Billy Armstrong

Pádraic Mac Coitir attended a funeral of a republican veteran in Belfast. ·

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The late Volunteer Billy Armstrong

I first met Billy Armstrong about 15 years ago and would occasionally bump into him when out and about. We'd good oul yarns, most of which were about politics and we agreed on a lot of things. I hadn't seen Billy in recent years and it was with sadness I heard he died last week.

Billy was captured with others in England and most of them got life sentences for the IRA bombing of the Old Bailey courthouse in London in 1973. I've spoken to Billy and some of the others imprisoned at that time and they got a very hard time.

Billy done a long time in many English prisons but it didn't dampen his spirit and it's something he and others should be given a lot of credit for.

Three of us, two of whom were also in imprisoned in England for years, called to the wakehouse on Saturday and it was there we got to hear more about Billy's personal life. Yes it is sad when someone dies but it's great to hear stories which can bring a smile to the face. Billy turned 75 at the end of December and he packed a lot into those years but it's up to others to talk about it.

The funeral took place inné and as expected there was a great turnout. People travelled from many parts of the country and I was honoured to meet some of them for the first time. There were others such as Eibhlín agus Maureen who I last met at a book launch in Kilmainham gaol. The book written by Ruán O'Donnell called Special Category was about Irish political prisoners in English gaol and it's the first in a volume which is definitely worth reading to get a sense of what Billy and many others endured.

As can be seen from some of the photos the guard of honour was made up of men who were in English prisons and I'm sure they've plenty to tell of those turbulent times. As I've said many times there's a book in all of us and it's important we talk about it because we don't want someone years from now either telling lies or embellishing storied about our proud history.

Padraic Mac Coitir is a former republican prisoner and current political activist.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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