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Seamus Ruddy

Anthony McIntyre obituarises a friend he met in prison over forty years ago.

Seamy Ruddy did not die this year but his body was discovered in a forest in Paris after a long and arduous effort by the Irish Republican Socialist Party to locate his unmarked grave. Many people had given up hope but the Ruddy family persisted and the IRSP responded in kind with a determination of its own to locate the remains. It also is impossible to feel with any confidence that those who killed him did not help in the retrieval of his remains. There seems no other way it could have been achieved.

Seamy had been killed during one of the seemingly incessant bouts of bloodletting that would often grip the INLA. The grapevine was awash with whispers that he had been tied to a tree and tortured for information about weaponry before being killed and buried. How reliable any of that is we may never know. The organisation’s former chief of staff, himself eventually killed by former comrades, was rumoured to have been centrally involved in the fate of Seamy Ruddy. Again, certainty is beyond me.

Like all disappearances it was a gratuitous act that is next to impossible to justify, even mitigate. This is what we have come to identify with right wing military dictatorships, not liberation movements. Some time before his death Seamy had been arrested in Greece, transporting weaponry that he had acquired for the INLA. His success in the arms procurement ultimately may have led to his death at the hands of rivals eager to acquire his arsenal.

When he came into prison during the UWC strike in 1974, I was immediately interested in him because he had been arrested in South Belfast close to where I had lived: somebody to talk local shop with perhaps. He ended up in the cell next to me on A3, doubled up with a fellow Newry man, John Hollywood. Both of them were rambunctious and sociable. I was enthralled by the seemingly encyclopedia knowledge of Seamy. He didn’t belong to any of the republican groupings and I have a vague feeling that he might have beeen associated with one of the city’s left wing groups that mobilised in defence of vulnerable nationalist communities during the UWC strike.

He was later sentenced to three years for possession of a pistol and we met up again in the middle hut of Magilligan's Cage F. His cubicle was the last one closest to the wire at the front of the cage. We would walk the windswept yard and talk politics. But he had some witty advice for me on the subject of shirts. He told me to keep no more than three, never wash them, just wear the first one for a day, the second for two days and the third for three. Then put on the one that had been worn for a day and repeat the cyclce, That way the latest one would always look cleaner. He never lacked in wit.

We once discussed communism and I told him I would try being a communist so long as I could still believe in God. He explained that it was a no can do: God had no place in communism and then went on to give me some cosmological explanations for the origins of the universe. I gave up on wanting to become a communist.

I heard no more of him after my release. It was five years into my second spell of imprisonment before he popped up again, this time to visit the prison as an IRSP leader to converse with the INLA prisoners. I was only surprised because I thought he had gone on to do other things with his life, astrophysics or something. But Tit, as we affectionately called him, had not forsaken his revolutionary beliefs for an academic chair or career.

Internecine fighting over the political direction of the INLA claimed so many lives needlessly. I was friendly with many of their prisoners and found myself sending sympathy cards out to their families, after they were killed, once they had been released from prison, wondering at the waste of it all. The death of Seamy Ruddy was no less a waste.

An immensely clearer and talented man, there was no badness in him. Affable and erudite he was completely down to earth. He never struck me as the type of person equipped with the ruthlessness that revolutionary leadership required and it seems he fell foul of others more ruthless and determined to see their politics become hegemonic within the Republican Socialist Movement.

Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.

Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre      

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Anthony McIntyre

Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher

10 comments to ''Seamus Ruddy"

  1. why not just wash the shirts and save the endless cycle of the supertramp? You should adopt seamy's method with underwear and save the wife a weekly wash lol

  2. Another touching homage, AM. It's always nice to see an individual who has been condemned to history as a mere victim being humanised in such fashion. It makes the tragedy of what befell them all the more nasty.

    Reading McDonald and Holland's book (which is quite expensive now, for some reason), it seems the INLA were a kind of manifestation of everything wrong with republicanism: splits, open feuding, sectarian murders, pointless tactics (targeting bouncers), impotent political movement and criminality. It amazes me that they lasted so long: the 1987 feud should have finished them off.

  3. A great in sight to a great Irish Socialist . .

  4. Great insight to a committed Irish Socialist. Needs to be remembered.

  5. Thanks Christopher - I think the only silver lining here is the family getting the remains of Seamy back.

    I recall going to the funeral of Gino Gallagher and thinking that the era of 1987 was to revisit republicanism again. I was very friendly with a lot of INLA prisoners in the blocks and spoke to the lot of them about politics, particularly Dominic McGlinchey and Gerard Steenson. I could never get to the bottom of what they all clashed about. Many of them were very determined people. Dominic, Gerard, Ta Power had intellects on a par with the brightest in our own ranks.

    I do the washing Emmett!

  6. AM,

    Why did the Provos take out the IPLO?

  7. Steve R,

    some might think a more important question is what if anything did the Provos do to help create the IPLO?


  8. some might think a more important question is what if anything did the Provos do to help create the IPLO?

    develop this point please Mackers.

  9. AM,

    I wonder if these forces of personality got mixed up down the line with ego, leading to the 1987 split/feud? Steenson, despite his media reputation, seemed to have his head screwed on (his coums bear this out) and Ta Power seems to be eulogised as one of the great thinkers of republicanism. With the two favouring different outcomes for the INLA, violence was probably inevitable.

    Steve R,

    the short answer is that the Provos were fed up with their drug dealing, raping and general criminality. The long answer is that it was a chance to do something they tried and failed to do in 1975: wipe out the competition.

    In terms of AM's post, it's interesting how the INLA were seemingly used to carry out shootings that the IRA wouldn't do themselves!

  10. I rem doing an attack on grovenor road barracks and not only did the ira claim responsibility they detailed the op in their republican news ...this was in the early 90s when we had our shit together


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