The brutal murder of two young Gardai John Morley and Henry Beirne, at Shannon’s Cross near Loughglynn on the 7th July 1980 was one of the most shocking incidents that has happened in County Roscommon for many decades. A memorial to the two men was unveiled at Shannon’s Cross on Friday 28th July.

A book entitled Our Fallen Heroes was also launched. Here is my contribution to that book.

It may be a long time ago, but I recall the events of the week beginning the 7th July 1980 like they happened yesterday. That Monday meant that there was only six days to go to the Connacht senior football final between Roscommon and Mayo at Dr Hyde Park. Roscommon had a fantastic team at that time and were going for four in a row of provincial titles.
It was a long time before mobile phones, or Twitter or Facebook but yet it did not take long for the news to break that there has been a terrible tragedy at Shannon’s Cross after a bank raid in Ballaghaderreen earlier in the day. Not only that, but a good friend John Morley had lost his life alongside a young Garda from Mayo called Henry Byrne in that deadly shootout.
As the details unfolded, the horror of it all was revealed. Many friends of mine who were Gardai stationed in Roscommon Town attended at the scene that day and were shocked to the core. John Morley had lived close to my home house in Roscommon town when he was stationed there and although he has moved to Castlerea prior to his untimely death, he was a lovely man and a marvellous larger than life character. I didn’t know Henry Byrne personally but he was a young man with a young family and it was a terrible and profoundly shocking tragedy. The county and the country were stunned at what had happened. The fact that I knew so many of the people involved personally made it even more real.
The details of what happened on that awful day are explained in more detail elsewhere but I vividly remember that the country went into shock at the brutal deaths of the two young Gardai. I also remember the funeral cortege led by An Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, proceeding down the town of Roscommon after the removals of the two men with thousands of people lining the route.
The big question in sporting circles that week was, would the Connacht final go ahead the following Sunday? It was decided that it would, and when Roscommon arrived to play Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park there were worries in some Roscommon quarters that the loss of one of Mayo’s greatest ever players, John Morley, would push the Mayo men on to an unexpected victory.
However Roscommon burst from the blocks from the throw in and went on to play some of the best football seen from a Roscommon team in the championship in living memory. The 23,000 people at the match saw the potent Roscommon attack reveal it’s full array of talent and the home side produced an awesome display of attacking football which was probably their greatest display in that particular era.
There was only four minutes on the clock and already Roscommon had four points on the board from Mick Finneran, Eamon McManus, and John ‘Jigger” O’Connor (2). In the 12th minute Tony McManus crashed home a super goal to make it 1-5 to 0-1 and by half-time Roscommon led by 1-10 to 0-5.
The rout continued in the second half as Eamon and Tony McManus, ‘Jigger’ O’Connor and Mick Finneran ran riot in tghe Roscommon attack. Not to be out done, goalkeeper Gay Sheeran did his bit too saving a Jimmy Burke penalty with 12 minutes to go.
In view of the many heavy defeats suffered at the hands of Mayo over the years this was a superb display from Roscommon who were the undisputed kings of Connacht football at that time. To have won four Connacht titles in a row was a marvellous achievement and leading the team from midfield was the irrepressible Dermot Earley who was winning his fifth (and last) Connacht senior medal that day.
Against the backdrop of the terrible tragedy on that fateful Monday Roscommon footballers brought back the smile to the faces of the people of the county on that Sunday 13th July. It was not a great day or week for Mayo having lost two heroes but it is a week that few of us who were around at the time will ever forget. The final score was Roscommon 3-13 Mayo 0-8.
Roscommon: G Sheeran; H Keegan, P Lindsay, G Connellan; G Fitzmaurice, T Donnellan, D Murray; D Earley (0-1), S Hayden; J O’Connor (1-3), J O Gara (0-1), A Dooley; M Finneran (1-5), T McManus (1-1), E McManus (0-2.).

Note: A word of thanks to the organising committee for asking me to contribute to this project, which is an honour, and I wish both families well.