I know that what matters at the moment is whether the lunatic in his Moscow lair can be prevented from murdering vast numbers in his doomed mission to restore the Russian Empire that was abolished in 1917 and be brought down by his own egomania.

Published: 1 March 2022

I share the international admiration for the inspiring courage of the Ukrainians, and particularly our new hero, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose resistance to this appalling regional bully has brought the West to its senses and is causing the Republic of Ireland to rethink its delusional and immoral adherence to neutrality.

And, as I write, I’m praying that Putin’s assassins fail in their mission to murder Zelenskyy.

But apart from a few memories of a short period in the early 1990s professionally observing Moscow (shabby and run-down with pockets of staggering opulence) and Minsk (dirt poor, exceptionally beautiful Slavic women in rags, shocking food shortages and an air of hope that would soon be dashed), I’ve nothing to contribute for now to the tsunami of reportage, speculation and comments.

So I’ll write instead about a local happening that is unsurprising but worth a second glance — the recent attendance in Tyrone of Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, hosted by the Coalisland/Clonoe Martyrs Sinn Féin Cumann at the unveiling of what Sinn Fein call “a monument“ to Clonoe O’Rahilly’s GAA club members and IRA volunteers Peter Clancy, Hugh Gerard Coney and Brian Campbell, in proud memory of our fallen Gael’s”.

Lads, lad, there shouldn’t be an apostrophe in “Gael’s”.

And there shouldn’t be photos of the would-be First Minister of Northern Ireland sharing a joke at the ceremony, and you shouldn’t have embarrassed the GAA you claim to love, which tries to avoid being linked to political parties, let alone the IRA.

What’s more, you show your ignorance of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly (a guy who awarded himself a chieftain’s ‘The’ before his name) who trained Irish Volunteers as a defensive force, did not join the covert Irish Republican Brotherhood, was appalled in April 1916 to discover a faction of the IRB was conspiring to launch a rebellion, did everything he could to stop it, including driving around Ireland with countermanding instructions, and having failed, joined in the rising because “I’ve helped to wind up the clock — I might as well hear it strike!”

He fought in the General Post Office (GPO) with courage, insisted his British Army prisoner should be properly looked after, and was killed leading a group escaping the blazing building.

I doubt if he would have been enthusiastic about the killers of Clonoe, who ambushed their neighbours.

One of them, Brian Campbell, is linked to two killings carried out in front of the late Seamus Mallon of the SDLP, a predecessor of O’Neill as Deputy First Minister, who was an Irish nationalist who hated sectarianism, prized his Protestant neighbours and friends, and called his autobiography A Shared Home Place.

I would like Ógra Shinn Féin to read Mallon’s story from that autobiography of events in 1982 resembling those involving Campbell that had him shot dead by the SAS in 1983 carrying an Armalite that had been involved in four murders and 18 shootings.

Mallon, who visited all bereaved relatives whatever their politics, was sometimes rebuffed. On the doorstep sympathising with a nurse newly widowed by the IRA, “she asked me to come in for a cup of tea. Then a male voice came from the corner of the big kitchen cum living room: ‘Show Mr Mallon the door, please’.

“I said I’d go and wait outside. A neighbour who was also there at the time, Snowdon Corkey, who was in the police reserve, got up and said: ‘Seamie, I’ll walk down to the car with you — there are a few chancey boys around at the minute.’

“Three weeks later I went down for a message in the pharmacy in Markethill. My daughter Orla, who was 13, came with me … Orla went into the pharmacy and I sat waiting in the car. I was daydreaming when I heard loud metallic sounds … I recognised it as the sound of gunfire, and I knew instinctively that the targets were [his friend] Snowdon Corkey and his fellow RUC reservist, young Ronnie Irwin.

“They had just walked past my car on the way from the police barracks towards the barrier they were manning. They gave me the usual friendly wave and a few seconds later they were dying.

“I ran towards a cattle truck under which Snowdon had rolled and knelt beside him. The effluent from the cows was seeping down on top of him. So there I was on my knees and a young policeman dying beside me: ‘Seamie,’ he said, ‘tell them all I love them.’

“Ronnie Owen was a particular favourite of Orla and her friends: they called him ‘Chuckles” because he was so full of smiles and chat when they regularly walked through his checkpoint. When the local doctor and local unionist councillor … arrived a few minutes later, both young men were dead. Orla was still sitting in the car, terrified I had been killed too. We both went home in tears. That really put calluses on my soul.”

When David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were first ministers, power sharing had a chance.


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