Means and Ends

Guest writer, social justice campaigner Davy Carlin with another chapter in his story about growing up in West Belfast. 

Yet although many where driven into the politics of the gun due to the immediate circumstances, many thought of those organisations that they joined - apart from providing the initial ‘means’ - had also ‘an end’, held within their understanding.

Over time there was to be many splits in the various Republican and Socialist Republican organisations who disagreed on both their ‘mean’s and their ‘ends’: many of which ended up in bloody and murderous feuds played out in large part on the very streets that they sought to protect. One such person from the Murph who was killed in the process of one of these feuds was Tommy {Todler} Tolan PIRA 2nd Battalion, Belfast Brigade, one of the now legendary ‘Magnificent Seven’ who escaped from the Maidstone prison ship. Another who escaped from that ship was Tommy Gorman who over the last several years I have got to know as a committed and principled socialist activist. Tommy Tolan was killed in 1977 during a feud between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA, one of four people who were killed that day.

Both Tommy Tolan and another by the name of Jim Bryson were famous volunteers within the Murph and beyond. Both of them where PIRA volunteers and I remember one of my relatives accounting the time when he may have inadvertently saved Bryson’s life. On that occasion the person in question set alight a van and it started to roll forward. With that, the flames of it lit up the surrounding fields and so showing up camouflaged Brits sneaking through the fields in a possible ambush on Jim Bryson who was close by. Jim Bryson was though eventually killed by undercover Brits in 1973. Yet such accounts of the Murph are just the tip of the iceberg as to everything that actually went on. As I have always said, everyone has a story to tell and an account to give of those times.

Many accounts told to date have been by those either to the forefront of the struggle or from those lending assistance to it. That is why in my own small way I give an account as a child growing up within it.

At times I enjoy taking time out from other reading, and from activism to read historical accounts of our recent local struggle. Yet I have also always enjoyed listening to the accounts first hand. Such interest comes, may it be through attending meetings or more especially through listening to those when in individual conversation. Whatever side of the ‘divide’ such account comes from I listen with interest.

Yet such accounts are not only interesting but for me have helped begin to pull the threads together for my own understanding. In saying this, while it is interesting and in a sense educational engaging in such recounts of struggles, I also enjoy listening to those accounts that are not about the immediate aspects of it. In fact many such accounts and indeed memories go unaccounted for. Although now we are seeing various initiatives in West Belfast that are giving people not only the avenue to account for such memories but also, and vitally so, providing counsel and support if needed. This, as many such memories can be extremely traumatic. In effect, a community whom having been at the heart of the war continuing to provide that support and solidarity for those participants or victims of it.

I had remembered listening to the accounts of those closest to me of having boarded a burning bus to drive it away from houses that it was moving forward to. Or of the Bullring’ in the centre of the Murph and at times the ‘fair digs’ offered between residents and the Brits. Also listening to the accounts of the Brit jeep that had been taken off the Brits and being driven around the Murph by volunteers or of my uncle playing in the All Ireland final in Croke Park in Dublin in which I went along to. All such accounts begin to weave together a bigger and truer picture, not only of the conflict but also of a community standing firm and attempting life within it. Yet within the community there were a number of political organisations developing who were ‘affiliated’ to the military aspects of their movement. Some of course larger than others. With that, this had seen different families and even at times those within families with differing affiliations to one of the various organisations.

My own extended family, that is from my mum and stepfather's side had sympathies primarily with either Sinn Fein {the Shinners}, the Irish Republican Socialist Party {the IRSP}, or the Workers Party {the Sticks}. Each political organisation had seen splits, feuds, and killings, against each other and within each other. The history of such still reeks very strong today, and some old hatreds still bubble underneath within many. Yet within both sides of the family, the Carlins and the Maguires, each hold histories of struggle, some dating back to the foundation of this state. With my Great Grandmother on my mum’s side having been a Republican and Irish speaker, my Grandfather on my stepfather’s side was a dispatch agent – {Intelligence} within the Irish Republican Brotherhood IRB. The IRB President at that time was the now legendary, Michael Collins. My Grandfather was arrested for his actions in 1921 and was the first to get the cat of nine tails in Belfast. He was then buried in the full colours as befits such an Irish Patriot.


  1. Davy,

    I remember Todler getting killed. It was such a futile waste. Like Seamus McCusker in 1975 or Paul Best during the same feud, what was achieved? Of course killing the Sticks achieved nothing either. One of the Sticks the IRA tried to kill in 1975 was shot in the back by the Brits while he carried a wounded PIRA volunteer to safety during a gun battle earlier that year. Turf, territory and ego: little else.

  2. mackers any chance of few old stories from you please ?

  3. ps

    well done davy keep it up :)