Martina Donnelly

  • Sure, that's all you are, Martin – a traitor and a collaborator. On Wednesday you'll be sitting with the British government in their assembly. In fact, you'll be part of the British government there - Martina Donnelly to Martin McGuinness, June 1998.

When I learned in October that Martina Donnelly had died I cast my mind back to the time I stayed with her and her husband Mickey in their Derry home. Mickey, a former republican prisoner and one of the hooded men tortured by the British in 1971, had with his son Deaglán made the journey from Derry to Belfast in October 2000 to offer solidarity to myself and my pregnant partner. This came immediately after a ‘visit’ to our home by two senior Provo militia men seeking to silence us in the wake of a killing their organisation had carried out but lacked the mettle to stand over.

The Derry men, concerned for our safety, invited us to their family home. Not long after we took them up on the offer and headed to Derry where the hospitality of their hearth and home was made available to us. Martina was a splendid host. We welcomed the break and for a short time relished relaxing outside the pressure chamber of Provo dominated West Belfast.

13 years later, Martina succumbed to the cancer she lived with for five years, leaving behind her grieving husband Mickey and five children, Ruairi, Deaglán, Una, Niamh and Caoimhe. A Derry woman who knew her simply summed her up as ‘well known and loved in the community and for me what always stood out was how proud she was of her children.’

With those same children she was, in June 1998, to endure the horrors of a visit by goondas who on the day were more dangerous than the ones who came to our home. In our case they at least waited until they were motioned in (invited would not be an inappropriate term) before entering.

Her husband Mickey was an uncompromising republican and whatever we might think of his views, he certainly delivered them with passion and frankness. When Mickey smelled a rat he didn’t hang around on the off chance that somebody else might raise the alarm. He did it himself. And for that, this man, who endured the tortures of the British state almost three decades earlier, found himself in the position of having to face them all over again, this time from people who wanted to be part of the same British state Mickey spent a life time opposing.

In order to silence his republican criticisms shortly after the Good Friday Treaty, a Sinn Fein gang broke his leg, having forcibly entered to his home in order to beat him. The attack was vividly described by his son Deaglán:

My parents and sisters returned from a trip to buy milk ... Exactly ten minutes later four masked men wearing combat clothing burst into the room and one shouted ‘IRA Provisionals'. One sprayed ‘mace' tear gas into my mother's eyes and into my little sisters' faces and started to beat my father.

They had baseball bats studded with nails and iron crowbars. Niamh climbed on top of the armchair and jumped on one of the thugs to protect her Daddy, but he threw her to the ground and clubbed her on the leg with a nail-studded baseball bat.

Úna then jumped across her father to protect him and her back was badly beaten. Caoimhe was still sitting on his knee and she was also beaten by the Provisional thugs.

We fought them out to the kitchen where they beat my father to the ground. One was shouting "you cost us a seat you bastard." I was still fighting the fourth one, but he pulled another revolver and shouted ‘stop or you're shot'.

They went back into the kitchen and all five cease-fire soldiers went about beating one unrepentant Republican, as he lay on the ground, for refusing to surrender his ideals. Although my father was now lying on the floor with a broken leg he wrenched a crowbar from one of them and kneecapped him with it. My mother tried to intervene, but one of them stuck his arm in her face and said ‘IRA Provisionals, fuck off'. Tina got to the phone and raised the alarm, the Broy Harriers left.

Although five members of the Provisionals' party militia walked into our house two of them had to be carried out. Some of them fell on the driveway and one injured himself badly on some building blocks by falling on them. The blocks were covered in blood.

No chance of any PSNI members supposedly investigating the past without fear or favour being too eager to test that blood for DNA. Seemingly it is a cigarette end they are interested in and only then if the presumed smoker has not smoked Sinn Fein out from under its republican veneer behind which it has sought to hide its partitionist politics.

The account by Deaglán shows the manner in which not only his father was treated but also his mother, Martina.

Not willing to be cowered into submission Martina Donnelly, on the night following the attack, confronted the city’s leading Provo, Martin McGuinness. Martina explained how McGuinness responded in an 'absolutely threatening manner' pointing his finger into her face and accusing her husband of ‘calling me a traitor all around this town for the past twelve months.’

This was the spirited woman who made us welcome in her home, showing her solidarity with us and fearful that we might face the horror inflicted on her family. A woman who was rarely in the public eye but whose humanity had a profound public effect.


  1. A very fitting tribute to a very brave and courageous woman. Those who attacked her and her family, those who ordered it and those whose silence justified it wouldn't have been fit to lace her shoes. Our family are proud to have known her and to have called her friend. Rest in Peace Martina.xx

  2. Oh, Anthony, this brings tears to my eyes. Mickey was the first of the Hooded Men I had the pleasure to meet, and it was my great fortune that wehn I visited their home, Martina felt well enough to spend time with us. She was an amazng woman, and while this is a truly inspiational story about her, it was not a singular event. Martina was as much a soldier as Mickey (he might even say she was fiercer), and she never compromised her beliefs. The world is a lesser place without her in it.

  3. To Deaglan and the Donnelly family very sorry to hear of the loss of Martina. may she rest in peace. Look after yourselves.

    Dave Mc Sweeney

  4. A very lovely tribute to a truly good woman and a mother of a truly great family,no grey areas here a cara ,people who see and say it as it is,I never met this wonderful woman but when people like yourself and Pauline speak of her in such esteem then surely there can be no doubt that not only the Donnelly clan but Ireland has lost a true daughter,
    Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam,

  5. Martina was undoubtedly a great woman and this tribute reminds us what befell those who had the courage to speak out and stand up to agents of the state.

    The Donnellys were attacked by thugs for their Republican ideals but what is more galling is the fact that one of his attackers was exposed as a paedophile and abuser who preyed on numerous young girls and women, including women linked to SF.

    One time when a woman asked a Republican why she and other female members of SF allowed this scumbag to grope them as she would have decked him the Republican said 'because of his position' she can't...

    I need say no more about the abuser and thug other than to say that knowing him personally, without the weight of the IRA behind him its not surprising to hear that they got a good hiding...

  6. I had the pleasure of meeting this family once and welcomed their hospitality, and I have kept in touch with Deaglán, who's gone on to a fine career in academia. Thanks for reminding us of her role and that of her family in standing up against injustice for many decades now.

  7. Dealing with the Past: Where are the Women?

  8. A perfect example of how the Brits have divided and ruled us. Wonderful insights into the Donnelly clan that I as a member of the diaspora know less of.
    One thing for sure I's I'll not me mourning the death of Martin McGuinness.
    For whatever good he did in the early days for our struggle, climbing into bed with the British crown was simply a continuation of the disaster that occured at partition.
    Ireland divided as we all know shall never know peace.

  9. The words of pastor niemoller comes to mind. Brutal and sadistic to say the least.