Belfast Telegraph

IRA leader Kevin McKenna to be buried today

Funeral: Kevin McKenna
Funeral: Kevin McKenna
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

The man who led the IRA during some of the worst days of the Troubles will be buried today.

Former chief of staff Kevin McKenna died at Cavan General Hospital on Tuesday, his 74th birthday, following a short illness.

He was surrounded by his family, including wife Marcella, daughter Grainne and sons Ciaran and Padraig.

Tyrone republican Gerry McGeough paid tribute to his friend, who he said made "considerable" sacrifices during the conflict.

McKenna, originally from Brantry near Dungannon, spent much of his life in Smithborough, a village in Co Monaghan. He moved there to reassert control of the IRA upon his release from prison in 1975 after being arrested when he was commander for Tyrone.

McKenna climbed the ranks to become one of the IRA's longest serving leaders from the early Eighties to the late Nineties, and was influential in bringing about the first ceasefire in 1994.

Under his leadership the IRA killed hundreds of civilians in attacks such as the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing, at Teebane and Canary Wharf.

He was also at the helm when the IRA imported arms from Libya in the 1980s, and later played a key role in the decommissioning process.

Family friend Michelle Gildernew praised McKenna as "a man of courage" who was committed to peace.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone Sinn Fein MP said her good friend and mentor showed "great leadership".

"He was totally wedded to the peace process and trying to bring about Irish freedom and equality," she added.

McKenna always maintained close links with the leadership of Sinn Fein, but was often a bitter rival of the late Martin McGuinness.

Former IRA man and double murderer Sean O'Callaghan, the most senior Garda agent in the Provos, previously credited McKenna's "hate" for convincing him to turn his back on terrorism.

In his book The Informer, O'Callaghan claimed he preferred to target British soldiers, but local IRA men "would rather shoot a Protestant neighbour who was in the UDR or police reserve". In one chilling account he described being in a safe house with McKenna in 1975 when a TV news bulletin reported that a policewoman had been killed in a bomb explosion.

"McKenna turned his head slightly in my direction and said: 'Maybe she was pregnant and we got two for the price of one'," O'Callaghan wrote.

"How the f*** could anyone hate so blindly?

"And this man was second-in-command of the Provisional IRA."

McKenna will be buried in the cemetery beside St Mary's Church in Smithborough following his funeral Mass at 11am.

The Skule Inn pub will remain closed as a mark of respect.

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