The Matt Fitzpatrick 1916 Society Newtownbutler held a commemoration in honour of Sean South and Fergal O’Hanlon on their 66th anniversary. Damien Johnson of the Matt Fitzpatrick Society Chaired the commemoration and got proceedings underway by giving a brief introduction.
Then Eamon McPhillips sang the Patriot Game in dedication to Fergal O’Hanlon.
This was followed by Bernadette Layden reading the 1916 Proclamation and she made special reference to the women that have fought in the struggle and the importance that they should be remembered. Wreaths were then layed in honour of the Volunteers and the National flag lowered. The 1916 Societies Chairman Pól O’Scannel made the main speech a copy which can be read below. Eamon then sang Sean South. Damian thanked everyone for their participation and Eamon sang Amhrán na bhFainn.
“One hundred years ago Ireland was in the grip of civil war, the years 1922 and 1923 became known as the terror years because of the barbaric actions of the free state counter revolutionaries. Those two years saw the Free State military courts impose death sentences on over a hundred Irish republican army Volunteers with 81 judicially murdered by firing squad with hundreds more murdered in barracks squares and lonely roadsides all around Ireland, some Volunteers were tied to landmines and blown up as happened in Ballyseedy and Countess bridge in Kerry. In Dublin the remnants of Michael Collins squad was formed into the CID, they were responsible for the arrest of over 500 IRA volunteers during the civil war as well as the seizure of weapons, specialising in picking up young Fianna Eireann boys torturing and murdering them, then dumping their bodies on the outskirts of Dublin city. Oriel House CID was disbanded and its members were transferred to the Dublin Metropolitan police as detectives. They later formed the basis of the Garda special branch. They thought that they had killed the dream of a 32 county Irish Republic. That was the Ireland that Sean South and Fergal O Hanlon were born into, partition and the twilight years where the British and free state believed the republican movement was defeated. But the fools , the fools , the fools they forgot the words of Padraig Pearse “We seem to have lost. We have not lost. To refuse to fight would have been to lose; to fight is to win. We have kept faith with the past, and handed on a tradition to the future “ he also said “You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed “. That tradition was passed onto these two young Volunteers, they believed that they would be the generation to win freedom by a better deed. The immediate years after the second world war saw a significant revival in both political and militant republicanism, partly as a result of the release of internees but also because of the manner in which partition came to the forefront of Irish politics. The 1948 Free State elections were notable for the role played by the Anti-Partition League, which had been founded in 1946. It received countrywide support, they asked voters ‘not to support any party that did not pledge itself to give active support to end Partition.”
“In the 1950s the Republican movement felt strong enough to once again renew the fight for freedom. When the Army Council’s strategy for a new offensive eventually emerged, it originally planned attacks not just on border installations but also on Crown forces in Belfast and other cities. In mid-November 1956, Patrick Doyle, a long-serving Belfast Volunteer, was arrested in possession of documents that revealed plans of the new offensive. As a result, the Army Council abandoned its plans for operations in Belfast. The offensive, code-named Operation Harvest was launched on the night of the 12th of December 1956, Seán Sabhat took part in that attack on Gough Barracks in Armagh City on that night, a mine was placed at the barrack gate to blow it down when a sentry spotted the approaching column and began firing shots in the air. The leader of the column Seán Garland decided to withdraw the column. Of all of the attacks during operation Harvest None gained more notoriety than the Brookeborough raid. The IRA Pearse column had been billeted in Fermanagh for several days before the attack, the leader was Seán Garland. It was his decision to attack the barracks as a symbolic operation but he was unaware that the Barracks was heavily fortified and provided security for the nearby Colebrook estate, the home of the anti-Irish racist prime minister of the orange state, lord BrookeBorough. It was strongly armed and guarded. Garland had over a dozen men for the raid, they had requisitioned a lorry owned by a Lisnaskea building firm.. The strategy was to position the lorry outside the barracks and make a direct assault. The column was split into two sections: an assault party to lay the mines and a fire party to provide cover. Two lookouts, Mick Kelly and Mick O’Brien, were positioned on the outskirts and instructed to give signals should RUC patrols or reinforcements approach.”
“Moving up the main street in the lorry the driver, Vince Conlon, pulled up beyond the gable end of the barracks, but too close to give the firing party a sufficient angle to cover the upper windows, this proved to be a fatal mistake. As the mine was being laid the RUC sergeant came out to investigate and saw the mine, he ran back inside, slamming the door and alerting the RUC inside. Machine gun fire raked the building with Seán South firing the Bren gun while Paddy O’Regan fed him the magazine. Daithi Ó Conaill tried to detonate the mine, but nothing happened. With the column coming under heavy fire from the barracks, and particularly from its upper gable end windows, Ó Conaill made a dash to lay a second mine. He succeeded, but again it failed to detonate. In frustration he fired his Thompson gun into both mines; still they failed.”
“The RUC Sten gun raked the lorry with heavy fire. Garland and Ó Conaill returned fire, and someone—possibly Fergal O’Hanlon—threw a hand grenade at the window; it hit the sill and bounced back into the street.”
“The machine gun fire was having a deadly effect on the attackers. Sean South was hit and lay slumped over his Bren gun, Fergal O’Hanlon was bleeding on the ground and Paddy O’Regan was lying face downwards after being shot. Garland was limping, having taken a bullet in the leg. It was now obvious that the attack was not going to be successful, Sean Garland gave the order for the column to withdraw.”
“The Volunteers got back into the lorry with their injured comrades and drove for the countryside, they stopped here at Altawark also known as Baxter’s Cross. It was realised that the RUC would be in pursuit and that the barracks at Roslea would be alerted. The men had to make a quick decision about South and O’Hanlon, who plainly could go no further. The rest of the journey would be on foot, over rough terrain towards the border. A deserted farmhouse and cowshed were spotted; it was decided to leave the wounded O Hanlon and dead Sean South in the shed and request local people to call a doctor and a priest. This was done, but Garland was reluctant to leave his comrades. He wanted to stay and fight the oncoming RUC to gain time for the rest of the column to escape. He was dissuaded, and with a heavy heart moved out with the rest of the column.”
“The stone from that cowshed was used to build this fine monument. The column set off from here led by a local guide over the mountains towards the border. As they advanced up the mountain, they could see the headlights of crown force vehicles converging on the crossroads where the lorry and their comrades had been left. Four other I.R.A. men were wounded, Volunteers Paddy O’Regan, Phil O’Donoghue, Sean Garland and Vincent Conlon who was the driver of the lorry .The column marched for many hours over difficult terrain until they finally saw lights of a town in the distance. Pat Connolly of Fermanagh, the local guide, had led the column safely back across the border. They had successfully avoided 500 RUC men and B-Specials who had scoured the mountains with baying hounds and airborne units.”
“They reached a farmhouse where they were made welcome and given food and medical attention. Within a short period of time the farmhouse was surrounded by Free State forces, an ambulance was called, and the four wounded men were taken to Monaghan Hospital. The rest of the column were taken prisoner and a few weeks later each was sentenced to six months in jail.”
“Seán Garland records his abiding memory of being in Monaghan Hospital was looking out the window of the ward and seeing the long procession of motor car headlights accompanying the two hearses bringing the bodies of his two comrades across the border for burial in Monaghan and Limerick.”
“The raid made immediate headlines and within days South and O’Hanlon were seen as martyrs.”
“The following week was almost an occasion of national mourning as the coffins—draped in tricolours—were taken home. As South was brought back to Limerick the cortège was met by the mayor and 20,000 people. Next day 50,000 attended the burial in Mount St Lawrence cemetery, where a ‘Last Post’ was sounded, and a volley was fired by IRA Volunteers. Huge numbers also attended the funeral of Fergal O’Hanlon in Monaghan.”
“In the heroic tradition of Irish Republicanism Seán Sabhat and Feargal Ó Hanlon laid down their lives for the cause of Ireland’s freedom. Their allegiance was to the Irish Republic, Not an agreed Ireland or a shared Island within the British commonwealth, A republic that breaks the connection with England, to smash Stormont and the sectarian orange state, not administer British rule for it and not to advance British legislation that promotes a British/Irish identity in a Ireland. legislation that will ensure British involvement in Irish affairs and continued violation of Irish sovereignty.”
“The words of Brendan Hughes are fitting”
“I am asking what happened to the struggle in all Ireland, what happened to the idea of a 32 county socialist republic. That , after all , is what it was all about . Not about participating in a northern administration that closes hospitals and attacks teachers’ unions. Does 30 years of struggle boil down to a big room in Stormont, ministerial cars, dark suits, and the implementation of the British patten report”
“The memory of Sean and Fergal have been sullied this week by racists who seek to use the legacy of our Volunteers to further their anti-migrant agenda.”
“In the past few days overcrowding in our hospitals and the latest homeless statistics have broken all records. We have an emergency housing, homeless and rental crisis, a dysfunctional health service, an education system barely able to function and the soaring cost of living crisis pushing more people into poverty and despair.”
“The Free State government is delighted that the only issue that got people out onto the streets in anger was anti-immigration protests.”
“It is likely that the next election in the south will be fought on the issue of immigration, NOT the real issues which affect people’s day-to-day lives and NOT challenging neo- liberal Government policies and one hundred years of misrule which has facilitated all the problems people face.”
“There are genuine concerns in working class communities about the current immigration process which is just another issue totally mis-handled by the Freestate gombeens. It is unacceptable to treat working class communities in this way. It has boosted far-right parties and allowed online racists to set the agenda and exploit our communities. This anti migrant agenda originated with Dublin born, British army mercenary Rowan Croft aka Gran Torino ( no doubt in the pay of British military intelligence)and Derry born Herman Kelly, Nigel Farage’s PRO during the Brexit campaign.”
“The racist Irish national party who eulogises the blueshirt fascist Eoin O’Duffy as their hero, some now evoke the words Connolly and Mellows to back up their racist agenda. We now hear ordinary people regulating their racist rhetoric of a new Plantation and other nonsense. We reject their hate and their racism, migrants are not our enemy, our enemies are those who create migrants through their imperialist wars and economic exploitation. “
“The only winners here are the Free State Government who are delighted to see any distraction from their failings and the anti-immigrant parties who seek to exploit working class communities for electoral gain.”
“We will not allow the memory of our volunteers to be abused by these racists.”
“Their sacrifice was for a Republic that cherishes all the children of the nation equally.”
“Go raibh maith agaibh.
An Phoblach abú.”