Michael McVerry 40th Anniversary Commemorative Weekend

November 18, 2013

“We need a strong political party because when the war is over we will need to sit down and talk with the other side – we don’t want our hard work to fall into the hands of others.  We don’t want a thirty two country Free State, we want a Republic” – the prophetic words spoken by IRA Volunteer Michael McVerry in the early 70’s when he was asked what he thought the future might hold.

This weekend republicans and comrades of Michael McVerry – the first south Armagh IRA volunteer to die on active service – held a series of events to commemorate his contribution to the struggle and mark the 40th anniversary of his death.

The weekend opened with a lecture held in Cullyhanna GFC on Saturday 16th November.  Sinn Féin election candidate Barra O Muirí welcomed people to the event and spoke of his honour at playing a part in such a historic commemoration, he also sent greetings to Michael’s sister Carmel.  The lecture, recounting tales from Mickey McVerry’s life, was delivered by Paddy Quinn from Belleek to an eager audience.

Paddy spoke of Mickey’s direct nature, a born leader, he was never afraid to put his opinion across even when those around him thought differently.  These traits, along with his tenacity, intelligence and bravery made him an outstanding volunteer.

Michael McVerry joined the Provisional IRA in 1972 when in his early 20’s.  His chief motivations for doing so were the murder of Crossmaglen man Harry Thornton in Belfast by the British Army and the introduction of internment without trial.  He had previously joined the Official IRA but soon left them due to their inaction.  Mickey quickly proved his worth as an able and committed volunteer.  Despite this he was arrested and interred in Mountjoy Jail and then The Curragh and while he was imprisoned he is said to have spent his time reading every book on guerrilla warfare that he could find.  In October 1972 he was part of a successful escape bid which saw him and six comrades escape to freedom and return to active service.

During this period Mickey suffered a serious injury when he lost his right hand while testing explosives.  Paddy, during his lecture, recounted how a friend managed to get Mickey treated under a false name at the Louth County Hospital in Dundalk.

“While he was in hospital, Mickey requested a pen to see if he could write with his left hand.  I’m sure he was thinking that if he could learn to write with his left hand there would be many other things he could use it for,” Paddy recalled.

McVerry returned to active service and on 15th November 1973 he was shot during an attack on Keady RUC barracks.  His comrades managed to bring him to Monaghan hospital but sadly he had passed away.

His death sent shockwaves through the community in Cullyhanna and much further afield and thousands attended his funeral.

A year to the day after Michael McVerry died, a memorial dedicated to his life was unveiled in Cullyhanna by his close friend Peter John Caraher.

“People of south Armagh will not be intimidated” – Gerry Kelly

On Sunday people came together again in Cullyhanna for the traditional parade to honour the life of Michael McVerry.  Setting off from the football club, more than 20 Sinn Féin banners and hundreds of people walked the short route to the Republican monument.

Chairperson for the event was Barra O Murraí who welcomed everyone and invited members of the gathering to lay wreaths and read the South Armagh Roll of Honour.

The guest speaker was North Belfast republican Gerry Kelly who began by recounting the bravery of Michael McVerry and the role that he played in the Irish struggle before his untimely death at the age of just 23.

Gerry Kelly also took the opportunity to contrast the life and values of Michael McVerry with recent events in Cullyhanna during which a local man was beaten and shot.

“There is a group here using the façade of republicanism to settle personal vendettas.  A local man Michael Bellew was the victim of an attack in the past weeks, he is a decent and respected member of this community.  Michael McVerry would be abhorred at the events of last weeks and the attack on this man, this is as far removed from republicanism as can be,” Mr Kelly said.

“The south Armagh community has always been strong in the face of intimidation, and threats against members of the community in the name of republicanism is unacceptable.  This community will stand behind Michael Bellew and anybody else who has received threats.”

The commemoration ended with Amhrán na bhFiann performed by the Cullyhanna Band.