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Irish Voice News
Tributes Paid to IRA’S Meehan
November 7, 2007
By Barry McCaffrey
THOUSANDS of Republicans from across Ireland turned out in Belfast on Tuesday to pay their final respects to one of the founders of modern day Irish republicanism.
IRA founder Martin Meehan died at his home in Ardoyne after suffering a suspected heart attack last weekend.
Throughout his life the veteran republican had come to personify the IRA’s “armed struggle.” The 62-year-old had come from three generations of IRA men and at one time would find himself sharing a prison cell with his own son.
However, it was Meehan’s remarkable journey from feared gunman to self-avowed peacemaker which will be his legacy in the history of modern day Irish republicanism.
In later years Meehan would recall joining the IRA in 1966, comparing it to joining the priesthood and describing it as the proudest day of his life.
In the 1940s his uncle Martin, who he was named after, was jailed for life after an IRA bomb exploded prematurely at the home of Brendan Behan’s grandmother in Coventry.
Meehan would only discover later that his own father Jimmy had also been in the house at the time but had escaped and returned to Ireland.
To many Meehan’s life came to epitomize the Republican struggle. He was photographed being arrested during the famous Civil Rights March in Derry in October 1969.
However, it was in Belfast and particularly in his native Ardoyne where Meehan became a Republican legend.
In August 1969 he was given the Last Rites after being severely beaten by the RUC during a confrontation in Ardoyne. He would go on to receive the Last Rites on two other occasions during the Troubles.
After serving a two month jail term Meehan left the IRA on his release after discovering that they were refusing to give people weapons to defend their areas.
In the IRA split of December 1970 Meehan went with the Provisionals rather than the Officials.
In February 1971 he was involved in a gun battle with the British Army which saw the death of Gunner Robert Curtis, the first soldier killed during the Troubles.
After the introduction of internment in August 1971 Meehan became the most wanted IRA man in Belfast. Meehan was eventually arrested and interned inside Crumlin Road jail.
However, within weeks he and two others escaped and held a press conference in the Republic to publicize the embarrassment to the British. Less than a month later Meehan was involved in the biggest ever gun battle between the IRA and British Army in the whole of the Troubles.
He was among eight IRA men who took on an entire platoon of the British Army in a four hour gun battle during which 4,500 rounds were fired. Because they were on the southern side of the border Meehan and his accomplices simply walked through a line of Garda (police) and escape.
The uproar in the British House of Commons the following day led to Meehan and the others being arrested by the southern authorities. When it came to trial all the IRA men were acquitted due to a lack of evidence.
In August 1972 Meehan again made Republican history when he became the first person ever charged with IRA membership. The charge had only been made law the night before his arrest. He was sentenced to three years in Long Kesh.
However, on his release he was immediately re-arrested and interned for a further year. He was the last person freed when internment was finally abolished in December 1975.
In March 1980 Meehan found himself back behind bars facing a 12 year jail term for allegedly kidnapping a police informer. However, he vehemently denied the charge and in protest went on a 66 day hunger strike, during which he was again given the Last Rites.
Meehan only ended his protest after the personal intervention of Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich. He was released in 1985.
In 1986 he was arrested while visiting his sister in the U.S. and deported back to Northern Ireland.
Within months Meehan was back in the H Blocks, this time facing a 15 year sentence for kidnapping a British soldier. In 1991 Meehan found himself in the cell next to his son Martin Og who had just been sentenced to 16 years for a gun attack on British soldiers.
Martin Og would later recall how it had been one of the first times he’d had the chance to talk to his father at length.
As the IRA’s ceasefire approached in August 1994 Meehan’s support was seen as crucial in persuading other hardliners to silence their guns.
“I was a difficult convert to the peace process. In 1994, we had discussions in the jail about it and I was an out and out militant Republican,” he said.
“It didn’t come overnight. It was a torturous route for me. Once I was through the barrier; however, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the peace process and electoral politics.”
Throughout the l990s Meehan led the campaign for the early release of Republican prisoners.
However, it was his efforts at this time to reach across the political divide which began to convince many that Meehan was perhaps turning into a peacemaker.
In October 2002 he was the first senior republican to publicly state that the IRA’s “war” was over.
“The war in my opinion has been over for a long time,” he said. “Republicans are on the road to democracy.”
He may have been one of the IRA’s most ruthless operators for 30 long years but few could deny that Martin Meehan had become a man of peace by the time he died.
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