A Year Without The Light of The Dark

Sometimes, I've sat here crying for a week. I think of all my comrades' suffering and I don't even want to go out. You never really leave prison – Brendan Hughes

Time zooms by. The past year seems to have been the quickest since records began; all subjective but for me at any rate the fastest in living memory. On this day in 2008 the left wing IRA leader Brendan Hughes died. The turmoil he had endured for years would no longer plague him. With the spreading of his ashes he would never be contained behind concrete walls again. Beyond all crying and suffering he really did leave the psychological prison that had long confined him.

Although his death had been anticipated, given his illness coupled with progress reports from his family, it was no less a blow when it did occur. I vividly recall spending the evening with my wife and Dolours Price, seeking consolation in each other’s memories; then travelling to Belfast on three consecutive days after his death. The last trip was made with my wife and children for his funeral, accompanying him to the crematorium. Later the same week I made the journey to the Cooley Mountains for the spreading of his ashes and then back to Belfast the following day with my children for a similar procedure at the Falls Road Commemorative garden. On that occasion we arrived minutes too late due to being delayed in town. As we arrived people were just leaving. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. A volley of shots had been fired in Brendan’s honour presumably by members of one of the IRAs still opposed to partition and unwilling to be co-opted into Britain’s establishment in the North.

Some time later again I was back in the same Cooley Mountains for the erection of a monument to him. It was an occasion considerably less sombre than his funeral. Yesterday in Belfast a plaque was erected in his memory at Divis Flat where he had lived up until his death. On this occasion I was too fatigued to make the trip, having put in a busy week with too many late nights and early mornings, without even the benefit of drink as an excuse. By all accounts yesterday’s event was a well attended affair. Brendan, a powerfully charismatic individual always had that pulling power.

As I write his photo is again adorning our mantelpiece as it did this time last year. There are candles in front of it, just as there were then; the establishment of a sort of family tradition. My wife feels it is a poignant way to honour him. I do too but could hardly claim to have come up with the idea myself.

There is little that has happened in the year since he died that would have surprised Brendan. He would have been hurt by some of it but hardly shocked. The calls by the Sinn Fein leadership for people to inform to the British police on republicans still wrapped up in the physical force tradition would have gutted him. He had led too many young men during the black years of blanket protest who were jailed for doing what other young republicans are doing today. As wrong as they are undoubtedly are to persist in their armed activities, ignoring all the lessons learned from futility, they are no different in motivation from those of us who braved the blanket protest in defiance of criminalisation. Nor are they any different from Harry White and Charlie Kerins, IRA leaders when the IRA was a micro group and one that the IRA to which Brendan belonged claimed continuity from.

With senior British government officials openly admitting to writing Sinn Fein leadership statements, there can be no real sense of awe that criminalising republicans now features so prominently in such statements.

A year seems such a short time whereas thirty years ago has the feel of an eternity; when it was Thatcher labelling republicans as criminals. Brendan never succumbed to any of that. To the end, always The Dark, he stayed light years away from her and her legacy of criminalisation.


  1. Thanks for another eloquent piece. I only wish I could have stood him a round and met him more than once. The candles are indeed a thoughtful tribute to his name and legacy.

  2. Another nice story about An Dorcha....He'll always be remembered with pride and respect by fellow soldiers in Ardoyne.

  3. Anthony, here is a video of the remembrance garden, and some pictures of it, and a report on the actual dedication from the ATN.

    We weren't able to get either.


  4. Sorry I should have posted this link:


  5. Gerry & Kate, thanks for the link


  6. But Anthony, if you accept that continuing the armed struggle is wrong, then surely you should support informing the police on those who persist in their armed activities? Isn't informing the police about such activities the only logical outcome of rejecting the armed struggle? If you yourself had information about plans by republicans to kill British policemen or plant bombs, would you have a problem informing the PSNI or Gardai?

  7. MSD, a thought provoking comment but ultimately one that I do not subscribe to. There are no circumstances under which I would inform the British police or the Gardai about republican activity. Given that the difference between what we did in the Provisional IRA and what the other IRAs are doing is simply a matter of dates it is as legitimate or illegitimate to tout then as it is now. You frame your point in a very either/or manner. One must either back the armed struggle or tout. And if that is how it appears to you, fine. Whatever consistency you find in that position it is not one that I feel bound to. There is nothing new in what I am saying here. It is something that has asked of me from as far back as the Omagh bombing. I once met with a parent of one of the Omagh victims and told him exactly what my position was.

    “Isn't informing the police about such activities the only logical outcome of rejecting the armed struggle?”

    No more so than the logical outcome of rejecting the police would be to provide information about the police to the various republicans trying to kill them. I would neither inform on republicans to police or inform to them about police.

  8. Thanks for your honest reply, Anthony. But if informing is illegitimate, then what do you propose are legitimate ways for the PSNI or Gardai to deal with violent republicanism? It seems to me that republicans rarely consider the implications of their views: for example, if republicans think it is morally acceptable to use guerrilla warfare (eg. assassinations, executions of informers), then logically they must accept that the British have the right to use the very same tactics against them, like the Shoot-to-Kill policy or summary execution IRA spies.

  9. MSD, I think you conflate what are two separate positions. Informing is not a legitimate option for republicans. That cannot be extended to those who are not. So it should not be inferred from my position that I actually feel it is not legitimate for the PSNI to seek to recruit informers. It is a legitimate tactic used by every police force in the world and will grow more sophisticated with the push towards intelligence led policing. I have a conscientious objection to informing to the British police on people engaged in republican activity. If I wish to inform or back informing I can claim it is legitimate but only if I give up on being a republican.

    Furthermore, people in every society have a democratic right to have that society policed. It is my democratic right to inform to those policing it but it is not a right I will ever exercise on grounds of conscience. My conscientious objection to informing, however, will always be trumped by someone’s democratic right to inform. And armed struggle republicans need to be cognisant of this because their actions will always bring them into conflict with people merely exercising their rights. But this has been a perennial fault within republicanism. While it discursively insisted on rights it always found it difficult to see people as having rights against it. People, in its view, have a right to be free but not from it.

    As to the second part of your point I think republicans were always aware that extra judicial execution was something they could in all probability be confronted with. They could be philosophical about it. However, they also tried to make it difficult for the state by exposing how the state was not constrained by its own laws which it insisted everyone else must obey.

  10. Yes, I may have conflated those two positions but only because I am curious as to why you think informing is morally wrong for you but morally right for the police. Surely something is either right or wrong no matter who does it. Also it seems from your previous comments that you believe that the armed struggle was always wrong/immoral as a tactic,ie. in 1916, 1920, 1970 and 2009, and that killing informers was also always wrong/immoral. I will conclude my comments by saying that you are very honest but ambiguous and ambivalent in your moral beliefs. Thanks for your time.

  11. MSD, ok, we'll leave it at that unless you want something in particular elaborated on.

  12. MSD seems to make use of a skewed version of the golden rule principle to come up with the proposition that "if republicans think it is morally acceptable to use guerrilla warfare then logically they must accept that the British have the right to use the very same tactics against them." Guerrilla armies rarely have the option to arrest, try and imprison their adversaries; states, however, usually do. Therefore, one can consistently support a guerrilla army and its tactics while at the same time condemning the state it opposes if that state does not exercise the other options it has available and engages in extra-judicial killings. A good case in point was the war between the KLA and Serbian armed forces in Kosovo.
    Anthony, with regard to MSD's last comment, is it true that you consider all republican armed activity, from 1798 to present, to be immoral?? I thought you just believed that the continuation of the armed struggle to be futile. Also do you consider the killing of informers by republicans, past and present, to be immoral?

  13. Michael, the validity of your point in seeking to refute MSD will always be determined by the type of tactics used. Legitimacy cannot be a license although you have not claimed that it is.

    As for the view of MSD that it can be inferred from my comments that the armed campaigns against the British have always been immoral, I was puzzled by that. MSD and myself signed off on matters without endorsing each other's point. I felt no need to say more as there was nothing surer than that it would come around again.

    I think 1798 was more justified than 1916, the war of Independence more justified than 1916 also. I do not believe the Provisional IRA campaign against the British to have been immoral. Its continuation was certainly futile, and to have finished it for as poor a deal as the British were offering in 1973 begs ethical questions.
    On informers I think the IRA killing of informers was more justified than the killing of combatants they had captured, your own observations notwithstanding. Spies are often killed in armed conflicts whereas captured combatants are handed over, or at least are supposed to be.
    If by the present you mean today, then I do not believe that republicans should be killing informers or anyone else for that matter.

  14. With senior British government officials openly admitting to writing Sinn Fein leadership statements, there can be no real sense of awe that criminalising republicans now features so prominently in such statements.
    Hi Anthony,

    I´ve got a couple of comments/questions:

    - Could you show me a link that talks or explains the above comment? Somebody else told me about it too but I haven´t found anything on the internet about it..

    - Do you know where can I get a copy of Republican Voices?

    - I don´t wanna sound rude but,I was just checking the price of ur new book in different sites ; why such a price difference from Waterstons(£18) to Amazon (£40) ?

    Just say that I really enjoy reading your articles, thanks

  15. Txomin

    See Jonathan Powell's book. See also his Panorama (I think it was that) documentary. I was in London on Patrick's Day last year when I received a call from a paper about it. So around the 17th and 18th of 2008 the papers should be commenting on it.

    Republican Voices should be easily obtained. I think Tommy McKearney has copies. I can put you in touch with him if you want.

    First I knew about the price differential. While I have not looked at Amazon my wife said she thinks it is somebody selling on their own copy.