18 February 1999 Edition

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Fógraí bháis: Volunteer Harry Burns

I was deeply honoured to be asked to write this obituary to my dear friend and comrade Harry Burns, but I soon realised what a difficult task it would be to sum up Harry's life within a few short paragraphs.

Harry was born in 1949, the seventh of twelve children to Brigid and Jimmy Burns. The republican presence within family life was inherent from the start as his father Jimmy was interned in the 1940s. Harry's teenage years reflected that of many of his peers, going to dances, socialising and so on, but that was to change with the onset of the current phase of the conflict in 1969, when Harry was compelled to react to the effects of British involvement in his city and country. At the age of 19, Harry, and as his older brother Skipper had done, joined the local unit of the IRA.

It soon was apparent to everyone he came in contact with that Harry had great potential as a Volunteer and dedicated Irish republican. His leaderhip qualities led him not only to come to the fore in the republican movement but also brought him to the attention of the British, and after a short period on the run, he was arrested and held on the Maidstone prision ship. Harry's organisational abilities were soon put to use again when he masterminded the escape of seven of his comrades from the ship.

According to Gerry Adams, in his graveside oration at Harry's funeral, ``Harry couldn't go on the escape because he couldn't swim''.

After this, he was moved to Long Kesh, where he soon became involved in many other escape attempts.

On his releae in 1974 he wasted no time in re-involving himself in the liberation struggle where he soon gained the reputation of being a fearless freedom fighter.

However, his love of his country was multifaceted. He was a fluent Irish speaker and was involved in many republican organisations, among them the National Graves Association. It was through this Association that Harry, though seriously ill, was recently able to attend a moving ceremony in Crumlin Road Jail to pay tribute to another dedicated republican, Tom Williams.

An active family man, Harry believed in the importance of family and community and it was because of this that he was at the forefront of the regeneration of community life in his local area, St. James's.

He was as dedicated to the cause of community as he was to republicanism and his own home was often likened to an advice centre, open as it was to anyone with a problem which needed solving.

A founder member of the St James's Community Forum, Harry was a leader in the true sense of the word, personally encouraging both the young and not so young to play an active role in `enhancing' the life of the area he held so dear.

The size of Harry's funeral was testament to the esteem, respect and love which people from all over Ireland felt for him. To my sister Deirdre and her children, no words can express the loss you are feeling as Harry's death has left a chasm not only in your lives but in the lives of many communities throughout our country.

Seldom has one person touched the lives of so many people and anyone who witnessed his courageous life and his unswerving dedication to his beliefs understands that Harry was a special kind of person. Though his life was cut short, he enriched our lives and inspired us all.

Until we meet again, Slán mo chara.
Liam Shannon.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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