On Saturday 5th November, republicans from across Ulster gathered at Clara on the Tyrone-Monaghan border, where the James Connolly Society Monaghan, assisting the family, unveiled a new inscription on the headstone of Sinn Féin worker Jeff McKenna, with a short commemoration and wreath laying ceremony immediately following.
Originally from Augher in Co. Tyrone, Jeff moved to Dublin ‘on the run’ after an IRA operation in the Clogher Valley was intercepted by British Crown Forces. It was there he met his untimely death, victim to a hit and run incident on November 8th 1982 while campaigning for the Republican Movement on the streets of the city. A hardworking and dedicated republican, Jeff will never be forgotten by those who knew him as a friend and comrade.
Brian Clinton Chaired proceedings, welcoming the McKenna family to the graveside before a reading of the Monaghan Roll of Honour by Gráinne Campbell. Jeff’s niece Geraldine Anton then unveiled the new inscription, with wreaths laid afterwards on his grave by the McKenna and Anton families, by the James Connolly Society and by the 1916 Societies.
Colm Bowman, assisted by nine year-old Oisín Campbell of the local cumann, then lowered the National Flag to a minute’s silence, followed by a decade of the Rosary ‘as Gaeilge’ by Mary McKenna, a cousin of Jeff’s and sister of former Hungerstriker Sean McKenna, who spent 53 days on the first H-Block Hungerstrike in 1980. Mary’s father Sean, one of ‘The Hooded Men’ tortured by the British Army in Long Kesh during the notorious ‘Operation Demetrius’, is also buried within the same grave as Jeff.
Mark Campbell, Chair of the James Connolly Society, then gave the main oration, telling how Jeff ‘lived under the boot of the B Specials in Co. Tyrone’, where he was constantly harassed at Checkpoints by those he considered neighbours – the same neighbours who, in another guise and out of uniform, would later murder two of his friends, Michael and Seamus McKenna. Mark described how, with their heavily pregnant sister Marion, they were killed by a UVF booby-trap bomb, ‘assisted no doubt by those very same B Specials – now re-branded as the UDR – with the help of the RUC and approval of their security forces handlers’.
Mark went on to tell how Jeff was forced to ‘leave home and move to Monaghan, where he was also involved in the Republican Movement and from where he went on to Dublin, joining the Liam Mellows Cumann in the city and playing a major role in the reorganising of Sinn Féin there’. This marked him out for undue attention from Special Branch, whom he despised and hated.
Mark then told how on November 8th 1982, while selling An Phoblacht, Jeff was run over and taken to a nearby hospital, where he passed away hours later. When his remains were brought home to Augher, his family was forced to take the National Flag of his coffin at the notorious British Army Checkpoint in Aughnacloy, as it would ‘upset the local unionist community’ – being forced to do likewise en route to Clara, ‘where we stand now today and where Jeff is laid to rest.’
He finished by describing it ‘an honour that the family of Jeff McKenna and Volunteer Sean McKenna had entrusted the 1916 Societies with the commemoration’ before appealing for those present to finish the task for which they gave their lives, citing the revolutionary James Connolly and his timeless assertion that Britain, ‘has no right in Ireland, had no right in Ireland and never can have a right in Ireland’.
Eamon McKenna then sang the ballad ‘Come by the hills’ before Peggy Anton, a sister of Jeff, thanked the Societies for their assistance and invited all present back to the Blackwaterhouse Cottage for refreshments. In conclusion, Sean Bresnahan from the Thomas Ashe Society Omagh sang Amhrán na bhFiann.