Monday, January 30, 2012

‘Wee’ Harry Thompson

Harry Thompson

Richard; wee Harry and Gerry at the separation Wall in Bethlehem

Congress member Richie Neal; Billy Tranghese and wee Harry at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in the Waterfront last September

Harry Thompson died yesterday at home surrounded by his family and friends.

I have known wee Harry for over 40 years. We were always close.

Harry was a republican activist for most of his adult life. He was a very proud son of Ballymacarrett in East Belfast. He was born in Bryson Street in 1944, the youngest of eight sons and two daughters to Elizabeth and Arthur Thompson.

At 15 he left school and went to work as an apprentice in the heating and plumbing trade. He claims that during this time he worked in every hospital in Belfast.

In 1962, as the 50’s campaign was coming to an end, Harry joined the republican struggle. He was recruited into the IRA by Liam Mulholland, who was himself a well known and long standing republican activist. Liam had been involved in the Tan War and in every subsequent campaign and was one of over a hundred republican prisoners who escaped from Dundalk prison during the civil war when its wall was breached in an explosion.

Harry was also active in the Sinn Féin. In 1964 Sinn Fein was a banned organisation. But the party stood candidates in the October Westminster general election campaign under the banner of ‘Republican’ in each of the 12 constituencies. Harry was active in east Belfast where David McConnell was the candidate. They won almost 2,000 votes to add to the just over 100,000 total taken across the north.

Despite a credible 15.9% of the vote for republican candidates the 1964 election is best remembered for Ian Paisley’s threat to take the Tricolour out of the election office window in Divis Street and for the days of rioting that followed the violent removal of the national flag by the RUC.

Harry remained active throughout the sixties. It was a turbulent time within Irish republicanism as efforts were made to learn the lessons of the failed 50s campaign and to map a new way forward.

At the end of that decade Harry briefly went to England. On his return in 1971 he was soon back in the thick of the struggle. In 1973 he was involved in establishing Green Cross which over the years did amazing work in providing financial and other support for the families of political prisoners.

In 1974 he was interned and he was held in Long Kesh until December 1975 when he was among the last of the internees to be released.

In June 1976 Harry married Kathleen Largey, who was the voice of The Flying Column, and one of the finest ballad singers of her generation.

Kathleen, a member of Cumann na mBan, sang patriotic songs and ballads that told the story of heroic resistance to the British military occupation in Ireland.

Her first husband Eamonn Largey was killed in a car accident in July 1973. He and Kathleen had two daughters. Áine was about 18 months old while Máire was six weeks.

Harry and Kathleen married shortly after she had been diagnosed with cancer. He was a devoted husband and father to the two girls and together Harry and Kathleen worked hard in support of the political prisoners. Kathleen died in February 1979.

Throughout this time Harry remained a full time activist. He was also a small businessman working in the leisure industry.

In 1980 he moved to Galway where he stayed active in the republican struggle.

Four years later he married Kathy Lydon, a Galway woman and they moved back to Belfast. Harry and Kathy have five beautiful daughters over whom Harry doted; Ellen; Louise; Mairead; Niamh and Aisling.

He and Kathy were also blessed with three grandchildren – Harry óg, Gabrielle and K.C. He is also survived by his sister Lily, brothers Seamus, Tony the Master, Joe and John.

From then until now Harry has remained an active republican. He was a trusted friend. When John Hume and I started our talks in the 1980s we used to meet regularly in Harry’s home.

He has travelled with me to the USA, to meetings in Downing Street, and three years ago he was part of a Sinn Féin delegation which visited the Middle East, including Gaza.

Harry was very well known in republican circles throughout Ireland. He was a quiet, soft spoken unassuming person but was fierce in his support and advocacy of the republican struggle, and totally dedicated to its successful conclusion.

On behalf of republicans everywhere I want to extend my deepest condolences to Kathy, Áine, Máire, Ellen; Louise; Mairead; Niamh and Aisling.
Go ndeanfaidh dia trocaire ar a n’anam dílis.

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