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 & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal