Sunday past marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Dennis Heaney.
Dennis, an IRA Volunteer, was executed by British Army covert soldiers on June 10, 1978. He was 21 years old.
Republicans paid tribute to a fallen comrade at the Shantallow monument, where Elisha McCallion read a short biography. We were joined by Dennis’ nine sisters and three brothers. Later in the afternoon, on High Street, where Dennis died and at his graveside in the Republican Plot, the Heaney family led a very poignant, moving and personal tribute to their brother and uncle.
On occasions such as this, one is always reminded of the absence of their mother, Eilis, who passed away five years ago. Eilis was ever present at commemorations and republican gatherings. Indeed she is among that group of people whom I have described as the touchstones of good counsel, the elders of the republican family. When decisions were made, which presented challenge, concern and opportunity, to see Mrs. Heaney there was always reassuring.
At times she may have not have spoken, but her presence was affirmation enough. And yet her immense presence was with us yesterday; her legacy of love and wisdom, as two of her children read from her collection of poetry.
Sunday was one of those days when you bear witness that, despite the passage of time, indeed because of it, the pain of loss never diminishes. Standing in High Street, as Bernard Heaney looked towards and pointed to the spot where his young brother lay dying, that sense of never ceasing loss was obvious.
At Dennis’ graveside, as Joan and Seamus movingly read their mother’s poetry, we were able to almost touch and feel the pain of a mother, who spoke not just for herself, but all who suffered that same loss. No tone of anger, only words of love and understanding and a most powerful insight of a son. In less than 100 words, she related what reams from others could never capture.
If ever we need an understanding of why it was that young men and women stood up, defended and resisted, then you will find no more eloquent testimony than that of Bernard Heaney’s to his brother. In speaking of Dennis, he spoke for, and about us all.
Throughout history, here and beyond, those who wield the power of domination have sought to criminalise those who stood against them. Their folly, their inability to understand the desire for freedom and justice has only served to foment and prolong division and conflict. If they ever want to understand what it is, that makes that desire so strong and unbreakable, being there, at the Shantallow monument, on High Street or in the City Cemetery would have told them, it is because we are imbued with, “that undauntable thought, the thought that says, “I’m right.”
And with it, people of courage and integrity, personified in the volunteer we came to honour, Dennis Heaney.