irish unity. And that we will!

Comrades, be in no doubt that only for the solid foundation that Jack and others like him put in place for the Republican Movement down the years, as an IRA Volunteer and as a Sinn Féin activist, we would not be in the position of strength we find ourselves in today.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Jack was a loyal, unwavering, unbowed and unrepentant republican, who, like Pádraig Pearse, James Connelly, Bobby Sands and Mairead Farrell believed - “We had a legitimate right to take up arms and defend our county and ourselves against British occupation.”

Jack paid a high, personal price for his commitment to justice, freedom and a United Ireland. It’s up to all of us - Jack’s friends and comrades, to continue the struggle to completion. It’s up to us to build successfully on all of the struggle and all of the sacrifices that have been made.

Let’s move decisively forward in building a united Ireland and a real Republic for which Jack struggled so hard and so faithfully. That would be the only monument worthy of a patriot such as Jack McElduff.

So, to conclude, on behalf of the Republican Movement. I want to express our sincerest condolences to Jack’s son Niall, daughters Louise and Siobhan and their mother Audre and the wider McElduff family circle.

Go raibh maith agaibh.”

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