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'Grandfather of Irish nationalism' in Co Derry to be remembered

Louis Smyth has been described as the "grandfather of Irish nationalism" in south Derry
Connla Young

THE life of the man described as the “grandfather of Irish nationalism” in south Derry will be the focus of a discussion about the Irish Volunteers in the area this weekend.

Loup native Louis Smyth lived most of his life in Magherafelt where he was a central figure in the emergence of nationalism in Co Derry in the late 1800's and early 20th century.

As well as a member of the Gaelic League, he taught Irish in Magherafelt and was a key figure in the land league in the area.

He was also an early supporter of the GAA in the area and helped organise a friendly football game between two of Co Derry's best known clubs, Loup and Ballinderry, as early as 1905.

Until recent years the fascinating story of Louis Smyth had largely been forgotten in his native county.

Details of his life will be discussed during the evening of reflection at which an actor representing Mr Smyth will speak to those present.

Historian Noel McKeown will also talk about the role of the Irish Volunteers in south Derry between 1913-1923.

Much of the information available about the volunteers in Co Derry was obtained from tape recordings taken from veteran republicans by Magherafelt priest Fr Louis O'Kane in the 1960s.

Mr Smyth is believed to be one of only three men from south Derry arrested in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Although aged 72, he was taken to Kilmainham Prison in Dublin before being transported to a prison in England.

While in Kilmainham he heard the British Army firing party shots that killed rising leader Sean MacDiarmada, who was a personal friend.

In May 1916 he was named in the British House of Parliament as a President of the Irish Volunteers in Magherafelt.

His role within the volunteers was highlighted in 1914 when he seconded Eoin MacNeill as president of the Irish Volunteers.

On his release from prison he later returned to south Derry where he helped organise Sinn Féin in the area.

He also spoke at the 1881 Land League convention at which Charles Stewart Parnell was present and was described by commentators at the time as a “rugged gentleman from south Derry”.

Event organiser Sean Corey said: “I think the whole country owes him a debt of gratitude.

“Everything was so strong because of him in south Derry.”

The event will take place at the Loup GAA clubrooms on Saturday, March 11 at 7.30pm.

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