Sean Bresnahan remembers two late South Armagh IRA volunteers.
In South Armagh Republican folklore, the lives and tragic deaths of two young Irishmen will be forever intertwined, with the names of Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns — ‘The Two Brendans’ as they are popularly remembered — writ large into the story of the struggle for a sovereign and free Ireland. On February 29th 1988, they were killed on Active Service with the South Armagh Brigade, Óglaigh na hÉireann, in preparation for an impending attack on the forces of British occupation. Lifelong friends and comrades, they died for Irish Freedom. We who remain salute their courage and pay tribute to their sacrifice.
Brendan Burns is fondly remembered as a determined IRA Volunteer, whose commitment to his country was total. Growing up in Cregganduff, not far from the town of Crossmaglen, he joined Óglaigh na hEireann at 16, going on to engage British enemy forces in a series of daring and well-planned attacks throughout the South Armagh area. By 1984 he was on the run, using his intimate knowledge of the Border to evade capture. Arrested by Gardai on foot of an extradition warrant, he spent two years in Portlaoise before eventually beating the case. He returned to the armed struggle, seeing his family where and when he could while committing himself full time to the IRA.
Brendan Moley from Dorsey, just outside Cullyhanna, was likewise considered a steadfast Volunteer who would not shirk in the face of adversity. Strong and resilient in his determination to force the British state from Ireland, he played a central role in the many attacks carried out by his local Brigade. Brendan was an experienced Volunteer whose field craft and soldiery were second-to-none, respected by all who knew him. For men like Brendan Moley, the armed struggle offered only reward — be it in an end to British rule or in a Martyrs’ death in pursuit of that noble objective.
‘The Two Brendans’ fell victim to an accidental explosion, when the bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely as they loaded it into a van in border country, near Crossmaglen. Plans to mount an attack on the infrastructure of Britain’s military occupation, of a kind long-seen in South Armagh down through the years, were at an advanced stage but sadly resulted in the tragic passing of these young men — a terrible loss to the fight for freedom.
We’re a special kind of people here, we breed defiance never fear
And we’ll still be here when the tide ‘gainst England turns.
For in our hearts we know we’re right, and never will give up the fight;
We owe that much to Moley and to Burns
Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns — born only weeks apart, growing up only a stone’s throw from the other — were buried on the same day, 3rd March 1988, their funerals bearing witness to a savage display of brutality by state forces, in line with a longstanding policy of violently intimidating Republican funerals. Riot-clad officers and soldiers attacked the processions, threatening and insulting family members while physically assaulting mourners, all in a futile effort to trample on the dignity of the South Armagh Republican community. They did not succeed. Both were laid to rest by their families, friends and comrades, as thousands of people from near and far stood in support and solidarity.
History will recall their courage. The tremendous sacrifice of Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns — a source of inspiration and pride — demands that we work for a full British withdrawal from our country, that the Irish Republic, for which they gave their lives, be restored. They have lit a path for us to follow, a path to that Republic — a path to freedom and peace. We will be the generation that rebuilds the Republic. We owe that much to Moley and to Burns.
(First published on 1916societies.com — March 2015. Reproduced here on their 31st Anniversary, a number of small revisions have been made.)