“The Living Flame”
The idea to erect a permanent and fitting monument to the Patriot Dead from the Short Strand / Ballymacarrett has been doing the rounds for a long number of years now. From the memorial plaque placed outside the old Sinn Féin Centre in Beechfield Street, to the plaque put up beside the memorial mural on the Mountpottinger Road, Republicans from this area have always had a desire to see the people on the local Roll of Honour recognised with a permanent and fitting memorial.
A number of year’s back, despite ideas having been around for a lot longer, a group of Republican activists in the area finally decided it was time to put the plans into action. They talked, mostly around my father’s kitchen table, for weeks about how best to progress this, how they would acquire the land, raise the funds etc. In the end a committee was formed which was made up of local republicans, ex-POWs, relatives of our Patriot Dead and local people with an interest in seeing the monument erected.
With help from this community and beyond the committee has worked tirelessly to ensure that the monument would be built and that it would be appropriate to those names that would appear upon it. From running functions, to selling ballots, sweeps and t-shirts, the committee have excelled in their efforts and anyone who has been able to see An Tine Bheo Memorial Garden take shape over recent weeks will have no option but to commend their endeavours. I have been honoured and privileged to have been able to play, like many in this community, my small part in helping to see this vision become a reality. It’s long overdue but will soon become a reality. A big comhghairdeas to the committee and everyone who gave their time, money and expertise to see An Tine Bheo built!
Republicans from across the city and beyond will gather for the opening of An Tine Bheo next Sunday. Fittingly the date is the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Saint Matthews.
The 27th of June 1970 has earned its place in Republican history and indeed the history of this statelet. On that bright evening 40 years ago, after the pogroms of 1969, the people of this Parish decided they wouldn’t suffer the same fate as other vulnerable communities across the north had. With Loyalist marches taking place across the city throughout that day and attacks on areas in the north and west of the City predictably occurring, the people in this Parish (as they had done so many times before down through the generations) battened down the hatches prepared themselves for the inevitable onslaught. The people, alongside the Irish Republican Army, took to the streets in defence of the community and to hold back the descending hoards of Loyalist attackers, determined to see this area, and in particular St Matthews Chapel (a perceived ‘blight’ right in the heart of Unionist east Belfast) burnt to the ground, much in the same way that they had done with Bombay and surrounding Streets the previous year.
It is thanks to the people who defied them that I am able to sit at home and write this blog today.
The Battle of Saint Matthews was a turning point for the nationalist people of the north; it acted as a catalyst in defiance of the failed Orange State. No longer would intoxicated hoards of shipyard workers or loyalist bandsmen be allowed to attack areas such as ours en-mass, with the willing assistance of the RUC and British Army. Republicans look to that night and the men and women, boys and girls, who took part in it as a symbol of resistance and of progression.
Next week will see a number of events staged to coincide with the anniversary and the opening of An Tine Bheo. Proceedings begin on Wednesday 23rd with the launch of a new DVD/CD pack containing interviews with many of the people who were on the streets that historic night in defence of the community. On Thursday 24th, Friday 26th and Saturday the 27th young actors, mostly made up of local people, will stage a play depicting events as they occurred. This is certainly one not to be missed! On Saturday the 27th I have the honour of launching a new mural by renowned artist and fellow Short Strand man Danny Devenny.
Events culminate on the Sunday with the unveiling of a new plaque outside Saint Matthews Club and the parade around the area to the new memorial garden, An Tine Bheo later in the afternoon. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams is the main speaker at the unveiling.
Preparations for all of the events have been well underway for some time now, from the area was leafleted, letters put into the papers and posters put up around the area calling for people interested to join the committee staging these events, a small group of us have been ploughing ahead with the fitting events to mark a major and significant date and event for us as Republicans.
In particular a word of credit to the young people, most of them from the area, who are taking part in the play; they have been rehearsing for weeks now and it is a big ask to get up and stage a play in this area about such an emotive and significant event, which many people still have vivid memories of. Maith sibh uilig!
So I look forward to seeing you all next week, I hope we get a sunny day and I hope these modest events rightfully recognise and acknowledge the significance of the anniversary of the Battle of Saint Matthews and the role that the local Volunteers and those named on the Roll of Remembrance, played in pursuit of Irish Freedom and Independence.
Tá fáilte roimh chách and I know we will rightfully remember our Patriot Dead in a fitting and Republican manner.
An Phoblacht Abú!