The late Pol Kinsella.
On December 13, 1994, three months into the IRA ceasefire Derry republican Pol Kinsella passed away.
All requests for the terminally ill IRA prisoner to be allowed to return home to die were refused by state authorities. This Thursday marks twenty-five years since his death and a series of events have been planned to mark it.
Amongst the events that will take place in the next few days will be a talk on Pol’s life given by his brother Michael, himself a former political prisoner.
Recalling Pol’s life and his death, Michael told the Derry News: “Pol was born in Eglinton Place in the Bogside. When he was a child he sucked his thumb right up until he was about 10, that was his wee habit. The family moved up to Creggan around 1970.
“At Eglinton Place, we experienced the fringes of the Battle of the Bogside. The family were evacuated first to Lisfannon and then Buncrana. At Rathkeele Way in Creggan we experienced several gun battles in the distance. Nearby you could actually see people in the streets with guns.
“The family moved up and down. From there we moved back down to Dove Gardens. While we were there, we were near the gas yard where the British Army where based. On one occasion there was a rocket attack and it frightened Pol very badly. He nearly hit the roof, squealing and crying.
“The reason I mention that is because later on in his life he experienced another rocket attack, but I’ll come back to that.
“Our parents were republican sympathisers and when we lived in Dove Gardens our home was open to young republicans. Sometimes we went to bed on our own and woke up with some teenager sharing your bed and their Crombie coat hanging over the door and red Dr Marten boots on the floor.
“At times there were people in and out of the house, but we just thought they were housing trust workers. At one time Pol and myself and some of the younger ones thought that everyone that worked for the housing executive were also in the IRA. So, that was the backdrop to our young life.
“Myself and Pol wanted to get involved and along with a young lad called Martin Beattie we joined the Eamonn Lafferty Cumann of Sinn Fein after we saw an Easter march. I only found out recently that Martin Beattie has since passed on.
“But our parents found out that we were trying to get politically involved and put a stop that using a relative to give us the impression that we weren’t wanted. Then some time after that we moved back to Creggan, to Circular Road. During the hunger strike period I remember pol and some friends getting caught with petrol. It wasn’t actually petrol bombs, but a British Army foot patrol caught them. He wasn’t involved in the republican movement at that stage, but people in the street freed them from the grasp of the British Army.
“Then we moved back to William Street and one by one members of the family started to become involved in Sinn Fein and suspected of being involved in other activities and being arrested.
“Myself and Christy, another brother, found ourselves being arrested and taken to Castlereagh. Pol worked in caring. He worked in Nelson Drive and Rectory Field then moved on to Altnagelvin Hospital as a nursing auxiliary. Then he started getting arrested as well.
“He became involved in the IRA in the early to mid ‘80s I think. I always make the point that whenever we started becoming politically involved we weren’t wanted, by the mid ‘80s we were feeling very wanted – wanted by the RUC, the British Army and apparently by some of the loyalist organisations because we were on some of these leaked files that was a big phenomenon back them.
“Pol I’m told, by people who were closed with him was very determined. At times when he thought that friends or comrades weren’t going to show up, he waited for several hours until people who were out in wilderness showed up and he would be there to take them safety.
“I also heard because he had a wee bit of medical knowledge as a nursing auxiliary that he maybe was a wee bit ahead of himself thinking that he was a medical expert. He had some of his comrades quite worried because he was diagnosing them.
“Around that time as well, Pol, myself and some other friends and comrades embarked on a project around Christmas to try and bring something to the families of the fallen volunteers, the prisoners and people who were on the run. We did a Santa Clause thing. Some of us dressed up as Santa and the rest would be bringing down the toys to the kids. Pol was resourceful with money and there was thoughtfulness there.
“In the early 90s, things got very intense around Derry and then there was the killing of Eddie Fullerton. I found myself in jail and then I heard about a white Rover car on the radio being stopped and two men arrested and weapons being found.
“I think it was almost like a sixth sense and I knew it was Pol and he landed in the Crumlin Road jail. It was during the time when there was very intense activity within the prison. Loyalists had shot up a minibus carrying women and children to visit republicans. Some of the women were injured and in the same period, republicans planted a bomb in the canteen before they left it and the bomb exploded killing two loyalists. There was a lot of fighting – hot water and table legs being used as weapons.
“Pol was in through all that period. He was on the republican staff within the Crumlin Road jail. He was well known for carrying an exercise book and taking notes during meetings so that he got it all right.
“He was very active in the stuff we were doing like politics and education because there wasn’t any jail education. Prisoners were teaching other prisoners.
“Then the loyalists returned the serve. They carried out a rocket attack on a canteen that was full of republican prisoners on the top floor of A wing in Crumlin Road jail. It narrowly missed penetrating the wall. It would have been catastrophic for anyone who had been in there at the time.
“Pol was in the canteen. That was on December 13, 1992 which was exactly before he died.
“Things moved on and I was on trial at the same time as Pol. He got eighteen years imprisonment which he appealed. Michaela his daughter and Cathy his wife were devastated. The journey back to Derry was terrible, but we tried to be positive about it.
“So, Pol settled into Long Kesh and on the night the ceasefire was called on August 31, 1994 he and many of the people on that wing signed a piece of wood marking that they were together when the heard the news. One of the lads passed it to me when Pol died as a souvenir.
“Early in September when we got word he was being taken to an outside hospital for tests. It wasn’t very long before we found out he had leukemia. He was held then in Belfast City Hospital. It was a secure unit with some prison warders and some RUC. Pol was getting chemotherapy that eroded his immune system and we were told to stay away because even a minor cold could prove fatal. So, we all heeded that. His condition started to deteriorate.
“The blood cancer had gone into remission, but the chest infection was exacerbated and turned into pneumonia and his lungs were badly affected. The doctor explained that the lungs become leather like and trying to breathe was like trying blow up a hot water bottle made of that tough rubber.
“It wasn’t very long before they said it wasn’t going to get any better. At that point the prison authorities gave him temporary release into Belfast City Hospital, but they made it clear that if he were to improve that he would be returned to Long Kesh. All this time he was awaiting appeal hearing.
“We were turned away from visits for no good reason. At times when Pol was taken from the secure unit for painful treatment he was handcuffed to a wheelchair or chained to a bed – different ways of making sure that he wasn’t going to escape. There wasn’t any desire to escape because this was life-saving treatment.
“He was then placed into an induced coma in intensive care and remained that way for quite a while, but he continually deteriorated. It was just a matter of time. It was like a long vigil – it happened over three months. It was bad for everybody and I think some of his comrades were as devastated as the family.
“On the day he passed away there was several rushes up to Belfast when they thought the time had come, but he stabilised. He was very strong in the fight. At one stage they brought him out of the sedation and he was able to carry out a sort of a mimed conversation with us.
“Before he’d gone under sedation he laid out the plan for the family for the funeral and made that request to some of his comrades who were visiting him. One of things was that Fr Raymond Murray of Armagh would do the Mass.
“On the journey home that night we stopped off in a café for a cup of tea and there was loud music. I remember Liam Duffy asking the owner to turn it down. But the most poignant memory that I have is when the whole crowd came back to house and his daughter was waiting and she got very excited thinking that he’d got out.
“Needless to say she was taken upstairs by her mother and…I mean, I’ve never heard anything as sad in all my life.
“Christmas is always a time for reflection. I’ve recalled this so many times. Recently I did a talk on this and it was very emotional for some people, but I try to use humour to keep me from getting emotional, but at times it’s just too much. Christmas will always be a time that I remember not just Pol but all his comrades from the wider republican family who have died over the years, especially at the Christmas period because it’s time that people try to be happy. But whenever there’s a death in such circumstances it makes that time more reflective.”
Pol Kinsella 25th anniversary commemorative events
December 13 at 2pm: Wreath laying at Pols grave in Derry City Cemetery.
December 14 at 3pm: Talk on Pols life by his brother Mickey Kinsella followed by photographic Exhibition at Ballymagroarty Community Centre.
December 15 at 2pm: Annual Pol Kinsella Cup tournament involving a selection of Derrys top teams-before the final there will be an exhibition match involving Pols former comrades and members of the Pol Kinsella Sinn Fein Cumann. After the tournament the trophy presentation will take place in the Ballymagroarty Community Centre followed by light refreshments.
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