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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.'
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: