Obituary for Jimmy Steele, published in Republican News, August 1970

This is the obituary published for Jimmy Steele on the front page of Republican News in August 1970 (Vol 1, No 3). The text is reproduced as written below.



A life-long, staunch and ardent Irish Republican

In the sudden death of Seamus Steele, R.I.P., Ireland has lost a loving soul and a stalwart defender of her right to freedom and national sovereignty. “Jimmy” as he was affectionately called by his friends and comrades, gave unsparingly of his time and talents in organising, educating and training those who like himself were pledged to continue the fight until Ireland was free and the Republic of Tone, Emmet, Mitchell, Pearse and McKelvey became an established fact in a Nation where all her children would be treated equally and the common bond of “Irishmen” would erase the age old British inspired divisions amongst the people.

He trod the hard road of sacrifice without regret. In terms of imprisonment, almost a third of his life was spent behind prison bars. His principles based on the teachings of Tone, Pearse, McKelvey and Brugha were the guide lines on which his life was moulded. Freedom, Honour, National Morality and Social and Economic well-being of the people were the things which sustained him in his unflinching opposition to the enforced Rule of Britain in Ireland.

He died still active in the ranks of the Republican Movement. His loss, like that of his life long comrade, Hugh McAteer, whose death took place in similar circumstances only five short weeks ago will be felt by his comrades throughout Ireland; by those who served the long years of incarceration with him behind the grey walls of Belfast Prison; by his legion of friends throughout Ireland and in the USA. But most of all the loss and separation comes to his loving and devoted wife Anna to whom the sympathy of a grateful people goes out and to his brothers Billy and Dan and relatives in this hour of their great bereavement.

Born on 8th August, 1907, he joined Na Fianna Éireann at a very early age. He was active with his comrades in the Fianna in assisting the Volunteers in his Company area around the New Lodge Road.

At the split, following the treaty he remained with the Anti-Treaty Forces and after the break up of the Fianna he continued his association with Oglaig na Eireann: In 1923 he was first arrested. He was taken from his home with an elder brother and detained for nearly three weeks. In 1924 Jimmy was again arrested; this time in company with the late Miss Mary Donnelly outside St. Patrick’s Church, Donegall Street.

In 1924-25 after the release of the Internees the re-organisation of the army took place. Out of this came the foundation of the Joe McKelvey G.A.C. Jimmy was a founder member. It was ta this period also that efforts were made to re-organise the Fianna. With the late Anthony Lavery, Jimmy was appointed to carry out this task which was successfully accomplished. He was arrested during the November 1926 round-up and was held on several occasions by the police under the notorious “Questions and Answer” Act which was part of the Special Power Regulations.

In 1933 he was again apprehended and sentenced to some months imprisonment. But it was in 1936 that his first term of penal servitude began. Following the abortive Campbell College Raid, a Court Martial was to have been held into matters arising from the raid. This was to have taken place in Crown Entry, in Craobh Ruadh Rooms, between High Street and Ann Street. The entire area was sealed off by the police and twelve men including Jimmy Steele were arrested. They were charged with treason. Jimmy Steele was sentenced to five years penal servitude.

During this time he took part in a number of protests in jail. In one such protest against the conditions prevailing in the prison at that time and in furtherance of the demand for full political treatment Jimmy was on hunger strike for 32 days. On the expiry of his sentence he was released in May 1940.

When the 1940 Campaign was in full swing, he reported back to the Army and was reappointed as Adjutant to the Northern Command Staff. Later he attained the position of Adjutant General with the rank of Lieutenant-General. He was soon back on the run. It was at this period that he married Miss Anna Crawford whose home was ever open and whose family ever helpful to those in need of assistance.

But the term of married life and freedom to Jimmy and Anna was short-lived. He was re-arrested in December 1940. This time he was sentenced to ten years.

In January 1943 in company with Paddy Donnelly and the late Ned Maguire and Hugh McAteer he escaped from Belfast Prison. He again reported back for full duty to An Oglaigh. It was to be a hectic period of freedom for him.

On Easter Saturday, 1943, members of the Belfast Brigade, Northern Command, took over the Broadway Cinema, Falls Road. An Easter Commemoration Ceremony was held. Jimmy Steele and Hugh McAteer appeared on the stage. The Proclamation of 1916 and a statement from the Army Council was read by both men.

At this time too the internees in Derry were planning an escape. He immediately interested himself in the Derry project and on the morning of the attempt he was in Derry with a rescue party and transport. Twenty-one men escaped from the jail.

Shortly afterwards he was back in jail himself having again been apprehended. This time he was sentenced to twelve years.

Back in prison, Jimmy found that his comrades in “A” Wing were again protesting. This time they were refusing to wear prison clothes. He immediately joined in with the others. The no-clothes protest lasted 90 days and afterwards he took part in a hunger strike which lasted 18 days.

Whilst in Prison, he was continuously writing for “War News” and lectures for “An Toglach”.

During this period he also wrote articles for the “Critic”, all of these articles having to be smuggled out of prison. A great lover of his native culture, he penned many a poem and song, the most popular of which was “Belfast Graves”.

During his prison terms, he was responsible for an unknown number of fellow prisoners attaining “An Fianne”. He was eventually released in 1950 being the last political prisoner to be released. In 1951 with other known Republicans, he was detained during a visit by British Royalty. He was editor of “Glor Uladh” and “Resurgent Ulster” in the period between 1951 and 1957. In 1957 he was again arrested and interned, eventually being released in 1960. Can those interned with him ever forget how he rallied the dispirited and down-trodden internees after their ruthless beating up by the R.U.C. Reserve Commandos which followed the discovery of the escape tunnel. Jimmy took control of the men and marched and drilled them up and down the prison yard for most of their exercise period, making them sing patriotic songs until their flagging spirits rose, indeed a man among men. He was a prolific writer. He edited the booklets “Belfast Patriot Graves,” “Antrim’s Patriot Dead” and “Belfast, in 1916.” He was chairman of the National Graves’ Association, being the driving force behind the Co. Antrim Republican Memorial in Milltown Cemetery which cost over £3,000.

He was a member of the Barnes and McCormaic Repatriation Committee and before the present troubles was actively engaged in work for the return of the remains of Thomas Williams, a long cherished dream of his. A life-long staunch and ardent Republican, after the 1969 “Army Convention,” he took his stand with those men who wouldn’t compromise true Republican principle. Following the establishment of the Provisional Army Council, he pledged allegiance to it and became even more actively engaged than ever before. At the time of his death he was a Staff Officer on the Belfast Brigade Staff being director of Publicity, in which position he was directly responsible for the launching of the “Republican News” which is the true voice of Republicanism in the North.

So ends the life of one who dedicated himself to the establishment of a thirty-two county Irish Republic. May his life and death bring others to the realisation that Ireland, if we would be free, needs all her sons. May his life be the inspiration that will sustain us until his hopes for the re-establishment of a Free and Irish Republic has succeeded.

Jimmy, until his death, was Director of the Belfast Republican Press Centre and Editor of “Republican News.” He was on duty at the Centre on Monday night, August 3, preparing copy for the next issue of the paper. He had attended the funeral of young Daniel O’Hagan that day and walked with the cortege from the Antrim Road to Milltown Cemetery. The following morning he was forced to go to bed.

Only a few weeks before, he gave a moving oration at the graveside of his comrade-in-arms, Hugh McAteer, who was also on the Staff of the Press Centre when he died.

He was a man of indomitable spirit, active and loyal in the cause of Irish freedom to the very end.

Perhaps his epitaph could come from the words of his own song:-

“Through battlefield and prison cell and comrades treachery brave Jimmy Steele withstood it all till death claimed victory.”

Go ndeanfaidh Dia trocaire ar a anamh

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