Joe Cahill, former I.R.A. chief of staff, died on July 23 at his Andersonstown home in Belfast after a short illness. The 84-year-old was buried after a huge funeral cortege carried his remains to the Republican plot at Milltown Cemetery. Cahill was honorary vice-president of Sinn Féin, and the party’s current president Gerry Adams paid homage to his friend at the graveside.
In 1942, Cahill was involved in an I.R.A. operation that resulted in the death of a policeman. All six members of the unit were arrested but only one, Tom Williams, was sentenced to death. Sentences for the other five, including Cahill, were commuted to life imprisonment.
He was released in 1949 and returned to active service with the I.R.A. Eight years later he was interned until the early 1960’s, at which stage he became disillusioned with the Republican movement. However, the sectarian bias of the Northern state and a spate of attacks against Catholics brought him back into politics. Cahill became a central figure in organizing military resistance to British rule by establishing the Provisional I.R.A. He made frequent visits to the U.S. to raise funds from Irish-American supporters and campaigned to have Tom Williams reinterred at the Milltown Cemetery. When the I.R.A. declared its ceasefire in 1994, the former chief of staff was instrumental in securing key support from Irish-American sympathizers.
Cahill’s health deteriorated in recent years due to cancer and a heart condition. He also contracted asbestosis while working in Belfast shipyards through the 1950’s. Significantly, the remains of his former comrade Williams were transferred to Milltown two years ago in a high-profile ceremony. A tricolor was placed over Williams’ coffin for the occasion, and fittingly, the same tricolor was used at Cahill’s funeral.
He is survived by his wife Annie and their seven children. ♦