West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Drumnakilly Martyrs remembered

Published: 3 September, 2013

Hundreds of Tyrone Republicans along with comrades from throughout Ireland took part in a series of events to mark the 25th anniversary of the Drumnakilly Martyrs at the weekend. The weekend of events started on Friday afternoon at the ambush site where Nishey Harte, brother of Gerard and Martin gave a very emotional address to the assembled crowd. During his address, Nishey said 'I can remember exactly where I was when the sad news of the shooting filtered through. I remember leaving work early and being detained at the roadside by the British army and RUC for over three hours during which they mocked the lads. 'I recall making my way to the scene and seeing the solitary figure of my late father standing at a cordon trying in vain to get information about his two sons. Our homes were placed under military siege on the day of the funerals as the British military dropped Chinook loads of their soldiers into our community. 'Although the hurt and pain of the lad's deaths remain to this day, we are forever indebted to the community and particularly to the Republican Movement who has stood steadfastly by us for the past 25 years. Sporting events On Saturday, the three volunteers were remembered in a series of commemorative sporting events. This included a hike over 9 peaks in the Sperrin Mountains and a 25 mile commemorative cycle on Saturday afternoon. Over 200 people took part in both events and one of those who helped to organise them was the chairman of Sinn Féin in the Omagh district, John O Brien. According to John 'As well as being members of the IRA's Tyrone Brigade, Gerard, Martin and Brian were committed and dedicated members of the local community. Martin was one of the best corner back footballers in the county, while Gerard was also a committed footballer, clubman and community activist. 'Between the Sperrins hike, the commemorative cycle and the annual football tournament which had 16 teams competing this year, approximately 600 people commemorated the three volunteers on Saturday afternoon through taking part in sport. This is a hugely fitting way to remember these men who were part of our community and who were so full of life and vitality. Graveside commemoration On Sunday morning, the three volunteers were remembered at a commemoration in Loughmacrory. The proceedings were chaired by Cllr Ann Marie Fitzgerald, who is the current chairperson of Omagh District Council. In her remarks, Cllr Fitzgerald recounted a personal story of Gerard Harte being present when the news filtered through of the British army killing of her cousin Aidan in February 1988. Within 6 months Gerard was also a victim of the British army. The main address was given by the former Assembly member for the area and friend of the three men, Danny Morrison. During his address, Mr Morrison said: 'We recall the devastation immediately wrought upon the intimate lives of Roisin and Briege, Colm and Declan, by foreign, well-paid, well-armed, well-protected, and well-reviled anonymous killers flown in from Britain and flown back out after they assassinated three people. 'Gerard and Martin and Brian were cut down on their own roads in their own countryside. They did not die fighting in a foreign war, occupying someone else's country, but in their own country, out to return the freedom of their own lanes and own roads to their own people. 'I first met Gerard Harte during the two Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-elections, first when Bobby Sands was elected and then, after his death, during the campaign to get Owen Carron elected. Gerard was full of energy and high spirits. I had also met his sister, young Teresa. She sometimes stayed in Belfast and would help out Pauline McKeown - Pauline Short - whose husband Pat was on hunger strike in the summer of 81. And, of course, I had also met with Sean Begley and the Hursons through the H-Block/Armagh campaign and the hunger strike. 'I was next to meet Gerard Harte that same year, 1982, when I was an 'orphan' and was adopted by Sally and Francie Hurson, out in Altinagh, when I was a candidate in Mid-Ulster in that year's assembly elections. 'I have spoken often about this period in my life and the rich and lasting friendships I formed. Eventually I found my way around this countryside with what initially appeared to be strange, exotic names - like Inishative and Altinagh and Altamuskin and Loughmacrory and, later, and now, with sad, tragic connotations, the name of Drumnakilly. 'I discovered that it was a small world. That Sally Hurson's family, the Hughes, was married into the Mullins. So I got to know that family - among them their mother Cissie, and her sons and daughters, among them Kevin and Mary, Michael, Mark, Malachy, Briege, Kate and, of course, Brian, whom you couldn't miss, for no other reason than that smile of his and the sunshine he carried around with him. Then I realized that Pat the bard, whom I had being visiting two years earlier, had come from this hearth and home - and I felt now as if I knew him a little better. 'And I also discovered that Gerard and Martin Harte were the brothers of Teresa and Sean. So, in the early 1980s, I got to know these roads well and I got to know the people. I knew, for example, that Winnie and John Harte knew within two minutes whether you were in Loughmacrory and that you couldn't get out of Loughmacrory without going to dinner in their house in Striff. 'Martin always struck me as being quiet and I've been told that he resented being called 'the baby' of the family. That might be true, but what a man and a giant of a man he grew into. 'At the time of elections Martin and Brian took charge of postering the main and side roads around this countryside, out to Omagh and down as far as Kildress, and never complained about the weather or about the harassment. In fact, on one night a car drove passed and a passenger opened fire on our team, such did the British state fear the electoral rise of Sinn Féin. 'He was a key organizer and strategist during the general election of 83. Just hours before the polls closed, loyalists who were trying to impersonate in the polling station in Coagh but who were being successfully challenged by Francie McNally, threated to kill Francie. They came back, and one seemed to have a gun. In front of the RUC and presiding officer, who did nothing, they threatened to kill Francie's family. Francie could take no more and left. Immediately loyalist impersonators came in and voted because SF had been the only group to challenge them. 'Back in Pomeroy Sean Begley and I got a call from Gerard to say that the DUP had alleged that there was impersonating going on at Mountfield. The RUC and presiding officer immediately closed down the station - which was actually illegal. Sean and I got there at about 10 to 10 and forced them to re-open it. But at 10 on the dot the presiding officer closed the doors and about 80 people outside, most of them SF voters, didn't get the chance to cast their ballot. 'The following day at Campsie, where the count was taking place, William McCrea of the DUP was declared the winner by 78 votes. The loyalists made good their threat. In 1988 they burst into the home of Francie McNally, who was now a SF councilor, and shot dead his young brother Phelim. 'Reading what life was like back then, it has brought it all back and it is astonishing what you people came through. The British army swarming over the fields and assaulting and abusing men and women going to or from work or just out for a night's entertainment of ceilidhing or playing cards. 'And there was the perpetual harassment from the RUC and UDR who felt they could get away with anything because they had the unqualified support of the British state behind them. Homes being raided in the early hours of the morning. People being stopped and arrested at checkpoints and taken to Gough and other barracks where they were beaten and abused. People's homes being wrecked, their property and personal possessions damaged or stolen. And when this didn't work the Brits, as I have mentioned, would then resort to their dirty war tactics through the use of loyalist paramilitary surrogates who could rely on clear roads into Derrychrin, Cappagh, Castlederg, Lisnagleer, and, into Greencastle to murder seven-months pregnant Kathleen O'Hagan. 'Before that bad year of 1988 was the bad year of 1987 and the Loughgall killings when the British government and the SAS thought that by killing the 8 volunteers they would kill resistance in County Tyrone. 'Early in 1988 we had the shooting of Aidan Mc Anespie in Aughnacloy, the deaths of two Volunteers in South Armagh, Brendan Burns and Brendan Moley and of Vol. Seamus Woods in Pomeroy. There is a picture of Brian Mullin at that funeral. Then came the SAS killings of Mairead Farrell, Dan McCann and Sean Savage in Gibraltar. At their funerals in Milltown Cemetery Michael Stone, armed with weapons supplied by British military intelligence, killed three more people, including my friend Kevin Brady. 'And in Tyrone the resistance to British rule continued with gun and bomb attacks against state forces. 'When British soldiers died you would never have found a British spokesperson or unionist make the analogy - "he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword". Instead, the truth would be twisted and hypocrisy and double standards would become the norm. 'Recently, Ken Maginnis - who still gets on like a UDR man if you don't stop to give him primacy in his car - confirmed that he gave Gerard, Martin and Brian's names on a list to Thatcher in relation to the killing of eight soldiers at Ballygawley. And that eleven days later the three men were killed. 'In response to this Nishey Harte said something very important. He said: "My honest opinion is that if the three of them had not been shot at Drumnakilly, they would have been shot at home or in their beds. After the order was given by Thatcher, they would have been shot and it didn't matter where." 'That simple statement sums up the price that Thatcher and the British would have exacted and did exact in many instances for republican resistance to British rule. So, behold the real terrorists. Who even just days ago were champing at the bit to go in and bomb another country in the Middle East, which never did them any harm; go in and bomb another country provided they could fire their missiles from fifty miles away with no risk to their own lives - the cowards, the craven cowards. Just like those strangers who in Drumnakilly had the power and technology of the state behind them to come in and kill Irish patriots. 'Today, around here it is peaceful. But young people should know that when our three comrades were being laid to rest, each family home was being laid to siege by the British army and the RUC, and that Roisin and Briege, Cissie Mullin and Winnie and John Harte and their families suffered immense, additional stress. 'Twenty five years later we stand here to honour the memory of these men. We are reminded of them as young, we are reminded of them as brothers, sons, husbands, fathers. We are reminded of them as political activists, as active service Volunteers who did not balk at the risk or the danger or the price of freedom. We remember their generosity of spirit, their great love of their people and of their commitment, our continuing commitment, our pledge today, to bring about their dream of freedom and equality and justice and unity'.