By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — John Lennon offered to play a benefit concert for the families of republican prisoners, but never donated any cash to the IRA, according to the only Irish Republican known to have discussed funding with him.
The Belfast republican, who wants to remain anonymous, has told of how he visited New York in 1972 and met Lennon in his apartment overlooking Central Park.
"A few days before I left Ireland in the spring of 1972 for a speaking tour, I was contacted in Dublin and given a phone number for Lennon in New York," the republican said. "I thought it was a wind-up, but when I had a day or two to spare, I decided to call the number.
"I asked the man who answered the phone if John Lennon was there and he asked me who I was. I gave him my name and explained what I was doing in the USA and the man went off to check and came back to give me an address.
"On the way over to the address, in a very expensive part of New York, I still thought it might all be a joke, but when I got to the apartment, there he was. He asked me where I was from and we talked for about 45 minutes.
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"He was keen to know if I was in the IRA, but I hedged about and didn’t say. The impression I got was that he would have liked me to say yes. I explained I was on a speaking tour to raise money and support and told hm what was developing at home.
"He was quite up to date on events in Ireland and seemed very knowledgeable about politics. I got the impression he was very supportive of what we were doing and he said he was anxious to do anything he could to help.
"He suggested doing a benefit concert for the families of prisoners and internees’ families and asked if it would be best to perform in Belfast or Dublin. I said loyalists might try and attack the event in Belfast so Dublin would be better.
"We talked about the Phoenix Park as a possible venue, but then he made the point that it would be difficult for him to leave the USA because he had a drugs conviction and immigration might not allow him to return, so the concert would have to wait until that was all cleared up.
"We shook hands and parted on good terms. When I reported back to the then IRA chief of staff, he had a good laugh at it but was none too pleased about how we had got Lennon’s number in the first place.
"The person who gave it to us was a shady character whom we believed was involved in drug dealing, and, as a result, we never followed up the contact with Lennon or pursued his offer.
"As far as I know, no other republican ever spoke to Lennon about funding and I know for a fact he never donated any cash to the IRA at that time. I checked two years later with the IRA chief of staff again and he said to let it drop."
The contact who had put the republican movement in touch with Lennon was nicknamed the "Emerald Pimpernel" who was suspected by them of involvement in international drug dealing.
He had served time in Crumlin Road jail, where he came across republicans, but escaped from there in unexplained circumstances and next came to the attention of the republican movement in Dundalk.
Because of the man’s shady background, most republicans at the time kept him strictly at arm’s length, despite his attempts to inveigle himself into their confidence.
Lennon’s political affiliations became new again last week when it was claimed that British intelligence services believed the late Beatle secretly helped to fund the IRA.
The claim — that M15 documents contain references to Lennon giving money to the IRA — was originally made up by former British intelligence officer David Shayler, now living in exile in Paris.
Professor Jon Wiener of the University of California has been demanding the release of the FBI’s dossier on the former Beatle since the musician’s death in 1980.
Asked whether Lennon made contributions to the IRA, a spokesman for Sinn Fein, its political wing, said: "It is not unbelievable."
Lennon backed the civil rights movement and joined Troops Out marches in Britain and the U.S. In response to Bloody Sunday in January 1972, Lennon said he would rather side with the IRA than the British army.
That year he wrote the song "The Luck of the Irish," dedicated to the victims. It contained the lyrics: "If you have the luck of the Irish, you’d wish you were English instead."
The dead Beatle’s wife, Yoko Ono, has also denied reports that Lennon ever knowingly gave money to the IRA.
A California judge has ordered that the information held by the FBI be made public. The FBI has a month to appeal the ruling. Lennon, who was murdered by an obsessed fan outside his New York home in 1980, was always open about his support for Irish independence.