Oration at the funeral of Martin Meehan
Oration at the funeral of Martin Meehan

Full prepared text of the oration delivered by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams at the funeral of Martin Meehan this week.

This oration is in solidarity with Briege, and Bronagh, Kevin, Martin og, Mary and Jacqueline.

It is in solidarity with his 12 grandchildren and the wider Meehan family circle.

I also want to express our condolences and sympathy to another family, of another republican and old friend, Fra Coogan. To Marie and her clan we extend our sympathy and solidarity.

I never thought I would be standing here today speaking at the grave of Martin Meehan.

When we got the news at the Ard Chomhairle meeting last Saturday that Martin was dead, everyone who knew him was deeply shocked.

Martin Meehan has been a constant in the republican struggle the last 40 years or so.

I met him first when I was 16. I was a wee lad. He was one of the big boys.

How do you describe him?

It’s virtually impossible.

He was a very, very sincere republican. Deeply convinced about the righteousness of the republican cause.

He had a very generous disposition.

He was very proudly working class and a lifelong member of the Deep Sea Dockers Branch of the ITGWU; like his father and grandfather before him.

He was extremely proud of his family.

And of his role in republicanism.

He was also in many ways larger than life, colourful, always in trouble of one sort or another.

And not just with his enemies!

Some of you may know of the old song ‘I was there’ - that was Martin.

On the famous October 5th 1968 march in Derry in 1968 he was injured in the baton charges by the RUC, which threw this place for the first time into the media spotlight and exposed the rottenness of the orange statelet.

He was in Divis Street in 69.

And in Ardoyne in the pogroms of that time.

Martin was imprisoned for the first time, that year, for two months on a charge of riotous behaviour.

He was so badly beaten at the time of his arrest that he was given the last rites.

In all he was to receive the last rites 4 times over the next 30 years and all as a result of beatings.

On the last occasion he was badly assaulted I went to see his afterward.

Martin had been viciously beaten again and again and again by a much younger RUC officer.

Every time he was knocked down Martin got up again.

Bring a much more squeamish individual I asked him why he kept getting up. ‘I couldn’t let him beat me’, he said.

In the end the peelers had to walk away, while Martin stood bloody, but unbroken and unbowed.

Martin was in his fifties when this happened.

Imagine what he was like in his 20s!

Then he was an IRA Volunteer. If he could speak now he would tell us he is still an IRA volunteer.

He was interned towards the end of 1971 and escaped in December of that year, along with two other prisoners.

In 1972 he was sentenced to three years in Long Kesh for IRA membership, rearrested and interned on his release, and held until the end of internment.

Martin was back again in prison in 1979. And was on hunger strike for 66 days protesting his innocence.

He was released in 1985. And was back again in prison in 1988 for a 15 year sentence.

On his release Martin campaigned with Saoirse for the release of republican prisoners.

So, even from this brief sketch of Martin’s life it is obvious that his life was a hard life. Yet in my opinion he would have chosen no other.

He was also touched by personal tragedy. He and his first wife Mary lost one of their children Seamus, who died when he was six months old.

Then in October 1977 Mary died leaving Martin with a young family.

But the light came back into his life when in 1985 he married Briege and found his anam chara. They went on to have Bronagh.

Together Briege and Martin weathered many storms, and were standard bearers for Sinn Féin in more than one election.

Martin was elected as a local councillor in Antrim Council. And Briege continues to represent us on Newtownabbey Council.

These were pioneering electoral initiatives in constituencies dominated by unionism.

Martin was a resolute advocate of Sinn Féin’s peace strategy. He spoke forcefully and passionately at the special Ard Fheis earlier this year in support of our position on engaging with the police.

He was election agent for Mitchell McLaughlin when Sinn Féin won a historic victory in South Antrim a few months later. Martin only narrowly missed winning that seat in a previous election. When we asked him to stand aside in favour of Mitchell he did so with great generosity.

Both he and Briege were stalwarts of our struggle. Jus t days before Martin died I had occasion to phone Briege. She had just been told by the PSNI that she was under death threat. In the week before he died Martin was told of threats from those purporting to be republicans. On the night before his death he was outside his home looking for bombs after a number of bomb threats.

I certainly don’t want to raise the temperature on this issue but I think it’s a disgrace that this family should be victimised by those who have no popular support whatsoever and not even the pretence of Martin and Briege’s record of activism. Mart in was also heavily involved in writing and producing dramatic pieces.

He started this in his last stint in the blocks and then developed it into street theatre during the many protests of the 1990s.

He was also engrained in local history projects in north Belfast, and was especially concerned to raise the profile of working class struggles.

He was a driving force behind the Shared History Interpretative Project - SHIP - which was and is about maintaining grass roots trade union and community activity to tell the proud history of the deep sea dockers in Belfast port.

Many of you will know that Larkin and Connolly helped organise the Belfast dockers and that Winnifred Carney was a pivotal activist in this city.

Martin was conscious of all this history.

He was one of the prime movers behind the erection of a marble plaque in recognition of Belfast dockers who were killed at work or suffered ill health because of unsafe working conditions.

At the time of his death he was part of the preparation of a cross community event to be staged next Sunday to commemorate Belfast dockers. This will include poetry, story telling, songs and ballads about dockers and their families.

When it was a time to wage war Martin waged war.

When it was time to build peace Martin built the peace.

He was part of the Sinn Féin unionist outreach group.

He knew that our engagement with unionism must deepen and broaden in the time ahead.

This is especially true here in Belfast.

At community level, in the Councils, on voluntary and statutory bodies, in the Assembly, and in many other places, republican activists are meeting unionists everyday.

Martin Meehan knew that many of them are good people who care deeply and passionately about their community. People who want to see stability, peace and prosperity.

Listening to the news this morning and to parents from Tiger’s Bay, following the death by suicide of a young man from that area, is a stark reminder of what we need to do to ensure our young people have a decent future.

Martin Meehan cared deeply about our young people and about working class communities.

Martin, who was vilified as a terrorist, was a thinking human being who tried to find ways in which we, and unionists, can work together to overcome problems.

He was eager to persuade them that their future, their best interests, are better served in a united Ireland.

If you want one sentence to describe Martin’s politics? He was about a United Ireland. He was about a Republic. He was about the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter.

But none of what I have told you takes us to the truth of who Martin Meehan was, father, grandfather, husband, brother, comrade, friend, escapee, political prisoner, IRA freedom fighter, Sinn Féin representative, member of the Belfast National Graves Association playwright, and local historian.

He also had a great sense of humour.

He was a messer and a mixer who loved practical jokes and winding people up.

But he himself was as often as much the victim of wind ups and mixes.

He could always tell a story against himself and his humour was child like in many ways and innocent.

His friends and comrades all have their own stories to tell, and there are lots.

Like many of us Martin had two families. His republican family and his birth family.

And like many of us the lines between these clans become blurred.

In the period ahead we have a duty to stay close to Briege in these difficult times.

For me, and there is a certain irony in this, Martin Meehan is described most accurately by a phrase used by an English writer who was being interviewed about him on the radio over recent days. This man would be no supporter of the republican cause.

Martin Meehan’, he said, ‘remained true to the end’.”

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