AOH/LAOH Join the Bloody Sunday March in Ireland

Once again Sean Pender, AOH FFAI Chair, organized a wonderful and very informative trip to the Six Counties of Ireland with the help of Coiste & Relatives for Justice.  It all coincided with the “38th Bloody Sunday Commemoration and March”.  There were fifteen AOH/LAOH members that made the trip including our National LAOH President, Mary Ryan and National Immigration Chair, Anne-Marie Nyhan-Doherty.

The tour met in Belfast on Friday and that afternoon we attended a reception at the Scoil Na Fuiseoige which is the Irish speaking school located in Twinbrook, West Belfast.  The AOH/ LAOH presented a generous monetary gift of $5,000.00 in memory of our own David Burke from Division 8, Lawrence, MA.  The children and teachers were waiting for us when we arrived, we were told the children patiently stayed after school (even though it was a Friday afternoon) as they  wanted to meet the American’s that were coming to their school.  The teacher explained that the children were going to put on a play for us in Irish; we would probably recognize it even though most of us don’t understand the Irish language.  It was “A Christmas Carol” and I must say it was simply delightful to watch and to listen to the children speaking Gaelic.  They also sang several “Irish songs” and then played the tin whistle, there was no shortage of talent at this school and the entire show was just a joy to watch.  The staff was so grateful to receive our donation and it will most certainly be put to good use.  I couldn’t help but think of Dave and how proud and happy he‘d be at our remembering him in such a special way. A plaque will be put up in the school to honor his memory, what a wonderful way to begin this tour!!!

Later that evening we went downtown to a couple of local pubs and found out then that a social was on at the O’D’s for Pol Brennan so naturally we all ended going there.  What a pleasure it was to see Pol and to see that he seems to be adjusting so well being back in Ireland. The place was packed with all Irish Republicans and there were so many of the ex-POWs that I recognized from years past.  It was so nice to see them all there for their comrade Pol.  Unfortunately, the next day his father passed away but at least Pol and his family were able to be with him during that time.

We then traveled on to Derry and once again on the Saturday evening before the Bloody Sunday Commemoration, we were at the AOH Hall on Foyle Street in Derry for Mass.  We were warmly welcomed by all our AOH brothers.  They graciously served tea and sandwiches after Mass and before the presentations were given.  Sean Pender presented checks to the Pat Finucane Center, Relatives for Justice, The Cairde ex-political group from Strabane,etc.  He then gave out the Hurley to the members present representing the different AOH/LAOH Divisions, State Board, and National Boards that donated over $1,000 to the Christmas Appeal.  I’m very proud to say, a Hurley was given to the LAOH National Board, New Jersey LAOH State Board and LAOH Division 1 Baltimore City.  Our LAOH sister, Catherine Reinholdt, Division 1, Baltimore City was in attendance with other members from her Division.  It was a pleasure to meet them all and to hear about the fundraiser they had where they raised $1,100 for the Christmas Appeal.

Sunday morning we attended the solemn wreath laying ceremony for all victims killed on that horrific day Jan 30, 1972.  It was very sad indeed to think that they still haven’t been told the truth about that fateful day and they’re still waiting on the Saville Report.  Afterwards, we were given a tour of the murals done by the Bogside Artists which told the story of events that unfolded in Derry during the Troubles.  In the afternoon, we assembled for the Commemorative march and rally.  It seemed like there were larger numbers of people marching that day which was great to see.  After the march, we stood and listened to what each family member had to say about their loved ones that were killed that day as they held their photo for everyone to see. Martin McGuiness was then the main speaker of the day and as usual gave a brilliant speech.

After the march, Eamon Daly from the Omagh Basketball Club met with us at the AOH hall.  He’s bringing his under 14 team to CT, NJ, NY and Boston this summer.  This is a cross community team and maybe the first time these youngsters have ever met others from the other side of the community.  The parents are also very involved and also getting to meet each other from the Protestant and Catholic communities.  I’m proud to say this is one of the many projects our Christmas Appeal helps.

Over the course of the trip, we met with representatives from the Pat Finucane Center and also Relatives for Justice.  They’re both working tirelessly to bring truth and justice to families who have lost loved ones, in part, through collusion with the security forces.  We heard from families who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday and also during the Ballymurphy Massacre.  The Ballymurphy Massacre occurred August 9th through the 11th, 1971 when 11 innocent people were gunned down by the occupation forces.  It was heartbreaking to hear their stories of what transpired over those three days.

One of the highlights of the tour was a visit and tour of Stormont.  There we met with Raymond McCartney.  Raymond is now an MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) for Foyle (Derry) since 2004 but at one time had spent several years in prison and took part in the 1980 hunger strike from 27 October to 18 December, he was released in 1994.  The next day we got the news that a deal had been struck between the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and Sinn Fein for the devolution of policing to the Six Counties of Ireland. This was great news to hear and certainly a historic moment in the Peace Process!!!

In Belfast we met a representative from the David Ervine Trust (one of the groups the Christmas Appeal donates to).  It’s named after David Ervine who was once a member of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force- a Loyalist paramilitary group).  He served time in prison but questioned his involvement in the UVF.  He later became instrumental in securing the Loyalist cease-fire of 13 October 1994 and supported the virtues of peace and reconciliation for Northern Ireland.  The David Ervine Foundation is a cross-community effort to help people from both sides of the community in securing grants, etc.  In his own words, David stated, “There are great opportunities for Northern Ireland, we just have to grasp them”.

In gratitude of all the AOH has done to help The Holy Cross School/Trust in Belfast we were asked to be their guest for lunch.  We were warmly greeted by Fr. Gary Donegan who gave us a bit of history on the school and church.  Fr. Donegan also told us of the events that took place in 2001 when the school children were constantly harassed on their way to school.  The entire group was then seated and an elegant lunch was enjoyed by all.

There were more presentations given at the “Felon’s Club” in Belfast to Coiste, Green Cross, An Cumann Cabbrach, and the Belfast NGA (National Graves Association) Liam Shannon.  All and all, it was a great trip; we experienced once again the traditional kindness and warm hospitality unique to Ireland during our eight day visit and a special thank you to Sean Pender, AOH FFAI National Chair for his gracious leadership throughout our trip.  Wishing you all a blessed Easter and a happy spring!