A long and varied road to a good place

Paddy McMenamin and his partner Mary

BY the time Paddy McMenamin settled in Termon he had already spent a quarter of his young life in jail.
Originally from the Turf Lodge area of West Belfast, Paddy left school at 15 and within a couple of weeks had joined the Provisional IRA.
As a member of a paramilitary organisation, time in prison was almost inevitable, and on New Year’s Eve, 1971, Paddy was arrested and spent more than five months in jail. He was released as part of the ceasefire between the IRA and the British in May ‘72, but after that broke down, Paddy went on active service again, and within months was sent to what was then known as Long Kesh.
That time in the IRA, to working in a car factory in Letterkenny, being a student, then teacher, and now an author, is all chronicled in Paddy’s autobiography, From Armed Struggle To Academia, which will be launched in the Lagoon, Termon, this Friday at 7pm.
Paddy (68) is now based in Galway, and has been living in Oranmore with his partner Mary since 2005.
His three children Paddy (jnr.), Ciara and Kevin and their families all now live in Termon, close to the birthplace of his late mother Annie Russell who was from Dooen.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Paddy was looking forward to getting back to Donegal for the launch.
“I used to be packed off to Donegal for the summer from Belfast from the age of three. I’ve happy memories of playing with the McGlynns and McDaids before working in the Mountain Bar, owned by my uncle John Russell, in my teens,” he recalled.
Despite spending five years in Long Kesh as a young man, Paddy has no regrets about the road life has taken him down.
“No regrets about the decisions I made? Non. However, I do regret all the people who were killed as I lost too many friends. That said, I’m still a Republican – albeit not an active one – and I still firmly believe what I believed in then. However, contrary to what people think, you can just actually walk away (from the IRA), and I did. I had had enough,” he said.
“A lot of my friends were getting lifted, or killed, and I decided to get out of the place,” he added.
While Paddy remained active in Sinn Féin during the Hunger Strikes, he found politics “wasn’t for me”.
In the years after his move to Donegal in 1977, Paddy would work as the head barman in the Ballyraine Hotel (Mount Errigal) before spending twenty years in the Kirchhoff car factory in Letterkenny.
“I hated working in the place but I had a mortgage and a young family to support by myself. Sean McDermott (manager) encouraged me to go back to college and when the factory closed down the following year I took redundancy and went back to the books,” he said.
A year doing computers in LYIT followed before Paddy entered NUI Galway in 2005, eventually completing a BA in English and History. He then spent an Erasmus year in Malta, did a Teaching English as Foreign Language course, and, over five summers, worked in one of the many language schools on the Mediterranean island.
In 2009 Paddy did his teacher training in Garbally College, and qualified as a secondary school teacher in 2010, before returning to NUIG in 2011 to complete a Masters in History.
“I ended up being a secondary school teacher in Garbally College in my late fifties which was an interesting experience,” he said.
“Today, I play bit of golf, write a weekly column for a local paper (Tirconaill Tribune) and also for the Celtic fanzine. Life is good,” he added.
Looking at the bigger picture, Paddy also feels that Ireland is in a much better place today than it was in the Seventies.
“It’s still not perfect up there but I’ve no doubt there will a nationalist majority in the next census with probably a Sinn Féin majority come the May elections in Northern Ireland. We’re going to have Mary Lou (McDonald) as Taoiseach here and it’s only a matter of time before we have a referendum on unity. We’re in a good place. It’s not going to be easy but things have moved on. No one is being killed and our grandchildren will never have to do anything like that. That’s the main thing. Our kids will have a different life.
“It wasn’t as good when I was growing up. Up to forty people I know were killed. I knew Bobby Sands. I knew Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty from The Cages.
“It must be remembered that I was only fifteen when this all stated. I’m 68 now but, back then, you thought you knew everything. The average lifespan of an IRA volunteer in 1972 was three months. I was lifted at the end of August after getting out in May. I got six years and was in the Cages that whole period. By the time I got out (jail) I had spent a quarter of my young life behind bars. That’s a hell of a long time,” he said.
Paddy’s three children were born in 1978, ‘79 and ‘81 and he brought them up after his marriage broke up. On a Sunday afternoon he used to take some time out to play football with Lurgy Celtic (Kilmacrennan Celtic).
“They were good times. I made a lot of very good friends,” he said.
Paddy always had a grá for writing and loved English literature.
“I felt there was a need for ordinary people to express themselves and say what it was like at that time. That was always in my mind, and my partner, Mary, encouraged me to just write it down,” he added.
This is his third book and comes after ‘Walking through a story of life’ and ‘Political Status – Long Kesh: 1971-1976’.
“The two previous books were much smaller. I raised a few euro for Pieta House from the proceeds of ‘Walking through a story of life’. I’ve been working on this latest book for the past couple of years but between Covid and a few health issues it’s been a while,” he said.
Those health issues included three open heart surgeries and a brain haemorrhage.
“I’ve come through quite a lot but life is good,” he said.


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