Remembering IRA Volunteer Hugh Morrison on 100th anniversary of his death
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Charlie Morrison told the ‘Journal’ he was delighted that the local republican was being recognised in his native city.
“I’m really pleased he is getting the recognition that he deserves,” Charlie said.
The death of the 22-year-old was reported thus in the Derry Journal edition of Monday, June 19, under the headline ‘Tragic Affair at Skeoge’:
“The death took place in the County Hospital in Lifford on Saturday morning of a young man, named Hugh Morrison, of Creggan Road, Derry, who was seriously wounded at Skeoge on Thursday [June 15].
“It appears that young Morrison, who was attached to the IRA (Executive forces) was handling a bomb when it exploded, inflicting terrible injuries.”
The report noted that although the young Derry man was removed to Lifford Hospital nothing could be done for him.
“It was realised at once that it would be impossible to save his life, and he succumbed to his wounds early on Saturday morning.
“Deceased, who was in the engineering trade, was formerly employed in the city.”
Very little information exists in the historical record about what actually happened to the young Volunteer beyond the above report.
However, Charlie, over many years of investigation, has managed to piece together a clearer picture of what might have occurred.
“He served his time at Craig’s Engineering Works and also in Brown’s foundry. Those two factories were manufacturing grenades for the British Army - they were called Mills bombs at the time,” noted Charlie, who told the ‘Journal’ how Hugh was an associate of another young Derry Volunteer who disappeared in suspicious circumstances in 1919.
Dan McGandy, from Barnewall Place, was aged just 19 when he was reported missing in action on January 20, 1919.
His remains were retrieved from the Foyle six weeks later.
McGandy was the first ever IRA Volunteer to die in Derry and the first recorded casualty of the War of Independence on the IRA side.
The Waterside man went missing prior to a scheduled operation with comrades of the ‘Ten Foot Pikers’, an active service unit of the time, who were due to raid Craig’s for Mills grenades.
Though it has never been proven for certain Michael Sheerin, who was O/C of No. 1 Section of the IRA on the west bank in 1919, providing evidence to the Bureau of Military History in the early 1950s, suggested McGandy was killed in action.
“The British authorities may have come to know of the loss of the grenades some time previously to this particular date and they were probably waiting in Craig’s on this night, where they captured McGandy, took his revolver and post-bag from him and dumped him in the river.
“This is only surmise, but I think a correct version of what happened.
“We could do nothing about the matter at the time, except give him a military funeral,” reported Mr. Sheerin.
All of this is relevant to the fate of his comrade Hugh Morrison.
Charlie believes the British may also have had a role in the death of his uncle three years after McGandy’s mysterious disappearance.
“Dan and Hugh worked together,” explains Charlie. “Hugh was an engineer. Poor Dan was seemingly drowned in the Foyle.
“They believe a number of British soldiers were waiting on him.”
He cannot say for certain but Charlie considers it a possibility that the Crown Forces were aware the IRA were stealing munitions and may have tampered with the bomb that killed his uncle.
“I’m not sure whether they knew what was going on at Skeoge because the bomb that Hugh went to examine exploded and tore his stomach out.
“He lay for three days in Lifford Hospital before he died. There were a load of Mills grenades taken from either Brown’s or Craig’s.
“What he had to do was take one out of a box and make sure that they were alright.
“The story was that he took it out, pulled the pin and nothing happened.
“The story I got was that it lay in the field and he got up in the middle of the night concerned that some of the lads might walk on it.
“Seemingly he went back out again and put the pin back in and it exploded.”
One aspect of Hugh’s death has particularly fuelled Charlie’s suspicions concerning the potential for direct British involvement - his hands apparently weren’t injured in any way.
“If he had put the pin back in and it exploded his hands would have been damaged.
“Because of what happened to Dan McGandy I think maybe the thing was set there, that they knew the IRA were going to steal them and it was set as a booby trap.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t got the hospital report because the old Lifford Hospital isn’t there anymore. I do have the death certificate which does say he died from the wound in his stomach and a cut on his head. There is no mention of any damage to his hands.”
Hugh joined the IRA in 1919. Prior to his death he had served as Derry Brigade engineer. He was involved in several operations during the Tan War including the derailment of troop and goods trains in Donegal and attacks on Government buildings in Derry.
“He had taken part in different exercises,” says Charlie. “He was involved in the burning of the RIC barracks in Carrigans.
“He was involved in a raid on the tax office in Derry and quite a few other things. His mother and father never knew that he was involved.
“He was a type of a guy who kept to himself.
“I have a letter that my grandfather and grandmother wrote while he was dying at Lifford Hospital and they said he died with a smile on his face after three days of a horrific wound in his stomach.”
In 2007 the Derry Graves Association unveiled a headstone in Derry City Cemetery in Hugh’s memory.
This evening at 6.30pm local republicans will gather at his graveside to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death.
Charlie, who will travel from his home in Shannon for the occasion, said: “It will be an honour to be there to remember him.”