Monday, 30 January 2012

Wee Harry

Harry with Gerry A and RG during their visit to Palestine

At the 'Le Chéile' event during the Ard Fheis in Belfast

Harry at the parade in the Short Strand to open 'An Tine Bheo' Memorial Garden

At Belfast's '40 under 40' in Queens University

Attending the Ard Fheis in the Waterfront Hall (and no doubt talking about the scéal in Ballymaccarett!)

I haven't written on my blog for some time - but hearing the news of the passing of Harry Thompson compelled me to write down my thoughts on a friend, a comrade and a fellow Ballymaccarett man.

Like most Belfast republicans, I've known "Wee Harry" for years - growing up, he was a regular feature during reflections people would engage in about "years ago". His name always came up - but he wasn't a historical figure by any stretch of the imagination. He was at everything; Saoirse rallies, Easter Parades, Commemoration nights, Republican Family meetings, white line vigils. At all of these things, Wee Harry would be front and centre.

As a kid I got to know Harry because I was in the same school year as his daughter Ellen. He immediately spied me as being from the Strand when he saw me with my parents, who he had known for years. Harry and I immediately struck up a friendship, because that was the nature of the man - he loved people; he loved to get to know them; everyone who knows Wee Harry will recognise these familiar words, or something very similar, that he regularly opened a conversation with;

"Well how are you? How's you're mummy? And what about your da? How are things in the district? Are they going well for you? Great people! Don't worry, you have them with you. Good people, good people."

He always took the time to ask about others. He never complained.

You couldn't help but love Wee Harry - his passion for his family, his community and our struggle was infectious! He never stopped.

Whether traveling the world in support of the Republican Movement, or accompanying Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to Gaza after vicious bombardments, or dedicating his life to supporting republican POWs and their families, Harry played his part.

He was so proud to welcome the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis to his native Béal Feirste for the first time ever in September last year. After I addressed delegates on the Friday evening and was making my way off stage, there was Wee Harry, waiting in the wings. I hadn't seen him in a while and as always it was a great boost and lift, after throwing the arms around him, to hear what his thoughts were on the politics of the day and where the struggle was at.

Appropriately at this years "Le Chéile" event during the Ard Fheis, Harry, alongside Annie Cahill, was the nominee from Cúige Uladh.

In typical, selfless fashion, when accepting his honour Harry didn't think of himself, he thought of others. Unsurprisingly, he dedicated his award to "the women - the women who had done so much for us."

That was Harry.

Another immediate feature people recognised in him was his overflowing love for his Clann - and in return, all of Harry's girls (or Foireann Harry as they call themselves!) doted on their dáidí.

A short time ago I visited Harry at home - I called in between engagements and was travelling in the Mayor's car; I also had the chain of office with me. Harry, Cathy, Ellen, Niamh and Aisling were all there and greeted us in typical Belfast fashion. As always, the house was open; and no doubt the many hundreds who visited their house in recent times will have encountered that same Céad Míle Fáilte.

Harry was up and about that day, he was in great form and had put his suit on - Harry was forever telling me (and anyone who would listen!) about the significance of having a Short Strand man in the office of Mayor. Like many, Harry had struggled through much darker days in Ireland and with thanks to him and them, we are in a changed and better place.

Harry's energy and activism would put many a younger comrade to shame!

Even in illness, he ventured over the bridge and back home to his own Parish and helped us deliver the eve of poll letter in the Strand the night before the elections last May. And that was by no means the exception to the rule. All over Ireland he canvassed, leafleted or organised - and when it called for it, Harry rebelled, agitated and fought!

As always Wee Harry did his bit.

He had a deep grá for his home patch and we in return had a deep grá for him. He never forgot where he came from and was always a friend and supporter to many individuals, families and projects in our district. In recent years himself and Cathy joined a huge squad from the Strand on a holiday to sunny Spain. By all accounts the craic was great and even Dickie was there to keep Harry company.

His last contribution in the area was to play a central role in realising the building and dedication of "An Tine Bheo", the Republican Memorial Garden and Project in the Short Strand. Harry knew the importance of honouring and maintaining the memory of our Patriot Dead and had a deep commitment to it.

Across Belfast, across Ireland and indeed across the world, people will mourn the loss of Harry - not least in the United States where Harry found himself with a new, extended family and developed many relationships in support of the struggle back home in Ireland.

But nowhere will his loss be felt more than amongst his own family. Cathy and his girls. His brothers Seamus, Tony, John and Joe and his sister Lily.

Tá mo croí bhriste daoibhe ar fad.

No few words will sum up the life of Óglach Harry Thompson - he impacted on so many peoples lives and so many people will have fond and cherished memories of Harry and his trusted friendship. There is so much I haven't even touched on about the eventful but happy life of this republican activist - but that's ok as there's no doubt others will feel like me, and want to put their reflections down in black and white.

While Harry's passing will leave many of us feeling sad, we can be sure in the knowledge that Harry played his part - he reared a good Clann, who are equally as committed to their people, their culture and their country as he. With them, Wee Harry really did his finest work, and his daughters and grandchildren are a clear testimony to that. His love for his wife Cathy was as plain as the nose on your face - they had great craic together. She will no doubt miss him dearly.

Harry is from a tremendous generation of Irish people who took the brave stand to finally throw off the shackles of the failed Orange State; to struggle in pursuit of what was and remains our ultimate goal, the freedom and unity of our country.

For Harry and for those many people like him, in communities and in families and in homes right across this island, the onus remains on us to ensure we achieve those goals.

We are extremely lucky to have people like Harry Thompson in our midst; but we're even luckier when we get to know them.

On behalf of the Republican Family in Short Strand / Ballymaccarett - our thoughts and prayers are with his entire clann at this sad time.

Thanks for everything comrade.

Codladh Sámh a chara.


  1. beautiful Niall

  2. Maith thú Niall. Léigh mé seo le croí nimhneach. Fíorsceal ata ann.