Thomas Dixie Elliot with a powerfully evocative memory of IRA Volunteer Tom McElwee.

It was the winter of 1978 and Christmas was about a week away. Big Tom McElwee and I waited and listened as the screws got closer.

On up the wing locks rattled, cell doors flung open and we heard bare feet scurrying on the floor, as those in the cells before us tried to escape the heavier sounding boots of screws.

There was no escape - this was the H-Blocks. We were naked except for a blue towel wrapped around our waists and encased within a concrete hell on earth, officially called H4. There was no escape from the hatred that lined the wing, blocked the way at the grills and either took physical form in beatings or looked on in white shirted command. The wing shifts and forced washing had begun what was clearly another attempt at breaking us.

That winter was the worst in years, so bad we thought it would surely reach through the broken windows of our cells and that its icy touch would claim some unfortunate comrade in the night.

Big Tom waited by the cell door with fists clenched. He had a low tolerance of bullies and he fully intended taking these bastards on. I stood near the window and silently cursed his courage as fear chilled my very bones. Screws moved around outside our cell. It was too soon, we thought, as there were several cells before us to go yet.

The hatch opened, a set of eyes peered through at us. Keys rattled and they were in on top of us; pushing, punching and grabbing at our matted hair. We had been taken by surprise and before we could react we were being run down the wing, through the various sets of grills and across the circle towards a newly cleaned wing. There they waited, the cleaning crew with their tools of torture; ordinary everyday things like a bath, a scrubbing brush, scissors and a mirror. Depending on their sick sense of humour the bath would either be filled with scalding hot or freezing cold water and we would be plunged into it and scrubbed until our skins almost bled. Our hair and beards would be shorn from our heads with the scissors. The mirror was the final act of degradation, we would be forced to stand spreadeagled over it, then beaten down until we almost sat on it.

There were two chairs; the plastic type you would find in a waiting room and most definitely not those used by barbers, but that we knew was to be their purpose.

Big Tom stood with defiance in his eyes and his mouth locked in grim determination. I knew what was going to happen next as they tried to force him into the chair. I wrestled with those trying to force me down. A screw was poking me with a pair of scissors. Then Tom drew out and caught a screw with one of his big fists, sending him crashing backwards onto the cold polished floor.

Fuck this I thought, before hitting the screw who had the scissors.

We took a terrible beating from boots and batons; I know that much, but strangely I can remember little else about it. I do remember being flung into the back of a van naked, like some piece of dead meat. The screws were waiting for us in the punishment blocks where we got another beating.

Later, Big Tom was still defiant as he called to me out the door. I was just too fucking cold and sore to be defiant so I felt sorry for myself.

They starved us as part of the punishment. The Number One Diet, as they called it, consisted of dry bread and black tea for breakfast with watery soup and a single piece of potato for dinner. We got the same dry bread and black tea again at tea time.

A ‘Christmas amnesty’ said a screw as they let us go back to the wing on Christmas Eve. The cheers of the lads did nothing to lift my spirits as I followed Big Tom down the wing, banging cell doors as he went. Later that night we had the first decent meal in a week - when you’ve been starved anything’s a decent meal.

As we ate, somewhere in the distance I heard for a brief moment, ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ - Boney M’s Christmas hit of that year. Some screw had decided to remind us that it was indeed Christmas before turning it back off. We rose to our cell doors as one and sang back at the bastards. The sing song lasted into what was probably the early hours of Christmas morning. We had no way of knowing, as there were no church bells to ring in Christmas Day in the H-Blocks.

Tom and myself were sent to a wing in H6 along with the Blanket leadership in early 1979, even though we didn’t hold positions of leadership ourselves. This move was an attempt to break the protest by isolating the staff from the bulk of the Blanket men, particularly the young lads in H3 who bore the brunt of the brutal beatings meted out by the screws.

We were both then moved to H3, later that year, when the wing in H6 was broken up after that tactic had failed.

Before Tom went on Hunger Strike, that terrible summer in 1981, he called me aside at mass one Sunday and slipped me his Rosary beads. He still had that defiant look on his face as he told me to ‘hold on to them.’ I didn’t believe that Tom wouldn’t be back; he was a fighter, a hard man with a big heart.

Big Tom McElwee didn’t return. He died on 8th August 1981 after 62 days on Hunger Strike. I treasure those battered and worn Rosary beads. I also have what Tom never got to have, a lovely wife and two grown up children.

Suaimhneas síoraí ort a chara...

Thomas Dixie Elliot is a Derry artist and a former H Block Blanketman.

Follow Dixie Elliot on Twitter @IsMise_Dixie    

In Memory Of My Friend And Comrade Tómas Mór McElwee

A Morning Thought @ 795

Tommy McKearney  ➤ The hard-boiled readers of this paper rarely recognise the huge difficulties encountered by a right-wing coalition as it endeavours to govern this republic. 
There is the problem of ensuring that the rich are pampered, and that the middle class receives favourable treatment, and all the while guaranteeing that the working class contributes its labour at the lowest possible price.

No easy task, even with uncritical support from the mainstream media. There are also all the appeasement requirements. The United States and its transnationals have to be kept happy, Britain must not be annoyed; and then there is Brussels.

And that old national question of a divided country is still refusing to go away. Just when Fianna Fáil and the Blueshirts had kissed and made up, issues revealed by partition reappear—for a change, not by means of a republican border campaign but instead as the result of fall-out from a pandemic and the working out of Britain’s implementation of a Tory Brexit.

None of this is made any easier by events now taking place globally. Contemporary capitalism, under the tutelage of US imperialism, is facing an existential crisis. A confluence of factors, including aftershocks arising from the 2008 financial crisis, enormous productivity losses because of coronavirus, and competition from the emerging economic powerhouse that is China, allied with resource-rich Russia and Iran, have challenged neoliberal hegemony.

Consequently, and taking its lead from Washington (or merely obeying orders?), the British government has recently reversed its position in relation to the Chinese company Huawei. Furthermore, if we were willing to believe MI5, Downing Street has only lately realised that Russia is attempting to influence British election results and to steal pharmaceutical secrets. In reality, the British people are being prepared for a new Cold War, if not worse.

Moreover, desperate to recover from his disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, Boris Johnson is taking huge risks to reboot a failing economy.

In response to demands from the aviation industry, the British government has authorised reopening tourism to a large number of overseas destinations. On 3 July its Department for Transport published a list of fifty-nine countries whose travellers do not need to self-isolate upon arrival in England. Included on the list were Spain and Hong Kong, both of which have recently experienced an upsurge in cases.

In spite of a growing and dangerous complacency in relation to covid-19, the virus remains a major threat to the health and well-being of people in every part of Ireland. That the impact, though devastating, has not been catastrophic is thanks in no small part to preventive steps taken and in particular to a dramatic reduction in foreign travel.

The case of Spain and Hong Kong underlines the hazards inherent in unrestricted travel and the wisdom of ignoring London, coupled with the need to impose a mandatory and verifiable fourteen-day quarantine period for overseas arrivals in Ireland. A major obstacle to doing so effectively, however, is the position adopted by the Northern Ireland Assembly, allowing free travel between the Six Counties and Britain.

There is a wide though not unanimous consensus in the North that this matter should be handled differently. During an interview with RTE the Alliance Party’s health spokesperson, Paula Bradshaw, said the situation was making the North very vulnerable and that she would like to see an all-Ireland approach. Her view, supported by Sinn Féin and the SDLP, was echoed in the pro-unionist Belfast Telegraph when it editorialised that travel rules should apply to the whole of Ireland.[1] Even the Northern minister for health, the Ulster Unionist Robin Swan, appears to be broadly in agreement when recently asking for an all-Ireland stance on international arrivals.[2]

That the DUP leader disagreed hardly came as a surprise. Always determined to emphasise the Six Counties’ “Britishness” by slavishly imitating London, at whatever the cost, Mrs Foster said it was important for business, family life, social life and political life to have the United Kingdom working together. Apparently she believes it better to risk contracting coronavirus disease than to co-operate with her neighbours south of the border. Unfortunately, the existing constitutional arrangement allows her to do so.

Compounding difficulties for the North created by the pandemic is the rapidly approaching deadline of a chaotic Tory Brexit. A picture is now emerging of the inevitability of goods being checked as they move from Britain into the North. Moreover, according to the Institute for Government in London, checks on agri-food goods are likely to be significant, as this includes identifying the origin of prepared items and not just raw materials.

The point about this is not that Brexit is bad or that the European Union is good but that the governing power in London is indifferent to the economic well-being of the frequently embarrassing appendage to the United Kingdom that is Northern Ireland. This is not to say that the British ruling class has no interest in Ireland but that, to serve its interests in this country, they can identify more reliable allies south of the border. The sine qua non, however, is that all of Ireland remains firmly within the capitalist-imperialist orbit; and herein lies the dilemma for Dublin’s coalition government in particular and the status quo in general.

There is a health crisis facing both jurisdictions in this country, and it may well become worse as restrictions on travel into the North are lifted. There remains a homelessness and housing crisis, north and south, demanding direct state intervention, which Tory and EU-driven neoliberalism prevents.

Coupled with a diminishing health service in the North there is an iniquitous two-tier health service in the Republic, a calamitous situation that cannot be rectified as long as free-market privatisation prevails in the Republic and encroaches on the Northern service.

There is also an intolerably large number of workers merely getting by on miserable wages, kept low by deference to big business and the slumbering leader of the Green Party.

The difficulty for the Fianna Fáil-led coalition is that to remedy these problems the country would have to be reunited within a sovereign, independent state. For the good of the people of this country it is necessary to relieve these charlatans of their headache by bringing together the forces and resources that will replace them and set about establishing the workers’ republic.

So let’s not be shy about making this case as loudly and clearly as possible. Piecemeal reforms can be useful, but only a thorough transformation will address the core issue.


2/ North’s Minister for Health calls for all-Ireland stance on international arrival @  Irish Times, 24 July 2020

Tommy McKearney is a left wing and trade union activist. 

Follow on Twitter @Tommymckearney

That Old National Question ➤ Still Refusing To Go Away

Science MagazineAn ancient crocodile species could have close evolutionary ties to modern American crocs.

By Lucy Hicks
In a new study, researchers re-examined a 7-million-year-old crocodile skull from an ancient species known as Crocodylus checchiai.

The fossil was originally discovered in 1939 in northern Libya, and the scientists hoped to better describe the prehistoric reptile and explore its relationship to modern American species.

The team used computerized tomography to scan the fossil to better visualize the creature’s skeletal structure. C. checchiai had a slight bump in the middle of the snout, they note today in Scientific Reports. The feature is not found in modern African crocodiles but is present in four American species. This anatomical similarity suggests C. checchiai is related to American crocodiles and could be the missing link between modern African crocodiles and their American counterparts.

Continue reading @ Science Magazine

Ancient Skull Could Be ‘Missing Link’ Between African And American Crocodiles

Christopher Owens Don't we love it when fuck ups happen to others? 

Especially in crime fiction. The concept of thieves having no honour sets us up for an entertaining round of nasty incidents happening to nasty people.

Of course, it can end up reinforcing a kind of moral superiority within the reader as it merely offers a simplified rendition of violence begets violence. Only the bad guys are killed and everything is neatly tied up at the end. Whereas a film like 1972's Last House on the Left thrusts the viewer into a world of moral ambiguity. One where you cheer on the "heroes" but you're aware the whole time that the quagmire of violence and revenge merely degrades the protagonists.

Thankfully, The Things We Bury is a text that doesn't offer up platitudes. Filled with dirt, despair and an impending sense of doom, it epitomises the "hamster wheel to hell" image made famous by David Ervine.

Beginning with a wounded narrator, Fenton informs the reader that:

A flash from the barrel and a kick from the recoil turn the world upside down ... for a few brief moments I feel like God. But it doesn't feel as good as you'd think.

It turns out that the job ended up being a lot more complicated than originally intended, and so a period of downtime/hiding is required.

Turning up at a motel, Fenton proceeds to ruminate on his life, his mistakes, his choice to end everything which is interrupted by a woman staying in the same motel as him, called Analise. They seem to be on the same wavelength but will things end well?

An intense read that operates as an existentialist musing as well as a 'crime gone wrong' thriller, The Things We Bury is the tenth book from "...transgressive poet/author/photographer..." Philip LoPresti. Barely 110 pages, it packs a serious wallop for the reader. LoPresti keeps the self-loathing narrator on the right side of bearable, whereas other authors would have shifted into maudlin terrain. The depiction of the surroundings is one of a broken America: chilly, isolated, run down and decrepit, fuelling the atmospheric text.

Short, succinct and snappy, this is much more than a crime novel.

Philip LoPresti , 2020, The Things We Bury. Nihilism Revisited ISBN-13: 979-8613206209

⏩Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

The Things We Bury

A Morning Thought @ 794

Matt Treacy For some strange reason the League of Ireland Professional Players Association has decided that all players will “take a knee,” before all games until the end of September. 

I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they don’t do this during Amhrán na bhFiann.

The PFA’s statement said that this is to “mark the untimely death of George Floyd and stand in strong solidarity with fellow professionals, civil society and the world wide campaign for equality and fair treatment in life and sport.” Perhaps they should agree to have all games end in a draw so?

Apart from the “Look at us, we’re so cool” aspect of all of this, it does beg the question as to what is the relevance of such mimicry to this country. The Gardaí haven’t killed any black people in custody of late, nor black soccer supporters or players, unless I missed it?

Indeed far from having to expunge some awful history of racism, the League of Ireland has been totally woke on all of this. To the point where former FAI international team manager Brian Kerr was complaining about Ireland being “too white.” Imagine if you will the Cameroon manager complaining about his country being “too black.” Especially given that the current one is a whiteish looking chap from Portugal.

The Bohs are full on with all of this at the moment. In June they donated all the proceeds of their away jersey sales for one week to the Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland to oppose Direct Provision. Granted, the revenue from the top bearing the slogan “Refugees Welcome” would hardly be enough to buy a take away for the hunger strikers in Cahirciveen, but it is the virtue that counts.

Perhaps those League of Ireland clubs, which employed a person after he was convicted for involvement in the gang rape of a 14 year old girl, might have made some redress for that rather than this infantile stuff. Perhaps a donation to assist the victims of sexual violence? Instead, the player Ismaheel Akinade was signed by Bohemians and then Waterford after he was found guilty but given a suspended sentence.

Not only that but people associated with both clubs claimed that those who raised the question as to whether such a person ought to be playing for them were lying and making up the whole thing. And that even if it was true, it was racist to bring the unsavoury fact to notice, That was assisted by Akinade successfully muzzling newspapers from reporting on the case in 2015.

When Akinade was eventually deported in 2019 at the end of his “sentence” and having failed to turn up at previous hearings while playing with Waterford, the club issued a statement which said that Akinade and Waterford FC had parted ways by “mutual agreement..” Not quite what actually happened given that Akinade was put on a plane and now plays soccer in Vietnam.

In fairness, some Bohs and Waterford supporters did make their views known but they were ignored. In any event, influential figures in the “collective” that runs Bohemians far prefer to use the club for political reasons. One local left wing councillor who is a member has been associated with Anti Fascist Action here for decades.

The kneeling business then is clearly part of the effort to enlist sport into the service of politics. No doubt attempts are being made to persuade other organisations to follow suit. Let us trust that they will display a bit more backbone than the FAI.

Matt Treacy has published a number of books including histories of the Republican Movement and of the Communist Party of Ireland.
He is currently working on a number of other books; His latest one is a novel entitled Houses of Pain. It is based on real events in the Dublin underworld. Houses of Pain is published by MTP and is currently available online as paperback and kindle while book shops remain closed.

“Take A Knee” ➤ The New Wokeness In Irish Sport

From the Loyalist blog It's Still Only Thursday, a fifth piece in a series looking at 'legitimate targets' during the North's politically violent conflict.
For an overview of the ‘Killing by Numbers’ series, please see Part 1.

Part 5: The UDA and the Ulster Freedom Fighters 

The Ulster Defence Association was formed in September, 1971, as an umbrella organisation for the various local vigilante groups that had sprung up in and around Belfast to physically defend Loyalist neighbourhoods from violent republican attacks.

 The UDA quickly grew into a mass movement and by about 1974 had over 40,000 members across Northern Ireland. Throughout the 1970s, uniformed UDA members openly patrolled working class Loyalist areas armed with batons, cudgels and other weapons (often homemade) and held huge public marches and rallies.

By the Mid 1970s, the Ulster Defence Association was truly a mass movement, with 10 brigades across NI and a large number of battalions in England and Scotland. Glasgow, London, Liverpool, Ayrshire and the Greater Manchester area all had a significant UDA presence, with volunteers providing financial, moral, logistical and sometimes physical support to their comrades in Ulster.

Although the UDA drew most of it’s membership from working class districts across Northern Ireland, it was not an exclusively working class movement, nor (as is often portrayed) was it an exclusively male movement.

Continue reading @  It's Still Only Thursday.

Killing By Numbers ➤ Part 5

Valerie TaricoOn Mother’s Day I’m Grateful for One Special Abortion Provider and a Whole Line of Healthcare Professionals Who Came Before Her.

Raising two kind, curious daughters with my husband, Brian, has been the most meaningful, wonder-filled adventure of my life. That is why, on Mother’s Day, I find myself feeling profoundly grateful to the healthcare providers who made possible these twenty-five years of parenthood.

Friends and acquaintances know that I have called our elder daughter, Brynn, my abortion baby because she would not exist had I not received the gift of an abortion that let me end a wanted-but-infected pregnancy and start over. Brynn was conceived before that first pregnancy would have come to term; there is literally no way she could exist in the alternate history in which I carry it forward.

Might a different person have grown from the unhealthy pregnancy I chose to abort? Yes, quite probably. But why would I want anyone but the beloved daughter I have? I once spoke about my abortion, and some people wrote to tell me how sad it made them that I ended that pregnancy. They couldn’t seem to grasp that they were telling me that they preferred a world in which B doesn’t exist—and they thought I should too.

As I have said before, the future is always in motion, and our choices, large and small, wink possible futures into and out of existence. In the alternate realities where I carry forward that first pregnancy, the one where Brynn doesn’t exist, her sister Marley doesn’t exist either, perhaps because we don’t have a second child because one born impaired by toxoplasmosis requires all of our parental energy—or perhaps, simply because our second child is simply genetically different. The odds are vanishingly small that the very same egg and sperm that formed the Marley blueprint would have met and fused in that alternate version of our world.

The two daughters I love, these two, are themselves lovers of life. Their sense of wonder and their triumphs and their good company have delighted me and my husband Brian through stages of development that span more than two decades. And so I am grateful to the kind Canadian doctor who, in a clinic room in Singapore 26 years ago, explained my diagnosis and gave us the option of ending that first pregnancy.

But that abortion care is just a small part of the healthcare that allowed Brynn and Marley to exist. Before that one doctor were others who prescribed pills that let me postpone pregnancy until we were ready, and before that came the one who did a pap smear and treated potential cervical cancer early, before it cost my ability to bear children.

They, in turn, received their torches from researchers who in decades past developed those pills and procedures. And I received mine from brave and desperate women who acted as guinea pigs during the early years before contraceptives and abortion care got refined to their modern high degree of safety and reliability. Some paid with their lives—though not nearly so many as died from unsought and unwanted pregnancy in generations past. Our foremothers were the lucky survivors.

In my own lineage I am, I think, the first who has had the freedom to choose whether and when she got pregnant, and beyond that which pregnancies to carry forward. Before my generation, pregnancies came early and often, usually unsought and sometimes unwanted. When I was in college I asked my tiny Italian grandmother why she had only three children. She gave me a surprised look, and, in her accented English, said, “because we used condoms!” Her own mother had borne six, only half of whom reached adulthood.

Even with those condoms, my grandmother’s third pregnancy was a late-in-life surprise—which shouldn’t be surprising. Condoms, which have changed little in almost a century, have a 1 in 6 annual pregnancy rate. That is better than 5 in 6 without, but still. My maternal grandmother faced the same surprise in her 40s: My mom was born two decades after her sister. Mom would comment later that her father had been delighted but her mother—well, her mother suffered low grade depression throughout Mom’s childhood, and let’s just say perhaps not.

Mom went on to give birth to six of her own, all diaphragm failures save the last, who was born of a spontaneous desire, not for another child but for sexual intimacy. My mother and father married in 1958, when he was an engineering student at Purdue and she a recent nursing graduate, lonely and far from her home in Colorado. When she became pregnant for the 2nd time in 18 months, Dad dropped out of school to work full time, and shortly thereafter Mom set aside her vocation as a nurse. Mom is now in her 80s, and when I helped her downsize, I found a turquoise box containing her old diaphragm accompanied by five tiny hospital bracelets, carefully snipped from newborn infants. Under the circumstances, Mom did an impressive job loving and raising us, but she paid a price in marital harmony and mental health—a price we all shared.

Thanks to modern reproductive healthcare, a bright line divides the quality of my life from the lives of my foremothers. That line seems most clear when I think about my daughters and their possible future experiences of intimacy and motherhood. Would I want for them what my mother had? No. Not children as the price of intimacy. Not abandoned dreams. Not years of white-knuckle parenting and conflict. Nor would I want her mother’s experience, nor that of my father’s mother, nor that of my great grandmother. But would I want for them what I have had? Yes. I would be grateful on their behalf, as I am for myself. To repurpose a phrase from Robert Frost: I have taken the road less travelled, the life of freely chosen motherhood—because I could—and that has made all the difference.

Valerie Tarico
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  

She writes about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society.

Grateful For One Special Abortion Provider

A Morning Thought @ 793

Mark Hayes answers 13 questions in a Booker's Dozen.

TPQ: What are you currently reading? 

MH: I usually have two or three books on the go. Just finished Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In A Time Of Cholera. Seemed appropriate. I can’t say that I really enjoyed it. Although some of the writing was beautifully constructed, I thought the main character was a sad, obsessive plank. Maybe I am too obtuse to appreciate the subtle nuances. Also just read God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England by Jessie Childs. Exceptional. I am currently reading Emile Zola’s Germinal after a recommendation by my daughter. It makes for very bleak reading in many respects, but it is an extraordinary account of exploitation and the struggle for dignity.

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

MH:  Maybe not the best (that’s a tough call), but my favourite book is Ralph Miliband The State In Capitalist Society because of the impact it had on me personally. It sounds dramatic but it opened up a whole new world for me - political theory. Without it I would have missed out on Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Connolly, Gramsci, Althusser, Badiou and all the other insightful accounts of the way the world works. I often wonder if Ralph’s sons ever read his book(s). Probably not. In terms of fiction Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists runs it a close second, and for much the same reasons.

There are plenty of terrible books around. The pressure on academics to publish is huge, and the quality has diminished. I could name quite a few, but I find the post-modern identity warriors particularly irritating – it’s about class, you fools! Anyway, having said that, the worst book I have ever read was probably Mein Kampf (I forget who wrote it). Self-serving, verbose drivel. On the plus side it does provide incontrovertible evidence that the narcissistic, racist maniac was off his nut. Anyone taking that toxic shite seriously should really be dumped in the sea. Master race my arse!

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

MH: My uncle gave me a couple of the Biggles books by W.E. Johns. I enjoyed them at the time, but they are shamelessly ideological. Public school chums saving the nation from the Hun and other inferior races. I remember wondering why no-one I knew was called Algernon!

TPQ: Favourite Childhood author?

MH: I didn’t really have one because there weren’t many books in our house (and probably fewer at my school) but as a young teenager I read most of the Bond books by Ian Fleming. I guess that might count. Tom Sharpe made me laugh.

TPQ: First book to really own you?

MH: I suppose Orwell’s 1984, which I also read as a teenager. Very insightful indeed, and harrowing. (Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that some politicians would eventually use it as a manifesto). Orwell was a brilliant writer, and a very complex character. Shame he was a tout.

TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

MH: I respect the work of Naomi Klein - The Shock Doctrine, and the historical work of Antonia Fraser (her work on the Gunpowder plot in 1605 was splendid). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has hidden depths. However, it is difficult to look past Arundhati Roy. Her fiction is graceful and thought provoking - see The God of Small Things, but she has also tackled serious issues with factual accounts that are illuminating e.g. Walking with the Comrades and Capitalism: A Ghost Story. The integrity of her work is inspirational.

Obviously, there are classic male authors like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Steinbeck, Orwell and Wilde. I have read some of their books. However, in terms of contemporary authors I used to really look forward to reading Slavoj Zizek, but he has produced far too much lately, and the quality has suffered. I like reading Terry Eagleton (incidentally his autobiography is laugh-out-loud funny), and the philosopher Ted Honderich has a unique style of engaging with the reader. Indeed, there are some authors whose writing style is so captivating that it can almost transcend the subject matter. Michael Burleigh is a good example, as was (Lord) Ian Gilmour. Some authors are able to turn a phrase so that it catches the light, and the way they articulate themselves is so clever that it demands respect, even if the ideas are deeply suspect. However, I think I would settle on Noam Chomsky because what he has to say is usually very important.

A Berlin Book Tower in memory of the Nazi book burning.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

MH: Fact always seems more interesting than fiction to me. Sometimes, when I read fiction, I have the sense that I am wasting my time. That erroneous perspective is probably a consequence of my “education” at school. My Comprehensive focused on woodwork and metal-work (what’s the point of exposing young lads from a council estate to the glorious heritage of literature, poetry and prose?). I have been trying to shrug off that kind of miserable functionalism all my adult life. I know I should read more fiction.

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

MH: There are a few that spring immediately to mind. Primo Levi's If This Is A Man had a profound impact on me for obvious reasons. I would recommend Reza Aslan’s Zealot: Jesus of Nazareth. It’s a very thought-provoking account of Christ as an extraordinary person rather than the deity that was subsequently constructed and distorted by vested interests. It manages to capture the essence Christ better than any Catechism (at least that’s my experience). Albie Sach’s The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter is honest and compelling. Anne Somerset’s account of Elizabeth I is peerless in terms of the scholarship deployed. Isaac Deutcher’s trilogy on the life of Trotsky (The Prophet Armed --- The Prophet Unarmed --- The Prophet Outcast) is very good. I also recently read Fr. John Gerrard’s Diary of a Hunted Priest, which confirmed the impression (already firmly established in my own mind) that the Tudors were a set of evil, scheming, bastards. Finally, if you like your memoirs to be pointless, and laced with fantasy, Gerry Adams is your man.

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

MH: Far too many to mention them all. Not only would I not read some authors, I would pay good money to watch them put in the stocks. I would also supply the rotten veg.

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

MH: E.P. Thompson - The Making of the English Working Class. Brilliant. And it’s not like I had a choice.

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

MH: To be absolutely truthful it was The Trouble with National Action (written by some obscure, angry, unreconstructed Marxist). I gave it to a very good friend of mine, Eddie O’Neill. The book was dedicated to Eddie, so it seemed logical to inflict it upon him.

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

MH: Forgive me my parochial preoccupations but I am a life-long Saints fan (I have chosen to view the trauma that this inevitably involves as “character building”). Therefore, I think Matthew Le Tissier’s autobiography Taking Le Tiss would make a great film. I have never read the book (and do not intend to) but it would be a blockbuster. The fans of Portsmouth F.C. should be forced to watch it. Once a week. (I have just realized I support two teams, Saints, and whoever is playing Pompey. When you think of Pompey supporters, imagine Linfield fans, minus the tolerance and humanity).

TPQ: A "must read" you intend getting to before you die?

MH: As that prospect looms ever closer, I would like to read more stuff by Shakespeare. What little I have discovered about his literature has been extraordinary (not the comedies – they leave me a bit cold). I am not ashamed to admit that sometimes I have to read passages two or three times to work out precisely what is going on (and even then I don’t always succeed), but occasionally the insights are breathtaking. Check out Hamlet where there is a discussion about how a king may pass through the guts of a beggar. Awesome. More of that would be good, but I think but I might also add Dickens, Brecht and Beckett for good measure.

 Mark Hayes has published widely on a variety of subjects. He is a republican and a Marxist, unapologetic on both counts.

Booker's Dozen @ Mark Hayes

World News Platform @ The dark truth behind the Israeli army's reenactment of the Six-Day War.

By Adam Raz

Nearly 130,000 Syrians lived on the Golan Heights at the beginning of June 1967. Two months later, their number had dwindled to 6,396, nearly all of them Druze. In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the fate of these Syrians was of little concern to the Israeli public, and the rapid conquest of the land and subsequent Jewish settlement there helped erase their memories of them. Indeed, local history books rarely talk about what befell the native residents of the Golan Heights.

Historian Yigal Kipnis’ informative book The Golan Heights: Political History, Settlement and Geography since 1949 (Routledge, 2013), relates that “the number of Golan civilian inhabitants who left the area with the [advent of the] Israeli occupation was between 115,000 and 120,000.” The numbers are correct, but what does “left” mean? For various reasons, scholars have not addressed the fate of the tens of thousands of Arab residents of the Heights, whose ruined villages still mar the area’s landscape. The available archival documentation is also very meager, and as with other politically sensitive subjects, accessible documents have been partially redacted.

Continue reading @ World News Platform.

Dark Truth

Jim Duffy shares some views on a monarchy versus a republic, promoted by reading an Irish Times  piece by Ronan McCreevy. 

Remember, before 1918, the default in Europe always was monarchy. Republics were practically the freaks. France was on by accident as the imbecilic Comte de Chambord, Henri V, declined the offer of the throne over a row about the tricolour. Otherwise it would have had a king in 1916. Portugal was a republic since 1910 and there was strong support for re-instating the monarchy. Switzerland was . . . well, Switzerland, and nobody wanted to be Switzerland.

Russia was only a republic from 1917.

So being a republic in 1916 was the oddball choice. Being a monarchy was seen as logical. Norway had voted in a referendum to become a monarchy over a republic. There is little doubt also that very few Irish people were republicans. Most were naturally monarchists. Royal visits, where of the British royals or international royals, drew mass crowds.

So the question isn't "why would they become monarchy?" but why in 1916 would they become a republic? The answer is - as a stop-gap before they offered the throne to someone. They never actually described Pearse as 'president' in the Proclamation, just a different document. Indeed Tom Clarke, according to his widow, believed He was the president, not Pearse.

In 1917 Sinn Féin almost split on the issue of a monarchy versus a republic. They had to hold two ard fheiseanna to find a compromise. The compromise was not, as people presume, to have a republic, but to have an interim republic while holding a referendum on whether to become a republic or a monarchy. Most expected the vote would go for a monarchy - so it was specified that no British royal could be offered the throne.

The reason for Joachim I suspect was simple - timing. He had married in the weeks before the rising. The papers had extensive coverage. So he was on everybody's lips. In addition, he had no English - so could learn Irish and have an Irish court. Plus as he was just married he had no children, so his first son would be an Irish prince, born and reared in Ireland.

We make the mistake of looking back from a different world where republics are the default and think "why on earth would they become a monarchy?" But in 1916 being a monarchy was normal, natural and in Europe almost universal. Being a republic would have been the odd-ball choice with only a small Irish republican fringe attached to the idea. To borrow Yeats, everything changed, changed utterly in 1917 and 1918 when the Emperors of Russia, Germany and Austria fell, as did the crowned heads across Germany. That changed how republics came to be seen. From 1918 they were all the fashion. Before 1918 they were bizarre oddities - an accident in France, a potentially temporary one in Portugal and that utter oddball Switzerland. 

➽ Jim Duffy is a writer-historian.

The Republic Of Oddballs