Paul Dickinson > Mairéad Farrell, a true heroine.
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Mairéad grew up in Andersonstown in West Belfast, the North of
Ireland. Her parents had 6 children and Mairéad, the second youngest was the only daughter. She attended Rathmore Grammar School and was a good student.
From the age of 12 Mairéad’s life would exist around what was known as the “Troubles” in the North. The daily exposure of Sectarianism, murder, bombings, riots and the struggle for Justice as an Irish Catholic living under British Rule impacted her every day life. The events of what is known as “Bloody Sunday” when 13 innnocent protestors were shot and killed by the British Army had a significant effect on all of Ireland as did Internment without trial, these would be a major contributing force in developing her political attitudes.
After leaving school at age 18 she briefly worked for an Insurance Company. She was recruited as a volunteer in the
Irish Republican Army in 1975 and would be arrested on April 5, 1976 for posession of explosives and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
She was sent to Armagh jail as a Political Prisoner where she shared a 6 x 9 cell with another volunteer. As a Political Prisoner she was entittled to Political Status. This meant she was free to associate with other political prisoners, wear her own clothes instead of a prison uniform, Have the right to family/friend visits once per week and to be educated and have recreation activities.
She would become the first woman to be refused Political Status when these rights were taken away. Mairéad would become the Officer in Command (OC) of the Armagh Prision Political Prisoners and lead the way in what was called “The Dirty Protest”. The women refused to “slop out”, their cells or wear prison clothing, protesting the designation of being termed as Criminals rather than Political Prisoners just as the men did in Long Kesh H Blocks.
She began a hunger strike December 1, 1981 along with two other prisioners. It ended December 19 1981 when it was deemed more could be achieved by focusing attention directly on the mens fight for justice in the H Blocks of Long Kesh.
She ran for a seat in the General Election in the Republic of Ireland in 1981.
Mairéad believed she was an equal to anyone, that she was oppressed as a woman and as an Irish Person, she stated:
“I have always believed we had a legitimate right to take up arms and defend our country and ourselves against the British occupation”. Mairéad also believed in a United Ireland.
She would serve over 10 years of her sentence before being released in 1986.
Mairéad became a first year student at the prestigious Queen’s University Belfast in 1986 studying Political Science & Economics. However she dropped out to take up a greater role as a IRA Volunteer.
Along with Sean Savage and Daniel McCann she went to Gibraltar in March 1988. The security forces who had monitored the group over several months had also sent a team of SAS to Gibraltar under a shoot to kill policy called “Operation Flavius”. (Death on the Rock).
On March 6 1988 as Mairéad and Danny walked along the streets of Gibraltar, Sean trailing behind them they heard men behind them. Turning to see guns in their hands, Mairéad and Danny put their hands in the air to surrender, Sean ran in another direction. Danny stepped to protect Mairéad when a hail of bulletts flew. Mairéad was shot three times in the back and as she lay on the ground was shot twice more in the face.
Danny was shot four times, twice in the back and while lying on the ground wounded, twice more in the head.
Sean Savage was chased down and in a hail of bullets was shot at least 16 times, five bulletts in the back, four in the head and multiple other areas.
The British Government released news reports indicating the three were high ranking IRA terriorists who were shot dead after planting a massive bomb which they planned to detonate by remote control.
The British Legal System deemed the killings to be lawful.
Subsequent reviews of the case by the European Court of Human Rights in 1995 found that the “Killings were unlawful”. There was no remote control device, no active bombs. There had been no warnings given to the three to stop and no effort made to arrest them. The three Volunteers were unarmed at the time of their murders.
The bodies were not released until 10 days after the murders and many obstacles had to be overcome in order to fly the remains home. As they arrived in Dublin landing again on Irish soil a party of Provisional Volunteers in Belfast fired a volley of shots over a memorial of Mairéad, Sean and Dan as Father Piarus O’Duill prayed over the deceased.
After crossing the border into the North the coffins draped in tricolours were seized by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). They warned the families that the funerals must take place “Within the law” and without
“Paramilitary Trappings”. While the mourning families waited the coffins were “delivered” to their respective homes in what was a show of power and control on the part of the RUC.
Kevin MacCracken another young Belfast man was shot dead by the British Army while trying to assist mourners at the home of Sean Savage on March 14 1988.
The funerals of the Gibraltar 3″, were held on March 16 1988 and were attended by over 10,000 people. They were to be buried together in the Republican Plot at Milltown Cemetery after Requiem Mass.
As Fr. Alex Reid and Fr. Raymond Murray prayed at the graveside and the final coffin; that of Dan McCann was lowered into the ground; the ceremony was disrupted by hand grenade blasts and shooting.
Michael Stone loyalist paramilitary was attacking mourners in the graveyard. His grenades and gun shots would cause the deaths of three more people. Thomas McErlean, John Murray and Caoimhin MaBradaigh who responded to the attacks by trying to protect mourners, more than 60 others were injured.
On March 9 2008 twenty years after the murders of March 6 2008 there were commemorative marches held in Northern Irealand in honour and remembrance of The “Gibraltar 3”.
Queens University Belfast were Mairéad had been a student at the time of her death also commemorated the event with a black flag vigil. At the time of her death it was custom for the university to lower the flag to 1/2 mast in respect of a deceased student. This honour had been refused Mairéad in 1988 which moved students to take over the Vice Chancellors office and lower the flag themselves.
Mairéad’s mother joined her daughter in heaven this past March, ironically being buried on the same date as her daughter 22 years before, March 16 1988.
Died with – Daniel McCann
Died with – Sean Savage
Note: Name in Gaelic: Máiréad Ní Fhearghail / Ní Fhearail.