Remembering Vol. Jimmy Roe

by Mick Healy

Jimmy Roe was born in Albert Place, West Belfast on 14th December 1927 to George (an IRA member in the 1920s) and Emelia Roe, who was of Italian descent with ancestors who had fought with Garibaldi’s Redshirts.

Jimmy Roe grew up with a brother (George) and two sisters (Anna and Marie), under the twin influences of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and radical republicanism.  He exhibited a keen interest and enthusiasm for the GAA.

Jimmy represented Antrim in hurling and football, playing on the Antrim team remembered  for their defeat of Cavan in the 1951 Ulster  football final.  He was also instrumental in the development of Casement Park, which would later become the senior venue for Antrim GAA.

Moreover, Jimmy was proud of his class and as a young man he would join Fianna Eireann and later progress into the ranks of the Irish Republican Army.  He would become associated with the republican struggle from the 1940s, befriending such stalwart figures asBilly McKee, Seamus Twomey and Proinsias Mac Airt.

During the nationalist uprising in the North in 1969 he became a member of the 1st battalion of the Provisional IRA in Belfast, going on to become the Belfast brigade quartermaster.  More importantly, on June 27th 1970, Roe fought in the first major engagement of the Provisional IRA, the Battle of St Matthew’s church in the Short Strand.

In the early hours of 9th August 1971 internment without trial began.  The British army moved into nationalist areas, entering homes and violently arresting hundreds of men.  Jimmy was forced to go into hiding but was arrested in May1972 and interned without trial in Cage 22, Long Kesh concentration camp with friends Peter Corrigan and Paul Fox (both later killed in action). While in the Kesh he was involved in the prisoners’ protest which burnt down the prison camp on October 15th 1974.  When asked by a visitor  Long Kesh, “how long will this war continue?”, he replied “as long as the Vietnam war”.

In An Interlude with Seagulls, Bobby Devlin noted of Jimmy’s time in Long Kesh: “Jimmy Roe used to tackle the Long Kesh Governor with complaints on behalf of his constituents in Cage 22.  On one particular occasion Jimmy was trying to get Steradent or something similar for cleaning his false teeth but he was informed that it was against the rules.  The verbal conflict between Jimmy and the Assistant Governor over how the false teeth should be cleaned reached a heated climax with Jimmy pulling out his ‘sparklers’ and leaving them on the table with this immortal phrase ‘If I can’t clean them, then you fucking well clean them’ and he stormed out.”

Jimmy was released from Long Kesh concentration camp in July 1975 after over three years of internment and reported back to the IRA.  He became a tireless worker with the Green Cross association on behalf of the prisoners and the driving force behind the Prisoners Dependent Club in Andersonstown.  He also went on to work for the National Graves Association and was instrumental in the campaign to secure the release of Tom Williams’ body from Crumlin Road gaol.

Until his untimely death on August 12th 1996, he was still involved in all aspects of the republican struggle.  Therefore it was not a surprise when the RUC harassed his republican funeral from St Agnes church on the Andersonstown Road.  Former prisoners from all shades of republicanism marched alongside the hearse carrying the tricolour-draped coffin en route to Milltown cemetery where a graveside oration was delivered.

“Apostles of freedom are ever idolised when dead, but crucified when alive.”                                     – James Connolly in the Workers’ Republic, 13th August 1898.

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Posted on August 31, 2012, in Commemorations, General revolutionary history, Partition, Prisoners - past, Provos - then and now, Repression and resistance in 1970s and 1980s, Republicanism 1960s, Republicanism post-1900, Revolutionary figures. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Remembering Vol. Jimmy Roe.

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