Last Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of the killing of IRA Volunteer Brendan O’Callaghan by the British army. His family, friends and comrades marked the occasion with a ceremony of memory and reflection at the Roddy McCorley Monument.
The proceedings were chaired by Alex Maskey MLA, and there were contributions from Seamus Finucane, Jim McCann, Sinéad Moore and Brendan’s sister Pauline Fitzpatrick. Pauline is RFJ’s Therapeutic Programme Coordinator. What follows is Pauline’s highly personal and emotional speech, which she has generously allowed us to share and the speech delivered by so-organiser Seamus Finucane.
Thanks to Peadar Whelan from An Phoblacht Republican News for the photographs of the occasion.
Speech by Pauline Fitzpatrick
Brendan Michael O’Callaghan was born on the 5th July 1955.
Brendan was not named until a few weeks after his birth. His mum/dad could simply not settle on a name they liked, however as our mum stood at her front door in Rockville Street in July 1955 a funeral was making its way along the Falls Road, she asked a neighbour who was being buried, ‘that’s Brendan O’Boyle an IRA volunteer’, “that’s sad but what a lovely name” she thought “Brendan it is”.
As a family we lived in the lower Falls where Brendan went to St Finian’s Primary School. Eventually as a family we settled in St James where our cousins the Burns/Osbournes/Fallons also lived. Life was good, safe and carefree.
Later Brendan attended St Peter’s Secondary School in Britton’s Parade and was to excel in their football team, the era of George Best/Man Utd/Celtic saw to that, he was afforded trials as a teenager with Southport FC and Liverpool – there u go Paul…the apple and all that!!!!
Brendan could also render a tune. I remember one night in particular my mum and dad getting all dolled up to go to the school concert, they were as proud as punch as Brendan was taking part……the show was Dr Zhivago, we had to listen to ‘Somewhere my Love’ for many’s a day after that show, that song still causes goose bumps.
Our Dad worked as a haulage contractor and took great pride with the lorries he owned and even greater was his pride in telling everyone how Brendan could handle a lorry from he was 14 – totally illegal of course but then when did Brendan ever obey the rules. In fact his driving skills managing heavy goods I do believe came in handy later as he made use of moving things around (lol) he was the expert flitter when people had to move house. There were times when our Dad’s lorry would have been apprehended by certain individuals, but Brendan always reassured him he would get it back for him, I can still see my Dad having that ‘there’s something up here’ look in his eyes.
Unfortunately safety and happiness were to be short lived as Belfast entered into a conflict zone in 69. The British Army were on the streets, young men of Brendan’s age were subject to humiliating searches and brutality. He experienced his young cousins interned. The horrors of conflict had penetrated his world he was only too aware of how oppression felt being a young Catholic male in those times losing friends and neighbours as a result of the conflict, Daniel Rooney, Tony Lewis to name but a few.
But this was no epiphany for Brendan, he was already aware and had experienced sectarianism and bigotry………being the only Catholics with in a predominately Protestant workforce he and our Dad had to tolerate their fair share of sectarian remarks aimed at their religion………the jobs they were delegated to do which their Protestant counterparts would simply not take on………..the isolation in the staff canteen which became heightened around the build up to the 12th July, Union flags abound, the display of Poppies which began around September…….
I recall several debates he had with our Dad when he would question how he could put up with being treated like a second-class citizen………. our Dad would reply why can’t you just keep your head down and get on with it. But that was not to be, there would be no cowing down, Brendan was only too aware it was wrong to be treated this way, it felt wrong and it was wrong.
Events such as ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1972 only added to the already volatile situation and many young people at that time decided enough was enough. I can also understand how people will say but sure I was exposed to sectarianism, I was harassed, I was treated as a second-class citizen, and yet I did not decide to join an organisation, and YES I accept that argument but Brendan’s choice to join the IRA was his choice and we honour that here today.
I strongly feel had we lived in another lifetime things would have been completely different. An IRA Volunteer was born, and as we have heard in recent weeks……the war had come to him.
At the tender age of 16 Brendan became a devoted father to his young son Brendan and a loving husband to Amelia. Before being imprisoned in 1975 Brendan and Amelia were blessed with another son Paul, often referred to as ‘his sticking plaster’. Against all the odds they tried to maintain a happy family life and as young parents were dedicated to each other and their boys.
Babysitting for Brendan and Amelia was not without its perils, when my friends babysat for their families they were left chocolates and treats…I was left small cling filmed squares and told to swallow them should the Brits raid the house.
In 1975 Brendan was detained at H M P in Crumlin Road goal. I had occasion to speak with Martin McGuinness some years back in South Derry and he had reminisced about meeting Brendan in the gaol during his spell in the Crum. They obviously struck a chord with each other as Martin had shared his fond memories of Brendan. With Martin’s recent untimely death, we take comfort that he and Brendan shared time together no doubt discussing tactics and the current state of affairs.
Following his release from Crumlin Road Jail some 10 months later Brendan’s resolve was undaunted as he once again returned to the IRA as a volunteer. Naturally as a family we thought after doing time he would get a proper job and settle down but that was not to be.
The summer of 1976 was I believe one of the hottest on record and holds many special memories for us as a family – Brendan particularly enjoyed Christmas that year almost child like as he got in to the spirit with his young boys and Amelia. However, by April 1977 our world was to be torn apart with Brendan’s untimely death.
Today 40 years later as a family we are still involved in the legal quest around Brendan’s death. Now we have the support of strident Lawyers who have assisted us greatly in being able to take ownership of Brendan’s case, to seek accountability and redress, all rights we were not afforded at the time of his death, simply because we thought he/we had no rights…
Brendan had a foresight beyond his tender years, he was a planner, a thinker – I know many of you here today experienced that from him – as a family we acknowledge Brendan’s dedication to the struggle he believed in, his love for his country was unquestionable, his quest for justice and equality paramount in his thinking – to have his children treated as equal citizens within their own country – ironically his headstone reads ‘I died for you to live’ – perhaps now we are finally seeing the fruits of the pain of loss – judging by the recent election success his dream is becoming attainable.
We know he made many friends and his comrades allegiance towards him has never faltered and we thank you for that.
Of course as a family we were selfish wishing only that he was here as the son, the brother, the husband, the father the grandfather, we are only human and go to the ‘what ifs’ depths of our minds throughout out darkest days were the most natural feelings, they are there because he was loved, that’s what made it all the harder. But who am I to tell this gathering of loss and heartache, looking around me today I acknowledge all your pain, suffering and loss, no one has a monopoly on that and we all deal with grief and loss in our own way, that’s fine, it’s what makes us unique.
So when we hear IRA volunteers referred to as a ‘terrorists’ ‘thugs’ ‘non-worthy’ victims of the conflict it pierces our hearts – had Brendan worn the uniform of the state he would have been labelled a hero.
We will not accept a narrative of his life that undermines him or his character – he will not be lambasted by those who seek to secure only their version of the conflict, Brendan was not born an IRA volunteer – he was, like so many, created.
Brendan was unique he had an infectious smile, there was a comfort in being in his company, he packed so much in to his short life, his legacy leaves two beautiful boys and stunning grandchildren.
I want to particularly thank Amelia who having been widowed so young could have easily chosen to bring her boys on another path, instead she remained loyal to our family which proved a great source of comfort to our parents through many dark times.
Thank you sincerely for sharing this tribute to Brendan, it means a lot and we hope and pray that all he dreamed and aspired for are not that far away.
May you rest in peace brave Soldier of Ireland.
Speech by Seamus Finucane
Fáilte roimh gach duine agaibh go gcuimhneachán Óglach Brendan O’Callaghan. It is good to see so many friends and comrades here to pay tribute to one of Belfast’s many heroes.
Forty years ago today I was lying in a cell in C-Wing H-Block 1 listening to the radio when news broke of a fatal shooting at the Hunting Lodge bar on the Stewartstown Road area of West Belfast.
Obviously being from the Lenadoon area I had a special interest in the breaking news. I was also a regular patron of this well-known local establishment and friends with the manager, as was the rest of our social circle, including Brendan.
As my mind raced and explored almost every possibility of what could have happened but I never really wanted to consider the worst case scenario. I listened to the news every hour on the hour, waiting for an update and clarity about the shooting incident in question. Needless to say I had a restless night.
The next morning I listened to the first news broadcast possible. The details were now unfolding that an IRA volunteer had been killed by the British army. He was named locally as Brendan O’Callaghan.
It is difficult to put into words how I felt at that moment. Once again my mind was racing, asking myself questions to which there was no answers.
As soon as the cell doors were unlocked I went to speak to other local prisoners who were in the wing with me at the time. It was the main topic of conversation for days.
Prison is the worst place to be in circumstances like this. You feel absolutely useless and frustrated. My thoughts turned to Amelia, the two boys, Mickey and Theresa O’Callaghan and Brendan’s sisters Michelle, Marian and Pauline. I knew their world was now in turmoil.
For us in prison it was a waiting game. During this period until after the funeral, every local prisoner was interrogated for scéal about the details of what happened. We were all heartbroken and shattered at losing a close friend and comrade.
I had first met Brendan upon being released from Long Kesh internment camp in the summer of 1975. Unbeknown to us at this time we were both former pupils of St. Finian’s primary school on the Falls Road where Brendan excelled as a member of the school gaelic football team.
It is now a historical fact that some great republicans attended this school and were active in the struggle over many decades. I am sure political unionism would view this as part of a radical republican conspiracy!
If truth be told I only knew Brendan for a short while but having said that, he did make a great impression on me. He was the O/C of the greater Lenadoon area, a proud position to hold in the IRA’s First Battalion, Belfast Brigade.
Brendan was mature beyond his years. He was a leader and a father figure to us even though he was only a few years older. He tempered our youthful exuberance in the ceasefire period of 1975 as our energy and enthusiasm for struggle tended to overwhelm us at times. We all became good friends and comrades, like family.
The political calendar choreography in a time of war is a bit of a gaol merry-go-round as friends and comrades are imprisoned but less often released. So, in late 1975, Brendan, Jackie Quigley/Lynch, Kevin Donnelly and the late Gerard Lavery were arrested in possession of weapons and went to Crumlin Road and Armagh prisons respectively.
They spent several months on remand before surprisingly being released with the exception of Jackie who went on to spend some years in prison.
Brendan returned to the army upon his release. No-one expected anything less.
1976 was a difficult period for the republican struggle as we emerged from a bad ceasefire and the British government’s implementation of their Ulsterisation policy to criminalise the struggle. Many of our friends went to prison during this time whilst others like volunteers Sean McDermott and Danny Lennon lost their lives on active service.
Once again I worked with Brendan as he settled back into what was an abnormal life. Over the summer Ieven managed to get a few days’ work out on his da’s lorry with him although I can’t remember ever being paid!!!!!
October came and it was my turn to go back to jail, another miscarriage of justice. Unfortunately, I was not on my own. Locals Joe McDonnell and Sean Lavery had reluctantly agreed to accompany me.
Brendan came to visit but categorically refused to loose talk. Spoil-sport!!! This would have been my last time seeing him though I always felt his close presence.
Today is very special for those of us who couldn’t attend his funeral in 1977. This is our opportunity to say farewell and to remember him with pride.
The narrative of the conflict is a contested space for hearts and minds, so, it is worth re-stating that Brendan O’Callaghan did not go to war, it was war that came to him and our community. Brendan O’Callaghan was not a terrorist, nor was he a criminal. Brendan was a freedom fighter. He was fearless and selfless. Unfortunately, he paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life. Like many other young Irishmen and women, they have gone to their graves prematurely.
The best tribute i can pay to Brendan is to carry on his work and ensure that his sacrifice is not in vain. So, when Bobby Sands said that everyone has their role to play, no matter how big or how small, he was not joking! If we want to realise the dream and vision of Brendan O’Callaghan then I ask you all to join us in struggle and help us build the new Ireland.
Codladh sámh Brendan, sonas ort i gconaí.