Irish Republican News · July 27, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: FUNERAL OF JOE CAHILL
FUNERAL OF JOE CAHILL

The funeral was held in West Belfast this morning of veteran republican Joe Cahill, who died last week.

Mr Cahill was buried at Milltown Cemetery in one of the largest republican funerals in Belfast since the death of Bobby Sands in 1981.

The ceremony, at St John’s Church, Falls Road, was attended by Sinn Fein`s entire leadership and thousands of Sinn Fein members and supporters from throughout Ireland.

Among those carrying Mr Cahill’s Tricolour-draped coffin on the short procession from his home to the church were Sinn Fein’s Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness. The cortege was flanked by an IRA colour party in black berets and combat uniforms.

A lone piper headed the huge procession stewarded by republicans in white shirts and black ties.

Mr Cahill, who died on Friday aged 84, was a pivotal figure in the Republican Movement in the second half of the 20th century.

He was instrumental in setting up the Provisional IRA in 1970 when the movement split. He was elected to the first army council and subsequently became the IRA commander in Belfast.

Mr Cahill was imprisoned several times for his beliefs, and is regarded as being instrumental in securing the IRA ceasefire almost exactly ten years ago.

In his funeral service homily, Father Des Wilson praised Cahill’s bravery and struggle to overcome the refusal of basic rights for many in the Six Counties.

He told a packed St John’s Church: “The history of the years in which Joe lived is like a history of horrors.

“But whatever the crisis, there were men and women like Joe and his companions who responded to the needs of those people who had not created war but too often were the victims of it.”

Father Wilson told how the former IRA chief would confront danger rather than walk away.

“But like so many of his fellow citizens, Joe was never given a city to live in which was worthy of his generosity or his courage,” the priest said.

“And he came to believe that the powerful ones of this earth had sometimes to be met with their own weapons.

“For that he faced and suffered imprisonment, and faced and suffered even the sentence of death.”

Despite his violent background, which saw Cahill jailed for his part in shooting dead a police officer and later for gun-running, mourners heard how he switched to championing the peace process.

Father Wilson added: “Joe had to make moral choices in his life, very difficult moral choices which cost him dearly. “The last years of his life were spent helping to open the way towards a peace and stability such as we have never enjoyed before.”

One anecdote recalled during the service involved Cahill joining a delegation from the republican movement who met Methodist Church representatives in a bid to ease tension.

Father Wilson, who helped set up the talks, said: “We were glad to do it and when the meeting took place Joe was there, but he insisted that, as a man of action, rather than words, he would say little. But what he said was wise and generous.”

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams gave the oration at the grave. In his speech, he paid particular tribute to Mr Cahill’s widow Annie, and the Cahill family,

Recalling Mr Cahill’s life in struggle, Mr Adams said that despite his worsening asbestosis, contracted while a shipyward worker in Belfast, he was still fully attuned to recent setbacks.

“Joe knew that for a peace process to succeed it must be nurtured particularly by those in positions of power. He was not surprised at the explosion of nationalist anger in Ardoyne in recent weeks.

“He told me to tell Tony Blair, and I did, that the British government is failing the peace process. Joe’s generation were beaten off the streets of this city for decades by the combined might of the corporate state. In his younger days even Easter commemorations were outlawed. Any dissent from the status quo was banned.

Let those in power note that we are not ever going back to the old days of second class citizens.

Uncle Joe knew those days were over because we were off our knees and he was proud to have played a part in creating today’s confident, magnanimous and assertive nationalism.

The Irish and British governments should take note of what Joe Cahill said. If an 84 year old veteran activist, with a knowledge of all the difficulties of struggle, if someone who’s been through it all, believes that a British government is failing the peace process then what must an 18 or 19 year old think?”

The following is the text of Mr Adams’s oration at the funeral today:

Ta muid le cheile ag uaigh Joe Cahill. Le cheile mar chlann mor ag faire amach da cheile. Mar chairde inar gcroithe, inar n-anamacha, inar bhfiseanna. Le cheile le Annie agus paisti Joe agus Annie. Le cheile leis an phobal is i measc an phobail. Is ocaid mor an torramh seo, ocaid mor inar saol agus i saol ar stracailt. Ba mhaith liom buiochas a thabairt d’achan duine anseo.

Is bfeidir liom a ra gan amhras go mbeadh uncail Joe sasta scaifte mor mar seo a fheiceail.

Everybody here and most certainly the people who know Joe Cahill will have a story to tell. Joe was a multi-dimensional person. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather, a brother, an uncle, a comrade, and a friend. He was also a story teller and he would delight in all the stories that were told in the wake house and in homes across this island and the USA and in the corridors of the British establishment, as news of his death spread.

Joe lived a long life and it’s quite impossible to sum that life up in a few words.

I don’t believe in eulogising the dead but I do believe in celebrating life and particularly a life well lived - a life spent in struggle and in activism.

Of all of us who shared that life, one person deserves our heartfelt thanks. That person is a wonderful woman, and a republican in her own right, Annie Cahill.

I have a great gra and admiration for Annie.

On your behalf I want to thank her and her wonderful family. I also want to thank the extended Cahill clann. All the in-laws and outlaws, the older people and the young ones, all the grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

I first saw Joe Cahill when I was about 14 or 15 going into the Ard Scoil in Divis Street. Some of you knew him for much longer than that. I am thinking here of Madge McConville, Willie John McCorry, Maggie Adams, and Bridget Hannon.

Joe had the great capacity to work with his contemporaries while relating to much younger people. So when I said that people will have stories to tell it could be prison stories stretching over the decades, from his time in the death cell with Tom Williams, to Mountjoy and Portlaoise, or New York. It could be stories by his comrades in the IRA, their exploits and difficulties, their trials and tribulations. It could be stories of travels through Irish America. Or of Sinn Fein gatherings all over Ireland. Quite uniquely there will also be stories about Joe Cahill told by Albert Reynolds, by Tony Blair, by Bill Clinton, and by Col. Ghaddafi.

I’m very mindful of the fact that in the 1970s when Joe went back to full time Republican work he was already in his 50’s. At a time when most people would be thinking of retirement he was back into a rollercoaster of activism and the difficulties of separation from his family.

He is one, almost the last of that group of people, his contemporaries who came forward into the bhearna bhaoil in 1969. People like Jimmy Steel, JB O’Hagan, John Joe McGirl, MacAirt, Bridie Dolan, Seamus Twomey, Jimmy and Maire Drumm, Billy McKee, Mary McGuigan, Daithi O Connall, Sean Keenan, Sean MacStiofain, Ruairi O’Bradaigh, John O’Rawe, and many, many others.

Joe hated being exiled. He was looked after by good people. But even with dear friends, such as Bob and Bridie Smith, Joe told me that on Sundays he would drive into the Wicklow Mountains and think of Annie, his son Tom and the girls. At times, he told me, he cried to be with them.

He had a great wicked sense of humour and a caustic wit. He was also withering when it came to dealing with people who he thought were failing to do their best.

When Joe became active in Sinn Fein he was one of the party’s treasurers. He was scrupulous and extremely stingy with party funds. In fact his stinginess was legendary. But his logic was impeccable. If he managed to spend a lifetime in struggle without spending a proverbial penny of republican money, he expected everyone else to spend even less.

Joe was a physical force republican. He made no apologies for that. But like all sensible people who resort to armed struggle because they feel there is no alternative he was prepared to defend, support and promote other options when these were available. Without doubt there would not be a peace process today without Joe Cahill. And he had no illusions about the business of building peace. Peace requires justice because peace is more than the absence of conflict.

Joe understood the necessity of building political strength and while political strength requires more than electoralism, Joe spent the recent election count glued to the TV set in his sick room and he rejoiced and marvelled at Sinn Fein’s successes right across this island. For him the cream on the cake of the growth of our party north and south was Mary Lou and Bairbre’s election.

His big fear was that the governments would not respect the people’s mandate. His concern was that the establishment, both Irish and British, would deny and not uphold citizen’s rights and entitlements.

Joe knew that for a peace process to succeed it must be nurtured particularly by those in positions of power. He was not surprised at the explosion of nationalist anger in Ardoyne in recent weeks.

He told me to tell Tony Blair, and I did, that the British government is failing the peace process. Joe’s generation were beaten off the streets of this city for decades by the combined might of the corporate state. In his younger days even Easter commemorations were outlawed. Any dissent from the status quo was banned.

Let those in power note that we are not ever going back to the old days of second class citizens.

Uncle Joe knew those days were over because we were off our knees and he was proud to have played a part in creating today’s confident, magnanimous and assertive nationalism.

The Irish and British governments should take note of what Joe Cahill said. If an 84 year old veteran activist, with a knowledge of all the difficulties of struggle, if someone who’s been through it all, believes that a British government is failing the peace process then what must an 18 or 19 year old think?

At this time in the process it is the securocrats on the British side and their allies who are calling the shots and it is obvious that their agenda is about placating the most sectarian elements within unionism. The rights of citizens to live free from sectarianism, as proclaimed in the Good Friday Agreement, is secondary to the demands of a sectarian mob, because that mobs instincts are the same as the securocrats. They are against change. Joe watched recent events in Ardoyne and was not surprised. Neither should any of us be surprised.

Tony Blair has said if the process isn’t going forward it will go backwards. We have told him in recent times that elements within his own system, particularly within the NIO, are doing their best to subvert progress and to encourage the backward slide.

As September approaches, and negotiations go into a new mode, the British government has a clear cut choice. Either it stands with the Good Friday Agreement, and builds a bridge toward democracy and equality, or it sides with the forces of reaction as successive British government’s did for decades.

There’s lots more could be said on this issue but today is a day for celebrating the life of our friend. In reflecting on what I was going to say today I thought back on the last occasion that Joe and I and Annie and Martin McGuinness shared a public platform.

At that event in Dublin Joe made a wonderful speech. I will finish by letting him speak for himself. I know that notion would amuse him. I have talked for long enough at his graveside. This is in part what he told us that evening. He said:

“I have had a long life and a good life. I have had a lucky life and I have had a life that many people have helped me in. And if I started to thank everybody that it was necessary to thank throughout my life we would be here to morning and you don’t want that. You want to get on with a bit of craic.

We all have dreams and we all have desires. A few weeks ago I was being released from the Royal Victoria Hospital. As I was waiting to go down in the lift to the ground floor I happened to look out through the window and I saw the best sight ever of the Cave Hill.

I remember looking at the Cave Hill and I remember thinking that is where it all started. I thought of Tone and his comrades and what they said and what they planned to do. What struck me most was that they wanted to change the name of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter to Irish people. That started me thinking and then I thought of the people who came after them. Emmet and what he tried to do and the message that he left us.

My mind wandered on through the years to the Fenians and one man stuck out in my mind, not a Fenian, but a man called Francis Meagher who brought the flag that we all love, our Tricolour. He said, ‘I have brought this flag from the barricades of France and I am presenting it to the Irish nation. Green represents the Catholic, the Orange the Protestant and the white the truce between them’. I hope that one day the hand of Protestant and Catholic will be united and respect that flag.

Then I thought of the Fenians and I thought of the likes of old Tom Clarke and what he had gone through in prison. I remembered that he was the first signatory to the 1916 Proclamation, which says it all as far as we are concerned. Then I thought of the 30s, 40s and what we went through at that time. The struggle we put up then and what we were up against. Right throu gh into the 70s.

People have often asked me ‘what keeps you going’. I think of Bobby Sands and Bobby said ‘it is that thing inside me that tells me I’m right’. That’s what drives me on. I know we are right.

I think also what Bobby said about revenge. There is no revenge on his part. He said that the true revenge would be the laughter of our children. I think of Tom Williams and the last days that I spent with him in the condemned cell. I think of that letter that he wrote out to his comrades, to the then Chief of Staff, Hugh McAteer. He said the road to freedom would be hard and that many a hurdle on that road would be very difficult. It has been a hard struggle but he said ‘carry on my comrades until that certain day’. And that day that he talked about was the dawn of freedom.

Just one other remark I would like to make about Tom. It was his desire, as we all talked together when we were under the sentence of death, that one day our bodies would be taken out of Crumlin Road and laid to rest in Milltown. The reason I mention this at all is this is what determination does. This is what consistency and work does. I personally thought that I would never see Tom’s remains coming out until we got rid of the British but people worked hard at that. People worked very, very hard and we got Tom’s remains out. So with hard work it shows what you can do.

I don’t want to keep you much longer but I too have a dream. In 2005 we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Sinn Fein. I am not saying we are going to get our freedom by then but certainly we can pave the way by then. We can work hard. And hard work brings results.

I have been very; very lucky in the women I have met in my life. I owe a terrible lot to Annie. Never once, never once did she say don’t, stop I don’t want any more. She always encouraged me.

Somebody mentioned earlier on did I regret anything. I said no I didn’t except for one thing. My family. That was tough. I often thought of Annie struggling with Tom, my son, the oldest of the family, and my six girls Maria, Stephanie, Nuala, Patricia, Aine, and the baby of the family, Deirdre. They are a credit to her, they have been a support to me and I thank God for people like my mother and Annie.

I will just finish off by saying there are so many people to be thanked for giving me help throughout my life. No matter where I was, if I was in America, in Europe, if I was down the South I always met great people who give me support. I am asking for that continued support not for me but for Sinn Fein, for the republican movement which is going to bring about the dreams of Ireland, the dreams of the United Irishmen, the dreams of Emmet, of the Fenians, of the men of 16. The dreams of those who have died through the 30s, the 40s and right into the present day and I am asking you to continue your support. Whatever little you have done in the past do that wee bit more and we will have our freedom.”

Sin na focail Joe Cahill bigi ag eisteacht leis deanaigi bhur ndicheall. Comrades, we have lost a great republican and a true friend but his inspiration, his life, his vision of a new Ireland, a free Ireland outlives him.

A lot has changed in Joe Cahill’s lifetime, not least because of his contribution.

So let us go from here today recommitted in our resolve to continue our struggle and to carry on until that certain day.

© 2004 Irish Republican News