Oration by Fergal Moore, Vice-President, Republican Sinn Féin at the grave of Sarah Hollywood Murphy on June 24, 2014 in Killean Graveyard.
First of all let me begin by offering on behalf of the Republican Movement our most sincere sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of Sarah Hollywood Murphy. The Movement, of which she was a vital part for so many years, stands united in grief with you today as we lay her to her final rest.
Sarah was a most remarkable woman as any who knew her would attest. Her love of Ireland and her belief in the Irish Republic was backed up by a dedicated work ethic that saw her campaigning for her beliefs for decades. In 1968 she was part of the Civil Rights Movement and marched from Dungannon to Coalisland and also took part in a Civil Rights march in Armagh City in 1969 which was blocked by Ian Paisley and his followers. She had helped set up the North Belfast branch of the Civil Rights Movement while she was living there.
Also while living in Belfast she joined Sinn Féin and worked alongside fellow Armagh woman Maire Drumm as well as Leo Martin and Seán Caughey. Together they helped organise the opening of a Sinn Féin office near Dunville Park. During this time of the early 70s the struggle against British occupation was at its height. Sarah played a very important role for the Belfast Brigade of the IRA. It was her job to take statements from the IRA which she would then have to tidy up and pass on to her contacts in the various news outlets in Belfast. I’m sure we are all familiar with her ability to use words effectively and her turn of phrase was unmatched.
In early 1974 she was prominent in the campaign to repatriate the Price sisters, Dolours and Marian, who were being force fed in an English prison. She wrote an article about their plight which was carried on the front page of the Republican News under the headline “England you will pay dearly.” Not long after that the UVF launched an attack on her and her family firing a machine gun through their front window. She moved with her family to Newry in late 1974 and continued her work for Irish freedom.
Since the 1970s she has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Republican prisoners, first with the Green Cross while she lived in Belfast and she was often seen in Newry town centre protesting against the dire conditions that Republican prisoners have and continue to be held in. She was active campaigning on behalf of Martin Corey who was released last January after 4 years of internment without trial. Some of you will remember that she took part in and helped to organise a demonstration on behalf of the prisoners in Maghaberry Jail when the Olympic torch passed through Newry in 2012.
During the late 70s and early 80s she was secretary for the South Armagh H-Block Committee. This was a time that would call upon her great motivational and organisational skills particularly when Camlough man Raymond McCreesh was to make the ultimate sacrifice and later with the subsequent elections when Raymond’s brother ran. But her thoughts were not only for her native land she was involved in the 1980s in the anti-apartheid campaign, this was before many others took up the same cause. In her 2004 speech from the graveside of Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown she was scathing of the Imperial powers who were murdering and torturing in Iraq as they did in Ireland and only days ago she took part in a vigil for the people of Palestine. Hers was a life dedicated to fighting injustice up to the very end.
It was through her work with Republican Sinn Féin that I came to know Sarah. She was a genuine stalwart of the Movement and displayed natural revolutionary and Republican instincts. She was essential in the reorganisation of Sinn Féin that took place after the betrayal of 1986 when counter revolutionaries sought to derail the Movement. When things were tough and there was work to be done you could be guaranteed that Sarah would be there to do it. Every Easter, for example, she would travel to each Republican grave in the locality to lay a wreath. She did this in good times and in bad, whether she had people there to help her or even if she had to go alone or with only her family members. Her statements to the local papers, particularly around Easter, were somewhat legendary. She pulled no punches when it came to naming and shaming those who collaborate with the British occupation and at meetings she was no different. I remember once at a meeting of Comhairle Uladh, the Ulster Executive of Republican Sinn Féin, some years ago someone mooted the idea of holding a protest at the gates of Stormont when she leaned over and said to me that “the only time we should be going there should be to burn it down.” Sarah and I usually sang from the same hymn sheet and it was more often than not Sarah who was writing the lyrics.
I found Sarah to be very conscientious towards younger people. She would allow them the opportunity to be heard at meetings and give them encouragement often pushing them forwards to speak. She had great time for Na Fianna Éireann, the Irish Republican Scouts, and they held meetings in her house. Of course in the Six Counties they remain an illegal organisation but I don’t think anyone would expect that to deter Sarah.
Sarah was particularly involved with the annual Edentubber commemoration that honours five men that died in a premature explosion just across the border in 1957. When numbers at the commemoration were dwindling each year Sarah proposed at an Ard Fheis, argued in favour of it and got it passed that the commemoration would become a national event ranking alongside Bodenstown and the Bundoran Hunger Strike March. Subsequent years have seen an increased turnout which I am sure pleased Sarah greatly.
So now the Movement must continue without Sarah Murphy. I’m sure she would have us continue until we achieve the ultimate victory of a united and free Irish Republic. That is what she struggled for all her life. She never got to see that victory but it must surely be achieved by a succeeding generation as long as they hold true to the ideals held by Sarah.
Speaking at Bodenstown in 2004 Sarah had this to say to the British forces of occupation:
“We have fought you in south Armagh, we have fought you in the Bogside of Derry, we have fought you in Tyrone and around the lakes of Fermanagh, we have fought you in the Glens of Antrim and in the foothills of the Mournes, we have resisted you in our country for 800 years in the prisons and internment camps, we will continue to resist you and we shall never surrender!”
She finished her rousing speech with “Let your watchword be Resistence!” Let us go from here with this great word emblazoned upon our hearts and ringing in our minds. Let us commit to resisting, as Sarah did, against occupation, against imperialism and against tyranny of all kinds. Together the Irish people can, by following the example set by Sarah Hollywood Murphy, build a new Ireland, an Ireland that cherishes all of the children of the nation equally and is free from the centre to the sea.