IN December 1974, Feakle jumped onto the front line of world news when it was used as the venue for secret talks between a group of clergymen from Northern Ireland and senior members of the IRA. Present were Dr Arthur Butler, Dr Jack Weir, Rev Ralph Baxter and Rev William Arlow. It is suggested that Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Daithí O’Connell, Máire Drumm, Seamus Loughran, Billy McKee, Seamus Toomey, Kevin Mallon and JB O’Hagan were in attendance.
Much speculation always surrounded the meeting but it did lead to the 1975 ceasefire during which there were ongoing talks between the main parties. From early 1973, MI6 are reported to have opened contact with the IRA. The British government could not be seen to have this contact but they might have been conducted by an SIS officer named Oatley. The Irish government were not in favour of such contacts either. Whether the Feakle talks were used as a means of bringing these contacts into the public domain without government involvement is a matter for conjecture but the clergymen presented the IRA with a document which had the approval of the British.
While the talks were intended to be secret, when the IRA delegation arrived at Smyth’s Hotel they found a row of Northern registered cars parked in front. In the month of December, that was advertising that something was afoot. Both sides presented and discussed their respective positions and they had reached the stage of discussing the scenario of a possible British withdrawal when word came that the hotel was about to be raided by Special Branch. The army surrounded the area but when the hotel was raided, all the gardaí found were northern clergymen and Sinn Féin politicians. The members of the IRA had escaped.
A certain amount of good came from the meeting. The following weeks, the clergymen presented the IRA point of view to the British government. The IRA declared a ceasefire that Christmas and with some extensions, it lasted for a number of months. The IRA thought that they were making progress. Many people felt that an announcement of future British withdrawal was imminent. The British side were intent on maintaining contact because they felt that the longer the ceasefire lasted the more isolated the IRA would become. They argued that without violence, the existence of the IRA would be pointless. The IRA was under severe pressure. It suffered attacks by loyalist paramilitaries and its members did not fully agree with the ceasefire. Leaks about the talks finally put an end to the process.
The rank-and-file members of the IRA were disgusted by the manner in which they felt they were used and the leadership was soon changed to a more hard-line, pragmatic one.
Did the British government, even though they had no intention of withdrawing, deliberately drag out the talks to de stabilise the IRA? Was the good will of the clergymen manipulated ? Did the Irish government deliberately order the raid on Feakle to stop the talks? If the governments were genuine, could we have been spared years of suffering?
Who knows but those talks did take place and Smyth’s Hotel Feakle was raided by a large contingent of Special Branch members on December 10, 1974, – 36 years ago this week.