Adams helps carry coffin of veteran republican Meehan

SINN FÉIN president Gerry Adams and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness carried the coffin of a veteran republican at his funeral in the North yesterday.

Martin Meehan, who at one time was a significant figure in the IRA in Ardoyne in north Belfast, died after a heart attack at the weekend, aged 62.

Seán Kelly, the IRA man jailed for the Shankill Road bombing, carried the coffin for a period also.

Mr Meehan had been a Sinn Féin candidate in South Antrim for Assembly and Westminster elections, was a councillor in Antrim and a strong supporter of Mr Adams and Martin McGuinness.

He was given a republican send-off in Belfast yesterday, with his coffin draped in the Tricolour topped by a black beret and black gloves.

The coffin was flanked by ranks of republicans in white shirts, black ties and berets.

Up to 1,000 people lined the route or followed the coffin from Mr Meehan’s home to Requiem Mass in the Holy Cross Church.

Mr Meehan had a history of family involvement in republicanism, although his grandfather Cornelius Clarke was killed in the Battle of the Somme.

He joined the IRA in 1966 and sided with the Provisional IRA faction when it split four years later.

In the weeks that followed the introduction of internment without trial in the North, Mr Meehan was reputed to be the most wanted IRA man in Belfast. He was eventually detained in Crumlin Road Jail in 1971.

He escaped with two IRA colleagues in 1971 by hiding in a manhole for six and a half hours. As they waited to scale a prison wall, the escapees covered themselves in butter to keep themselves warm. Mr Meehan fled to Dundalk and was arrested south of the border in 1972 with seven colleagues after a major four-hour gun battle over the border with a British Army platoon.

He returned to the North and spent three years in prison.

The veteran republican had other jail terms before he was released in January 1994.

Mr Meehan declared victory in the 2003 Assembly Election count in South Antrim at the expense of the Alliance Party’s David Ford — only to lose out on a seat to Mr Ford by 181 votes in the final count.

Mr Meehan was the first person to be convicted of membership of the Provisional IRA and during the Requiem Mass Father Aiden Troy said: “He loved this community of Ardoyne and would do anything to make sure it was safe.”

In a graveside oration at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast, Mr Adams said Mr Meehan had been a constant in the republican struggle for the past 40 years.

He said: “He was an IRA volunteer. If he could speak now, he would tell us he is still an IRA volunteer.”

He added: “When it was time to wage war, Martin waged war. When it was time to build peace, Martin built peace.”

He revealed that just days before he died Mr Meehan and his wife had been warned by police that they were under death threat from dissident republicans.

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