Either Or

The wars we lose, the wars we win
And the world is - what it has been

- Randall Jarrell

A couple of Fridays back a friend asked if I would like to take a run up to Newry where he had a few odds and ends to attend to.  Iceland being one of the things I most miss about living in Louth, I jumped at the opportunity. Whiskey can be bought the country over but those Iceland pasties, well, they are something else.

On our return we took a detour into South Armagh and looked at sites, unmarked and otherwise, of historical importance. We made our way through the square in Crossmaglen with its impressive monument and past the GAA club where I had attended a function in 1992 which was put on for republican prisoners out on Xmas parole, some of whom are now officials in the British administration at Stormont.  Strange the twists and turns of life. We also drove through ambush points where so many British forces breathed their last, courtesy of the former IRA. We stopped in Meigh where one of the current IRAs made headlines by frightening the wits out of a PSNI patrol, forcing it to flee the scene, leaving the IRA to its own devices.

As we reached the village of Camlough I suggested visiting the grave of Raymond McCreesh. My friend who had attended the funeral knew where the cemetery was. Raymy, as he was known to his fellow blanket men, died 31 years ago on hunger strike in the H Blocks, a victim of the Thatcher led Conservative Party and the refusal of the British state to admit the conflict in the North had a political essence which by necessity implicated the British state. The British preferred to depict matters as an aggravated and aggregated crime wave against which the forces of law and order battled valiantly. Yet criminalisation, which was filling the jails with conflict participants, was very much a British political strategy aimed at masking the political dynamic underpinning the Northern conflict.   

As I stood at Raymond’s resting place thinking that although the Conservatives had blocked his path to any future life, had he joined the hunger strike at a later phase, the same fate awaited him. Those he thought were guiding him through would have waited him out just like the Tories; as they eventually did when they steered six hunger strikers into the valley of death.

My friend later said to me that as I left the grave he heard me say the words ‘what was it all for?’ There is no doubt that Raymond and his comrades helped smash the British criminalisation strategy. But their energy and selfless commitment was also harnessed and hitched to a wagon en route to a destination well concealed from the hunger striking prisoners. It was used to inflate the careers of the Committee men who helped kill them as readily as they deflated republicanism. Today they can be heard rendering virtuoso performances as mimic men, aping every little Tory mannerism and echoing every reactionary phrase against today’s republicans that Raymond McCreesh and his comrades were confronted with in their own day.

It hardly seemed appropriate to have arrived at the grave of a dead hunger striker with a car boot packed with frozen food. It only dawned on me afterwards as I removed the red and white Iceland bags from the car.  But life goes on for those fortunate enough not to have fallen victim to either the Committee or the Conservatives.


  1. You can rip the heart out of yourself with grief for the fallen and those who have been pushed a cara,I am now of the opinion the best epitaph we can give our fallen hero,s is that which Richard O Rawe has started and that is to expose those who for selfish ambition sent so many to an early grave,we may not in our lifetime achieve the aims we started out for such a long time ago but we can maybe make sure future generations are aware how ego and self importance fueled by weasel words from agents of influence and others could rip the heart out of the lions that was the PRM.

  2. Thanks for the post Anthony,

    On my first East Republican Socialist Coast H-Block comemeration I was given a Raymond McCreesh placard to hold.

    It struck me that he was one of the H-Block martyrs who I knew little about. I was proud to hold his picture anyway.

  3. A great reflective piece, Anthony. You have to wonder if men like Raymond McCreesh would have fought and died for a British assembly and cross-border bodies. The SF narrative now is that the war was for equality, and that line of shite is getting support from commentators such as Martina Devlin. Never mind that the British would surely have granted a GFA-style set-up by the mid-70s at the latest if Gerry and co. were willing to negotiate. The PIRA's war was for a 32-county Irish republic, but they abandoned that goal - to pretend otherwise is a lie.

  4. Great piece as usual Mackers...

    The motto of Adamsism should be:

    "Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and lie."

  5. Marty,

    there seems to be a greater appreciation than previously about the role of agents of influence in bringing the struggle to where it is today. I sense also nervousness on the part of some in the SF camp about the growing use of the term. I think Tommy McKearney using it in his book has annoyed them.

    But it makes eminent sense. If the Provos had developed new ideas for a departure which were not so identifiably British ideas then we would have to say 'hmmm, but ok.' But the ideas being pushed were Brit ideas. Brit strategy was premised on defeating republicanism by bringing it to the British position of the consent principle. Powell was so adamant about this in his book. But we didn't need Powell to point that out - we knew it ourselves. It was discussed often enough.

    You are right about Richard. He has done a great service to those put to death by the Committee

  6. A very moving piece , I am sure that it brought back clouded memories for you .its really hard to believe that the fighting men from the hills of South Armagh like Raymie, Mc Verry The Two Brendan’s and others who gave their lives willingly would have been happy to see the outcome accepted by the Army Council. I have never blamed Sinn Fein for the acceptance of British rule after all they are politicians who would sell their mother for power, but the Army Council of the Provo’s to surrender to British rule was a sentence of death if spoken for at least 30years. Often I have heard, what would the men who died think about the outcome, but what I would really love to know is what the men of the Army Council think when they hear, see pictures or talk about the men whom gave their lives.???

  7. Your right Anthony,agents of influence have been at the heart of the brit victory,as you say Tommy mentions them in his book, Adams and his secret talks over the years has imo been sucked into this with massive injections of ego boosting,I think time will tell us who these agent were but I suspect,Reid,Hume ,wont be to far from the centre,as has been said what better victory than just merely defeating your enemy but to have them slavishly carry out your bidding instead,qsf is now well riddled with these people as we can clearly see from the day to day pronouncements of loyalty to queen and country,the agents who helped bring qsf into this mess are still as active today as they were when placed by the brits in the first instance.

  8. Rory,

    I never met Raymond either as we were in different blocks throughout the protest but I knew I was in the presence of a great republican as I stood at his grave.

    I know of no one during the war who said this type of outcome was anything other than a major failure, a defeat. Morrison, who defends it, still called it surrender and said the world would be laughing at us if we were to go into government with Paisley. Although, we know what barrel the leadership has him over so he has to parrot everything it says.

    Martina Devlin subscribes to the narrative because it is a SDLP type of outcome. I read her stuff on the McGuinness presidential campaign and in a sense I can see where she is coming from. But the struggle was never about equality within a NI state. That might have been the dynamic for it and which fuelled the insurrection, but the Provo ideology and discourse was totally opposed to anything remotely resembling this.

    And, you are right to point out that it was not only the loyalists who rejected this agreement in 1974 (Council of Ireland aspect was what the unionists really balked at) but the Provos as well. Adams said it created the first Catholic partitionist party – the SDLP.

    The Provos abandoned their armed campaign for a united Ireland and we can hardly criticise them for that. But for them to have gone over to the Brit side completely is something else and to pretend that the struggle was about civil rights is sheer rubbish. Today’s outcome was the British state’s alternative to republicanism.

  9. Just heard Mary McArdle has been given the boot as a special advisor up in the hallowed halls,qsf are saying its a sideways shift, they would wouldnt they, it seems pressure from the dup partners is enough to make the qsf know their place , it looks like Stormont may yet become a cold house for ex pows,even with a degree...

  10. "There is no doubt that Raymond and his comrades helped smash the British criminalisation strategy. But their energy and selfless commitment was also harnessed and hitched to a wagon en route to a destination well concealed from the hunger striking prisoners. It was used to inflate the careers of the Committee men who helped kill them as readily as they deflated republicanism."

    It would be ironic, if it wasn't tragic, that the men who led from the outside the fight against criminalisation of republicanism in 1981 and gain international prestige from it, are the same today who are looking for repectability from the brits by leading the fight to criminalise republicanism.

  11. Dixie,

    I recall thinking when the Sticks were telling the same sort of endless lies that there was something honest about our leaders. I suppose the defining characteristic of the Provos has become the lie. And if you even mention it they scream ‘lies’!

    Boyne Rover,

    I don’t think it bothers the army council in the slightest. And then those that run SF ran the council so the difference is more illusion than real.

    The term surrender is an interesting one. That’s what Morrison described decommissioning as. Generally they prefer to say they created a new arena of struggle or something like that. In wars people sometimes have to surrender. Pearse and co surrendered in 1916 and there was nothing dishonourable about it. But to become what you always opposed, that’s where the real transgression lies.

  12. Either Or


    Otherwise it does not make a lot of sense. The Brits use of the tactic was shown in Peter Taylor’s book where they were actively trying to encourage agents of influence. The purpose was to influence the movement to go down the path it is on today. So rather than look at Hume who was only being faithful to his own brand of politics, look at those within the movement who spread British ideas. Denis would brief US journalists not to listen to myself or Tommy Gorman as we were doing the work of the Brits!! That is the type of person to focus on. That is where you will find the agents of influence. At the same time not all of those who embraced those ideas or indeed spread them were agents of influence. But in their midst you are bound to find a number who were. You always need to have your antennae twitching when someone flip flops from rigorously holding one position to effortlessly holding the opposite.

  13. "From rigorously holding one position to effortlessly holding the opposite" I think that quote would fit all the qsf reps in both the Dail and Stormont and the councillors a cara,I accept what you are saying about wee Denis, and I have no doubts that there was/is many many more within the party who for one reason or another were only to glad to see the war effort wound up, but I am still of a notion that Adams was highly influenced by his secret talks with clergy, Hume and the others,and I still think Martyboy is a brussel,

  14. Andre,

    'It would be ironic, if it wasn't tragic, that the men who led from the outside the fight against criminalisation of republicanism in 1981 and gain international prestige from it, are the same today who are looking for repectability from the brits by leading the fight to criminalise republicanism.'

    Truly ironic.

  15. Tonight on the news we were told about the formation of yet another group opposed to the republican group RAAD who have been taking action against those involved in the drug trade,now what concerns me is are those people saying that drug dealing is ok,why do we not hear about the lives those bastards destroy and why do we not have demo,s against this vile trade,I believe in some countries drug dealing carries the death penalty,I for one wouldnt be opposed to that here,

  16. qsf,s ni Chuilin and the dup,s foster are to co-ordinate the anniversary of the 1916 rising celebrations,,stop laughing its true, not sure if Willie Mc Crea will be playing the auld accordion,will be great to hear Willie give us the boys of the old brigade,fucking couldnt make it up!!

  17. Either Or


    You could be right on all of this. It is just my view that the agent of influence was well embedded within the Provisional movement and their job was to promote British ideas or open doors for British ideas being floated by other agents of influence. I have never thought McGuinness was an agent but there is no doubt he is an asset.

  18. Marty,

    RAAD is just DAAD born again. It adds ballast to the claim by Pat Ramsey that today’s armed republicans are born again Provos. I heard Raymond claim RAAD is not republican. While I have always liked Raymond, it is a long time since I recall him resembling a republican.