Belfast Republican Jimmy Roe

 When questioned on a visit to Long Kesh, how long will this war continue ?                       Jimmy Roe replied”as long as the Vietnam war”.

Jimmy at Bobby Sands funeral

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Jimmy Roe was born in Albert Place, West Belfast on 14th December 1927 to George (an IRA member in the 1920s) and Emilia Roe an Italian descendant from those which had fought with Garibaldi’s Redshirts.

Roe grew up with brother, George and two sisters, Anna and Marie under the twin influences of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and radical republicanism. In turn Roe exhibited a keen interest and enthusiasm for the GAA.

In addition Roe represented Antrim in hurling and football, playing on the Antrim team remembered for their defeat of Cavan during 1951 Ulster football final. Also he was instrumental in the development of Casement Park, which would later become the senior venue for Antrim GAA.

Moreover Roe was proud of his class and as a young man he would join Na Fianna later to progress to the ranks of the IRA. Furthermore he would become associated with the republican struggle from the 1940s, befriending such stalwart figures Billy McKee, Seamus Twomey and Proinsias Mac Arit.

Furthermore during the nationalist uprising in the North in 1969 he became a member of the 1st battalion of the Provisional IRA going on to become the Belfast brigade quartermaster. More importantly, on June 27th 1970 Roe fought in the first major engagement of the Provisional IRA, the Battle of St Matthew’s church in the Short Strand.

In the early hours of 9th August 1971 internment without trial began. The British army moved into nationalist areas, entering homes and violently arresting hundreds of men. Roe now adjudicant of Belfast was forced to go into hiding but was arrested in May1972 and interned without trial in Cage 22 Long Kesh concentration camp with friends Peter Corrigan and Paul Fox (both killed in action). While in the Kesh he was involved during the prisoner’s protest resulting in the burn down of the prison camp on October 15th 1974.When questioned on a visit to Long Kesh ,” how long will this war continue ?.” Roe replied” as long as the Vietnam war.”

Bobby Devlin wrote of Roe’s time in Long Kesh ( An Interlude with Seagulls).”Jimmy Roe used to tackle the Long Kesh Governor with complaints on behalf of his constituents in Cage 22.On one particular occasion Jimmy was trying to get “steradent” or something similar for cleaning his false teeth but he was informed that it was against the rules. The verbal conflict between Jimmy and the Assistant Governor over how the false teeth should be cleaned reached a heated climax with Jimmy pulling out his “sparklers” and leaving them on the table with this immortal phrase “If I can’t clean them then you fucking well clean them” and he stormed out.”

Roe was released from Long Kesh concentration camp in July 1975 after over three years of internment and reported back to the IRA. He became a tireless worker with the Green Cross association on behalf of the prisoners and the driving force behind the Prisoners Dependent Club in Andersonstown. Roe also went on to work for the National Graves Association in which he was instrumental in the campaign to secure the release of Tom William’s body from Crumlin Road goal.

To conclude until his untimely death on August 12th 1996, he was still involved in all aspects of the republican struggle. Therefore it was not a surprise when the RUC harassed his republican funeral from St Agnes church on the Andersonstown Road. Former prisoners from all shades of republicanism included prominent republicans marched alongside the hearse carrying the tricolour-draped coffin en route to Milltown cemetery where an oration was given at the graveside.

“Apostles of freedom are ever idolised when dead, but crucified when alive.” James Connolly from the workers’ Republic, 13th August 1898. “


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