Former H Block blanketman Gerard Hodgins spoke last night at the Foresters Club in West Belfast in honour of the late IRA volunteer, Paddy Joe Rice. The event was hosted by the Anne Devlin Society, Belfast.
It is an honour and a privilege to be here tonight to remember our friend and comrade, Paddy Joe Rice.
As we advance into 2016 and commemorations blossom all over Ireland in remembrance of the heroes of those far off revolutionary times, we will be regaled with tales of the visionary insights of the traitors who sold out the republic of Easter Week for the servitude of a Free State in a partitioned Ireland.
The politically sanitised will be exulted while most of the heroes of Easter and subsequent campaigns by the Irish Republican Army will be forgotten or ignored.
The foot-soldiers of the Republic will be air-brushed out off history to reduce our historical narrative to a gombeen version of the Kings and Queens of England history we endured at school. But we who lived through history know who the genuine heroes and heroines of the struggle for Irish freedom truly are, they are people like Paddy Joe Rice who as a young man made a conscious decision that he was going to join the IRA and contribute to the defence of his people and advance the cause of the Irish Republic.
Throughout his life Paddy Joe remained faithful to his republican principles which were forged in the smoke and fire of a Belfast which saw his Falls Road placed under military curfew and people being shot dead by rampaging British soldiers and their Unionist allies.
The intensity of the onslaught launched by the British to strangle rebellion at its birth didn’t frighten or intimidate Paddy Joe Rice or others of his generation; rather they stepped forward with courage and indignation to give birth to “The Dogs”, one of the most successful and tenacious of IRA units of the Belfast Brigade, who continued the honourable tradition of resistance and ingenuity as the volunteers of the Raglan Street Ambush who caught the murder gang out in 1921.
Despite politics and despite the chasm that has erupted between men and women who participated in struggle in those not so distant days, our arguments of faith and betrayal in the republican legacy should have no negative reflection on the integrity of volunteers who fought in those days.
Paddy Joe Rice is one such volunteer. His commitment and leadership abilities transformed ordinary Belfast boys and girls into one of the most formidable fighting machines in the history of the IRA. And he sought neither glory nor recognition for his contribution to The Cause, he sought neither riches nor patronage of any sort; Paddy Joe was just Paddy Joe, going through life committed to his wife, his family and the welfare and well-being of his ageing Dogs from the old D-Company in the political quagmire of a failed revolution and revisionism of the most opportunistic and devious type.
Paddy Joe Rice was animated by a love of freedom for Ireland and the betterment of his people in the impoverished working class community of the Lower Falls. Paddy Joe Rice was an unashamedly and unrepentant Fenian of the old school who fought for freedom - not a love-in between Paisleyism and Provisionalism for salaries and pensions while the people are left to austerity, poverty and increasing mental health and suicide incidences.
When Paddy Joe died I wrote a piece in memory of him which ended with the words Glory-oh, glory-oh Bold Fenian Man. Sadie, his wife, asked me why I used those words and I told her Paddy Joe was a Fenian like the rest of us and then she told me The Bold Fenian Men was Paddy Joe’s favourite song which he would listen to often and she thanked me for those words. A few days later Sadie followed her beloved Paddy Joe. They were inseparable in life and death would not separate them.
Paddy Joe Rice was our friend, our comrade, our fellow member of that noble association of bold Fenians all of whom fought the British and struck out for Irish freedom. We gather tonight to pay homage to a good man and recall his selfless life of commitment and devotion to his family, friends and comrades.
We may have some great men but we’ll certainly never have better: Glory-oh Bold Fenian Man: Paddy Joe Rice.