Volunteer Desi Reynolds
Desi Reynolds was a giant of a man in many ways. He was big in stature, both physically and mentally, and could pack a punch, as many a man who annoyed him found out to their cost. Those on the receiving end included the infamous RUC cretin `Lurch', who Desi chinned at big Finbarr's funeral in Colinward Street. We also recall his boxing exploits in the Ulster Hall in 1975, when he took on all contenders left them on the canvas.
He was also a man with a big heart, who displayed a great love for the Clonard area and its people, young and old alike. In turn, his community loved and respected him in recognition of everything he had done for them over the years. The youth of the area recognised and acknowledged all he had done for them by way of his deep involvement in Gaelic sports, especially Gaelic football. He was to either play in or coach numerous sides, including the O'Neill-Crawlies, St Enda's McDermott's and the Antrim minor team. He, like many republicans, recognised the importance of promoting and organising Gaelic sports and culture as an aspect of struggle as legitimate and important as any he had engaged in throughout his life.
However, most of us will remember Desi for the big role he played in defence of his community in August 1969, Mayo St. 1970, the Falls curfew 1970 and internment week 1971. His courage and commitment were an inspiration to the many young Volunteers who were coming through `C' Company's ranks during this volatile period. Their naïvety and inexperience found a focus in big Desi and he responded by showing them the way. He was an inspirational and charismatic leader who managed to get the best out of his younger comrades, developing their confidence and military competence.
We also remember him for all the hard work he undertook to reorganise and train `C' Company in the chaotic days following the pogroms of `69, helping to transform a local defence force into an army confident and capable of engaging the enemy in an offensive mode.
All this work came at a heavy personal cost to Desi and his family, as he was forced to go on the run from enemy forces. It was during this period that he went on active service throughout the Six Counties and along the border as Óglaigh na hÉireann went on the offensive against British coercion and unionist domination.
Eventually his luck ran out and he was arrested at his father-in-law's home in Benares Street and taken to the torture compound in Palace Barracks, Hollywood. Here the infamous 1st Battalion Paras were based, the authors of Bloody Sunday. He was brutalised and tortured for 48 hours, as was the norm then.
He was then to experience imprisonment as an internee on the prison ship the Maidstone alongside other republicans from the Clonard area. Desi's inspirational and organisational talents were once more called upon as he helped develop effective structures. Conditions were cramped and insanitary and the decision was taken to mount a campaign for the closure of the Maidstone. Our means was a mass partial hunger strike in our demand for a transfer to the better conditions experienced by our comrades in the Kesh.
I can well remember going up the gangplank on the Maidstone for the first time; one of the first internees I met was big Desi and it was great to see a friendly familiar face after two days in Palace Barracks. But my joy soon turned to dismay as Desi informed me about his intention to go on hunger strike. ``Fair play to you Desi. You too, says he, as he informed me that the mass protest would involve all prisoners!
We all have our own memories of Desi, some of which we like to share but others that we may prefer to keep to ourselves.
We will cherish all our memories of the Big Lad, whether they are funny, serious or sad. We have lost a committed comrade and a good friend, who faced the prospect of certain death with the same courage and dignity that he displayed in life.
To his loving wife Rita, daughters Debbie and Bronagh, son Desmond, his grandchildren Martin and Christopher, his family circle and his many friends and comrades, we extend our heartfelt sympathy. Your loss is our loss.
So Desi, rest peacefully. Your dying wish to receive a republican send-off has been fulfilled.
Farewell comrade. Slán go fóill.