Thursday, February 2, 2012
Wee Harry was buried yesterday. Hundreds of his friends and comrades from all parts of the island and further afield came to pay their final respects to a good friend, a generous friend, a hero.
Martin McGuinness paid a wonderful tribute to Harry earlier in the day at the mass that was celebrated by Fr. Matt Wallace. Grainne Holland gave fine renditions in Irish and English.
Here’s some of what I said:
“This is St. Brigid’s day, the celtic day, the first day of spring. St. Brigid was a mighty woman and it’s very appropriate because Harry had a great grá for the women in his life, and for Irish women in struggle.
The big loss here is Kathy’s and I want to acknowledge her mother who is here as well. Harry called her granny. And other brothers and sisters of Kathy who are here also.
Harry’s immediate family; his brother Tony the Master, Seamus, John and Joe and his sister Lily.
And then Áine and Tommy and KC. And Máire and Kieran, Gabrielle and Harry óg; Ellen and Steve, Louise, Niall and Niamh with Colin, and Kieran eile with Mairead, and Aisling with the Wolf.
I knew Harry over 40 years and for those of you who were in the chapel Martin McGuinness spoke for me in all that he said; except that he said that I wasn’t a good singer and Harry actually thought I was a brilliant singer.
Harry was also Colette’s best friend.
That friendship was forged in the dark days after Kathleen Largey died. Harry was left with Áine and Máire, and Colette was there with Gearoid and the three of them were reared to a large extent together.
Everybody here has their own little story to tell about Harry. But in all the ins and outs, and ups and downs of our lives, as Martin said of his clann, and of my family’s life, our lives have been tied up with his.
A year or so after Kathleen’s death he went down to Galway. And what could a fella do. Her hair was blond and her eyes were blue; and that was it and along came five more.
Kathy must have the heart of a lioness. She didn’t know the north.
Belfast was a city under occupation at that time. Collusion was going full blast.
And even worse she had to take on Áine and Máire.
She did and she came to live among us.
And I have to say that in the last months she has been a rock, for Harry, for all of us and for her family.
She is one mighty woman.
Harry was born in 1944, which was less than 30 years after the 1916 Rising.
He was from Ballymacarrett and that stayed with him.
At the time of partition the people of that little community had been abandoned but they were such a resilient and versatile people.
The ‘master’ (his brother) taught him his trade.
He became a plumber and was active in the trade union movement.
Now this was the 60s. Belfast was a mean city.
Harry started to be influenced by members of the old communist party some of whom worked in the shipyard and was on May Day marches.
He joined the Army but always retained that sense of acute progressive social consciousness.
And the notion that all struggle is about people, particularly working people.
He also retained friends from amongst our protestant and unionist neighbours.
Through all the 30 years of conflict there would be someone in Harry’s house visiting from Sandy Row, or the lower Shankill or the Donegal Road or East Belfast.
He had a great gift for friendship.
One of the things he taught me is that friendship is greater than anything else; more important than anything else; transcends anything else. Is bigger than politics. Bigger than differences.
And he had a gift of giving that friendship to people and of connecting to people in a very quiet and unassuming way.
We were in jail together for a short time. And like many others there are lots of stories of our time behind the wire. But its too cold today to take you through those.
Harry travelled with me a wee bit in more recent times.
He bought me a big green coat when we were going to Downing Street so that we would look ok when we were meeting the Brits. He bought Martin McGuinness a big black coat.
And then when I was elected the TD for Louth he bought me this coat because he thought the other one was looking a bit threadbare.
He was generous to a fault.
He must have been the worst businessman in the world. Because he was always helping people. Very frequently when work needed to be done in the house, and I hope no one takes offences at this, he would engage recovering alcoholics, recovering gamblers and recovering republicans, with very limited skills to do plumbing and renovation and other repairs.
We went to Gaza most recently. It’s a brutal place. Worse than anything ever happened here in this city.
I can’t think of circumstances except in Cromwellian times here that people are being treated in Gaza City and the Gaza strip.
We stayed for a couple of days and we met dozens of groups and we were very well receuived.
And we had to go and meet the Prime Minister Ismail Haniy of Hamas and of course he was target for attack by the Israelis so we were taken away secretly to meet him.
And our delegraiton presented themselves. Ted Howell, Sinn Féin; Richard McAuley, Sinn Féin. And all the Palestinians looked over to Harry and he said I’m their military wing.
So, I’ll miss him a huge amount, and so will Colette, and so will Gearoid but of course as I said at the beginning the big loss is Kathy’s.
The girls - Harry had a special unique relationship with every one of these seven girls and also with the twin, and with Nicky.
It’s a sign of the man that he was able to do that.
We were walking, myself and Bill and Tangus and Brendan and Harry used togo for a walk on the Hill up here behind us and he couldn’t get a breath.
That’s how we knew he was sick.
A friend of mine who isn’t a republican but has a huge affection for Harry said he’ll get six months if he’s lucky and that’s when it hit me like a sledge hammer.
And Harry faced up to that. He could have his ups and downs. He could be a bit depressed in himself at different times but he was a star.
He was a hero.
He prepared everybody for what was coming.
And on Saturday last we had a big Uniting Ireland conference in Derry and Harry had wanted to go and of course he wasn’t well enough.
And I went up to see him before we went.
And when we were driving up I wrote this little verse:
Ar an slí go Doire
Daichead bliain i ndiaidh Domhnach na Fola
Níl Harry liom
Bhí sé ina luí i mBéal Feirste ar maidin
Ag caint faoi sean uaireanta liom
‘S é ag fanacht sa bhaile anois
Ag fanacht is ag fanacht
Agus muidinne ag dul trasna ag Kyber Pass go Dungiven
Sneachta ar na sléibhte
Agus an spéir liath le fearthainn
Is Ted ina chodladh, Tangus ciuin, is Bill ag tiomaint
Ar an slí go Doire
Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé ann nuair a thiocfaidh muid arais arís
Daichead bliain i ndiaidh Domhnach na Fola
Harry died well.
We were all with him.
And he died bravely.
He also said to me – because he could be quite caustic at times – youse will not be too long behind me.
I hope he’s wrong about that.
To Kathy and especially to the girls and the gar paistí – your Daddy was great – your Daideo was brilliant – your husband was wonderful your brother was smashing.
Ní chifidh a leitheid an arís.