Death Of David Beresford, RIP

Ed Moloney remembers the journalist and author, David Beresford, in The Broken Elbow. The former Guardian correspondent died on Friday in South Africa.

Very sad today to hear, courtesy of The Guardian, of the death of David Beresford, the South African-born journalist who I got to know well during the 1980 and 1981 IRA prison protests. Sadly we never crossed paths again.

David Beresford

The Guardian says he died at his home in Johannesburg after a lengthy illness, a reference to Parkinsons disease which he fought against bravely for the last 25 years.

David will be best remembered for his wonderfully written account of the 1981 hunger strike, Ten Men Dead which was based upon the comms, or at least some of them, between Bobby Sands, Bik MacFarlane, other prisoners, and on the outside Tom Hartley, Gerry Adams and others.

As Richard O’Rawe has written elsewhere, Beresford came upon the big story in his account by chance; that was the existence of Mountain Climber, the code name for Brendan Duddy, the Derry-based businessman who for many years had been the secret channel between the IRA and the British government (an arrangement, incidentally, organised by local RUC commander Frank Lagan, something which earned him the eternal hostility of his RUC colleagues and the British Army’s top brass).

David had secured the co-operation of the Provo leadership while researching the book and asked for access to the prison comms (letters written on sheets of toilet paper and smuggled in and out by visitors). They agreed but Gerry Adams instructed O’Rawe, who had been PRO for the H Block protesters, to remove any and all comms which referred to the Mountain Climber.

This he did, but one escaped his sieve and so that is how the world learned about the secret channel and the efforts to negotiate a death-free ending to the prison protest. And of course that was the domino which sent a whole row of dominoes tumbling and leading us, arguably, to a very different and more controversial explanation for the second, 1981 hunger strike. By such chance is history made.

Brendan Duddy, aka The Mountain Climber

David’s Ten Men Dead will be remembered not just as a stand-alone classic but for being a doorway to greater truth. For a journalist there can be no greater tribute.

My first encounter with Beresford also turned out to be a learning experience for me.

In the wake of the first, Brendan Hughes-led hunger strike David, who was not long in Belfast and still finding his feet, approached me to ask what I thought had happened.

I was blunt with him. The protest had failed and the document which the British had passed over to the prisoners and which Sinn Fein was claiming spelled out the prisoners’ victory was nothing of the sort. They had come nowhere near winning the five demands.

I told him that I knew that rank and file Provos who asked to see the document were being told that there was only one copy and it had been sent to Dublin, so they couldn’t see it. (What I didn’t tell him was that I took one Provo up to Stormont where I got a copy of the document. Presumably it was then widely distributed around west Belfast!)

David then went to the Sinn Fein press office where, of course, it was denied with vehemence. Who told him such rubbish, they demanded to know!? I didn’t mind that he told them it was me because I was not making a secret of my interpretation of events.

Joe Austin, pictured with his mouth closed. So he’s not lying!

Anyway, I then got a message from the Provos via John McGuffin. I was banned from west Belfast. And the messenger boy? Joe Austin, about whom it was famously said: ‘Question – How do you know when Joe Austin is lying? Answer – When he opens his mouth.’

I ignored the ban and after a while it was presumably forgotten. But I learned some valuable, not-to-be-forgotten lessons, early in my career, about the guys who hung out in Sevastapol Street.

Thanks for that David!


  1. Could David Beresford have been working for British Intelligence while he was based here.I have read a transcript from South African truth commission and this is what is said regarding him.They monitored David Beresford at the time of the arrest,I think they called them the armscor4.The armscor officials who had been arrested in England for sanctions breaking sending some not weapons to South Africa.And it was believed David Beresford was tasked by an intelligence agency to find out certain information and thats why we monitored him.So could it actually have been possible that Ten Dead Men was written by a British agent

  2. There is a thing which is missing from Beresfords book that is the lack of Comms from those inside to one off the main instigators of the hunger strike Danny Morrison not one comm From Marcella de pennies is strange since he was officially the spokesman of protesting prisoners yet there is no corresponding Comms bar one in which bik thanks him for getting Bobby a poetry book.Since it was his idea for the book to be written and the lack of involvement of him the whole may through book leads to conclusion it was he who was instrumental in the book being written they way it was for what reasons we may never know.

  3. David Beresford visited Bobby Sands on 3rd of march with an Irish journalist yet no mention in book.On the death of Frank Maguire there's a strange quote ,more importantly he was an MP for Fermanagh south Tyrone.He then gets to see Bobby against his mothers wishes in his coffin yet again he doesn't mention it's him.Then there's stinking remark after the family refuse tabloid permission of photo being taken ..and about how famous all over world the present one is with the words well they turndown chance off a new one.A new photo off there loved one lying dead in coffin I believe that remark came from person who introduced photo to world's journalist.Then on Owen Carron giving oration he said all the required things how would journalist know what required things are.Bobby Sands died a soldier why was the volley the soldiers salute for fallen comrades left out of book.It might be Beresfords name as author but I believe there was more than one.

  4. Danny Morrison is either author or co-author of Ten Men Dead it suited kitchen cabinet to have someone none Irish to be known as author for international sales and if it not coming from republican movement then it must be true. Beresford was walking the streets off west Belfast with a press pass issued out of Sevastopol street drinking in pubs on falls road seeing and hearing things he should never have been allowed all because certain people said he was sound.He won foreign international journalist of year in 1985 yet the books says it's 1986 you would think he would have known.Also him being named as author suited him in fact it was a perfect cover for when he went to South Africa to get close to ANC well IRA trusted him he must be ok.And just one more thing they started selling Bobby Sands writings and poems at least a month before he died,So does anybody just think they would hand the Comms to some journalist without them knowing they were gold mine? Danny Morrison publicity chief was probably started writing it once strike was over clearing leadership and blaming the martyrs as wanting to die which now everyone knows is a lie they were killed by those they put their faith in.

  5. Page 327 any political advantage reaped from hunger strike was neither anticipated or planned.The movement could not plan strategy on men's willingness to die on hunger strike.Yet that is exactly what they done extended the hunger strike as strategy costing the lives of six martyrs needlessly all because volunteers lives mean nothing to those who never wanted to fight in first place a means till a end.

  6. I googled David Beresford CIA and came across a pdf in which he is a named source along with other journalist across Europe in fact he sent text on 9-1-81 detailing British and Irish governments working closely together to defeat IRA and special phone line having been set.This was released by CIA 2007 so if he was a source for them why not the Brits also.

  7. It's now clear reading the dispatch he sent that Beresford was working with the British and there has to be serious questions just how he was able to get so close and who brought him into the fold because it would make them guilty of treason.

  8. Don't think I was meant to come across at CIA pdf because it has disappeared from Google search