The death has taken place of Toni Carragher, a well-known campaigner against British army militarisation along the border, and the former secretary of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents’ Committee.
Toni, a mother-of-one from Crossmaglen, County Armagh died peacefully at St John’s House, Southern Area Hospice in Newry on Wednesday.
She was synonymous with campaigns for the removal of British Army bases and fortifications from South Armagh in the years following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Along with committee chair Declan Fearon, she spearheaded efforts to help bring international attention to British military spyposts, heliports and other installations dotted around the border area. The campaign deeply embarrassed the British government into bringing about their gradual removal.
Toni led community protests right up to the spytowers, including one in Glassdrummound, just across a field from her home. She often accompanied international visitors to see for themselves the effects of the continuing border militarisation, which was at that time the heaviest in western europe.
Her friend Gerard Magee recalled how she would “confront the British soldiers face to face - telling them she’d the farmer’s permission to be in this field, but the British soldiers didn’t. The soldiers at the watch tower had no clue how to handle a community protest with this very articulate leader.”
He said the British Army commander would respond to the confrontation by ordering his troops back into their underground bunkers. “Such a humiliating scenario!” he said. “Not long after this, all the watch towers were removed from the South Armagh hills.”
Toni remained indefatigable and continued to speak out over continuing British military activity in the north of Ireland, right until the week of her death. One of her last internet posts was a video of a British military convoy moving through Belfast.
Local Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady said she would be remembered as “a strong immensely able woman”.
“Toni played a key role in highlighting the huge concerns of our communities about the military occupation of the south Armagh area,” he said.
“She never backed down, fought her corner and represented those who had placed their faith in her.
“Toni believed passionately in the rights of citizens and she brought that passion to all of her work.
“She was an unapologetic united Irelander. A woman of compassion and life long community activist - who believed in equality and in citizens’ rights.”
She is survived by her son Peter, parents John and Frances and family circle. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.