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Vol Frank Morris
I hope it does some justice to the man, Frank Morrris is one of those men who deserves more attention and emembrance than he's received.
I originally wrote this short bio as part of a larger research project on Saor Uladh and its Volunteers and ops, any contributions or contact by ex members or their relatives/associates would be greatly appreciated!
Vol Frank Morris
While not even a footnote in most Irish republican histories, Frank Morris is one of those local heroes whose story keeps the spirit of freedom alive amongst their people- and inspires them.
One of seven childeren (including a priest), Morris was born in Greencastle Tyrone, but will forever be associated with Donegal, where he spent most of his life. He joined the IRA in 1942, while the 40's Bombing Campaign was in full swing. He was recruited by one of the Tyrone brigade O/c's, Eoin MacNamee, (who was on the run) at a time when there were very few volunteers in the area, as the population was free from british rule, unlike their neighbors, and saw no reason to get involved. But Donegal, with its wild terrain and neutral authorities, was an important asset and Morris' knowledge of it would prove invaluable.
His first noteworthy activity, he later recalled, was attending a court martial of a suspected informer. His first assignment though was to spirit volunteers across the border into the safety of co Donegal after an “op”. After he dropped them off, while approaching the Strabane bridge over the Foyle into Donegal, Morris’s car was stopped by a RUC guard. This was a routine stop and search checkpoint the paranoid RUC were increasing, and at the time the IRA’s strategy was to attack these whenever possible in hopes of discouraging the practice. Morris downed the officer with two shots, but he didn’t realize he had friends in the area: shots came from behind the car while another officer blocked the road with his bicycle and started firing. Seeing there was no chance of surviving a shoot out, Morris got out of the car, charged through the bushes along the riverbank and leapt into he river. Here too he faced a problem as he could not swim so for ten hours he hugged the riverbank for 10 hours until he was discovered after an exhaustive manhunt.
In line with IRA policy, he refused to recognize the court and he was given the “Cat O Nine Tails” 15 times as a punishment for the escapade. He was the last person in Ireland to receive the dreaded punishment. “The pain was dreadful, you couldn’t imagine it.” He recalled for Ireland Daily. “The tail ends of the whip cut my flesh to the bone and I bit my lip to stop screaming." He received ten years in prison for attempted murder. Before he was released he would spend 18 days on hunger strike while in Belfast's Crumlin Road Jail.
He was dismissed from the IRA in the 50's; why is not known, but many other volunteers in the area were dismissed at the same time and given his reputation he was likely seen by the reclusive Chief of staff Tony Magan as a “loose canon”.
He was recruited by Tyrone republican and fellow 40's veteran Liam Kelly into Saor Uladh, a group which demanded immediate action in the north and tried to break free of the restrictions of traditional republicanism. Frank Morris became an active volunteer with the group, fighting in many engagements. He was on Saor Uladh’s executive committee, consisting of himself, Kelly, Joe Christle, and several others. The committee was like a more loose version of the IRA’s GHQ, directing operations and overseeing finances.
He gave the oration at the funeral for Volunteer Alo Hand, with whom he fought on several occasions, declaring:
“Let there be no talk of vengeance, no idle boasting. The cause is not lost, the struggle is not.
over. With God’s help, what we have begun we shall finish”.
He also gave the oration for Saor Uladh volunteer and Cork socialist Kevin Neville, who died of a disease in 1964. While he is speaking about Kevin, his words say something about himself as well as he found these qualities in a volunteer worth holding up for emulation:
"He was a progressive revolutionary, a man who preached the doctrine of James Connolly
that the fight was useless if we merely changed flags and masters and did not change the
whole social and economic system. He also believed that a revolutionary's main principle.
should be the achieving of his object, that his hands should not be tied by petty principles
and that he should change his tactics to meet changing situations."
Later on in the Border Campaign he helped an IRA flying column find hiding spots and safe houses around Donegal.
In the 60's, When Cathal Goulding called a general convention to discuss the rising situation in the north, the O/c of Donegal (Ruari O’Bradaig thinks it was Seamus Costello) blocked Morris from attending despite his long-standing contributions and repuation. Daithi O’Connell walked out in support of him. After the split, he became one of the area’s first organizers for the Provisional IRA and stood of their army council. The respect he had and his influence over the PIRA can be seen in the fact that British Generals Steele and Ford contacted him in 1972 to find out what the IRA's opinions and positions were. Morris replied that the IRA and British army could fight each other for years but neither by itself alone could defeat the other, adding that because of this a ceasefire should be declared.
Information about his provisional activities are of course vague. But we can safely conclude that he devoted himself to their activities with the same dedication he had in the 40's and 50's. He still lived in Donegal, which, despite the free state's more hostile policy, still acted as a safe zone of sorts where volunteers could stay and hide until alarms were over, or hide their arms caches. Many ASUS from Derry and Tyrone, including that of future hungerstrikers Francis Hughes and Tom McElwee took refuge there during this time. He even turned his hand to politics in his later years, standing as an independent candidate, but lost.
In spite of being a volunteer his entire life, Morris was above all a devoted family man. He ran a grocery store which became very sucessful under his direction. A comrade of his recalled for An Phoblacht " He was the sort of man who was successful at anything he turned his hand to."
He died peacefully on June 4th, 2006 at the age of 86 after a long illness. Republicans from all over the country, north and south, attended his funeral.
The cause is not lost, the struggle is not over. With God’s help, what we have begun we shall finish -Vol Frank Morris
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A few facts I learned but couldn't work into the text:
- He was running for something in the late 60's, but Cathal goulding didn't think he was left enough and Bernadette Devlin got the position instead (the source was confusion)
-TP Coogan was going to arrange a meeting between him and David Hume for the latter to understand what the thoughts of the IRA were at the time, but it didn't work out owing to weather and events.
-He was supplanted by Martin McGuiness as O/c of Donegal