Republican News · Thursday 8 February 2001

[An Phoblacht]

Tom Cahill

Joe Cahill phoned me at midnight on Sunday to tell me that his youngest brother Tom was dead. I had a restless night after that. I knew Tom was very ill. When I last saw TC he was unable to communicate except with his eyes and through his daughters, who had developed a telepathic-type understanding with him during Tom's last, long illness.

It is very hard to comprehend and to contemplate his absence. I first met Tom Cahill in August 1969, a few weeks after the pogroms. I was walking down the top of the `Giant's Foot' in the Whiterock, along Beechview Park. Tom had obviously seen me passing his house and though I didn't know him he drove down in his milkman's van alongside me and offered me a lift ``to wherever you are going''.

That was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted until now. Tom was married to his lifelong sweetheart Jean and they had a family of young children. He had a succesful milk delivery business; he and Jean were buying their home and TC was well settled in his own life.

So much has happened in all the years since then and Tom has been so central to it that it is impossible to even begin to tell his story. In those early days TC did sterling work developing and organising the republican base in Ballymurphy and the Whiterock and further afield. His contemporaries of that time are now local legends. The late Liam McParland, Alex Crowe, Tommy `Todler' Toland, Jim Bryson, young Patrick Mulvenna and many, many others.

He was one of the first republicans sentenced and imprisoned after he was very seriously wounded in a gun attack by elements of the `stickies'. That was in 1970. His injuries were quite horrific but when I met him some time later in Long Kesh, where he was taken to be interned when his prison sentence was finished, he willed himself to a punishing regime of exercises, using make-shift weights and pulleys to strengthen a shattered arm and leg.

On his release from Long Kesh he was central to the development of prisoners' support networks, and to promoting self-help schemes. He was pivotal in the creation of the republican prisoners' transport department, which helped bring thousands of relatives to the prisons each week.

He and I, Daddy Coogan and Brendan Hughes were arrested together in 1973. We went on to spend an eventful period in Cage 6 until Tom's release. In between times he helped to burn down Long Kesh and it was he who oversaw the departure of escapees down into a tunnel in the escape attempt from Cage 5, during which Hugh Coney was shot dead.

My abiding memory of Tom in the aftermath of the fire and during the desolation of the Kesh was that he was the only prisoner who wore a suit throughout it all. Later, when I and a few others were moved on to Cage 11 as the internees were released, we were to meet Tom again when he returned after being arrested once more.

Tom's associates in Cage 11 included Bobby Sands and the late Cleaky Clarke. TC was probably the sensible one among all us rakers. He was a gifted craftsman and a model political prisoner, highly respected by screws and fellow prisoners.

On his release again he became heavily involved in Sinn Féin and was part of the team, including Tom Hartley, Jim Gibney, Joe Austin, Marie Moore, Mary Hughes, Sile McVeigh and Richard McAuley which led the foundation for the party's development in West Belfast. Part of this meant building a party structure but it also involved trying to improve the conditions in which party activists worked. So, the offices at 85 Falls Road and 170a Falls Road, which were rented from others, were closed and the Sevasapol Street office was bought through Tom's efforts. Republican Publications was another of his projects and the now thriving Art Shop was actively encouraged by him in those early days.

He was one of the stalwarts of the H Block campaign and of the political resurgance of Sinn Féin after the hunger strikes. One of Tom's great strengths was his discipline and his commitment to the struggle. For example, though he had reservations about the dropping of absentionism in 1986 he never wavered in his efforts, never broke ranks with comrades, and never faltered.

One of Tom's big achievements and this is not generally or widely known, though it deserves to be, is that it was TC who secured Conway Mill. Others less committed to republicanism may have considered exploiting this development for personal gain, or even as a business project or as a fundraising scheme. Tom had a different view.

It was his idea that the people should own Conway Mill and I remember well the passion with which he convinced me and others about this. That was his way. Quiet, intelligent, determined, unassuming and diligent with a steady and secure republican vision of how things should be.

Republican Belfast and Republican Ireland is indebted to Tom Cahill. Colette and I are grateful to him for over three decades of friendship and for countless acts of kindness and genorosity. There are many many more like us.

TC's greatest strength was his family. While Tom was doing all that he did Jean reared sons and daughters and in time grandchildren. Without doubt Jean and her children have to endure the greatest loss. It is they who will miss TC the most.

But the rest of us will miss him also. Go ndeanfaidh Dia trocaire ar a anam dílse.


Eamon and Ellie Carey

There was deep sense of sadness and loss felt thoughout Fermanagh and the border regions last October as news spread of the death of Eamon Carey, lifelong republican activist and champion of ` welfare. Eamon, a native of Donagh, was to the fore of republican politics for decades. He was active in the Civil Rights Campaign of the late 1960s and in the early `70s and was instrumental in the restructuring of Sinn Féin in the county. However, Eamon's greatest commitment was to be found working on behalf of republican prisoners and their families throughout the conflict years. With his identification with prisoners, he became a member of the 1980/'81 Hunger Strike Committee and played an important role in the election of Bobby Sands as MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

Eamon became treasurer of the Fermanagh Prisoners' Dependants' Association at the Group's inception in 1971, a role he was to hold until his death and which earned him the nickname ``The Bag Man' among fellow committee members.

He made it his duty throughout almost 30 years, regardless of the numbers imprisoned, to pay monthly or bimonthly visits to each family. His support was greatly welcomed by all the families, many of whom had long distances to travel to visit their loved ones.

Although arrested, interrogated and mistreated in Castlereagh, even at the age of 70, the crown forces failed to deter his commitment. Despite being well into his 80th year and in failing health and that of his wife, Ellie, he continued to visit the families of those released in July 2000 as part of the Good Friday Agreement. He tearfully said that he had lived to see all the Fermanagh prisoners released and for this, he was happy.

Eamon passed away the day after the gates of Long Kesh closed for good.

That Eamon was well known and highly regarded, among young and old was clearly evident by the massive turnout for his funeral. He was laid to rest in Donagh alongside his wife, Ellie, who sadly had passed away only six weeks earlier. The ex prisoners and their families offer their sincerest condolences to Eamon and Ellie's family. They did you proud.

Mary Heaney

It was with great sadness that republicans in South Fermanagh learned of the death of Mary Heaney. Mary, who lived most of her 89 years in the Donagh area was known throughout the locality as a very kind and religious women.

Unbeknownst to most for many years, was that she was also a dedicated republican. Mary's analysis of the conflict was first formed back at the time of partition, when as a young girl she assisted men who were hiding from the British forces.

People like Mary Heaney have been the backbone of the freedom struggle. They were the sea in which the liberation forces survived. When we achieve our goal of a united and free country, these people must not be forgotten. This quiet and gentle woman's memory will live on for generations for the vital role she played in our struggle.

Justin Brady

Republicans in Donegal and the wider republican family throughout the country and beyond were shocked and saddened by the death recently of Justin Brady of Ballybofey, County Donegal. A lifelong republican, Justin was immediately active in the latest stage of the struggle against British imperialism and his diligant work in Ireland's cause earned him a sentence for explosive `offences' in the early `70s. On his release, he rejoined the struggle with renewed vigour, and did so right up until his untimely death, despite failing health in more recent years.

Justin was a staunch supporter of the present peace strategy, and of the current leadership in their efforts to find a just and lasting settlement to the conflict. In his younger days he played hurling with distinction and represented his local Seán Mac Cumhaills club and his county on numerous occasions.

It is in the political field, however, that Justin Brady will be best remembered, and he will be sadly missed by his comrades in the republican movement in the Northwest in particular, but also by the wider republican family.

Ar Dheis Dé Go Raibh A Anam Dílis.

Margaret Joyce

News of the death of Margaret Joyce of Clifden, Galway, on 10 December 2000 occasioned widespread regret in republican circles. In her 97th year, `Maggie Mattie', as she was affectionately known by all, devoted much of her long life to the struggle for Irish freedom.

Margaret was born to a staunchly republican family, all of whom were involved in the fight for Irish independence. Her father Mattie was president of the first Sinn Féin club organised in Clifden. In 1921, on her 17th birthday, the Black and Tans forced him to his knees and with a gun to his head, ordered him to leave town. They then burned down the family home.

Margaret joined the Clifden Cumann na mBan at its inception and was involved full time during the Tan War and subsequent struggle against the Free State, providing valuable service raising funds, distributing literature, leaving messages and useful information to assist the local Flying Column.

Denied employment at home like many republicans in the aftermath of the Cicilm War she emigrated to the US in 1926, where she remained for 45 years. She settled in Providence, Rhode Island and continued to raise funds for the struggle at home and was active in several Irish organisations, where she availed of every possible opportunity to raise the issue of the injustice of British rule in Ireland.

Returning to Ireland in 1971, she saw the unfolding crisis in the Six Counties as a continuation of the freedom struggle. Always ready to do her bit, no one was turned away no matter what the inconvenience.

In her later years the annual pilgrimage to Bodenstown and renewing acquaointance with old comrades from many parts of the country was the highlight of her year.

The esteem in which she was held was shown at her funeral when republicans from all parts of ireland formed a guard of honour and bore her tricolour-draped coffin, complete with beret and gloves, to her final resting place, where Vincent Foirde of Galway Sinn Féin gave a fitting oration. Messages of sympathy were received from Gerry Adams, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and other prominent republicans.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh sí.

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