The Border Campaign (12 December 1956 – 26 February 1962) was a campaign of guerrilla warfare (codenamed Operation Harvest) carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) against targets in Northern Ireland, with the aim of overthrowing that state and creating a united Ireland. Popularly referred to as the Border Campaign, it was also referred to as the “Resistance Campaign” by some republican activists. The campaign was a military failure, but for some of its members, the campaign was justified as it had kept the IRA engaged for another generation. This was the third republican campaign against Northern Ireland. The first took place during the Irish War of Independence, the second took place during 1942-1944, and the fourth took place during 1969-1997.
Seán South (Seán Sabhat; 1928 – 1 January 1957) was a member of an IRA military column led by Sean Garland on a raid against a Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh on New Year’s Day, 1957. South died of wounds sustained during the raid along with another volunteer, Fergal O’Hanlon.
Seán South was born in Limerick where he was educated at Sexton Street Christian Brothers School, later working as a clerk in a local wood-importing company. South was a member of a number of organisations including the Gaelic League, Legion of Mary, Clann na Poblachta and Sinn Féin. In Limerick he founded the local branch of Maria Duce, a radical Catholic organisation, where he also edited both An Gath and An Giolla. He had received military training as a lieutenant of the Irish army reserve, the LDF which would later become the FCA (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil or Local Defence Force), before he became a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.
South was a dedicated Catholic, being a member of An Réalt (the Irish-speaking chapter of the Legion of Mary). He was also a member of the Knights of Columbanus. Though it is often claimed (notably by his biographer, Mainchín Seoighe) that he was a member of the fascist party Ailtirí na hAiséirighe, no evidence exists to support this assertion.
On New Year’s Day 1957, fourteen IRA volunteers crossed the border into County Fermanagh to launch an attack on a joint RUC/B Specials barracks in Brookeborough. During the attack a number of volunteers were injured: two fatally. Fergal O’Hanlon and Seán South died of their wounds as they were making escape. The two dead Volunteers were carried into an old sandstone barn by their comrades which was later demolished by a British army jeep. The stone from the barn was later used to build a memorial at the site to the volunteers.
The attack on the barracks inspired two popular rebel songs: ‘Seán South of Garryowen’ and ‘The Patriot Game ‘.
“Sean South”, also known as “Sean South of Garryowen”, written by Sean Costelloe, County Limerick to the tune of another republican ballad “Roddy McCorley” and made famous by the Wolfe Tones. The popularity of this song has led to the misconception that South was from Garryowen, a suburb in Limerick city. In fact, this was used in context of Limerick. South was actually from 47 Henry Street in Limerick.
Dominic Behan’s 1961 song The Patriot Game commemorating the other fatality, Fergal O’Hanlon.
Feargal O’Hanlon (Feargal Ó hAnnluain (b. 2 February 1936, Ballybay, County Monaghan – d. 1 January 1957, Brookeborough, County Fermanagh) was a mem-ber/volunteer in the Pearse Column of the Irish Republican Army.
A keen Irish language activist from a staunchly republican family, Feargal O’Hanlon was a draughtsman employed by Monaghan County Council, and was a Gaelic footballer.
Aged 20, he was killed along with Seán South while taking part in an attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh during the Border Campaign. Several other IRA members were wounded in the botched attack. The IRA fled the scene in a dump truck. They abandoned it near the border. They left South and O’Hanlon, both then unconscious, in a cow byre, and crossed into the Republic of Ireland on foot for help for their comrades. The wounded IRA men were treated as “car crash victims” by sympathetic staff in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin
O’Hanlon’s mother remained firmly committed to the IRA and was hurt by the suggestion that there was an alternative to IRA activity or that her son was anything other than an Irish hero.
A marble monument now stands at the spot where South and O’Hanlon lost their lives. An annual lecture has been held in memory of O’Hanlon since 1982, and approximately 500 people attended a 50th commemoration of the men’s deaths in January 2007 in Limerick.
A fictionalized O’Hanlon is the narrator of Dominic Behan’s ballad, “The Patriot Game”.
His sister Pádraigín Uí Mhurchadha is now a Sinn Féin Councillor on Monaghan Urban Council.
Photo: Sean South (left), Feargal O’Hanlon (right)