He believed that the ‘blood sacrifice’ of a few would regenerate the national consciousness and lead, by force of Irish arms, to the eventual withdrawal of Britain from Ireland.
MacSwiney took his place in history not just because of his sacrifice but because of his portentous words. ‘It is not those who can inflict the most,’ he warned, ‘but those who can suffer the most who will conquer.’
Eight months earlier, Lloyd George had likened the prospect of meeting Collins to that of meeting a murderer and had described the IRA as ‘a small body of assassins, a real murder gang, dominating the country and terrorizing it’. Now he described its commander as ‘one of the most courageous leaders ever produced by a valiant race’.
An armed struggle on its own was getting nowhere unless you had the political support of the population.
weeks. There were twenty-seven of us at the beginning. The recruiting officer was very resolute and he put the fear of God into you. He told you that if you’re joining the IRA, it was a total and absolute commitment. It required sacrifice and it required dedication and it required honour above all. He told us everything that was bad about joining: imprisonment, death, very little money in your pocket, very few friends; it was going to be a hard slog, and a long hard road ahead of us. So gradually people st
It’s a situation somewhat analogous to Israel’s West Bank. We’re part of a state which we never wanted to be part of.
The ultimate aim of the Irish nation will never emerge from the political or constitutional platform. Indeed one is now expected to be more conversant with the teaching of Chairman Mao than those of our dead patriots.
You’re all asking me to get the army in?’ And they all said yes. So I picked up the phone and rang him. I said, ‘I’m pleading with you, Jim. Send in the army.’ And I’ll never forget his reply. ‘Gerry,’ he says, ‘I can get the army in but it’s going to be a devil of a job to get it out.’
Seeing British soldiers on the street, I got this sense that there’s someone there now to protect us, to defend us against these incursions into our area.
he had never fully embraced Goulding’s policy of taking the IRA ‘into the never-never land of theoretical Marxism and parliamentary politics’.
We realized that the Dublin crowd and the Dublin leadership were nothing other than con-men. They were only using the North as a base, a springboard to help them in their left-wing political field.
Although republicans could stand in elections to the parliaments at Westminster, Stormont and Dublin, no successful candidate ever took his or her seat since to do so would be to recognize the legitimacy of these institutions. The IRA’s whole existence and self-styled legitimacy rested on its refusal to recognize these parliaments which, to republicans, had no moral or legal authority.
But the people who defended the street stood their ground. The following morning there was just sheer elation and relief that the IRA were there to deal with that situation.
The army had done exactly as the Unionists’ Security Committee had demanded four days earlier – it had got tough. The result was summed up by Gerry Adams. ‘Thousands of people who had never been republicans now gave their active support to the IRA; others, who had never had any time for physical force now accepted it as a practical necessity.’
They are terrorists and that’s the end of the story. No rank, no glamour. They are terrorists. What did we do in Kenya? We didn’t call them Colonels or Majors or Brigadiers. We called them terrorists and they were hung. Same thing in Palestine. Terrorists there were caught and they were executed. No glory. Nobody cries over a dead body too long. A couple of days and they forget all about it.
If any young men had previously held back because they felt morally uncomfortable about killing, ‘Bloody Sunday’ removed any lingering restraint.
Every day they passed the office as they passed by in a black taxi [the ‘People’s Taxis’ that provided cheap transport] up and down the Falls Road and people would say, ‘there’s the Sinn Fein office’. The incident centres gave the party a physical presence.
Scant progress was being made. The British were offering the release of more prisoners but this did not ‘begin to meet the minimum of requirements’.
But the Provisionals were not interested in public relations. They wanted to talk about the declaration of intent which, to them, was the whole point of the truce. Allan and ‘HM’ said the Government could not now give this for three reasons: the Convention ‘must be given a chance publicly’; the Government was waiting for ‘a consensus of opinion to emerge in Britain’; and there was the danger of ‘a Congo-type situation resulting’.
How they fight is a matter of tactics and conditions, but fight they must. There can be no question of that. The enemy allows us no choice. It is an armed struggle because the enemy is armed. Because he establishes and protects his vested interests by force of arms. The cabinet ministers, the politicians, the warlords, the business interests, the profit makers – the Establishment – have all agreed on their objects and the course they will follow. They are armed mercenaries. We must be armed revolutionaries. We must be Active Republicans.
The warning, it said, ‘proved totally inadequate given the disastrous consequences. We accept condemnation and criticism from only two sources: from the relatives and friends of those who were accidentally killed, and from our supporters who have rightly and severely criticized us.’
If you could, you saved a bit of margarine or butter from your breakfast that morning and took it with you when you were brought out of the cell. They took you up to a small room at the top of the wing and all the uniforms were lined up there. As soon as you got the trousers on, you ripped the bottom off them to expose your back-end. Before you went out to the visit, you rubbed a bit of the margarine or butter on your rear-end. So when you got the parcel on the visit, you had to get your hand in between your legs and pass the thing up your rear-end. That’s how most things came in. Radios came in that way. Everything came in that way. It took a wee bit of skill and sleight of hand to do it. And you had to be quick.
The hatred prison officers and prisoners felt for each other was mutual and lasting. Nothing brought it home to me more forcefully than a production of Bobby Sands’ epic ‘The Crime of Castlereagh’ which I watched in a parochial hall in West Belfast. It was staged by former prisoners and prisoners out on parole or home leave. One scene depicted a prisoner being turned upside down whilst a prison officer with rubber gloves gloatingly searched his anus. As the officer was walking off stage, a shot rang out and he fell down dead. It was a dramatic piece of theatre. The packed audience, among whom were many of the Republican Movement’s most prominent figures, including members of the leadership, broke out in spontaneous applause and cheering. It was a chilling moment.
Furthermore, by the mid-eighties, the intelligence on which such interceptions and ambushes were mounted was far more precise, with sophisticated electronic surveillance supplementing the information supplied by agents and informers within the IRA’s ranks.
Such operations were, on the whole, difficult to carry out in urban areas like Belfast and Derry because of the risk to civilians and extremely difficult in South Armagh where the locals knew every suspicious-looking hedge, barn and ditch. Under the right circumstances rural areas like Tyrone offered a perfect killing field.
The IRA took hostage the family of Patsy Gillespie, strapped him into a car loaded with a thousand pounds of explosives and told him to drive to the checkpoint. The IRA told his family he would be released when he had carried out their orders. Patsy Gillespie became a ‘human bomb’ and when he arrived at the checkpoint the IRA detonated the explosives by remote control, killing him and five soldiers.
Because I totally distrust the British Government. I’ve had too many experiences in the past to be so naive as to trust the British Government.
The final solution is union. It is going to happen anyway. The historical train – Europe – determines that. We are committed to Europe. Unionists will have to change. This island will be as one.