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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Seamus Costello, Joe McCann, and Myself...

Liam O Comain • 5 August 2004

Initially I must state that I am not putting myself in the same class as Joe McCann and Seamus Costello as human persons or as revolutionaries but since my membership of the Republican Movement at the age of 15 in 1955 they are two people whom I had much admiration for and to have been in their company was I believe a privilege.

Both were a great loss to the republican socialist cause and when they fell foul to the guns of the Brits and so called republicans the cause for national freedom and national self-determination plus the socialist vision of James Connolly received not a deadly blow but a blow which staggered it. Now one can understand the Brits determination to get rid of Joe but it is beyond rational thought why the blood of Seamus could stain the hands of so called republicans.

When I first met Seamus his appearance reminded me of a priest for he was clothed mainly in black clothes and he appeared very militaristic; in fact this sense of military finesse disturbed me at first and I wasn't sure what way to take him as we discussed a possible operation in the north. This discussion took place on a spring night as we quickly walked quite a number of streets in the vicinity of Gardiner Street in the Capital City. I discovered then that this man had a sharp mind and what we discussed then required equal thought and military precision but I sensed a sense of dread because of what was required of me. And truthfully I got little sleep that night as I crossed over and over the proposed operation. Even on the bus the next morning to Glencolmcille, in Co. Donegal to meet up with a comrade, the late Padraig McCarraig, the meeting with Seamus had left its mark.

The Man In Black

A clip of the heel I heard, Seamus,
Near to Gardiner Street,
Then I looked and saw you there,
And I thought you were a Priest.

In time I got to know you well
And a few op's we did do;
All for the cause of Ireland,
And no one braver than you.

Sure in the shadow of Connolly
You used the gifts you had,
All on behalf of the working class
And their state so bad.

A man of action you were, my friend,
And high principle too,
Oh why did they go and slay you cold?
For Ireland needed you!

Needless to say the op' was a success indeed Seamus led it for he was never afraid of reaching for the spade and digging with the rest of us.

At numerous national meetings in Dublin and regional meetings throughout the north and elsewhere I saw the intellect of the man in action and what he said was precise and concise and carried no baggage. In truth the then Chief of Staff whom I admired as a friend could have gone away on holidays and the Army under Seamus would have been in better health than before he left. This was in addition to being a husband and father and a member of local and County Councils as well as many committees in the Wicklow area. In truth the man's energy and commitment was legend!

As for Joe McCann whom I met after I became a full-time organizer for the Republican Movement in the west of the Ulster Province through Liam MacMillan who was OC of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. On occasions I stayed in Liam's home in Ton Street in Belfast and a few other houses including Pronias MacArt's who was a great friend of Malachy McGurran and MacMillan but who became a founder of the Provisionals in Belfast.

Joe I found as a quiet person who also had a keen mind and totally committed to the republican cause. A few conversations I had with him and I always came away feeling good about the cause for unaware of his own contribution he had the knack of assuring one that the realization of our objective was only a matter of time. In truth I sensed an innocence in Joe McCann but an innocence which seemed to be overflowing with a strength that arose from the depths of his being.

When I heard of his death it shocked me more than that of Seamus for like another friend that is the late Neal McMonagle who was murdered by the SAS in Derry I thought that Seamus would like 'Che' Guevara not see old age. Alas, the chalice of sacrifice in Joe's case was also youthful!

I can picture Joe vaguely now but the main image in my mind is when he was photographed with a rifle silhouetted I believe with a burning background scene as he defended the people of Belfast. And I am in no doubt that I would have seen him taking on leadership status in the movement in due course if he had lived.

I believe that if the Southern Government via Captain Kelly and others had not succeeded in splitting the Republican Movement and spawning the Provisional Movement in 1969/70, success with the bulk of the then agreed revolutionary policies would have occured in due course under the leadership and example of people like Seamus and Joe. In fact if the movement had remained intact then many of those who went Provisional if they had remained alongside Joe and Seamus would have ensured the full implementation of revolutionary policies without abnegating the principle of abstentionism or the calling of a ceasefire. But unfortunately the activity of Captain Kelly and other republicans, some of whom remained inactive since the '56- '62 campaign plus an obvious move to implementing certain aspects of a republican commission document by those around Cathal Goulding led to a development or state of chaos involving personality conflict and power seeking. Yes, it was a dark period for Irish republicanism!

What I believe is not known about those who eventually became dubbed the 'stickies' is that there were quite a number of us who shared reservations about the implementation of certain so called 'new revolutionary policies' but were not prepared to permit if it was in our power the break up of the movement especially when we were aware of the mandate of Captain Kelly. When the split came however there is no way because of principle, policy, and tradition coupled with the knowledge of the Captain's activities that we would join the Provisionals. That is why I remained with the 'Officials' for sometime after the split but by this time the Provisional departure had weakened any possible attempt to prevent the extreme reformist objectives of others in the 'stickies'.

Joe and Seamus also remained and did their bit to ensure that the extreme reformist and indeed anti- revolutionary policies would not be implemented but in due course when the rumblings of a ceasefire arose in the 'Officials' Joe was extremely opposed to it and was thinking of taking quite a number of IRA volunteers from the movement in an act of resignation if it was to happen. At that time Seamus kept many cards so to speak close to his breast but his final break with the 'Officials' implies that he hung in as best he could but there was a time in which he had to depart for the revolutionary movement which fired our minds and hearts in the sixties at the training camps and the educational weekends plus the extra-parliamentary agitation north and south no longer existed.

Unfortunately in attempting to build a revolutionary movement in his departure from the the 'Officials' some of the new recruits were not republican or even socialist although some conned themselves into believing that they were. In fact there were some whom I would refer to as socialist dilettantes. Persons who as time has confirmed especially within the last year were more interested in their own personal reputation than the revolutionary objective especially here in Derry.

Alas, the ghost of old 'Mister Split' had raised his ugly head. . . perhaps a split is healthy if it occurs for positive reasons but in the engineered based circumstances around 1969/1970 there was nothing positive about it. In fact like the defeat of the Provisional's military wing by the Brits the revolutionary republican initiative was stopped by the southern political establishment via the activity of Captain Kelly and others.

The presence of such unique revolutionaries as Seamus Costello and Joe McCann with others were unable to stem the tide but their memory and spirit will help to make us move on for after all we have only been stopped not beaten! For as revolutionaries we must make and not receive. . . the people requires our leadership for that lies at the essence of our definition.







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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

8 August 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

An Ireland of Equals!
Kathleen O Halloran

A Socialist in West Belfast
Anthony McIntyre

A Living Tapestry of Tongues
Sean Fleming

Paranoia is Healthy: Michael O'Connell's Right Wing Ireland?
Seaghán Ó Murchú

'The Labor of Reading'
Liam O Ruairc

Seamus Costello, Joe McCann and myself...
Liam O Comain

Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?
Cecilie Surasky

4 August 2004

Tommy Gorman, Radical Thought
Anthony McIntyre

The UnHung Hero
Dolours Price

State Republicans and Totalitarian States
Kathleen O Halloran

Informers Everywhere
Mick Hall

Now Here's A Political Platform
Fred A Wilcox

Political Theatre
Danielle Ni Dhighe

Energy Crisis in Argentina, FTAA Goes One Game Up
Víctor Ego Ducrot and Martín Waserman
translated by Toni Solo



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