By Patricia Campbell
It threatened to rain as we walked behind the tri color draped coffin in Aughnacloy. The mass had been officiated by well know human rights campaigner, Fr Raymond Murray and the congregation had listened to Niall Farrell’s heart felt and moving tribute to Eilish. The large crowd of mourners slowly made their way to the County Tyrone burial ground which over looks the green fields of County Monaghan.
Just as she was to be laid to rest the grey skies could no longer contain its spillage, the mourners tried to take cover in every form, heads covered, umbrellas opened and people huddled together to try and escape the down pour of rain as they said good bye to one of Ireland’s finest daughters on a Summer August afternoon. Mother Ireland was crying too.
Eilish McCabe nee McAnespie has taken her place in the history journals along side many other brave women of Ireland, women like Kathleen Clarke, Elizabeth O’Farrell, Marie Combeford and others too numerous to mention. Like Eilish they were not just Irish revolutionaries they were socialists and Internationalists and they too knew sacrifice, pain and conviction.
Eilish was an exceptional woman. She demonstrated a steely courage through out the darkest and most dangerous days of the war and she showed that same courage in the face of death. She knew she was dying she had fought cancer for five years. She did not accept medical opinion some three years earlier, which advised she had only six months to live.
Her determination to live proved stronger than medical opinion. However she knew the cancer raging through her body would eventually overcome her so she cherished every living moment and forged ahead with her quest for truth and Justice.
Described as a campaigner for truth and justice, she never stopped campaigning for the truth about the murder of her brother Aidan McAnespie, shot dead at a British check point on his way to a Gaelic game one cold Sunday afternoon in January 1988. Her motivation to fight for the truth was not solely driven by personal pain and loss or that she had arrived on the scene of Aidan’s murder and held the brother she adored as he lay fatally wounded, his life taken by one single carefully aimed bullet discharged from the gun of a British Soldier.
Eilish would have campaigned for truth and justice regardless she was a political activist long before her brother was murdered. She and Aidan experienced persecution on a regular basis at the hands of British Soldiers and especially at Aughnacloy Checkpoint
One might get the impression that all her fighting, struggling, fear and determination would leave her cynical and perhaps inflexible – far from the truth she was fun loving, her smile lit up her face and her presence lit up the atmosphere. She was passionate and full of life, full of devilment. She loved life and she loved people.
I thought about her the day Tyrone football team brought the Sam Maguire cup across the Aughnacloy border for the third time in September. She had been there to celebrate and greet the team on previous occasions, win or loose. In the early days of this years championship when Tyrone were replaying Down she was receiving treatment in Belfast’s City Hospital. Despite being attached to her lifeline, an intravenous drip she longed to go and shout for her team she felt mentally able but she wasn’t physically able, her mental strength far outweighing her frail body
I said my last good bye to her a few days before she died. She was surrounded by her family who loved her and no doubt must miss her desperately, especially their first Christmas without her. She maintained that quiet dignity and strength right up to the end
I will remember her with pride and sadness, proud that she was my friend and sad that she is gone. In her final months she taught me how to cherish every moment of life and how not to be afraid to die.