Outside of the Clique

This review was first published in Fortnight July/August 2011

When Richard O’Rawe published Blanketmen, offering a challenge to the established Provisional narrative of the 1981 hunger strike, he was met with a wave of bile, bitterness and ‘naked hatred’. It was heaved up as part of a ‘McCarthyite crusade’ by those with most to lose from the emergence of his groundbreaking account - a Belfast clique within the Provisional movement. One vitriolic salvo after another rained down upon his head in a bid to force him to take cover and cede all ground to the guardians of a historical fiction.

In the years that followed the 2005 publication O’Rawe’s critics would tell us how they had comprehensively demolished him. That they had to state it over and over again after each new encounter belied their own confidence. O’Rawe never deviated from his account while his adversaries somersaulted, contradicted each other, spewed ‘mumbo jumbo’ and shifted position. O’Rawe had a major advantage from the outset: he had no record of lying whereas those associated with the Clique had well established reputations as strangers to the truth. He prevailed and a new framework for understanding the 1981 hunger strike is now firmly in place. It is nowhere better explained than in Afterlives.

Unlike Blanketmen which was in many respects an outpouring of something that had burrowed within the author for two decades, Afterlives, while a sequel, is forensic in composition and controlled in delivery. It paints into a very tiny corner the custodians of the myth that all the 1981 hunger strikers died because British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was too intransigent to make concessions. That six of those men died needlessly is forcefully explained by O’Rawe in terms of a deleterious intervention by the Clique.

While Blanketmen filed the charges Afterlives called the witnesses for the prosecution and, in the words of one reviewer, proved the case beyond any reasonable doubt. As Ed Moloney states in the forward it exposes long reigning lies, captures the testimony of people in the H-Bocks at the time, details the documented evidence, and introduces crucial witness testimony from amongst others, Brendan Duddy, the mediator known as Mountain Climber.  In 2009 Duddy confirmed what O’Rawe had claimed in Blanketmen: the British had made a substantial offer to the Clique who overruled the prisoners’ acceptance of it.  Brendan Duddy passed on that British offer to Martin McGuinness who in turn admits to having passed it to Gerry Adams. The one destination it should have reached but did not was the prison hospital and the hunger strikers.

O’Rawe demonstrates that not only did the Clique usurp the prisoners but also the authority of the IRA’s governing entity, the army council, which as a body carried out its daily business without ever being aware that a resolution to the hunger strike was within its grasp. The army council would have welcomed a decision ending the hunger strike but was not informed by the Clique that the prison leadership had agreed to settle. One army council member of the time told O’Rawe that at that point the strike ‘should have automatically ended.’

O’Rawe is compelling in deconstructing the fallacy that the prisoners were in charge of managing the hunger strike. They were always compelled to defer to the decisions of the Clique which had a habit of withholding vital information from them. When, in October 1981, the republican jail leader Brendan McFarlane was preparing one more man to embark on hunger strike he was informed by the Clique leader that the protest had run its course and would now end, which it did. It is a travesty that the same instruction was not given to the prisoners six lost lives earlier.

Brendan McFarlane has insisted throughout that there was ‘no outside intervention to prevent a deal.’ Afterlives deftly sweeps this away as a sustainable position. McFarlane emerges poorly from this book. O’Rawe characterises him as being ruthless but dutifully obedient, while possessing a fanatical determination to keep the strike going at all costs. There are issues that McFarlane can and should throw light upon. While a multi-talented and charismatic man he was out of his depth with an issue of this magnitude. His task was unenviable and unlike the Clique members he had no careerist ambitions. He was committed to the men around him and probably made the mistake of thinking that the Clique was of a similar disposition. Fatally, he did not run with his own instinct and instead placed his trust in the Clique.

The reader is left to conclude that it was not a lack of food that killed six of the hunger strikers but a lack of information. O’Rawe asks of Gerry Adams ‘was he more interested in getting Owen Carron elected than in saving the lives of his comrades in the H-Bocks?’

Despite the remorseless logic of Afterlives, for some the myth will endure, not because myths have any truth value but because as Bruce Lincoln has argued in respect of religious myths, they are able to engender feelings of belonging and purpose, which make them an effective political instrument. For some, in spite of the weight of evidence it is more comforting to believe the earth is only 6, 000 years old, or that Thatcher alone was responsible for finishing off the hunger strikers.

Afterlives By Richard O’Rawe. Lilliput Press: Dublin. ISBN 978 1 84351 1 1847


  1. Its been a while since I read Afterlives,and yes without doubt Richard proved beyond any reasonable doubt that those six men were sacrificed on the alter of political expediency,what has always troubled me is that not all the AC were members of the bearded ones kitchen cabinet clique,so why was there not a close watch kept on the devolepments around such an important issue, and yes the bearded on may have been delegated to oversee any negotations with the british goverment,so he should have been reporting any and every offer made,so as Richards book points out the bearded one left six men to die,he also lied to his comrades on the AC and his actions caused those deaths, now under green book rules is that not an offence punishable by death,or did the green book just apply to the common five/eights? Richards book shone a light on that sanctimonious bastards devious mind and we are all the better and wiser for it, thank fuck there is still people with balls in our community who wont be bullied or coerced into subservience or silence.

  2. Good article Anthony,

    I just finished Blanketmen this week and must say that it was one of the most difficult books I have ever read in terms of the emotions it stirred up in me. Profound sorrow, rage and sheer frustration. I would like to re-visit Afterlives having read the sequel before the first book.

    One thing I would say in defence of Brendan McFarlane is that unlike the 'clique', he was imprisoned, on protest and more than willing to go on hungerstrike and die himself. He must have been under incredable pressure throughout the whole ordeal.

    I think Richard O'Rawe is an incredably brave man and in the future these two books will have a profound impact on the republican movement and Irish politics.


  3. We could go into all the arguments again and again. However those of us who were there knew that Bik relied on Big Ricky's advice on everything.
    The one other adviser he had has remained silent and I think this says a lot.

  4. Marty,

    I don’t think people realised just how malevolent, manipulative and devious the Clique was. Between them they killed six of the hunger strikers. The hunger strikers had broken Thatcher and this gang stabbed them in the back.They have different degrees of responsibility but as a unit they are culpable.

    Forget the Green book – that was a bible and as we know about bibles those who preach don’t practice.

    Fair play to Richard for standing up to them. And he beat them at every turn, caught them lying and squirming.


    I think that is true about Bik. In my view a good guy who worked with weasels and was ultimately dragged down in their wash.

  5. "O’Rawe asks of Gerry Adams ‘was he more interested in getting Owen Carron elected than in saving the lives of his comrades in the H-Bocks?’ "

    Could it have been that Adams wanted to see something positive come out of the hunger strikes and blanket protest, getting Owen Carron elected would at least leave a legacy on which to build.

    Could we be blinded by how things have panned out today, for me it takes a leap of faith to believe adams is such a Svengali that he planed the whole business to get to where we are.

    As for McFarlane, he was a serving volunteer in a senior position, if he did not trust his leadership he would have had to stand down. Up until this point (2nd HS) did he have any reason to doubt the leadership?

    Having said all this Richard has done a great service by writing these two books. He writes well and has a good eye for detail. I would now like him to partially move away from this controversial issue and write more about the mechanics of Republican imprisonment and the grind of daily life as a republican prisoner and not forgetting the great changes which took place within the prison after the second HS ended.

    There is a great story to be told about how the prison leadership dealt with the prison authorities, kept up moral, and helped iron out the daily problems prisoners face, etc. Escapes, crackpot or otherwise, the prison characters, the rivalry,
    the best and worst of the skrews and Republican OCs.

  6. Can you name the members of this 'Clique' or is it only a 'Clique' that knows this 'Clique'?.....

  7. Niall,

    you would need to be a member of the dopey clique not to know

  8. Mick,

    'Could it have been that Adams wanted to see something positive come out of the hunger strikes and blanket protest, getting Owen Carron elected would at least leave a legacy on which to build.'

    Perhaps. Did he have to sabotage a satisfactory outcome to the hunger strike to do so?

    'Could we be blinded by how things have panned out today?'

    Some may be. I think others have remained sober in their assessment.

    'for me it takes a leap of faith to believe adams is such a Svengali that he planed the whole business to get to where we are.'

    I think the evidence is there that this was not accidental. Certainly in terms of the general outcome. The details I don't think we can ever plan for.

    'As for McFarlane, he was a serving volunteer in a senior position, if he did not trust his leadership he would have had to stand down.'

    He might think with the benefit of hindsight that he should have stood down. I have never been of the view that all those involved knew where it would end up. I would have serious difficulties accepting that Bik consciously sent the boys off to their grave. I have no difficulty accepting that Adams did it.

    No one book would cover the prison experience. But a lot more detail about the ordianary life would be useful.

  9. I think if anyone had any misgivings at all of Richard O'Rawe's account in Blanketmen, Afterlives will eradicate any doubts they had left.

    It was like reading an adcademic essay - every single contradiction or point of confusion was addressed thoroughly and meticulously, the sequence of events laid out so simply that one would find it impossible not to believe.

    It's said the devil is in the detail and in Afterlives all the he saids, she saids and I saids were clarified so efficiently, leaving the reader in no doubt as to who is telling the truth in the whole debacle.

    I hope Richard gets some peace now and the naysayers and disbelievers find it in themselves to apologise to him.

  10. Belfast Bookworm,

    this is a very concise but accurate summary.

    Afterlives forensically dissects the case that the Clique has been making and shows it to be threadbare.

    It is beyond doubt to me that Richard O'Rawe is telling it truthfully. He genuinely believes what he writes unlike the Liars' Club who rush out some spoof forgetting that it is completely at odds with some other earlier spoof.

    Very few will apologise to him. The instinct at the top would be to disappear him. They would take the view how dare he challenge such wonderful minds as theirs!
    He stood his ground, faced the bullies down and won the day. If he were to run for the presidency he would never be called the President of Lies.

  11. AM,

    I think Afterlives was a stroke of genius on Richard O'Rawe's part. After Blanketmen I found it hard to keep track of the chain of events that followed it - all the counter arguments and new information coming to light etc.

    Afterlives sorted all that out. His appraisal of the cliques whole PR stunt around the'duping' issue in particular was brilliant.

    Unfortunately though, I believe those needing 'persuaded' of the truth after Blanketmen will never be convinced - not because Richard's account is flawed or inplausible, but because they simply dont want to believe.

    They're still chained up in Plato's Cave.

  12. Belfast Bookworm,

    Richard really did the right thing in getting Afterlives out. I think after Blanketmen there was so much detail dispersed that it was hard for many to follow. Afterlives pulled it all together and it delivered the coup d'grace to the Clique's false narrative.

    There are those who will never believe him, the same type who believe decommissioning never happened. As they say, what was never reasoned in can never be reasoned out.