Sean O Coinn tribute to Billy McKee

BILLY MC KEE“A Soldier of the Republic and a man of the people and for the people”


When we look at Irish history and the figures that adorn the annals of our history, it can often be the case of events having a bearing on the commitment or role of the individual, which when combined, produces the historical figure.

Our history through its struggle for freedom has produced its fairshare of such figures that have fallen into the categories of “Historical Icons”. Men such as Larkin, Connolly and Collins stand out in modern times as prime examples, because they forged that place in history through strong personality, driving commitment and tactical know-how.

History easily recognises those figures whether it is Michael Collins in 1921, or Gerry Adams in 1994, who are to the fore in formulating a strategy that brings us from military stalemate to a settlement of peace. Bringing any armed struggle through a process of change and delivering that change, is no envied task for any individual [s] to embark on and warrants deserving credit.

However there was another breed of men not versed in the murky world of political endgame, yet just as important as the “image maker”. These were the traditionalists in the mould of the old IRA of Sean Treacy and Dan Breen. They were men shaped by the experience of being a republican in the forties when a Unionist dominated state held the upper hand and played it in a heavy manner and support came from a closely net band of sympathisers.

Within this breed was Billy Mc Kee. For him and other’s of his generation there was one principle- REPUBLICANISM- twinned with one strategy– Defence of your people where and when possible, And- Be offensive against the enemy, where and when possible.

It may not have had the makings of a political building-board, but in the early 1970’s, “it was exact in its execution”. Men such as Billy Mc Kee were to shape the modern IRA in its infancy at a time when history really was in the making.

They struck a blow of defiance through the northern state that shook its very foundations and one to which it would never recover.

Following the Unionist pogroms against the Catholic community of August 1969 Billy Mc Kee and others of his generation, driven by principle and commitment, stepped forward to raise a battered population off its knees. They gave leadership and instilled confidence, not as politicians, but as a new and invigorated IRA who’s first principle was the protection of its communities. For them, politics no matter how sound in principle they may appear to be, would take second place to the defence of the Nationalist people of Belfast and the six-counties.

As scores of Catholic homes still bore the scorch marks of burning, a derelict legacy of discrimination, the Provisional IRA came into being, with Billy Mc Kee as O/C Belfast Brigade.

Young men who simply just “wanted to have a go” back at the state, were shaped into a military structure of sorts to be prepared to defend the Nationalist people and if the situation allowed, to strike back. There was a heart-beat put back into the Belfast IRA, not felt since 1921 and the cast was set; they did not have long to wait !

This book is that story and a tribute to Billy Mc Kee and those men of the early Provisional IRA.

Billy for some today may not fit the perception of what “a modern day republican” should be, but he had a total grasp of republican principles and history. Republicanism to him was a driving belief, a life-long struggle not to be soiled with personal ambition or the comfortable outcome of a career. He dedicated his life to the republican cause and like many of his elk; he suffered personally for that struggle.

His beliefs steered him through-“A belief in God and his faith” and-“A belief in Ireland’s right to self-determination”.

He drew inspiration from those of the past who shaped Ireland’s history of struggle, just as many republicans of today have and can draw inspiration from his life; from a man of strong conviction, of strong principles, who stepped forward and led from the front when his country and people were in most need.



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