A Beautiful Tribute

Tonight The Pensive Quill features guest writer Julie Duchatel who explains the impact in France of translated work of Denis O’Hearn’s biography of Bobby Sands.

Two independent Swiss and French publishers translated and published in September 2011 the very good biography about Bobby Sands, by Denis O'Hearn, entitled Nothing But An Unfinished Song.

We decided to do so because first of all, the struggle of the hunger strikers and of the Irish Republicans to a larger extent, is so enormous that French speaking people interested in Irish history have to realize how far the struggle went, under which terrible and unimaginable conditions it was held. We also wanted people to appraise this struggle at its true value. Thirty years after, for the majority of non Irish people, even for activists, the war in the north of Ireland has been little by little like forgotten as if the “Peace process” meant the end of the Irish history (of course it is not true but it is what many people think outside Ireland). Secondly, translating such a book was a kind of tribute to the tremendous work Denis O'Hearn accomplished by gathering testimonies, and researches and by instilling political analysis and a universal dimension into almost each pages. Essentially, this is not a biography like another biography on any revolutionary icon. It is more than that. It is a beautiful tribute to oppressed people all around the world, to creation and inventiveness under strong repression, to solidarity and sharing, even to beauty. We were pretty sure such a book will move deeply the people who were interested in. We were right.

The book was launched during the Fête de l'Humanité, a big international far left oriented fair that takes place each year at La Courneuve (Paris suburb). It is a very popular event. This is not an exhaustive poll but most of the people (many of them are members of the French Communist Party) we met and who bought the book on our stall were really moved remembering this struggle, even just the idea of thinking of Bobby Sands and all of you, and of the unbelievable courage and endurance you have shown during all these years in Long Kesh. I remember one old man overcome to tears by just touching the book and seeing the name “Bobby Sands”. He was with his son and he bought two copies for him. He said that he was not able to express feelings about the Irish Republican struggle because he remembered marching for the hunger strikers in the street of Paris in 1981, for nothing ... It was too sad for him. I also remember a 40 year old man with his very young son buying him a copy because both of them love Ireland and his son had to know what happened there because of the British rule, even if he was only 11 years old. Then two ex Communist European MPs warmly congratulated us for having translated and published the book, telling us how difficult it was for them in 1981 to convince their peers at the European Parliament to act against the British government, they were pretty isolated. This story is still so living to some people we met that they even didn't want to buy the book because it was too rough for them. From Switzerland, we received a phone call from a young man who had just learnt on a Corsican website that the book was to be published and he ordered many copies for his friends in order to let them know why he is so fascinated by Irish history. We have other examples.

We went to the Basque Country (the French speaking part, the North) to present the book, we knew the audience would pay particular attention, as you can guess. Again we collected the same moving comments, from diverse Basque political tendencies, on Bobby Sands and his comrades. The people who took time to read the book are really enthusiastic about it and full of praise. One Basque prisoner's mother even said that this book should be a compulsory reading for the Basque activists and politicians, especially in the current Basque context. A former long term sentenced Basque prisoner, who spent three years in complete solitary confinement in France, expressed his total solidarity because you fought for keeping the dignity of the freedom fighter which is shared by all political prisoners.

I wish we could go to Brittany and Corsica, and other places.

The most striking fact, to me, is the way people, who have read the book, take this story to heart. They can talk on and on about it, debating a particular point or remembering a particular anecdote. And at the end of the discussions, everybody is full of admiration for these women and men who struggled so hard under terrible conditions for a crucial claim: no to criminalisation. This is a universal story you have been part of and contributed, this is definitely a story that grew the human being.

We know that the Republican movement is divided now, and this message may sound a bit naïve to you, but we wanted to share these mere and genuine reactions to show you, if it was necessary, that there are still people in France, in the Basque country, in Corsica, in Switzerland, in Belgium, etc. who can stand by and admire you deeply from our heart.


  1. Long after the name Thatcher,Adams has faded into obscurity Bobby Sands will still be spoken of, for like true legends the world over,the people love a braveheart.and Bobby and his comrades like Marian Price
    /Mc Glinshey enshrine exactly the meaning of the spirit of freedom.
    If the peoples of Europe enjoyed Denis,s biography on Bobby, well they are going to be blown away by IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ANNE....

  2. Julie,

    thank you for such a great piece. Bobby was an inspiration to more than just Irish people and you have made that so clear in your piece.

  3. Yes Julie thanks,
    Denis taught me when I was at Queens quite a while ago and we stayed friends.
    He is truly an inspirational person and probably one of the most genuine and grounded people I have ever met.

  4. Mackers,
    I should have added. Denis O Hearn was probably the most genuine socalist I ever met, everything he wrote and lectured on was informed by his dedication to the peoples struggle. If ever there was anyone who could pay a fitting tribute to Bobby and his comrades it was him.

  5. Nuala,

    I only met him in passing but he seemed a fine guy. His book on Bobby was the very last book I bought my mother before she died. I thought the book wee worth the reading. I certainly did not find it, as some suggested, the SF approved account. I actually found it subversive of the SF account although that was not its purpose. It was crafted to create a Bobby that added immensely to our understanding of him. I always meant to review it. There were some points I disagreed with, particularly about the demands that were prioritised during the protest. But this is merely a matter of interpretation and takes nothing away from the quality of the work.

  6. Mackers Julie sends her thanks for carrying her piece and I was grateful to receive a copy of the book itself which I will pass on to my kids.

  7. Dixie,

    I am so glad she sent it. Always moves me to see how events in that brutal place inspired so many people abroad

  8. Julie,

    this book will be well received in Québec. We need more good book in French on Northern Ireland. That is a problem here went a teach on Northern Ireland to find good material in French.

    if you can put me in contact with Julie, I will be able to review this book for magazine here.

  9. Andre,

    I have passed on your request. I hope you get the chance to review