Rebel Lives: Volunteers Tony Ahern and Dermot Crowley – Mayfield’s fallen martyrs

Vols Tony Aherne & Dermot Crowley

Vols Tony Aherne & Dermot Crowley

It is impossible to tell the story of Volunteers Tony Ahern and Dermot Crowley by just writing about one, their story is in many ways a single one.

Vol. Anthony (Tony) Ahern was born on the 15th Novermber, 1955. He lived at 27 St Joseph’s Park, only 5 doors down from his comrade Dermot Crowley. He lived with his mother, a widower, and his 4 brothers. Just like his neighbour and comrade Dermot Crowley, Anthony attended the North Mon secondary school on the northside of Cork, and was a member of the Clann Eireann Athletic Club, where, being over six-foot and posessing a strong physique, he excelled, representing his club and county in athletics. After finishing school, Anthony began an apprenticeship in gardening. Anthony was fondly remembered by his comrades for his humour, maturity and determination. He followed the events in the six counties very closely, and after the outbreak of violence, pressed to be allowed go on active service in the north.

Ahern was attached to the Tyrone brigade of the Provisional IRA, which Dermot Crowley had also joined. Life on active service was tough, with the volunteers moving from safe house to safe house, engaging British troops and being in constant danger of arrest or death. Yet their belief in an Ireland, free, united and socialist kept them going, as did the comraderie among the volunters. On the 10th May, 1973, Anthony’s unit had planted a landmine meant for British troops near Roslea, Fermanagh. Sadly, the explosive had gone off early and Anthony Ahern did not survive the blast. He was 17 years old at the time. His funeral took place on the 14th May, with Mass in Mayfield and his body then taken to Carrigaline for burial. Representatives of the Republican Movement were present, including Dermot Crowley (to die on active service himself six weeks later) and 1916 veteran Joe Clarke, with thousands of mourners, as well as between 3-400 Gardaí who kept watch at the grave to prevent Anthony’s comrades from rendering him final honours. He was the second Cork republican to die on active service since the Truce, after Vol. Martin O’Leary of the Officials had died in Tipperary after a premature explosion. Two years after his death, he recieved tributes from his family, but also the PIRA in the city and Na Fianna – “When Ireland takes her place among the nations of the earth, and not until then, shall my epitaph be written.”

Republican Plot, St. Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork, where Aherne and Crowley lie

Republican Plot, St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork

Vol. Dermot Crowley was born on the 26th August, 1954 and grew up in 22 St Joseph’s Park in Mayfield. He lived with his parents, two brothers and three sisters. He also attended North Mon and played for Clann Eireann Athletics Club. He was well-regarded as an athlete, captaining Cork in All-Ireland cross-county events. After school, he began an apprenticeship as a plasterer. Dermot was considered mature and politically aware for his age, and when violence erupted in the north, he pressed to go on active service in the six-counties, being attached to the East Tyrone brigade. The death of his friend Anthony Ahern was a tough blow for Dermot, but he decided to remain on active service in the north. On the 25th June, 1973, Dermot, along with fellow volunteers Patrick Carty and Seán Loughran, was killed in a premature explosion while transporting explosive meant for Lisanely Camp, barracks of the First Royal Tank Regiment, near Omagh, Co. Tyrone. Dermot was 19 years old at the time.

A force of 350 Gardaí was present at his funeral, drafted from Limerick, Waterford, and Kilkenny, where a tricolour-draped coffin lay at the altar, with a republican guard of honour of men with black berets and tricolour armbands present. While the coffin was being transported from the church in Mayfield to the hearse, the Cork Volunteer Pipe Band played “Wrap the Green Flag Around Me”. Members of the Cumann na mBan and Na Fíanna Éireann marched behind the coffin. Among the 1,000 mourners were leaders of the republican movement such as Seán Mac Stiofáin, Ruarí Ó Brádaigh, Joe Clarke, Séamus Twomey and Cork comrades of Vol. Crowley. Almost 50 wreaths adorned the grave. Joseph O’Hagan of Lurgan was arrested by Gardái while attending the funeral. An oration was given by Derry republican Seán Keenan: “When Dermot Crowley died in Tyrone, there was a uniting of North and South, for the two men who died with him were from Dungannon. They were all dedicated men who wanted to free their country from the evil power which had ruled it and oppressed it”.

AN PHOBLACHT ABÚ

Graham

Memorial plaque outside Aherne Crowley Memorial Hall, Sinn Féín Offices, Barrack St, Cork City

Memorial plaque outside Aherne Crowley Memorial Hall, Sinn Féín Offices, Barrack St, Cork City

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