Tyrone parish priest gathered archive of murder secrets and the ghosts of war

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Controversial interview tapes, recorded by an Aughnacloy priest and locked away for 40 years, have come to light, revealing some of the darkest murder secrets from the Civil War and the Irish War of Independence.

Father Louis O’Kane made more than 100 tape recordings with former Irish Volunteers and War of Independence veterans from the Tyrone and South Derry areas, during the early 1970s.

So politically sensitive were the personal testimonies, described as the Boston College tapes of their day, that as soon as each tape was made, Father O’Kane would smuggle it over the border to a priest’s house in Monaghan where it was hidden in an old trunk.

Among the revelations is an eye-witness account of the events surrounding the mysterious murder of a Jewish travelling salesman called Sagorsky in 1922, who was based in Dungannon and accused of being a British spy.

Other accounts include graphic accounts of gun-running, B-special attacks, foiling security checkpoints and the troubled existence of gunmen and gunwomen on-the-run, escaping over the border and trying to forge a career in the newly created Free State.

Historian Dr Donal McAnallen has gained access to the cache after it was handed to the Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Library

The diverse career and remarkable historical collections of the priest will form the subject of the next talk hosted by the O Neill Country Historical Society, at the Brantry BARD Centre, on Tuesday 13 October at 8.00 pm.

Dr Dónal McAnallen said the collection was of national significance.

“Father O’Kane, who was from a well-known South Derry family with Republican links, was a very charming and affable interviewer, and he managed to extract some very important accounts.

“In many cases, it’s clear that his interview subjects are getting things off their chest, and that they trusted him. Some of the veterans describe their careers afterwards in the South and their troubled identities in the new Free State.

These 400 hour long interviews stand out as historical treasures during this ‘decade of centenaries’, and were kept securely until all involved had passed away.

The recordings were transferred from old reel-to-reel tapes to digital format for the Cardinal Ó Fiaich Library & Archive in 2013. One of the many artefacts that O’Kane kept in his domestic ‘museum’ was a cartridge found around the scene of the GPO, Dublin, during Easter week 1916. He received this item from a parishioner, Pat McFadden.