Belfast Telegraph

Author brings to life fascinating tale of soldier dad and IRA son

By Claire McNeilly

One was a British soldier, the other a prominent IRA man.

They're both buried at Belfast's Milltown Cemetery - but that's not the only thing Patrick McKelvey and Joe McKelvey have in common.

And now the remarkable story of a father and his only son, who took diametrically opposed paths in life, has been recorded in a new book by west Belfast councillor Jim McVeigh.

Goodbye Dearest Heart, the Sinn Fein man's second book, which is published this weekend, not only tells the story of the McKelveys, but also shines a light on the times in which they lived.

Originally from Stewartstown in Co Tyrone, the McKelveys moved to the lower Falls area of Belfast around 1914.

Patrick was a policeman who enlisted in the special reserve of the British Army, while Joe became a leading member of the original IRA.

Their paths would cross only once after that, when Joe, who was executed in 1922, visited his father on his deathbed at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital in August 1919.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of the book launch, Mr McVeigh commented that it was both a "wonderful story" and a "terrible tragedy" that needed to be told.

"The father had been an RIC man. He was buried as a British soldier and he has a regimental tombstone on his grave, whereas Joe was assistant chief of staff of the IRA in the whole of Ireland," he said.

"When the First World War broke out, his father enlisted in the British Army, but by that stage he was too old to go abroad, so he just served in Belfast.

"The irony here is that the son went on to be a leading member of the IRA that fought against the two organisations of which his dad was a member."

Mr McVeigh, himself a former prisoner and IRA leader who spent over 16 years in prison, said that Joe McKelvey had always been considered a Belfast man.

"He was one of the most prominent leaders of the IRA to be executed in the civil war at Mountjoy Prison, alongside Liam Mellows, Rory O'Connor and Richard Barrett," added Mr McVeigh.

"But there isn't a great deal known about him, his role in the IRA, or his role in the civil war, and he's been slightly overshadowed by people like Liam Mellows and Michael Collins.

"But I grew up hearing stories about Joe McKelvey and, as a Belfast republican, when I read about his life it captivated me. I thought it was definitely time for others to hear his story too.

"One of the guys in charge of the firing squad that executed him was a former Belfast comrade in the IRA - a guy called Gunn - so the story is laced with terrible tragedy."

The book, which took two years to write, will be launched tomorrow at Rossa GAC.

by claire mcneilly

Belfast Telegraph

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