When I travelled in a taxi across Dublin two years ago with Declan McGlinchey to accompany him to a family funeral I had no idea how close he was to his own. He was 37 then, dying the last thing on his mind.
Even when being treated for the cardiac arrest that claimed his life, he told the medics attending him that he was suffering from wind not heart trouble, he was too young. Given the funerary occasion in Dublin our conversation focussed on death and the terrible and almost incomprehensible pain that a suicide in particular can leave in its wake.
On our journey that day both to and from the Blanchardstown laying to rest of his aunt, Anne, we discussed many things. He held views that were not wholly conversant with protocol but were no less plausible for that. I sensed something of the rebellious spirit of his father in him.
I had known his father in the H Blocks, whose intellect and discourse completely defied the media characterisation of him. “Mad Dog” MacAdam was never a term used by the media to describe RUC torturer Ronnie MacAdam, shot dead by the IRA in June 1976. In the skewed media culture a police torturer was an upstanding member of the community while those who shot them were mad dogs.
Declan McGlinchey died last month aged 39 from a heart attack, attaining roughly the same limited life span as his late father who was gunned down in Drogheda in 1994. Declan, unlike his younger sibling Dominic, on that occasion was mercifully spared witnessing the killing. He was not so fortunate the night his mother’s killers came to take her life while she bathed both her sons before putting them to bed, his skin peppered with the hurtling shards of enamel liberally dispersed by bullets striking the bath in which he sat.
An experience like that coupled with the wholly turbulent lifestyle forced upon the brothers by the ever increasing need of their activist parents to be on the move, hardly lent itself to a settled lifestyle. Yet somehow both boys managed, maturing into parents in settled stable relationships where they fathered eleven children between them.
Not too long after an early November Sunday midnight I was awakened by a phone call from his brother. The ring tone hauled me out of a sleep and I was about to hit ‘cancel’ but sensed that Dominic never called me so late. His words, “Our Declan’s dead” seemed surreal, far removed for what is permissible or probable. Our happy ending penchant leads us to turn hope into anticipation. Someone who had been denied so much in terms of his parents’ lost lives should at least have a chance to live his own in longevity and to the full. But that’s not real life, where outcome often falls far short of expectation.
I met him for the first time a few years ago when he came to see me in Drogheda. He wanted me to speak at a commemorative event in South Derry for his late mother and father. I found him considerably less laid back than his brother Dominic whom I had known much better: more impulsive and less reflective. He once told me of an experience in Spain when a prominent drug dealer from South Derry walked into the toilet of a bar Declan had been drinking in. Declan followed and punched the dealer, breaking his hand in the course of meting out a brand of rough justice. He described the Spanish jail he spent the night in before charges were dropped as unpleasant and painful. The cell was putrid and the hand was throbbing but he was unwilling to seek treatment in case the condition of his hand was proffered as evidence of unlawful contact with the dealer's head. Impulsive, but shrewd.
When I did speak in the Bellaghy graveyard in 2013, he was accompanied by his family. One of his young daughters read out a poem in memory of her grandparents. Now she would be coping with the loss of her father.
Declan McGlinchey was an active republican. Like his father before him, he was a member of the Provisional IRA before going on to join the INLA. What his involvement in either amounted to I do not know. Although questioned on a number of occasions by the PSNI and on one occasion charged with an explosives offence, later dropped, that is merely evidence of PSNI suspicions, not culpability on his part.
It was the Republican Socialist Movement that buried him to a cacophony of unionist voices. He had been used to that throughout his younger life and were afterlife a possibility it would not be too hard to envisage him smirking at the thought of sour faced unionist politicians like Jeffrey Donaldson being disconcerted by a republican funeral.
Much too soon, like his parents before him, he made the final journey in a flag draped coffin. A life cut short by natural causes that emerged from a history that was anything but natural or normal.