Video: ‘The first time that the sanctuary of the hospital was broken' - daughter recalls shooting of republican Máire Drumm 40 years on

 Máire Drumm recalls the night her mother was shot
John Monaghan

IT marked a new low even by the standards of Northern Ireland's bloody conflict - gunmen shooting someone dead in a hospital bed.

Forty years ago this week loyalist gunmen, posing as doctors, walked onto the ward of the Mater Hospital and shot dead the former vice-president of Sinn Féin Máire Drumm as she recovered from eye surgery.

The prominent republican, who had just turned 57, was being treated for cataracts at the Crumlin Road hospital in Belfast, when she was shot dead on October 28 1976.

A revered figure amongst republicans, she was loathed in equal measure by others for speeches in which she encouraged people to "join the IRA" and "send the British soldiers home in their coffins".

Born in the townland of Killeen in south Armagh in 1919, Máire Drumm moved to Belfast in the 1940s and later married prominent republican Jimmy Drumm, whom he met while on a visit to Crumlin Road jail.

She spent several periods in prison for offences including the content of some of her speeches.

After Jimmy Drumm was interned in the late 1950s, Máire raised the family "without complaining", according to her daughter, also called Máire.

An Irish language enthusiast, she ran classes from her home and also fundraised for the opening of Casement Park in 1953.

Following the outbreak of sectarian violence across Belfast in 1969, the family home in Andersonstown became a regular welcoming place for families burnt out of houses in other parts of the city.

Her daughter Máire told The Irish News: "She wanted to make the families who had been forced out feel welcome. She invited one family in each night to get washed and watch TV. That was the kind of woman she was."

The following year, Máire Drumm played a key role in breaking the Falls Curfew in 1970 as one of a number of women who brought prams with food and medical supplies into the area.

Two years before her killing, in 1974, Máire and her husband Jimmy participated in a historic meeting of republicans, IRA leaders and Protestant clergy in Feakle, Co Clare, as part of attempts to calm tensions in the north.

"We were never brought up with any sectarianism. They both believed there was a place for unionists and loyalists within a 32 county Ireland."

Her death left behind five children - Seámus, Seán, Margaret, Catherine and Máire - and her husband Jimmy, who died in 2001.

Máire Drumm, then a republican prisoner in Armagh women's jail, saw her mother for the final time the day before her 21st birthday, around four weeks before her murder.

Ms Drumm recalled: "She was in hospital at the time and they let her out to come and see me in the prison.

"I remember she had a big bandage on one eye and she told me it would be a good while before she could get the other eye done."

Having gone to bed early on the night of October 28, 1976 in preparation for the release of a cellmate the following day, Ms Drumm was asleep when she was awoken by "shouting all over the jail."

"There was all this shouting. I woke up and thought my friend had had a bad dream. She said to me, 'your mummy has died.' I said: 'no she hasn't.'

"I was saying 'she will be alright'. Then the screw shouted over that it had been on the news. I heard that Fr Raymond Murray (the prison chaplain) was coming up. When I heard that, I knew it was true then."

"When Fr Murray came up they let us go down to Eileen Hickey's cell. Eileen was the OC at the time. We prayed the Rosary together."

She recalled: "I remember the actress Vanessa Redgrave was at her funeral. There were thousands of people there and it showed what she meant to the Irish people, not just republicans."

Refused a visa to travel to the US for an operation on cataracts, the former Sinn Féin vice-president had been admitted to the Mater for the procedure.

The morning after her death, she had been due to be transferred to a hospital in Dublin, a detail her daughter was unaware of at the time.

Although the location of the Mater Hospital "would have been a problem" and caused concerns for family members travelling to and from visits, Ms Drumm believes that the inside of the hospital was regarded as "a sanctuary."

"People have asked why she went to the Mater. She had a great affinity with it and had been taught by the Mercy Nuns. It was looked upon that inside a hospital was a sanctuary.

"Looking back they must have been a wee bit wary when they were sending her off to Dublin the next day."

She added: "Every day of her life was risky and she would always have thought that she was a target, but that was the first time that the sanctuary of the hospital was broken."

A former security guard at the hospital, Samuel Mathers, is the only person to have been convicted of offences related to the murder.

Charges against others, including the late UDA leader Jim Craig, were dropped.

There has been much speculation about the identity of others allegedly involved in the shooting.

Samuel 'Mambo' Carroll, whose name was linked to the killing of Seamus Ludlow in Dundalk in May 1976, always denied involvement in any murders.

In an interview with a newspaper in Birmingham in 2004, 'Mambo' Carroll insisted that he had never participated in sectarian murders.

He admitted links to the Red Hand Commando, the UVF, UDA, UFF and Orange Volunteers and confirmed that he had been arrested in connection with the murder of Máire Drumm.

Forty years on from the killing, Ms Drumm said the identity of those involved who have never been convicted is "irrelevant."

"It is irrelevant to me who pulled the trigger. I believe the state were responsible for it.

"It was said that it was believed to be a joint UDA/UVF operation. I believe that.

"I believe that half of them that were involved were agents as well. There could well be (others involved)," she said.

Ms Drumm said she would like to know where the killers "got their orders from".

"Where did they get their orders from? She was a thorn in the side, the way she roused people. They wanted her shut up, just like Pat Finucane. They couldn't shut her up. It didn't work."

Ms Drumm added: "The state is not going to let the information out. It doesn't interest me (finding out who the killer is). The state used them as pawns. Some of them thought they were doing it for God and Ulster."

In July, the Police Ombudsman announced it would investigate claims of police collusion in the murder.

"It doesn't take them to tell us that there was collusion, but then as a republican family we don't expect anything else from the state.

"Nobody saw them leaving the hospital. A stranger couldn't have found their way up through the hospital to the ward."

Máire Drumm said she still feels uncomfortable with some of the descriptions attributed to her mother.

"One tabloid described her as the 'granny of hate'. They compared her to Madame Defarge, the Dickens character. She wasn't this war hungry person. Armed struggle was a means to an end.

"I hate it when she is portrayed as a hard woman. She was very gently spoken but when she believed in something that was it.

"There were discussions about politics in the house but my parents never tried to force us to think the way they did. We were left to make our own decisions."

A former election candidate for Éirígí, Ms Drumm strongly believes her mother would also have rejected "any internal settlement" of the constitutional question.

"I have thought about it carefully over the last few years. Now there are so many groups. One thing I would say is that she was steadfastly opposed to any internal settlement, of any kind, both Leinster House and Stormont. Nobody could contradict that.

"She was 57 when she died and her whole life had been spent fighting against it. Today she would be against it. She would not have voted for the Good Friday Agreement."

On the anniversary, family members plan to visit her grave in Milltown Cemetery and pay their respects.

Ms Drumm said: "At the time she had two grandchildren and they were the only ones she got to know."

"We are very proud of her and proud to tell her grandchildren about her."


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