Obituary: Cathal Goulding

THE DUBLIN playwright Brendan Behan once quipped that at IRA meetings the first item on the agenda was very often "the split". The remark, though meant to raise a smile, aptly sums up much of the career of Cathal Goulding, Behan's old IRA colleague.

Goulding's career included many years as IRA chief of staff, many more seeking to break into politics, and an exotic love-life which included having a son by Behan's widow.

He played a crucial role in Republicanism at the time of the birth of the Provisional IRA in 1969-70. He failed to persuade the hard-faced men of Belfast to follow him into Marxism, watching powerlessly as they instead marched off to fight the war which has cost so many lives in the last three decades.

The course of his career says much of how Republicanism has changed in the last half-century. In 1953 he found himself in a Hertfordshire dock together with the Republican Sean MacStiofain, with whom he later split, getting eight years for stealing a van-load of rifles.

MacStiofain recalled: "Without retiring, the jury found us guilty in a record 90 seconds by the simple procedure of turning to each other and nodding their heads." Even by that stage Goulding was an IRA veteran, he and Behan having joined in the 1930s as schoolboys in short trousers.

The Republican tradition had run for generations in the Dublin working- class Goulding family, his father and grandfather both having rebelled for Ireland. Cathal made his living as a painter and decorator, though it was a career interrupted by a total of 16 years spent in British and Irish jails.

His Hertfordshire escapade meant that he missed most of the IRA's disastrous "border campaign" in the late 1950s and 1960s, which ignominiously fizzled out in the face of overwhelming nationalist apathy. When, in the early 1960s, he became IRA chief of staff, he was leader of an organisation which barely existed.

For Ireland, however, the 1960s were a time of great modernisation and the challenging of long-accepted ideas, and the IRA itself changed. Goulding, linking up with left-wing intellectuals, became attracted to Marxism and concluded it was time to broaden Republicanism's horizons.

Socialism and internationalism, which had always been strains within Republicanism, were elevated above gelignite and the Thompson gun. Goulding later wrote that the IRA changed its slogan from "Get the British troops out of the north" to "Defeat imperialism and capitalism in all of Ireland".

In the heady days of the 1960s the IRA became almost hip. As Eamonn Mallie and Patrick Bishop wrote in their book The Provisional IRA (1987):

In 1969 Goulding was often to be found in the fashionable bars around St Stephen's Green, drinking with writers, musicians and painters, a recognised feature of Dublin bohemia.

His revolutionary style at that time was closer to Berkeley campus and the Rive Gauche than the bogs and backstreets where the IRA tradition was rooted. Critics of his leadership invariably portrayed him as a good but easily influenced man fallen among Marxist highbrows.

The pubs of Dublin were a world away from the grim sectarian realities of Belfast, where August 1969 brought hand-to-hand fighting in the backstreets and the first deaths of the Troubles. Northern Republicans claimed that Goulding had fiddled while Belfast burned, and that what they needed was guns and not quixotic dreams of uniting Catholic and Protestant workers in a new utopia.

It was not long before traditionalists like MacStiofain broke away to form the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Fein, leaving Goulding in charge of a much-depleted organisation which became known as the Official IRA. The Provisionals went on to dominate Republicanism in the north.

Goulding was left with most of the ideas but little of the manpower. He may have been hoping for broad left alliances and a steady move away from the gun and into politics but in the north many of his men were opening fire on soldiers and the RUC. He found himself giving graveside orations over the coffins of Official IRA volunteers, often threatening retaliation for their deaths.

The Official IRA's most spectacular act of violence was also its most inept. This was the attack on the Parachute Regiment's Aldershot headquarters within weeks of "Bloody Sunday" in 1972, when paratroopers had shot dead 14 people in Londonderry. The seven people killed at Aldershot were six members of the domestic staff and a Catholic padre.

During the 1970s the Officials (or "Stickies" as they were nicknamed) killed about 50 people and had around 40 of their members and supporters killed in return. Many of the casualties were caused by outbreaks of vicious feuding with the IRA and other republican groups.

The Official IRA remains in existence, though today it is not so much an openly active terrorist organisation as an armed gang surreptitiously involved in running pubs, clubs and other business enterprises.

In the south of Ireland Cathal Goulding and others moved towards more conventional political activity and the political mainstream. But again there were splits and again he ended up in the smaller faction, so that as his life ended he was attached to a tiny grouping.

His career thus began in the IRA at a time when it was an essentially inconsequential grouping, and ended in a politically inconsequential party. In between, however, he was witness to some formative events with historic consequences for all of Ireland.

David McKittrick

Cathal Goulding, political activist: born Dublin 30 December 1922; married (four sons); died Dublin 26 December 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game