have no memory of a time when I did not know who Joe
Cahill was. In the micro-group of Republicans holding
firm through the fifties and sixties everyone was
known to everyone else. As a child I was taken to
Bodenstown, to Edentubber, to commemotations around
the country and always on the buses there was great
fun to be had, rebel songs to be sung and I got to
know them all.
Tom Williams we salute you,
and we never shall forget, those who planned your
we vow we'll make them all regret...."
sang about Tom Williams on our journey from Brixton
Prison to Winchester where we were to go on trial
for having attempted to blow up symbols of the British
vow we'll make them all regret."
year was 1973, the day was the 2nd of September. Tom
Williams was hanged in Crumlin Road Prison on the
2nd of September 1942. My father had told me of that
day. How he and other Republicans inside the Crumlin
jail had sat in stoney silence in their cells until
the execution time came and went, then as one man
they screamed and banged and vented their anger and
frustration on anything to hand until eventually exhausted
they wept. On the road to Winchester Prison I remembered
all this and I remembered too the men who had been
sentenced with Tom Williams to hang. One was Joe Cahill.
"Tom Williams bravely claimed responsibility
for the raid," wrote one of the most virulently
anti-Republican journalists in Ireland last Sunday.
Joe Cahill did not have to die; who could blame us
as children for looking up to this man with awe and
respect. To us he was 'The Unhung Hero'.
As I grew older and wiser Joe Cahill became a very
ordinary Republican in my eyes. My aunt Bridie and
her sisters had no time for Joe Cahill, but then my
aunts demanded Olympian standards from anyone who
called themselves Republican. I never asked the reason
for their dislike, perhaps it was Joe's claim to have
"fired the fatal shot" that reduced him
in their eyes, in Bridie's case no eyes.
regards the fatal shot comment my father often remarked
"Why didn't he tell that to the judge when he
was in the dock?" My father was always direct
and to the point.
have studied the incident in detail and to this day
and forever more it will remain unclear as to who
fired the fatal shot.
am reminded of the title of a wonderful book written
by Ernie O'Malley, 'On Another Man's Wound'.
the years Provisional Sinn Fein have perfected the
publicity stunt. Walking up the steps of Stormont,
smiling "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb...."
walking down the steps of Leinster House, smiling
"rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb...". Any old
gimmick for a good shot (photographic, of course!).
first stunt Joe Cahill was involved in was the press
conference given in 1971 in Ballymurphy. Then the
'most wanted' man in Belfast he sat on the platform
while the streets outside heaved with Brits. Joe duped
them all and before the day was out he would be sitting
safely in Dublin. We young ones loved it all, getting
one over on the Brits.
the years and all through this phase of the struggle
Joe has been produced like a rabbit from a hat. He
the veteran I.R.A man, the elder of the tribe, the
wise one, the one who knew the right way forward.
Indeed, knew so much that he was able to assure us
all that Tom Williams would be fully behind the Good
Friday Agreement. Now if things had only been reversed
in 1942 we could have heard Tom Williams say that
for himself! Joe Cahill was still duping but this
time it was not the Brits, it was other Republicans.
for the dead as Joe did must be the reserve of a very
elite or gifted Provisional member. Gerry Adams speaks
for Bobby Sands; Bobby, he told us, would be fully
behind the Peace Process. I often wonder who would
speak for me had my circumstances in Brixton Prison
reached their expected conclusion? What praises would
I be singing of the Good Friday Agreement?
eventual and total loss of respect for Joe Cahill
(the Oliver Plunkett's head of Provisionalism) was
the way he allowed his partially invented status to
sell a 'sell-out' to the naive but sincere Irish Americans.
Always keep the eye on the money, right boys?
have won the war....now let us win the Peace",
another off the cuff declaration by Joe.
me if I am wrong but my understanding of winning a
war is when the Victor accepts the symbolic sword
of surrender from the defeated who then sits down
to be told the conditions they will accept. No ifs
or buts if you are the losers.
then if "we (Provisionals) won the war"
are the Provisional Sinn Fein Party still begging
the 'defeated' (Brits I suppose) for more talks, for
the re-establishment of the British Assembly at Stormont,
for money and, oh yes please, their jobs back! Not
my idea of having won a war. Suppose they had lost
the war, where would we all be today? Doesn't bear
In fairness to Joe Cahill who is now dead, I see a
puppet master behind the way he was used, perhaps
even abused by those more cunning than himself.
Joe lived longer then his necessary appearances to
keep the doubtful convinced might have seen him driven
about in a sort of 'Provo Mobile' amongst the flock
(most of whom failed to turn up to his funeral despite
a big drive by the 'puppeteers'). He was a big asset
to the Provisional Movement. He was "The Unhung
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