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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mary Reid, The GIGN Agent and the fight to Clear Her Name




DEATH: The isolated beach in Co Donegal where the body of Derry academic Mary Reid, inset, was found washed up in January 2003 PICTURE: Margaret McLaughlin

By Terry Robson

The socialist and poet, Mary Reid, was born in her Grandmother’s home in Monaghan in 1953 and died in the most tragic circumstances in a drowning accident on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal 29 January 2003. She was three months short of her fiftieth birthday. Her pet and constant companion, a small terrier
named Macha, was never to be found. Before her divorce she was married to Cathal Og Goulding, the son of former IRA Chief-of-Staff Cathal Goulding. She had a son, also named Cathal.

At the time of her death she worked as a community researcher and as a lecturer in Woman’s Studies in Derry. She led a full and active life in community work, teaching, and in socialist republican politics in addition to her passion for poetry and Celtic mysticism. She was fluent in Gaelic and French and was able to converse in Spanish and German.

She was an acknowledged expert on the myths surrounding St Patrick’s Purgatory on Lough Derg in Donegal and was a keen student of the esoteric writings of the Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff. She
walked across France and the Sinaii desert and was planning to walk across England from Whitehaven to Robin Hood Bay in Yorkshire, when the accident occurred, in support of guide dogs for the blind.

Mary studied law at Trinity College, Dublin; Politics and History at UCD and held a Masters degree in Rural Development and Economics from UCG and a MA in Creative Writing in Irish from the University of
Lancaster on completion of her studies with the poets James Simmons and Cathal O’Searcaigh in Donegal.
During her early years as a student Mary developed an enthusiasm for radical politics eventually becoming one of the first editors of the Starry Plough, the paper of the Irish Republican Socialist Party. She was
instrumental in almost single-handedly managing the protest campaign and directing the legal defence of the train trial defendants. She spent many years in France working with international political refugees and
was arrested with Mick Plunkett, former General Secretary of the IRSP and Steven King, in a sting operation involving the French Secret Service planting explosives and weapons in their apartment, described
in an editorial in Le Monde as the ‘scandal of the Irish of Vincennnes’.

She was innocent of the charges and received an apology from the French government, although she continued to fight to have her name fully cleared. Her case against Paul Barrill, a former head of GIGN, the French equivalent of the SAS and the person most associated with the attempt to implicate the three Irish refugees in the bombing of a Jewish restaurant in Paris, collapsed after it was announced by his Counsel that the file to prosecute Barrill was presented a day late. Mary’s own Counsel Antoine Comte declared his interest in continuing the case against the former GIGN agent and is currently considering how this can be pursued.

Paul Barrill is a notorious figure in France who is believed to have been involved with several African and Middle Eastern dictatorships as a ‘security consultant’. His involvement in France during the course of
the imprisonment of Mary and her comrades is often described as ‘farcical’ because of his penchant for publicity, however his role in this specific affair was an extremely dangerous one because of his use of
several agents provocateur and the willingness of the then Mitterand regime to employ suspect methods against Irish revolutionaries.

Mary Reid returned to Ireland in 1987. She spent her first year in Louisburg in Mayo and then for the rest of the time in Derry, with brief spells in Donegal. She spent many of the final months of her life in what she described as her second home in the French Mediterranean port of S├ęte.

In an obituary in the Irish Times, Eamon McCann captured the essence of Mary’s life, when he described her as ‘a mass of enthusiasms, infuriating to some in her occasional forays into mysticism, but always
entrancing. She saw transient things transfigured, found magnificence in the mundane, had a huge heart and a wild imagination.’

(The author of this article Terry Robson, is a former political prisoner and partner of Mary Reid for the last fifteen years of her life.)