Clonoe Martyrs

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the murder of four IRA volunteers at Clonoe. The volunteers had earlier taken part in an attack on the RUC barracks in Coalisland and had made their way to St Patrick’s churchyard to make their getaway. After they had dismantled their weapons the hidden SAS soldiers opened fire from all sides and without warning. They fired over 500 rounds without reply.

From the British Army’s well planned operation it was clear they had known of the operation in advance and could have attempted to intercept or arrest the volunteers before or at the churchyard. It later emerged that the British Army had a bug in Sean O’Farrell’s house prior to the attack and knew the details of the operation well in advance. Despite this no attempt was made to intercept or arrest the volunteers. This was part of British government’s policy of shoot to kill, a policy sanctioned at the very highest levels of the British state. The listening device was detected in the roof area during renovation work to the house in 2008.

Signs advertising the 20th anniversary events on the old RUC station in Coalisland. The same station that was attacked prior to the ambush at Clonoe.

Volunteer Kevin Barry O Donnell , Volunteer Patrick Vincent, Volunteer Sean O Farrell , Volunteer Peter Clancy were Killed in Action at Clonoe in 1992 , this will be marked by a Weekend of events , 16th – 18th Feb, organised by the Volunteers Families in association with the Eammon Ceannt Society Coalisland Clonoe, & the Thomas Clarke Society Dungannon.

On the 16th  February 1992  the SAS launched a deadly ambush on an Active Service Unit of the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade, killing four Volunteers – one with his hands in the air to surrender. The series of events that led to the slaughter began at 10.30pm on Sunday, 16 February 1992. Two East Tyrone ASUs positioned themselves in the centre of Coalisland to carry out a daring attack on the heavily-fortified RUC barracks in the town.

The unit that would actually carry out the attack was armed with a Russian-made DHSK 12.7mm heavy machine gun and AKM assault rifles. The machine gun was mounted on a tripod on the floor of a flatbed truck. Daringly, the attack unit drove up to the barracks and strafed the main observation post with a sustained burst of tracer fire from the heavy machine gun. Another IRA unit provided cover.

With the attack over, both units withdrew and headed towards the nearby Dernagh Cross before driving to the rendezvous point at St Patrick’s Church in Clonoe, where the weapons were to be checked in prior to being returned to their dumps.

The Volunteers began stripping down the heavy machine gun. After the weapon was immobilised, the SAS, lying in wait, opened fire.

Local people describe firing going on for at least ten minutes, with no fire returned by the Volunteers. An independent eyewitness saw one Volunteer attempting to surrender but cut down by withering SAS fire.

The backup unit, which had split into two cars and was travelling along different routes from Dernagh Crossroads, also came under sustained fire but all the Volunteers managed to escape.

The anniversary weekend of events starts on Thursday 16th with

6pm Candle lighting Vol Peter Clancy’s grave, 6.30 Vols Barry O’Donnell and Sean O’Farrell’s grave, 7pm torchlight procession from Edendork Hall to Vol Patrick Vincent’s grave, 7.30pm Anniversary mass for Patrick Vincent in Edendork Chapel.

On Friday 17th Memories of Barry, Patrick, Peter and Sean – a night of stories, music and craic at 9pm in Clonoe Community Centre.

On Sat 18th there will be Wreath laying ceremonies at each of the Volunteers graves beginning at Clonoe 2pm, Coalisland 2.30pm and Edendork 3pm. That evening at 7.30pm there will be an Inquest Discussion in assoc. with Relatives for Justice, in the Cornmill, Coalisland.

Then on Sunday 19th February the National Commemoration will take place from Clonoe to Coalisland, assemble at Clonoe at 2pm. Everyone is welcome though no party political emblems are to be carried. An exhibition on the four Volunteers will also be on show all weekend in the Cornmill, Coalisland. A commemorative DVD will be on sale that weekend.

Barry, Patrick, Peter and Sean’s story is one that must be remembered, it is a story of bravery, friendship and commitment. Their belief in a free and united Ireland is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. These four young men will always be remembered as Irish men who fought to remove the British occupation of their country and who made the ultimate sacrifice for Ireland.

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