Hundreds attend O’Donnell commemoration

Members of the O'Donnell family, centre, wamong the crowd at the commemoration on Christmas Eve. (2812MM12)
Members of the O'Donnell family, centre, wamong the crowd at the commemoration on Christmas Eve. (2812MM12)
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More than 300 people attended a commemoration on Christmas Eve to mark the 30th anniversary of Derry IRA member Phil O’Donnell.

The commemoration was held at the Creggan republican monument, Central Drive on Christmas Eve afternoon.

Members of the O’Donnell family were among those who attended Monday’s commemoration event.

Phil O’Donnell was 50 years old when he died on December 24th 1982 after a short battle with cancer. A former British soldier, he became involved in republicanism after the Battle of the Bogside and used his military experience to run IRA training camps in Donegal before the split in the republican movement.

He became one of the first Derry republicans to be arrested when, along with several other men, he was apprehended in a remote farmhouse near Fahan with several weapons.

When the men appeared in court a group of protestors from Derry were outside with placards reading, ‘Defenders of the Bogside.’ The men were declared innocent by the trial judge and released. Upon hearing the verdict, Mr O’Donnell said, “If we are innocent can we please have our guns back.” His request was denied.

Disillusioned by the lack of action from the Dublin-based IRA leadership, Mr O’Donnell and a number of others initially joined the republican group Saor Uladh before joining the Provisional IRA after the slit in the republican movement.

He was arrested on the day internment without trial was introduced and taken to Magilligan before being transferred to the Maidstone prison ship in Belfast Lough. He was eventually held in the cages of Long Kesh before being released eight months later.

Upon his release he reported back to the IRA and ran training camps across Ireland before being arrested and spending a number of years in Portlaoise jail.

Monday’s commemoration was chaired by Joanna Harkin. Speaking at the monument on Central Drive, she said; “We would like to welcome everyone here today to mark the 30th Anniversary of the death of our friend and comrade Óglach Phil O’Donnell.”

She also read the names of all those members of the republican movement from Derry who died during the month of December.

Creggan Republican Ritchie Harkin read a biography of Mr O’Donnell and John McCauley laid flowers on behalf of the republican monument. Martin McGuinness gave the main oration and paid tribute to the dedication of Mr O’Donnell and for the experience he brought to the IRA.  The event concluded with Willie Taylor and Hugh Wilkinson making a number of presentations to the O’Donnell family and musicians singing renditions of Only Our Rivers Run Free and Four Green Fields.