Friday, May 8, 2015

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Ar Son Saoirse Na hEireann: The Men Of Loughgall

Sean Bresnahan – 1916 Societies PRO and Secretary of the Thomas Ashe 1916 Society Omagh – with a personal reflection on this evening’s anniversary of the Loughall Martyrs.

Friday 8th of May is a date etched in the minds of all republicans, a dreadful night almost three decades ago when a gun and bomb battle in Loughgall, a sleepy village near the borders of Tyrone, where the red hand county seeps into North Armagh, claimed the lives of eight of the IRA’s finest, all members of the East Tyrone Brigade, all ruthlessly killed in a set-to ambush involving undercover British soldiers from the infamous SAS regiment.

A fortnight ago on my way home from Belfast – on one of those warm summer-type afternoons during the recent spell of good weather – the notion took me to take a drive through the village, something I’d often meant to do on journeys down the M1 but never quite got round to.

It’s hard to describe my thoughts over those narrow, winding straights and bends, mindful all the while of the horror that unfolded on that spring evening in 1987. A mix of sorrow and anger – as thoughts of Lynagh and McKearney, O’Callaghan, Kelly, Kelly again, Gormley, Arthurs and Donnelly – among the finest this land has produced – raced through my mind. Having heard so much of them growing up it seemed almost surreal to make my way along roads they had travelled as they went unknownst to their doom.

Their fate was to die in a hail of bullets – by pre-planned execution – at the hands of those from a foreign land, under Thatcher’s orders, with their blacked-out faces and automatic weapons, who had no earn in Loughghall, who had no right to their terrorist war, who had no business in this country to be killing anyone.

Unit Commander Paddy Kelly led a ferocious assault on the RUC barracks located in the village, part of an ongoing strategic offensive to drive out all occupying British forces and render the area surrounding East Tyrone and North Armagh inoperable and ungovernable for the British Crown.

Just after 7 o’clock on a clear Friday evening, a commandeered mechanical digger, ferrying a 400lb bomb in its front bucket, slammed into the perimeter fencing of the barracks – breaching the initial lines of defence, with cover provided from the rear at street level by IRA Volunteers entering the village in a Toyota Hiace carrying the remainder of the Active Service Unit.

As a young Declan Arthurs jumped from the digger, lighting a 40-second fuse to detonate the bomb, British Special Forces, from concealed positions in surrounding areas, sprung an ambush and mounted a shoot-to-kill operation. While the bomb exploded, successfully leveling its target, the lives of all eight men were taken in a devastating blow to the Republican Movement.

A passing car carrying brothers Anthony and Oliver Hughes was also caught in the ambush and riddled with gunfire; Anthony dying from his wounds, Oliver fortunate to survive having sustained critical injuries. A ruthless assault from start to finish, at its end eight IRA Volunteers and an uninvolved civilian lay dead. They will never be forgotten.

Driving past that infamous barracks on the outskirts of the village, previously seen only in photographs, I paused briefly, not wanting to draw attention to myself in what remains a staunchly loyalist part of the country. Looking around I took it all in. The ditches where England’s terror gang lay, the short stretch of Tarmac where the lads fell – where the best of Irishmen were cut to pieces – the laneway where an escaping Declan Arthurs, unarmed and a mere 21 years old, was brutally killed by the war criminals who brought death that night to Loughgall.

As the enormity of what happened in that quiet Armagh village hit home, I made good my prayers to God the most High, a quick decade of the Rosary that their sacrifice in the name of freedom would be rewarded in Heaven. They are there in His presence, among the Saints and Patriots of our land, of that I’ve no doubt.

Today marks the anniversary of that wretched night and thus they’re in our thoughts, they’ll always be in our thoughts. Remembered today and every day, God rest them all. One day we will build a monument fitting of these heroes, those brave souls who fought and died at Loughgall. Not of marble, not of stone, but of the dreams of our people – the Irish Republic and nothing less.

Fuair siad bhas ar son saoirse na hEireann; ar dheis De go raibh a n-anam.


sean bres said...

Anthony, thanks for carrying this at such short notice, I was expecting it mightn't appear for another few days but its great to see this up tonight, on their anniversary. As I was saying earlier, I remember you talking about visiting the site yourself when you got out, so you can imagine what I'm talking about. Just being there and looking at the geography it's still pretty much the same. It's hard to believe such terror occured in such a beautiful part of our country. Every corner I drove around I could feel myself getting closer and closer and closer, knowing the boys made the same journey on that fateful night, driving through the village, up past the barracks, up the short hill where they turned and went down and carried out the attack. What a group of lads, gee's it's just tragic. They should have grown old together, had children, went on the odd rampage, all the things in life we're blessed with but take for granted. For that alone we owe it to them never to forget. God rest their souls

person unknown said...

A well written,evocative & very sad reminder of the 8 truly spirited fighters who fell at Loughgall.Now 28 years later,this May 8th remembrance is made darker by the grim confluence of two other unrelated events: Firstly,the right-wing extremists who have for the last 5 years openly persecuted and brutalised those thousands of civilians least able to defend themselves,have consolidated their forces through last nights' General Election-& will now perfect their casually sadistic policies of social ostracism,forced hunger, dismantling of employment rights, criminalisation of the poor,the destruction of Welfare,- the horror continues at speed.
Secondly,it is seventy years today since WW2 and the defeat of nazism finished.
For the second time in a generation hundreds of thousands of citizens had offered their lives for a cause they considered to be for the greater good of all.
Would they again return home to the same appalling social conditions of substandard housing,no education,no healthcare,no employment rights, social belittlement etc,-that had greeted them after the 1st world war?
What had they fought again for then?
To preserve the same archaic social hierarchy that had never given them anything approaching their fair share?..but had instead for centuries just pushed them towards the guns manned by the poor of other countries?
That is why the rich elite of Britain were forced to concede the NHS, the 1944 Education Act, massive social housing building schemes, welfare protection for the vulnerable,financial support for children etc..and generally sharing the countrys' wealth around a little, - because the examples of the poor successfully rising up and taking it for themselves by force were occurring all over Europe.
Seventy years on , what do the few remaining survivors of WW2 think, as every single concession forced upon the Establishment rich to better the lives of the common citizen and demanded upon the backs of the dead, is destroyed,removed, withered into ineffectuality or sold for private gain ?
I'll wager that some of them reflect upon Churchills' backstabbing of the Greek Communist partisans with shame..- similarly the French Communist partisans who were betrayed to be slaughtered lest they seize power in postwar France.. - the refusal to allow Jews escaping Europe safe passage to Palestine thus guaranteeing their slaughter in Salonika etc,..and I wonder if they sense the similar wretched backstabbing betrayal as their sacrifices and the promises made to their generation that they and their children would forever have equal share in their countrys' wealth, slip from common memory ?
Such are the ways of Establishment england - the ultimate pornographers of human degradation, the distortion of all that is fair,true or good.

The confluence of these three outwardly unrelated events has caused me to reach related conclusions;
I acknowledge that the denial of rights,criminalisation of the poor,slum housing,forced starvation,violent subjugation, invasion/occupation etc , has been the British authorities constant policy towards the Irish nation for many centuries, and for Irish citizens these horrors are nothing new, - but
now that the British establishment is
obviously retracting all the postwar agreements of social equalisation, and is now actively seeking a return to 1920's wealth distribution, will any of the citizens of england recognise that lines have not simply been crossed, but obliterated ? Have they the spirit and sense of purpose to organise and effectively resist ?

I respectfully suggest that the eight men of E.T.B at Loughgall are not just from Irelands finest, but that they are amongst the finest of any men.
Men of acute conscience,of purposeful resilience,of strategic logic, and bravery unbowed.

The english establishment scum have now turned their knife to the throats of english citizens..- we stand ashamed by our cowardice and inactivity in the face of the aggressor.. now where is the english Jim Lynagh , James Connolly, or Dominic Maglinchey ?

AM said...

The comment by Person Unknown would have made for an excellent article

sean bres said...

Agreed, that is a comment that carries some excellent points which I'm in agreement with. Discussed this last night before going to bed with a friend of mine who campaigns with the Greens. Their thinking seems to be that yes, while all these flaws and problems and the agenda exist for sure, we need a change at a wider level than simply in Ireland and in the meantime should focus on tailoring the existing establishment to better suit. My thoughts though are that the latest election merely confirms if we're to wait on the English people to shift politically - and thus free Ireland - we could be waiting forever. Sadly, this is a nation who voted for more of all the above, likely distracted by bonnie prince Charlie's latest grandchild - we can't afford to wait on them. We need an All-Ireland Republic now not tomorrow so we can begin constructing a fair society, one that puts people not big business first. Thanks for the feedback

Alan said...

No different ( BETTER OR WORSE)to those who kill American troops in the middle east. Fair comment ?

Michael Mahoney said...


I just wanted to add that your piece is extremely well-written. It beautifully weaves the personal and political with that twisty and otherwise nondescript country road in Armagh leading you to a place of terror and controversy, to a place that evokes both indignation and solemnity. Your natural emotional reaction as you stood there in Loughgall reminded me of Padraig O'Malley's equally poignant description of the ambush and aftermath in his Biting at the Grave. He quotes Father Faul, who offered a riposte to those who saw Loughgall as a security force victory by saying, "as much as you condemn the Provisional IRA, the sight of an English soldier shooting an Irishman in Ireland produces a gut reaction." The British have never really been able to get their heads around that.

person unknown said...

Hello AM, I've read and enjoyed TPQ for some time now, but never felt prompted, or particularly able, to contribute comment before.
Should you wish to, - please feel free to use any or all of my comments' contents as you see fit, & if you consider the themes addressed worthy of further expansion by myself, then I would be pleased to do so.
The grim triple synchronisation of May 8th (Loughgall & WW2's remembrances, & direst uk general election results) may have passed, but the cross-pollenation of relevances, consequences and lessons-learnt, still seem resonant.
With thanks and regards.

AM said...

Person unknown,

you are welcome as is every new commenter. If you feel you want at some point to contribute a piece rather than a comment feel free to get in touch with us. That goes for all commenters.