This year Louis’s widow Betty and members of the Leonard family have asked Matt Carthy TD (Cavan/Monaghan) to give The Louis Leonard Lecture . It will take place on Saturday 10th December at 8 pm in St Pat’s GAA clubhouse, Donagh.
Memorial Talk by Ciarán Leonard
This year marks the 50th anniversary of my brother Louis Leonard’s murder. 15/12/1972 a date that has been etched into my mind and that of my family ever since (no doubt this is the same for all families who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, something that is all to common in our recent history).
Louis was born in 1946 just as a World War 2 was ending and the world economy was in chaos. He was a boy through the 50’s and grew into a man in the 60’s. Those who were to grow up in Ireland in those decades faced hardship and poverty. Young men and women faced a stark choice: – they could either stay at home and try to build a life in relative poverty or take the emigrant boat to distant shores. Louis was part of that resilient minority that chose to stay; he was determined to succeed here and had the courage to start his own business. Louis had aspirations of making himself a success and providing a life and home for his wife and family here in Fermanagh. That took courage in a country where there was little wealth and such wealth as did exist was held by a small minority. It was a time when there were few choices and no money.
What I remember of Louis, as an older brother, was that he was a proud man. He was a man of honour and integrity – too many young people in our community he was a role model. He was proud of his Irishness and his heritage. He loved Gaelic football and most sports. He was a proud Knocks Gratton and a founding member of St Pat’s GAA club Donagh. Those that knew him best say that he was a modest man; a man of great courage and commitment; a decent man who was faithful, considerate and generous.
Louis had a huge sense of fair play and always opted for the underdog. This is, I suppose, was what brought him to get involved in the Civil Rights campaign of 1968/69. That was a time when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand Civil Rights of the Orange state. It was a time of great political upheaval but also of great hope. A hope that if some changes were made – One Man One Vote ! The Right to a House! Right to Work and an End to Gerrymandering, things could be different. Naively, people thought it was only a matter of time before these simple demands would be granted and then the Nationalist community’s lot within the 6 counties would improve.
On the 9th December 1968 the then Prime Minister Captain Terence O’Neill made his famous speech ‘ Ulster Stands at a Crossroads’. The choice of an inward-looking divided sectarian society or an outward looking progressive integrated society. Sadly, the Unionist Aristocracy hounded O’Neill out of office. They had chosen the road of discrimination. No Surrender! They followed and endorsed the ‘firebrand’ preachers and the papish plot conspirators up and down the country. The British Army arrived to fortify the state forces and restore order! More armed men and military fortifications. More check points and curfews brought more resistance and more funerals.
By 1970 minimal reforms had taken place like ‘one man one vote’ ( my parents were 50 yrs of age before they had the right to vote!!).
1971 brought internment and things went from bad to worse. The situation became more violent and the state seemed more determined to deny Civil Rights. Atrocities, funerals and cover- ups were the order of the day. There was little light at the end of the tunnel and less political leadership.
1972 brought Bloody Sunday and direct rule. Military dogma from Whitehall and Sandhurst was now in full control. More draconian laws curtailed civil liberties. The British Army , who came to restore order, openly murdered nationalists on the streets of Derry and got away with it! Louis Leonard’s fate and that of future generations was doomed. No one, irrespective of their class or creed, could escape the war that was to be brought upon our communities.
It is said that 1972 was the worst year of the conflict and I do not doubt it . I remember the murders of Thomas and Emily Bullock; of Micheal Nann and Andy Murray and many more . Too many coffins down lonely country roads followed sombre processions. The day after Louis’s funeral the British Army tried to raid our home. Why? Remember at this time, Louis’s death was regarded as a random sectarian murder. He was not claimed by the IRA as one of its members until 6 months later nor had he been convicted of any offences. So why were they raiding our home? My father parked his car across the lane ‘ you have murdered my son’ he shouted at them. Eventually they withdrew only to return in the dark of night and leave messages within large bullet cases pegged unto the clothes line. All of our names were clearly hand written on pieces of paper with the cold message ’we’ve got Louis we’ll get the rest of you’. It was then that I saw terror in my mother’s eyes. We were all frightened and rightly so.
In early 1973 around February a man who sold farm insurance came to our house. He too had lost a son; he’d been a UDR man. My father went out to talk to him. I remember watching the two men. Both had lost their pride and joy. The optics weren’t good. Voices were raised. Tempers flared. It was all to raw. On reflection, one man had lost a son trying to fight for Civil Rights and equality, the other man had lost a son trying to defend a state that was denying that equality. I do not know if my father and the other man ever spoke again. My brother’s death had a terrible impact on my father and our family and I’m sure the other man’s heartache was similar.
50yrs on from Louis’s murder we now know the names of the people involved and that within 48 hours the RUC had in its possession information to solve this crime. We also know that the aim of the gunmen was to kill Louis and his wife Betty. Prior to his death we know that RUC Special Branch had a dossier on Louis and had passed it onto a British Army intelligence officer- this officer was also involved in the coverup of the Murray/Nan (pitchfork) murders. We also know that the car involved in Louis’ murder returned to a premises in Lisnaskea. This car later returned to a car-hire company in Belfast- where a number of bullets were found in its interior. This was reported to RUC who declined to take any action.
Dark Days and dark memories, not only for our family but for all families who lost loved ones in the conflict. A conflict that could have been avoided. A conflict that should have been avoided. There was no need for any policeman’s baton to be drawn nor a stone to be thrown. If only different roads had a been taken. If only better political leadership had a been given.
Thankfully things have changed and better political leadership is being given by some. The development of the Peace Process has brought light to the end of the tunnel and we all should thank the politicians who courageously took risks. The Hume/ Adams talks seemed to be the Catylst to get it all started – remember the Nay sayers!! Politicians like Trimble, McGuinness, Major, Blair, Reynolds, Ahearn, Clinton and in the end even the firebrand preacher Paisley all showed political courage and vision to bring about change. However, there were still the Nay sayers ! Not an inch who want to keep us in a state of continuous conflict. I dread to think where we’d be if we let these people take control of our future.
This year Louis’s widow Betty and members of the Leonard family have asked Matt Carthy TD (Cavan/Monaghan) to give The Louis Leonard Lecture . It will take place on Saturday 10th December at 8 pm in St pat’s GAA clubhouse Donagh. Our journey is far from over, we’ve a new society to build on this island. A society built on fairness and equality. One that allows us all to have a stake-hold and threatens no one’s constitutional identity. A unity of views and ideas. We cannot change the past but we can try, and must try, to manage and shape the future- our children’s future lives depend on it. That’s something I think we owe to Louis Leonard and the many other lost souls of the conflict.
Lets build and shape our future together -An Ireland of Equals. .