Several thousand people attended the west Belfast funeral of leading republican socialist ‘Marty Mac’ Martin McElkerney on Wednesday. A former PoW, Mr McElkerney was closely involved in the IRSP’s peace strategy after being released from Long Kesh prison in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
On Monday evening a masked man fired two single shots, followed by a volley, into the air from an automatic rifle as the remains of Mr McElkerney were returned to his home in the Divis area of Belfast.
A guard of honour of up to 100 was also formed in the street outside his home in an impressive display of solidarity by the Republican Socialist Movement. The mark of respect for a fallen Volunteer was greeted by cheers and applause by crowds in Ross Street in the Divis area of west Belfast.
At the funeral a colour party flanked the cortège of the former leading figure in the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) as he was laid to rest, some of whom were masked. After Requiem Mass the coffin, draped in a starry plough flag with a beret and gloves on top and flanked by former INLA comrades, it made its way the three miles from Albert Street to Milltown cemetery.
The cortege stopped several times, including outside Costello House, the Falls Road headquarters of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) with whom McElkerney played a senior role right up until his death.
Among the mourners were representatives of most republican political groups. Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly, who is a brother-in-law of the deceased, attended the funeral and was joined by party colleague Carál Ní Chuilín.
The PSNI provocatively filmed the procession while a British military spotter plane circled overhead throughout the funeral. As the cortege reached Milltown a piper played music before members of the IRSP gathered for a short oration at the INLA plot.
Among those to address the crowd was Strabane republican Willie Gallagher. He criticised media coverage of his friend’s death, saying that he was surrounded by family and friends. He also called for more support for those struggling with post-traumatic disorder in a society transitioning out of conflict.
He said McElkerney had been willing to take on any task and “despite medical difficulties at that time, stepped forward and helped bring closure to the Ruddy family - ending a sad chapter for us all”. He was referring to the task of locating the remains of Seamus Ruddy, from Newry, which were found in northern France in May 2017.
In a brief statement, the IRSM paid tribute to those who attended the “final farewell” to Martin McElkerney. “‘You were the calm in the storm, a person held in high esteem by all, a person of wisdom and reason, you were a leader’. You will be forever missed. Farewell friend and comrade.”