5 September 2016 Edition
Mickey Brady, Belfast
The measure of the man was that he was prepared to risk his own life or capture – getting the firing party to safety was his aim
10 JULY 1981: Joe McDonnell’s coffin was carried from his house.
The funeral procession made its way along the Shaws Road, coming to a halt just past The Busy Bee Shopping Centre close to the spot where the salute had been fired for Bobby Sands. Lenadoon had been the preferred place for Joe’s salute but the Brits had swamped the area, making it not viable.
The firing party lined up along the side of Joe’s coffin and raised rifles to their shoulders. Three puffs of gunsmoke came from each barrel. Above them, in a helicopter, RUC man Gillan Brown was watching with a pair of high-powered binoculars, tracking the firing party along the side of a house on the Andersonstown Road, across the back gardens to another house into St Agnes’s Drive.
Realising the firing party was in danger, it was decided to move in behind them to help break down the weapons and get the firing party to safety.
Mickey didn’t hesitate. His adrenaline took over as he made his way through the back gardens, he was familiar with the Garand rifles, he was up for the task. The measure of the man was that he was prepared to risk his own life or capture – getting the firing party to safety was his aim.
Meanwhile, the message was sent from the Brit helicopter to a Brit Army unit a few streets away to hit the St Agnes’s Drive house. (I reckon it was the baldy spot on Mickey’s head that the chopper picked up!)
At the house, Mickey started to break down the weapons. The firing party were getting out of their uniforms as quickly as possible. Just then, the Brits roared down St Agnes’s Drive in their jeeps. On hearing the Brits coming, weapons were put together again. Then Mickey shouted: “The back’s clear!” At that, we moved towards the back kitchen. Mickey had climbed on top of the sink unit and out the window. I followed Mickey through the window, turned back and took the rifle off the sink unit.
As I turned around, there was Mickey, 15 feet from me, with a Brit holding an SLR rifle to his head.
I swung round to the right, rifle in hand, and a Royal Marines Commando shot me four times, blowing me back in through the window, over the sink unit and into the kitchen. Some of the firing party escaped; others were captured and beaten.
I arrived in Crumlin Road Gaol some five weeks later from Musgrave Park Military Hospital. The first POW I met was Mickey. “You’re some scout,” says I. “You said the back was clear.”
Mickey’s dry response was: “Why did you listen to me then? You never listened to me before.”
The reply summed up Mickey – an absolute character, full of quick humour. You never knew what would come out of his mouth.
He came to be quite proud of getting me shot and I am proud to have had him as a friend and comrade.
Mickey left this world on 10 July 2016, exactly 35 years after the attack on Joe McDonnell’s funeral. You’ll never see the likes of him again.
Your friend and comrade, Paddy A.