20 February 2003 Edition

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Fermanagh pays tribute to Vol Louis Leonard

A tribute booklet compiled to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the assassination of IRA Volunteer Louis Leonard was launched at the Louis Leonard Memorial Lecture in Millennium Hall, Donagh, County Fermanagh, on 7 February.


Volunteer Louis Leonard was murdered by British State Forces on 15 December 1972. To those who knew and loved him, his memory is still fresh today, three decades later, particularly for his wife Betty, son Tony, mother Mary and brothers Hugh, Desmond, Willie, Barry, Ciaran, Anthony and sister Louise.

Louis's father Dessie passed away on 23 October 1989.

Louis was born in 1946, and was the second oldest of a family of eight boys and one girl. The family owned a small farm at Kieranmore, just a few miles from Donagh.

Louis attended Ballagh School. At 15 years of age he began work as an apprentice butcher in nearby Lisnaskea. He stayed with the same butcher until 1972, when he opened his own business in Derrylin, where he quickly established a successful trade. In 1972, Louis opened the butcher shop, married his sweetheart Betty Monaghan from Derrylin, and in August their son Tony was born, just four months before his death.

Louis had joined the ranks of the IRA in the turbulent political conditions that existed back in the early 1970s. Louis joined B Company, South Fermanagh Brigade. As in all other spheres of his life, he was highly regarded and trusted by his comrades. Described by his O/C (Officer Commanding) as a meticulous and creative soldier who was dedicated to the cause of freedom, Louis swiftly moved through the ranks, becoming the Company's quartermaster, devoting more and more time to the struggle. His O/C of that time said: "Louis was always making himself available for active service, he was a very reliable and dedicated soldier." As Louis' activities became known to the enemy, he often received death threats and was continually harrassed by the British Army and RUC. When advised by his O/C to be aware of his safety, Louis' only concern was for his family.

Throughout 1972, the IRA in the South Fermanagh area carried out many successful military operations. However, in June 1972, the area suffered its first major setback, with the arrest of four men on active service. Louis' brother Desmond, along with with John Cannon, Mick McManus and Jimmy Lynch, were arrested as they planned an ambush on a British Army patrol.


THE KILLING



On the night of 15 December around 9pm, Betty left Louis in the butcher's shop to make deliveries in the Lisnaskea area. On her way back to Derrylin at 10.50pm, she was stopped by an RUC patrol and was subjected to extreme aggression, an incident that left her badly shaken. When Betty arrived back at the shop around 11.10pm the lights were off and the shop was closed.

The next morning, 16 December, at around 9am, Betty went to Kinawley RUC Station to report Louis missing. She was very taken aback by the flippant attitude of the police towards his disappearance, and went away feeling perturbed at their response. She then went to Louis' home outside Donagh to see if there had been any news. Louis' brothers, Hugh and Ciaran, and his brother-in-law Tom Rice, travelled to Derrylin around 11.30-11.45am to force their way into the shop. They entered the shop and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Hugh then opened the fridge, where he found the body of his brother lying just inside the door. Louis had been shot dead.

In the months leading up to his murder, Louis had been harassed by the British Army and his life had been threatened by an Army Captain only a week before his death. The RUC denied that Betty was stopped by a mobile patrol outside Lisnaskea on the night of his death and indeed, denied that such a patrol existed.

Why did the RUC not act immediately when Betty reported her husband missing? The RUC failed to protect the crime scene after Louis' body was discovered and many people were allowed to pass through the shop before it was sealed off. Checkpoints were set up around the Leonard family home in the days following Louis' death. The army attempted to search the home on the day after Louis' burial, and bullets were found hanging on the clothesline at the Leonard home in an attempt to frighten and intimidate them, but the RUC took no action. The Leonard family has received just one letter from the RUC in relation to Louis' death in the 30 years since his murder.

Louis' death bears many similarities to the nearly 400 other such state murders throughout the Six Counties, by the fact that there has been a complete lack of truth and justice for the deceased and their families.

The RUC are guilty, by definition of the recent European Court ruling on similar cases of, at the very least, failing to carry out a proper investigation, failing to be independent and failing to provide relevant information to the victim's family.


THE GAA PLAYER



One of Louis' keen interests was football. "He was football crazy and that would have been his main topic," recalls his mother. Louis began his football career with the Knocks juvenile and minor teams and, with his obvious ability, often led them to victory. His greatest achievement came in 1968, when he captained the Knocks team to the Intermediate League and Championship victories.

When St Pat's Donagh was formed in the early 1970s, Louis became one of their leading players. He had a keen interest in developing the youth club and was always available to help.

Louis' murder was a terrible blow, not only to his family but also to St Pat's.

In 1984, the centenary year of the Gaelic Athletic Association, St Pat's Club opened a new pitch. As a tribute to Louis, the pitch was named The Louis Leonard Memorial Park in honour of their most outstanding player.


An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1
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