Republicans join forces to remember OIRA volunteers

May 19, 2014

Last Sunday 11th May in Newry witnessed several hundred various strands of Republicans coming together to commemorate and rededicate a memorial in St Mary’s cemetery to mark the 40th anniversary of the deaths of two Official IRA Volunteers. In a series of events, the Official Republican Association organised the parade and wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance of Vols Martin McAlinden and Colman Rowntree.  The two men were shot dead in suspicious circumstances by a Para undercover unit on 15th May 1974 at Ballyholland, on the outskirts of Newry. Both men were unarmed and it was claimed at the time they were retrieving explosives from an arms dump and or were preparing a land mine.

A local farmer witnessed the killings and claimed both men stood to attention following orders from the soldiers yet nevertheless they were shot dead. The farmer himself had gunfire directed at him, narrowly escaping death.

The former ‘Irish News’ journalist Fabian Boyle arrived at the scene shortly after Newry undertaker Brendan Heaney had retrieved the bodies. Fabian was directed to a grass verge – as he recalled in his ‘Newry Memoirs’ – by an eager soldier. Sticks of gelignite had been neatly laid out and he enquired were there guns recovered, to which he got a reply in the negative. Fabian’s journalistic instincts lead him to conclude things were not quite right at the scene.  Mindful that a photograph of a grass verge and ditch would have been of no interest to any photographic agency, he secretly, with his reliable Rollerflex camera, snapped a picture of soldiers at the scene but the click of the shutter-release was heard and Fabian was arrested and taken to Bessbrook Army base where he was relieved of the future potential evidence.

Despite a testimony from the eye-witness farmer, additional evidence and numerous inquiries, no one was ever brought to account for the deaths of McAlinden and Rowntree.

An Official Republican Association spokesman expressed gratitude at the tremendous turn out at last Sunday’s parade, which progressed from their offices in Mary St to the official memorial to the Volunteers.

“It was heartening to witness various strands of Republicanism attending and laying wreaths.  Representatives such as Christopher Morley – Republican Socialists, Annmarie Cinnamond – Former Republican Prisoners, Micky Brady MLA and Sinn Fein delegation to name a few,” the spokesman said.

“We in the O.R.A look back with pride on our two fallen dead.  It’s a fitting legacy that last Sunday their memorial united all republicans in Newry, the likes of which has not been witnessed in Newry in decades.”