A large crowd gathered in Tyrone on Sunday past to honour the memory of eight brave volunteers of the East Tyrone Brigade killed in action at Loughgall on 8 May 1987, while a new monument was unveiled across the border in Monaghan.
The events in Cappagh, Galbally and Drumfurrer were hailed as “a fitting, dignified tribute” to the eight IRA Volunteers all murdered in a deadly ambush by the British Army’s SAS: Declan Arthurs (21), Seamus Donnelly (19), Tony Gormley (25), Eugene Kelly (25), Patrick Joseph Kelly (30), Jim Lynagh (31), Pádraig McKearney (32) and Gerry O’Callaghan (29), all members of the Provisional IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade, and Anthony Hughes (36), a civilian.
The attack was part of a British shoot-to-kill campaign in East Tyrone/North Armagh in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s “when the full might of the British war machine... was unleashed on the people of East Tyrone”, according to the local PH Pearse 1916 Society.
“These nine men were husbands, fathers, sons and brothers to their loved ones, whose only crime was that they were Irish in British Occupied Ireland. They were killed by faceless, nameless paid SAS assassins who were in Ireland to carry out Britain’s war of terror against the democratic rights of the Irish people.”
The annual mass organised by the families was held on Friday in Galbally, while a Tour of the Graves assisted by local republicans took place on Saturday.
Sunday also saw the unveiling of the new Loughgall Monument organised by the Tyrone National Graves Association at Drumfurrer near the border. The original stone memorial dedicated to two of the dead, Jim Lynagh and Padraig McKearney, was completely destroyed in 2019. It is still not known who was responsible for the attack, which is believed to have involved a digger.
A loyalist flag had to be removed before the event, which saw wreaths laid in memory of the fallen men. The main speaker was veteran Tyrone republican Tommy McKearney, whose brother Padraig was killed at Loughgall.
Speaking at the commemoration, Mr McKearney said the gathering was “not to mourn” the fallen “but to honour their memory and to celebrate their contribution to the struggle for a free, sovereign, independent Irish Republic”.
He said: “Let no one tell us their cause failed, or their struggle was a failure, because their heroism and their dedication has ensured the ultimate triumph of their objective and our objective.”
Relatives of those who died praised the organisation of the events by the Tyrone National Graves Association and the 1916 Societies. Family members described the new monument as “a true fitting tribute to our loved ones”.
“Committee members representing and with full permission from each family truly carried out our wishes and desires for a place for people to come and visit, remember our loved ones, want to learn their story, and provide meaning and understanding to future generations and perhaps to educate some of us presently,” they said.
“To those who travelled from near and far and who we had the privilege of meeting over the weekend we do not have enough words to thank you. We are humbled by your support and encouragement and we recognise this as an honour to the legacy of our loved ones - how they reached so many hearts and minds in their desire for freedom.”