Cleaky Clarke is a friend of mine. He is looking at me now from a framed photo on the wall above me. There's him and Todler and the Dark and Bobby Sands and Tom Cahill and me and Jimmy Gibney and Tomboy enjoying the sunshine in Cage Eleven. He had hair then. A wispy thatch of ginger which receded in the years after that. Little wonder. Cleaky did 21 years in gaols north and south. Twenty-one and a half years to be exact.
I have known him for all those years and for almost a decade more. Most of this time he got me into trouble of some kind or other. In gaol and out of gaol. Even when we were in or out at separate times. He was one of my heroes. A mixer. A raker. A winder-upper. But a hero nonetheless. In fact, when I think of it, we are surrounded by heroes and heroines.
Cleaky's love of life shines through all his exploits and difficulties. These commenced insofar as politics is involved in 1971. In October, he was arrested and sent to Crumlin Road prison. A few weeks, later he escaped.
Cleaky was not part of the original escape plan. He was asked to help, saw his opportunity and went over the wall with eight others. The Crumlin Kangaroos were born. Cleaky headed south. He described this as his long rifle phase but he remained steadfast in his commitment to the struggle. Consequently, he and 15 others, or if you believe Cleaky's lifelong friend Martin Meehan, he and his right hand man, took on the British Army at Drumgooley in South Armagh.
According to media reports, in the ensuing four-hour gun battle the British fired 20,000 rounds. The only casualty was a prize pig. Cleaky and several others were arrested later that evening. They were charged and taken to Mountjoy gaol in Dublin, from which he unsuccessfully tried to escape. This was probably very fortuitous because they were all released after several weeks.
Later that year, in October, he was arrested again in Belfast. At his trial he refused to recognise the court and told the judge that he had no right to try him for defending his country and that the day would come when their roles would be reversed. The judge promptly doubled his sentence. He then went to the Cages. There he again tried to escape along with others, including another Ardoyne legend, Larry Marley. They were captured and charged.
Several months after the long Kesh prison camp was destroyed in October 1974, 12 republicans were taken to Newry courthouse to face various escape charges. The bars in the holding cells were not up to scratch and once again Cleaky, with 11 others in tow, was off at the gallop. While the others got away, himself and big Deuce were caught before they could reach the border.
So it was back to the Cages again. Below us, the H Blocks were taking shape. Soon it was the end of political status for newly sentenced republican prisoners. Cleaky was a PRO in the Cages. He helped to organise a very effective letter writing campaign, as well as working closely with the newly formed Relatives Action Committees. Some time later and a few weeks before his release, he rushed to the aid of a comrade who was being assaulted by prison officers outside the gate of the cage. Several prisoners and screws were hurt, but it was the prisoners, including Cleaky, who were charged. When he was sentenced, the administration stripped him of his political status and moved him to the H Blocks, where he joined the blanket protest.
Cleaky was eventually released in 1984. A year later, in 1985, he was arrested on the word of a paid perjurer and was held for some months before the case collapsed.
On 19 March 1988, at the funeral of IRA Volunteer Caoimhin MacBradaigh, who had been killed three days earlier at the Gibraltar funerals by loyalist killer Michael Stone, two British soldiers drove into the funeral cortege. They were armed and those, including Cleaky, who saw them, believed them to be loyalists trying to repeat Stone's actions. Cleaky, who was Chief Steward, demonstrated enormous courage and great selflessness by tackling an armed man. The subsequent show trial against those who defended the mourners that day was a travesty, and Cleaky received another jail sentence.
While in prison he became ill and it was during this time that he was first told that he had cancer. The distress of that for him and his family was compounded by the conditions under which he received medical treatment. Eventually, he was released in December 1992. For a short time he worked in the Sinn Féin press office in Belfast. He was enormously effective, especially when challenging the frequent media misrepresentation of our point of view.
The 1980s and early 1990s also saw an increase in loyalist attacks on republicans. Cleaky was asked to take on the difficult job of providing security for republicans at risk. He went on to do so with few resources.
To tell the truth, his ability to scrounge doors, lights, inter-coms, security grills, toughened glass, bullet-proof vests and anything else that he could get his hands on, undoubtedly saved lives. It was a job he took very seriously, right up close to the end. Even from his sick bed.
None of that surprised me. It was in the nature of the man. But what did overawe me was the way he faced his death. He did so with grace and dignity and a touch of black humour. He didn't want to die, of course. His big ambition was to live in a free Ireland and his big regret about dying was for Mary Doyle and Maire and young Seamus.
I have never believed in iconising the dead. Or the living for that matter. We are all of us human. Terry was a good and decent human being. He told me that he believed that as long as your friends don't forget, you will always be remembered. The thousands at his funeral and at the wake house is testimony that there are many of us who will always remember. All those who cared for him, the hospital staff and others, have our gratitude. So too does Mary Doyle and Maire and Seamus.
Colette and I and Gearoid and Roisin will never forget Cleaky, and our Drithle, who he nursed last week a short time before he died, will hear all his stories. Terry would have enjoyed that. He got a great send off. He would have enjoyed that also.
Adams salutes Merrigan's ``unparalleled'' record
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has acknowledged the lifetime of commitment and struggle of trade unionist Matt Merrigan, who died last week. Merrigan, a former district secretary of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU) for 26 years and former ICTU president, died while attending the ATGWU's annual conference. He was 78.
Adams said: ``It was with great sadness that I learnt last week of the death of Matt Merrigan. I would like to offer my condolences and those of republicans everywhere to his daughter Olga and son Matt, and to all his friends and comrades.
``Matt's record as a trade unionist fighting for social justice, not just in the workplace but in every aspect of society, is unparalleled within the trade union movement today. Like James Connolly, Matt believed that `the currents of revolutionary thought in Ireland, the socialist and the nationalist are not antagonistic, but complementary'. In a very real way, Matt was the embodiment of the Connolly tradition, mixing his aspirations for a socially just Ireland with a ceaseless and highly effective activism.
``This is in stark contrast to the now public record of corruption, tax evasion and profiteering of many of Matt's contemporaries, who made up the political establishment that he spent his life fighting against. I think that one of the most fitting ways to pay tribute to Matt is to remember what he stood for and to continue the struggle for the type of Ireland that he was working to build.''
Phoblacht will next week carry an obituary for Matt Merrigan written by the ATGWU's Regional Secretary, Mick O'Reilly
Margaret A. Mulligan
Margaret A. Conlan Mulligan, a native of Carrickmore, County Tyrone, Ireland and a 37-year resident of La Grangeville, New York, died 18 May 2000 at home after a long illness. Margaret was an owner of Mulligan's Irish house, which she ran with her husband, John, for 20 years in Red Oaks Mill, retiring in 1989. The tavern was a focal point of Irish culture and politics in the Poughkeepsie area.
Born in 1937 to Irish parents in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, she emigrated to the United States in April 1958. She worked as a governess in New York City, where she met and married John F. Mulligan of Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, in 1963 at St Vincent Ferrer Church. Margaret was a Silver Jubilarian of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart.
Margaret was dedicated throughout her life to Ireland's struggle for self-determination and to the Civil Rights movement in Ireland. She was a long time member of Irish Northern Aid, which supports the families of Irish political prisoners. She was a founding member of the Kevin Barry Irish Republican Club. Margaret brought Irish Step Dancing to the Poughkeepsie area, providing a space for initial classes of the certified An Rince Mór School of Irish Dancing, which was held in the basement of her house. Margaret revived interest in the grave site of Samuel Nelson, a United States Irishman and newspaper editor who sought political refuge in America in the early 1800s and who is buried in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.
Margaret petitioned the Poughkeepsie Town Board and obtained a permit to hold a march in Red Oaks Mill to urgently call attention to the internment of political prisoners and the of the 1981 Hunger Strike. She was active in the campaign to free Joe Doherty, and in the publicising and demonstrations surrounding the Anti-Apartheid struggle for Freedom in South Africa. She was active in the LaGrange Democratic Party. In October 1993, Margaret was recipient of the Maude Gonne McBride Award on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Irish Civil Rights Movement. In February 1996, Margaret was an Honoree of the Mid-Hudson Irish Northern Aid, Dan McAnallen/Patsy Quinn Unit and was given an award for her contributions to the Irish community.
Margaret is survived by her beloved husband, John, her four children Mary Agnes, Margaret Ann, Theresa Marie and John Francis, also her two cherished granddaughters Erina and Sinead Fitzgerald. In addition, she leaves behind her sister, Teresa Conlon-Daly of Carrickmore County Tyrone, brothers-in-law Terence Daly, Martin Mulligan, Poughkeepsie, 8 nieces and 12 nephews and many grandchildren.