Belfast Book Launch

The launch of the book, Good Friday: the Death of Irish Republicanism, was a special moment for me. It was a triumph for ink over erasers, reason over faith. The reasoning was simple. The peace process would take republicanism to the internal solution of today which guarantees the longevity of partition and the hegemony of British rule. Faith held that the peace process would lead to a British withdrawal and a united Ireland. Faith could not bear to coexist with reason and at every point sought to suppress it. The book is testimony to the failure of faith based republicanism.

The range of people the launch attracted from differing political perspectives was heartening. There was even a unionist church figure there. Given my avowedly republican and humanist perspective it said much for his power of understanding that he attended. Friends from prison, the blanket protest, family and others who I have befriended since release turned up. Of particular significance to me was the presence of Tommy McReynolds, Frankie and Eleanor Rea, Noel Breen, Noel McGuinness and Magdalene Robinson, all friends from a South Belfast childhood. Others were there simply because they admired the writing, wanted a signed copy, obtain a book as a present for a friend, or because they had a strong humane streak and long abhorred the manner in which people were treated for the thought crime of thinking differently. Journalists were also there, two of whom, Henry McDonald and Suzanne Breen, I had the honour of being with on the day they conducted the first substantial interviews with the sisters of the murdered Robert McCartney. Unionist friends gathered including the writer David Adams who knows from bitter experience the high cost of expressing an independent viewpoint. Also there, but whom I unpardonably overlooked on the evening due to having no written prompts, was the republican author Richard O’Rawe whose book Blanketmen has revolutionised the way in which the 1981 hunger strike is both thought and talked about. He too learned that an alternative thought would cause more anger within Sinn Fein than any DUP diatribe. A close friend of my wife travelled from the Republic, spent the evening with us and then drove us home.

That was the sort of audience it was, a mosaic of Northern society and a distillation of the type of social network I have floated in since release from prison. I was deeply satisfied that they had assembled for the event in the Linenhall Library. Every day for a considerable time in the 1990s I made my way up its stairs into the cramped but cosy environs that were the Northern Ireland Political Collection to work on a doctoral thesis. The staff there were outstanding in both their accessibility and erudition. In a city where knowledge was regarded by some as a candle which had to be snuffed out the library operated like a lighthouse, withstanding even the firestorm of one IRA firebomb attack.

The book was launched 33 years to the day after I had been released from my first prison term. Then I walked out into the middle of a feud between the Provisional and Officials IRAs. The Officials were accused of rampant criminality. It was a mere pretext for launching a military assault on a political rival. They were hated less for their alleged criminality than the fact that they supported Stormont, would supposedly lift the phone to tell the British police that republicans were involved in military operations against the British, believed in the consent principle, opposed armed activity, and were advocating non-sectarianism. The same type of thing the organisation that attacked them from October to November 1975 advocates today.

But 33 years is a long bland time if not broken up by the odd somersault. It doesn’t do to be too predictable. The enemy might just see the pattern and defeat you, bring you to a position whereby you hold to the same position as it; might just have you agreeing with them that anybody who breaks its law regardless of motive is a criminal. ‘Crime is crime is crime’ as Mrs Thatcher once lectured us.

I am grateful to everybody who turned up for the night. My publisher Aoife Rivera Serrano travelled from New York. It was nice to actually meet her at last. In her opening words she shed light on how a Puerto Rican publisher-activist could come to develop a strong interest in Irish republicanism. Her words generated considerable conversation after the event.

Tommy Gorman launched the book. It was fitting that he did. He had been situated at the heart of reasoned critical thinking throughout the peace process when most others found it easier to abide by its law of blind faith. Together we helped sustain each other in the face of the Stick virus which was ravaging republicanism from top to bottom causing people to believe the diametrical opposite of what they proclaimed to have believed a week earlier. Just two weeks prior to being in the Linenhall Library I had stayed in his Donegal home, enjoying a late night drinking session followed by a walk to clear the head on the beach at Downings the following day. It was 30 years earlier that our paths traversed through the H-Block blanket protest. It would be some years before I would know what Tommy looked like with his clothes on! On the morning of his release he was physically attacked and injured in his cell by a prison administration furious that another republican would escape its clutches unbroken.

Mere months later he was back behind bars. When released for the last time in 1985 he would regularly write to me on political matters, always on cigarette papers and invariably smuggled into the jail. At the core of his concern was a perceived rightward shift within the Sinn Fein leadership and hostility to any serious discussion of the issue at grassroots level. On my first parole in 1989 after more than 13 years in prison I sought him out within hours of hitting the street. He gave me a quick tour of two Sinn Fein centres in Sevastopol Street and Connolly House. On the day of the 1994 ceasefire, together we incurred the ire of the leadership for subscribing to Bernadette McAliskey’s view that ‘the good guys lost.’ And along with me he paid a certain price for speaking out against the Provisional killing of Joe O’Connor in October 2000. Our homes were mob picketed by a Stormont gang and we were subjected to a campaign of ostracism and vilification aimed at silencing us. As the Linenhall Library launch of Good Friday showed the only place we have remained silent was under police interrogation.

After the event a number of us headed off to a restaurant which did a great fish meal eased down by the beer we already had a taste for as a result of the wine provided in the Linenhall Library. It was a pleasurable way to end the evening. Yet I could not prevent an unsettling thought flitting through my mind; that such a book ever had to be written at all is symptomatic of the atrophy of a once vibrant movement. Leonard Cohen better sums it up than I ever could:

Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Good Friday, The Death of Irish Republicanism
is available at these online outlets:
Ausubo Press; Online Bookshop at Queens, Small Press Distribution.

You can also order directly from Gill & Macmillan:

Are you a bookseller looking to stock Good Friday?
Call or Fax your order to: Tel: +353 1 500 9500 or Fax: +353 1 500 9599

Gill & Macmillan is now the exclusive distributor in Ireland and the UK If the book is not on the shelves of your local bookstore,
ask them to order it for you!


  1. When Bobby Sands died and after reading his writings I became deeply moved by what you and your comrades were undertaking.I was spured to action -even though I grew up in England I got involved through the Troops out movement...I visited Belfast and Derry many times between 1981-91.I personally witnessed many tragic events and met many of the people involved..volunteers and grass root activists.Those years Tony truely changed me..I witnessed some of the most noble moments I have ever seen and met people with such dignity and strength that it humbeled me.I felt that I was witnessing a pure revolutionary socialist movement on the brink of victory...there was something almost spiritual about it...I left for America in 91 and have followed the events troughout the 90's and into the new Century..Your Blogs and "the Blanket" are a true inspiration and are totally reminisent of the spirit of resistence I saw back in the 70's and 80's...What has happened since..well you have more than adequately explained that.....I look forward to your blogs and writings..thank you for keeping that spirit alive...may your courage be wildly known.

  2. Anthony,

    keen to read your review of "Hunger" - went to see it last week and emerged in emotional chaos. I thought it was a stunning masterpiece.

    I was 11 years old and living in Andytown at the time of the hunger strikes - and during it all my emotions veered from fear, extreme sadness, anger, and deep hurt.

    I thought the latter emotion had left me as I grew older and became preoccupied with other things: work, family, mortgage etc.

    This film - in the space of its 90 odd minutes was like putting my finger straight into the 1981 emotional mains again - it was totally overwhelming and left me feeling powerless against the fierce anger and sadness it induced.

    I don't think a better film could have been made about this incredibly painful and distressing period.

    I cannot, in all conscience, call myself a republican; I'm too wrapped up in the day-to-day concerns of paying bills, looking after family etc., so the term nationalist (which I know you are rather dispraging about) would suit my political outlook.

    Nevertheless, I enjoy the honesty of your writing, and would really like to read your take on "Hunger".

    I don't think I've ever felt as moved or as shaken by a film before.


    Pete M

    (have to choose Anonymous as my sign in as I don't have an account)

  3. Pete,

    I intend to review it at some point. It did not hit me in the way it did you. Maybe being there during it has given me a different perspective. Briefly, the beatings brought out anger although the pudding was over-egged in my view. At the moment - I need to watch it again - I think H3 was a better film.
    I don't feel hostile to northern nationalism per se. I just sense there is a difference between it and republicanism. I dislike northern nationalism being dressed up as republicanism; the pretense that northern nationalist core ideas are somehow republican ones.