Show Me The Man is a folksy biography which seeks to show the man Martin Meehan in a very favourable light. Those of us who knew and liked ‘Mick’ will hardly complain about that. But I suspect if he were to have had a sneak preview before he died he might have said, ‘tone it down a bit, Joe’ to which Joe might have responded with a wink and a whisper, ‘sure I did, Martin.’ Joe Graham to his credit didn’t try to tone down anything. He wanted to write a story about his mate; and that is what he delivered and makes no apologies for it. The book, as the author claims is written ‘from an unashamedly personal point of view.’
Local history is constructed and conveyed in a certain way. It is community based rather than institution centred. It can be as easily read by the pub-goer as the professor. Many do not like it because it lacks analytical or academic rigour. While it may not grace the libraries of universities the product of local history is invaluable in that it fills in the silences that often exist only because it is a silence imposed by a dominant narrative. I have long been impressed by the charge that a historical account succeeds to the extent that it manages to exclude or suppress other accounts. Show Me The Man is a work that other histories will need to take account of when they seek to delve into the formative years of the Belfast Provisional IRA. An interesting vignette on how conflict might have been avoided is provided in the event where Martin Meehan the IRA volunteer safely escorts the senior RUC member Frank Lagan to safety at a time of acute tension in the Lower Falls. Within a short period of time such an action would have been unthinkable; Meehan would quickly come to be identified as a person who shot rather than saved RUC members.
What emerges from this book is that Martin Meehan, unlike many who later joined the Provisional IRA, was an IRA member long before the formation of the Provisionals. There a history of republicanism within the Meehan family. Young Martin was forever aware of the brutality meted out against republican prisoners just a mile down the road from where he was born and bred.
Meehan’s role in the defence of Ardoyne gave him a legendary status. But he felt so let down by the IRA failure to defend its people during the August ‘pogroms’ that during a two month sentence in Crumlin Road Prison he bleakly commented:
that two month’s prison sentence wrecked me – was the worst sentence I have endured. I swore I was finished with everything, was going to forget everything, and get my life back to normal. It was not worth it at all, I found no motivation or a ‘cause’ to be in a cell.
That he bounced back from such adversity is all too evident in the many years he would later spend in prison. Time and again he would return to its clanging environment. A defining moment in the reversal of his sagging morale came in the summer of 1970. He clearly drew great inspiration from the IRA defence of Ardoyne on June the 27th of that year. Although the Short Strand has pride of place in republican folklore arising out of events that particular evening, the Ardoyne IRA inflicted more fatalities on loyalist attackers and sustained fewer losses. Meehan himself believed that the fortunes of the IRA changed irreversibly that night. Never again would IRA stand for I Ran Away.
Within a week the British in response to those armed IRA defensive actions were to make a major strategic error which alienated swathes of working class nationalists – the Falls curfew. From the embers of 1969 the British state conjured against itself a lethal and tenacious armed opponent. Martin Meehan would be at its cutting edge, arguing that ‘it was the men and women of the Irish Republican Army in North Belfast who initiated the actual war against the British forces.’ The first British soldier to be killed by the IRA fell in North Belfast. Meehan went on to command the volunteers who would prove so lethally efficient against the British Regiment the Green Howards.
Meehan’s capacity for absorbing punishment is readily documented by Joe Graham. The brutality that he experienced at the hands of British forces would have claimed the life or at least the spirit of a less determined man. Yet Meehan had the generosity to sit down with one of the people who mercilessly beat him and shake hands in a widely televised event.
In this biography Joe Graham captures the loyalty-to-the-movement side of Martin Meehan. Yet his account is nuanced by the insertion of some doubts Meehan is said to have had about the direction of Sinn Fein’s strategy. More evidence will be required before it can be said with confidence what Meehan felt at the time of his death. For now Show Me The Man has shown the man in all his republican splendour.
Show Me The Man: The Official Biography of Martin Meehan. Rushlight Publications: Belfast. Price £7.50
Mackers, once again your words about my late Dad are great to read. In which one can see how decent a comrade and friend you were to him over the years.ReplyDelete
Regarding the dispute which followed the publication of Show Me The Man. Yes, I agree it was a cause of sorrow for all concerned especially the Meehan Clann.
I for one hope that my Dad's and many others' contribution and stories of the struggle for freedom in our much loved country will be told proudly and boldly by working-class authors' such as yourself...Instead of history being written by the victors!
Mairtin Og Meehan
Ardeoin, mBeal Feirste.
n this biography Joe Graham captures the loyalty-to-the-movement side of Martin Meehan. Yet his account is nuanced by the insertion of some doubts Meehan is said to have had about the direction of Sinn Fein’s strategy. More evidence will be required before it can be said with confidence what Meehan felt at the time of his death. For now Show Me The Man has shown the man in all his republican splendour.
To be honest, I thought the book was more about Joe Graham, than Martin. I didnt know anyone more supportive of the peace process than Martin.ReplyDelete