A group of thirty seven Hibernians from thirteen states just returned from a comprehensive fact finding tour in Northern Ireland. We were led by President Jim McKay and LAOH President Carol Sheyer. Our first stop was in Jonesborough a small town in County Armagh just across the Northern border from County Louth. We had a town hall meeting with the Anti-Brexit Border Committee, Declan Fearon, Damien McGuinnity and John Sheridan. We heard firsthand accounts of the issues these communities are facing with Brexit and the potential for hard borders. Judge McKay presented them with a Resolution on the issues from US Congressmen Brendan Boyle. They are very appreciative of the support from the AOH and Irish America. We concluded our visit with photos at the border that made the newspapers in Ireland and the front page of The Irish Echo.
After leaving Jonesborough we headed to Belfast. We were honored to join the Finucane family for an evening vigil on the 30th anniversary of the death of Pat Finucane the human rights lawyer killed by loyalist paramilitaries acting in collusion with the British government. Pat was shot 14 times while having dinner with his three children and his wife Geraldine who was also shot during the attack. Twenty two years later British Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Finucane family apologized to them and admitted that there was collusion between police officers, soldiers and his loyalist killers. For the past eight years the Finucane family has been pressing the courts for a full and independent public inquiry into Pat’s murder. At the vigil Judge McKay spoke about “the special courage of the civil rights lawyer who continued to fight for justice despite death threats until he was murdered for doing so.”
We were joined at the vigil by Mark Thompson of Relatives For Justice, Niall Murphy of the Kevin Winters law firm, and Seanna Walsh, Alex Maskey and Jim Gibney, all from Sinn Fein.
Monday morning our delegation met with Carmel Quinn, John Taggart and the families of the Ballymurphy Massacre victims. Under their banner we marched a short distance to Laganside Court. We were met by members of the press as well as a BBC television crew. We were there to support the families who after 47 long years of looking for justice finally are have their day in court. Judge McKay told reporters “Hibernians across the United States had their eyes on that courtroom and were behind these families in their long fight for justice.” After spending the morning in court listening to delay tactics by the Ministry of Defense we had the opportunity to get briefings and updates on the case from the solicitor and the barrister representing the Ballymurphy families. After court we headed to City Hall and a reception with Belfast Mayor Deirdre Hargey. We were joined by our good friend and fellow Hibernian Father Gary Donegan. During his remarks Judge McKay told us that Father Gary was this year’s receipant of the MacBride Award. The award will be presented at October’s President’s Dinner being held in Washington, DC. Look for more details in future AOH newsletters.
From City Hall we traveled to the Houben Center at Holy Cross. Remarks by Father Gary and his “wing man” Brian updated us on all of the good things that are happening in the Houben Center that is thriving and serving the entire Ardoyne community. Father Gary reminded any members of our delegation making their first visit to Holy Cross that the dream of the Houben Center became a reality with the help of funds raised by the AOH – LAOH Christmas Appeal.
After dinner at the Felon’s Club, Martin Galvin National FFAI Chairman was assisted by various AOH state FFAI chairs. They distributed AOH – LAOH Christmas Appeal funds to a number of community groups. In their remarks the recipients thanked the AOH and LAOH for the generous donations that they will put to good use. The message from each of the groups was consistent. They asked us to express their heartfelt thanks to our membership and to let you know how important it is to them that Irish America cares. In April’s newsletter I will report on additional details as our 2019 tour and fact finding mission continued.
Freedom For All Ireland