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IRA bomber who blew up Sunday World offices to write tell-all book

Packy McMahon proudly boasts a tattoo of hunger striker Bobby Sands across his heart

Patrick McMahon

Hugh Jordan

A veteran IRA bomb-maker who blew up the Sunday World offices is writing a tell-all book about his years as a paramilitary.

Packy McMahon proudly boasts a tattoo of hunger striker Bobby Sands across his heart and also has another image etched on his back of the moment Guildford Four man Gerry Conlon tasted freedom after 15 years in jail.

"I'm a veteran IRA man and both these men made a huge impression on me. I was heavily influenced by them and I got the tattoos done as a tribute and permanent reminder," he said.

"Bobby Sands is my hero."

Packy (58) was jailed when he was caught red-handed making a 1,500lb bomb which was destined for Belfast city centre.

In the early 1990s McMahon also manufactured a huge bomb which wrecked the Sunday World's High Street offices.

McMahon spent many years languishing in the Maze Prison alongside then-leading IRA men including Séanna Walsh, who is today a Sinn Féin councillor in Belfast.

Patrick McMahon has the day he was released from jail emblazoned across his back.

And although McMahon has disagreements with Sinn Féin on a number of policy matters, he still has respect for Séanna Walsh, who was at one time commander of IRA prisoners in the Maze.

"I'll never forget the day I heard a commotion outside my cell. The flap on my door was broken and I could see out. The screws were dragging Séanna along the corridor because he had refused to remove his underpants for a search.

"Séanna was screaming: 'We are political prisoners!' I felt so proud of him," said McMahon.

But these days, Packy is totally opposed to violence for political ends.

And although he's still committed to his dream of a 32-county socialist republic, McMahon insists dialogue is the only way forward. And he maintains it should have happened long before it did.

"Looking back, the Provisional IRA ceasefire should have been called when the Official IRA did it 50 years ago today. The war went on far too long," he said.

Patrick McMahon chats to reporter Hugh Jordan (left)

McMahon - a married father of three - spoke to the Sunday World prior to the publication of his autobiography, Two Irishmen Walked into a Bar, later this year.

He is still putting the finishing touches to his amazing life story. It is a first-hand account of the life of a top IRA bomb-maker who was also a punk rocker - he has another tattoo of the late Clash guitarist Joe Strummer on his left forearm.

"Punk music was great for bringing people from different backgrounds together," he said.

"I had friends over from Liverpool and I spent last weekend with them in Belfast. I have friends from all over as a result of my interest in punk," said Packy.

"I remember being at a punk concert one night. Terry Hooley - the Godfather of Punk - was on stage wearing a police uniform. He was slagging off the IRA. When he finished, I went up to him and said, 'Terry, did you know I'm a Provie?" said McMahon.

He added: "I was pointing out that it was possible to be a punk and a Provie at the same time."

Packy was born in the Leeson Street area off Belfast's Falls Road in on July 12, 1965.

"The doctor in the hospital told my mother that because I was born on the 12th, she would have no difficulty finding a name for me.

But she said, 'I'm naming my son after the patron saint of Ireland'," he laughed. The area where the McMahons lived kept the flame of republicanism alive when it was extinguished elsewhere in the city.

At school, McMahon was known as 'Ferret' because he liked to bring his pet ferret into the classroom.

Patrick McMahon has a tattoo of his hero and Republican icon Bobby Sands emblazoned upon his chest.

The McMahons lived in Gibson Street and Plevna Street before moving to New Barnsley, a new mixed estate further up the Springfield Road.

And Packy remembers visiting the area where the so-called 'Battle of Ballymurphy' took place.

"I can still see the spot where the Paras gunned down Fr Hugh Mullan, a local priest who had gone to the aid of another man shot during the gunfire. People had erected a cross at the spot where Fr Mullan died," said Packy.

"This had a huge effect on me. I'd get abuse from British soldiers going to school and I'd get beaten up for nothing.

"But after school, I'd pick up a stone or a brick or a piece of metal and I'd throw it at a passing Army vehicle trying to do damage," he said.

And at the age of 13, Packy joined Na Fianna Eireann, the junior wing of the IRA.

"Our job at that time was basically intelligence gathering. I'd note vehicle registration numbers etc."

After a few months, Packy's mother Eileen learned of her son's involvement in the Republican Movement and she ordered him to leave. But it was only a matter of time before he drifted back under the influence of the IRA.

He was sworn into the organisation by his cousin. And after undergoing an induction course where he was 'Green Booked', McMahon was soon involved in IRA operations on a daily basis.

But his real talent lay in bomb-making.

"I remember the Tory politician Richard Needham appearing on TV after a bomb had gone off in Bedford Street. He was furious and then another went off outside the main Post Office in High Street.

"But I felt proud, because I knew it would only be a matter of time before the Brits started speaking to us," said McMahon.

He added: "But I was angry when I later learned the IRA had been talking to the Brits for years."

McMahon was eventually caught in the process of making a bomb by the police.

They burst into a small terrace house in Islandbawn Street off the Falls Road, where he was mixing a huge bomb.

"I was standing in my underpants because it was so hot. Suddenly the door was kicked in by the police. I just laid down on the floor and bit the carpet.

"I was handcuffed and taken to Grosvenor Road barracks for questioning.

"My mother Eileen is a good republican and she arrived down with a bag of Belfast baps for me," said Packy.

"But she also left a big green, white and orange set of Rosary beads for me as well!"

McMahon's youngest daughter was born just two weeks after he was arrested.

Patrick McMahon is currently writing a book about his experience with in the IRA having joined at the age of 13 years.

At his trial, McMahon was convicted and jailed for 12 years. He firmly believes he was betrayed by another republican who informed the police about the whereabouts of his bomb-making factory.

"I later made friends with the man who squealed. But I wouldn't hold it against anyone who breaks under interrogation," he said.

On his release from prison, McMahon cut his ties with the IRA - but later applied to rejoin the republican terror group.

"I was interviewed and they asked me if I took cannabis. I admitted I did, but I said if I was ordered to stop by the IRA, then I would.

"I was made to face a wall, so as I never saw the man who spoke to me. He went out for a break and when he came back in, he told me to 'eff off' and never attempt to join the IRA ever again," said McMahon.

Packy insists his book isn't solely about his experiences in the IRA and he explained he will also reveal more about his involvement in the punk scene in Belfast.

"Punk was a big part of my life and I made great friends with a lot of people. I've also made friends with a lot of people from the loyalist community and I want people to have more discussions with each other," he said.

Note: In the original version of this article published 6 May, we carried a comment from former IRA prisoner Packy McMahon which stated that he planned to donate proceeds from his book to the Justice for Lyra Campaign.

The Justice for Lyra Campaign would like to clarify that it has not been approached by Mr McMahon in relation to any donation and that if such an approach was made in the future, it would be politely declined.

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