There Is A Border .... And There Will Continue To Be A Border

From The Transcripts John McDonagh speaks to Mary Ward of Republican Sinn Féin in studio about her memories of Martin McGuinness and Republican Sinn Féin’s stance on issues facing Ireland.

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(begins time stamp ~ 41:33)

John: And with us in the studio is Mary Ward or, as she’s known in Donegal as ‘Corcaigh Mary’, because no matter how long she lives in Donegal she’s from County Corcaigh and she’ll be ever known as that. You were talking about Martin McGuinness – when you reported to him did you report to him as a member of Sinn Féin or as an IRA man?

Mary: Well I was reporting to him as an IRA person because I was reporting on behalf of Cumann na mBan.

John: And what years are you talking about now?

Mary: I’m talking right up until 1978.

John: Hmmm…that’s strange. He said he left in 1974.

Mary: Well I met with Martin McGuinness and other people that I assumed to be members of the IRA.

Mary Ward

They approached myself and Geraldine Taylor, as president and adjutant of Cumann na mBan, when they wanted to dismiss Cumann na mBan. They wanted Cumann na mBan to stand down which we refused to do - as did the women of 1916 - refused to stand down. And at every split throughout the history of Irish Republicanism in the twentieth century Cumann na mBan were always to the fore and always went their own way when it came to the Irish Republic. But that night I can still remember and hear Martin McGuinness to this day. He wanted to take of all them – they had a new structure within the IRA where they were setting up cells and he wanted to take the Cumann na mBan volunteers - the active Cumann na mBan volunteers - into their cells and for the Executive of Cumann na mBan to stand down. And when I refused this he turned around and he said to myself and Geraldine Taylor: What are you afraid of? Losing your stripes? So that was in I would say the Winter, the early Spring of 1978.

John: And Mary, you’re talking about 1916 – Republican Sinn Féin was very active in the commemorations and we covered it here on Radio Free Éireann but one of the biggest disgrace that the Free State government did – they put up a wall of all the people that were killed in 1916 – I was surprised they didn’t put up on the wall people that were killed jaywalking at that time on O’Connell Street. But anybody that was involved, they said it could be the IRA, it could be the British. How did you feel about it? And what is it called, this wall?

Mary: Well speaking on the day that it happened at the protest, our president, Des Dalton, described it as a ‘wall of shame’. And on that day Des Dalton asked the question: Could anybody possibly see the Algerians honouring the French who tried to quash their revolution? Or indeed could anybody see the French honouring the German forces that killed Germans, you know? So why should Irish people be ashamed of honouring their dead? Why had The Rising to be linked into the Second World War and why should we, as a proud nation of long-standing, a thirty-two county ancient nation, honour those who we oppose to their occupation of our country?

John: Mary, one of the other topics that was brought up by Anthony about this vote that’s coming on now in June, is Brexit. Brexit affects particularly the border counties and being my mother’s from Donegal and I’m up there all the time (I’ll be going over now in May again) the effect that this border has and the Free State government will have no say on what type of border – hard border – soft border. Brussels will be directing the Dublin government – this is how you’re going to patrol that border and then the British government is going to dictate to everyone in The Six Counties – this is how you’re going to patrol it. So the Free State government’s going to have no say in this border that’s coming up. And maybe talk about some of the hardships of living on the border and Donegal being so isolated.

Mary: Well first of all I would say from a Republican Sinn Féin point of view: We welcomed the Brexit result in Britain because firstly – we welcomed it on two levels: Firstly, it exposed the inherent fissures within the so-called ‘united kingdom’ and from our point of view it will, hopefully, hasten its demise. Secondly, we welcomed the likelihood of a referendum on Scottish independence and secondly it strikes a blow against the EU project and gives encouragement to other progressive forces throughout Europe. Unfortunately, we regretted, that the whole debate was taken over by the alt-right and the right in Britain because their bluster, jockeying for positions within the British Conservative Party, blurred what was the thing.

But where I live in Donegal we never benefited, we never benefited from EU membership, you know? So Brexit isn’t going to really – in some ways it will affect us. But we live in an area that was designated by the EU – the BMW Area, that was the border, Midlands and western area and we were disadvantaged – we were classed as a disadvantaged area in the area that I, myself, come from it has been decimated by Ireland’s EU membership. Because I live within a fishing community and the fishing industry in Ireland has been completely decimated. And like from the very beginning the successive Irish Free State governments, Twenty-Six County governments, were prepared to let the fishing go in favour of agriculture – that was from the beginning. It was one of the things I remember on the pier in Killybegs with the late Joe O’Neill back in 1972 telling the fishermen in Donegal this like, you know?

Now another thing is: In Monaghan area, border area, over the last number of years would have had a thriving mushroom industry where they exported their mushrooms to Britain predominantly and it was a huge trade. Unfortunately now, with the fluctuations in the sterling – and this is probably the only way that it will be affected, with the fluctuations in sterling – that industry has gone to the wall. Now the Free State Twenty-Six County government, they have spent billions upon billions attracting foreign inward investment into Ireland and it’s estimated that for every job created by an American or a Dutch or Chinese company in Ireland that it will cost the Irish taxpayer something like a hundred thousand euros and yet they will not invest in indigenous industries. They will not save the mushroom industries. But they will come running out here to Boston Scientific offering them all kinds of inducements, all kinds of – you know all about their problem with the previous American government in collecting tax on multinationals who use Ireland as a kind of a tax haven for laundering their money.

Now having said that, the ordinary people will rise to the occasion and they’ve already started to do so in places like Dundalk where they have started local coupons they call them, like you know, to attract business to stay local and that people will earn dividends – instead of running off to Newry if they work in Dundalk. But like most of the people along the border – will say they’ll survive. Now the big question, and the big question for the Irish government and for the Provos and everybody else is: they don’t want to see a return to custom posts on the border because that will give lie to the united Ireland in everything but name. It will show up that there actually is a border, there is a border there since 1922 and there will continue to be a border whether Britain is in or out of the EU – there is a border because you do not have a thirty-two county united Ireland.

John: And that’s Mary Ward from Republican Sinn Féin.

(ends time stamp ~ 50:04)


  1. Not withstanding radical changes in my political views I still have fond memories of times spent in the company of Mary Lawlor and her late husband Pat Ward. Pat over four hunger strikes in the 70's did 148 days without food in pursuit of political status in the 'Free State'. Sadly the cumulative effect of his efforts led to serious physical impairment and an untimely death in 1988.

  2. HJ, when RSF broke away, do you think O Bradaigh and O Connell etc were overly optimistic about the Provo's tolerance in allowing a rival republican group? Pat Doherty and Martin McGuineness threated O Bradaigh (and O Connell at some stage) with death if he set up a rival army and so the claims on being a the true heirs to 'the revolution' could never really make the transition with them. Its quite enviable discipline to do that to old freinds and comrades, but I wonder if those that walked in 1986 thought that it would be that way?
    PS I wonder if Danny Morrison will notice the border in the next few years,after claiming he couldnt a few years ago.

  3. Dáithí,

    I can't speak with any great authority to the specifics of what you ask save but to recount impressions from conversations with Rory.

    Like many who'd grown up with and lived along side Fianna Fáil Republicanism he was always avidly against participation in partitionist assemblies. He, correctly I believe, asserted that one could not be a revolutionary and at the same time participate in the parliamentary system.

    For whatever his short-comings I always found him a man of great integrity, determination and fidelity to his beliefs. As such I doubt he felt intimidated by Doherty or McGuiness's taunts. His challenge or so he intimated was in garnering support against the armalite/ballot box strategy in the lead up to the army convention. It was almost impossible, he recounted, to convince delegates that given all the arms and munitions acquired from Libya that there'd be any potential abandonment of the armed struggle. His assessments were discounted or ignored.

    Adams, McGuiness and their team out-manoeuvred any significant opposition and successfully brought the vast majority of key-players with them. Those that walked with Rory didn't in truth present a viable treat or challenge. Any blood-letting as a result of the fallout would not be necessary at this juncture.

    Thirty years later none of this matters much. Republican ideology of the sort we once subscribed to is the stuff of history ... the stuff of history which has little relevance or purchase save but to the ideologue. It was a belief-system that was of a time and that time is well gone.

  4. Henry Joy

    That is an excellent point you make there. SF may have called/timed the situation correct. But the manner of implementation and underhand and deviant nature of the leadership for so long makes it distasteful for many to watch them in action. The fate of Nesbitt and the behaviour of Foster and Co. make the inevitable head count politics the only game in town. Old fashioned republicanism is a pissing in the wind exercise. Demographically (UDR Pete's favourite) we are on a winner sooner rather than later and the DUP / loyalists are engaged in a pissing in the wind exercise longer term. Republicans and unionists have much in common, they are twinned.

    As for the SF reprobates, in time the party may transform and cleanse itself of deviants and hoods. Or being a political party it may attract them in even greater numbers. For old hands like ourselves I remember a 'fatherly' warning from the late Jimmy O'Reilly (an absolute gentleman)in the Crum in 1987/8 that a lot of very good and thoroughly decent people had been tossed aside down the years by the 'movement' who would never return. It was/is the nature of the beast. Wise words indeed to a naive brat blinded by the propaganda.

  5. DD,

    I don't have memories of there having been violent antagonism between the competing parties. Sure there were resentments and disappointments but not not hugely hostile expressions of those feelings, at least not ones that I personally have memories of.

    I remember in '88 travelling to Ballinamore to pay my respects to Pat Ward as his remains made their from Dublin back to West Donegal for burial. Pat had operated along the Fermanagh/Cavan/Leirim/South Donegal borders for much of his active service years and his cortege detoured to pass through his old stomping grounds. Colleagues and comrades who remained Loyal to The Republic turned out in Ballinamore to pay their respects with some donning their black berets and gloves to provide a guard of honour for the forgotten hunger-striker.

    A lasting memory of that afternoon was of the late John Joe McGirl, one time Chief of Staff, former abstentionist T.D. and by this time an Adams acolyte shuffling out of his home and standing to attention as best he could and saluting his former comrade's remains.
    The memory is all the more poignant because McGirl was by this stage in the late throes of cancer and close to death himself. He passed on in '88 also.

    This is one of the lasting vignettes I have of that time. Confusion and disappointment was more the tone of the time rather than blatant hostilities.

  6. Thanks for the details HJ, I think smallish annecdotes that you put on here give neat finese to a subject most interested obervers have a broad-ish grasp of. I certainly value them.
    RSF seem to have a unhealthy dependence on the machinations of PSF akin to Kremlinologists who studied the Soviets political manouvres but found themselves seeking alternative ventures when other politics overtook them.
    Larry this demographic projection needs to factor in immigration too, Merkhel will be forcefully distributing some wonderful future freinds within the EU over the next five years (There is 1.5m in Libya,and 3m in Turkey that want to come to the West). Having left poltical uncertainty, I doubt many would agree to something potentially destabilising for their future. But im sure they will be nicer neighbours than the Planters were, especially when the culture has changed sufficiently to accomodate them (initially at least).

  7. Absolutely Larry,

    if one takes the meta or long view one could well-argue a case that Adams/McGuinness got things right in the direction they took the movement. On the other hand Rory, based on the experience of previous splits, correctly predicted that their path would most likely only lead to yet another cul-de-sac.
    All the shenanigans couldn't but be inherently dishonest if they (Adams/McGuinness) were to prevent even greater schisms than those that unfolded. All that deceit to steal the SDLP's wardrobe!

    At the risk though of fracturing the current level of rapprochement that exists between us (LOL) I just can't find it in myself to be as confident as you seem to be about a majority arising for unity among the Northern population, at least not any time soon. As AM has argued on here also, I don't anticipate the same degree of cohesive hegemony among CRN's as exists among PUL's. And anyway if some form of geographical unity were ever to come about it will, in all likelihood, be so far removed from what we envisaged and fought for it will most likely be consider an insipid satisfier for any old style republican appetite.


    in a modern comparatively well-educated, relatively affluent and outwardly focused society I can't see Sinn Féin making much further inroads North or South. Even as they move closer to a more centralist party I can't foresee them achieving anything much more than morphing further into an SDLP type party in the North and a Labour type party in the South.
    Reality dictates that any party/movement which aspires to electoral success must of necessity soften its harder ideological stances. Continued electoral success nowadays is predicated on setting out policies which are not just possible but rather are probable in their achievement and implementation too. In this regards the Provisional Republican Movement can only disappoint the ideologues more and more. That's the way it pans out.

    (Interesting to hear you get some value from my ramblings and reflections. Thanks)

  8. Henry Joy

    Aye wee Provo unstoppable surge right into the SDLP fitting room. There is nowhere left for the SF 'brigade' to go now except Westminster. As for Rory, he may have been correct about the constitutional trajectory but sitting alone convinced of his unblemished republican correctness got him nowhere fast. That is the problem with republicanism, it is the one size fits all lazy man's answer. 'I'm right you are all wrong'.

    As for UDR Pete's demographics, I see the OU election broadcast showed a girl and a fella walking with a hockey stick and a hurley respectively and the party now professing to want a wee 6 for all its citizens. I'm sure my wee mammy had tears in her eyes just watching it. Window dressing. Bring on the head count lol.

  9. HJ , it's a waste they are restricted to a comment section rather than a full article they would deserve . But as someone who seemingly emails AM weekly over worries about some comment I am publicly linked to, that wouldn't read too sympathetically to a HR busy body , I can appreciate why some prefer the simplicity of a moniker.