the lasting joy of a great friendship

The following article, “The lasting joy of a great friendship,” by Danny Morrison in today’s Daily Ireland made me cry. Find out if you too will be moved by clicking on the link above or reading it here:

Like most people I have made many friends throughout my life. However, there are only a few rare individuals in whose company one feels absolutely at ease to the extent that you are prepared to bare your soul, comfortable that you will not be compromised, ridiculed, humiliated or betrayed. Of such relationships are lasting love and great friendships made.

One such friend of mine was Jimmy Quigley, an IRA volunteer, who was killed in action at the age of 18, when confronting the British army in 1972. From the beginning it almost felt as if I and Jimmy – who I think about every day – were destined to meet.

West Belfast might not be that huge a place though it sprawls from Divis Street towards Twinbrook, but its large population is such that one might never come across for years, if at all, old school friends or former neighbours, who still live somewhere in the area. Thus one might not necessarily cross paths with a potential soul mate, despite their proximity.

Irish language
In 1982 five members of Sinn Féin were elected on an abstentionist ticket to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I represented Mid-Ulster, did my constituency work driving around alone in a second-hand Vauxhall Cavalier, and got a taste of the harassment that Sinn Féin MP Owen Carron had been experiencing.

After Gerry Adams and several others, including the late Sean Keenan, were shot coming from Belfast Magistrates Court in 1984 the movement insisted that republican representatives had to be accompanied by drivers/bodyguards.

That’s how I met Kevin Brady. He and two others were assigned to me throughout the duration of the European election in which I was a candidate. After the election Kevin remained on as my driver and was the best company one could have wished for.

At that time he was about 26 years of age and lived with his mother, Brid. She was a native Irish speaker from Anagaire in Donegal. Kevin’s father, Liam, from Belfast, another language enthusiast, had met her in the 1940s. They married and after a few years moved to the North but could only find a house in Bangor. The eldest two children went to school there but could not speak a word of English. Later, the Bradys moved to Mooreland Park in Andersonstown, where Kevin was born. Mrs Brady was widowed in 1971 when Kevin, her youngest, was just 13.

Kevin was handsome, of slim build with sandy, gingerish hair. He was self-confident but without vanity and had some of the great humility of his mother. He picked me up in the mornings to head off to the constituency. Several nights a week we would stay in the area. Our “billet” was in the home of Sally and Francie Hurson (brother of Martin Hurson who died on hunger strike), just outside Carrickmore.


In our Carrickmore office I would be on the phone with the Housing Executive or the DHSS and Kevin would be sitting quietly in the corner writing letters to his imprisoned comrades, just as, ironically, years later his mother would be writing to me in prison.

With the resurgence in the Irish language in the North in the 1980s, particularly boosted and influenced by prisoners coming out of the “jailtachts”, Kevin legally changed his name to Caoimhin MacBradaigh around 1987.
We were harassed day and night, held at checkpoints, and abused by the Brits and the RUC. When Kevin gave his name in Irish the RUC refused to accept it and demanded he spell it out in English. Kevin said they may whistle for it. So we all sat stuck at the side of the road, Kevin joking about the numbers of Brits and cops he was personally tying down for hours on end!

On our drives we would discuss everything from pop music to world politics. Sometimes, as he drove, I would look over to him and think, Kevin Brady you are one lovely person, a good guy. (I later learnt that he was sponsoring the education of a child in an African orphanage.)

We would often socialise together in west Belfast and had great craic. He and his girlfriend Jackie took my two sons to Funderland every October. Where it was held I couldn’t go for fear of assassination.

Milltown
After I left Mid-Ulster, Kevin reported back to the IRA for active service though we continued to see each other. In the Belfast Brigade he had known and worked with Dan McCann. On March 6, 1988, Dan and his comrades, Mairead Farrell and Sean Savage, were shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar. Their remains were returned to Ireland via Dublin. I spoke to Kevin at Kennedy Way roundabout in Andersonstown on the cold night we waited with about a thousand others for the return of their bodies, only to discover that the RUC had hijacked and diverted the hearses. The following day west Belfast was in trepidation of a huge confrontation with the RUC who had a policy of besieging republican funerals.

To our amazement the RUC did not come near the funeral. Given what we now know about collusion it is obvious that the Special Branch were involved in clearing the way for Michael Stone in his attempt to assassinate Sinn Féin leaders.

Kevin left home around 11 o’clock on Wednesday 16 March, to go to the funerals. At around seven o’clock that same day he came home in a coffin. He and John Murray and Thomas McErlean were killed by Stone as they defended the mourners, especially the women and children. Had they not deflected Stone many others would certainly have died.

Memorial
Kevin had many girlfriends, including Lisa whom he was going out with at the time of his death in March 1988, but he had a special relationship, a close bond with his mother. I cannot think about him without thinking about her and her goodness, her faith, the life she led, her selflessness, her simplicity. After a battle with cancer Mrs Brady died in 1999.

As we carried Kevin’s coffin along the Andersonstown Road, a Volkswagen Passat car containing two plain-clothes British soldiers sped towards the cortege, spreading fear and panic. Everyone thought it was a repeat loyalist attack on a republican funeral. One of the British soldiers who drove into the cortege produced a gun and fired a shot before he and his companion were overpowered and, a short time later, shot dead by the IRA.

In Milltown, before I gave my oration, Brid Brady stepped forward to say a few prayers in Irish. She said: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we pray to you today to remove the British from our country so that we may have peace.” She added: “May the Lord have mercy on the soul of my son and of all the dead no matter who they are.”

Last Saturday, in Anagaire, where Kevin lived between 1978 and 1981 when he worked for the IRA’s Southern Command, a memorial was unveiled in his memory. There was a huge turnout. That night there was a celebration of his life in Teach Leo’s. Photographs of him in childhood, adolescence and adulthood were displayed. His nieces and nephews played and sang traditional Irish music. Relatives had travelled from afar to be there.

We were all there to remember Caoimhin, a rare individual, and to me a great friend who, like Jimmy Quigley, lives with me everyday. I miss everything about him. I can still see his face, hear his voice and his special laugh which makes me smile just thinking about him.

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