Bishop of Clogher and Taoiseach attend 50th Anniversary Service for life of Senator Billy Fox


The Taoiseach Simon Harris reads from Psalms at the service where Bishop Ian Ellis gave the sermon.

Christ Church, Aughnamullen, Co. Monaghan, in the Diocese of Clogher, hosted an event of major significance on Sunday afternoon, 28 April with the 50th Anniversary Commemoration Service for the life of the late Senator Billy Fox, a parishioner of the church, who was killed in 1974.

Senator Fox, aged 35, was the only member of the Oireachtas to be murdered during the Troubles.

The service at the was led by Revd Margaret Pringle and Mr. Walter Pringle, Diocesan Reader, who look after services at Aughnamullen and the preacher was the Bishop of Clogher, the Right Revd. Dr. Ian Ellis.

Bishop Ian Ellis preaching at the service in Christ Church Aughnamullen.

Among those taking part in the service was the Taoiseach, Simon Harris T.D., who read from the Psalms; Mrs Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister for Rural and Community Development and Minister for Social Protection who read the first lesson and Fr. Gerry White, deputising for Bishop Larry Duffy, who read the second lesson. The Gospel was read by Mrs Marjorie Beattie, whose home was attacked during the shooting of Senator Billy Fox on 12 March 1974.

The President of Ireland was represented by his Aide-De-Camp who was escorted to the front of the church by Peoples’ Churchwarden, Mrs Helen McMurray.

Bishop Ian Ellis, in his address, said that the world changed for many after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America in 2001.

He said all those who coped with the reality of violence and terror during the period of the Troubles, identified with those new fears and could see what it might lead to for the lives of everyone across the world. The recent war in Ukraine, and the conflict in Israel and Gaza reminded everyone that aggression and violent attacks were a real and present evil.

He went on, “Yet for many of you, gathered here today, the world changed utterly a long time ago, with the loss of someone very dear to all of you. In our thoughts today are the family, friends, and colleagues of Senator Billy Fox. Inevitably an occasion such as this will, for many of you stimulate painful memories. You have been striving bravely to cope with the rest of your lives, and you and all in the wider community have tried to move out of the shadow which these terrible events cast upon us. There is pain in memory, a cost to reflection.

“A 50th anniversary naturally cause us to reflect on those difficult days in the 1960s and 70s. When Billy Fox was killed, I was in sixth form at school in NI. I remember the news coverage of his murder and as a young person growing up like many others was bewildered by what was going on around us wondering if it would ever end. It took a very long time indeed as we suffered for several more decades, until the emergence of the peace process and the slow upward climb to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Taoiseach Simon Harris accompanied by Minister Heather Humphreys listen to Bishop Ellis's sermon.

“During that period of troubles over 3500 lost their lives. So many families destroyed, so many hopes and dreams shattered in an instant. These cross-border counties in particular witnessed a great deal of suffering. Some were members of the Garda Siochana or security forces in NI who felt they were serving to protect and defend their community. Others were ordinary civilians caught up in a terrorist attack and in the case of Senator Billy Fox singled out for being a civic representative. A person renowned for his community involvement and someone who was working to point us to lasting and peaceful political settlement.

“It is of course fitting that we hold a 50th anniversary service for someone such as Senator Billy Fox who unlike his killers and those who terrorised our community, was life-affirming and who saw it as his Christian duty to contribute positively to society with a life of service to others.

“In those dark days, clergy who served in parishes particularly in flashpoints in the cities or in rural border communities, had the terrible task of being called to homes where someone had been killed, often at dead of night. In this diocese and others there were countless funerals to be arranged, enormous emotional occasions to manage, and unimaginable grief to try to console. All happening during daily terrorist attacks and tragic deaths across the diocese.

“In my own ministry I vividly remember being called to the scene of a terrorist attack and having to deal with breaking news to family members and arranging a funeral. A sad and difficult path for so many families to tread. None of us who went through these days will ever forget such scenes.

“These were the realities of death by terrorism, memories held by thousands across the community and the impacts rippled out for years, and many still today struggle to cope with the continued aching hearts and loss of a dear loved one.

“But the loss of particularly young men amongst the dead has had another significance. All through the Great war and second world war, which saw such enormous loss and casualties, was the reality that society had lost many of the best and brightest of that generation. And in our troubles period so much loss of potential for good and talents that could have been used to build rather than destroy. Talents which Billy Fox had in abundance, taken from us, and our society became so much poorer. It was a time of great loss felt across all communities.

Minister for Rural and Community Development and Social Protection Heather Humphreys reads a lesson

“We hope and pray that the peaceful living we do enjoy, albeit at times fragile and politically precarious, can endure because we cannot afford to go backwards. As we reflect on the past, we must ensure too that as we move ahead that those who have suffered the most, are not left behind, and that the interests and futures of victims will not be overlooked.

“And we live in hope that young people of the future will not have to endure the terrors we endured but learn to live at ease in a society where all outlooks, traditions and cultures are respected, accepted and incorporated into a shared future,” he said.

He said reconciliation begins in the hearts of faithful people as they abide in the love of God by loving one another.

“We pray for the peace which is not just the absence of war but which evolves as people live civilly, being respectful of their neighbour, and making space for one another’s cultures and traditions. The Christian is called to love God and follow a godly life, putting love of God first and then love of neighbour. Loving your neighbour as yourself means living an unselfish life open to seeking the best for others and to reach a state of peaceful living. It’s a life dedicated to restoring and reconciling relationships.

“And it is an unselfish life we commemorate today, in the life of Senator Fox, a life given to sacrificial service of others, regardless of tradition or politics. A life lived at great risk of being misunderstood and seen by those of evil intent as somehow a threat to their political aspirations. Today we remember one whose courage, selflessness, and life of service was shared so freely among us yet taken at a young age and in such a shocking way.

“Going back to where I began, 9/11 may well have been a pivotal global moment but the truth is that many families on this island had their own 9/11 experience which utterly changed lives for ever - broken, traumatised, shattered. As we remember Senator Billy Fox today and thank God for his life, we pray for continued healing of fractured lives left behind, and for continuing peace. We pray too for God’s loving presence to restore us and to help us face the future in his love and not allow the past to spoil the plans he has individually and as a community. That is the direction of hopeful and peaceful living we seek on a day of reflection and memorial such as this.”

Taoiseach Simon Harris reads from Psalms.

Bishop Ellis concluded; “Jesus said; ' This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Music for the service was led by Derek Eakins and a number of harpists played as worshippers including political party representatives as well as many friends, acquaintances and family members of Senator Fox gathered for the service.

A piper from Aughnamullen Pipe Band led the Taoiseach to his seat in the church and afterwards led him and other political representatives to the grave in the churchyard where wreaths were placed.

The hymns were; “God is here! As we his people;” “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,” “Love Divine, all love excelling” and “Now thank we all our God. There were also musical contributions from the Different Keys Community Choir.

Following the service which was co-ordinated by the Churchwardens, Alice Forde and Helen McMurray along with representatives of the Latton/Bawn Community Groups and Ballybay/Clones Municipal District and Monaghan County Council, everyone was invited for refreshments in Latton GAA Club.

Fr Gerry White reads a lesson.

Mrs Marjorie Beattie reads the Gospel.

Mr Walter Pringle Diocesan Reader who led the service with Revd. Margaret Pringle.

Revd Margaret Pringle leads the service in Christ Church Aughnamullen.