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DIED JULY 23, 2004

Joe Cahill, a founding father of the modern Irish Republican Army who once narrowly avoided the hangman's noose, died Friday, the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party announced. He was 84.

Cahill died in his Belfast home after suffering for years from asbestosis.

He was the first Belfast commander of the modern "Provisional" wing of the IRA founded in December 1969, the year Northern Ireland descended into decades of civil unrest.

After killing about 1,800 people and maiming thousands, IRA commanders called open-ended cease-fires in 1994 and 1997 -- when Cahill's vote in favor was considered critical.

Cahill was sentenced to death alongside five other IRA members for killing a policeman in 1942. Cahill eventually had his sentence commuted to life. British authorities freed him in 1949.

He remained in the old IRA through a 1956-62 campaign, but like many northern hard-liners broke from the Dublin-based organization when it failed to defend Catholic parts of Belfast adequately from Protestant mob violence in August 1969.

Cahill spoke out strongly in favor of accepting the Good Friday peace accord of 1998, which offered a chance for Sinn Fein to help govern Northern Ireland, a state the IRA long hoped to abolish rather than reform.

But to his dying day, Cahill kept insisting that shifting Sinn Fein-IRA tactics would ultimately deliver the goal of uniting Ireland under one government, a goal that Northern Ireland's Protestant majority opposes.

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