Address to Crois na Leanbh Commemoration

Liadh Ní Riada with others at the Crois na Leanbh Commemoration

It is always a privilege and a humbling task to be asked to speak at events like this.

The monument here does not just serve to remind us of the names of those who fell here, it is a reminder of the constant danger that those who oppose oppression face.

The deaths here were not part of a major battle. Timothy Connolly, Cornelius McCarthy, John McGrath and Jeremiah O’Neill were engaged in the unglamorous though important day to day work of digging a trench across the road when they were ambushed by the Essex Regiment of the British Army.

With only two rifles between them they were captured and despite being Prisoners of War, they were knelt down and shot in the head.

These were, and for many people around the world still are, the cold, harsh realities of being a revolutionary. With that in mind I want to send our support and solidarity to our friends and allies in Palestine, who just last week paid a similar price for the crime of asserting their right to exist.

Colonial powers do not grant freedom easily. They will crow about terrorism out of one side of their mouths while ordering executions out of the other.

Tim, Cornelius, John and Jeremiah were killed during what Tom Barry described as “twelve dark days” for the 3rd West Cork Brigade.

Between February 4th and February 16th eleven members of the Brigade were killed. In addition to the horrific executions here, the Coffey brothers were taken from their beds by Black and Tans, who were guided to the room they slept in by local traitors, marched to a nearby field and executed.

This monument reminds us that those who fought for our freedom did not just fight for it with a gun in their hand. The commitment they made to the Irish Republic was a lifelong one. It was a selfless commitment to a cause that demanded dedication and sacrifice every minute of every day.

Because of their sacrifice and the sacrifice of others like them, we do not have to pursue our political goals by digging trenches on lonely country roads or manning barricades in Belfast or Derry.

It was a terrible price to pay but they willingly paid it because they believed the future it would buy would be worth it.

If they were here today would they think their sacrifice worth it?

Would they go back and do it again if they were to know that our country would partitioned, that a sectarian dictatorship would emerge in the north while in the south, corrupt conservative regimes would preside over an Ireland where the homeless froze to death in the streets, where healthcare was offered to those who could afford it, where the county would be run, and indeed, run into the ground, by gombeen politicians more concerned with the happiness and prosperity of big business than the ordinary people?

This is not the Republic that they calmed their hearts with thoughts of as they knelt in the dirt with a rifle at their head. This is not the Republic that they told themselves would make it all worthwhile.

But that Republic did not die with them.

It lives on today. It lives on in people like you, the people gathered here and the people who gather at the countless places like it right across the country.

The people who know that freedom is not given. It must be demanded and it must be defended.

Just like Tim, Cornelius, John and Jeremiah, we do not pursue a fair, free and united Ireland out of some vain sense of nationalistic pride.

A united Ireland is not about territory, it is about people.

Partition is the root cause of so many of the problems that have shackled this country for the past century and continue to shackle it today.

If we are to reach our full potential as a nation, economically, socially, politically, internationally, then we must do it as one people, not only, as the Proclamation says, oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, but welcoming those differences, celebrating them, inviting them to be part of the modern milieu that makes up what it means to be Irish.

James Connolly declared that to drive the British out and then change nothing but the colour of the flag would make the whole endeavour pointless. All too aware of how his warning was ignored and just such a reality came to pass it is incumbent on us to recognise that a united Ireland must be a new Ireland, and a new Ireland must be an agreed Ireland.

So today, we spare a thought for Tim, Cornelius, John and Jeremiah. For the terror they endured on our behalf. But these were men of action. While they might appreciate our thoughts they would far better appreciate us carrying on the work that they started.

The work of building the Ireland they dreamed of, the Ireland they felt was worth paying for with their lives.

This fine monument remembers their deaths and the cruel way their lives were ended.

A new, united and free Ireland will honour their lives and the way they lived them; fearlessly, civically and striving for a better future.

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