With Clady Bridge in the headlines locally, due to the Finnish Project’s upcoming ‘Voicing the Bridge’ initiative (which forms part of this year’s village festival), as local Republicans we thought it important to reflect on the Republican history of the bridge — to give semblance to its role in the struggle for freedom down and across the years. Indeed, for us, no project that claims to give ‘voice’ to the bridge could possibly be complete in its absence.
From full-scale gun and mortar attacks on Crown Forces, stretching back not only to the 1970s but through earlier phases of the struggle, to the British Army’s attempts to close off the bridge — in a futile effort to contain Republican struggle in the area — Clady Bridge has been the epicentre of the Republican war for freedom in the West Tyrone-East Donegal command area.
When the British attempted to crater the bridge, in the September of ‘71, they met with ferocious resistance. Volunteer soldiers opened up from the river bank, with a sustained gun battle ensuing. The British soon beat a hasty retreat. Thinking they would try their dirty work a second time, the British succeeded in cratering the road — until locals again showed them different. Opening fire from automatic rifles, the IRA drove out the enemy. The community filled the craters back in while the Sassanach licked their wounds.
The enemy’s checkpoint, at the bridge, was blew up in the ‘70s and three times further the following decade. Foot patrols, too, were regularly harried — they weren’t even safe in their helicopter gun ships. Throughout the war years, the banks of the river were used for smuggling materiel, with the ‘odd’ mother walking through the checkpoint with weapons under the child in her pram. Through support as this from the local community, the Army maintained its offensive against the occupation.
No historical reflection on the bridge could fail to recount the tragic death of IRA Volunteer Jim McGinn — Staff Captain, West Tyrone Command, Óglaigh na hÉireann. In an echo of the deaths of Reynolds, Kelly and McCafferty, at nearby Stranamuck in the ‘30s, he was killed when a bomb he was transporting exploded prematurely as he crossed the bridge.
While countless stories and occasions can be recalled in regard to the bridge and its immediate environs, of its storied role in the Republican struggle — some well known, others perhaps never to be told — we hope this brief snapshot reflects its importance to the spirit and culture of the local community. The Clady-Cloughfin area played a full role in the fight to secure the Irish Republic and for this we are eternally proud.
As the British Government’s Irish policy once more pulls the border, on which stands Clady Bridge, into the foreground, we salute all who have played their part along the way. We pledge ourselves to continue their struggle, that this generation might realise the noble object for which so many gave of their efforts, down through those long hard years — the Irish Republic.
An Phoblacht Abú.