Anthony McIntyre 🔖Blanket men who were on the same wing as Seamus Kearney on the 12th of July 1979 are unlikely to forget the day.


Exactly one year and a day previous, British perfidy had murdered a sixteen year old boy, John Boyle, who out of curiosity had returned to a grave where his father had earlier discovered an arms dump and reported it to the RUC. The teenager was shot in the back of the head by killers from the SAS.

Fast forward from an Antrim cemetery, to a Fermanagh road, British perfidy was again playing a dirty hand in killing another teenager: this time, IRA volunteer Michael Kearney. The security services knew Michael's location and certain fate while in the hands of his IRA interrogators. Their agent Freddie Scappaticci kept them informed. Moreover, the Castlereagh RUC had engineered his fate. Despite having sufficient evidence to charge him it chose to release Michael onto the streets knowing he would immediately be blamed for matters that had gone awry. They set him up.

Michael, aware of the danger he was in, nevertheless, with great courage went to the IRA and told it that he had breached its Green Book while being brutalised in the custody of the RUC. His candour and courage failed to save him. It was in the interests of powerful forces, who wielded power over life and death, that somebody within the ranks of the IRA be covered for, their treachery given longevity. Michael's life was considered expendable by those central to the dirty war. 

Michael was not let out of Castlereagh to cover for Freddie Scappaticci but someone else although Scappaticci would be the main beneficiary of a refusal by British agent handlers to intervene once Michael's fate was set in stone. Volunteer Michael Kearney's life was considered much less valuable than the cover its forfeiting could provide for two British agents operating within the IRA.

When the news was delivered to Seamus in the most callous of circumstances from the governor with the prisoner conferred sobriquet Alfred Hitchcock, the body of the wing was confused. We were conditioned to think that those labelled informers by the IRA and then executed actually were what the IRA said they were. We had little idea then of the smoke and mirrors at play. We consoled our comrade as best we could. Soon there were rumblings that matters were a bit more complicated. Communication however was haphazard and often subject to the vagaries of the rumour mill. We got on with the job of protesting.

Seamus withstood the pressure and stayed on the protest. In his mind he had lost a brother but had other brothers, 300 of them, with which he had forged a deep bond, each of whom he could at least be sure had not been at the killing zone in Fermanagh on that terrible day, nor pulling strings from Thiepval or West Belfast. Thumper, as we knew him, did as much as any man for the upkeep of morale through his incessant contribution to story telling and singsongs. Whether regaling us with the history of World War 2, Bryan Ferry numbers or the story of the Winslow Boy, Thumper held firm to his post. He even organised the famed H4 concert of Christmas 1979 a few short months after suffering the crushing pain of bereavement. At the same time he remained level headed, never succumbing to the Pollyanna syndrome. It was he who coined the term grim realisation, a sober assessment of where things were at in the progress of the protest.

That is the backdrop to No Greater Love, a dark and sombre memoir that narrates the deprivation and brutality of the blanket protest. There is more to it than that. The author takes the reader through his impoverished upbringing ushered in with the death of his father, a man who saw the bright orange face of discrimination. He then moves into his years with the IRA as an active service unit volunteer before detailing his experience in prison both before and after the Blanket protest. But in essence this is a work about endurance and resistance, a tale of men who without anything still managed to make something out of nothing. So many of them are named, some still alive, others who died on hunger strike, quite a few who were claimed by natural causes. Their jailers too are named, a portion of them accused of being war criminals. Seamus didn't embellish the violence for effect. We who were there can bear witness to what was inflicted and by who. Amongst their number were those who lost their lives as the long hand and memory of the IRA ferreted them out for assassination.

Some of the events described, I have a different memory of. Not that mine are necessarily right and Seamus Kearney's wrong. Karl Taro Greenfield disarmed our certainties about what we remember in his 2019 article for the Washington Post:

we can be no more sure of the accuracy of our recollections than we can be of, say, the accuracy of the next foul shot in basketball. A falsehood can be deposited in the brain and reinforced almost as easily as a true-life experience. Memory is fallible, we all acknowledge that, yet a memoirist is expected to report a version that is true to life.

My quibble, if it might be described as such, is more a question of at what point certain acts of violence by prison staff took place. That they did take place is indisputable and No Greater Love identifies the hatred that propelled them.

Seamus Kearney through the title he gave his book, inspired by the headstone of Kevin Lynch, focuses on men laying down their lives for their comrades. Lest we forget, Seamus was the embodiment of No Greater Love, its quintessential practitioner when he opted to stay on the protest with those he loved and see it through to the bitter end.

No Greater Love, the remarkable memoir of no greater blanketman.

Seamus Kearney, 2021, No Greater Love: The Memoirs Of Seamus Kearney. Carlton Books.


Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

No Greater Love

Anthony McIntyre 🔖Blanket men who were on the same wing as Seamus Kearney on the 12th of July 1979 are unlikely to forget the day.


Exactly one year and a day previous, British perfidy had murdered a sixteen year old boy, John Boyle, who out of curiosity had returned to a grave where his father had earlier discovered an arms dump and reported it to the RUC. The teenager was shot in the back of the head by killers from the SAS.

Fast forward from an Antrim cemetery, to a Fermanagh road, British perfidy was again playing a dirty hand in killing another teenager: this time, IRA volunteer Michael Kearney. The security services knew Michael's location and certain fate while in the hands of his IRA interrogators. Their agent Freddie Scappaticci kept them informed. Moreover, the Castlereagh RUC had engineered his fate. Despite having sufficient evidence to charge him it chose to release Michael onto the streets knowing he would immediately be blamed for matters that had gone awry. They set him up.

Michael, aware of the danger he was in, nevertheless, with great courage went to the IRA and told it that he had breached its Green Book while being brutalised in the custody of the RUC. His candour and courage failed to save him. It was in the interests of powerful forces, who wielded power over life and death, that somebody within the ranks of the IRA be covered for, their treachery given longevity. Michael's life was considered expendable by those central to the dirty war. 

Michael was not let out of Castlereagh to cover for Freddie Scappaticci but someone else although Scappaticci would be the main beneficiary of a refusal by British agent handlers to intervene once Michael's fate was set in stone. Volunteer Michael Kearney's life was considered much less valuable than the cover its forfeiting could provide for two British agents operating within the IRA.

When the news was delivered to Seamus in the most callous of circumstances from the governor with the prisoner conferred sobriquet Alfred Hitchcock, the body of the wing was confused. We were conditioned to think that those labelled informers by the IRA and then executed actually were what the IRA said they were. We had little idea then of the smoke and mirrors at play. We consoled our comrade as best we could. Soon there were rumblings that matters were a bit more complicated. Communication however was haphazard and often subject to the vagaries of the rumour mill. We got on with the job of protesting.

Seamus withstood the pressure and stayed on the protest. In his mind he had lost a brother but had other brothers, 300 of them, with which he had forged a deep bond, each of whom he could at least be sure had not been at the killing zone in Fermanagh on that terrible day, nor pulling strings from Thiepval or West Belfast. Thumper, as we knew him, did as much as any man for the upkeep of morale through his incessant contribution to story telling and singsongs. Whether regaling us with the history of World War 2, Bryan Ferry numbers or the story of the Winslow Boy, Thumper held firm to his post. He even organised the famed H4 concert of Christmas 1979 a few short months after suffering the crushing pain of bereavement. At the same time he remained level headed, never succumbing to the Pollyanna syndrome. It was he who coined the term grim realisation, a sober assessment of where things were at in the progress of the protest.

That is the backdrop to No Greater Love, a dark and sombre memoir that narrates the deprivation and brutality of the blanket protest. There is more to it than that. The author takes the reader through his impoverished upbringing ushered in with the death of his father, a man who saw the bright orange face of discrimination. He then moves into his years with the IRA as an active service unit volunteer before detailing his experience in prison both before and after the Blanket protest. But in essence this is a work about endurance and resistance, a tale of men who without anything still managed to make something out of nothing. So many of them are named, some still alive, others who died on hunger strike, quite a few who were claimed by natural causes. Their jailers too are named, a portion of them accused of being war criminals. Seamus didn't embellish the violence for effect. We who were there can bear witness to what was inflicted and by who. Amongst their number were those who lost their lives as the long hand and memory of the IRA ferreted them out for assassination.

Some of the events described, I have a different memory of. Not that mine are necessarily right and Seamus Kearney's wrong. Karl Taro Greenfield disarmed our certainties about what we remember in his 2019 article for the Washington Post:

we can be no more sure of the accuracy of our recollections than we can be of, say, the accuracy of the next foul shot in basketball. A falsehood can be deposited in the brain and reinforced almost as easily as a true-life experience. Memory is fallible, we all acknowledge that, yet a memoirist is expected to report a version that is true to life.

My quibble, if it might be described as such, is more a question of at what point certain acts of violence by prison staff took place. That they did take place is indisputable and No Greater Love identifies the hatred that propelled them.

Seamus Kearney through the title he gave his book, inspired by the headstone of Kevin Lynch, focuses on men laying down their lives for their comrades. Lest we forget, Seamus was the embodiment of No Greater Love, its quintessential practitioner when he opted to stay on the protest with those he loved and see it through to the bitter end.

No Greater Love, the remarkable memoir of no greater blanketman.

Seamus Kearney, 2021, No Greater Love: The Memoirs Of Seamus Kearney. Carlton Books.


Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

3 comments:

  1. No matter what one's views on the rights and wrongs of the IRA struggle, surely we can all agree that Michael Kearney's murder was an exceptionally squalid affair with fingers pointed in the directions of British intel and IRA Army Council.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barry, that's right - both bear culpability. Michael was later absolved of any accusations of being an informer. Seamus never tired in working to clear his name.

      Delete
  2. Anthony, I saw on the Broken Elbow a reference to an unpublished work by you and Ed Moloney "30 year Intelligence war between the Provisionals and the British" or something like that. It would make a very interesting read.

    ReplyDelete