Community mourns death of ‘proud Ardoyne man’

The news of the death of republican activist and community legend Sean Colligan has left the community of Ardoyne in shock.
The father of three passed away last Tuesday, August 3, after a long battle with cancer. His great friend, Fr John Craven of Holy Cross Parish, was at his bedside when he died.
Sean Colligan will be remembered by many for his militancy during the early days of the Troubles in Ardoyne in 1969, and his lifelong commitment to the republican movement.
He will also be remembered with great respect for his role in the revival of the Ardoyne Fleadh Cheoil.
In January, 1990, Sean along with Eddie Donnelly decided enough was enough of August nationalist riots and bonfires, arrests and mayhem. It was time to revive the Fleadh and this time to make it more inclusive than ever before.
Eddie Donnelly recalled how the task of making the Ardoyne Fleadh into the shape it retains today did not daunt Sean Colligan.
“Sean was a very enthusiastic person, and when he set his sights on something, that was it, the job would get done.
“He could move mountains. Sometimes he trod on some toes, but he didn’t care. The end justified the means, and making the festival into a huge success was a priority for him.
“It has the line-up that you see now, including street parties, sport, plays, theatre. We attempted to involve every part of the community in it and it had to be free to all ages and groups. It was important that it was accessible to everybody.”
Eddie, who lives in Dundalk with his family, is originally from Ardoyne.
During the time when they worked together to get the Fleadh organised, Eddie remembered how Sean Colligan gave, not 100 per cent, but 110 per cent.
“He gave it his all. And if he gave 110 per cent, he expected you to do the same. Sean had endless energy and he gave it whole-heartedly.”
With key players such as Brendan Bradley, Brendan McMahon, Phil McTaggart, Eddie Donnelly, Sean Colligan, Margaret Scullion, Frank McCallum and Ronnie Quinn all on board, the team began to see results of their hard work pay off and soon through Des Fagan’s connections in the music industry, the Hothouse Flowers, Dolores Keane, and Frances Black were pencilled in.
Sean’s life changed forever in August, 1969, when the Troubles began in Ardoyne in earnest and being in the IRA during that time brought its own experiences. He became a defender of the area against the brutality of the RUC and B Specials.
“1969 is going to mean a lot of different things for different people but I know that as far as I was concerned it was all about defence and that meant there was a critical need to get guns,” Sean explained in the book, Ardoyne the Untold Truth.
“I was far from alone in that. Everybody wanted to get hold of guns to defend themselves. When the split in the Republican Movement came in 1970 who was going to be able to provide the means to defend the district was my first and only priority when I had to decide who to support.
“Defending your neighbours was what it was all about in Ardoyne. This is an area with militia mentality because of its geography. Our location dictated everything. We were surrounded and we had to stand up for ourselves because there was no one else to do it. That’s Ardoyne,”
Sean Colligan was later interned in Long Kesh and after that he was on the run for several years.
After a car accident in the 1970s, which severely damaged his legs, and a subsequent battle with alcohol in the 1980s, Sean began contributing an endless channel of enthusiasm into the community.
As Phil McTaggart explained, the Fleadh was the cornerstone for many projects in Ardoyne.
“The Fleadh was a brilliant structure of how community groups could work together, and today a lot of the work he kick-started is evident. He set up a lot of groups and brought them together. The likes of the Ardoyne Focus Group, the Oldpark Playgroup Committee and the mural projects were all born out of the Fleadh.”
Phil McTaggart, a co-ordinator of the suicide prevention group Pips, said that he had lost a great friend.
“When I joined the committee of the Ardoyne Fleadh, Sean took me under his wing and explained the lie of the land to me. He taught me an awful lot and he will be sadly missed in our community.
“All he wanted was the best for this community. He was a proud Ardoyne man and his tireless efforts in this community to break down barriers will not be forgotten.”
Sean’s stone carvings in Ardoyne are a little reminder of him, according to Eddie.
“He was a self-effacing man who did not want claps on the back or credit.
“Whatever project he was involved in, had to work and that was his ethos. We used to have differences of opinion all the time, but I think that was an indication of how strongly we both felt about this community.
“Sean Colligan was a dynamic man and not afraid to speak his mind. He wasn’t a back seat passenger and was the driving force behind some other fantastic work apart from the Fleadh – the North Belfast forum and work with the AA [Alcoholics Anonymous].”
Fr Gary Donegan, who will officiate at Sean’s funeral on Friday at 10am Mass in Holy Cross, said he was a man who was highly regarded.
“My colleague, Fr John, was a great friend of Sean’s and used to visit him twice a week. They knew each other for years, and as it happened John was with him when he passed away.
“Sean’s quality of life of late wasn’t great but around Christmas time when we learned about the increase in suicides, Sean attended a public meeting that was held to discuss it. Even at that stage he still wanted to be actively involved in the community and its problems.
“Sean will be badly missed and his family have a tremendous sense of loss even though they were prepared.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time,” added Fr Donegan

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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