Republican News · Thursday 17 February 2000

[An Phoblacht]

trim's staunchest

In the week of Sinn Féin's crucial by-election victory in South Antrim, An Phoblacht's Peadar Whelan travelled to Toome to assess the legacy of two now deceased veteran republicans whose legacy of commitment and hard work kept the republican flame alive.

When Bob McNeill died in February last year, Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said in his graveside oration that although Bob was not a big man, ``he nonetheless cast a long, historic shadow over this area''.

Bob was from Toomebridge, and since the 1940s, when he went to live and work in England, he had been active in republican politics. He had sold papers, set up Sinn Féin structures under the enemy's nose and ensured that republican activity went on. He campaigned against internment and fought for truth and for those killed in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

Just weeks earlier, on New Year's Eve, 31 December 1998, John McCoy from the Shore Road just outside Toomebridge died.

Like Bob, John cast a long shadow over the area.

John was in his 80s when he died and since the 1930s, when he enlisted in Oglaigh na hÉireann, he had been active in every decade and worked in every sphere of the republican struggle: he played a full role right up until he died.

John's father had been active in the Volunteers in the early days of the century, probably recruited by Sean Mac Diarmada, who had been sent from Dublin to organise in the South Antrim area.

When John was active, the South Antrim units of the IRA carried out numerous actions against the unionist statelet, but ironically, it was in the highly politically charged era of the past 30 years of struggle that the worth and scope of John and Bob's experience counted most.

Bob had returned to Toome in the 80s and along with John offered wise council to republicans and showed leadership.

Through the dark days of the H Block protests and the hunger strikes, John and Nan McCoy along with the Sinn Fein leadership in the area walked the streets and organised demonstrations on a weekly basis.

Bob, though still in England at this time, also campaigned in support of the H Block and Armagh prisoners.

In the picturesque cemetery at Cargin on the road between Toome and Randalstown, is the grave of John McCoy, his parents, and his daughter Anne Marie. As OC of Cumann na mBan, Anne Marie died in a road accident as she returned from a visit in Long Kesh.

The result achieved by Sinn Féin in the recent by-election to Antrim council two weeks ago is a testament to years of commitment by local republicans like Bob and John.

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