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Crossmaglen Rangers: Former British soldier returns to GAA club to meet ‘enemy'

Margaret McConville talks about the hope Crossmaglen Rangers gave local people during the Troubles,with her son Oisín who went on to manage the team.

ONE of Crossmaglen's most accomplished footballers has said a meeting with a British soldier once stationed in Co Armagh's 'bandit country' was evidence of just how far people in the area had moved on.

Oisín McConville shook hands with Lee Lavis, a former army officer, during a behind the scenes documentary looking at the history of Crossmaglen Rangers.

The club, that found itself in the front-line of the Troubles, lived in the shadow of British army watchtowers.

In the mid 1970s the army took part of the team's ground for a fortified base that remained in place until the last soldiers left in 2007 as part of the demilitarisation of the area.

Mr Lavis, told the footballer that he was "fearful of the club" during his time stationed in Crossmaglen.

"In my head the gaelic club was where all the local volunteers met to plan attacks on army patrols", he said.

"Gaelic equalled nationalist, equalled republican, equalled our enemy", said the former officer.

Oisín McConville spoke about how the soldiers used to puncture footballs that flew into the base from the pitch.

"As far as I was concerned you were the enemy, you were invading", Mr McConville told the former soldier.

"As a young lad the simple question (to the soldiers) was, what are you doing here?

"There was an element of fear at the time. The police and the soldiers were intimidating. So you could get involved in that, or you could do what I did and throw yourself into sport", he added.

Oisín’s mother Margaret McConville said: “Through bereavement and sad times, the GAA got people through and got them back out, it's that important.

"I don’t know what I would be doing if I hadn't the GAA and the matches. I would have nothing to look forward to", she added.

Reporter Thomas Niblock said one of he more unusual aspects of making the documentary was gaining access to what was left of the old army base.

"It's an eerie place. Painted inside the barracks is the slogan ‘Don’t worry, be happy, welcome to XMG’.

"XMG was how the military referred to Crossmaglen", he added.

 

TrueNorth: Crossmaglen Field of Dreams, will be shown on BBC1 tonight, Monday at 9pm.

 

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