Earlier the same year had had escaped from Portlaoise Prison after 19 IRA prisoners blasted the walls and dispersed quickly beyond the long arm of Paddy Cooney's rule of law enforcement. Housed in the Crum at the time we were envious of their success.
Martin's freedom was to be short lived. Six weeks after his escape he was shot and captured during a gun battle with the British Army in South Armagh from where he hailed. After a spell in Musgrave Park Military Hospital he was shunted off to join us within the gloomy architecture of the Crum. As well as being an accomplished IRA volunteer Martin was also a talented sessions musician. He could strum both a rifle trigger and a guitar string.
After the burning of Long Kesh in October of 1974 and the subsequent riot in the Crum, Martin embarked on a hunger strike and later a hunger and thirst strike in a push back against harsh measures introduced by the jail governor who would go on to manage the H Blocks during the blanket protest and hunger strikes.
Sentenced to ten years, Martin was moved to the cages of Long Kesh. On the forced departure of the then camp O/C, Brendan Hughes in January 1978 - on trumped up charges - to the H Blocks where he went on to lead the Blanket protest, Martin assumed the command of the republican prisoners in the cages. For the six months that I spent under his leadership before I too ended up in the H Blocks, he was a capable and firm O/C who got the job done.
He left the Kesh in 1979 on completion of his sentence and, if memory is not deceiving me, he was extradited to Dublin to face trial for the Portlaoise escape. I hadn't seen him for years but when in the RVH about 15 years ago for a minor operation, on discovering he was in the same complex I strolled down to his ward and paid him a visit.
In recent years Martin took to campaigning on environmental issues, protecting, as he saw it, the folk of South Armagh and beyond from harm. Given the serious injuries he had sustained from a body external to the community it was particularly galling to learn that he had again been badly hurt, this time by someone internal to the community. His assailant has been described in the media as a millionaire suspected of being a fuel smuggler. The attack left him "with life-changing injuries, including impaired eyesight and a haematoma on his brain." He also sustained numerous broken bones in his facial region. After beating him unconscious in front of his wife, his assailant "kicked, punched and repeatedly slammed a car door on the hands of his victim, who was unable to defend himself."
One of the issues Martin had campaigned against was the wash from dodgy diesel polluting the environment. He said he felt the reason behind the attack on him was because he “stood against the dumping of diesel sludge”. In his evidence to a Dublin court he claimed he was assaulted because he had challenged his assailment Eugene Hanratty Snr, about allegations of diesel sludge dumping, and that in 2010 he had raised the issue in Crossmaglen with then-PSNI chief constable, Matt Baggott, telling the court that this made him "very unpopular with certain people". He explained:
I am lucky to be alive. If my wife Mary hadn’t been with me that day, which she wouldn’t usually be, I don’t think I would have survived. He opened the car door and began to hit me over the head with something. I passed out ... Then he dragged me from the car and I came around briefly. He was hitting me with his fists and then gave me what I can only describe as a penalty kick to the head before I passed out again. He then proceeded to dance on my hands and arms ... I remember very little but I am still living with the medical consequences to this day. Witnessing the attack had a big impact on my wife Mary also.”
After a lengthy judicial process, frequently disrupted, his attacker was jailed for four years. Martin welcomed the verdict saying he had at last received justice.
While never a cheerleader for people going to jail - a bias on my part - it would be impossible to keep a straight face while justifying a non-custodial sentence. Those seeking to protect the environment from the rich and their pollution, are themselves in need of protection from brutality.
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