Writer of 1970s anti-internment anthem in the North

Paddy Joe McGuigan: December 8th, 1937 - March 17th, 2014


Paddy Joe McGuigan, who has died after a short illness, wrote the ballad The Men Behind the Wire , which was the anthem of the anti-internment movement in the North in the early 1970s.

Though never an IRA member, McGuigan himself was interned for three months.

The Men Behind the Wire expressed the spirit of the times so well that loyalists also produced a version. Almost 40 years after it was written, the song still stirred controversy. In 2008, DUP MP Gregory Campbell criticised the singer Dido for including lines from it in a song.

McGuigan wrote numerous other songs, mostly ballads, several of which are now presumed to be traditional, such as The Boys of the Old Brigade .

Patrick Joseph McGuigan was born in December 1937, in Springview Street in west Belfast, one of two sons to John and Josephine (née Murray) McGuigan. He was educated at St Paul’s Primary School and St Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School. After school he qualified as a plumber. One of his jobs was as a pipefitter in the Harland & Wolff shipyard.

From an early age, music was a passion. Neighbours the McPeake family were famous traditional musicians, who kept an open house for musicians. The McPeakes and their visitors helped McGuigan develop his talent. He was an outstanding harmonica player, being judged the best player in Europe while in his mid-teens. He also played the guitar.

As a young man McGuigan toured with ballad singer Bridie Gallagher’s backing band. He also worked as a session musician. His strengths were in arranging music, and in songwriting. He could take a line of someone else’s song, or a bar of their tune, and produce a completely different work.

He founded Barleycorn in 1971. It was one of the most professional groups on the ballad and folk circuit in the 1970s. The Men Behind the Wire was its first recording but the band did not profit, the royalties going to the internees’ families.

In mid-1970s McGuigan moved to the Dublin area. There he composed, arranged and played music for RTÉ and BBC radio programmes.

He is survived by his wife Cecilia, daughter Áine, son-in-law Robert, and grandchildren Murron and Cara.