16 July 2009 Edition
INTERVIEW: Noel Harrington, newly-elected councillor in Kinsale
A thoroughbred republican makes the winner’s enclosure
NEWLY-ELECTED Kinsale Town Councillor Noel Harrington is a familiar face in republican circles, having been involved in the Movement since the late 1960s. ELLA O’DWYER first met him at a Manchester Martyrs commemoration in Bandon about seven years ago and they struck up a comradely friendship; anybody who knows Noel will know how easy it is to befriend this man. But there’s more to Noel’s story than the friendly face and warm manner that made him one of the most well known and popular candidates in Cork in the last local elections. Here is something of his story.
NOEL HARRINGTON is a Kinsaler born and bred. His late brother Tony was well-known in the fishing community and Tony ‘bailed him out’ on more than one occasion.
“My father’s people and my brother Tony, a fisherman, were republicans too – it was kind of in the family. In the late 1960s, while I was working as an engineer in Dublin, I met some Shinners and I started going to Bodenstown every year. Amongst the republicans I met in Dublin back then were Patrick Cannon from Dublin and a couple of lads from Offaly.”
One of the Offaly lads ended up ‘on the run’ or ‘on the hop’ as Noel would have it, after incidents that took place in the South in the mid-1970s.
“When the Offaly man was ‘on the hop’ he stayed with me for a while in Kinsale and then I brought him back to Offaly. He was arrested just after that and that led to my being arrested and questioned. They kept me out in Bandon Garda Station and questioned me for the few days but I wasn’t charged.”
The mid-1970s saw a considerable amount of Garda activity in the 26 Counties and there were a few people ‘on the hop’ in the South. Noel had a number of people staying with him from time to time.
“I had people staying with me over the years – people like the late Seán Treacey – a sound republican and friend of mine who came from The Heath, near Portlaoise. He was with me when he was ‘on the hop’.”
Through selling An Phoblacht in the 1970s, Noel met Dublin Volunteer Patrick Cannon.
“We met through selling the paper and we became good friends. We went to Frank Stagg’s and Michael Gaughan’s funerals together. Patrick was a close friend of mine over the years.
“Patrick was very much the soldier and keen operator.”
Dublin IRA Volunteer Patrick Cannon died in a premature explosion along with Volunteer Peter McElchar in July 1976. Noel has attended Pat Cannon’s commemoration in Dublin ever since.
In 1976 Noel fell foul of the infamous ‘Heavy Gang’, a group of detectives who used brutal interrogation methods to get confessions and convictions.
“I was working as an engineer in Dublin and the Guards were doing a massive search in relation to incidents in the South. They eventually found out where I was working, in Pressco Engineering near Glasnevin, and they took me to Fitzgibbon Street Station.”
The Heavy Gang were on the rampage then and Noel got a beating of note as ‘the Branch’ tried to get him to make a self-incriminating statement.
“I got a beating inside the Garda station. Eventually, when my solicitor, Garret Sheehan, got in to see me and saw all the bruises and the hair pulled out of my head, I ended up getting a habeas corpus [protection against unlawful detention]. My brother Tony, the fisherman, went bail for me after the seven days’ interrogation.”
Of course, the Heavy Gang maintained that Noel beat himself and tore his own hair out!
“When it went to court and the judge saw the bruises and the hair missing, the guards said I did it myself because I had seven days to do it! When it went to the High Court sometime after that the Guards said they had no further interest in it and the case was dropped.”
The Garda kept tabs on Noel, though.
“One day in the late 1980s I was sitting in the Shelbourne Hotel Dublin and a van was discovered nearby holding two million forged dollars. I ended up getting charged with ‘possession of forged money’. Again my brother Tony secured bail for me before I got sentenced to four years. I got out on appeal after two years. I was only up for the day for a match,” Noel laughs, “but it took me two years before I eventually got home to Cork in 1990.”
After his release from Mountjoy Jail in 1990, Noel joined Sinn Féin.
“I came out of jail in 1990 and soon after that I joined the Charlie Hurley Cumann in Bandon. I worked on election campaigns over the years and ended up standing for the local elections this year.”
And on the election results, is Noel Harrington happy?
“Oh, absolutely, absolutely. It was the first time in 89 years that Sinn Féin took a seat in Kinsale and Rachel McCarthy took a set in Bandon. We’re in the same cumann so it was a great lift for us here in this part of Cork. I got a massive first-preference vote, you see. It put me in the ‘winner’s enclosure’,”Noel chirps “I nearly topped the poll.
“We had our first council meeting last Monday. Issues for us here in Kinsale will be fishing, unemployment and the housing waiting list. There’s three hundred people waiting for three houses. I’m delighted to have been elected onto Kinsale Town Council.”
Councillor Harrington, in his typically warm way, wants to say ‘thanks’ to a lot of people.
“I’ve people I’d like to thank people like Georgina Cole who was a great support to me during the campaign and who stood for 12 hours at the count and the Charlie Hurley Cumann (Bandon) who’ve been close and great comrades during the campaign.”
Concluding this part in his story, Noel adds:
“Above all, I want to thank my late brother Tony and the Cannon family. I’ve kept contact with the Cannons all down the years. This is partly for them.”
Patrick Cannon’s commemoration is this Saturday in Dublin and, as always, Noel Harrington will be there.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
- This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
- Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
- Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.