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ireland, irish, ulster, ireland, irish, ulster, Sinn Féin, Irish America

Singing along with the Provos

(by Suzanne Breen, the News Letter)

Normally, she sings sentimental songs of love and loss. "Three times you said it's over/Two times you said goodbye/ But once you said you loved me/ Was that a lie?" is the chorus of a typical Frances Black number.

So it was very surprising to see her standing in Milltown Cemetery on Tuesday belting out The Bold Fenian Men at Joe Cahill's funeral.

Frances looked mournful but glam in a well-cut black coat. Her presence has passed unremarked. Remember the fuss when Gazza mimed playing the flute at an Old Firm game?

It's amazing how many singers, film stars, and even the odd Taoiseach are found in Sinn Féin company these days.

In the old days, the Provos had to make do with Christy Moore. Unionists dislike Moore but at least he nailed his colours to the mast when it wasn't fashionable. He recorded songs written by Bobby Sands, though he got itchy feet after the Enniskillen bombing and kept his head down for years.

Frances, to my knowledge, has never recorded a controversial number in her life. Playing at the West Belfast festival has been the height of it. Clearly it's no longer career suicide to dedicate militaristic songs to former IRA chiefs-of-staff.

The black berets and trousers of the marching men are substantially smarter than in scruffier, pre-1994 times and so don't make an embarrassing back-drop for a leading folk-singer.

And there was never any chance on Tuesday of those nasty men with woolly faces firing a few shots in the air and poor Frances finding herself in a compromising situation or even a police cell.

Strangely, no artistes want to flirt with the UDA, Real IRA or LVF - who combined haven't killed nearly as many people as the Provos. Whatever the aftershave Gerry and the boys are wearing, it certainly does the trick.

July 30, 2004

This article appears in the July 29, 2004 edition of the News Letter.