Loughall: 20 years on

Photographer Louise Jefferson (pictured far right at the Cappagh memorial along with Sinn Fein leaders and mermbers of the Donnelly family)recently attended events marking the 20th anniversary of the Loughall massacre and here provides a moving personal account of her visit

THIS YEAR marks the 20th anniversary of the ambush and unlawful killing of eight IRA volunteers, and one civilian, in the village of Loughgall, Co Armagh.

Cappagh memorial

The authorities had ample foreknowledge and opportunity to arrest the eight men, Declan Arthurs, Seamus Donnelly, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Patrick Kelly, Jim Lynagh, Patrick McKearney, and Gerald O'Callaghan. Despite this an ambush was set and they were gunned down and massacred by the SAS, who were working with the RUC Special Task force.

In May 2001, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that the men had been unlawfully killed be the British army, violating the men's right to life. The court awarded each of the families, £10,000 each in compensation. For the families, the court's ruling could never be the end of the affair and they have continued to fight for truth about what happened at Loughall.

No one disputes that the eight men were on their way to attack a police station. But what were their reasons?

In 1987, nationalists in the six counties could not go about their daily lives without being persistently stopped, searched, often beaten up and/or killed, on their way to school or work (for those lucky enough to have a job.) Police were always bursting into the homes, traumatising women and children, to search and ransack. Roadblocks and checkpoints abounded in nationalist areas.

At the time, this was all part of everyday life.

Martin Hurson, one of the republican hunger strikers of 1981, was from east Tyrone. Prison conditions in the Maze's notorious H-Blocks and the women's prison at Maghaberry and events leading to his death had a profound effect on local nationalists.

Nobody would talk to them or listen to their plight. These intolerable conditions drove many normally peaceful and law abiding men and women to take desperate measures.

Seamus Donnelly, aged 19, was one such person, and one of the eight killed at Loughgall.

I was invited by the family of Seamus to the 20th anniversary commemoration weekend. There were several weeks of events.

On Friday, 4 May, hundreds of family members, friends and supporters packed into the Ryandale Hotel, at Le Moy to listen to a very informative lecture on the strategy of foreign occupying powers on the tactics and propaganda used to keep natives of an occupied country under control and in a constant state of fear.

We also learnt that at one stage of 'the Troubles' the British government realised they were getting adverse publicity on the brutal tactics being used by the British army to criminalise republicanism, and decided to give more power to the local police, RUC, so as to keep the news local and out of English newspapers, except the stories they chose to release to media in England - incidentally, there are still 8000 British troops stationed in northern Ireland compared with around 7000 currently stationed in Iraq.

On Saturday, 5 May, about a thousand people packed Galbally community hall to watch the screening of a commemorative DVD, in which family members of the fallen eight talked about their sons and/or brothers growing up years. There was also a deeply moving exhibition of photos and memorabilia of the childhoods of these young men. The event provided a touching insight into these normal families living in abnormal conditions.

Sunday 6 May was the Loughgall commemorative march and rally, in which thousands of men, women and children participated, finishing at the Cappagh memorial in Co. Tyrone.

Guest speaker Brian Keenan, who spent 17 years in prison for IRA activities, gave a stirring tribute to the bravery of the countless Irish freedom fighters who have died in the centuries old struggle for liberty and equality. Prominent Sinn Fein figures, including Gerry Adams, Martin McGuiness and Michelle Gildernew, also attended.

I'll never forget the warmth and hospitality of this friendly close knit community

I thought about how fortunate I was to have lived my life in the freedom of Australia and England, and reflected that if Germany and Japan had won the second world war, my family and I might have lived under similar oppressive conditions as the people of Ireland

I wonder if I would have had the courage to resist. Surely unless our country has been occupied by a foreign power, we should not judge the decisions made by those who have.

As Father Patrick Campbell quotes on one of the exhibition panels: "Injustice breeds violent reaction."

Further information about the Loughall massacre and the families' fight for justice can be obtained from the Loughall Relatives for Truth and Justice Campaign, 62 St. Johns Crescent, Clondalkin, Dublin 22. (email: mpkelly1@eircom.net); the Loughall Martyrs 20th anniversary commemorative website (http://www.loughgall20.com/);or from the Pat Finucane Centre (http://www.serve.com/pfc/euro/loughgal.html)

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2007-05-17 13:42:10.
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Copyright © 2007 Louise Jefferson