- Sean Bresnahan, PRO 1916 Societies and Secretary of the Thomas Ashe Society in Omagh, with a reflection on the lives of Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns that first appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of our magazine. The 29th of February marks the 27th anniversary of their deaths on Active Service – we remember them with pride.
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In South Armagh republican folklore the lives and tragic deaths of two young Irish men will be forever intertwined, with the names of Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns – The Two Brendans as they are popularly remembered – writ large into the story of the struggle for a sovereign and free Ireland. Both were killed on February 29th 1988 on Active Service with the South Armagh Brigade, Oglaigh na hEireann, in preparation for an impending attack on the forces of British occupation. Lifelong friends and comrades, they died for Irish freedom and we in the 1916 Societies salute their courage, pay tribute to their sacrifice and remember them always and with pride. Fuair siad bhas ar son saoirse na hEireann.
Brendan Burns is fondly remembered as a determined IRA Volunteer whose commitment to his country was total. Growing up in Cregganduff, not far from the town of Crossmaglen, he joined Oglaigh na hEireann at 16, going on to engage British enemy-forces in a series of daring and well-planned attacks throughout the South Armagh area. By 1984 he was on the run, using his intimate knowledge of the border to evade capture. Arrested by Gardai on foot of an extradition warrant he spent two years in Portlaoise before eventually beating the case. He returned to the armed struggle, seeing his family where and when he could while committing himself full-time to the IRA.
Brendan Moley from Dorsey, just outside Cullyhanna, was likewise considered a steadfast Volunteer who would not shirk in the face of adversity. Strong and resilient in his determination to force the British state from Ireland, he played a central role in the many attacks carried out by his local Brigade. Brendan was an experienced Volunteer whose field-craft and soldiery were second-to-none and respected by all who knew him. For men like Brendan Moley the armed struggle offered only reward, be it in an end to British rule in the country he loved or in a martyrs’ death in pursuit of that noble objective.
‘The Two Brendans’ fell victim to an accidental explosion when the bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely as they loaded it into a van in border-country near Crossmaglen. Plans to mount an attack on the infrastructure of Britain’s military occupation, of a kind long-seen in South Armagh down through the years, were at an advanced stage but sadly resulted in the tragic passing of these young men, a terrible loss to the fight for freedom.
We’re a special kind of people here, we breed defiance never fear
And we’ll still be here when the tide ‘gainst England turns.
For in our hearts we know we’re right, and never will give up the fight;
We owe that much to Moley and to Burns
Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns – born only weeks apart, growing up only a stone’s throw from the other – were buried on the same day, 3rd March 1988, their funerals bearing witness to a savage display of brutality by state forces in line with a long-standing policy of violently intimidating republican funerals. Riot-clad officers and soldiers attacked the processions, threatening and insulting family members while physically assaulting mourners, all in a futile effort to trample on the dignity of the South Armagh republican community. They did not succeed. Both were laid to rest by their families, friends and comrades as thousands of people from near and far stood in support and solidarity.
History will recall their courage in life and in death. The tremendous sacrifice of Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns, a source of inspiration and pride, demands us all to work for a full British withdrawal from Ireland and in turn to reinstate the sovereign republic declared in 1916, for which they gave up their lives. They have lit a path for us to follow, a path to that republic, a path to freedom and peace. Together we will march towards our nation’s destiny, we owe that much to Moley and to Burns.