q: When you came out of jail in 1963, what was the state of the
a: The IRA was in a state of reorganization. It had been in disarray
after the campaign having been defeated. The only thing that had been
achieved was that the Republican movement had struck a blow as they had done in
every generation, and so that was the only achievement, the only thing that had
q: Was it thought, at the time, that what the IRA called the arms
struggle was dead?
a: I think there was a process of rethinking within the movement, that
perhaps the arms struggle was not the way forward on its own. That an arms
struggle, on its own, was getting nowhere unless you had the political support of
the population. That is why, basically, the '56 campaign failed, because there
was no political foundation for sustaining an armed struggle.
q: But was the military campaign dead and buried forever?
a: No, it wasn't dead and buried forever, no. That was never part of
Republican philosophy that the armed element would be dead for ever.
q: It was still there?
a: It was still there. On the back burner.
q: To be brought out when necessary?
a: To be used when necessary, yes.
q: What was the significance of the 50th Anniversary of the Easter
a: It meant that the Republican movement was still alive, that the
sacrifice of 1916 had not been forgotten, that it was being commemorated 50
years later, not only by Republicans but by the state. It meant a reaffirmation
of the whole Republican ethos, the whole Republican tradition of Catholic,
Protestant in the center.
q: And Nelson's Column was blown up.
a: Well, Nelson's Column was blown up and I think, you know, that great
mystery surrounds that, as to who did it and there are many stories surrounding
that. I think the blowing up of Nelson's Column was symbolic, that I think
state agencies within the government didn't want Nelson's Column to be there
when the 1916 50th Anniversary was being celebrated. One can go no
further than that I think.
q: In 1966 at the commemoration, was there a feeling that the day
would come when the IRA would be seen on the streets again, or was the IRA
simply a thing of the past then?
a: No, I don't think it was seen then that the IRA would be on the streets
again. I think nevertheless it was always that the IRA was never thought of as
being dead and buried, it was always going to be there as long as partition
q: What was the influence of the IRA on the civil rights
a: I don't think that the IRA directly had any influence on the
civil rights campaign.
q: But it was IRA people, was it not, that did most of the
stewarding of the marches?
a: Of course, it would have been Republican people who would have done most
of the stewarding of the marches, yes.
q: And there were senior IRA people, senior Republican leaders in
leadership positions within the civil rights movement, weren't there?
a: There was of course, but never in control of the civil rights movement.
Certainly, as I say, the political tactic was to get in to get involved in all
political organizations, in so far as possible, and NICRA was an obvious
organization to be involved in.
q: But the tactic was to get involved and then use them, manipulate
them for the ends of the movement, wasn't it?
a: The strategy would have been, yes, to be a part of a
populist movement, you know, with which Republicans would have agreed, equal rights, one man, one vote and that kind of thing, certainly,
q: The unionists said that the IRA was really the hand behind civil
a: I would have to say they were wrong, because, you know, if you consider
Bernard Devlin, John Hume, O'Boyle, people like that, they would not have been
sympathetic to the arms struggle or to the militant republican ideal.
q: What were your feelings at the time of the civil rights
a: I thought for the first time in the history of the six counties that
you had people from all walks of life on the Nationalist side who were
participating in a a mass movement that was directed against the injustices of
Stormont, whereas, in the past the only people who who stood up, if you like,
to Stormont were Republicans and the Republican movement in the IRA. Now you
had people, professional people, educated people, school teachers who were
going on to the streets and protesting in a major way against Stormont
q: What was the significance of the reburial of Barnes and
a: I think the main significance was the fact that they were allowed to be
reinterred in their own country after so many years, that was the first
significance. The second significance was the speech of Jimmy Steele which
reiterated the traditional Republican attitude towards the physical movement
struggle within the Republican movement, as opposed to, as they saw it, the
leftward trend of Golding, Garland, Seamus Costell and people like that, and I
think that it was a watershed in that sense that the Jimmy Steele speech then,
at the Barnes and McCormick memorial, was a reiteration of the traditional
Republican attitude to the physical force movement.
q: You were in the crowd listening to him. Can you remember what
went through your head when you heard what he was saying?
a: That here was a man who was putting his head on the chopping block,
because obviously what he was saying was running contrary to the trend within
the Republican movement at that time. But I think Jimmy Steele was quite well
aware of that and was putting down a benchmark for the more traditional
Republicans to rally around, and I think that was the main purpose of what
he said on that occasion, and that's what went through my mind, that there was
going to be trouble following what Jimmy Steele had said.
q: Were you glad he said it?
a: I was glad, in the sense, that he was reaffirming the more traditional
Republican line. I think it was quite right for the Republican movement to get
involved in political issues on the ground and to get involved in a major way.
I think the more traditional Republicans were more apprehensive of the fact
that things were being carried on outside the country rather than internally.
Most traditional Republicans would have said, "OK let us settle the Irish
question first and then if you want to get involved in left wing politics,
socialism, communism, whatever, that's fine, go your own way. But let us get
the national question solved first and nothing else should interfere with
q: Where were you in August '69 when the Nationalist areas in
Belfast were subjected to Loyalist attack?
a: I was in Belfast at that time, living in Glengormly.
q: What do you remember about that time? What did you see?
a: I remember everyone was apprehensive and then when it came to Belfast
everything just went up in flames, literally and metaphorically. And people
like myself who had been involved in the Republican movement over the
years found ourselves being asked to get involved again in the defensive
Nationalist areas, since we were the only people who had knowledge of how to
use weapons and how to organise defenses within those areas.
q: What weapons did you have?
a: We had literally no weapons. Shotguns, hand guns, very, very few
q: Why were there no weapons?
a: Well, again, that goes back to the whole argument that existed within
the Republican movement, that the demilitarization of the IRA ...
with which the more traditional Republican disagreed, that's basically why
there were no weapons available for the defense of Nationalist areas in '69.
q: Wasn't the other reason why there were no weapons available was
that it was against the IRA ideology, because they would have been used against
Loyalist attack and that would have been a Sectarian use?
a: I think that that was another factor within it, yes. No, but one has
to balance that against the kind of doomsday situation that existed within the
North of Ireland at that time when Catholic areas believed that they were under
threat of total annihilation. So one has got to balance the defensive attitude
towards anything that might appear to be a Sectarian offensive action. I don't
think there was any intention certainly on the part of the Republican movement
to be offensively Sectarian, because the attacks were coming from the Unionist
side, not certainly from the Nationalist side. I would agree that the more left
wing people within the Republican movement then would have said, "No,
lets try and sort of put the lid on this and let it simmer, let it settle down,"
rather than get involved in a Sectarian conflict.
q: Did you help defend the area?
a: I did, yes.
q: With what?
a: Oh, shotgun, hand gun, whatever was available.
q: And how effective was it?
a: Well, it was effective in the sense that it gave people encouragement
within those areas to know that there was someone there. I also think that it,
on the Unionist side, on the special side, on the RUC side perhaps they
were not aware just of how bereft Republicans were in terms of weaponry, so
therefore it might have steered their hand to some extend.
q: Describe the scene.
a: Well, the scenes in Belfast were utter desolation. I remember walking
up the Falls Road and places, mills on fire, glass littering the road, a deadly
silence, an unearthly silence. Streets deserted, people cowering in their
homes. A total anticipation of disaster, you know.
q: How did people regard the IRA after they had failed to do what
people had expected them to do?
a: Well, it's a peculiar situation because while the Nationalist
population, by and large, did not support the IRA down the years in the
physical force tradition. They always expected that they would be there for the
defense of Nationalist areas. So when '69 came along and the areas were
under attack and there was no IRA, they turned on the Republicans, and the IRA,
'I Ran Away' syndrome became very vocal and written on walls, and, I
suppose, most IRA people felt a degree of guilt, a degree of shame even,
... and at the same time, a degree of anger that why the people had
suffered over the years without the support of the very people who are now
asking and wondering why they were not there to offer the defense. So
there were many contradictions.
q: What was your reaction to the arrival of British troops?
a: I think most people saw the arrival of British troops on the ground in
Derry and in Belfast as an indication that the British were going to do
something about the situation in Northern Ireland. That there was going to be a
change and that perhaps it was the precursor to a withdrawal, even though they
had arrived, but a withdrawal of British influence within the six counties. And
that was reaffirmed with the abolition of Stormont. People felt that
on the Nationalist side, certainly, that at last the British were going to
confront Unionism, and sort of say, "Well, this cannot continue."
I think that would be the main attitude of Republicans then.
There was also the attitude that that having seen British troops on
the ground, that if they remained and that if they became overtly
anti-Nationalist, that was going to be a resurrection of the whole Republican
ethos of the whole physical force movement, then that they were going to come
into conflict with the British Army at some stage.
q: When the troops first arrived on the streets they were
a: They were welcomed, absolutely, yes.
q: As saviors.
a: As saviors, yes.
q: By the majority of the Nationalists.
a: There's no question about that, you know. And I know that Republicans
on barricades were dealing at a senior level with British Army commanders,
majors, colonels and whatever on the ground, so there was
that kind of of communication and relationship with the British on the
ground. And the British commanders on the ground knew with whom they were
dealing, and so there was no problem, which again gave hope--hope
perhaps isn't the correct word--but sort of arose in Republicans the
concept that at last there was going to be a change in the whole attitude
from Britain, towards the national question in Ireland.
q: Did you have dialogue with British Army commanders?
a: Oh, yes. Yes.
q: Face to face dialogue?
a: Face to face dialogue, yes.
q: So the British Army was talking to the IRA?
a: They were talking to the IRA, of course. In fact, Brigadier Kitsem
requested a meeting with senior IRA people in Belfast when he was there and the
meeting was turned down by IRA people.
q: What was the message from the Brigadier?
a: The Brigadier said that he wished to meet senior people within the IRA
in the Belfast area to discuss with them the ongoing situation and how it
should be resolved.
q: Why wouldn't the IRA meet him?
a: Because they felt that Kitsem's record and his involvement in Kenya and
other places, that he was merely there to pick the brains of the people that he
would be meeting to see what way they were thinking, because he was a very
clever, devious man. And so they felt that in some ways they would be showing
their hand to him, that he would sit back and see exactly the type of people he
would be dealing with and working with and would know how to combat
them, you know. And that was the main reason, not to let your enemy know
what you were thinking, and that was the reason for not meeting
q: But the IRA could also have learnt from Brigadier Kitsem.
a: Oh, yes, of course.
q: Did you have dialogue with army officers on a regular basis?
a: We did, of course, yes. We had on one occasion a gun lecture from an
army officer in Belfast.
q: A gun lecture?
a: A gun lecture, yes, in September of 1969, where he
stripped down a ... machine gun and demonstrated how we should put it
together again ... he did that to ascertain how much we knew about the
weaponry as another question because he was an intelligence officer, so
one just wasn't quite sure as to what his motives were.
q: Weren't you a little surprised at that?
a: Surprised, yes, but the relationship had become a kind of
one-to-one relationship that we took it as a matter of course.
q: But at that time the army didn't see the IRA as the enemy and the
IRA didn't see the army as the enemy.
a: They did not, no. Exactly, yes.
q: Who was the officer, can you remember?
a: I can, but I prefer not to use his name.
q: What regiment was he?
a: I don't know.
q: Just over a week after the arrival of British troops, there was
a meeting in Belfast of senior IRA people, and you were one of them. What was
discussed? Why was that meeting held?
a: That meeting was held primarily to depose the existing leadership of
the IRA in Belfast, whom the more traditional Republicans felt had let down the
Republican movement, had let down the Nationalist community by not providing
the weaponry to defend Nationalist areas.
q: Were you planning a coup?
a: One could say it was a coup, yes.
q: And then a few weeks later a group of senior IRA people in
Belfast met Billy Macmillan, who was then the OC of Belfast. What did you say
to Mr. Macmillan?
a: Well, it was a confrontational meeting rather than a sort of meeting,
q: Confrontational, in what sense?
a: Well, confrontational in the sense that the purpose of going to
meeting Billy Macmillan was to tell him that he was no longer in charge of the
IRA in Belfast and that the leadership was no longer welcome in Belfast and
that the people taking over would be the more traditional Republicans like
Jimmy Steele, Billy Mackay, Joe Carr.
q: Did you take guns along to the meeting?
a: There were guns present at the meeting, yes.
q: So he didn't really have a lot of choice?
a: Well, I think he, himself, would have known that people were
coming and that he would have anticipated that there would be a confrontation
at some stage, and so he would have had the choice of saying yes or saying no.
A compromise was eventually arrived at and things diffused.
q: What was the atmosphere at that meeting?
a: Very tense. I think you've got to remember too, that people at that
meeting had been comrades and there were people who served time together in
prison and, in that sense, it was a difficult confrontation, but having said that
there was the kind of realistic approach from the traditional elements that
something had to be done and that those whom they perceived to be disarming the
IRA had to be put to one side.
q: Was that the beginning of the split?
a: Well, the split was there from 1963. The split was there
from the reorganization of the IRA, after the the border campaign of
'56. After that ended, the split was there. It hadn't been spelt out in any
detail, but all the elements were there within the Republican movement. The
O'connell, MacStiofan, Jimmy Steele, Mackay, Kerr, who opposed the leftward
trend, as they saw it, within the Republican movement. That was ongoing. I
suppose '69 was the catalyst for the split.
q: The issue on which the split came was ideological, the issue of
abstentionism, about taking seats or not taking seats in the Irish
a: And in Westminster, yes.
q: Why was it that issue? Why was that so important?
a: Well, I think it was important because it was an ideological issue,
which the ordinary volunteer could identify rather than go into the whole
morass of political theory and Marxist Leninism, of trying to explain all that
to the ordinary volunteer, that was a much clearer attitude to put to the
meeting that that we were splitting on the traditional line of
abstentionism, because that was traditional within the Republican
movement from 1921 onwards.
q: But was abstentionism the real reason for the split?
a: No it wasn't, no, no. As was demonstrated later because people who
were involved in the split, at that time, later accepted that
abstentionism should go. Gerry Adams, for example, and Joe Carr,
Jake O'Hagan, John Joe Magarill who would have been considered very
So, no, abstentionism was not the crux issue. It would have been the crux
issue perhaps for, let us say, Southern Republicans, who would
have taken a more civil war attitude towards this date than Northern
Republicans would have done. It was perhaps more an issue for them,
but certainly not for Northern Republicans it would not have been a major
q: You made it your business to go out and get guns, to get arms.
a: Well, it's not so much that I made it my business, other people made it
my business for me because that was considered to be essential. And
that wasn't just coming from Republican elements within the North of Ireland,
that was coming from all people across the National, the Nationalist
population, provisional people. It affected all classes within the Nationalist
population because they all felt under threat and they felt that this was a
doomsday situation and therefore that they turned, as I said, to the IRA to
provide the means of defense and they were approached by all classes
within the Nationalist community. And to go back to your question that
I made it my business, it was made our business, it was made the business of
the Republican movement to go out and procure arms, yes.
q: And how did you go about doing that?
a: Well, as you can recall, that the Irish government had made a
commitment, as we understood it, to providing arms for the defense of the
Nationalist population, and approaches had been made. And we followed up on
q: Where did you go looking for arms?
a: Well, we went initially to England and then to America, and then back
to the continent.
q: Where did you go looking for arms in England?
a: We went to London, initially.
q: To see who? Talk to who?
a: We had been advised to meet a fellow called Captain Markham-Randall,
whom we met in London, who we were told was an arms dealer and could provide
arms. As it turned out he was not an arms dealer and was not providing arms.
q: What was he?
a: Well, we believe that he was working for British security.
q: And you went to America?
a: We went to America subsequent to that, myself and John Keenan, in
December of 1969, yes. And we met several of the Irish-American Republicans
who were residing in New York at that time, in the Bronx, and we met them there
and we discussed with them the possibility of they procuring arms for us.
q: What did you tell them you needed?
a: We told them we needed any kind of arms that they could suss out for us
in their way through their own contacts in America for the defense of the
q: How were you going to pay for these arms?
a: Well, as I say, we had been told by the Irish government that money was
available for the procurement of arms, and we had told them at that meeting
that that was where the money was coming from. Surprise, surprise, some of them
were rather aghast at the notion of taking money from a free state government
to procure arms, the more traditional Republicans in New York, you know. So we
had a problem convincing them that if they couldn't provide the
money then we weren't going to be arguing or quibbling about where the money
was coming from.
q: And then you went to Europe?
a: Then we went to Europe then on Neil Blaney advice, having gone back
from America, having set up the channels of communication and the channels of
procurement in America, and came back and Neil Blaney told us that there was a
much quicker route from Europe. So we were then diverted to Europe.
q: Neil Blaney was a Cabinet Minister at the time?
a: He was a Cabinet Minister at the time, yes.
q: Although no arms came in from America at that time, were the
channels that you set up, the channels that were subsequently used to bring in
a: I don't know that either.
q: Why was the Falls curfew a turning point?
a: I think because of the severity, ferocity in which the British Army
attacked the Nationalist population within that area. They just cut
them off ... for 48 hours, they went in with weapons, they shot people, they
ransacked houses, and I think that the whole episode
really soured the Nationalist population and discouraged them and sort of made
them feel again that they were defenseless, that here the British Army was,
they were perceived to be the saviors of the situation, were now turning
against them in a most savage kind of way. And again they turned to the IRA as
as their protectors.
q: The army found lots of weapons.
a: They did, but, I mean, no one was surprised at that given the situation
that existed within the six counties then and existed within Belfast. The whole
feeling of being under seige, that attacks were going to be imminent. So no
one in the Nationalist population were surprised. Disappointed that they were
discovered and and that they were taken away from them. They would have seen
that as being a betrayal, you know, of their position.
q: Were you on the Falls at the time?
a: I was, yes.
q: What's your most vivid memory being there?
a: On the seige? ... of almost despair and anger and resentment at the
fact that the British were turning once again against the Nationalist
population. The main emotion was one of anger against the British.
q: Did you defend the area during the curfew?
a: No I didn't, because the people involved there were the people within
the curfew area. And who, incidentally, were mostly official IRA people.
q: Not provisionals?
a: Not provisionals.