December 19, 2022
Mary Lou McDonald speech on the 100th anniversary of the Greyabbey Martyrs

A chairde,

Tugann muid ár ónóir do cuimhne na hÓglaigh poblachtánacha a maríodh ag an Saorstát céad bliain ó shin.

Bailímid inniu chun ómós a thabhairt dóibh.

Chun cuimhneamh ar a n-íobairtí, chun muid a ath-thioman do réadú na poblacht a thug siad a saol di.

Éire saor, aontaithe agus cothraime.

The winds that caress the plains of the Curragh echo the memory of republican volunteers killed by the Free State one hundred years ago.

Today we gather to honour them.

To remember their sacrifices, To recommit ourselves to the realisation of the republic for which they have their lives.

An Ireland free, united, and equal.

One hundred years ago, seven young men of the Rathbride IRA Column were executed by the Free State.

It was the single biggest execution during the Civil War.

On December 13th, Free State troops raided a dug out at Moore’s Bridge, on edge of the Curragh plains.

There they found ten IRA volunteers with rifles, munitions, and supplies.

Bryan Moore, Patrick Bagnall, Patrick Mangan, Joseph Johnston, Patrick Nolan, Stephen White and James O’Connor were sentenced to death by a military tribunal at the Curragh military camp.

Thomas Behan was also killed. 

He was savagely beaten to death at the scene of the capture. 

The Free State covered up his murder by saying he was shot trying to escape from prison.

It was a shameful lie.

On the 19th of December, less than a week after their capture, all seven men faced the firing squad the Glasshouse. 

Each was shot dead, one after the other, five minutes apart.

The words of Amhran na bhFiann were the last words that passed their lips – defiance and hope until the end.

The men were buried on the grounds of the Curragh. 

In 1924, their remains were exhumed and lay in state in Kildare Courthouse before being re-buried at Gerry Abbey Cemetery.

All Eight men who died stood in defence of the republic against the Free State counter-revolution fostered by the British clinging to its empire.

They knew that betrayal of the republic, the acceptance of dominion status, and partition would lead to a claustrophobic, reactionary Ireland, that the vision of equality would be cast aside.

And so, it came to pass.

An Ireland where working people were kept down.

Where women were denied their place as equal citizens. 

Where freedoms gave way to systems of strict social control. Where emigration was forced on generation after generation.

An Ireland we are still working to change today.

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The Grey Abbey Martyrs are not household names. 

They are not famous. 

Their feats and their sacrifices have not gone around the world  immortalised in song and story.

They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things at a watershed time for our nation.

They were, first and foremost, republican activists who held tightly to their principles. 

The power of their unshakable belief stands as a lesson for us today.

When we are asked what we can do to bring about change our first answer should always be “I will be an activist”.

To rock the system. To look beyond our own circumstances. To look to the greater good. To reach for the republic and to refuse to let go.

That is what the Grey Abbey Martyrs did, and it is a great tragedy of our history that they paid with their lives.

They were republican activists, freedom fighters but there were also sons and brothers, and they were loved so deeply.

The people they left behind were bereft by their loss.

Annie Moore lost her brother, Brian and her fiancée, Patrick Nolan.

Annie herself had been arrested in the raid for possession of a revolver. She spent a year in prison

Overwhelmed with grief, both the fathers of Paddy Mangan and Brian Moore died young with broken hearts.

Today we extend a particular welcome to the families of the seven men.

A century on this is a moment of reflection for Ireland: to recollect the destructive division of civil war; the bravery and courage of those that stood by the republic and the need to finish our democratic journey to full nationhood. 

This is a moment of personal remembrance too.

A moment of sorrow, of loss, of lament.

Each family in their own way left with the questions of what might have been, what life could have been lived by these seven men. 

My grandmother Molly was a frightened eight year old child when news came that her brother James had been executed. Her mother Brigid was distraught, there had been no word of his arrest or trial only that he had faced a firing squad.

No last farewell, no final embrace the only words of goodbye lovingly scripted in his last letter that would arrive days after his execution. 

James left a broken hearted family behind, he left his sweetheart Esther Quirke behind, their plans to marry and build a life together cruelly stolen  from them. 

The families of the executed were left deeply scarred and many chose to leave Ireland to escape the hurt.

Their grief was met with political antagonism and official cold silence.

The depth of loss reflected in all that was not said.

They say that history is written by the victors –  the stories of the official and unofficial executions by the Free state have attracted minimal public comment much less any commemoration by the powers that be.

It is now the time for the state to recognise, remember and honour those lives, this is a necessary part of reconciling our civil war history and moving forward together.

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The tragedy of the executions, and indeed the entire Civil War, is underscored by the fact that these were seven young men.

Five of the seven had yet to see their twenty-fifth birthday.

James was twenty-four.

Patrick Mangan was twenty-two. 

Patrick Bagnall was nineteen. 

Both Stephen White and Joseph Johnston were only eighteen years of age.

Their commitment to a cause greater themselves stands as a testament to the revolutionary spirit of youth, to the impatience of youth to bring about real change. 

The idealism of young people is often dismissed by the powerful as unrealistic and naive.

But, as the Grey Abbey Martyrs proved, youth is a fire.

Bright, powerful glowing with energy.

Standing against injustice, inequality, or exploitation.

Youth is also an engine.

Driving forward. Making things happen. Making change happen.

Today, our young people face a never-ending housing crisis, the denial of opportunity and spectre of forced emigration. 

Yet, with great resilience and courage, this generation is rising with the hope and tenacity to lay claim to their destiny and to the future of their country.

They refuse to accept the limitations of the past.

They refuse to settle for less than.

They reach for the Ireland that can be, for the republic that was denied.

Each and every time they do this, our young people evoke the spirit of the seven men we remember today.

Two generations linked across a century, by the shared appetite for change and a better Ireland.

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Make no mistake, today, progressive change is sweeping across all of Ireland with an unprecedented force. 

It is undeniable that the old order is rapidly fading.

We are living in the end days of partition, and we have a generation that will redefine our nation.

This is the generation that will unite our country and our people.

The next step must be for the Irish government to establish a Citizens Assembly on Irish Unity.

We must continue to build the momentum for unity. 

We all must advocate, campaign and plan for unity. 

We cannot deliver Irish unity alone. 

We need the maximum support, North and South.

It can be done if we continue to work together and for each other. 

If we continue to reach for a better tomorrow, we achieve full nationhood in our time.

Sinn Féin is at the forefront of change, leading change right across Ireland.

The prospect of Sinn Féin leading government north and south is now very real, and republicans will not take a backward step.

In the north, Michelle O’Neill has been elected as First Minister in a state that was designed to ensure that it could never, ever happen.

In the South, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael no longer control government and opposition. The political landscape has been altered fundamentally. 

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can swap Taoisigh. They can swap ministerial offices. 

They can cling to power and to position but they can’t stop the people’s demand for change.

Our goal remains the achievement of the government for change, a government that puts workers and families first.

A government guided by the principles of equality and fairness so poetically expressed in the proclamation of 1916.

Irish republicans are focused on the prize.

We want to achieve a united republic, one that stands as a bastion of social equality, economic justice, and diversity.

We want a home for every family and worker.

We want our people to have healthcare as a basic right.

We want a fair economy built on good jobs, decent wages and strong workers’ rights.

We want our citizens to have good, secure and happy lives 

These are the basics that any real republic should provide. 

The basics to which you are entitled whether you love in Kildare or Derry, in Belfast or Cork, in Laois or Tyrone.

In so many ways, the things working people we struggled for in 1916 and in 1922 are the same things we are struggling for today.

Connolly said it best, for our demands most moderate are, we only want the Earth.

Everything we do, everything we work for is about building the Irish nation anew.

To resurrect the promise of the Ireland for which the Grey Abbey Martyrs and so many others gave their lives.

I believe that the flame of freedom that propels us forward has always been sustained through our unwavering belief that we will see the rising of the moon.

Today, in this time and in this place, that flame burns brightly. 

It burns in the ambitions of our people to lay claim to the destiny of our nation.

As we move forward, we move forward in hope and confidence.

We look beyond today and towards the new Ireland we are creating for all our children the children of the nation.

A united Ireland; a true republic for all our citizens and worthy of the memory of all those who defended and died for the republic.

Their heroic sacrifice is not a footnote in history.

It remains with us as a living, breathing inspiration.

It motivates us to keep going. To hold on.

Because, make no mistake, the future is ours to win.

In his final letter to his family, Patrick Mangan wrote, “Never dishonour the cause for which I die – a free and independent Ireland”.

What incredible bravery and idealism it took to write those words in his final hours.

We need that courage, that idealism, that belief today.

Let’s honour Patrick’s dying wish and the vision for which he and his comrades fought.