Packed and Appreciative Crowd Welcome New Local History Publication on Troubles
By Ryan Morgan
Launched on Wednesday past in the Cross Square Hotel, Kevin McMahon and Éamonn Ó hUallacháin presented their new publication recounting the recent Troubles in the Cullyhanna and Crossmaglen areas. The book, entitled ‘The Troubles in Creggan South Armagh 1969-2000’, was warmly received and praised by the capacity crowd in attendance.
The evening’s proceedings were opened by Kieran McConville, former librarian of the Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library and current chair of the Creggan History Society- the local historical group that facilitated the night’s event. Kieran eulogised the two writers and cited the importance of the book as a seminal “document and reference point for south Armagh history in the last fifty years.” He then passed the floor to the book’s co-author, Éamonn, to detail its realisation.
The bulk of the book was researched by Kevin, who meticulously chronologized the Troubles-related events that transpired in the Parishes of Upper and Lower Creggan between the years 1969 and 2000. He also took care to incorporate incidents that took place across the country, but had direct repercussions within the Creggan area itself. The information was largely sourced from the files and microfilms of the Newry Reporter newspaper and ran to a seismic 150,000 words, all of which Kevin transcribed with the use of only one finger! Some years later, Kevin presented his extracts to Éamonn, who set to work editing it and preparing it for publication.
Kevin hopes the book serves as an accurate and substantive account of the daily occurrences that shaped the lives of the residents of Creggan through the conflict-ridden era, and thus will be availed of as a foundation for any future historical insight undertaken on the topic. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he hopes ‘The Troubles in Creggan Parish’ will stand as a memorial to both the many that suffered from these incidents and the journalists who reported on them.
Some of the one thousand names covered in the recorded incidences have been redacted or initialized – as the authors are conscious of the hurt and annoyance many still feel towards what happened. In fact, Kevin himself is one of the first names enlisted in the book, having been interned for no reason whatsoever in August 1971 “at her Majesty’s pleasure”, before being released a year later.
Launching the book, Crossmaglen native and PP of Dunleer, Fr. Michael Murtagh, added his own congratulations to the two men, which was further conferred by rapturous applause from the audience. A published historian in his own right, Fr. Michael reminisced over many local episodes, some humorous, some sorrowful, that he himself bore witness to growing up in the area. He also paid tribute to the authors’ mothers, Alice McMahon and Eithne Uí Uallacháin, two proud Cullyhanna women to whom the book is dedicated.
Acknowledging the journalistic nature of the publication’s contents, Fr. Michael spoke of the significance of recording such source material, so that the accounts contained within them can be cast with a critical eye by those examining its truthfulness posthumously.“Words can be very powerful and very destructive too. Think of Merlyn Rees’ use of the term ‘Bandit Country’ and of the cultural and historical blindness that the term reveals on his part. Thankfully, we in south Armagh are gifted with a healthy self-deprecating sense of humour that allows us not to take such abuse too seriously and indeed to respond to it with a dignified resolve to disprove the insult. The success of post-troubles Crossmaglen and south Armagh generally in terms of Gaelic games excellence; in tourism and in commercial development is the only adequate response.”
Speaking to the Examiner after the launch, Éamonn remarked on his delight with the turnout for the event, conveying it as “testament to the interest in local history throughout the area”. He applauded Kevin’s decades-long commitment to the project, describing him as a man of “eloquence, learning and humour” with a “sharp and brilliant” intellect.
The book itself also serves as a natural extension to Kevin’s previous 2014 work ‘The Time of the Trouble’, which focuses on earlier newspaper coverage of local events as they related to the Irish Civil War and War of Independence. Similarly to its successor, the work is comprehensive in its breadth and serves as an essential resource for anyone seeking to inform or develop their knowledge of the history of the republican struggle in south Armagh.
Indeed, drawing from his authorship of both these two authorative publications, his countless contributions to the Journal of the Creggan History Society, and the sentiment of the many history enthusiasts in attendance at the launch, Kevin has rightfully been elevated to his place as one of the greats in the pantheon of south Armagh historians.