Light From The Dark

During the Blanket protest the blanket men, most barely out of their teens or still in them, would sing a song: ‘we’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go, wherever he wants to go.’ It was a song that was really sung from the cells, not a spoof about a song being sung in the H-Blocks before the song was ever written as one well known Walter tried to dupe us into believing a while back. The ‘old man’ was Brendan Hughes who was in fact anything but an old man. Only 29 when he embarked upon the blanket protest, Brendan was in the prime of life and brimming over with radical vitality which he never allowed slip into fanaticism.

The Dark would laugh at the thought of us who were so willing to follow him as he led us through those daunting arduous years of prison protest, no longer being as eager today to follow him – quite prepared to wait our turn or put it off for as long as possible. ‘Such is life’ would be his summing up of our sense of contentment to remain where we are. We can face death when it comes – so long as it doesn’t come for a while.

A republican icon in those heady and challenging days he possessed charisma and charm in abundance but was never flash. He had an unassuming character which saw him shun the bright neon for the quietude of ordinary people.

Now dead two years, it is those same ordinary people who are flocking to his memory. On web forums, chat rooms, in bars, on the street and in the workplace Brendan Hughes and his views are discussed with more than a passing interest. An upcoming book about his role in the republican struggle by the journalist Ed Moloney is awaited with great anticipation.

In the final years of his life Brendan drifted to the margins of the political radar screen. That screen had been monopolised by the peace process lobby and if your face didn’t fit then you were shunted to the sidelines. Brendan was happy to sit on the margins because in his view of the world it was at the margins where the marginalised, whom he had always championed, were to be found. He did not hog the limelight but did not fear the spotlight when he felt compelled to say what had to be said.

That interest in his life and views is growing rather than diminishing is not because of the fact that he is no longer with us. Many republicans have died since the passing of The Dark but they are remembered for the most part in private and do not generate the public interest that he has. Brendan Hughes is achieving a centrality unfamiliar to him in the final years of his life because of the legacy he has left. His contribution to republicanism was an authenticity that is missing in the discourse of many with whom he served in the ranks of the IRA.

One of the most potent criticisms that can be levelled at his onetime mentor and fellow leader of the IRA in Belfast, Gerry Adams, is that the Sinn Fein leader has warped republicanism into one vast lie. The entire Sinn Fein project lurches embarrassingly from one lie to the next.

Brendan’s fellow hunger striker Tommy McKearney once observed that Sinn Fein’s bottom line is that there is no bottom line. This is because the party can be believed about virtually nothing.

The Dark is being lionised today because of the honesty he has brought to our understanding of republicanism. People have seen, as a result of his efforts, that the republican armed campaign which both inflicted and endured great misery was never about Catholics becoming junior partners to the British in the administration of partition. His philosophy was simple: if republicanism is an honest project to begin with it should be defended honestly. There is no need for the routine resort to lying.

The authenticity of Brendan Hughes against the mendacity of Gerry Adams will shape the contours of future discursive battlegrounds. It will become one of the major prisms through which the history of the republican struggle will be interpreted. A struggle between republican substance and Catholic spin. Strange that we had to look into the Dark to find light.


  1. excellent Anthony well said, as I read your blog I couldnt help thinking of Christy Moore,s, Viva la quinta brigada, and in praticular the lines, Truth and love against the force of evil,Brotherhood against the facist clan,...I hear certain people from the rm are running around like headless chickens trying to find out what might be in the Darks book,

  2. Mackers, what a lovely tribute. This must be an especially difficult time for you as, I know you were a constant in his life when the fairweather friends had flown.

  3. I appreciate this moving reminder of your comrade and dear friend's legacy. I secularized my blessing to be rendered doubly appropriately: 'Ar dheis síocháin go raibh a hanam'.

  4. RE: 'Brendan was happy to sit on the margins because in his view of the world it was at the margins where the marginalised, whom he had always championed, were to be found.'
    Says it all... truth always stands alone for all to see. The acid rain of compromise, lies and dross makes Brendan Hughes shine out more for his AUTHENTICITY for sure. NB All around the world the name Brendan Hughes is spoken of with RESPECT. You wrote beautifully and you are innately gifted in writing but you know why its so beautiful to me eyes... It is simply the TRUTH. You have honoured him. Grma.

  5. Anthony,
    I am a month behind in catching up on all of my readings and I will get there soon, but I especially wanted to say - great piece on Brendan Hughes. I had the great pleasure of meeting Brendan when he came to the states many years ago for a quick spell. A complete gentleman, open, honest and humble. He signed a book I had just purchased the night I met him at a private fundraiser called "Ten Men Dead" by David Beresford. He signed it "An Dorcha". I never forgot him and his unwavering dedication to the republican movement.

  6. never got the chance to meet darkie but he was a close friend of a close friend and he too was vilified by former colleagues for not towing the party line ,i believe this guy to be a close friend of yours to mackers , enjoy your blogs mo chara , as ever very eloquently put .

  7. Asgard,

    a good guy. he saw it all coming and was villified for it