By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
Whether on the streets of Belfast, or elsewhere across this country, or inside the many prisons in Ireland and England, there was great comradeship and solidarity among IRA volunteers.
This was born out of necessity; born out of a shared experience that war and conflict brings to those directly caught up in and prosecuting it.
This was particularly so in the years of the early IRA - 1970-1974 - then a guerrilla army in its awkward infancy on the crest of an emotional wave of anger stored up inside the nationalist population against the injustice of partition, unionist rule and discrimination.
These were the years when the IRA’s actions defined it as a formidable army of resistance.
They were dangerous years. The life-span of an IRA volunteer was short-lived, either by jail or the grave.
They were times without comparison created by a series of factors.
One individual, like no other, who personified the IRA of those years, was Martin Meehan, who died suddenly last Saturday morning in his Ardoyne home.
Martin Meehan was a larger than life figure who was shaped by the circumstances of his time and who in turn shaped those years through his activities in the IRA.
He was revered inside the IRA’s ranks and feared inside the ranks of the British Crown forces.
Martin Meehan was a man who knew well the streets of his beloved Ardoyne. It was there in August 1969 that he and a small group of, badly armed IRA volunteers, prevented the B Specials and loyalists from sacking the district.
This was Martin’s first of many violent encounters with the Crown forces.
He emerged from this confrontation with a legendary profile, with a reputation for direct action and an invincible aura, which remained with him all his life.
It was a classic case of ‘come the moment, come the man’. An unforeseen point in history, which the IRA had been waiting and hoping for since the ‘unfinished business’ of the war of independence in 1920.
Out of this and other defensive actions the modern IRA was born. Martin Meehan was there at its birth and it there at his end. Almost 40 years later the IRA shepherded him to his resting place.
Martin’s leadership qualities were instinctive, self-acquired, in the chaotic ‘on-the-run’ life behind the barricades.
When Martin was not living this type of life he was in prison spending some 20 years behind bars.
The prison stories are every bit as colourful as those told about his other exploits. He had a great sense of humour, a banterer, who revelled in the prison nickname, ‘The King Mixer’.
Martin Meehan’s hands-on style inspired and instilled confidence in those around him.
In times of war he was a man of war. In times of peace he was a man of peace.
He made this personal transition with the same energy and commitment that he applied to all his work for the freedom of this country. There was no one more proud than Martin when he was elected a Sinn Féin councillor in Antrim town. No task was too big or too small for him.
He had a special interest in making peace with former enemies and often met ex-members of the Crown forces and loyalists.
He was immensely proud of his maternal grandfather whose grave he visited at Messines; a young Irish soldier who died in a British uniform during the First World War.
A great source of Martin’s strength came from his wife Briege, herself a Sinn Féin councillor. Both were living with death threats from people who disgracefully claim to be republicans.
Gerry Adams at Martin’s grave used words like ‘stalwart’, ‘pioneer’, ‘sincere’, ‘generous’, ‘courteous’ to describe a daring and fearless man with an indomitable and resolute spirit.