Maire Drumm remembered


The daughter of a prominent republican shot dead in her hospital bed by loyalists 40 years ago has said she wants to know who gave the order to have her killed.

Maire Drumm, who was vice president of Sinn Fein, was killed on October 28, 1976, by loyalist gunmen dressed as doctors as she recovered from eye surgery in the Mater Hospital in Belfast.

Only one person, a former security guard at the Mater Hospital called Samuel Mathers, has ever been convicted in connection with the murder.

The Police Ombudsman’s Office announced in July that it would investigate allegations of state collusion in the murder.

Mrs Drumm’s daughter, also called Maire, said he wants to know who gave the order to have her mother killed saying she believes she was “a thorn in the side of the British establishment” who wanted to “get rid of her.”

Her murder marked a new low even by the standards of the British state - a death squad shooting someone dead in a hospital bed. Posing as doctors, they walked onto the ward of the Mater Hospital and killed the revered republican figure as she lay helpless following surgery to remove cataracts.

She spent several periods in prison for offences including the content of some of her speeches. An Irish language enthusiast, she ran classes from her home and also fundraised for the opening of Casement Park in 1953.

Following the outbreak of violence across Belfast in 1969, the family home in Andersonstown became a regular welcoming place for families burnt out of houses in other parts of the city.

Her daughter said: “She wanted to make the families who had been forced out feel welcome. She invited one family in each night to get washed and watch TV. That was the kind of woman she was.”

The following year, Maire Drumm played a key role in breaking the Falls Curfew in 1970 as one of a number of women who brought prams with food and medical supplies into the area.

Two years before her killing, in 1974, Maire and her husband Jimmy participated in a historic meeting of republicans, IRA leaders and Protestant clergy in Feakle, County Clare, as part of attempts to calm tensions in the north.

“We were never brought up with any sectarianism. They both believed there was a place for unionists and loyalists within a 32 county Ireland.”

Her death left behind five children - Seamus, Sean, Margaret, Catherine and Maire - and her husband Jimmy, who died in 2001.

Maire Drumm, then a republican prisoner in Armagh women’s jail, saw her mother for the final time the day before her 21st birthday, around four weeks before her murder.

Ms Drumm recalled: “She was in hospital at the time and they let her out to come and see me in the prison.

“I remember she had a big bandage on one eye and she told me it would be a good while before she could get the other eye done.”

Having gone to bed early on the night of October 28, 1976 in preparation for the release of a cellmate the following day, Ms Drumm was asleep when she was awoken by “shouting all over the jail.”

“There was all this shouting. I woke up and thought my friend had had a bad dream. She said to me, ‘your mummy has died.’ I said: ‘no she hasn’t.’

“I was saying ‘she will be alright’. Then the screw shouted over that it had been on the news. I heard that Fr Raymond Murray (the prison chaplain) was coming up. When I heard that, I knew it was true then.”

“When Fr Murray came up they let us go down to Eileen Hickey’s cell. Eileen was the OC at the time. We prayed the Rosary together.”

She recalled: “I remember the actress Vanessa Redgrave was at her funeral. There were thousands of people there and it showed what she meant to the Irish people, not just republicans.”

Although the location of the Mater Hospital “would have been a problem” and caused concerns for family members travelling to and from visits, Ms Drumm believes that the inside of the hospital was regarded as a sanctuary.

She added: “Every day of her life was risky and she would always have thought that she was a target, but that was the first time that the sanctuary of the hospital was broken.”

Forty years on from the killing, Ms Drumm said the identity of those involved who have never been convicted is “irrelevant.”

“It is irrelevant to me who pulled the trigger. I believe the state were responsible for it. It was said that it was believed to be a joint UDA/UVF operation. I believe that. I believe that half of them that were involved were agents as well. There could well be (others involved),” she said.

Ms Drumm said she would like to know where the killers “got their orders from”.

“Where did they get their orders from? She was a thorn in the side, the way she roused people. They wanted her shut up, just like Pat Finucane. They couldn’t shut her up. It didn’t work.”

There has been no statement from the Police Ombudsman regarding the progress of its investigation.

“It doesn’t take them to tell us that there was collusion, but then as a republican family we don’t expect anything else from the state. Nobody saw them leaving the hospital. A stranger couldn’t have found their way up through the hospital to the ward.”

Maire Drumm said she still feels uncomfortable with some of the descriptions attributed to her mother.

“One tabloid described her as the ‘granny of hate’. They compared her to Madame Defarge, the Dickens character. She wasn’t this war hungry person. Armed struggle was a means to an end.

“I hate it when she is portrayed as a hard woman. She was very gently spoken but when she believed in something that was it.

“There were discussions about politics in the house but my parents never tried to force us to think the way they did. We were left to make our own decisions.”

A former election candidate for Eirigi, Ms Drumm strongly believes her mother would also have rejected “any internal settlement” of the constitutional question.

“I have thought about it carefully over the last few years. Now there are so many groups. One thing I would say is that she was steadfastly opposed to any internal settlement, of any kind, both Leinster House and Stormont. Nobody could contradict that.

“She was 57 when she died and her whole life had been spent fighting against it. Today she would be against it. She would not have voted for the Good Friday Agreement.”

Drumm’s speeches and quotations can be found on murals across the North. These include:

“The only people worthy of freedom are those who are prepared to go out and fight for it every day, and die if necessary.”

“We must take no steps backward, our steps must be onward, for if we don’t, the martyrs that died for you, for me, for this country will haunt us forever.”


Last weekend, Saoradh organised a wreath-laying and vigil at her mural in Beechmount Avenue in her memory.

“A fearless and dedicated Republican, Maire was dedicated to the removal of the illegal British presence in Ireland by any means necessary,” they said.

“This was reflected in her contribution to both military and political projects, as she sought to empower and organise communities while upholding the right of the Irish people to demonstrate legitimate resistance via the Irish Freedom Struggle.

“When alternatives to this Freedom Struggle were available - via power sharing arrangements, support for Six County police forces and passive resistance - Maire rejected them.

“When reformists, the clergy and British paid “peace” workers demonised Republicans - Maire challenged them. When the British Army raped the Falls - Maire led the women that broke through them.

“When anything was proposed or enforced by Britain, the 26 County administration or quislings that would attempt to legitimise the denial of Irish Sovereignty - Maire instead encouraged people to join the IRA to assert that right.

“For all this she was harassed, beaten, threatened and imprisoned. Maire still could not be broken, and so instead the British Government murdered her via the death squads they armed, trained and funded.

“A wife, mother, grandmother taken from her beloved family - a loss they undoubtedly felt more keenly than anyone, with the hurt and sense of loss never having left.

“But Maire Drumm was also the personification of our proud ongoing tradition of the female Volunteer Soldier, and our Struggle lost one of our finest on the 28th October 1976. She remains an inspiration to the Republican Movement as we advance towards that certain day.”

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© 2016 Irish Republican News