Irish gifts - sales benefit the Newshound

Lennon offered benefet concert for prioners' families

(by Anne Cadwallader, Ireland on Sunday)

John Lennon offered to arrange a benefit concert for the families of republican prisoners, but never donated any cash to the IRA, according to the only Irish republican known to have discussed funding with him.

The Belfast republican, who wants to remain anonymous but who has spoken to Ireland on Sunday, has told of how he visited New York in 1972 and met Lennon in his luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park.

"A few days before I left Ireland in the spring of 1972 for a speaking tour, I was contacted in Dublin and given a phone number for Lennon in New York. I thought it was a wind-up, but when I had a day or two spare, I decided to call the number.

"I asked the man who answered the phone if John Lennon was there and he asked me who I was. I gave him my name and explained what I was doing in the USA and the man went off to check and came back to give me an address.

"On the way over to the address, in a very expensive part of New York, I still thought it might all be a joke, but when I got to the apartment, there he was. He asked me where I was from and we talked for about 45 minutes.

"He was keen to know if I was in the IRA, but I hedged about and didn't say. The impression I got was that he would have liked me to say yes. I explained I was on a speaking tour to raise money and support and told him what was developing at home.

"He was quite up to date on events in Ireland and seemed very knowledgeable about politics. I got the impression he was very supportive of what we were doing and he said he was anxious to do anything he could to help.

"He suggested doing a benefit concert for the families' of prisoners and internees' families and asked if it would be best to perform in Belfast or Dublin. I said the loyalists might try and attack the event in Belfast so Dublin would be better.

"We talked about the Phoenix Park as a possible venue, but then he made the point that it would be difficult for him to leave the USA because he had a drugs conviction and immigration might not allow him to return, so the concert would have to wait until that was all cleared up.

"We shook hands and parted on good terms. When I reported back to the then IRA Chief of Staff, he had a good laugh at it but was none too pleased about how we had got Lennon's number in the first place.

"The person who gave it to us was a shady character whom we believed was involved in drug-dealing, and as a result we never followed up the contact with Lennon or pursued his offer.

"As far as I know, no other republican ever spoke to Lennon about funding and I know for a fact he never donated any cash to the IRA at that time. I checked two years later with the IRA Chief of Staff again and he said to let it drop".

The contact who had put the republican movement in touch with Lennon was Jim McCann, nicknamed the "Emerald Pimpernel" who was suspected by them of involvement in international drug-dealing.

He had served time in Crumlin Road jail, where he came across republicans, but escaped from there in unexplained circumstances and next came to the attention of the republican movement living in Dundalk.

Because of his shady background, most republicans at the time kept him strictly at arm's length, despite his attempts to inveigle himself into their confidence.

Lennon's political affiliations became news again last week when it was claimed that British intelligence services believed the late Beatle secretly helped to fund the IRA.

The claim, that MI5 documents contain references to Lennon giving money to the IRA, was originally made by former British intelligence officer David Shayler, now living in exile in Paris.

Professor Jon Wiener, of the University of California, has been demanding the release of the FBI's dossier on the former Beatle since the musician's death in 1980.

Correspondence between the FBI and the British government about Lennon's political activities in the late Sixties and early Seventies, is among documents now set to be made public following a lengthy US court battle.

Shayler says he was shown the files by a colleague in 1993. They concerned Lennon's support for the Trotskyist Workers' Revolutionary Party, whose leading lights included the actress Vanessa Redgrave.

An MI5 source inside the WRP said Lennon contributed tens of thousands of pounds to that cause and, it was claimed, also to the IRA. Asked whether Lennon made contributions to the IRA, a spokesman for Sinn Fein, its political wing, said: "It is not unbelievable". Lennon backed the civil rights movement and joined Troops Out marches in Britain and the US. In response to Bloody Sunday in January 1972, Lennon said he would rather side with the IRA than the Army.

That year he wrote the song 'The Luck of the Irish' dedicated to the victims. It contained the lyrics: "If you have the luck of the Irish, you'd wish you were English instead".

The dead Beatle's wife, Yoko Ono, has also denied reports that Lennon ever knowingly gave money to the IRA. Speaking from Spain, Ono said this week there was no truth to the claims.

The FBI has resisted pressure to disclose details of its correspondence with MI5 on Lennon, including notes made during telephone conversations and at least two letters.

Nine days ago, a federal judge in California ordered that the information be made public. The FBI, which has a month to appeal against the ruling, says it is "honour-bound" not to betray the trust of the British intelligence service, which gave it the documents in secret.

As well as allegations over his funding of the IRA, the files are believed to show that Lennon gave £46,000 to the Workers' Revolutionary Party and Red Mole, a Marxist magazine.

It is understood that one of the main concerns of the British secret service is that if the FBI files are made public it could identify a "mole" it had operating within the WRP.

Lennon, who was murdered by an obsessed fan outside his New York home in 1980, was always open about his support for Irish independence.