Prominent Sinn Féin politician, raconteur and old-style local bard

Jim McAllister: September, 1943-April 9th, 2013

Jim McAllister: passion for restoring clocks

Jim McAllister: passion for restoring clocks


Jim McAllister, who has died at his home in Cullyhanna in south Armagh, was a central figure in the campaign for justice for Paul Quinn, murdered six years ago. McAllister was also a prominent Sinn Féin politician, a leading actor in a Ken Loach film, a raconteur and an old-style local bard.

McAllister had joined Sinn Féin as a teenager in the early 1960s because he wanted to fight injustice. In later years the same instinct brought him into conflict with Sinn Féin and with former comrades. He mobilised support in south Armagh for his friends, the Quinn family, after members of the Provisional IRA beat their son Paul to death in 2007. He spoke out in the media. He brought the issue to any forum he could. Because of his campaigning, the murder has not been forgotten.

Jim McAllister was born on the Square in Crossmaglen in September 1943, one of seven children to Robbie McAllister, a cobbler, and his wife Katie.

Effective public speaker
In his late teens he emigrated to Britain, where he worked in the building trade. He returned to south Armagh in 1974, and soon became a leading figure in Sinn Féin. In the early 1980s, he became a full-time activist. He was an effective public speaker, knowing how always to insert a touch of humour into a speech.

He was elected for the Armagh constituency to the short-lived Assembly of 1982, but did not take his seat as Sinn Féin was then abstentionist. He stood unsuccessfully three times for the Newry and Armagh seat at Westminster. In 1985 he was one of the first wave of Sinn Féin councillors to be elected in the North in modern times, taking a seat on Newry and Mourne District Council.

Stood down as councillor
By the 1990s, he was uncomfortable at the overall direction Sinn Féin was taking. He felt he was being restricted in what he could say and stood down as a councillor in 1993.

However, politics was only part of his life. He had a passion for making and restoring clocks. He also had an equal passion for recounting amusing stories. That talent is very obvious in the 1990 film Hidden Agenda , directed by British film-maker Ken Loach. McAllister played a Sinn Féin councillor with a gift of the gab. He is also one of the few political figures proud to be judged a champion liar, after winning a competition at Camlough festival.

He was a bard, who composed ballads and poems about local events. When inspired, he could produce a ballad in a few minutes. Unfortunately, most were never written down and will be lost with their author.

He is survived by his daughter Aoibheann, sons Turloch and Brendan, sisters Anne (Botros), Teresa (Arthurs), Rose (Canavan), and brother Bob. He was predeceased by his wife, Margaret, sister Kathy (Cannon), and brother John.

Jim McAllister: born September 18th, 1943, died April 9th, 2013.