Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tyrone tour traces strong republican history

The O’Neill County boasts some of Ireland’s finest historical resistance. The tale of Tyrone is one of occupation and struggle for liberation.

From the ancient Gaelic chiefs of the O’Neill clan, to the modern exploits of Óglaigh na hÉireann, Tyrone has been to the forefront in resisting foreign occupation and leading the fight for Irish freedom.

The Tyrone landscape is dotted with sites of historical importance, and it made the ideal location for a republican tour, at the recent hunger strike youth weekend.

Setting of early Saturday morning (15 August) the tour bus winded its way from Gortin to Omagh, passing Mountjoy castle and the site where Volunteers Patrick Carty, and Sean Loughran from Tyrone and Dermot Crowley from Cork died in a premature explosion on June 25th 1973.

The first stop of the day was at a monument erected in Strathroy estate, Omagh, dedicated to the memory of the 3 volunteers who died less than a mile from the republican area. It was particularly moving that some young Cork men where present, demonstrating the solid links that still exist between both rebel counties to this day.

It was then off to Aughnacloy, where local republicans explained about the life and struggle of a native of the border town, Vol. Sean McCaughey. At a monument erected to McCaughey in the graveyard, the assembled crowd where told of Sean’s early life growing up in County Tyrone before moving to Belfast in search of work. His active role in the republican struggle was outlined in particular his courageous and selfless decision to embark on a hunger and thirst strike, dying after 23 days of protest on 11 May 1946, in Portlaoise prison.

The bus then made its way to Aghaloo GAA club, to the spot where Aiden McAnespie was murdered by the British Army on the 21st February 1988. Aiden’s Brother Vincent, and nephew and niece, Caolan and Sinead where present at the monument, with Vincy speaking about Aiden, and the events surrounding his murder.

Back on the bus, the tour made its way to the site of the Ballygawley Bus Bombing where 8 British soldiers where killed and 28 injured by a roadside bomb on 20 August 1988. The daring attack carried out by Óglaigh na hÉireann, was replicated in Lisburn later that year on 11 June where 6 British soldiers where killed.

As a direct response to the Ballygawley Bus Bombing, the SAS where trained on Tyrone, and less than 2 weeks following, an ambush was set, that would see the death of 3 of Tyrone’s bravest and finest Volunteers, Brian Mullin, and brothers Gerard and Martin Harte on 30 August 1988.
The site of the ambush, Drumnakilly, half way between Omagh and Carrickmore was the next stop on the tour where local Sinn Féin councillor Declan McAleer, a personal friend of the Harte family, spoke of the 3 men, and the events surrounding the ambush. Following a very insightful, and emotive contribution from Declan, Ógra activist Liam Lappin sang ‘The Drumnakilly Martyrs’ with all gathered, joining in for the final chorus.
An impressive memorial garden was erected last year in the centre of Loughmacrory village on the 20th Anniversary of the Drumnakilly ambush, and that would be the next stop for the bus, allowing all those on the tour time to appreciate the massive work that went into this fine monument, which is a fitting memorial to the 3 men, and a centerpiece of the small republican village.
Leaving Loughmacrory behind, the bus made its way through rural Tyrone to Castlederg. Along the way, many other stories where told, and events recounted, demonstrating the strong record of resistance of Tyrone republicans against the backdrop of occupation and massive repression.
The last stop on the tour was the Derg, at the spot where Lt Seamus Harvey and Lt Gerard McGlynn where killed on active service on 10 August 1973. Local Councillor Ruairi McHugh addressed the tour, speaking of the 2 men, and the huge pride that local people had for the men. He also spoke about Vol. Josie Connolly who died on active service on the 6th February 1989, and how much the loss of this popular young sportsman had on the close knit communities of Castlederg and Aghyaran.
He also spoke of Pádraig O Seanacháin, who was murdered by loyalist gun men on 12 August 1991 as he was on his way to work, and how loyalist paramilitaries had tried to intimidate the nationalist community over the years, but had failed time and again, only making them more resilient and stronger each time.
Speaking on the republican tour, Ógra activist Caolan McAnespie said,

“Republican and historical tours are deeply interesting and useful in educating our young people today of the conflict that has existed within our country from the day and hour of the British occupation. The most recent phase of struggle strikes a particular chord with people, as emotions are still raw from the loss of our loved ones, but it is important to remember what happened, and to talk about it, let people know the truth behind the conflict.”
“The many people who participated in the tour where struck by the openness of many of the speakers, in particular the family members, making it a very emotive yet memorable tour. The tour which stretched across Tyrone, also demonstrated how widespread, how sophisticated and active resistance was in the O’Neill County. We are confident that people are better educated on the republican history of Tyrone as a result of the tour and we aim to organise them on a more regular basis.”


Anonymous said...

Let's hope the next time there's a weekend in Tyrone the westie venture into East Tyrone, get a more complete picture of Tyrone's Republican history. ;-)

Anonymous said...

there is a wealth of republican history in the west Tyrone/east Donegal area which we touched on breifly with Ruairi's fine contribution. Although we were rushed to get to the talk in Strabane maybe next time we'll learn more of the exploits of the volunteers from the west Tyrone command area.

Anonymous said...

A great tour. Very emotional, especially when lappy had us all singing by the Drumnakilly Monument.

Puts it all into perspective. We must continue and we must win to great a price has been paid for anything less.

Go raibh maith agaibh arís to the lad and ladies of Ógra Tír Eoghain.