The Passing Of Vince Conlon Noted At Famous Ira Shrine

Posted: June 23, 1995

Vince Conlon, a former resident of Philadelphia who became a legendary figure in the annals of the Irish Republican Army, died in Ireland on June 10 and not a single U.S. newspaper took note of his passing.

Many of Conlon's fellow activists here first learned of his death in the weekly national newspaper, the Irish Voice. But the value of his contributions was acknowledged Sunday at the most revered shrine of the Irish Republican movement - the gravesite of 18th century patriot Theobold Wolfe Tone.

Tone, an Anglo-Irishman who led the abortive 1798 United Irishmen Uprising, is regarded as the father of Irish Republicanism and he is so honored every year in a memorial ceremony at Bodenstown, in County Kildare.

Despite its importance, the event is rarely covered by the U.S. press, which might find it hard to square Tone's Protestant faith with its standard simplistic depiction of the strife in Northern Ireland as a religious war.

However, the so-called Bodenstown Address, which always keynotes the commemoration, gets close attention from the news media in Britain, as well as in Ireland, because it's a guide to current thinking in the Republican political party, Sinn Fein.

Martin McGuinness, the veteran Derry Republican regarded as Sinn Fein's second-highest official, was chosen to deliver the Bodenstown Address this year in the absence of party leader Gerry Adams, who was in South Africa.

In keeping with tradition, McGuinness paid tribute to all Republicans who had died since the last commemoration.

Noting there were too many names to recite individually, McGuinness nevertheless placed four on record for special remembrance.

One of the four was "Vincent Conlon . . . whose service to the cause of Irish Republicanism saw him active both in Ireland and in the Unite States."

Thus was summarized a life of high adventure that so embodied the spirit of Irish rebellion, it will probably be recorded some day in a full-length book.

After emigrating from his native County Armagh, in the British-occupied North, Vince Conlon left a good job in Philadelphia to sign up for the IRA's Border Campaign of 1956.

Only 25, he drove the truck in the failed raid on Brookeborough police post in Armagh, recalled in many enduringly popular ballads as the operation that claimed the lives of Volunteers Sean South and Fergal O'Hanlon.

Conlon was one of four others who were wounded by machine gun fire, but he managed to drive the truck five bone-jarring miles with bullet-shredded tires and a burst fuel pipe, and the survivors made it over the mountain to the Irish Republic, where all but Conlon were arrested and interned.

Conlon went on to lead border operations from County Donegal until his own capture.

After two failed attempts, he escaped from the Curragh prison camp and made his way to America.

Here I took Conlon to New York attorney Paul O'Dwyer, who handled his winning appeal of a deportation order.

Following the founding of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association,

Vince hailed that uniquely non-violent program as more productive than 50 years of intermittent IRA campaigns and together we formed the American Friends of NICRA, the movement's first support group in the U.S.

But after NICRA's work was crushed by the fiery 1969 backlash in Derry and Belfast, Vince shifted his energies to finding weapons for the newly formed Provisional IRA.

Sought on federal arms charges, he fled to the Irish Republic, where he became a leader in the Provisional movement till the statute of limitations expired on the arms charge and he returned to the U.S. to help organize support in New York for Sinn Fein's political goals.

Stricken with cancer, Conlon again went home to Ireland, hoping to make it to one last Wolfe Tone Commemoration.

Although he died only a week before the event was held, it was eminently just that Vince Conlon's name should be honored in the Bodenstown Address.

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