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A massacre averted

Terry Montague writes: On a very wet day in the late 1950s I got on a number 20 bus in Middle Abbey Street to go to Donnycarney. I had collected, from Eason wholesale further up Middle Abbey Street, stock for my shop, which had opened a year earlier and was doing quite well, despite my youth and Northern accent.

Somewhat reluctantly, and because of the parcels, I didn’t go upstairs but sat downstairs with two packages on my knees. There was an elderly woman next to me and she immediately offered to take the smaller parcel. I let her take it and said “It’s an awful day.”

Responding to my accent, she said “You’re from the North? I told her I was from Tyrone but she wanted to know exactly where so I told her: “A wee place called Carrickmore.”

She surprised me by saying she’d been there twice in Easter Week 1916. I then remembered a story I’d heard years previously from my father and said: “So you are Nora Connolly, James Connolly’s daughter.” She said she was and that she was now Nora O’Brien, living in Marino.

Years later I put the details together. Dr Pat McCartan was one of the founders of the Dungannon Club, which was set up at the behest of Joe McGarrity, his cousin, who ran the Irish movement in Philadelphia. This was one of the first of the Irish Volunteer movements to counteract the Ulster Volunteers. He was an important member of the amalgam of individuals and organisations that brought the armed rebellion into being and it was he who set up the Irish Volunteers in Carrickmore.

In Holy Week 1916 he went for his orders to Dublin. There he met Pearse and Connolly. Their orders were that the Belfast Volunteers and the Volunteers of Carrickmore and Coalisland were to assemble quietly around Cookstown and Coalisland and then march across country to join up with the Volunteers of Mayo.

McCartan was aghast. It was a suicide mission. From south of Clones up to Strabane was a very active area for the Ulster Volunteers. The British army was based in Omagh and Enniskillen. They would not have gone three miles from Carrickmore before shooting started. They’d have been totally outnumbered and surrounded.

Both Denis McCullough, who was in the IRB and leader of the Belfast section of the Volunteers, and McCartan agreed the orders were foolish and so they refused to march west to Mayo. After hanging out around east Tyrone for a few days the Belfast Volunteers, quietly and in small numbers, took the train from Cookstown and went back to Belfast.

Nora Connolly O’Brien told me that she cycled to get the train at Dundalk and from there to Cookstown and then to Carrickmore to urge the Volunteers to act at once ‑ without avail. She went back to Dublin and was sent back to Tyrone again. But neither McCartan nor McCullough would allow their men to be slaughtered in Co Tyrone.

McCartan stood for the presidency against Sean T O’Kelly in1945. His daughter married Ronnie Drew. McCullough too was in the music business. His family bought Piggotts to form McCullough Piggotts.
22/04/2014