Northern launch of my book and remembering Aidan McAnespie

February 26th, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

Last Thursday February 21st my travels found me in County Tyrone at the invitation of some great GAA Gaels there. The occasion was organized as a northern launch of my recently published book of memoires, "My Beautiful Obsession, Chasing the Kerry Dream". Chief organizer of the event was Barry McElduff who comes from Carrickmore, Co Tyrone. I befriended Barry last year when he traveled to Kerry to launch his own superb book "KEEP 'ER LIT" which he describes as a collection of anecdotes, reminiscences and personnel experiences.  He is an MLA for the constituency of West Tyrone a graduate of Queen's University of Belfast and has a stone mad interest in gaelic games, the arts and the Irish language.  Barry is a member of Sinn Fein's Ard Chomhairle.

The launch itself was a tremendous success as people travelled from far and wide to be there. It took place in Quinn's Corner the premises of Paudge Quinn who scored a goal against Kerry in the 1986 All Ireland final. However for me the occasion will be forever etched in my memories due to a commemoration that took place that very day I arrived. It was a very poignant and emotive event and remembered the life and times of a young Aughnacloy footballer, Aidan McAnespie who had been shot dead by the British army twenty five years ago to that very day. I had the privileged of visiting Aiden's home and meeting and talking to his father and brothers. It is a tragic story and with the information I received from family and friends and particular Barry and former Tyrone star Peter Canavan, who attended the book launch I pieced together the terrible events of that day a quarter of a centenary ago. It is in my opinion vitally important to remember the trauma, suffering and harassment members of northern GAA clubs suffered during those years of strife and trouble

Aidan McAnespie was the youngest of a family of six children. He was born in Aughnacloy, a predominantly loyalist village situated on the border. The area historically had a high unemployment rate that is, for those nationalists living there.  To go to work and club training each day, Aidan had to pass through a permanent British Army checkpoint at the southern side of the village. As a result, the security forces became familiar with him and often asked him to remove his car from the road for what was termed a "routine search". They would then take the car apart, removing door panels and wheels. They would also search through his lunch box with their bare hands saying, "You'll be late for work today Aidan".

On other occasions they would ask him to remove his coat, shoes and socks in the rain. When he refused, they would put him on the ground and one soldier stood on his throat while another pulled off his shoes and socks. Aidan made complaints to his local R.U.C. station. It was not unusual for him to be taken into the British Army base for a vehicle search two or three times a week and the car pulled apart. The harassment got so bad that he stopped driving through the checkpoint, instead he would drive to the filling station just south of the checkpoint and would phone his mother who has since sadly died. She would then cycle down through the town and out past the checkpoint and walk back through with Aidan. On one occasion a soldier shouted after them, "Are you trying to protect your son Mrs. McAnespie?"

On the 21st of February 1988, Aidan parked his car at the northern side of the checkpoint and walked towards the local G.A.A. pitch, which was just south of the checkpoint. He had only walked three hundred yards when a single bullet from a heavy caliber machine gun cut him down, in the prime of his life, on a lovely sunny afternoon, while on the way to a Gaelic football match. Aidan's life was taken; his killer watched him walk towards the football pitch, aimed and fired to kill. This is the view of the family and many community and church leaders. The then Cardinal and Primate of all Ireland described the killing as murder.

Tyrone Football star Peter Canavan was the main speaker at the commemoration to mark the 25th anniversary of the murder of this young Aghaloo Gaelic footballer. The commemoration took take place at the spot where Aidan was killed on Thursday evening (21st February. 1988) at 7.30pm and was followed by a display of the Remembering Quilt (an amazing sight), in Aghaloo GAA clubrooms. Aghaloo and Killeeshil Gaelic teams lined out for a special tribute match to Aidan on Saturday evening at 4pm. Aidan was making his way to the match with Killeeshil on that fateful Sunday afternoon when he was murdered.

Peter Canavan said  'As an ardent Tyrone supporter, I am sure Aidan would be proud of the fact that we have won three All Irelands during the past decade and a string of Ulster and All Ireland successes at minor and under 21 level. As an Aghaloo Gael, he would be proud of the clubs progress with notable achievements in winning the intermediate championship in 2002 and 2005 and of the wonderful facilities the club has to nurture Gaelic games in this part of Tyrone. As Gaels, we look to the future but it is also important that we remember Aidan Mc Anespie and reflect back on the dark times that Aidan, his family and the GAA had to endure during the conflict in our country. Aidan's dedication to his Gaelic culture in the face of an oppressive regime that tried to break him every day, should serve as an inspiration to us all". It was indeed an unforgettable experience for me that evening in Aughnacloy Co. Tyrone.

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