Delivered by Willie Gallagher on behalf of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement on 30-06-08
Comrades, we stand here today in memory of and in solemn salute to the life of an Irish revolutionary, Irish National Liberation Army Volunteer Christopher McWilliams.
The Republican Socialist Movement stand in grief beside his family, acutely aware that they have lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother and an an uncle and whilst we are saying our last farewell to a brave and valued comrade who has came to the end of his long journey, we recognise that their loss is deep and profound. We respect them in this time of grief.
I have spoken over the past number of weeks to many of Crip’s comrades, many of whom are here today, and all are in a state of disbelief. One comrade said, and I make no apology for repeating it here today, ”since hearing the news of Crip’s deteriorating condition I had the same gut-wrenching feeling as I had in 1981 as we waited for the hunger strikers to die one by one in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh”.
Crip of course was no stranger to British prisons having spent most of his adult life incarcerated by the British occupation forces. Indeed for many who only knew Crip by reputation may believe that his only contribution to the struggle was the execution of Billy Wright in Long Kesh. Nothing could be further from the truth: Crip was a well rounded and experienced Volunteer, highly respected by his peers, courageous and determined to play his part in the struggle. Though there were many attempts to vilify and demonise him by the media, and others, he never sought or countenanced notoriety. Crip was not a man of letters or of endless theoretical speculation, however this did not mean that he was unthinking or did not posses the ability to look forward and plan and execute revolution in Ireland.
Crip had energy and intelligence, he was accurate and thorough, known for his sense of humour and tenacity and as a human being displayed great concern and humanity for his fellow people. He was both a thinker and a man of action with an outstanding mind and personality, respected by his fellow volunteers and this generation of republican socialists.
He was a Belfast man born and bred and grew up in a republican neighbourhood in West Belfast. His brother Paul was murdered by the British army when he was just 16 years old. Crip joined the INLA when just a teenager and in 1984 was imprisoned after being captured after a gun battle in a Lenadoon flat in which his friend and comrade Paul ‘Bonanza’ McCann was killed. He was sentenced to 14 years and served half of it in the H-Blocks.
In 1991, a few short months after his release, he was arrested and convicted for the IPLO killing of a bar manger in Belfast. Charges he passionately contested and spoke often about and remained consistent right up to his death about his innocence. Whilst in prison Crip once again re-joined the INLA and was involved in a number of operations in Maghaberry prison before rejoining his comrades in May 1997 in Long Kesh.
For a time in the 80s along with his friends and comrades Gino Gallagher and Bonanza McCann and others who must remain anonymous at this time took the war against the British war machine in their native Belfast to new heights of determination and execution. In short, they had the enemy on the run for long periods of time. Indeed the very mention of their names had the Brits running for cover.
It is true that the life of an Irish revolutionary is often a short one with generations of freedom fighters either dying in a hail of bullets whilst on active service, by stealth of assassination from British death squads, or languishing in British prisons and dying on hunger strike or exile from the land of their birth. That Crip endured imprisonment and oppression all his life is undeniable, however, it was a very different type of struggle he had to undertake when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer shortly after his release from the H-Blocks.
He faced this struggle against cancer with the same courage, tenacity and philosophy as when waging war against the British and it was these qualities , along with treatment, I believe, which brought his cancer into remission and allowed him to enjoy his last few years in the bosom of his loving family, enjoying the normality that so many take for granted. We, his comrades, are thankful that he enjoyed those few short years surrounded by those he loved and cared for.
During these past few weeks Crip and I had many long and deep conversations on a wide range of subjects. He spoke of his deep love for Julie and Carla and how much happiness and peace they brought him since his release. He spoke of his love for his son and the rest of his family in Belfast and how proud he was of all of them who supported him through thick and thin. He spoke about how touched he was during a visit in the hospital a few weeks ago with the relatives of some of Billy Wright’s victims. One of them asked him if he had any regrets about his part in the operation in removing this mass murderer. He said ”As an INLA volunteer I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever in my part in the operation against Billy Wright. I take no pleasure in his death and done what I had to do and I will take that to the grave with me”. This man then shook his hand and thanked him for bringing him justice and a sense of closure to the family’s suffering.
He spoke too about the public Inquiry into Wright’s death and that he was looking forward to taking part in it. The Inquiry were in contact with Crip’s solicitor a number of months back stating that they would be summonsing him and they supplied a number of written questions which they demanded answered. They stated that failure to answer all the questions would result in a term of imprisonment. Some of the questions were ”how were the weapons smuggled in. Who was involved in the smuggling. Who else outside the prison was involved? Crip made it quite clear that whilst he would cooperate he would not incriminate any Volunteer nor would he compromise the methods used in smuggling weapons into prisons and that he was prepared to spend the rest of his life in prison protecting those secrets. He believed that the Inquiry was just a sop to the DUP and scorned at the notion of collusion and regretted that the Inquiry’s remit did not cover Wright’s murder campaign as a British agent.
Crip, quite rightly, was proud of what he described as his ‘small contribution’ to the noble struggle for freedom and of his first involvement as a teenager with the Irish National Liberation Army. After his release from prison Crip once again offered his services to the INLA and remained a valued and committed Volunteer right up to his death.
It is fitting today when we lay our gallant comrade to rest in his adopted home of Newry that we recall past Irish republicans revolutionaries from this area, the Young Irelanders, John Mitchel buried at Old Meeting House Green on the High Street and John Martin buried in Donaghmore. In February1848 John Mitchel founded a newspaper the United Irishman as an organ for revolution, its overriding principle is a fitting epitaph for INLA Volunteer Christopher ‘Crip’ McWilliams :
”The Irish people have a just and indefeasible right to Ireland and to all the moral and material wealth and resources thereof, to posses and govern the same for their own use, maintenance, comfort and honour as a distinct sovereign state.”
We lay you to rest safe in the knowledge that you are lying among friends. We salute you comrade, rest in peace with the other brave soldiers of the INLA and IRA.
On a final note comrades, a simple message to British micro-minister and chief macra hypocrit Martin McQuinness ”we are not going away”.