‘Militarily illiterate’: Marine who joined IRA gives verdict on Martin McGuinness myth

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Martin McGuinness met an IRA man in Dublin’s Botanic Gardens and instructed him to set up an arms network in the US as they fed the squirrels, a new book reveals.

ohn Crawley, a former US Marine, who worked with Boston mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger to set up the shipment, says the Sinn Fein leader also didn’t rule out shooting gardai if they joined RUC patrols on the border.

Crawley was later arrested on board the Marita Ann trawler with future Sinn Fein former TD Martin Ferris. He served a 10-year sentence in Portaloise Prison and was jailed again in 1996 for a bomb plot to disable London’s electricity grid.

In The Yank, he details his lengthy time in the IRA, and his many clashes with McGuinness whom he later came to view as “militarily illiterate” despite his legendary reputation.

Crawley said he was deeply honoured in 1983 when he first met the man “whom even the British conceded was of exceptional character and ability”.

McGuinness told him he needed someone with an American accent to go into US gun stores to buy weapons as an Irish accent attracted too much attention.

Crawley turned down the request as he felt his training in an elite US Marine Corps unit meant he was more use remaining on ‘active service’ for the IRA targeting police and soldiers.

But McGuinness, whom he met regularly in Botanic Gardens, wouldn’t take no for an answer: “He was polite and avuncular. I liked him. We brought peanuts and fed the squirrels. He always arrived by bus and wore a tweed walking hat and sports’ coat. I’m not sure if Martin was chief-of-staff at this stage but he was definitely on the Army Council. At meetings with senior IRA officers, I noted he was generally deferred to.”

There were newspaper reports that then Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald, was considering joint Garda-RUC patrols along the border. The ex-Marine asked what would happen if that went ahead. He said McGuinness replied: “We can’t blow up half a police car.”

Crawley said: “Clearly, as far as Martin McGuinness was concerned, if members of An Garda Siochana wished to volunteer as human sandbags for Her Majesty’s constabulary in south Armagh that would be their misfortune.”

The former Marine was given £9,000 and sent to Boston. He complained to McGuinness he felt “extremely uncomfortable” working with mobster Bulger but was told: “Little old ladies in Noraid can’t get us M60 machine guns.”

McGuinness and Crawley clashed often over military matters with the Sinn Fein leader favouring quantity over quality when purchasing weapons.

The American wanted to buy Swedish Aimpoint sights for rifles as many IRA operations took place at night or in low visibility but McGuinness refused: “There was no point in arguing my case. Martin was used to getting his way. He could be quite forceful when challenged.”

McGuinness also insisted that “silencers destroy a weapon” which Crawley knew to be untrue. The former Marine said McGuinness didn’t understand how an RPG-7 rocket worked and insisted one didn’t explode even though it had killed a soldier.

McGuinness was “seething” when it was explained how he was wrong: “A true professional would value the correction and pass it onto the men on the ground but not this fellow. He took it as an insult. Martin McGuinness had an enormous reputation as our finest military thinker. I recall a senior British Army officer claiming he was so capable he could have been trained at Sandhurst. As time went on, however, I found no evidence of this. In fact, I became increasingly frustrated by his military illiteracy.”


The Yank: My Life as a former US Marine in the IRA by John Crawley

The Yank: My Life as a former US Marine in the IRA by John Crawley