Billy McKee (1921-2019) was a lifelong Irish Republican paramilitary, a founding member of the Provisional IRA and a former hunger striker.
McKee was born into a devout Catholic family in Belfast and joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at age 18. He participated in the IRA’s ‘Northern Campaign’, a series of terrorist attacks against British targets during World War II. McKee was arrested in 1943 and held in Crumlin Road prison for three years. He remained active with the IRA after his release.
McKee returned to the fray in the late 1960s, amid increases in sectarian violence. He and his men attempted to defend Catholic areas from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and Loyalist thugs during the rioting of August 1969. McKee criticised IRA leaders for their lack of preparation and planning, particularly a dire shortage of weapons and munitions.
After failing to seize control of the IRA leadership, McKee and his followers formed a splinter group that evolved into the Provisional IRA. From late 1969 to 1971 McKee was in command of the Provisional IRA’s Belfast Brigade. During this period, he led successful defences of Catholic areas from Loyalist attack, at one point being shot five times. McKee was arrested and jailed for firearms offences in 1971. In May-June 1972, he led other prisoners in a successful hunger strike, resulting in the granting of Special Category Status (SCS) for Irish Republican prisoners.
Billy McKee died in June 2019. His funeral service in Belfast was attended by hundreds of former IRA volunteers.
Title: “Billy McKee”
Authors: Jennifer Llewellyn, Steve Thompson
Publisher: Alpha History
Date published: June 18, 2019
Date accessed: March 21, 2023