In the late 1960s and early 1970s Joe McCann tried to counter the divisions in the Belfast working class, attempting to bring all together through tenants associations and trades unions. He resisted the brutality of the British Army and Special Branch, especially following the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday massacres. Earmarked for this opposition to “divide and rule”, he was shot dead – unarmed and in the back – by British paratroopers and Special Branch in Joy Street on 15 April 1972.
Last month the 40th anniversary of his death was marked by a dignified and well attended parade which filled the streets of the Markets area. With no placards and no slogans shouted and with the extended family members, four colour flags and a solitary piper leading, the march proceeded to the spot where he had fallen, aged 24.
The platform was confined to his two daughters and two sons, who welcomed the parade, gave an oration and a song and poem specially written in his memory. His widow then laid a wreath in tribute.
With much music, song and poetry inspired by his short life, it is a name that will be remembered as an Irish Che Guevara by a new generation. ■