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Let me bury my father in a Republican grave .. alongside his comrades; SON'S PLEA FOR WAR OF INDEPENDENCE HERO.

Byline: DARREN BOYLE

WHEN George Lennon died in 1991 he was cremated with his ashes interred in a Buddhist Zen Centre in Maine.

But his overwhelming desire was that his they should be returned and scattered with the comrades he lost during the War of Independence.

Now his American son Ivan is lobbying the Defence Forces to try and get his father the hero's send-off he deserves.

"Since my father died I have extensively researched the West Waterford Active Service Unit and concluded that his ashes should be scattered at Kilrossanty Republican Plot this September when I will be in Dungarvan to give the Waterford Museum a copy of my study.

"In my opinion it is time to accord to a successful guerrilla campaign at least the same measure of attention accorded to the martyrs of 1916 and the Irishmen who served the Great War of 1914-1918.

"A particularly ignored aspect of the 1919-1921 period was the not insignificant role played by the Deise Flying Column under the leadership of George Lennon.

"Since 1987 I have been researching my father's participation in the 'physical force' movement commencing Easter Monday 1916 to the withdrawal from Waterford in late July 1922. It would only be fitting that, upon my return in September, that my father's ashes be joined with the remains of his comrades at the Republican Plot.

"Unfortunately, I have been denied that opportunity."

Mr Lennon appealed to the Department of Defence twice to try to get authorisation for a military presence when his father's ashes are scattered but was rebuffed.

Ivan said he discovered his father was involved in at least 17 operations against British forces across Waterford, Cork and Limerick.

During the Civil War, George took the side of the anti-treaty forces and was involved in the battle for Waterford, although he later resigned from the IRA and became a pacifist.

After emigrating to the United States, George became an anti-war activist, even protesting against the Vietnam War. Despite this, he became a founding member of the West Waterford Old IRA association.

Before he died, George converted to Buddhism.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Willie O'Dea said the Department was unable to intervene in these matters. "There are strict criteria for having a military presence at such funerals," she said.

As a result, Ivan is appealing directly to the Defence Forces who will investigate whether George Lennon is entitled to such an honour.

The Waterford man was the Officer Commanding of the West Waterford flying column during the War of Independence.

Now his son wants him honoured in his native Waterford. In addition to that, he also wants to twin Waterford with Rochester, New York, where he spent a great deal of his life. Ivan said his father founded the West Waterford Old IRA Association in 1930s New York. Worse still for Ivan and his family, Republicans in Waterford claiming to maintain the old IRA plot in Kilrossanty have denied him permission to scatter his father's ashes.

During one engagement in March 1921, Lennon's column attacked a military convoy destroying two vehicles, forcing the British soldiers to flee for their lives. A number of prisoners were taken and all but one was released.

Following the action, RIC Sgt Michael Hickey, 36, was captured. The order was given for him to be executed because he recognised many of the men in the flying column. In his memoirs, George Lennon reveals that Sgt Hickey pleaded with him for his life.

According to his testimony the officer said: "George, I knew you as a child, you used to play with the head constable's children in the barracks.

"You are the one person in the world that can save me."

The Sgt was given a label with "Police Spy" on it before he was shot by firing squad.

Mr Lennon said he fired one round into Sgt Hickey's head to make sure he was dead.

According to his death certificate, Sgt Hickey's death was "instantaneous". Ironically, Sgt Hickey was interred in the graveyard at Kilrossanty near the Republican plot.

The Catholic policeman was due to be married a few weeks after he was captured. His fiancee ordered that no marker should be placed on his grave because she feared that it would be damaged.

She even had to plead with the grave diggers to work on his grave because they did not want to be seen to be giving assistance to British forces.

The IRA regularly executed captured policemen because they often knew their captors and if were released it often led to the hated Black and Tans burning down the men's family homes.

During the engagement, George's friend and comrade Pat Keating was also killed. According to his memoirs, the death of his pal was difficult to deal with. He later wrote: "I seemed unable to face the fact that Pat was dead. I was weary, unspeakably unhappy and quite dispirited."

Worse still for Ivan, West Waterford Republican Sinn Fein has decided to name its cumann in honour of George. But as he died a pacifist he would not want his name associated with a group with links to republican dissidents, according to Ivan.

CAPTION(S):

Left: IRA men at Waterford Right: The Republican plot in Kilrossanty Devoted... Ivan Lennon with a portrait of his IRA hero father George Lennon
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 26, 2009
Words:888
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