Death comes to us all but Seamus Mallon almost seemed invincible to me. So it was with a heavy heart that I discovered he was seriously ill a few weeks ago.
In October we went to Rice’s Hotel in Poyntzpass where he had lunch, sank a couple of Guinness, followed by a small Jameson. He wasn’t in reminiscing form. No, he was being the Mallon of old. A force of nature as he let rip on the political stagnation at Stormont and the near collapse of the British political system over Brexit. I suggested those could be the themes for his next book but he rather prophetically said: “What would I say? I don’t have another one in me!”
It was such a privilege to work with someone like Seamus Mallon. No two days were the same. It was like trying to stand up on a roller coaster. But people, me included, were just drawn to him. When he spoke it was with grave consideration. Everyone listened. They listened in London, in Dublin and in Washington.
Eventually they listened in Belfast too. Unionists initially regarded Mallon as their bete noir. He was a constant critic of political and partisan policing. He campaigned for the disbandment of the UDR and was a constant thorn in side of the Northern Ireland Office and their securocrats. But unionists would also recognise Mallon as a man with whom they could eventually do business.
Seamus was completely fearless. He was also a man of great empathy and emotion. He had also great spontaneity. Once after a win on the horses he dispatched me to Madden’s Bar in Newry to buy two bottles of Champagne or as close as they had to it. Phil Caplan, then an American intern who was sweeping out pigeon droppings in the loft of our office, was completely blown away by being invited to join in the celebrations with the Honourable Member for Newry and Armagh.
Caplan went on to be President Clinton’s staff secretary who would later greet Seamus at the White House.
When Seamus Mallon hit the green benches at Westminster as an MP they knew a very different force had arrived in Parliament. He may have quoted Wordsworth’s Westminster Bridge as he gazed on the majestic edifice but once inside those halls he slew his opponents with a deadly fervour. And it was not always words that struck opponents. Government ministers quivered when on the receiving end of the infamous Mallon glare. Those working for him also tried to avoid that glare.
Canvassing for Seamus Mallon was a dream. Everyone felt they knew him. He relished canvassing and meeting people, even if the area was hostile. Mallon had no fear of plastic paddy republicanism. He was an authentic patriot. Seamus knew the folly of trying to bomb and shoot a pathway to a united Ireland. His roadmap to a new Ireland was based on people and built on partnership.
Once canvassing for Joe Hendron in what was locally known as RPG Avenue, the canvass team was set upon by republican agitators. SDLP canvassers rushed to leave the street until Mallon took hold of the loud hailer and shouted: “Hold ground, no one runs!” It was like being led by General Patton. Local residents came out to shake his hand. Mallon was not one to escape by the backdoor when there was a wall to walk through.
Former deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon has died
PACEMAKER BELFAST 13/12/99 First Minister David Trimble and Dep First Minister Seamus Mallon sit opposate Mary Harney Taoinshada and the Taoiseah Bartie Ahern at the Historic first meeting of the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh today.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 03/09/98 President Clinton is shown the view of Belfast from the top steps of Parliament Buildings this morning by First minister David Trimble and his Deputy Seamus Mallon and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 9/7/99 First and Deputy first ministers David Trimble and Seamus Mallon share a joke and a laugh as they both graduated from Queens University in Belfast this afternoon, both recieved houourary docterates for their work in the Peace Process.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 02/11/98 Irish PM Bertie Aherne shakes hannds with Northern Ireland's first minister David Trimble and his deputy Seamus Mallon as he arrives at Stormont for talks this evening.
02/04/08 Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has announced he is to resign in May.
Mr Ahern, 56, has been taoiseach since June 1997 and has been a member of the Irish Parliament for 31 years.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 13/12/2000 US President Bill Clinton pictured posing for their official photograph before their crunch talks this morning with Prime Minister Tony Blair and First and Deputy First ministers David Trimble and Seamus Mallon during his visit to Stormont this morning.
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Annual SDLP Conference in Belfast Europa Hotel. John Hume (leader) and Seamus Mallon. 28/29/30 Jan 1983.
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. Annual SDLP Conference in Belfast Europa Hotel. John Hume (leader) and Seamus Mallon and Sean Farren. 28/29/30 Jan 1983.
PACEMAKER BELFAST APRIL 1988 PF
CONGREESMAN JOE KENNEDY AN A VISIT TO NEWRY AND CROSSMAGLEN WITH SEAMUS MALLON, PICTURED BEING CONFRONTED BY SINN FEIN COUNCILLOR JIM McALLISTER IN CROSSMAGLEN.
Seamus Mallon. Pacemaker
Seamus Mallon outside Stormont. Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 07/07/98 Northern Ireland's first and second ministers David Trimble and Seamus Mallon pictured at at Stormont Press conference this morning where they both said that progress had been made in the behind the scenes negotiations over the Drumcree Stand-off but also said that there was still a long way to go and both sides should be prepared to give a little.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 29/11/99 The SDLP team led by leader John Hume arrive at Stormont on monday Morning to start the process of selecting ministers for the Devolved Government
PACEMAKER BELFAST 10/4/1998
The Good Friday Agreement signing.
SDLP party leader John Hume and his talks team emerge from Castle Buildings to give their take on the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 6/9/99 SDLP deputy leader Seamus mallon heads his party talks to waiting press at Stormont this afternoon before going into talks with senator George Mitchell at Castle buildings.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 29/5/00 First Minister David Trimbel and Dep First Minister Seamus Mallon break for coffee when they met today to start planing for the new Northern Ireland Executive which will be operational from tomorrow.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 26/2/2001 The First and deputy First minister's David Trimble and Seamus Mallon today set out their Programme for Government to the Northern Ireland Asembly which will run for three years from April 2001. The programme will be debated in the house next week.
PACEMAKER PRESS INTL. BELFAST. SDLP Annual Conference in Forum Hotel. Shirley Williams Special Guest. 9/11/85.
Pacemaker press 10/11/12 Seamus Mallon attends the SDLP's annual conference held at the armagh City hotel. picture Mark Marlow/pacemaker press
Seamus Mallon Pictured with his granddaughter Lara Lenny. Pacemaker
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 7/10/98: First Minister David Trimble and his Deputy, Seamus Mallon together on the day they were elected to their new roles in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
PACEMAKER BFST 01-07-98; SDLP Party Leader John Hume shakes the hand of Seamus Mallon after he ruled himself out for the post of Second Minister of the new Northern Ireland Assembly and nominated his Deputy Seamus Mallon instead
Pacemaker press 10/11/12 Seamus Mallon and Brid Rodgers attend the SDLP's annual conference held at the armagh City hotel. picture Mark Marlow/pacemaker press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 11/11/2001 Former Deputy leader of the SDLP Seamus Mallon pictured at the party's annual conference at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle Co Down this afternoon.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 7/11/00 First Minister David Trimble and Dep. First Minister Seamus Mallon enjoy a joke after they unvailed the new peace statue at stormont today. The statue was donated by Coventary Cathedril and is a replica of ones in Berlin and Hiroshema.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 20/02/2015
Seamus Mallon Pictured with Cardinal Sean Brady.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 23/06/98 SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon canvassing in Milford Co Armagh this afternoon in the run up to Thursday's Assembly elections in Ulster.
PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON/PACEMAKER
PACEMAKER BELFAST 20/02/2015
Seamus Mallon Pictured with Former SDLP Leader Mark Durkan
Seamus Mallon, 1979. Pacemaker
Pacemaker Bfst Ltd 4-3-98 Tommy Canavan(Right) Brother of Pub Owner with Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble and SDLP Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon in Poyntzpass were they visited the Two Familys of the men killed.
PACEMAKER BELFAST archive 07/01/1980
The SDLP leadership Seamus Mallon (right) John Hume (centre) and Eddie McGrady (left). Meeting Humphrey Atkins and the Northern Irelnd government
PACEMAKER BELFAST ARCHIVE 9th November 1980
Seamus Mallon (centre) at SDLP annual Conference in Newcastle Co Down with Don Canning (left) and Kevin Murphy (right)
PACEMAKER BFST 05-10-99: SDLP Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon during his speech to delegates at their party conference at Belfast's Wellington Park Hotel.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 23/06/98 "Election Apathy" SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon finds yet another empty house as he canvasses in Milford Co Armagh this afternoon in the run up to Thursdays Assembly elections.
PACEMAKER BELFAST JUNE 1987 BM
SEAMUS MALLON AFTER RETAINING SEAT NEWRY AND ARMAGH WITH WIFE GERALDINE AND DAUGHTER ORLA.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 20/02/2015
Seamus Mallon Pictured with his Daughter Orla Lenny her daughter Lara Lenny and her husband Mark Lenny.
PACEMAKER BELFAST ARCHIVE 91
30 APRIL 1991
FIRST DAY OF STORMONT TALKS
JOE HENDRON (L), JOHN HUME (C), EDDIE MCGRADDY (R), SEAMUS MALLON (FR)
PACEMAKER BELFAST 10/04/98 SDLP leaders John Hume, Seamus Mallon and Eddie McGraddy talk to the press after the deal at Stormont today.
Good Friday Agreement day
PACEMAKER BELFAST archive 30/01/1984
SDLP leaders John Hume & Seamus Mallon at annual Conference at the Forum Hotel
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 15/8/2011: Former SDLP leaders Seamus Mallon and John Hume chat at the funeral of the journalist James Kelly in Belfast today.
PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER BELFAST archive 30/01/1984
SDLP deputy leaderSeamus Mallon with Brid Rodgers & Raurai Quinn at annual Conference at the Forum Hotel
PACEMAKER BELFAST ARCHIVE 15th November 1981
Seamus Mallon & Brid Rodgers at the SDLP annual Conference at the Slieve Donard Hotel 1981
Some of the best moments with Seamus were often when alone driving him from Dublin or to Belfast, or from Newry to Markethill after a canvass. He told story after story. The best yarns were about him doing bouncer at events for the late promoter Jim Aiken; or working as a student in a bar in Warrenpoint with former Ulster Unionist peer Ken Maginnis; or stormy SDLP Executive meetings back in the 1970s when it was rife with disparate and strong personalities. Mallon lost none of the colour in the telling.
Seamus could of course be stubborn. He was someone who had to be convinced but once on side he was a colossus of strength. Taking office during the most tense moments of Drumcree tested Mallon’s mettle. He literally held the partnership with David Trimble together.
After being called in by Mallon to help with Press during those trying days we both stayed in the awful Castle Buildings at night with little to no resources and no change of clothes until Mo Mowlam (Mallon’s great friend) kindly arranged for us to stay in the Stormont Hotel.
Tiring of sandwiches and tea, Mallon, who loved Chinese food, sent me out to cross the loyalist barricades at the bottom of Stormont to have a Chinese banquet brought in for Trimble, Lord Rogan and others to share. But he pushed his luck by asking me to source a bottle of Jameson at the top of the Newtownards Road!
If Hume was the architect of the Good Friday Agreement, Mallon was the builder. It was often left to Seamus to line up the bricks and cement them. Much is made of the differences between Mallon and Hume, but those of us close to them knew those differences were about approach and personality. They were not seismic.
Indeed, Hume and Mallon were an odd couple very much like the original Odd Couple — Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar — they got on in their own way. Seamus Mallon was an inspirational figure. He could argue with you but not fall out. He could be critical and then offer help. After retiring he was invited to his alma mater, the Abbey Grammar in Newry, to unveil his portrait. Before the unveiling he said: “I can only ask for mercy or justice.”
That was Seamus. Thankfully through his recent book this last of the great political lions had one more roar. May he now rest in peace.
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