“I didn’t expect that of you, Willie”The last words of the elderly Elizabeth Crozier after her husband had just been murdered by IRA attackers. Then, she was also murdered.
On 17 June 1922 the small hamlet of Altnaveigh, outside Newry, witnessed a barbarous attack. Planned by the 4th North Division of the IRA, under the command of Frank Aiken,
A party of 30 IRA men left Dundalk Barracks via Ravensdale Forest Camp headed north to the townland of Altnaveigh. Before daylight Protestant homes were attacked and burned, with six members of that small rural community being horribly murdered.
A supposed ‘reprisal raid’, in response to B-Special activity in Armagh, IRA men justified the targeting of Altnaveigh because all the families concerned were “Orangemen and B Specials.” In fact none were members of the security forces.
The 1st victims were Thomas Crozier shot in the chest when he answered the door, his wife Elizabeth came out. She recognised 1 of the gunmen and said “I didn’t expect this of you Willie” and was shot in the head & face.
Robert Heslip (17) was caught running out of the back door ,when the gunmen asked for his father John and Robert was taken away and shot dead.
James Lockhart (21) was shot dead in front of his mother and sisters and the house burned to the ground .
Joseph Gray (20) was dragged for his bed and shot dead a further 3 were wounded.
Ironically most of the weapons used at Altnaveigh were part of 5500 rifles and 2500 revolvers handed over to the Pro Treaty Provincial Government on the 12th April by the British Government.
Local IRA commanders were divided over such brutality, with the deputy commandant of Newry IRA left horrified and surprised that Frank Aiken would have been involved in such an act.
Frank Aiken (the butcher of Altnaveigh) went on to become a hugely successful politician in Fianna Fáil and became, Minister of Defence, Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minster of External Affairs, and Tanaiste in 1965. Dundalk Barracks was renamed Aiken Barracks , he died in 1983 and given a state funeral.
The facts about “Altnaveigh “ were kept hidden away until 2018 when official documents were released.
Patrick Casey one of the other attackers speaking in 1957 said “ nothing could justify this holocaust of these Protestants and indeed it had brought a shame to Ireland “ .
Events of a century ago, in places like Altnaveigh, Kingsmills , Le Mon , Darkley , Enniskillen , Shankill, the list goes on; have left a legacy for many within the Protestant community in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
In the immediacy, they left families hurt and bereaved. In the medium term, it resulted in many leaving Townlands which they had lived in for generations. In the long term, it bequeathed an inheritance of distrust and alienation.
This alienation was particularly the case in the south and west where many of those active in the IRA between 1919 and 1923 would go on to hold elected office in the new Irish Free State and then the Irish Republic. Some, like Frank Aiken, would even become Government Ministers.
In such circumstances, how could members of the Protestant community speak out and seek justice? It was not the first, nor sadly the last, injustice dealt to this small Protestant Community outside Newry, including repeated attacks on Altnaveigh Orange Hall. Nevertheless, they trust in God and remain resolute.
We must never forget the injustice that was and still is being inflicted on the people of Ulster by Republican Murderers in a twisted idea of a “New Ireland “.
The current trend of airbrushing and rewriting history must be challenged and the memory of “Altnaveigh “ must never be forgotten.
Today we remember those six innocent civilians who were murdered at the hands of an IRA murder gang in the Townland of Altnaveigh.