Irish Republican Martin Meehan has died suddenly, Meehan joined Óglaigh Na hÉireann [IRA] in 1966, before the ‘troubles’ erupted and is quoted as saying that for people like him, to be sworn into Óglaigh Na hÉireann was like a US citizen taking the oath as they entered West Point. Many people I’m sure after decades of British propaganda about IRA godfathers will find this hard to believe, but within the Belfast nationalist working class areas of the 1960-70-80s Meehan would be far from alone in holding this point of view.
During the August 69 loyalist pogroms in Belfast, Meehan was one of a handful of volunteers who joined with former IRA men like Billy McKee in an attempt to defend exposed Catholic enclaves which were under attack by Loyalist gunmen. When the split within the IRA came, Meehan joined up with the faction which formed the Provisionals, which included McKee who is said to have convinced him to join the new organization.
Meehan became commander of the PIRA in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, at the time he was one of the Provos most proactive local commanders, pushing his volunteers hard to go out and attack British troops, although he was known for his own ferocious fighting skills and would never task a volunteer with an order he himself would not carry out.
After being arrested and imprisoned Meehan, along with Tony Doherty and Hugh McCann escaped from Belfast Crumlin road prison in December 1971, smearing themselves all over with with fat to insulate against the cold, they hid in a sewer for hours before fleeing and crossing the border into the Republic of Ireland, from where Meehan joined an active service unit working in the border area.
Having become engaged in a four hour cross border gun battle between his IRA Unit and soldiers from the Royal Scots Guards, in which over 4,500 rounds were fired, Meehan was arrested by the Garda Siochana along with seven of his comrades as they crossed back across the border into the south.
Ater a trial in the southern courts, in which he was found not guilt, Meehan returned to the north of Ireland, where he was arrested again becoming the first person to be convicted of membership of the Provisional IRA. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment in Long Kesh for this offence and on his release he was interned without trial, being the last internee to be released after internment had been abolished in 1975.
Martin Meehan was to serve two further lengthy prison terms, finally being paroled from a 15 year stretch in 1994, after which he became a prominent Sinn Fein political activist, becoming in 2001 a local councillor on Antrim Borough Council and almost being elected to the Stormont Assembly for South Antrim in 2003.
Martin Meehan is survived by his second wife, Briege, and several children from both marriages. his funeral service is still to be arranged.