Seán is mostly widely known as Seán South from Garryowen. There have even been several songs written to his honour under this misconception. In reality South was from O’Connell Avenue in Limerick, but due to the poetic license of Seán Costello also a Limerickman, he’ll forever be linked with Garryowen. Seán Sabhat, also known as Sean South, born in 1928, was shot down by the Royal Ulster Constabulary in an action in Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh on New Year’s Eve 1957 during what was known as the ‘Border Campaign’ by the IRA from 1956-1962.
South was a relatively young man when he was killed. In his short and tragic life, he had been a clerk for some time before joining An Rialt the Irish-speaking chapter of the Legion of Mary. South received most of his military training during his service with An Fòrsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCA) The Irish Army Reserve.
Seán Garland led a devised raid on the Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in Brookeborough to secure much-needed guns to resupply the Irish Republican Army which was running low on weaponry and ammunition. His column which consisted of 14 volunteers planned to detonate two improvised mines to breach the barrack’s defenses while the truck containing the rest of the raiders would pull up and secure the building and weapons, however things went terribly wrong. Sean South and Feargal O’Hanlon went to plant the mines but they failed to detonate, giving the RUC Officers inside time to return fire killing them both in the street. When the botched raid was over Volunteers South, and O’Hanlon were dead, and 4 other volunteers of Garland’s column were wounded.
Under fire, Garland carried South on his shoulders in an unsuccessful attempt to save his friend’s life. Seriously wounded, he was subsequently hospitalised for a number of weeks and was then jailed in Mountjoy Prison. In November 1957, while in Mountjoy, Garland was an unsuccessful candidate in the Dublin North–Central by-election. Upon his release, he was interned in the Curragh, but was released in 1959.
Feargal O’Hanlon was a keen Irish language activist from a staunchly republican family, he was also a draughtsman employed by Monaghan County Council, and a Gaelic footballer. 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. Approximately 500 people attended a 50th commemoration of the men’s deaths in Limerick in January 2007.
A fictionalised 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.