Gasyard Examines Graveyard

The discussion at the Gasyard Centre in Derry last weekend seems to have been a seminal moment in the struggle over the interpretation of the 1981 hunger strike. And I missed it. Despite intending to I eventually did not even attempt to make the trip to Derry. Earlier that week I had been in both Belfast and Dublin and didn’t fancy an even longer journey on the road.

These days I tend to write more from impulse than design although I am sure something of the latter has to be present as well. The pressure not to write is no longer there so the impulse to write is considerably weaker. Defying the censor is its own dynamic. Unlike during The Blanket years I write much more leisurely. There is no longer any need to forensically trace and forecast the defeat of the Provisional Movement as a republican project. It is there for all to see. As a consequence of taking the foot off the pedal I am no longer as tuned into the hunger strike debate as I was a number of years ago when I was still writing for The Blanket.

Maybe it is less a case of not being tuned in and more that the debate itself has reached a peak in terms of detail that the time required to follow it through its labyrinth of references and minutiae in the way that Richard O’Rawe or Danny Morrison presumably do is simply not available. While each twist and turn, fought over and dissected, may be all very necessary to keep the discussion critically informed, when it reaches a certain level it goes over the heads of most people. They see the foothills peppered with footnotes before they even get to follow the trail of the Mountain Climber and they baulk. Keeping pace with it all requires a lot of work. That does not prevent me from trying to keep up but there is a sense that I am trying to jog alongside sprinters. If someone appears on radio or TV I listen to them and try to consider the case that they make. That does not mean that I refrain from taking sides. My long held view is that Richard O’Rawe is right and his detractors wrong.

In any event, if there as a choice on a day like this to take the kids to the park or reread Ten Men Dead the kids win out. In the midst of this electrifying discussion, despite talking a bit about it to friends and journalists, I make the time to watch soccer, write banter about the same, browse through or review a book maybe not connected to Irish politics at all, or watch a film. When that is added to time spent at work or courses there are precious few minutes left over that can be squeezed out of the remainder of the day. Life is better served if we remember to live rather than live to remember.

I haven’t even managed to view the Gasyard discussion it in its entirety on Youtube, dipping into various sections in response to calls from people either asking me if I saw this or that contribution or insisting some segment is a ‘must see.’ Nor did I tune into the full debate on Slugger O’Toole - apparently followed by almost everyone else with an interest in the matter - again restricting my forays to dipping in when someone asked what I thought of any particular comment.

As for the Derry event, my wife went up. Not in my stead but in her own right as an observer with a keen interest in the topic. No doubt she appreciated the break from the kids having been with them all week, breaking up their fights, adjudicating on their disputes and tending to their needs. On top of that she travelled North with her buddy so the enterprise was as much an opportunity for chilling out as it was a political expedition. At the same time there is no disputing that as former editor of The Blanket she learned in the school of hard knocks to give no quarter to the censor. She knows all about the need to ensure alternative voices in any field otherwise knowledge of the matter being discussed will be forced to bend to the pressure of conformity applied by those least interested in allowing free discussion. It may have brought more than a fair share of criticism down on her head along with the unsolicited attention of spooky misogynists or misogynistic spooks – take your pick – who from time to time have unleashed salvoes of vitriol her way. But she has remained undeterred, striving always to provide a platform for free inquiry and expression.

I am glad she went up because Richard O’Rawe later told me that she pulled the questions together at the end in ‘professorial’ style. She is not a professor, just someone who knows how to cut through the chaff, guff and tripe – the component parts of a dunghill-cum-barricade against truth into which the censors are firmly burrowed - and apply a forensic mind to uncluttering the debris and extracting the detail that matters. Subsequently she is equipped with the necessary acumen to deconstruct and demolish an account that does not stand up to scrutiny. It is anathema to her detractors.

It is not just that it saves me the bother of having to do something other than play football with the children and their friends that I am totally supportive of her in her efforts to bring light to bear on the issues at stake. It was the type of service The Blanket was always disposed towards. It seems right that the tradition inherited there from earlier anti-censorship republicans should be exported to other venues and forums. And the city of Derry, where Widgery in 1972 wreaked so much dishonesty, is an unlikely venue for a similar dark spirit to haunt the narrative of the hunger strike.


  1. Remembering to live rather than live to remember: an eloquent summation. The professorial acumen with which your partner helped tie together the discussion comes as no surprise; the two of you complement (and I trust compliment) each other so well!

    Not sure where to post this observation as a postscript, speaking of long wars and long memories in the media, but I just watched an intriguing if bizarre season finale to a show on Spike (truly a guy's cable channel for XYs who like to watch things explode!) in "Deadliest Warrior"-- it pits, say, Shao-lin monk vs. Maori warrior, or gladiator vs. Apache, with computer mock-ups climaxing analyses of weaponry and strategy by each opponent. A military buff-meets-computer gamer's dream. My sixteen-year-old son naturally told me about this series! A small disclaimer separates Spike from any sponsorship of any enacted tactic or depicted ideology!

    The finale: "Taliban vs IRA." Two four-man squads squared off, after much build-up commentary by the two guest experts, both wielding weaponry in the lab and on the range with deadly accuracy albeit in simulation: Skoti Collins (great-nephew of Mick, "historian") and, with cloth cap, Peter Crowe, "IRA Weapons Expert." With not only armalite and nail bomb, but a flamethrower and slingshot against the Taliban's RPG, AK-47, and bayonet, the battle was waged. I will not give away the winner. But, seeing the Taliban and the bhoyos square off amidst a dusty parking lot full of RVs, buses, and cars and trucks did make it look like a sequel to "Mad Max."

    Notes of interest: as featured in the promos, Collins repeatedly claims the 'ra has never been defeated. No past tense. The narrator also mentioned a phrase I never heard before on air which made me wonder about Great-Uncle Mick: "After the Irish lost the War of Independence..." The giant graffito on the wall of the firing range read "CIRA," by the way, preceding "Brits Out," the "C" turned into a letter with an arrow from the top pointing towards IRA.

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