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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Granny Josie

'No tyranny is so irksome as petty tyranny' - Edward Abbey


Anthony McIntyre • 28 October 2006

They carried Granny Josie out of the Ballycolman estate where she had lived up until the time of her death. As in life it was no different in death: her immediate family were closest to her as she left the estate for the last time. She had eleven children. They in turn provided her with grandchildren. The ripple effect from that was evidenced in the size of the cortege as it crept up the road towards the chapel where the funeral mass would be heard. Schoolchildren lined part of the route, many of them the friends and classmates of her grandchildren.

Josie Gallagher was a devout Catholic. One of her sons said to me that she possessed a very deep faith. The hardship she encountered during the course of her life was alleviated to some extent by the succour she took from a firm belief in God. In the chapel, one grandchild after another came up to say a few emotionally charged words in her honour. Each spoke of their love for Granny Josie and how her empty chair would be a painful but constant reminder of her presence.

Earlier that morning I had travelled from Belfast to Strabane along with Kevin McQuillan to attend the funeral. Both of us knew the Gallagher family well. Throughout my spells in prison Josie's sons always seemed to be represented in the republican prisoner population. From what is the norm for families they were overrepresented, three sons in at one stage all serving hefty sentences. Another had served an earlier sentence. In prison I gravitated to them as a duck does to water. They were no respecters of authority, even less so when it was arbitrary and unaccountable.

The republican prisoner Alex McCrory once observed to me during his second stretch, when the days of seriously battling the prison management were long behind us, that the daily battle for republicans in jail was to create personal space. There was no shortage of people trying to close it down. The tyranny of the small man is well suited to prison. With literally a captive audience which as a consequence of enforced proximity is always within fifty yards of some moral guardian, it was easy to see why Alex McCrory thought as he did.

The Gallaghers sought out their own space and helped make it for others. Theirs was an oasis in a desert of boredom and stifling conformity. The republican leadership in the prison might not have appreciated such a bolthole in the middle of the aridity they so proudly ruled over. But for others who felt republicans should not try to emulate the lives of frugal monks, the colour lent by the Gallaghers to prison life was welcome. While others were busy ascetically committing to memory the words of some obscure revolutionary, they and the coterie they hung out with were indifferent to what people drank, smoke, read or expressed. Whether they partook or not, hooch, pot, porn or free speech, were never reasons to be shunned from their company. Small wonder that the friendships forged behind steel doors have lasted long after the final clang of the slammer faded in the distance.

Josie Gallagher shared something of her sons' disdain for authority. She knew that the great and the good rarely practiced what they preached. The forces of good order brought bad disorder to her home. At one point she found herself bound over to keep the peace after hitting a member of the RUC who was violently attacking one of her children. Her home was frequently raided, every year from 1973-2002, often several times a year. She saw her sons imprisoned, one of whom went on a lengthy hunger strike after being falsely convicted and who was subsequently brutally beaten on a daily basis by prison staff eager to break his spirit and diminish his resolve. The hunger strike never established his innocence but it kept the NIO paid thugs at bay for its duration and for some time after. His actions had made him into a political hot potato, too hot to be kicked along the cell block. During that fast Josie's husband decided to take on Roy Mason in his Barnsley constituency in a bid to draw public attention to their son's plight. An accomplished smuggler of material comforts punitively banned from the prison, Josie defied the prison regime time out of number. In her own words, 'in my own small way I was beating the system and provided my sons with some small luxuries they were being denied.'

With three sons at one point all serving time together for republican activity, two as INLA prisoners and the third for IRA activities, it would be expected that lots of assistance would be directed Josie's way. She had visited the prisons almost every week from 1974 to 1996. Then in the Teach na Failte booklet Out of the Shadows I came across a short contribution by Josie:

We received no financial assistance for years, maybe a decade … Manys a time I had to thumb it up the road to see them as we had no car and I was not permitted to travel on the Sinn Fein transport as my sons were in on INLA charges … I could never, and still cannot, tell the difference between Stickies, Provos or INLA as they were all soldiers to me. I remember once thumbing back from Long Kesh and it was snowing and the local Sinn Fein transport passed me. Once I was told I could use the transport to visit my son who was in on Provo charges.

She could not of course use the transport for the purposes of visiting her INLA sons. The power of the small man would prevail; her visiting pass for the day would be checked by the transport police. No mother of imprisoned republicans would evade their scrutiny. What a crime that would be, letting the mother of the wrong type of republican political prisoners use the bus to visit her children. 'Papers please.'

A sceptic might be excused for thinking like JK Galbraith that under British bosses man oppressed man but under republican bosses it was just the opposite. Was our self-righteousness, elitism and political sectarianism so entrenched that we nurtured an outlook utterly disdainful of an impoverished mother standing at the side of the road in the snow? The bus driver could have thought about a career improvement and applied to become a prison officer. He of course did not devise the policy but was the willing minion at the bottom of the food chain.

Such prejudice against the membership of the Republican Socialist Movement and their immediate family was unfortunately not an isolated incident. Those interested in the double discrimination faced by these political prisoners and their kin will find plenty to disturb their sleep at night in Out of the Shadows. It is a document that leaves a serious blemish on the standard Provisional republican accounts of how they managed their own regime within prison. Republican socialist prisoners endured an experience which was once summed up by an imprisoned son of Josie Gallagher. When on the morning of his release, asked what he would tell people about the H-Blocks, his response was damning: 'the place is full of bastards and the screws are nearly as bad.'

It is a testimony to the generosity of her character that Granny Josie never held a grudge as a result of this discrimination against her and her family. A mere couple of years after her ban on using the Sinn Fein prison transport she helped three IRA volunteers, two of whom were wounded in a gun battle with British soldiers, escape imprisonment. One of them however, Tommy Brogan, was captured three days later. She hid them, assisted their escape and destroyed incriminating evidence. On that particular day the whole Ballycolman Estate was cordoned off by the RUC and British Army while house to house searches were conducted. Josie's home was raided twice that day, the second time after it was noted that smoke was coming from the chimney. It must have been a strange sight, much of the case against IRA volunteers going up in smoke billowing from a chimney on a hot summer day. She knew the volunteers as they had attended the same primary school as her own children. The title of the film Some Mother's Son jumps to mind. Josie was proud of the fact that she prevented the mothers of two sons going through what she had - years of trudging to prisons. Prior to that day she had assisted another IRA volunteer destroy evidence which could have led to the imprisonment of a number of his comrades.

Knowing her sons and coming to learn that she was the rock upon which they stood, I regret that I never got to know this tenacious and tender matriarch in life but was honoured to walk in her funeral cortege. While not having a religious thought in my head, I entered the chapel and listened to every word of her funeral mass. Granny Josie was no republican ideologue. She cared about her family. There is a side to the republican struggle which people like Granny Josie and the late Denis Faul graced. A humane side buttressed by remarkable individuals who cared for people, persevered against the odds and the disapproval of others. Like Denis, Granny Josie was pilloried and ignored and left to stand in the snow because the faces of two of her sons didn't fit the political order.

She got little material reward for her efforts but she never sought it. A number of years ago her sister left her £3000.00 in her will and despite being a pensioner with a weekly income of £60.00 she donated all of it to African children. Recently she was involved in fund raising, with her family, for the establishment of an orphanage in South Africa which is presently under construction. The group involved in the construction decided to name the orphanage 'Josie's Place' after her untimely death, in recognition of her contribution. For Granny Josie it was about people not property. And in the end, fittingly, it was the people of no property, like herself, who bore her to her grave.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

30 October 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Granny Josie
Anthony McIntyre

Guardians of Perjury
Martin Galvin

Writing on the Wall
John Kennedy

The Litmus Test of Republicanism
Charlie Clarke

Monkey Business
Anthony McIntyre

Northern Invasion
Dr John Coulter

Eamon McGuire: The Life of an Undercover IRA Activist
William Hughes

Deal Will Underline Delusions
David Adams

Blood in the Water
Dr John Coulter

Muslims = Terrorists
M. Shahid Alam

Nothing Could Be More Offensive!
Maryam Namazie

25 October 2006

From Up the Ra to Up the Rozzers
Anthony McIntyre

Just Say No
Martin Galvin

Whither Irish Republicanism
Mick Hall

The Three Stooges
John Kennedy

Jockeying For Position
Dr John Coulter

An Irish Agreement
Liam O Comain

Up the Garden Path
John Kennedy

A Gaelic Experiement
Nathan Dowds

Preventing Prejudice
Anthony McIntyre



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