Memorial for IRA bombers splits opinion in Enniscorthy

 

ENNISCORTHY WILL stage a parade and fireworks tonight to celebrate the 1,500th anniversary of its foundation by St Senan in 510 AD.

However, a memorial commemorating more recent events – involving the IRA – has sparked controversy and divided opinion in the Co Wexford town.

A memorial to the 1957 IRA “Edentubber Bombers” has been erected on a public site – a small patch of grass overlooking the river Slaney. The simple granite monument, which was cemented into the ground without ceremony last weekend, bears a bilingual commemorative inscription.

On November 11th, 1957, five men died in an explosion in a cottage at Edentubber Mountain in Co Louth. It is believed that the men, two of whom were natives of Co Wexford, were en route to attack a target in Northern Ireland when the device exploded prematurely during the IRA’s so-called Border campaign of 1956-1962.

Huge crowds attended a joint requiem Mass for the five men which was held in Dundalk, and the subsequent funerals brought their home towns to a standstill.

The monument lists the five men “a fuair bás ar son na hÉireann” (who died for Ireland), and is also dedicated to the “Vinegar Hill and Pearse Columns, Óglaigh na hÉireann” (the IRA), and “the Internees”. The wording also calls for remembrance of “those in every generation who played their part in the struggle for Irish freedom”.

It was erected by “Cairde na Laochra”, which translates as “friends of the heroes”. In Republican literature, the five men who died are referred to as “The Edentubber Martyrs”.

In 2007, Louth Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said commemorating Edentubber would “remind a new generation of Irish republicans of the sacrifices and hardships that many endured” in the “struggle for Irish unity”.

Traolach Ó Ceallaigh (70), a spokesman for Coiste Cairde na Laochra, told The Irish Times the group consisted of “comrades of that period”, some of whom were “involved” and “some supporters” of the Border campaign.

He had been a member of Sinn Féin “before the Split”, but “not the IRA”, and while he was “a supporter” of the Border campaign, he  had not been a participant. He said he left the organisation in the 1960s because he “wanted to see the world”, and “joined the British Merchant Navy”. He served for many years and then returned to Co Wexford, where he now lives.

Mr Ó Ceallaigh claimed the five men who died “were going to attack an empty customs post and electricity pylons” in Northern Ireland. He “didn’t realise there was going to be such a hullaballoo” about the memorial.

The monument has been erected on Irish Street, close to the former home of George Keegan, an Enniscorthy man who died at Edentubber. Mr Ó Ceallaigh had spoken to “residents of the street, who said it was time to remember”. The monument had been funded, he said, by “subscriptions and from the sale of a book” –  From Vinegar Hill to Edentubber: the Wexford IRA and the Border Campaign, by Ruán O’Donnell, head of the department of history at the University of Limerick. The group hopes to arrange an unveiling ceremony later this year to which the town council will be invited.

However the chairman of the town council, Sean Doyle (Independent) said yesterday he would only attend such a ceremony “in a private capacity”, as his role involves representing people of all political persuasions in the town.

Mr Doyle revealed that he had been a member of the IRA’s “Vinegar Hill Column” and had participated in “military action” in Northern Ireland. He was on a mission to Armagh in 1956 when his unit was intercepted by British soldiers “who opened up fire”. He “didn’t even fire a shot” and “had to skedaddle”. He said he later “resigned from Sinn Féin” because he disapproved when “the IRA murdered a guard” and, in retrospect, described the Border Campaign as “a silly campaign – it was going nowhere”.

The application to erect the memorial was presented to the nine-member Enniscorthy town council in January, and no objections were raised.

However, after the decision became public, a Fine Gael councillor admitted that his party had been “caught on the hop”. Local Fine Gael TD and party chief whip, Paul Kehoe, said he was “unhappy” and “hugely concerned”. He received “many calls” from residents close to the proposed site “who have huge concerns and were disappointed they were not consulted”. However, he had no power to intervene.

The Enniscorthy authorities pointed out that the monument was neither erected nor funded by the council, but that councillors simply gave permission for its installation in a public place.