No-nonsense Seamus Mallon, a granite-hard straight-talking political giant who bestrode the centre-stage of the real world of Stormont and Westminster for years, could have had a major part to play in Irish theatre if the Troubles had not brought the curtain down on his creative ambitions, according to friends.
Mr Mallon, who died at the age of 83, will go down in the annals of history here as one of the most important figures in politics, an influential driving force within the SDLP and a leader who took a crucial role in shaping the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Yet at the start of his career, which peaked with him becoming deputy First Minister at Stormont, Mr Mallon cast himself almost as an ‘accidental politician.’
People who were close to him in his early years in Co Armagh, knew he was a sharp and highly intellectual man but the theatre and the GAA were his first loves although poker and horse-racing and a glass of Jameson later rivalled them. Mr Mallon often recalled how much he had enjoyed the challenges of amateur drama after he helped in 1966 to set up the Armagh Theatre Group for whom he produced their first play, Our Town by Thornton Wilder.
Adam’s Children, a play that he wrote and produced won the top award in the All-Ireland one act festival in Naas four years later.
Sean Hollywood, a founder member of the SDLP who later eschewed politics for amateur drama, said Mr Mallon, with whom he didn’t always see eye to eye politically, was one of the most gifted theatrical practitioners he had ever met.
But Mr Mallon’s chosen career was education and like his father before him he became the headmaster of a school in Markethill, the mainly Protestant town where he was raised and which he never left. However, Mr Mallon was eventually drawn into another drama unfolding on the streets of Northern Ireland in the 1960s and he became a resolute activist in the civil rights movement.
His loathing of discrimination was, he said, stoked by a unionist councillor’s rejection of his request for support for the family of a Catholic school friend to be moved from their ‘hovel of a home’ to a council house in Markethill.
Mr Mallon said George Woods’ words never left him — that ‘no Catholic pig and his litter’ would ever get a home in Markethill while he was still about.
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
SDLP leader John Hume later admitted that the incident had been a defining moment in his life too after Mr Mallon shared it with him.
As the Troubles intensified in the 70s it was almost inevitable that the call to politics would be impossible for Mr Mallon to resist and he joined the SDLP. He once said that a nationalist who was selected to fight for a council seat in the Armagh area in 1973 pulled out at the last minute, leaving Mr Mallon to find a replacement candidate within the hour.
“There came a crucial point where I had to accept I wasn’t going to get one, “ said Mr Mallon who asked himself if he and his colleagues were going to give the seat to the Unionists and let them ‘do what they were doing’?
“Going into politics was no decision of mine,” he insisted.
However, Mr Mallon was a natural according to a friend who saw his rapid progress through the ranks of the SDLP.
The friend said: “Seamus didn’t suffer fools gladly. He didn’t just call a spade a spade he weighed in with a verbal pitchfork to win his arguments.”
Mr Mallon hated violence with a passion. He denounced with identical ferocity the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries who threatened him and sometimes attacked him.
Mr Mallon was sometimes prone to using anything but parliamentary language which particularly came to the fore in a telephone interview with me in 1996 when he found himself trapped in his own home by blockades mounted by supporters of Drumcree Orangemen.
The Army eventually helicoptered Mr Mallon out of Markethill to catch a flight to Westminster where he was the MP for Newry and Armagh from 1986 to 2005.
Ulster Unionist Ken Maginnis was a fierce rival and woe betide any TV reporter who did not give the two MPs equal air time.
Mr Mallon’s relationships with his party leader John Hume and David Trimble, who was the First Minister at Stormont, were strained at the best of times.
But at the worst of times Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon paid a joint visit to the village of Poyntzpass after loyalists murdered friends Philip Allen and Damien Trainor — one a Protestant, the other a Catholic — in March 1998.
Not long afterwards the Good Friday Agreement was sealed and the two men found themselves at the head of a new power sharing government, ‘the odd couple’ in the eyes of some commentators.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.