The annual South Armagh Óglaigh na hÉireann Commemoration took place on Sunday past at Memorial Garden beside Tí Chulainn in Mullaghban.
This annual commemoration remembers all those local volunteers who died during the most recent phase of the struggle for Irish freedom and is focussed on offering ongoing solidarity and support to their families and loved ones as well as honouring their sacrifice.
In what was a poignant and reflective Day for many, the family of the late Martin McGuinness attended the Commemoration to help unveil a specially commissioned memorial stone in his honour.
Martin opened the Memorial Garden in October 2010. He was a Republican leader and internationally respected peacemaker but he was also a great friend to South Armagh and its people. This was borne out by the huge attendance at the unveiling carried out by Martins wife Bernie and Conor Murphy MLA.
Welcoming the McGuinness family to the event, South Armagh MLA Megan Fearon told them,
“Martin visited this area many times throughout his life, standing with the people in their struggle with British Army occupation, encouraging support for the Peace Process, assisting local Sinn Fein candidates and, at all times, enjoying the hospitality and warm welcome of the people of South Armagh”
Sinn Féin Louth TD and former Party President Gerry Adams delivering the oration told those present,
“This commemoration is for those republicans killed during the conflict. Today a stone is being unveiled in honour of Martin McGuinness who officially opened the Memorial Garden in 2010.
On the stone are engraved the words of local 18th century poet Art MacCumhaigh, one of the last of the Ulster poets in the Irish language tradition. They are taken from his poem Úrchill an Chreagáin.
“A fhialfhir charthannaigh, Ná caitear thusa I néaltaí bróin. Ach éirigh go tapaidh Is aistrigh liom siar sa ród”.
It is an anthem for south east Ulster and was a lamentation for the fall of the O’Neills of the Fews.
“My kind young man do not sleep in sorrow. But rise swiftly and come along the road with me.”
Commenting on the current crisis in the institutions, Brexit and Sinn Féin’s goal of a referendum on Irish unity Gerry Adams said:
“The DUP have tied themselves to the English Tories; they embrace Brexit. They continue to deny citizens’ rights enjoyed elsewhere on these islands. But that will all be sorted. Of that there is no doubt.
We can say with certainty that the DUP position is not sustainable. It is for them to come to terms with that.
“Everyone here knows that the Taoiseach’s position on the North, the border and rights is a direct consequence of the strength of Sinn Féin. So we will persist and we will prevail.
We also reject Mr Varadkar’s suggestion that a referendum on Irish unity is not desirable at this time. He has a duty to uphold the Good Friday Agreement. He cannot cherry-pick it. So we will continue to look for a referendum and we will do our utmost to win that convincingly.
This is not a task for Sinn Féin alone. All political parties and others who support the Good Friday Agreement and an end to partition should also campaign for this modest step forward.
How a shared Ireland, an agreed Ireland is created is another matter deserving of careful, generous and positive inclusivity. To begin with we need to understand that many unionists hold to their sense of identity as strongly as we do. So new thinking is needed by us all.
We are a diverse people. That should be proudly proclaimed and not used to divide us. Ireland is an island – a society – in transition. The future is bright despite the dire threats of Brexit.”
There was also a photographic exhibition in Ti Chulainn which reflected on Martin’s life, in particular his relationship with south Armagh and the organisers are grateful to local people who supplied treasured pictures of Martin visiting families and places in the South Armagh area.
The formal events were followed by music and refreshments in Ti Chulainn and entertainment was also provided for children.
Milé Buíochas to all who attended and helped in any way with the organising of the special day.