A Dark Night In Belfast

The other evening saw me in Belfast. Along with my wife and children I made the journey up to deliver the inaugural Brendan Hughes annual lecture. The venue was Conway Mill and the event pulled a packed hall. I shared the platform with Terry Hughes, a brother of the late Brendan. Paddy Joe Rice from the famous IRA Dogs Company was also billed as a speaker but a last minute illness prevented him from making it. Tommy Gorman, a former H Block blanket man, chaired.

It was an honour to be asked to do the talk. I had a long and close relationship to Brendan Hughes. I found it uplifting to see so many of his loved ones attending. It was in Conway Mill that Fourthwrite magazine first saw the light of day. Brendan was interviewed for the first issue and spoke at the launch. He could pull interest like few other dissenting republicans. Sinn Fein hated his participation in the Fourthwrite project and immediately began a campaign of character assassination which was itself openly ridiculed in some areas of the media. Gerry Adams asked to meet him and Brendan agreed. All he got was a rant about the type of people he was associated with. But the influence of old had gone. Brendan was not dissuaded from speaking his mind and venting his misgivings about the non republican political orientation of the peace process. From that point on he was relentless in his determination to provide an alternative narrative which culminated in the publication of Voices From The Grave by Ed Moloney in 2010.

So many old friends and comrades turned up for the inaugural lecture it was hard to greet them individually. It was heart warming to see many of the men Brendan had led on the blanket protest in the audience to commemorate him. Later in the evening I travelled up to Lenadoon for a drink with some of those one time H Block stalwarts. Leaving the pub to walk to a friend’s place where I would stay the night there was a certain irony in seeing election posters of a former blanket man Pat McCotter placed on lampposts. McCotter is contesting the upcoming council elections on an unmistakably republican ticket for éirígí. He will be competing with Sinn Fein for votes.

I haven’t bothered with Pat McCotter in years so would not be au fait with his views other than the broad republican thrust of them. But I was struck by the amount of people in the bar, some of whom I did not know, who asked me how I thought they should vote. While I naturally expressed a preference for McCotter what interested me more was the fact that he was the subject of so much conversation. People who have not yet broken with Sinn Fein are wrestling with their long held loyalties to the party. While they would never throw a vote the way of the SDLP or even groups like Republican Sinn Fein, they are certainly considering McCotter who they see as one of their own despite attempts by Sinn Fein to depict him as just the latest in a long line of heretics unwilling to believe that the peace process is the real thing in terms of advancing the republican agenda.

I no longer live in West Belfast and have no vote to cast in the election. But it would be a serious fillip for republican sentiment if a candidate who was on the Blanket protest under the leadership of Brendan Hughes, and who continues to hold to something identifiable from then, was to take a seat on the 30th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands.



  2. Mackers,
    by all accounts the annual event was a night to remember.
    Election day tomorrow and I sincerely hope Pat and John of eirigi both take their seats.
    It does appear a big thing for people to let go of the old Sinn Fein vote.
    They (Sinn Fein) have redoubled their efforts to smear the eirigi campaign and the candidates.
    Bobby Storey described eirigi as a micro-group that is attracting its support from all the 'other'groups trying to emulate the IRA.
    A person would imagine that someone like Storey would keep his mouth firmly shut.He is hardly a glowing spectacle that any republican would wish to emulate.
    His full-time occuaption seems to be to guard the reputation of Adams and IRA and savage any critics.
    Who ever said these very wealthy republicans don't earn their keep?

  3. Nuala,

    it was a good turnout. As long as the family were happy that it did him proud.

    I know the feeling. They are calling Paddy a traitor and John a foreigner. There is nothing new under the sun. I hope both of them take a seat. Big challenge but it would be some lift if they were to.

  4. AM

    As a close friend of The Dark's, do you think that he would be in support of eirigi - especially after his vocal opposition to SF and the beard?

  5. Anthony would really loved to have been at that and say hello to yourself and Carrie,we were in Leitrim and Marie wasnt up to travelling,back home to vote and away again tomorrow evening,lifted 5 cracking trout last night and still a lot of sheep to get acquainted with,some remind me of Mickeyboy same old baa baa baa!

  6. Ruairi,

    we can never tell. He gave no indication that I can recall when he was alive that he was supportive of eirigi. But if we are to follow the trajectory of his outlook coupled with the direction some of those he was close to are moving in, I think it a real possibility that he would be giving support of some sort to eirigi.

  7. Thanks for a timely piece, AM. I'm eager (given your participation last autumn in the panel discussion alongside Éirígí) to continue to hear about your take on McCotter's campaign and that movement's efforts. BTW, this may be of interest to your readers: "my review" (if pitched at a more general readership than that on TPQ) of Hanley & Millar's book 'Lost Revolution' on the Officials.

  8. Regretfully I didn't make it up but I hope to be in the Cooley Mountains in June.

    Was it recorded by any chance?

  9. Ah the elections tomorrow...Again!
    When people get to decide who is going to pass on the Tory cuts.

    Will it be Pete and Marty or Marty and Pete? Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee...

    The Walrus and the Carpenter
    Walked on a mile or so,
    And then they rested on a rock
    Conveniently low:
    And all the little Oysters stood
    And waited in a row.

    "The time has come," the Walrus said,
    "To talk of many things:
    Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
    Of cabbages--and kings--
    And why the sea is boiling hot--
    And whether pigs have wings."

    Off with their heads!

    Or perhaps it's those who vote for them who are off their heads?

    Should David Ford go to Specsavers or does he squint like that because his underpants are a size too small?

    Is Margaret Ritchie dubbed when she speaks on TV and is Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice an Ian Paisley tribute band?

    And is Gerry Adams Here or there?

    More importantly would Derry people please vote for McCann? Sure he's been asking us since Free Derry Corner was a row of houses ffs!!

  10. Anthony,

    I have oftened wondered why RSF do not appear to have much support in th north.

    Are they seen as too 'southern' and therefore as toodetached and remote?

    It's just that I keep looking back to the split of 1986 and cannot help but come to the conclusion that Ruairi O'Bradaigh was right and that if the line he drew in the sand had have held then the republican movement would be in a very different position today.

    I know that hindsight is a wonderful thing but I would be very interested on your take, and that of other Quillers, on this.

  11. Marty,

    that's dedication!

    Sure we will meet again no doubt!

  12. Anthony,

    Will your remarks or those of the others on the panel be published at all, whether here on the Quill or elsewhere?

  13. PFTrumbore,

    I should put the transcript up around the end of the week.


    it was recorded but I am not sure what they have done with it or intend to do

  14. AM

    I find myself coming to the same analysis as eirigi. Its just a shame that Derry has no real republican alternative like eirigi to vote for.

  15. I'm not a member of any party so my views are not tainted one way or the other. with that in mind I have to ask the question, since dissidents criticise sf for working the system as it is, if a rep of the dissidents is elected in the future, what do they do? Abstain? brilliant past failure; use the vote base as positioning strategy to start negotiations (for what?)? Maybe at the moment there is no plan just trying to embarrass sf. this perplexes someone of my limited intellect, it seems such a waste of time.

  16. dorrian,
    I don't belong to any party either so maybe I too could claim to be untainted.
    Republicans desperately need another party, Sinn Fein has went way beyond working the system, they are now instrumental to upholding laws and implementing legislation which is detrimental to the ordinary and republican people alike.
    Sinn Fein actively voted for water charges and then used their deferral as an election strategy.
    They have sat on committees which have raised rates, closed hospital wards and schools.
    They actively lied about the extent of the new British intelligence network here in the North. They remained tight lipped, while republicans have been subjected to stop and search, extended and illegal holding measures and the strip searching and beating of republican prisoners.
    We desperately need an alternative republican voice in government, one that will speak for the people, not go along with anything for political power.

  17. Fionnchú

    I don’t follow it a great deal and was merely conveying first impressions. I am looking forward to reading your review. Have yet to read the book although it is here.


    The Walrus and the Carpenter was funny – enjoyed that

    The Skin

    ‘I have often wondered why RSF do not appear to have much support in the north.’

    Too out of touch and not relevant to people’s lives. People don’t buy into republican theology.

  18. Ruairi

    ‘I find myself coming to the same analysis as eirigi. Its just a shame that Derry has no real republican alternative like eirigi to vote for.’

    I would have given it to McCann.