From The Lough Shore To The Streets Of New York – Liam Ryan Remembered By Family And Friends In Ardboe

Martin Galvin's reflections on the life and death of IRA volunteer Liam Ryan, a close personal friend whose 25th anniversary took place in November. A shorter version of the oration was carried in the website of the 1916 Societies.

Martin Galvin, formerly of Irish Northern Aid and long-time supporter of the struggle for freedom in Ireland, reflects on his friendship with Volunteer Liam Ryan, sharing cherished memories with those gathered in Ardboe on the 25th anniversary of Liam’s killing at the Battery Bar, 29th November 1989.

A chairde,
Today we stand together. Family members and close friends, each with deep personal feelings and memories of Liam Ryan, stand alongside others too young to have known him. All of us can feel anger at his murder. Surely, it is murder when the vaunted British crown forces arrange killings by loyalist proxies and paid agents. It is murder, even when the murder victim was, like Liam Ryan a Republican, or like Michael Devlin in the company of a Republican, or as other families here know, the parent or aunt of a Republican.
All of us can be angered by the British policy of murder cover-up. European Law says that the families of state murder victims have a right to justice. Britain deems such rights null and void when the victims are Republicans or justice means ending the one-sided immunity or impunity for British troopers or constabulary. Even today families of the victims are still denied justice, still denied truth, still stonewalled and still told lies. Even an Ombudsman or Coroner, who makes the mistake of actually trying to get truth, soon finds they will be denied the funds or documents to do it.

All of us –and I do not want to be misinterpreted as speaking about armed actions in the different conditions and circumstances of today-but we are not here for any sorry initiatives, not here to demean his legacy by apologies –all of us are here to honor the memory of a true patriot with pride.

There is today another ongoing round of talks. Last year’s Haass talks have become this year’s Hart talks. We frequently hear words like parity of esteem and equality. We will not accept a “parody of esteem” where we are expected to hide our grief, our anger, and our pride in this brave soldier, lest we give offense to others who believe Republicans in Ireland are not entitled to such feelings.
To understand Liam Ryan, first understand the times in which he lived. He was born before the British shifted from one party Orange rule, to granting shared space tied to an immovable DUP anchor, where every legitimate demand for justice, as Gregory Campbell so crudely said, can be treated like toilet paper.

Liam was born before civil rights marches. Because he was a Ryan from Ardboe, and where his parents sent him to Church and school, that was enough to mark him as suspect, second class and someone the six county state could best do without. They did their best to send this message with a whole system to deny nationalists jobs, housing, and gerrymander votes. Just to be sure he understood, the crown forces would remind him when they met him on the road.

It is easy to understand why when people speak of the beginnings of civil rights in the six counties, they speak of marches in Coalisland or Dungannon or the first housing sit- in by a Tyrone family. It was easy to understand why when British troopers proved they did not come to back civil rights but to impose Internment, and to shoot down those who got in the way at Ballymurphy, or protested in Derry, that Liam came to believe you would not never get civil rights from a regime ready to answer civil right protests with Bloody Sunday. He came to see that the injustices he lived under were no accident but were allowed by the British because they served British interests.

He went to New York where I would come to know him. He found a new life where being a Ryan from Ardboe, did not count against him and indeed often counted for him. He found work with the power company Con Edison. He had sisters and cousins nearby. He found an apartment near Gaelic Park where he spent Sundays. He found Tyrone Societies and Clan na Gael. And who could have blamed him if he enjoyed this new life and put thoughts of Tyrone or the six counties behind him or perhaps attended a few protests outside the British Consulate or given some money for Republican prisoners. We would have been glad to get it.

That was not Liam. You could take Liam Ryan out of Tyrone but never take Tyrone out of Liam Ryan. The struggle and injustices here were never out of his thoughts. His dream was always to live and raise a family in a Tyrone where the injustices he lived under were a thing of the past. He dedicated his life to help make that so.

He worked in Clan na Gael and with Irish Northern Aid. He was one of those men and women from the six counties who were a constant inspiration and reminder to all of us. They were the vanguard of everything we in America did to raise money for the families of political prisoners or to build American political support for Irish issues.

He made his home a refuge and landing spot for others. There I would first come to hear of Gerry McGeough. He cannot be here because he is under threat of Internment by License. Gerry McGeough like Ivor Bell, or Seamus Kearney and others are living reminders that the British will go back 30 or 40 years and have no shortage of money to trump up charges against some Republicans. They then tell us there is no money to arrest the Bloody Sunday troopers, or give the Ballymurphy Massacre families an inquiry, or take any steps which threaten the blanket immunity or impunity for British troopers and constabulary.

There I first met Lawrence McNally who would die alongside Liam‘s cousin Pete and Tony Doris. Their car was fired upon until it burst into flames. They still cannot get an Inquest. I remember asking why Lawrence had given instructions to be buried in Monaghan instead of Tyrone. I was told so that that so he could be buried and mourned without his grave and family being abused by crown forces. The next day I saw Pete Ryan’s family jeered and taunted about barbecues and barely let out of their homes to bury him. How right Lawrence had been.

I even met John Crawley there on one occasion and Liam for once was wrong about John. He said we would not see John for a very, very long time. Then about six weeks later he rang and told me to turn on the news. There was John coming off the Marita Ann in handcuffs near the spot in Kerry where they caught Roger Casement.

Sometimes when the struggle was at a high point and intense Liam would get very quiet. He would say he was wondering how things were with Pete or Jim referring to Jim Lynagh. He would say it with genuine concern and worry about those who were under great pressure.

He had what I will describe as a great pointed sense of humor. He would tell jokes that had a great deal of subtle wisdom and insight behind them.

As he was preparing to come back and open the Battery he was arrested in New York for sending weapons to the IRA. He faced a possible jail sentence. His lawyer, friends including myself pressured him to apologize as is customary in American courts. He told us he had done no more than one of his relatives who had helped Erskine Childers bring arms into Dublin for the Easter Rising. Finally he agreed to make an apology in the American court.

Liam told the Judge that the only apology he wanted to make was to apologize to the IRA Volunteers who did not get the weapons. Judge Sifton who had no Irish connections but who presided over several Irish trials smiled and said that the Irish accused like Liam were unlike the criminals who came before him and let him go with unsupervised probation.
He came back to Tyrone and opened the Battery. Whenever I would call and tell him I would be visiting Ireland he would always begin by saying” we will have you up at the Battery for a free drink.” I was banned from the north and the British had used my presence to attack a peaceful rally in Belfast. So we could meet in Dublin, or more likely Monaghan, but not in the Battery Bar in Ardboe, County Tyrone. When I met him he would always laugh that “it would do no harm to have the Brits watching for you on the road and you not coming, and add that maybe it will help someone on another road where no one is watching.”

Once when he asked me to speak at a Clan na Gael Easter Commemoration. I asked what I should say. He joked that I should get up right after they read the Proclamation of 1916.Remind everyone that when those great Irish patriots were about to sign, six of them stood up. They said there was one among them who must have the honor of signing first, because he had suffered the most, waited the longest and worked the hardest to make that day possible. Remind them it was a Dungannon man Thomas Clarke. Ask why the indefeasible right to freedom vanishes before it got as far as Dungannon. Then tell them that now is no time for anyone to stand back. Tell them that people in the six counties are still suffering, waiting and working for the end of British rule and now is the time when the exiled children in America should unite with people across Ireland to give them that freedom. He said it as a joke but it stuck with me as one of the best Easter speeches I ever heard.
“We will have you up at the Battery for a free drink,” Liam joked when I telephoned him twenty-five years ago to say I would be traveling to Dublin for weekend meetings between the Irish Northern Aid executive and Sinn Fein leadership.

“Our friends have been about this last week,” he continued. It meant that the Royal Ulster Constabulary backed by British troopers had been patrolling heavily in the Ardboe area.

 He added, “I may be back in the Bronx with you but will say more when I see you.” These words were ominous. For Liam to hint at leaving Ardboe meant that he was under serious threat which he would not talk about on a likely tapped telephone line, but would explain when we I would never see him again. The following evening the crown forces which had been flooding the Ardboe area, would suddenly disappear. At closing, as Liam Ryan stood by the door, a loyalist death squad would arrive at precisely the correct time and place. Liam Ryan would be murdered as he attempted to slam the door shut and protect those patrons still inside. It was taken for granted that the British crown forces had given the intelligence, cleared and shielded the arrival and escape of the murder gang. The RUC would eventually arrive, with smug smiles not bothering any pretense of sympathy, as they dismissed any chance that anyone might ever be caught or identified.
There was a phrase often used on newscasts about incidents which had all the hallmarks of the IRA. Liam’s murder had all the hallmarks of a crown directed collusion murder.

How could crown collusion in so many murders at such a high level of cooperation over so wide an area and so long a time continue without the knowledge and approval of the British at the highest levels?
There is now another round of talks that is supposed to tell us agreed formulas and legal mechanisms to deal with past events like Liam Ryan’s murder. Shakespeare had a fictional character named Lady MacBeth who wandered at night trying to wash away the stain of murder. We have a character named Theresa Villiers who tries to wash away the stain of British shoot-to-kill and collusion murders by cutting off funds, denying inquiries and pretending that Britain needs agreement from the DUP before it can comply with International Law by giving us the truth. It did not work for Lady MacBeth and will not work for Lady MacBeth Villiers. We cannot speak of him without remembering that he was murdered because he wanted freedom for all of Ireland so deeply. Many hoped that the Good Friday agreement had opened the door to this freedom. It seems clear that the British saw it as a way to nail the door shut.

We are less than 18 months from the centenary of the Easter Rising, and that pledge of freedom, which Liam Ryan always said should apply as much to Thomas Clarke’s county as anywhere else. You and the people across the six counties have suffered the most, waited the longest, and worked the hardest .You have it within to produce patriots like Liam Ryan who can inspire others thousands of miles away. Now is the time to push so that the freedom Thomas Clarke signed up for in 1916 for all of Ireland can finally make its way to Thomas Clarke’s county and to the rest of Ireland.


  1. M G is still too embarrassed to mention American human rights atrocities connected with the so called war on terror.

    IRA members wouldn't last 5 minutes in Guantanomo.

  2. Alan,

    how long would you last in the Bay or for that matter any prison in the USA? You can’t determine who would last what period of time simply because you say so.

    Your childlike sentence is competitive pitting one set of prisoners against another. I suggest you read up on torture in Northern Ireland or have a marmaduke at the history of torture.
    One is not worse than the other, the methods may vary but the practice is the same all are inextricably linked by the common denominator TORTURE!

    Dry your lamps anytime you drop in here it’s usually for a wee one liner bit of self-pitied moaning with the usual dig at the Irish exactly how does that help your cause, more importantly what is your cause?

  3. Hear hear Tain, what the hell was that about? Fascinating read, I was there on the day and it was an electrifying talk from Martin, brilliant stuff. God rest those like Liam Ryan taken before their time

  4. Sean,

    it was a tamed rant at the Alan bloke who is holding a hierarchy on both prisoners and torture. Making a distorted distinction between those held in Guantanamo being somehow superior by virtue of the conditions they are held under as different from Irish prisoners claiming they are weak for suffering much the same torture and confinement.

    Torture is not isolated to Guantanamo bay it is universal but he fails to expose the Torturers instead he chooses to make the issue of torture isolated and puts his own personal spin on torture. Further confusing his wee outburst he insults those who oppose torture which leaves him exposed as if I recall his one liner’s are usually a swipe at the Irish putting himself in a pot of crossed issue soup which is bland and that would explain why he is ignored.

    Could be I just got out of the wrong side of the bed and his remark was/is on the wrong article so I decided a wee bit a verbal slapping was due for insulting the Irish, and having a moronic stance on torture. I was merely pointing out that no matter the State the practice of torture cannot be given genres the methods can and without doubt should be opposed.

    I made a comment here a time back I think about Water-Boarding sounding like one of those extreme sports, I don’t know where the term was coined but the media run with it. It sounds like fun until you find out it is staggered drowning all of a sudden the passive term hides a terrifying reality. I suppose I am just rattling his cage as moaning here instead of at the torturers makes no sense.

    Like I said it was probably just the wrong article for him to insult the Irish. He could grow a pair and take his beef up with Obama but I get the feeling he wouldn’t want to end up in an orange suit as a guest in the Cuban Bay Hotel.

    Anyway, more important than personal sop I was meaning to get back to a thread on which Larry said something on the 1916 societies and the possibility that they are heading in the old direction, I will try and find it and post on it.
    Cancel that thought I see you already answered Larry.

    As our revolutionary leader of Sardonia would say, keep er lit.

  5. Tain,

    Alan contributes virtually nothing to the discussion. He seems to be out to stalk Martin Galvin. We might just send any future comments from him to Bates & Wilkes.

  6. Anthony,

    funny enough, I left that out of my comment that he belongs in the sewer here. I have challenged him a few times but I think you nailed it on that one that he is stalking Galvin.

    I second exile to the sewer unless he decides to actually make a contribution but I doubt he will change his M-O and continue with his flyby one liner jabs.

  7. Tain Bo,

    once Martin Galvin called him out over an exchange of e mail I thought he would either make some useful contribution or stay away altogether.

    If nothing changes he can vent off over with the rest of them.

  8. Yeah I realised what you were saying, I meant what the hell was that Alan guy on about not yourself!

  9. Sean,

    No bother mate, you know I rant and rave and on rare occasion might make sense of something. I have no idea what the blokes agenda is apart from being a fly by one line poster that needed a verbal slapping.

    I think as Anthony said his beef is with Galvin. Haven’t a baldy and since he only uses here for a quick jab then rightfully so he should be redirected to the sewer.

  10. Anthony,

    you made the right call on the Alan bloke.

  11. Tain Bo,

    if he wants to troll he can do it over with the fraternity of the demented

  12. Anthony,

    at least he is in good company as they are all free to float about there.