In 1988 Belfast Republican Jimmy Roe (1927-96) who was instrumental in the campaign with the National Graves Association to secure the release of Vol. Tom William’s body from Crumlin Road goal. Gave the lecture to the Tom Williams commemoration in Belfast, on the 46th anniversary of Williams death.
Tom Williams remains were finally laid to rest in January 2000. The National Graves Association, although keen to have the remains laid in the Republican Plot were happy to compromise with relatives, as Tom was laid beside his mother in Milltown Cemetery.
The main purpose of our gathering here to-night is to pay homage and commemorate the memory of ”Tom William”, Tom as you all know died on the scaffold in Belfast prison on this day the 2nd September, exactly forty six years ago. Many of you still carry in your hearts to-day cherished memories of that fateful day, which now seems so long ago. Many of you knew Tom personally, others knew of him through the contact of comrades and others I venture to say that there are very few Republicans young or old in Belfast to-day who have not heard of Tom through the ballad, written in his memory by the late Arthur Corr.
Almost every year over the last 46, commemorations such as this one to-night have been held in Tom’s memory, many speeches have been give resulting in the fact that anyone speaking about Tom to-day is bound to repeat some things already said in the past. So with this in mind the National Graves Committee have decided that the oration this year should also include a short talk on some of our martyrs of the same period as Tom and. perhaps make some comparisons between times before and after Tom’s death.
In speaking of Tom Williams it is impossible not to mention two other people who were closely associated with him. The first person I mention is Tom’s grandmother whom he loved dearly and to whom he always referred to as Granny Fay. Tom’s mother died when he was still very young and he and his brother Richard were reared in Bombay Street by their grandmother. Tom’s father was on the Free State Army and Richard later joined the Free State Forces, leaving Tom and his grandmother together. If you go round our National Graves in Milltown, you will see inscribed on some of the tombstones, his mother instilled the love of country in his heart.
There can be no doubt that it was from his grandmother that Tom learned the love of country. was from her that he learned our country’s history from 1798, right down to his own day and it was her more than anyone else who stood by him in his hour of need. Never at anytime during his days of action in the Fianna and the Irish Republican Army did she waver in her support of him and he knew that she was the rock that he said he could depend on.
During the dark days leading up to the 2nd of September instead f being consoled by others it was she that consoled them. After Tom’s burial in the prison, four priests who attended the funeral, including Father Mc Allister who had walked beside Tom and had administered the last rites as he hung on the scaffold, came to Bombay Street to console Tom’s grandmother, but these priests had been through such a traumatic experience themselves that they were unable to do anything. Father Mc Allister broke down completely and it was Granny Fay who took him into the small room off the kitchen and consoled him. Truly a wonderful old Irish woman and in paying tribute to her to-night we also pay tribute to all the women of Ireland of every generation.
0n the 17th July 1798, Henry Joy McCracken was sentenced to immediate hanging on the scaffold. When his sister Mary Ann McCracken heard this she bravely took his arm and proudly walked by his side along Cornnsrket to the foot of the scaffold, and in so doing she set a standard for Irish women that has never since been lowered and is proudly upheld by the present day women of Belfast and Ulster. During the past 19 years we have seen the royalty, dedication and suffering of our women folk. We have seen young women take their stand beside their brothers in arms and suffer death and imprisonment in English and Irish gaols. We know of the suffering endured by the mothers, wives, sisters and sweethearts of our patriot dead as they watched them die slow, torturous deaths on Hunger Strike or when they received their broken bodies back into their homes after death in battle with the enemy and our hearts go out to them also as we watch them week after week, month after month visit their loved ones in English and Irish gaols, bringing them some of the comforts of home. Mna na h-Aireann , women of Ireland we salute you.
The second person I mention in connection with Tom is Gerard 0’ Callaghan. Gerard 0’ Callaghan was an officer of the Northern command I.R.A., like Tom, he was 19 years of age, he lived in Cavendish Street, Belfast. He was inspecting a dump of arms at Budore, Hannahstown on 31st August 1942, when he was shot dead by a raiding party of R.U.C. and C.I.D. The Stormont Government under the Special- Powers Act refused to allow an inquest to be held, just as they did with Jack Gaffney when he died on the Al Rawdah prison Ship 2 years earlier and we know the haggling that is going on to-day about the inquest that is to be held on the three volunteers murdered in Gibraltar. It was a terrible blow to Tom Williams when he was told two days before his own death that his comrade Gerard 0’Callaghan had been murdered by the R.U.C.
Just two short years before Tom’s death, two other Irishmen James Mc Cormack from Westmeath and Peter Barnes from Offaly were hanged in Winsow prison, Birmingham. Little did Tom Williams think as he protested here in Belfast about their deaths, that the same British hangman, Albert Pierpoint who sent, them to their deaths would also send him to his death a short time later, and a cairde, the Free State Government before and since that time have carried out many treacherous acts against the Irish ‘people. They used borrowed, British guns against the Irish Republican soldiers who when the treaty was signed, remained true to the cause of freedom for all Ireland not 26 counties. They deliberately murdered four martyrs Rory, Dick, Liam and. Joe in what they admitted. themselves was a revenge killing.
In September 1940, De Valera sent one of his own comrades Paddy McGrath from Derry, who in 1916 had fought side by side with him in Boland’s Mill, to the firing party with Tom Harte from Lurgan. Tony D’Arcy and Jack McNeela were allowed to die on Hunger Strike in Mountjoy gaol, Richard Goss and George Plant also suffered the same fate as their comrades McGrath and Harte, in Portlaoise prison and at a later date. Our own Sean McCaughey was allowed to die on Hunger and Thirst Strike after enduring long years on a blanket protest in Portlaoise prison and to-day the descendents of these same traitors who call themselves an Irish Government, still perpetrates acts of treachery on our people as they deal out long harsh prison sentences, they abuse our people when they are making legitimate peaceful protests. They colluse with the N.I. Office and with the British Government and now they are handing over our young people to Britain where they know they will be brutalised in every-way possible.
But in my opinion the greatest act of treachery ever perpetrated by any Free State Government vas when De Valera brought over to Ireland, the British hangman Albert Pierpoint, who just a few years previously had hanged three other lrishmen, Barnes and Mc Cormack who were hanged in Winsow Green gaol in Birmingham and Tom Williams here in Belfast. This same hangman was brought to Ireland and to Mountjoy gaol, in December 1944 to hang another soldier of the Irish Republic, namely Charlie Kerins from Kerry. At the same time things were no better in Northern Ireland or in England, many were in prison, some interned, others serving long unjust sentences here in Belfast and Armagh also in English gaols, and because the unjust and inhuman conditions some men died in these prisons, among them Jack Gaffney,I have already mentioned. Died on the Al Rawdah prison ship in Strangford Lough on l8th November l940, Joe Malone died in Parkhurst prison 21st January 1942, Sean Martin from Ballymacarret sacrified his own life when at a lecture he threw himself on top of a live hand grenade to save the lives of his comrades in the house with him.
Seamus (Rocky) Burns of very happy memories died in Queen Street here in Belfast in February 1944, when after being arrested he tried to get away from his captors and was shot dead by the R.U.C. So a cairde, nothing has changed, our people are still going through the same tortures as they did in Tom Williams time and before it. But thank God neither has the dedication, sacrifice and determination of our freedom fighters changed, if anything they are more determined to rid our beloved country forever of the scourge of English rule. In conclusion I would like to quote for you some words written by the late Brian O’ Higgins at the end of one of his pamphlets’ The sacrifice was made, and is being made for the Restoration and enthronement of the living, but suppressed and persecuted Republic of Ireland and the complete severance of all connection with the British Crown. If we keep that thought and truth’ constantly before our minds and work and plan and fight and endure towards that objective and that alone, the sooner will victory be ours and our martyrs avenged. Until that day comes there will be no peace in Ireland or in England.
By Jimmy Roe- Belfast. Link here- Oration for Tom Williams- Jimmy Roe