How Kilkenny hurling was used in secret code in Africa

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A secret code that included the launch of rivals Kilkenny and Tipperary was used during a major aid operation amid a war in West Africa.

Concern Worldwide co-founder John O’Loughlin Kennedy revealed the existence of the code used by him and other volunteers as they tried to help those suffering from starvation caused by a civil war between the Biafran secessionists and Nigerian government forces in 1968/9.

Africa Concern, as it was known then, used Gaelic football and hurling terms to try to confuse anyone who tried to listen to his communications so they could safely discuss the moves and get information about the war and humanitarian catastrophe to the Irish public.

“In the GAA, Kilkenny and Tipperary are traditional rivals, so we’ve had them represent the warring sides,” John said.

“Kilkenny was the breakaway state of Biafra and Tipperary was the forces of the Nigerian federal government.

“Reports of war took the form of GAA matches in which those who won played up front and the losers were portrayed as playing in the back positions.”

He said that after the war ended, he was told that their calls had been monitored by Nigeria’s allies, but their unique code had never been cracked.

“They could crack the Enigma code, but they never had anyone with the basic knowledge to crack the GAA code,” he said.

John said the code was first used by the late missionaries, Father Kevin Doheny and his brother, Father Mike Doheny, who grew up in Ballinakill, County Laois, which is very close to Castlecomer in the county. from Kilkenny.

Holy Spirit Missionaries were in Biafra with refugees displaced by war and also played a key role in the formation of Concern.

“County Kilkenny and Tipperary towns represented their capitals, Enugu and Lagos and Castlecomer represented Owerri where they had both worked as missionaries,” John said.

He said the players also represented key figures like General Yakubu Gowon, who headed the Nigerian Federal Military Government and Biafran leader General Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. “That was the beginning and the code developed intuitively from there,” he added.

The Concern co-founder said while the Irish public donated what would amount to €70 million in today’s money for starving Biafrans, all telephone links and postal services were cut by a blockade which also prevented the movement of people and goods entering and leaving the region.

“Despite this, Africa Concern broke through the blockade and was part of an overnight airlift to a secret jungle airstrip carrying large quantities of aid purchased through donations from the Irish public,” he said. Explain.

They communicated with Dublin using amateur radio enthusiasts called “radio amateurs” in Biafra and the Netherlands where an operator found a way to link the shortwave signals to a telephone.

“We were then able to speak with Father Kevin Doheny, who was very knowledgeable about what was going on,” John said.

“This provided us with the latest and most accurate information on the evolution of the war and the weekly needs of the famine relief team in Biafra. We took the opportunity to keep the news of the conflict and the famine in the minds of the Irish.

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