It is unfortunate that many people who worked so hard and who laid the foundations for the current phase of our struggle never got to reap some of the benefits of that hard work. It was, therefore, with deep sadness that republicans and nationalists in Lurgan and further afield learned of the death of Mary O'Neill.
Mary, for as long as anyone can remember, was a staunch and tireless worker for both Sinn Féin and for the POWs over the last 30 years. Mary was always working away in the background, raising money for prisoners' families, organising functions and highlighting the plight of republican prisoners, particularly during the blanket and no wash protests and the hunger strikes.
Mary worked in a factory in a staunchly loyalist part of Lurgan. Very few of her work mates knew of her republican views, On her lunch breaks, Mary called every day to the Sinn Féin offices to see what had to be done.
Mary was a quiet and unassuming person. She loved Irish traditional music and was a keen Irish dancer when she was younger.
She had been ill for some time and died in St John's Hospice in Newry in June. Like so many others, many stories can never be told of the work that Mary did. Those who knew her and loved her will never forget her. There is no doubt that people like her were the backbone of the republican struggle.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dilis.
Paddy `Root' Meenan and Noel `Sonny' O'Reilly
It was sad to hear that Wee Paddy Root had died. `A good wee man he'll be missed' says Big Sonny, as he struggled with his favourite mare, an Irish champion. Tinkering about his yard, patrolled by his dogs, the horses were Sonny's pride and joy.
Paddy Meenan enjoyed a pint of the black stuff. `The blonde with the black skirt', Root would quip, as he attempted to drink it all in one gulp. His second home was in Bray, Co Wicklow, where his clann had moved many years ago. It was there Paddy died, the result of a heart attack on 26 October last.
For his part in defending Volunteer Jim Saunders' funeral from a loyalist attack, Paddy became one of the first republican prisoners of this present phase of conflict. Saunders, an IRA Volunteer, was shot dead by the British army in North Belfast in 1971 and as his funeral made its was along the Oldpark Road 300 flag-wielding loyalists attacked the cortege, throwing stones. At one point, the RUC also attacked mourners.
Maureen and Paddy's home in Quinn's Road, Bray, sheltered many a weary traveller and for their hospitality many a republican will be forever grateful.
On 20 December, Noel (Sonny) O'Reilly passed away. The Black Mountain watches over Sonny's grave, where he lies with his wife Margaret and daughter Danielle. His horses still roam the mountain.
A few years ago Sonny found himself in the infamous Castlereagh Interrogation Centre. Sonny remained silent. The RUC were looking for information on his neighbours and his silence provoked an angry outburst from one of his interrogators . Right into Sonny's' face he screamed, ``we got our info' straight from the horse's mouth''. At that, Sonny sat back and smiled. ``My horses don't talk,'' was his replay.
Two solid men from the Rock. Two ordinary men, two family men. Their coffins bore the flag of their country. Family and friends followed, our hearts were sore, our loss immense. My heartfelt sympathy to both clanns. The men who were your husbands and fathers stood by me through thick and thin. They will always be in my thoughts.
Do chara Paddy A.
The people of South Derry in general and Swatragh in particular, were deeply shocked and saddened by the recent, sudden death of life-long republican, Brendan Cassidy.
Brendan, who was a youthful 50, died at his Carnview home on 28 December last after a relatively short illness.
A native of Kilrea, Brendan had moved to Swatragh after his marriage 28 years ago and was a popular figure in the village. His funeral, with full republican honours, was held in Craigavole Chapel with interment afterwards in Granaghan graveyard.
The huge crowd in attendance, during what was the worst weather in 20 years, was in itself testimony of his standing in this tight-knit rural community.
In his oration, Assembly member John Kelly described Brendan as a staunch, uncompromising republican who had served the republican cause since his teenage years and had served it well.
He had served it as a Volunteer in the South Derry Brigade of Oglaigh na hÉireann and as a political prisoner in the Cages of Magilligan and Long Kesh concentration camps.
At a time when it wasn't popular and was often dangerous, Brendan was a member of Sinn Féin. He was an H-Block/Armagh activist during the Hunger Strikes and in the historic election victories that followed, Brendan was a committed election worker.
``Big Cass'', as he was affectionately known, was a very ordinary man and yet he was one of a rare breed never plentiful in any nation. He was a true republican, a dedicated father and husband.
Deepest sympathies are extended to his wife Marie, his children Tara, Brendan, Sean and John Paul; his grandchildren Erin and Mairead; and to his entire famiily circle in Swatragh, Kilrea, Bellaghy and Slaughtneil.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.