West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Tyrone's fighting story brought to book

Published: 16 September, 2011

A decade of painstaking research by former POW, Gerard Magee has culminated in the production of 'Tyrone's Struggle for Irish Freedom', a monumental labour of love that has materialised in a full-colour, 230mm x 297mm hard back with 688 pages.

Gerard, a Republican prisoner between 1988 and 1998, when he became a regular contributor from Long Kesh to the prison magazine 'An Glór Gafa/The Captive Voice', explains how it all began and what he is trying to achieve in 'Tyrone's Struggle for Irish Freedom'.

The book will be launched this Friday evening at 7.30pm in the Sinn Féin Centre, Omagh. Special guest for the evening will be former Tyrone POW and Crumlin Road escapee, Danny Donnelly. Having reviewed the book, Danny described it as a magnificent piece of work - a 'magnum Opus'.

Speaking ahead of the launch, the author, Gerard Magee said:

'OFTEN IT IS SAID that from small acorns grow large oak trees. Looking back over the years, there have been so many instances I can recall when casual and apparently insignificant conversations, often by the fireside on a winter's night, have sparked ideas that grew into major projects and developments.

'Referred to as 'The Book' by many for several years, 'Tyrone's Struggle for Irish Freedom' initially grew out of one such casual fireside conversation amongst several of us in the Carrickmore home of Barry Mc Elduff during the early part of 2000.

'Somewhere amidst the wide variety of not-too serious conversations arose the idea of producing a book to commemorate Tyrone's patriot dead. It was acknowledged that Paula Mc Elduff (Barry's wife and sister of Volunteer Paddy Kelly) spent considerable time gathering up material for such a book. However, time constraints with family life put Paula's efforts on hold and another visitor casually suggested that this would be a good project for me to take on.

'The initial seed of thought was sown in my mind. As I went about Tyrone, preoccupied with the challenges of everyday life and political struggle in the present tense, the thoughts about doing a book about Tyrone's patriot dead recurred in my mind from time to time. I was under no illusions as to the size of such a task. Tyrone is one of the biggest Irish counties and no matter what way I looked at it, an appropriate book that was going to do justice to those who gave their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom was going to be an enormous undertaking.

'While recognising the vitally important documentation work and reference value that was accomplished within the publication of 'The Last Post' and 'Belfast Graves', I soon drew a conclusion within my own mind that a book about Tyrone's patriot dead needed to have something more about the republican struggle over and above a list of obituaries.

'Furthermore, with the passing of time, the void in first-hand memory also widens as younger generations grow up in a post-conflict era. For all of these reasons it is therefore important to go some way to explain the context in which so many IRA Volunteers and others lost their lives in County Tyrone, particularly during the most intensive period of armed struggle between 1971 and 1994.

'As the work on this book commenced, a complementary publication entitled 'Tírghrá' was published in July 2002. This became a valuable additional reference source. Using Tírghrá I examined the circumstances in which all IRA Volunteers and Sinn Féin members listed on the Tyrone Roll of Honour had died and grouped them into categories with the following themes:

1. Fixed periods of time

2. Strategies & Sites of Struggle

3. Major Incidents

4. Geographic Locations

ARMED STRUGGLE

'Armed struggle was, without doubt, a major aspect of the overall republican struggle and no valuable documentation of Tyrone's history could be made without a fairly comprehensive reference to the many IRA operations between 1970 and 1994. Faced with the military might, technology and resources of the British Government and its armed forces, there can be no disputing the commitment, courage, tenacity and ingenuity among IRA Volunteers.

'Tyrone's Struggle for Irish Freedom' chronologically documents the armed struggle (1970 to 1994) in three general categories: operations mounted against British Crown Forces, barracks attacks and strikes against economic targets. There were approximately 1,500 IRA operations carried out within these three categories within and around County Tyrone, i.e. operations that made the news and were reported in the local media. There were probably just as many other operations going on that were not designed to create headlines or were abandoned prior to completion.

'This book also lists many of the IRA operations during the 1920 to 1923 period in Chapter Two and Operation Harvest (1965 to 1962) in Chapter Three.

'It should be borne in mind that, in the context of the propaganda war, the British also played down the number and extent of IRA operations, and many were not recorded properly in the local newspapers. However, without being absolutely fixated on every detail, this fairly comprehensive list of notable IRA operations in Tyrone enables the reader to analyse the armed struggle in a holistic way.

'The number of operations indicates just how well the IRA command structures were organised in County Tyrone and the large number of Volunteers who were active at some point in time between 1969 and 2005 when the IRA formally brought its military campaign to a close. Furthermore, armed struggle of this scale illustrates that a high level of support for the IRA existed within the broader republican community.

'While it is important to record the major role of physical force in Irish history, armed struggle on the other hand should not be romanticised or glorified. It was always an option of last resort for Irish republicans. Behind all statistics, no matter how recent or how far back in time we go, armed conflict causes profound human suffering from everyone's perspective and all victims and survivors should be afforded equal respect and dignity.

CONTEXT AND CAUSES OF THE CONFLICT

'Chapter Four of this book is a broader outline of the context, causes, circumstances and the sequence of actions and reactions between 1969 and 1972 that gave rise to the overall conflict and armed struggle. The forces and dynamics of events during this period were at such a scale, and were so powerful, that no person or small group could have foreseen, planned or strategised around them. Partition, 50 years of discrimination, the arrival of television, international events and a violent reaction to modest civil rights reforms all came to a head in the streets of Belfast and Derry in August 1969.

'Towards the end of the book there is a general broadening out of themes to include tributes to a wider circle of republicans who played a part in the struggle. Drawn from the writings of Bobby Sands that "Everyone has their own part to play", this chapter is about illustrating an inclusive concept of struggle. There is also a general history of Sinn Féin, commemorations and the work of the National Graves Association.

'Non-combatant victims of British forces are also listed, many of whom were also active or held republican beliefs as the overwhelming majority of Tyrone's population does.

'In my approach to writing and compiling Tyrone's struggle there is no attempt to be neutral or impartial. Many authors and historians would argue that no such neutral position exists. Any review of history will always present dilemmas for someone attempting to be clinically objective. Choices always have to be made regarding the use of language, terminology, place-names and the degree of emphasis on any given subject. In truth, there is probably no such thing as a 'neutral' view of any subject in history.

'Tyrone's Struggle for Irish Freedom' provides the reader with a genuine republican perspective and the human story of the IRA Volunteers and Sinn Féin activists who were killed during the conflict - their family backgrounds, the townlands they grew up in, the schools they attended and their other interests in life. Many were players and members of their local GAA clubs and all were deeply rooted within the community. Upon reaching adulthood they responded to the very real and immediate oppression of their communities as it was happening by making their decision to play an active part in the struggle.

FAMILIES OF VOLUNTEERS

'As the primary objective of this book is to commemorate and honour Tyrone's patriot dead, this naturally required comprehensive research into the background of all IRA Volunteers and Sinn Féin members on the Tyrone Roll of Honour and Roll of Remembrance. While 'An Phoblacht', as my primary source, had good obituaries, they had to be compiled in a rush to meet the paper's weekly deadline immediately after the deaths occurred. With families in deep mourning at the sudden death of a loved one, opportunities were not always there to do a comprehensive article on each one.

'There was also an imbalance with the obituaries in An Phoblacht due to the fact that a number of IRA Volunteers had high profiles and were well known due to a term served in prison, a prison escape or a high-profile court case. Others were less-known and some were still teenagers at the times of their deaths.

'To accomplish the objective behind 'Tyrone's Struggle for Irish Freedom', home visits were required with the families to compile further details. Most often these conversations were with the mothers and fathers of IRA Volunteers who lost their sons at a very young age. It was a highly sensitive and deeply moving experience as the parents recalled memories of their sons while I took note of the schools they attended, their jobs, their involvement with the GAA and other interests in life. While there was often a great sense of outward pride in their son's role as IRA Volunteers, the pain and hurt over their loss was never far below the surface. One mother dropped her cup as she recalled her last conversation with her teenage son a short time before he was shot dead.

'So in paying acknowledgements, the people I wish to commend most of all are the families of Tyrone's patriot dead. I wish to sincerely thank everyone who helped to compile details about a loved one and provided photographs, many of which are entering the public domain for the first time within this book.

'I can only hope that this book will go some way in keeping alive the names and memories of all the Irish republicans from Tyrone who made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle for Irish freedom. It is about 'Tírghrá' - the love of one's county - and giving our patriot dead their rightful place in our proud Irish history.

TYRONE REPUBLICAN ROLL OF HONOUR 1969 - 2011

Vol Denis Quinn July 3rd, 1972

Fian Tobias Molloy July 16th, 1972

Vol Hugh Heron October 16th, 1972

Vol John Patrick Mullan October 16th, 1972

Vol Eugene Devlin December 27th, 1972

Vol Kevin Kilpatrick May 13th, 1973

Vol Patrick Carty June 25th, 1973

Vol Dermot Crowley June 25th, 1973

Vol Seán Loughran June 25th, 1973

Vol Séamus Harvey August 11th, 1973

Vol Gerard McGlynn August 11th, 1973

Vol Daniel McAnallen August 16th, 1973

Vol Patrick Quinn August 16th, 1973

Vol Desmond Morgan November 26th, 1973

Vol Jim McGinn December 15th, 1973

Vol Patrick McDonald March 15th, 1974

Vol Kevin Murray March 15th, 1974

Vol Eugene Martin May 13th, 1974

Vol Seán McKearney May 13th, 1974

Vol Hugh Gerard Coney November 6th, 1974

Vol Neil Lafferty April 26th, 1975

Vol Patrick Cannon July 17th, 1976

Vol Peter McElchar July 17th, 1976

Vol Paul Duffy February 26th, 1978

Vol Martin Hurson July 13th, 1981

Vol Brian Campbell December 4th, 1983

Vol Colm McGirr December 4th, 1983

Vol William Price July 13th, 1984

Vol Charlie Breslin February 23rd, 1985

Vol David Devine February 23rd, 1985

Vol Michael Devine February 23rd, 1985

Vol Declan Arthurs May 8th, 1987

Vol Séamus Donnelly May 8th, 1987

Vol Tony Gormley May 8th, 1987

Vol Eugene Kelly May 8th, 1987

Vol Paddy Kelly May 8th, 1987

Vol Jim Lynagh May 8th, 1987

Vol Pádraig McKearney May 8th, 1987

Vol Gerard O'Callaghan May 8th, 1987

Vol Séamus Woods July 7th, 1988

Vol Gerard Harte August 30th, 1988

Vol Martin Harte August 30th, 1988

Vol Brian Mullin August 30th, 1988

Vol James Joseph Connolly February 6th, 1989

Vol Liam Ryan November 29th, 1989

Vol Dessie Grew October 9th, 1990

Vol Martin McCaughey October 9th, 1990

Vol Noel Wilkinson March 3rd, 1991

Vol Malcolm Nugent March 3rd, 1991

Vol Dwayne O'Donnell March 3rd, 1991

Vol John Quinn March 3rd, 1991

Vol Tony Doris June 3rd, 1991

Vol Lawrence McNally June 3rd, 1991

Vol Pete Ryan June 3rd, 1991

Vol Danny McCauley June 4th, 1991

Vol Damien Brolly December 30th, 1991

Vol Peter Clancy February 16th, 1992

Vol Kevin Barry O'Donnell February 16th, 1992

Vol Seán O'Farrell February 16th, 1992

Vol Patrick Vincent February 16th, 1992

SINN FÉIN

Colm Mulgrew June 5th, 1976

Jeff McKenna November 8th, 1982

Tommy Casey October 26th, 1990

Pádraig O Seanacháin August 12th, 1991

Sheena Campbell October 16th, 1992

'Tyrone's Struggle for Irish Freedom' (£25/€30)

is available from:

Tyrone Sinn Féin Commemoration Committee, 4 James Street, Omagh, County Tyrone, BT78 1DH.

• Telephone: Omagh Sinn Féin office 00 44 28 8225 3040

• E-mail Barry McNally: barrymcnally1798@yahoo.ie

• also available from the Sinn Féin bookshop, 58 Parnell Square, Dublin 1 and www.sinnfeinbookshop.com