CHRIS MCMANUS SAYS HE FORGIVES MAN WHO KILLED HIS BROTHER

SLIGO’S NEW­EST COUN­CIL­LOR SINN FEIN’S CHRIS MACMANUS TALKS TO EDITOR JENNY MCCUDDEN ABOUT HIS UP­BRING­ING IN A STAUNCHLY REPUB­LI­CAN HOUSE­HOLD, THE DEATH OF HIS ONLY SIB­LING, BROTHER JOE IN AN IRA AM­BUSH, HOW HE BEARS NO ILL WILL TO THE SOL­DIER WHO SHOT HIM

The Sligo Champion - - FRONT PAGE -

WHEN Chris MacMan us was a lit­tle boy‘ it was no tun usual for Gerry Adams to take his bed for the night as he slept on the couch.’

His fa­ther Sean was the na­tional Chair­per­son of Sinn Féin and their home op­er­ated an open door pol­icy when it came to prom­i­nent repub­li­cans.

“Repub­li­can pol­i­tics was not glam­orous at the time. They did not stay in ho­tels and could be look­ing for a bed for the night or a plate of food. For­tu­nately Mum was a very good cook and could al­ways stretch the pot,” Chris re­calls.

Grow­ing up in a staunchly repub­li­can house­hold was the norm for Chris. The 44- year- old who has just taken the place of his re­tired fa­ther on Sligo County Coun­cil never knew any dif­fer­ent. From an early age he also re­mem­bers early morn­ing raids on the fam­ily ter­race in Maugher­aboy. “This must have been a fright­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for a child?” I ask. Chris ad­mits the first time it hap­pened was but he trusted his par­ents to pro­tect him.

Sit­ting over a cof­fee in the Glasshouse Ho­tel, the Sinn Féin coun­cil­lor is re­laxed and easy to chat to. He is in­stantly recog­nis­able around his home town of Sligo with his oblig­a­tory cap, scarf and scooter. Fol­low­ing in his fa­ther’s foot­steps, Chris has been di­rectly in­volved in pol­i­tics since the ten­der age of 26 when he was first elected to the now de­funct Sligo Bor­ough Coun­cil. He held his seat for three con­sec­u­tive elec­tions un­til it was abol­ished in 2014.

A qual­i­fied en­gi­neer, Chris was some­thing of a rebel in school. He tells me he was sus­pended from Sum­mer­hill at the age of 13 over a ‘ con­fronta­tion with a priest.’ “We were not a very well- off fam­ily but around the house one thing we had in shed loads was books. So, I would ques­tion ev­ery­thing in his­tory and Chris­tian doc­trine,” he says.

It was dur­ing his fi­nal year in Sum­mer­hill that a life- chang­ing event hap­pened to 18- year- old Chris, the death of his brother who was killed in an IRA am­bush. Joe was just 21 when he was shot dead at a farm house in Belleek by a part time Ul­ster De­fence Reg­i­ment sol­dier. Chris who only had one sib­ling, was close to Joe.

“He was killed in a gun­fight with a mem­ber of the UDR in 1992,” says Chris, “It was a very trau­matic part of my up­bring­ing. We would have so­cialised to­gether. We were both po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated sell­ing the party news­pa­per on Fri­day evenings in town, shar­ing clothes and rob­bing each oth­ers cheap af­ter­shave.”

Chris was aware that when Joe moved to south Done­gal 12 months prior to his death it was as an IRA vol­un­teer to take part in the armed strug­gle ‘ against the Bri­tish Forces.’

“Joe was a young adult, a busi­ness stu­dent in the col­lege, lots of girl­friends and a hap­pygo- lucky per­son. None of his friends would have sus­pected he was in the IRA. He chose to give that all up, the easy life, for his con­vic­tions.”

Chris is quick to point out that there was never any ‘ ex­pec­ta­tion for us to en­gage in pol­i­tics.’ He ad­mits his par­ents wor­ried about Joe’s path but cru­cially they also un­der­stood.

That un­der­stand­ing did not shield them from what was to come, a knock on the door on a Wed­nes­day night on Fe­bru­ary 5th 1992 from se­nior repub­li­cans from the Done­gal area. The fam­ily had heard ear­lier in the day that a ‘ vol­un­teer’ had been shot dead.

“I re­mem­ber com­ing home from school. I was do­ing my Leav­ing Cert. Mam was iron­ing in the kitchen and told me a man had been shot. But we didn’t know if it was Joe.”

Later that evening when their worst fears were con­firmed, the fam­ily ‘ fell apart.’

“As soon as we saw them at the door, we knew. They said they had got word that Joe had been shot. We em­braced each other and cried and tried to get through the next few hours. Your whole world col­lapses in the space of a few min­utes.”

The Gar­daí called to the house the fol­low­ing day to ask one thing: “Was it go­ing to be an IRA funeral?”

Chris says: “At no stage did the Gar­daí sym­pa­thise with the fam­ily or in­form us of Joe’s death. There must have been a thou­sand Gar­daí in the area for his funeral. He got full repub­li­can hon­ours with a vol­ley of shots fired at Sligo ceme­tery wherew Gerry Adams de­liv­ered a gravesideg ora­tion.”

So how did Chris get over the lossl of his big brother? He said iti was im­per­a­tive that he deal withw the loss on a per­sonal level and not think about his death in the con­text of how he was killed.k The first year was the

tough­est.tough­est Chris got a place as an en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent in NUI Gal­way.

“I must be the only stu­dent in his­tory to have not liked Gal­way. I didn’t even last the year. I just could not set­tle with no close fam­ily and friends around. I found it very hard to re­late to peo­ple. It’s not as if I could go around broad­cast­ing that I was up­set or did not feel like com­ing to col­lege be­cause my brother was in the IRA and had been shot dead.”

So Chris who is a self- con­fessed home bird re­turned to fin­ish his stud­ies in Sligo. Since that dif­fi­cult pe­riod in his life, he has had time to re­flect and ad­mits that he holds no grudge to­wards the man who killed Joe.

“I bear no ill- will to the UDR sol­dier who killed my brother. If he wanted to meet with me to­mor­row, I would en­gage and talk to him. I ac­cept his right to have de­fended him­self in a gun bat­tle. I do not hold any ha­tred for him.” Does Chris ever won­der about the in­flu­ence and ef­fects of re­pub­li­can­ism on his fam­ily?

He says: “The only thing I blame my par­ents, He­len and Sean for, is for giv­ing us the abil­ity to feel a sense of hon­our. It’s hard for non- repub­li­cans to un­der­stand but when you grow up in a house­hold that stood for some­thing, you de­velop a sense of pride. We were both strong willed boys and noth­ing was foisted on us.”

Chris says he never wanted to take up arms, but al­ways saw a future for him­self in pol­i­tics.

“My Dad is my po­lit­i­cal men­tor, my mother is a very strong woman, the glue that keeps the fam­ily to­gether, she is our rock. The weird thing is my brother is older than me but he is for­ever 21. I’m not go­ing to be his best man or god­fa­ther to his first born. You could say any loss of life is not worth it but in the con­text of the con­flict in the North, Joe fol­lowed his con­vic­tions. He was not unique.”

I BEAR NO ILL WILL TO THE UDR SOL­DIER WHO KILLED MY BROTHER. IF HE WANTED TO MEET ME TO­MOR­ROW, I WOULD EN­GAGE AND TALK TO HIM

The late Joe MacManus

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.