No Beret Or Gloves On Top Of The Coffin

Anthony McIntyre with a piece written on the day Martin McGuinness was buried in Derry.

Among the many roles assumed by Martin McGuinness as an IRA leader were O/C Derry Brigade, O/C Northern Command, Chief of Staff, and President of the Army Council. Like much else about him, all of that was concealed from public view today at his funeral in Derry. No beret or gloves on the top of the coffin, the IRA was hidden away so that international political dignitaries and luminaries could attend without being embarrassed by a huge part of the life of the man they came to bury but perhaps not mourn.

The high-profile composition of the funeral cortege was a judgement on the past. It stamped the imprimatur of the British policy of unity only by consent on the history of the Northern conflict, and erased any claim of legitimacy from the Provisional IRA’s policy of coercing the British out of Ireland. The IRA came to embrace the British terms for disengagement. The British never came to embrace the IRA terms for withdrawal. The IRA campaign to expel the British failed in its entirety. The irony should not be lost that the dominant political achievement of Martin McGuinness was the attainment of the very outcome he had waged ruthless war to pre-empt: an internal settlement to the Northern conflict. 

His awareness of this would appear to be form part of his fictional insistence on having left the IRA in 1974. The year is significant. Given the outcome of the conflict - a power sharing executive ringfenced by partition and rule from London - of which he became a most robust advocate, the IRA campaign since 1974 finds the going exceedingly tough in terms of justification. The marginal difference between Sunningdale and the Good Friday Agreement hardly justified a single death.

Ruthless, as all efficient military leaders are, he combined it with an audacity that came to the fore via his bid for the Irish Presidency in 2011. Had he succeeded he would have been in Áras an Uachtaráin protected by Gardaí and troops, despite having in 1985 stipulated the terms on which IRA volunteers were permitted by the army council of which he was president to kill An Garda Siochana and Irish Defence Forces personnel.

in certain circumstances, like in Ballinamore where IRA volunteers felt they were going to be shot dead and were defending themselves against armed gardaí and soldiers.

Nevertheless, his decision to take up arms against the British was not the result of some serious moral deficiency which saw him pitted against the forces of good. As he said:

The Duke Street beatings, the attack on Sammy Devenny, and the killing of Cusack and Beattie were the four incidents why I became a republican... I am a product of British injustice. It was the British and the unionists who made me a republican, not the Christian Brothers.

To that add the British state war crime of Bloody Sunday, and a context emerges which helps elucidate the concept that state violence begets street violence. 

The DUP has been uncharacteristic in their eulogising of him. Decoded, it praises him for his willingness to put up with its arrogance and intolerance over a ten-year period. For that reason, whatever the official Sinn Fein history, beneath it will run a pricklier narrative which will flag up his term as Deputy First Minister as one characterised by roll over republicanism, and which was only brought to an end with his abrupt departure through the illness which ultimately claimed his life. 


  1. Fuck me if they wanted to give that waster a military funeral then they should have stuffed him into roaring Meg and shot him over Derry,s walls and the Bogside into space where he belongs.

  2. Marty

    That is a very funny notion. Roaring Meg and the Apprentice Boys may not be so amused at the idea. They could have tied a wee trailer to his feet reading PEACE PROCESS like one of those wee planes drag behind them over a football stadium saying the manager must go. Just one last chance to deliver his favourite two words as he soared over the Bog.

  3. Ersatz Arnold!

  4. Asset or agent or political chameleon whatever the truth may be - it all makes sorry reading (not your post AM which is as usual excellent and BTW I always look forward to the posts penned by you) - the legacy of MMcG when looked at in its entirety (to me anyway) just seems hollow and requires a lot of semantic gymnastics and serious twisting of the truth by those who wish to put a positive spin on it.

  5. The marginal difference between Sunningdale and the Good Friday Agreement hardly justified a single death.

    But the intervening years was an attempt to improve on Sunningdale wasnt it, perhaps it was optimistic to think a more Republican centric settlement could of been achieved, but its not a criticism that they tried, given the UWC strike indicated the other sides willingness to submit to the arrangement just wasnt there.

  6. No. The intervening years were an attempt to force the Brits out not to improve on Sunningdale. Republicans did not resile from Sunningdale because it was made unworkable by unionism. They did so because Sunningdale was a partitionist arrangement. So we had Adams claiming it had produced the first Catholic partitionist party, the SDLP.

    I guess had the Provos stated quite clearly to all that their goal was equality within a partitionist framework rather than the coerced dismantling of partition, the dynamics would have changed very quickly.

  7. jgr33n,


    From a republican perspective, it all makes for sorry reading. Yet we still need to be careful as to what we read into anything.

    McGuinness knew exactly where he was steering republicanism. He deceived the rank and file every bit as much as Adams. He seemed to love the trappings of office. Yet, none of this can be read as him being an agent. The lot of it fits easily into the asset category.

  8. AM, Brits out/improve on Sunningdale are not mutually exclusive concepts. I didnt mean making ammendments to the text. Your view seems to discount the intervening years between Sunningdale and the GFA in shaping and solidfying the minimum Republican goal, the creeping pessimism that made Sunningdale II ultimately sellable to the Nationalists in the North.

  9. DaithiD,

    I read an improvement on Sunningdale as not being in the same category as an alternative to Sunningdale.

    What was the minimum republican goal?

    Nationalists largely did accept Sunningdale. It was their base line position. It was republicans who rejected it in the anti-unionist camp.

  10. AM, in broad terms, the minimum republican goal shifted from Brits out to Sunningdale II. Then intervening years would only be known to have been a waste in '74 if the Republican leadership knew the end scenario beforehand, I dont know what the contentious point is. For your criticism to be valid, it seems some future knowledge would be needed. Even an assumption that no Republican outcome could be won could only have been shaped the repeated failure of the intervening years, at what point before '94 is for debate, Id suggest it was further from '74 than '94.

  11. DaithiD,

    when did the goal shift?

    Was it ever publicly stated during the war that it had shifted?

    It was always denied internally and they were challenged at different points on it.

    The years were a waste because they produced nothing that would justify a military campaign. That is a consequentialist argument but no less valid for that.

  12. Well we know Adams terms of surrender were delivered by Reid around the Lynagh funeral, that dates it 87 at the very latest. Others could argue that was the real reason for the abstention vote in 86 but that probably speculative.Was the change in aim implied by Jim Gibeny at Bodenstown as the first overt indication of change? I dont know the exact date this changed, but we do know it changed for do know the IRA war aims from the Green Book in addition to many RM statements on the conditions the war would end.Or . Was this all known in 1974? There is no evidence for this, and the leadership that delivered the ultimate failure were not in place at this time. Only if it was known in advance could the future casualties be comparatively weighed.

  13. DaithiD,

    they pretended to the very end of the war that they were seeking a united Ireland. Can you name one volunteer who died thinking they were risking their lives for a reformed NI? And that includes the two who died as late as 1996 in England.

    Gibney delivered the Bodenstown speech in 92 about not being able to hear each other over the sound of gunfire. That signified a cessation but not a capitulation. But he wouldn't have known what he was talking about: being sent out fly kites.

    That the outcome was not known in 1974 does not invalidate the waste of life, effort and energy. The investment made by so many republicans was placed into a different account and the profit did not go to those making the investment. They were defrauded of that.

    We can safely say with benefit of hindsight, not foresight, that it would have been much better had the war not been extended beyond 74.

  14. AM, Im not at home and cannot say exactly without my books, but from memory the key line in the Gibeny speech was about reversing the previously thought sequence of Brits leaving before any talks could begin, this was the first public airing of the idea and it caused problems with the IRA (or so we are told). Adams assured them that bit of the speech was written in the car on the way and was a mistake.Of course no volunteer died or spent a minute in jail for an internal settlement, again for them to make that judgement with any confidence would require either knowing this was the ultimate end of the war. Can you think of no additional information in the intervening years that would cause a difference in perspective from '74 to '94?
    As i see it, at the time of Sunningdale, the Loyalists enforcing the strike indicated their position with regards to the settlement, which would of meant more death squads targeting of Nationalists. Irrespective of whether Republicans could of accepted Sunningdale, the fact the Loyalists wouldnt meant the IRA would of been utilised to 'defend' Nationalist areas at some stage. And if defend isnt the right term, then settle the ledger at a time of their choosing.

  15. AM & DaithiD

    How much credence would you give to the contention that many young people in republican strongholds in Belfast, Derry and beyond joined the PIRA or INLA out of a need to escape boredom and a bleak, numbing future? Among others, Richard English makes this point in his book Armed Struggle: A History of the IRA. According to this theory, the lure of "adventure" and underdog brotherhood had the power to override fears of gaol or death. If such a lure played a part, concentration on an endgame, in this case a united Ireland, is compartmentalized and idealized. It becomes a dream like winning the lottery.

    Also, do you two think the Sticks called a ceasefire in 1972 primarily because they envisioned an escalating sectarian war or rather because they lacked the gear and wherewithal to combat the British Army?

  16. The Republican movement turned its back on O Braidigh even though he and his close followers never strayed from core Republican ideals indeed he suffered from attempting to negotiate a withdrawal which they believed at the time that at least some of the British negotiatiors faithfully could deliver.

    How many of you followed Adams and Mcguinness instead . I think it's wrong to disrespect Mcguinness now, OK he did not maintain the pure Republican ideals like O Braidigh but as happened repeatedly through history a Treaty or Internal settlement was agreed. You must respect the wishes of the electorate and deliver that to them which they did. The dismay among Republicans is that they led the IRA to disbandment with Volunteers lives lost which is deceitful and galling but how else was it going to stop we would be still doing it now with among others we'd have had more volunteers in the grave. The SD32 County Republic will never be achieved but the agreed Ireland will, fully separate from Britain. We then improve ourselves with socialist activism free of interference.

    Martin Mcguinness had to do some very uncomfortable gestures to build reconciliation very few others could bare to do and I believe like Paisley was driven by his faith with which he had parked for much of his life.

    Every Volunteer gave his life for a free Ireland and like all our Patriot dead will one day have their due place in history alongside Pearce Connolly Tone and Sands. You can argue that the men of 1916 didn't die for the Anglo Irish treaty but that's what we got then later we got a free 26 and those men became patriots instead of Rebels in the words of Bik McFarland.

  17. Michael, in terms of the Sticks ceasefire, I believe they thought guerilla fishing to be more productive than guerilla war.

  18. Michael,

    I think Peter Hart said the same of the Cork volunteers and Richard did likewise in his work on O'Malley. If we take it as given that young men will fight wars, the more important question is what made the war they chose to fight? The need to avoid boredom is a universal trait not peculiarly Irish.

    I think when unionist writers make that argument the onus is on them to ensure that they are not, even unconsciously, legitimising state behaviour by attributing non political motivations to people who fight the state.

    At the same time, what do young people know of political theory? There is a range of factors that cause people to join a fight and excitement cannot be dismissed altogether.

  19. The British State did not face down unionists until 1985.
    Therefore peace was impossible until that happened.
    11 years after Sunnngdale.1974
    That fact alone renders the Sunningdale argument suspect.
    MMG only admitted to being in the IRA because there was his "proud" remark in the Dublin Court.
    He ran for president.
    Study Brian lenhinan and his "mature recollection" regarding telephone tapping.
    This was the driving force for MMG admission. Nothing else.
    How could he swear an oath of office if he was on Camera stating an "untruth"
    It has no significance beyond that.
    Watched a documentary regarding the Cold war.
    It seems during periods of detente in that war led to a rise in Soviet dissidents.
    I see nothing Sinister in SF detente.
    In fact, it's the only option they have considering what went before.
    And also it is quite clever in it's way.
    In 1985 nobody would have predicted the Union Bastion of Glasgow would vote out of the UK.
    Nor in 1995.
    nor in 2005.
    Yet it did.
    Unionism will rot in the wee 6.
    Just like it did in Scotland.
    And for the same reasons.
    Whitehall incompetence.Westminster arrogance.
    Get over this defeatism It's only a sop to Unionism and Free staters.

  20. ps Michael,I experienced the troubles vicariously , so in terms of motivations of young people joining I would only guess. There is more literature today on Republicanism than then, and looking at the average age of those prosecuted for IRA offences, Im guessing not all were autodidacts driven by ideology. I doubt many understood the magnitude of what they giving up, adult brains dont stop developing until 25 on average. I think this was the tragedy for those in prison, slowly measuring their time by the things they missed, its why I dont distinguish between hunger strikers and those who saw out their sentence.

  21. Anthony

    Yes, I can see your point about "legitimising state behaviour" (that's "legitimizing state behavior" to me, lol) by discounting political motivation. If I remember correctly, Richard English included the "excitement" motivation in a longer discussion of why young people in nationalist enclaves joined the republican movement. I've had Protestant Irish friends tell me that civil rights marchers of the 60s were "nothing but trouble makers" and that RCs in the "ghettoes" of Belfast were akin to envious children who wanted to smash up the good toys of wealthier children. I just smiled when the latter analogy was described.


    Or guerrilla drinking, red dream guerrilla drinking: back to the wall, beak pointed toward Moscow. An old friend of mine who passed away last summer acquired the moniker Rusty Guns. He was an old Stick from the Lower Falls. You never saw a man more jammed up by family, neighbors, and history.

  22. You may slag of the "rusty guns" till the cows come home but look at that pic of big Joe Mc Cann that's a M1 carbine Joe,s holding ,in those days the ra had some armalites and stolen slr,s alongside other older weapons the good stuff from Libya was years of, and today all buried in concrete ,well most of it, the sticks and loyalists still retain their weapons ,,,

  23. DaithiD,

    I think you are right about what Gibney said. That thing about Adams saying it was written down hastily in a car jolts my memory. Some of us in the jail could see what was happening but per usual they lied about it.

    The leadership was moving towards an internal solution from the 80s. It was certainly considering an alternative to armed struggle by 82. One reason they were determined to suppress dissent that would point out where things were going. Those of us who could predict it (it wasn't that hard) were marginalised.

    Even if we reverse the consequentialist perspective and opt for the liberal one of process legitimising outcome, what we got in the North was hardly justified by the war.

  24. The only time I ever attended Bodenstown was in 92 and I came away disgusted and numb by that surrender speech. I was never there before and was never there since. Nor will I be. I saw Adams and Gibney eating ice cream before the parade started. I didn't get a good feeling about the two of them then either at the time.

  25. ...We can safely say with benefit of hindsight, not foresight, that it would have been much better had the war not been extended beyond 74...

    Yes, i think we are getting there. Excellent!....

    ...Even if we reverse the consequentialist perspective and opt for the liberal one of process legitimising outcome, what we got in the North was hardly justified by the war...

    Doh! no we arent.

    What we got was was finalised towards the end of the war. Then all the trauma could meausred against this.Until the point that a probable settlement was broadly known, no assessment of risk/reward could have been made.Unless you are ultimately saying no outcome could justify the war? Then its not a matter of conditional probability.

  26. DaithiD,

    I think you miss the point about process justifying outcome.

    There was always an assessment of risk/reward. We knew exactly what we wanted in terms of partition, and as importantly what we did not want. And we did not want what we got. Why do you think they kept lying to us about where it was going when we raised these questions? Everything they did they are on record as swearing they would never do.

    The problem with wars is that they should always be a last resort as they literally lead to overkill.


  27. Michael Mahoney,

    I'd doubt if the lure of adventure was the initial motivator for a majority when 'volunteering'. Humans are hardwired to respond to challenges in the environment as such challenges present. They are primed for agency and control. When functioning at their optimum the tendency will be towards overcoming those challenges rather than subservience to them. And yet as rational actors they also have options as to which challenges they take on ... which ones they long-finger or which they swallow down on. (They also have choices as to the strategies they adopt when it comes to addressing those challenges). So in probability other mostly unconscious forces where at play also for those that joined up.

    Most volunteers were primarily responding from the need for agency and control. However I don't discount other drivers too, or that having stepped onto that path the fulfilment of those other needs then kicked in and in being met sustained commitment.
    Participation in the struggle delivered to the needs of the individual at several levels: it provided for connection, relationship and often a deep intimacy between comrades, it granted elevated meaning and purpose to perhaps an otherwise mundane existence, it met needs for status even if only at an internal level, and it surely also allowed for adventure and excitement.
    Throw all that into the mix, put weapons in their young hands and you have a bunch of people who will tend to believe themselves invincible. Many at this stage have become irrational actors and, as you suggest Michael, their outcome becomes an idealised fantasy. One that is secondary to the in-the-moment psychological rewards of maintaining 'The Struggle'. 'The Struggle' becomes their moon, their sun and stars.

    The 'Sticks' probably had more rational actors in their midst. They realised the limitation of such a universe. They understood better the consequences of the continued pursuit of the fantastical republic and like the legions before them changed course and changed course with some integrity.

  28. Daithi D ,do you remember the No Return To Stormont posters?I,m sure you do a chara do you think Adams/McG must have had an inner smirk at those , sending kids with no experience to England to blow themselves to bits while Martybroy drew up the surrender letter,yet with all their treachery the most damming indictment of their leadership must be that they lied and continued to lie to the movement ,their comrades,chairde,that in no way is leadership its more what Connolly called ruling by fooling ,,most of us have learnt a hard lesson ..

  29. Michael Mahoney, Anger and revenge and a life as a second class citizens were all powerful reasons for young men and women to join the IRA, people reach for the nearest vehicle which might bring them some respite from injustice and oppression, in the north in the early 1970s it was the provisionals in England recently it was Brexit. It doesn't exclude the said vehicle from being a crock of shit but the only way to find out was to road test it.

    I'm more interested in why McG funeral panned out in the way it did, who benefits is the question which needs to asked. Firstly it is difficult to understand why his family would have wished for such a charade, with a long line of bourgeois toadies as honoured guests. As to Sinn Féin bending the knee to imperialist, it never ends well not least because the English ruling classes have been at this game for centuries.

    I supposed Mandela's funeral was the benchmark, but there is one big difference between him and McG, the former had defeated the apartheid state whereas Ireland remains partitioned. Thus there was no viable reason to turn McG funeral into a neoliberal jamboree stuffed with Ireland's enemies. Far better to have a private funeral for family, friends, and the people of Derry. The sight of Clinton, Campbell and the rest of the relics of a bygone age all of whom have much to answer for, showed Sinn Féin in a very bad light.

    Are any viable rumours circulating about the sight and sound of a colour party, after all McG once believed the only thing a dead volunteer needs is a volley of shots over his coffin.

    If not, why not?

  30. AM, so because of the structure and processes of the Republican movement at the time, it would of rendered any Republican objectives unobtainable? This seems a reasonable assumption. This voids my problem with future knowledge being needed, we can make predictions of dynamics in the future based on present conditions. If this was your point all along, im sorry I laboured it.

  31. HenryJoY & Organized Rage

    Thanks for your input on the complex set of motivators that compelled young men and women to join republican paramilitary groups. I got my first education on this topic in the early 90s when a good friend who lived on Broadway in west Belfast sat around a kitchen table with me many nights until the sun came up at 4:30 or so -- Belfast summers are something. Too much Special Brew and Cream of the Barley was consumed, and many fegs were smoked. I didn't know it at the time, in the early 90s that is, but he was a Stick and had lived through the whole shebang from 1969 to the GFA.

    Last autumn I wrote a piece about him and his memories of the Falls Curfew for the Quill. This Lower Falls man joined the IRA for all the reasons you both describe, but trade unionism was another entry point for him. After a few years he sensed, or so he claimed, that the bombing campaign of the Provos and gun battles with the RUC would only lead to intractable sectarian warfare. The feuds that followed the OIRA ceasefire brought him nothing but anxiety and anguish, then the death of his close mate, Trevor McNulty. Right before my pal died, he sent me a wallet that McNulty had made in Long Kesh -- or at least he tried to send me the wallet. UK Customs it seems had slit the envelope and extracted the artifact. So it goes.

    As for Martin McGuinness, he was put in that special stratosphere of media darlings, vaulted far from his Bogside origins. It doesn't surprise me at all that he was given an IRA-lite (low cal) funeral sans beret, gloves, and firing squad. The "neoliberal jamboree" that you mention, Organized Rage, was probably apropos for McGuinness, the chosen boy of both the Brits and my own dirty United States of America. Don't get me wrong, I kind of like my country. It's just that we can be pretty dang dumb and ugly.

  32. Michael

    Thanks for replying, As you probably know Connolly said on the eve of the 1916 rising, not a shot must be fired in the north. He new the north better than most of the leaders having been a trade union organiser there. But by 69 and even more so 1971, young Catholics were so fed up, having seen how the system in the north had treated their parents generation, they were not going to put up with it anymore. Hate and revenge can be powerful political emotions and when coupled with oppression they can be lethal, but we should not forget who is responsible for that.

    So the bravest or maybe the most reckless joined the Provos. We shouldn't under estimate the impact of the US civil rights movement, events in Paris, and national liberation struggles elsewhere, nor even the influence of people like John Lennon in their own small was. It was a melting pot and they all played a part in moulding the most determined and tenacious generation of revolutionary activists Britain and Ireland have ever seen.

    Whilst understandable, I feel it is a mistake to keep on harping on about the shortcomings of the Provos because the struggle for full nationhood has always been two steps forward one step back, and it is bound to be like that until reunification occurs as i'm certain it inevitably will.

    Best regards


  33. Mick,

    Irish republicans have consistently failed to address the very real and almost impenetrable challenge underpinning Connolly's diktat. The Provos followed the same pattern that befell all previous manifestations of Irish Republicanism. They lied and compromised and are now constitutional nationalists.

    Change may come but it will be far from anything like the republican socialist unitary state that republicans envisaged.