Dolours Price: IRA terrorist who later attacked Sinn Fein and its president Gerry Adams

Folklore has it that she was the first female member sworn into the IRA

Dolours Price came from a family which was one of the mainstays of militant Belfast republicanism, its involvement stretching back generations to a time when the IRA consisted of a small tightly-knit structure. The family of Gerry Adams had a similar pedigree, and in her teenage years Price greatly admired him. But in more recent times she raged against him, regarding him not as a hero but as a traitor.

Her opposition was deeply personal, since she was affronted by his public insistence that he was never in the IRA. She insisted he had been a senior commander who had sent her on missions including killings and bombings. He denied this. She admitted involvement in murders but expressed no regret. She felt Adams had betrayed republicanism, first by denying his IRA involvement and then by constructing a peace process which led to the organisation's disbandment.

"I think the peace process should be destroyed in some way," she declared. "And I think Gerry Adams deserves to admit to his part in all of the things that happened." Later the journalist Liam Clarke found her "charming, chatty and flamboyant, more like a fading diva or retired actress than a terrorist." But he also described her as a very troubled soul. Her body was found at her County Dublin home which was filled with republican memorabilia.

She and her sister Marian – who is in custody for suspected involvement in dissident republican violence – became notorious figures in the early 1970s after receiving life sentences for one of the IRA's early bombing forays into England. The Prices had been steeped in militancy, with her father, mother, aunts and grandmother all active in the republican movement.

Price attended grammar school and teacher-training college before she and her sister joined the IRA in their late teens, making it clear that they wished to be front-line activists rather than helpers in its women's section. They were undeterred by the fact that their Aunt Bridie had been maimed when a bomb exploded prematurely during a previous IRA campaign, losing her sight and her hands.

Republican folklore has it that Dolours was the first female member sworn into the IRA. The sisters played highly active roles in 1972, the most violent year of the Troubles, in which almost 500 people died. Price maintained that the tactic of "bringing the war to Britain" was her idea. The sisters were two of the leading members of a gang despatched to England with a number of bombs, one of which blew up at the Old Bailey, injuring more than 200. A caretaker later collapsed and died of a heart attack.

The team was quickly arrested, receiving lengthy prison terms and in some cases life sentences. The sisters, Kelly and another prisoner then went on hunger strike, demanding to serve their time with IRA colleagues in Northern Ireland rather than Britain.

The authorities responded by force-feeding them. The procedure entailed four male prison officers tying each inmate tightly to a chair, clamping their jaws open and forcing a wooden clamp into the mouth. Food was then poured in through a funnel.

But they lost weight rapidly and tensions rose. The then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins later recalled that it was assumed a death would produce "massive retaliatory violence." He wrote in his memoirs: "They were the stuff of which Irish martyrs could be made – two young, slim, dark girls, devout yet dedicated to terrorism. The consequences of the death of these charismatic colleens was incalculable."

After many tense moments he let it be known that if the hunger strikes were ended transfers would soon follow. They accepted food and within a few weeks were moved to Northern Ireland. Seven years later they were released on medical grounds after serving unusually short sentences.

Once freed they largely dropped out of public notice, Dolours marrying the well-known Irish actor Stephen Rea (they later divorced). However, both sisters became active again within the last decade, making clear that they were opposed to the peace process.

Price accused Sinn Fein of "treachery beyond all anticipation" and "craving power and money." Of Gerry Adams she declared: "The man is an ignoramus and his ego has affected his head. He has lost all sense of proportion in his greed for attention."

Such onslaughts did nothing to halt the rise in the Sinn Fein vote in both parts of Ireland. When she accused Adams of sanctioning the Old Bailey bombing and ordering her to drive alleged informers and agents to their deaths he said he would not sue her, saying: "I am not of a mind to trail Dolours Price through the courts. She is unwell."

Price had a history of psychiatric problems and alcohol and substance abuse. She had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was repeatedly taken to hospital and treated for anxiety, stress and depression.

Journalist Aisling Scally, a fellow-student on a law course in 2006, remembered her "wearing a bright green hat and a jacket that would have put Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat to shame." She heckled lecturers, particularly on prisoners' issues, and during one session became incensed and "stormed out in a rainbow of rage."

In the last few years she was at the centre of a long-running international legal controversy as US courts sought access to statements she made to a research project associated with Boston College. Researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre have fought a long-running battle against a handover of documents which they promised would remain confidential until after the deaths of those interviewed.

Price said she had given statements about the role of Adams in IRA violence, including the Old Bailey attack, and a number of killings including that of the widowed mother of 10, Jean McConville. In a newspaper interview with Allison Morris Price said she did not regret her part in the McConville murder, commenting coldly: "Informers know the penalty. She knew the penalty." But when asked about driving another IRA member to his death she broke down and cried.

While Moloney said she made no mention of the McConville killing it is widely assumed she made other allegations concerning the Sinn Fein president. It remains unclear whether her interviews will remain under wraps.

Dolours Price, IRA volunteer and political activist: born Belfast 21 June 1951; married Stephen Rea (marriage dissolved; two sons); died Co Dublin 23 January 2013.

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