Friday, March 8, 2019

Eamonn McCaughley: a courageous, thoughtful republican and comrade

Big Eamonn, Mise agus Cleaky Clarke

These are my remarks at the funeral of Eamonn McCaughley - Big Eamonn - in Twinbrook on Wednesday:

This is our families second funeral in the last few days.

Last Friday we buried my brother Liam.

Go ndéana Dia trócaire air.  Tá Claire agus Bronagh anseo inniu. Tá fáilte romhaibh.

On his way to the funeral Eamonn died suddenly from a heart attack.

I want to thank everyone who has supported us or who sent messages of support during this difficult time.

Tá muid buioch daoibhse go leir.

This is also my sister Margaret’s birthday so lá breithe shona duit Maggie. I gave PaddyA a few quid to get you a drink later on.

Tá muid anseo inniu chun ceiliúradh a dhéanamh ar saol Eamonn ceann de na fir láidir Eamonn Mór, fear, athair, seánathar, deartháir; ár gcomrádaí, ár gcara, ár dheathár, ár gceannaire.

Eamonn would be scundered at all the fuss we have been making of him.

He would be scundered but he would also be chuffed. That was his way. He was a modest shy man.

He first came into my life when he started chasing my sister Anne away back in the days when we went to ceilis in An Ard Scoil and later in the 43 Club.

Eamon was a mod. With an Elvis Presley hair style.

He was born into a staunchly republican family sixteen years earlier.

His mother Nelly and father Dan were republican activists in their own time.

Nelly was from Bombay Street.

She was a volunteer in Cumann na mBan and later its OC in Belfast

Eamonn’s father Dan was originally from Lurgan before moving to Ballymacarrett in East Belfast.

He was interned in the 1940s and again in the fifties.

Eamonn was born in Ballymacarrett in 1949.

The family moved in the 1950s to Kenard Avenue in Andytown.

Dan and Nellie McCaughley

In the mid 1960’s republicans were reorganizing.

Across the world progressive people were on the rise.

In South Africa, Cuba, across Europe and in the USA.

The demand was for rights and for freedom.

So too here in Ireland, particularly in the North where – surprise, surprise there was resistance to the modest demands of the civil rights struggle.

There was also time for fun.

Bhí craic ann. Ag ceol. Uaireannta maith.

For scorieachts. Singing sessions. Bus trips to Tyrella. Excursions to Edentubber and Bodenstown.

And all time Eamonn was courting Anne.

By now he was a regular feature in our house where he often entertained us with Elvis songs or a Roy Orbison number and his own peculiar form of jiving.

Eamonn first joined Na Fianna and then the Army.

During the pogroms of August 1969 Eamonn was in the front line helping to evacuate his Granny and others from Bombay Street, and then from other districts under attack from RUC, B Special and loyalist mobs.

In the immediate aftermath of the pogroms there was a split in the Army in December 1969 and in Sinn Féin in 1970.

And in the long lens of history this represented a significant set-back for the struggle.

For a short time Eamonn stayed with the Official IRA but he quickly shifted his support to the Provisional Army Council.

He and Anne were married on 5 April 1971.

Bhí ceathar paistí acu: Eamon agus Fionnuala, Seán agus Bronagh.

During the 1970’s Eamonn was arrested and interned twice.

His sister Briege Anne was in Armagh Women’s Prison.

Today, is for all of us who had the joy and honour to know Big Eamonn a day to remember with affection and pride a man of enormous courage.

He was a quiet thoughtful republican.

He never said a sectarian word in my presence in his life who rarely talked about his time as an Oglach.

A faithful loyal comrade who dedicated years of his life to the cause of Irish freedom and to the Irish people.

Fear croaga Eamonn – Mo Laoch. Mo Giolle mhear.

Big Eamonn loved Ireland – he loved the people of Ireland.

It was in his DNA.

He was also a loving and attentive son and brother, a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

So, on my own behalf and that of Colette.

Colette always sent Eamonn a bottle of Bacardi every Christmas and he always received it as if it was the only bottle of Bacardi in the entire world and as if he was surprised by it.

So on my own family, and on behalf of Republicans everywhere, I want to extend our heartfelt condolences to Anne, Eamonn, Fionnuala, Sean and Bronagh, to Patricia, to Gemma, and to Charlie and to the grandchildren and great grand-daughter.

Condolences also to Maire, Fionnuala, Briege Anne, and Ciaran and remembering also Big Eamonn’s brother Donal who died four years ago to the day that Eamonn passed.

You are all in our prayers and our thoughts.

My chomhbhrón also, to Eamonn’s comrades and to the former prisoners who did time with him.

He would be very proud and pleased with the geriatric Guard of Honour. All the aul timers.

My commiserations and thanks also to Eamonn’s workmates in Healy’s Undertakers and to the paramedics and doctors and nurses who minded him when he took sick last Friday.

Me and Eamonn surrounded by the RUC on the Ormeau Bridge

After I was shot in 1984 the late Tom Cahill decided that I needed a driver.

Up until then there were about a dozen people at different times who I could get lifts from.

Eamonn was always reliable when I needed transport.

So Tom asked him to drive me on a fulltime, unwaged and voluntary basis.

Eamonn agreed and together for over seventeen years we travelled the length and breadth of this island and further afield.

Eamonn was Sinn Féin’s first security team.

It was a dangerous time and a dangerous job.

As well as the constant threat of assassination there was the daily gauntlet of RUC and British Army harassment.

The arrogant viciousness of RUC officers, UDR and British Army soldiers who at every opportunity and at every checkpoint, made threats and tried to intimidate us.

Sometimes we were three or four hours on the side of the road.

The arrival of Peter Hartley into our team increased the danger and many times Eamonn and I had to protect poor wee Brits from Peter.

Our adventures and our misadventures, were numerous.

Mise agus Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness in London with Eamonn looking after us

I have limited myself today to a few examples.

The first was when Eamonn was joined by Cleaky, Chink and Moke, Big Austin, Jamesy, Bernie, Murph, JimmyM, Mousey, Chico, and Gerard and others in providing security around the Sinn Féin negotiating team.

Cleaky had just been released from prison, he was under treatment for cancer, was asked to take charge of this.

He had few resources and almost no money.

Sinn Féin which was growing in strength was under constant attack, in our homes and offices.

Our members and family members were being killed.

And many were injured.

Cleaky’s skill as a scrounger was legendary.

Working with Big Eamonn and their small security team they liberated security doors, outside lights, inter-coms, security grills, toughened glass, bullet-proof vests and anything else that could save lives.

Big Eamonn keeping an eye on things as I spoke to US National Security Adviser Tony Lake, and Nancy Soderberg as we waited on the Falls for President Clinton in 1995

On one occasion, just before the first public engagement between Sinn Féin and the Brits, Cleaky secured ear pieces and microphones for personal radios for the security team.

There was only one problem Cleaky told Eamonn, before briefing the rest of the team.

The radios didn’t work.  There were no transmitters.

But Cleaky explained to Eamonn that the appearance of having a very efficient security team could put off any would be attackers.

‘Ok’ said Eamonn.

So they pulled the rest of the team together and handed out the ear pieces and the microphones.

‘Put these down the sleeve of your coats’ Cleaky told them, and then speak into the microphone.

‘But there’s no transmitters,’ said Moke.

‘They don’t know that,’ said Eamonn.

‘But the radios aren’t working,’ said Moke.

Cleaky interrupted; ‘We’re going to have a visible presence at the meeting tomorrow. We will be a deterrent@.

So said Eamonn; ‘We have to look as if we know what we are doing. So, just let on the radios are working.’

‘Ok’ said Moke. ‘‘What’s my code name?’

‘What do you need a code name for’ said Cleaky. ‘The radios aren’t working’.

‘But we’re letting on they are. So we need code names.’

‘Ok said Eamonn. ‘Chucky number 1, Chucky number 2, Chucky number 3. Chucky number 4, Chucky number 5 …’

So, the next day when our delegation arrived at Parliament Buildings for negotiations with the British, Big Eamonn and the rest took up their positions, for all the world looking like US secret service agents talking to their sleeves.

The media and everyone else was hugely impressed.

There is old television footage of Cleaky talking into his sleeve.

But they didn’t know what he was saying.

‘Come in Chucky number 1 this is Up the Ra. Over and out mo chara’.

On another occasion, in November 1987 Eamonn was driving me and Danny Morrison back to Belfast.

We heard on the news that one of the H Block escapees Paul Kane was under siege by the Garda Special Branch in Cavan Town.

They were waiting for an extradition warrant.

Eamonn, Danny and I immediately headed for Cavan.

We picked up Paul and brought him to Brian McKeown’s home followed by the Garda Special Branch.

Then we decided to head for the border with Paul.

Now with hindsight that now seems a bit strange given that the state wanted to extradite Paul to the North.

However, our plan was that Danny Morrison would put on Paul’s coat.

Paul would put on my jacket.

And while Danny acted as a decoy and sprinted across the fields, Paul would sneak off.

That was the plan.

We clambered into the car.

Then Eamonn drove like a formula one racing driver down into Cavan Town chased by Garda cars, with lights blazing and sirens blaring.

It was like the Dukes of Hazzard.

Round and round we went before breaking for the border.

Eventually Eamonn screeched the car to a halt.

Danny the decoy jumped out.

He jumped over a hedge on the opposite side of the road and disappeared into a 15-foot deep sheough.

Paul exited left only to be wrestled to the ground by several Garda.

I lost my coat. Danny lost his shoes.

And Eamonn lost his driving licence after he and Paul were taken to Mountjoy Prison.

Paul was extradited to the North.

If he’s here today I would be really glad to get my jacket back.

My last story is a more tragic one.

After Mairead Farrell, Dan McCann and Sean Savage were executed by the SAS in Gibraltar Eamonn was part of the long journey home from Dublin airport to Belfast.

It took six and a half hours to reach the border where the RUC stopped us.

They wanted to hyjack the hearses. We wouldn’t let them.

There was standoff, during which we formed a convoy with our cars interspersed with the hearses.

Martin McGuinness was there and members of the McCann, Savage and Farrell families, along with other comrades.

Eventually we moved off again through Newry Town toward the MI.

The funeral cortege was attacked a number of times enroute.

But small groups of supporters also gathered at the crossroads to salute the Gibraltar martyrs.

And as we sped towards Belfast the RUC landrovers tried to force our cars out of the cortege.

We were surrounded on all sides by landrovers.

Inches separated Eamonn’s car from the armoured vehicles.

Eamonn drove mightily that night as he prevented the RUC from isolating the three hearses.

Eventually however we were forced off the road at Kennedy Way.

And what was the point in that exercise?

It was a futile effort by the RUC to pretend that they were in charge.

Because once they separated us from the hearses they allowed the hearses to proceed to the respective family homes.

Finally, one last story.

The roundabout beyond Sprucefield is known to us as Eamonn’s Roundabout.

One fateful night, very late as we were coming from Kerry, as we approached it I noticed that Eamonn wasn’t slowing down.

I knew we were in trouble when I heard him snoring.

‘Eamonn,’ I screamed.

And he woke up just as the car hit the roundabout and took off.

It was like an Evel Knievel stunt.

We almost cleared the roundabout and landed safely.

That was before mobile phones so my brother Dominic went off to get help.

The RUC arrived. They saw who we were and went off again.

I looked at Eamonn.

Eamonn looked at me.

 ‘Well’ he said. ‘I think I landed that very well.’

That was Eamonn.

Eamonn and Gerry Kelly and Bik McFarlane in the Hospital cell in which Bobby died.

Our family, like most families, are doing our best to live lives rooted in decency, fairness and justice.

Eamonn and my lovely thoughtful sister Anne embodies that.

In their love for each other.

Their loyalty. Their love for family and community and Ireland.

In their humanity and compassion.

Their children, Eamonn, Fionnuala, Sean, and Bronagh are a credit to them.

I want to address my concluding remarks to their children  to Anne and Eamonn’s grandchildren – to the future -; Eamonn óg, Ferghal – Ferghal has a big fight on Saturday night Eamonn will be in your corner - Áine, Conchur, the twins Caitlin and Tierna, the other twins Miceál and Deághlan, Cathal, Eimhear, Fiadh, Cormac, Sean Pearse, Oisín and their great -granddaughter Rionach.

You are Eamonn’s legacy.

When I see all you fine handsome young men and much smarter beautiful young women, I know the future is bright.

Those of you who are old enough will remember Eamonn.

He changed your nappies, cleaned your bums, wiped up after you.

He taught you to walk.

Did your homework with you.

Watched you playing sport.

He minded you when you were sick.

Scolded you when you needed scolding.

He lectured you when you messed up.

Then gave you the pocket money – when he had it – to allow you to mess up again.

And he defended you if your parents took exception to your occasional teenage misadventures.

Eamonn was quite rightly proud of you all.

Now some of the younger ones may not remember him.

Tell them about him.

Rionach is only nine months old. She won’t remember him.

So tell her and the other weans about their Daideo.

Let them know who he was.

What he and Granny Anne did for you all in your own personal lives, in that lovely subversive relationship, that good grandparents enjoy with their grandchildren.

All children need iconic figures who they can depend on.

Eamonn McCaughley was very dependable.

Tell them all of this and tell them before they were born that he fought for them and their future.

So that they will grow old in a free and united Ireland.

Tell them their Granda was in the Ra.

Tell them that he and Granny Anne were fighters for freedom.

Champions for rights.

Activists for equality.

So thank you Eamonn for your friendship; for your comradeship.

For all the adventures.

For all the miles on the road.

Thank you for minding me but especially thank you for minding my sister Anne and for leaving her so many wee McCaughley’s to mind her for you in the time ahead.

Go raibh mile maith aft Eamonn.

Slán Eamonn Mór.

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