The death of Ruairí Ó Bradaigh and the Feakle Peace talks of 1974

Ruairi O Bradaigh

RTÉ didn’t exactly cover itself in glory this past week when makes passing reference to the death of Ruairí Ó Bradaigh on the Drivetime programme.
It was agenda driven journalism when the interviewer Philip Boucher-Hayes interrogated Ó Brádaigh’s biographer about the life and times of the former Sinn Féin leader and chief of staff of the IRA.
Interrogation is fine – it’s good journalism in fact, and it’s true that Ó Brádaigh was in the shadow of the gunmen for most of his life, given his unreconstructed republicanism and his hardline stance.
This is all RTÉ and most other commentators have been interested in since Ó Brádaigh’s passing, with little or no mention made of his efforts in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland, efforts, that if given a chance may have brought about a cessation of violence nearly a quarter of a century before any Good Friday Agreement came into being.
It was all because of Feakle. A peace effort that was born in Feakle, but one that was effectively sabotaged by outside forces who railed against notion of negotiating with the IRA on the prospect of peace.
It was the Feakle Talks of December 1974 that took place in Smyth’s Village Hotel.
The talks were brought about because of a number of events in 1974. Violence had escalated at home and abroad that year – there were the Birmingham and Guilford bombings in Britain, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, while the Sunningdale Agreement also collapsed.
This was the backdrop, with Ó Brádaigh saying in an interview with this reporter 30 years later “let’s put it on record, the fact is that everyone wants peace, but the difference is that different people have different terms”.
Ó Brádaigh and Dr Arthur Butler, the Bishop of Down and Connor were two of the major players who went to Feakle to try and bring about peace.
Ó Brádaigh was the former IRA operative involved in the border campaign, turned chief-of-staff of the IRA who became president of Sinn Féin in 1970.
“Feakle wasn’t a sudden thing – from the early ‘70s on we had meetings of all descriptions to deal with many shades of unionism. But Feakle came about when Rev William Arlow entered the scene. He was an ecumenist who was assistant secretary of the Irish Council of Churches,” revealed Ó Brádaigh.
Rev Arlow arranged a meeting that took place in north Donegal in September 1974, at which members of the IRA Ard Comhairle were present. Then came Feakle, after the venue was chosen by two of the churchmen involved, from their experience of having ministered in the county.
The Republican line-up at Feakle was a powerful one – headed by Ó Brádaigh, also present were Sinn Féin vice-president Máire Drumm and Daithí O’Connell of the IRA leadership.
Others from the military wing of republicanism were Billy McKee as well as Seamus Twomey, Kevin Mallon and JB O’Hagan, the three of whom had just escaped from Mountjoy Prison in a helicopter.
The churchmen were Dr Arthur Butler, Dr Jack Weir, Rev Eric Gallagher, Rev William Arlow, Dr Henry Morton and Rev Arthur McArthur, while Stanley Worrall, of the New Ulster Movement was also present.
The all landed in Feakle on December 9, with the talks beginning early the following day which was International Human Rights Day, which co-incided with former IRA chief-of-staff Sean McBride being presented with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Business was done at Feakle, with terms of a peace being thrashed out until the talks were raided on the back of a huge security operation that involved 60 members of the Special Branch, 120 uniformed Gardai and army.
The result of the talks was that on December 22 the IRA announced a unilateral cease fire until January 2.
“On Christmas Day a businessman, whom I knew had been in contact with the British, came to my house with a written message,” revealed Ó Brádaigh. “It said that the British Government wanted contact with the movement and to discuss structures of British disengagement from Ireland.”
This meant the IRA renewed its cease fire on January 2, while in February a bi-lateral truce on 12 points agreed between the IRA and the British government came into operation.
This truce lasted until September 23 – another direct dividend from Feakle.
“If the talks at Feakle had been allowed to continue,” said Ó Brádaigh in 2004, “the intervening 30 years could have been a lot different. It’s the great ‘what if’. Here we were getting to the heart of the thing with the people who had the say so.
“It was one of the most open discussions that I ever had because it wasn’t propagandising or barging at each other in public or soundbites. Feakle wasn’t given a chance – out attitude was that we were prepared to stay there for days. The clergy were the same,” he added.
There should have been some mention of the above on the national broadcaster in the wake of Ó Brádaigh’s death.



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