IT OCCURS TO ME: Memories of the Troubles and a tribute to late Paddy Joe McClean

IT OCCURS TO ME: Memories of the Troubles and a tribute to late Paddy Joe McClean

The late Paddy Joe McLean: tortured in 1971

There has been much in the media of late remembering 50 years since the outbreak of the Troubles and 25 years since the 1994 ceasefires. I just finished Patsy McGonagle’s Relentless and while his sporting exploits have been well documented, his memories of 1969 are equally fascinating.
He recalls: “My father was Commanding Officer in Rockhill to the 24th Battalion and became the conduit for recruiting around 15 from Derry, some of whom had been at St Columb’s with me. They were all trained in arms. My father trained them in Dunree, and the idea was that they would ‘control’; Derry. They were trained in all sorts of weapons in Dunree, and being in the FCA was really just a cover-up. My father gave them an address...I Fahan Halt, Fahan, which is basically the end of the pier in Fahan, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-village on the way to Buncrana. Years later, back money arrived for those men that was due from the FCA days and the postman, naturally enough, couldn’t find the address. The cheques kept going back to the finance department in Dublin. I’m not sure if the cheques were ever cashed.
The intention was for them to control things in Derry rather than let the IRA take control. When the shit hit the fan and it was being debated in the Dail, Minister Gibbons rang my father and said that he’d have to resign from the army. He told my father he shouldn’t have recruited the Derry men in the first place.
My father took some advice from Neil Blaney...and got back to Gibbons. He told him that he’d resign but he also told the Minister to listen in on the 1.30 news on RTE.”

As it turned out, Patsy’s dad had recorded the conversation of him being instructed to train the Derry men. He was prepared to release the tape. He didn’t have to. As he recalls…”That was the last my father heard about the matter.”


A few weeks ago, I retold a joke I heard from Paddy Joe McClean in Omagh many years ago.
I had just finished writing my column and I received a call to say that Paddy Joe was dead at the age of 86. I got to know him during my time on radio in Omagh and he was a thoughtful, sensitive, witty, warm man, husband to Annie and father of 12 children.
Paddy was the most forgiving Christian one could ever encounter, considering what he had been through.
He had never been in the IRA, but was Chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Paddy was one of the 'Hooded Men' incarcerated in 1971 and as he told the Association for Legal Justice:  “I was handcuffed and subjected to verbal and personal abuse, which included the threat of being dropped from a helicopter which was in the air, being kicked and struck about the body with batons on the way.
“After what seemed about one hour in the helicopter I was thrown from it and kicked and batoned into what I took to be a lorry.
“The lorry was driven only a couple of hundred yards to a building. On arriving there I was given a thorough examination by a doctor. After this all my clothes were taken from me and I was given a boilersuit to wear which had no buttons and which was several sizes too big for me. During all this time the hood was still over my head and the handcuffs were removed only at the time of the 'medical examination'.
“I was then taken into what I can only guess was another room and was made to stand with my feet wide apart and my hands pressed against a wall. During all this time I could hear a low droning noise, which sounded to me like an electric saw or something of that nature.
“This continued for what I can only describe as an indefinite period of time. I stood there, arms against the wall, feet wide apart. My arms, legs, back and head began to ache. I perspired freely, the noise and the heat were terrible. My brain seemed ready to burst. What was going to happen to me? Was I alone? Are they coming to kill me? I wished to God they would, to end it. My circulation had stopped. I flexed my arms to start the blood moving. They struck me several times on the hands, ribs, kidneys and my knee-caps were kicked.
“My hood-covered head was banged against the wall. As I have said this particular method of torture lasted for an indefinite period, but having consulted other men who suffered the same experiences I believe the period to have been about two days and nights.
“During this time certain periods are blank — fatigue, mental and physical, overwhelmed me. I collapsed several times, only to be beaten and pulled to my feet again and once more pushed, spreadeagled against the wall. Food, water and the opportunity to relieve my bowels were denied me. I collapsed again.
“I came to in what I believed to be Crumlin Road jail, having been pushed into a chair. The hood was removed and I was handed what I was told was a detention form. I was told to read it. My eyes burnt and were filled with pain: they would not focus and I couldn't read the form. I was thanking God that my ordeal was over. No more pain, now I could sleep. But no! The hood was pulled over my bursting head. I was roughly jerked to my feet and half pulled, half kicked and beaten for about 400 yards. This was the worst and most sustained beating to date. Fists, boots and batons crashed into my numbed body: someone else's — not mine. Hands behind my back, handcuffs biting into my wrists. Pain! Someone pulling and jerking my arms. Thrown headlong into a vehicle — soft seats, beating continued, boots, batons, fists. Then the noise, that dreaded helicopter again. Dragged out of the vehicle by the hair, thrown onto the floor of the helicopter. Blacked out.”
This was not the end of the torture, but Paddy McClean was never embittered and was a shining example of what Nelson Mandela reminded us: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

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