When I sat down with him, I could tell the illness he had been living with was winning the battle. Even though he was as determined as ever I feared that the length of our conversation, three hours, might have taken too much out of him. By the time I left I was certainly tired, and when dropped in Mullingar on the return journey I instantly fell asleep on the bus to Dublin. I knew it was unlikely I would see Eamon again. When I did he was laid out in his coffin.
On reading the obituaries and eulogies to Eamon, I was struck at how much the discourse placed him in the world of GAA. A manager of the Donegal senior hurling side he brought the county its first Nicky Rackard Cup in 2006. There was another dimension to Eamon, one he never lost sight of. Given the guard of honour that accompanied him from his home to the cemetery I had felt there would be a wider depiction of the man I knew. His son, during the eulogy, referenced the many titles Eamon had, one of which was comrade. He was very much that. It was through the IRA and not the GAA that I knew him.
In 1974 as a seventeen year old I was transferred to Long Kesh from Crumlin Road jail. Before I left the Crum, Brendan Hughes brought me into his cell and give me a comm instructing me to hand deliver it to one of the staff in Long Kesh. He then briefed me on its contents in case I had to swallow it to keep it out of the hands of the authorities. I was amazed and a certain age of innocence was left behind that day. The world of the IRA just wasn't what it seemed.
I reached Cage 10 safely with the Dark's comm intact. For every single day over the next three weeks I worked constantly with Eamon regarding the matters in the comm. It was an intense period in my imprisonment. He was older than me and I took my lead from him. While he brought a perspicacity to problem solving he was never averse to hearing a different view. Once when I ventured the opinion that something was not right, that things were not adding up, he was the only one who listened. The rest of the team just carried on as if my observations had never been made. It taught me something about the IRA - being right doesn't always get you heard. Nevertheless, the three weeks bonded us and a strong trust ensued.
After my return to the Crum I was involved in wrecking up A Wing in solidarity with the men who had burned Long Kesh, and ended up locked up 24/7 as a result. In any event myself and Eamon eventually reached separate cages in Magilligan, he in G myself in F, seeing each other only occasionally. But to borrow a phrase, our work was done and we had moved onto different things, with an overlap of sorts. While I was busy digging a tunnel in F he was plotting his own escape from G. Shortly before I was released towards the end of 1975 he escaped from Altnagelvin Hospital. Fear Maith, Eamon, I thought. Against all odds he beat me to the gate.
It was not the last he saw of jails. His commitment to the republican cause led him into to the austere Portlaoise where he spent a number of years. Eamon was a republican through and through. He was also something of an iconoclast, able to see the clay feet that many had built reputations on. No point in going to Eamon with fancy words. He would have spotted the big hat no cattle type immediately and called them out.
A warrior who initially hailed from the Glens of Antrim, his funeral was one of the largest I have attended. As he was lowered into his grave while others were looking upon the GAA legend, my thoughts were here is an IRA chieftain being laid to rest.
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