The Tírghrá commemorative event
Honouring the families of our fallen
BY MARTIN SPAIN
A national tribute to the families of IRA Volunteers, Sinn Féin activists and other republican activists who were killed in recent times will take place in the City West hotel in Dublin this Saturday, 13 April.
Speaking at a press conference to announce details of the event, organised by the Republican Commemoration Committee, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:
"We have arranged this press conference to give you information about a very special event which is taking place this weekend. It is a national tribute to the families of IRA Volunteers, Sinn Féin activists and other republican activists who were killed in recent times.
"The idea for this event, which is called Tírghrá, is a few years old and arose out of the developing peace process. This process, like any conflict resolution process, highlighted the need to develop a healing process as part of the need to alleviate the suffering of the families of those who had been killed or injured during 30 years of conflict.
"Combatants from all of the forces involved in the conflict have died in the service of their particular cause. The grief of all of the families, whether of British soldiers, IRA Volunteers or loyalist paramilitary groups is undoubtedly the same.
"Republicans are also very mindful of the plight of the families of the civilian dead whose grief, bewilderment and sense of loss is undoubtedly different from any other section.
"In republican communities there are regular commemorative events for fallen republicans. As we all know this time of the year, Easter time, is a special time marking as it does the anniversary of the 1916 Rising.
"The Tírghrá event will the first and is intended to be the only national tribute of this kind to the families of the republican dead. It will also be a commemoration and a celebration of these patriots.
"The event has been organised by a small group of people - friends, former comrades of those who died, including Joe Cahill who is Chair of the Republican Commemoration Committee, former H-Block hunger Striker Raymond McCartney and Deirdre Whelan, who is here today.
"They have spent months putting together this very special event. I want to thank them all for their efforts.
"In total, almost 2,000 family members representing almost 450 republican families will be present. The majority of these families are relatives of those who died in the last 30 years. But families from other phases of struggle, as far back almost as the 1920s will be represented as well.
"This is intended as a tribute to these families. Their grief and loss and their sacrifice is very real. So too is their pride in their loved ones. As they are entitled to be.
"I hope Tírghrá will give all of them some sense of the gratitude, esteem and respect in which they are held by other republicans and nationalists."
A huge logistical operation
Dodie McGuinness is one of those who has been working to organise the Tírghrá event. She explained the effort involved: "We set up a small group to direct this project about 18 months ago," she said. "The organising work was incredible. Each of the families on the Rolls of Honour and Remembrance and the families of people killed before this phase of the struggle were visited individually to discuss the event and the plans for the night. The response has been terrific; only a handfull are not attending. The whole thing has been a huge logistical operation, a painstaking process to try to make sure we have not left anyone out.
"Artist Bobby Ballagh was commissioned to produce a piece of art for the families. He has designed a beautiful depiction of the Easter Lily in bronze on a marble base. Each of the families will receive a copy of this work as well as a personalised copy of a book, simply titled Tírghrá, I nDíl Chuimhne, featuring photographs and biographies of each of the men and women who died.
The stage design on the night, loosely based on the US Vietnam memorial in Washington, has been designed by Bobby Ballagh and renowned Belfast mural artist Danny Devanney. On the night, there will be a dinner, presentations to each of the families, speeches by Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and a wealth off music. The Fear and Bean an Tí will be Eamonn Nolan and actress Fionnuala Flanagan, respectively. The music will be provided by Frances Black and her band, Anne and Francie Brolly, The Freemen, Barry Kerr and friends and traditional musicians Helen Lyons and Donal O'Connor.
"On behalf of the organising committee, I would like to thank all those who have helped in any way to make this special night for the families possible. We could have filled the room ten times over if we had enough space."
Dublin IRA Volunteer Martin Doherty died at the hands of loyalists in May 1994. He was fatally shot while foiling an attempt to attack a packed Sinn Féin function in the city. He is remembered as a hero by the hundreds of people he saved and by the wider republican community. His family will be just one of those honoured at the Tírghrá function this weekend.
Doherty's parter, Ann O'Sullivan, head of the Sinn Féin POW department, spoke to An Phoblacht about the event:
"On 21 May we will gather in Finglas to commemorate Doco as we do every year. Speaking to his friend and comrade Paddy Bell today I learned that he and the other republicans in Finglas have already arranged the event. Paddy and his family have their own pain to bear but in the spirit of comradeship he has carried on in true republican tradition.
The republican dead are never far from the thoughts of their families, comrades and friends. I had mixed feelings when I first heard about Tírghrá. I have a strong belief that the only honour that will really do justice to the memory of our dead Volunteers is working to bring the struggle to its final conclusion. The best way for me to honour him is to carry on the struggle.
"But then, as an active republican, I have always known that Martin was remembered and respected, that his sacrifice meant something to a large number of people. There are other families who maybe over the years thought their loved ones had been forgotten. It is not always apparent to them how much their sons and daughters or partners, are respected.
"Our commemorations are inevitably marked by sadness. But these occasions are also times when republicans rededicate ourselves to the republican project. The build up to the 20th anniversary of the Hunger Strike last year presented its own challenges and mixed emotions, but as a body we took the opportunity to celebrate as well as commemorate the sacrifices of our dead comrades.
"The Tírghrá event will be painful for families, it will be an emotional night, full of memories some of them still very raw. Each of these families have borne a heavy burden in the freedom struggle but I hope they will take strength from the collective dedication to the memory of our dead. The Tírghrá allows all of the families, many of whom have never met, to share in a collective moment of remembrance. However, commemoration is not just an act of reflection on history. It is also very much about the future, about renewal and about the vision of the Republic.
I would hope that families can come away from the event with a sense of rejuvenation, that republicans can come away from it with a renewed dedication to the cause for which our Volunteers died. Only the achievement of a Socialist Republic is a fitting tribute to those whose names appear on the Roll of Honour.
"We are not here to write the epitaph of our fallen dead. In the words of Robert Emmet, "let no man write my epitaph until Ireland is free". The only fitting tribute to all of these people is the achievement of our goals that our Volunteers fought and died for, a United Ireland and a Socialist Republic.
Roisin Kelly's brother, Paddy, was one of nine men, eight IRA Volunteers and one civilian, shot dead by the SAS in an ambush at Loughgall in 1987. The family have relentlessly pursued their case to the European courts to highlght British shoot-to-kill policies:
"This night will be a very special occasion, honouring all those people killed, including my only brother, which makes it that bit more special for me. This night will let the whole of Ireland know how much we think of our relatives who gave their lives for Irish freedom.
One difficulty is that soime might see this as an attempt at closure or to draw a line, but I see it as an opportunity to give the families confidence. We have brought our case to Europe. Other families might have felt isolated up to now and may take heart from this event to pursue their own cases. They will know that they are not alone.
"Paddy's youngest child was born just two weeks after he was killed. She is not used to this and it will be good for her to meet others whose families have been torn apart in the same way and to see that she is paert of a big republican family that remembers and cares."
Paddy Mulvenna's son, Patrick, was shot dead in a British Army ambush in Ballymurphy, West Belfast, in August 1973. He is featured, with some of his comrades, on a new mural in Ballymurphy. His nephew, Volunteer Jim Mulvenna, was killed in June 1978. Paddy Mulvenna talked about his son's death:
"When Patrick was shot dead I was being held in Crumlin Road Gaol. They refused to allow me compassionate parole to attend the funeral. It was an act of pure vindictiveness by the establishment, because I had refused to recognise their court. There was a lot of pressure from the clergy and others to try to secure my release but Willie Whitehall himself refused to let me out. This was at a time when loyalists were routinely getting parole to attend weddings.
"The inquest recorded an open verdict on Patrick's death. His is just one of many cases the Relatives for Justice group are seeking to get reopened. The republican movement were the only ones who really stood by the family. No one else cared.
"This night is important to me personally because I never got the chance to say goodbye properly. It is important for my grandson, also Patrick, who was born three months after his father was killed.
"Our family appreciates the organising of this function as a tribute to our son and to the families of all those republicans who have died in the struggle."
Message from Joe Cahill
"This event is a very important one for the republican family. A great deal of effort and organisation has gone into what will be a hugely significant night of remembrance.
Each of these families have borne a heavy burden in the freedom struggle. This event will hopefully show the depth of gratitude that is felt by republicans everywhere for the ultimate sacrifices that have been made.
I had the good fortune to have known many of these men and women whose families we are honouring and some were good friends as well as comrades. All of them were very warm and decent human beings who loved thir families and the communities among whom they lived.
I am proud to have been a part of a generation of republicans before 1969 whose sacrifice and commitment ensured that the spirit of freedom was never entirely extinguished. Many more republicans have paid a terrible price since then, each of them a cherished family member and friend. We will never forget them or their families.
The struggle must continue until we realise the dreams and aspirations of our fallen comrades."