Sean Keenan Remembered in Doire Today

The Keenan/Toner Cumann of Republican Sinn Fein, alongside our friends and comrades, gathered to commemorate Derry Republican Sean Keenan. Sean is a Patron of Republican Sinn Fein and today as we do every year we paid homage to his memory. Mickey McGonigle chaired the event, with wreath layings, Martin Duffy read the Proclamation and Chris Hamill delivered the oration.

Mickey McGonigle started proceedings by welcoming all especially the Keenan family, he continued then to hit out at the status quo and made comment on a Free Stater now being the leader of Provisional Sinn Fein, highlighting how far they have strayed from the path of Republicanism and Mickey continued…that the Provisional’s couldn’t even administer British Rule despite their best efforts they hand the reigns back to the Tories and lick their boots for scraps at the table. We stay true to the Republic where the power is the people and the people have the power.

Chris Hamill’s Oration.

Séan Keenan was a dedicated republican all his life, working always to advance the ideals and objectives of Irish Republicanism. He was chairman of the Derry Citizens Defence Association between July and October 1969, and played a prominent role in the events surrounding the creation and defence of Free Derry. In the late 1980s, he was made honorary Vice-President for life of Republican Sinn Féin until his death. Sean Keenan and many like him gave hope and determination when it seemed to us that we were on our own, betrayed by traitors, who now peddle the normalisation of British Rule in Ireland.

We, who remain stand steadfast on principle and with the memory of Sean, continue to pursue the Republic. Séan lived through some difficult times and served a total of 15 years interned by the British Government without ever being tried, he dedicated himself to the cause of Irish Independence and he did not waiver in his ideals he always remained true to the genuine republican movement even though it was not the easiest option but for Séan like many here today it was and is the only option.

He raised a good republican family and his Son Colm gave his life in the pursuit of Irish Freedom, when offered the condolences of the entire Republican movement by then Chief of Staff Sean Mac Stiofain, he replied I mourn the loss of my son, but I don’t begrudge his life for Ireland. His dedication is an inspiration to us all.

When asked when he joined the Republican Movement Seán Keenan’s answer would invariably be: “I didn’t I was born into it”. Seán was born into a family steeped in Republicanism, his father Séamus played an active part in the Tan war between 1919/21 and remained steadfast in his defence of the All-Republic during the Counter-Revolution of 1922/23.

At a young age Seán joined Na Fianna Éireann and when he came of age he took his place in the ranks of Óglaigh na hÉireann. His first of many arrests took place in 1935 and he served three months in Derry jail for carrying the National Flag at an election rally. He was deeply involved in the harsh and testing years of 1939 – 45, he was interned from 1940 to 1945, first in Derry jail and then in the prison ship Al Rawdah, which was anchored in Strangford Lough.

“He was then taken to Crumlin Road jail where he was to the forefront of protests at the terrible conditions in which Republican prisoners were held. A former comrade wrote of him in the CABHAIR Testimonial brochure of 1987: “That he was a spokesman for the prisoners in every prison he entered was the ultimate tribute that his comrades could pay him.”

“During this time Seán’s father was interned for two years in Crumlin Road jail, he died shortly after his release. Seán was not released for his father’s funeral. His wife, Nancy (nee Ward) spent three years and nine months in Armagh jail in the 1940s also. (Éamonn Boyce recalls the Omagh Raid prisoners receiving a parcel from Nancy at the end of their trial in 1954 describing it as the most welcome parcel he ever received) “Following his release Seán was part of that small band which began to painstakingly rebuild the Republican Movement from the ashes of the repression and coercion of the 1940s.

Seán’s passion for his native language saw him and a small band form the Seán Dolan Craobh of Conradh na Gaeilge in Derry city in 1948. “Seán was actively involved in the build up to the launch of Operation Harvest on December 12 1956. Interned once more in Crumlin Road jail in 1957 Seán was elected OC of the prisoners until his release in 1960.

Following his release he once more reported back for duty. As the nationalist people of the Six Counties began to rise again following 50 years of oppression and discrimination within the gerrymandered and sectarian Six-County state Seán Keenan realised that the nationalist people of Derry needed to be organised if they were to protect themselves from the RUC and the ‘B Specials’. He and other Republicans established the Derry City Defence Association’. Seán was elected chairman. He became the de facto leader of ‘Free Derry’.

“At the same time Seán opposed the attempt by a reformist leadership to hijack the Republican Movement and divert it down the cul-de-sac of constitutionalism. Seán was a revolutionary Fenian and as in the late 1940s this time at national leadership level he played his part in rebuilding the Republican Movement. In 1970 along with Dáithí Ó Conaill he travelled to the US where he was instrumental along with leading Republicans such as Michael Flannery and George Harrison in the formation of Irish Northern Aid (NORAID). On August 9 1971 Seán was interned, taken first of all to Ballykelly holding centre in Derry and then the Maidstone prison ship.

Again in 1986 standing on the principles he had held all his life he refused to allow the movement to be hijacked by a leadership who were clearly were bought and paid for by the British State, alongside others he help form Republican Sinn Fein, and it is his party, who every year since his passing, has gathered along with his family to commemorate his life and contribution to the republican cause.

The plight of our Prisoners of War is sadly a forgotten one for many of the public, partly because of a media blackout and partly because of propaganda. Well, a chairde, right now there are POWs languishing in Maghaberry fighting for political status. Today it is also important that we highlight the continued internment of Gabriel Mackle and Tony Taylor and condemn the practice and call for both men to be released immediately. The issue surrounding remission is now becoming prevalent with Prisoners now facing more and more restriction upon their release; we see this as the end of remission as the prisoners will not continue to have their liberties eroded by the tyrannical British State.

Political status was won for Irish Republican prisoners only after a long hard struggle in the cages of Long Kesh and after ten men died while on hunger strike and many others had their health ruined. This hard-won victory was sold out in a deal between the British Government and the Provisionals. For this they have condemned many more Irish Republicans to years of torture, strip-searches, and denial of medical care. We here must highlight the plight of our POWs, to both our neighbours/friends and others who we only know through social media. The POWs would never have seen the inside of a prison cell had it not been for the occupation of their land and their resistance to that occupation.

When we leave here today we must commit ourselves to redouble our efforts to attain the Irish Republic that Seán wanted, the Irish Republic that all our martyred dead wanted.

The Commemoration proceeded then to the Bloody Sunday Monument where a wreath was laid on behalf of the Republican Movement by Mary Ward. All returning to Sean Keenan’s monument for Amhrán na bhFian, which brought the commemoration to a close.

we would like to thank all who attended.


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