March 22, 2017 by danny
On BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback today (22nd March) a story about Martin McGuinness was repeated, a story aimed at illustrating that Martin McGuinness was callous towards victims and not sincere in his attempts at reconciliation. Stories like this can affect people’s attitudes, and responses, and, arguably, even the decisions they make.
The first time I heard the story was in a report about a meeting in Stormont organised two weeks ago by TUV leader Jim Allister to commemorate ‘European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Terrorism’.
One of the speakers was David Kelly.
David Kelly was just nine years of age when his father, Patrick Kelly, a private in the Irish Army, was killed by the IRA in Leitrim during an attempt to rescue kidnapped supermarket executive Don Tidey in 1983. Mr Kelly’s widow and her four sons later moved to England, where the family suffered terribly and were deeply unhappy. David moved back to Ireland in 2008, at the age of thirty-four. Another of his brothers joined the Irish Army to honour his father and because of his pride in him.
Mr Kelly told the Stormont meeting that in 2011, when Martin McGuinness was running as a candidate in the Presidential election, he confronted him and asked for help in finding his father’s killers, but was told “to move on”. Then he qualified this remark: “He [McGuinness] told me it was time to move on. He said that to my face. My father was doing his duty, providing for a young family, gave his life for his country.”
There is a huge difference between “move on”, which suggests “get out of my way”, and “time to move on”, as I shall illustrate by the actual contemporaneous reports of Mr Kelly’s confrontation with Mr McGuinness in 2011.
The account of the confrontation can be found in the Irish Times, 11th October, 2011, and can be read here
‘“I don’t know who was responsible for the killing of your father but I fully and absolutely sympathise with you,” Mr McGuinness replied. “I have been at the heart of a very important peace process in the North over the last 20 years which has brought conflict and violence and death to an end and I am going to continue with that work because that’s the work of peace.”
‘“This is in the past you are heartbroken on account of it and my sympathy is 100 per cent with you and your family,” he added.’
‘Mr Kelly continued, “I just want to say to you before there can be any reconciliation in this country there has to be truth”.
‘Mr McGuinness replied: “Absolutely and we have proposed that there should be an international independent commission on truth.”’
The journalist who witnessed the exchange, Eoghan MacConnell, makes no mention of McGuinness telling David Kelly “to move on” or, even, “it’s time to move on”, or even that anyone in McGuinness’s entourage told him to move on.
But one local journalist, Karen Downey, does quote Mr Kelly himself as using similar words:
‘“I asked him to reveal the identity of those killers, those killers directly should go to the guards, do the decent thing, go to the authorities and hand themselves in and then we might have some justice, some truth and then maybe we can think about moving on in this country,” he [Mr Kelly] told the Westmeath Independent.’
Other reports of the confrontation in the Irish Independent, Irish Examiner and on RTE make no reference to the “move on” comments attributed to McGuinness.
In July 2012 when David Kelly accepted the Military Star Medal, awarded posthumously to his father, he makes no such claim about Mr McGuinness.
Again, when speaking before Westminster MPs last November at the launch of a book, Mr Kelly makes no such claim about Martin McGuinness.
So, how did the perception arise that Martin McGuinness used those words which would add great pain and distress to someone who had already lost a loved one at the hands of the IRA?
It was the News Letter on the 13th March which used the ambiguous headline, “Martin McGuinness told me to ‘move on’”. It also reported that when the audience heard the alleged remarks it prompted “a collective gasp of horror.” Clearly, the audience understood the words to mean that McGuinness was cold and heartless towards a son whose father was a victim of the IRA.
But it was on BBC2’s Newsnight, only hours after the death of Martin McGuinness, that the totally false construction on words that McGuinness hadn’t even used was reinforced.
Austin Stack’s father, Brian Stack was the chief prison officer at Portlaoise Prison and was mortally wounded by the IRA in 1983. He told Newsnight:
‘“My friend David Kelly, whose father private Paddy Kelly was shot by the IRA… David approached Martin McGuinness asking him for answers in 2011 and Martin McGuinness shunted him away with the words ‘just move on, you’.”’
Hundreds of thousands of viewers received that news as fact, last night, and, again, on Talkback this afternoon. People in the South, people in the North. These include unionist voters whose support for power-sharing, reconciliation and the resolution of legacy issues is crucial, but who are as vulnerable as we all are to crude propaganda, often which it is impossible to discern.
The anger, passion, loss and sense of injustice felt by victims of the IRA towards republicans is completely understandable.
But what Austin Stack is saying about Martin McGuinness is not only unfounded but is patently untrue. His reasons for saying it might be understandable – to paint Martin McGuinness in as bad a light as possible.
But it is also understandable that those who admire and revere Martin McGuinness and his memory will call out a lie about him, especially when such a lie may well influence people and can affect judgements about the peace process and its future.
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March 10, 2017 by danny
“Old people cause a lot of the world’s misery. They contaminate our lives. They spread a sour smell in the tram. Like a pot of fruit preserves that has been opened and then forgotten. Everything over sixty should be done away with.”
“Why not everything over forty?” Louis asked.
“You wouldn’t hear me complain,” Fritz said, “but we have to stay humane. Between forty and sixty there are still signs of life.”
That’s from The Evenings by Dutch writer Gerard Reve about ten December evenings until New Year’s Eve, 1946, in the life of twenty-three-year-old office worker, Fritz Egters.
Fritz lives a boring, mundane life, a life of futility, in Amsterdam with his elderly parents who drive him crazy and who only half get on. He wanders from bar to cinema to the homes of his brother and friends and acquaintances and they talk the greatest shite in the world.
Though amounting almost to a study in misanthropy I really enjoyed this book for its stylish writing. I found it captivating despite the deliberately stilted and sometimes tedious dialogue.
We are granted the privilege of observing Fritz’s inner life, what he thinks in comparison to what he actually says, and it is so funny it had me laughing aloud and reminded of a novel I read many years ago, also a first novel, The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman by Bruce Robinson. Robinson also wrote the screenplay of The Killing Fields and wrote and directed Withnail and I. There are many preposterous scenes in that book involving fifteen-year-old Thomas. One in particular sees him steal some photos from his grandfather’s ‘amazing collection of pornography’ which he shows to his friend Maurice, the vicar’s son, who is ill in bed, smoking a pipe and drinking a mix of gin and sherry.
“You’re telling me you’ve got a photo of a woman with a duck up her arse?” says Maurice.
“That’s right. A mallard.”
“How did they get the duck up?”
“They oil them.”
Well, The Evenings is as mad and as scatological as that. Fritz has vivid, wild and monstrous dreams and he is obsessed with baldness (not his own, that of others), loves to share stories about acts of sadism and can be quite tactless, cruel and sexist on occasion, yet he is a sad creature given the tedium of his life at home.
Visiting his friend Joosje he comments about her one-year-old child: “It is, in truth, a terrible little monster…The nerves have developed all wrong. It probably doesn’t have long to live…The head is bound to become distended as well…It is growing all crooked, like a plant to the light, mark my words.”
Fritz loves going to funerals or talking about cancer and terminal illnesses and horrible ways of dying. He is morbidly obsessed with newspaper stories involving death and always likes to share ‘nasty stories’. Like the one about the farmer on top of a wagon who calls for someone to throw him a pitchfork. He peers over the edge of his wagon just as it is thrown and the tines penetrate his eyes and kill him. A child playing daredevil with an axe and block cuts the hands of his friend because his friend thought he wouldn’t go through with the strike and the child thought his friend would pull his hand away on time.
Fritz talks excitedly about a child killed by an exploding grenade (‘Glorious”) or the seven-year-old who accidentally detonates an anti-aircraft shell he hits with a hammer. “It always ends with: he will have to do without his left hand. Or: the child breathed his last on the way to the hospital.”
Another story he tells – “a real whopper” – involves a woman bathing her child. Her father, in another room, is playing with their other child – throwing her in the air – when he drops her. She lies dead on the floor and he screams. The mother runs in to see what has happened, then remembers the baby in the bath, runs back, only to find that the toddler has drowned. “You should tell that one when there are women around, you’ll laugh yourself silly.”
Reve, who died in 2006, was the first openly gay writer in Holland and is considered one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors. A controversial figure, many of his later writings feature violent and sadomasochistic themes. The Evenings is now considered a modern masterpiece and has been voted the best Dutch novel of all time.Print This Post
March 1, 2017 by danny
Finished Summer Before The Dark by Volker Weidermann and about which I have mixed views. I bought it because I am a big fan of the writer Stefan Zweig but was also influenced by the incredible number of good reviews and endorsements it received.
Its premise is sound: a work of non-fiction (using fictional devices) drawing on letters and the writings of a number of writers (and editors), including Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth and Irmgard Keun who rendezvoused in Ostend in 1936 on the eve of WWII as they fled the Nazis. I’d read two of Keun’s novels, After Midnight, which I didn’t like, and Child of all Nations, which I enjoyed. I loved her description of Germany as “the land of the brown plague”.
Weidermann’s book also refers to the life and sad death of the writer Ernst Toller who escaped to the USA with his beautiful wife, the actress Christiane Grautoff. He lectured for a while and had some plays performed but suffered from depression. His wife later told of how she always had to pack a length of rope in the top layer of his suitcase, so that he could have a final way to escape. And that’s exactly how he killed himself after hearing that his brother and sister had been arrested and sent to a concentration camp. He hanged himself in his room at the Mayflower Hotel, near Central Park in New York, in May 1939.
The emigres also discuss the case of Edgar André, a communist leader arrested within days of the Reichstag fire which Hitler exploited to crush leftist opposition.André had been tortured until he was crippled and wasn’t brought to trial for three years. He was summarily convicted and beheaded. André’s statement to the court is reproduced where he says: “Your honour is not my honour, for we are divided by an abyss. If you are going to make the impossible possible here and send an innocent man to the block, then I am ready to walk that hard road. I want no mercy! I have lived as a fighter, and I will die as a fighter, and my last words will be: ‘Long live Communism!’”
27th February. Gave Basque journalist Samara Velte a political tour of West Belfast and also did an interview with her about Brexit. Samara works for the Basque newspaper Berria, which is published completely in Basque language.
24th February. Did another interview with New Jersey High School students on the political situation in the North and the history of the conflict.
21st February. Did an interview with Iranian Press TV via Skype on the issue of Brexit.
Did an interview via Skype with high school students in New Jersey, USA, about the conflict in the North and the 1981 hunger strike.
16th February. Finished Passion of Youth an autobiography by Wilhelm Reich which I bought for $4 in a little second-hand bookshop in Oknha Chhun Street, Phnom Penh. Reich, who went on to become a psychoanalyst, a member of the second generation of analysts after Sigmund Freud, and who practised his profession in the US, writes explicitly about his promiscuous childhood, his incestuous aspirations regarding his mother, his difficulties and early alienation from this father, and, later, his experiences during WWI. The impact of his mother’s infidelity on the family is hard reading, although when his father seeks out his mother-in-law she says, matter-of-factly, “What has happened has happened – you must make your peace now, and eventually all will be well.”
That’s not how it turns out.
The recriminations are relentless – the father even casts doubt on the parentage of his sons – and his mother repeatedly tries to kill herself. During her last, final successful attempt using poison, she exclaims from her deathbed, “Only one more hour!”
At this stage Reich’s father is distraught and wishes he could take back all his cruel words. Reich’s mother says: “Leo, I was always true to you – it was only that once – forgive me now – Willy and Robert are your children – be good to them for me!”
Reich’s response to losing his mother was incredibly weird, I thought.
“But the fact that my Mother had died, as sad as it was in itself, and under such circumstances, overwhelmed me less with grief than with the fascination at a novel situation. Mother was the first person I had seen die. Yes, I must admit that I felt a certain pride in having the right to be called an orphan.”
After WWI he struggled through poverty and hunger to study in Vienna. “When you are hungry, wrong becomes right, and right wrong.”
Reich became a highly controversial figure for his unorthodox sex and ‘energy’ theories and was considered a sexual predator and delusional as well as being a charlatan. He was arrested for being in violation of a court order forbidding the distribution of his invention, the Orgone Energy Accumulator, and was sentenced to two years in prison. He died in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in November 1957, aged sixty.
Although disgraced, his theories continued to influence popular culture. Wikepedia cites several examples: the evil Dr. Durand Durand in the film Barbarella (1968) seems to be based on Reich; he places Barbarella (Jane Fonda) in his Excessive Machine so that she dies of pleasure, but rather than killing her the machine burns out. An orgone accumulator made an appearance as the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen’s comedy feature film Sleeper. Patti Smith’s Birdland on her album Horses (1975) is based on Reich’s life. Hawkwind’s song Orgone Accumulator, on their album Space Ritual (1973) is named for his invention, as is Love Camp 7’s Orgone Box (1997). In Bob Dylan’s Joey from Desire (1975), the eponymous gangster spends his time in prison reading Nietzsche and Reich. Reich is also a character in the opera Marilyn (1980) by Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero. Kate Bush’s single Cloudbusting (1985) described Reich’s arrest through the eyes of his son, Peter, who wrote his father’s story in A Book of Dreams (1973). The video for the song features Donald Sutherland as Reich and Bush as Peter.
13th February. Finished The Comedians by Graham Greene which I first read in the summer of 1970.
6th February. Finished The Quiet American by Graham Greene which I first read in 1971.
31st January – off to Vietnam and Cambodia.Print This Post
February 23, 2017 by danny
Last October Glenn Bradley* wrote a feature here on the immediate impact the result of the referendum had on his business which trades in providing paving materials or bespoke associated art-scape features for public realm and private hard landscaping projects. This is his assessment of developments since then.
IN the piece I wrote here four months ago I finished by saying the following:
“What I am certain off is: the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot stand still and needs to be on the same page pro-actively leading to protect this small place. Such protection does require a buffer against the economic tsunami ahead of us where, with their boots firmly at ground truth reality, not pie in the sky temporary economics by academics, they challenge the British government regarding our unique post-conflict situation, and collaborate with all sections of business and our closest neighbours on this island to generate trade, protecting workers’ livelihoods.”
The RHI scandal became a catalyst which drove a two-edged sword into the heart of our partnership government resulting in most politicians blinkered to electioneering or worse, some, focused on sabre rattling & beating the tired, worn, battle drum presently. Despite my plea, the Northern Ireland Assembly is standing still and is doing nothing as a co-operative partnership to protect this small, fractured economy from the economic, social & political tsunami before us.
BREXIT negotiations are on-going and lobbying across these Islands by various business bodies and leaders continues unabated.
Then I heard these words from senior DUP politician Nelson McCausland: “I wouldn’t care what sort of situation I face as long as I’m out of Europe!”
I think for a full ten seconds I’d an utter, mouth-dropping, gasp of incredulity that anyone involved in the governance of this place could so whimsically dismiss qualified business advice, and the electorate here who, overwhelmingly, voted for REMAIN in the referendum last year.
Nelson McCausland, from the (presently) largest political party here, was saying that he does not care about the impact on jobs, the economy, trade or indeed any of the harm that leaving the EU will do to this little north-east region of Ireland, constitutionally linked to the UK.
He spoke those words on the very day that one of our largest and home-grown companies, ALMAC, stated that to assure continued export customer market access they had opened a protective site in Dundalk while awaiting the outcome of BREXIT negotiations.
ALMAC have stated they will have to relocate production to Dundalk resulting in the loss of jobs here should there be no tariff deals.
Is McCausland’s ambivalence an indication of his party’s view? If so, such an attitude will damage business here, and is unwelcome, especially from a public servant whose wages are paid from taxation achieved through dynamic business success.
There is a disorderly and desultory way in which BREXIT is going forward, and no one, absolutely no one on the BREXIT lobby appears to have a plan. The political turmoil on this island (Enda Kenny is in the departure lounge) and our very own RHI catalyst here, while important, become small fry to the juggernaut scale of what BREXIT means for both jurisdictions in Ireland.
We in Northern Ireland are being dredged out of the EU against our will, and despite ‘conservative & unionist’ party wishful-thinking that the Republic would follow suit, it will not happen (any time soon).
There will be a border, and I cannot see how it will be ‘aqueous’ regarding customs non-tariff issues concerning the processing for manufactured products entering or leaving here.
Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI has already stated “estimates for non-tariff costs in the guise of Certs of Origin, International CRMs, LCs and so on would be in the region of £475 per load.” Some might say that is a small expense but not to a business moving many loads of products or goods daily. Such laborious processes and costs for non-tariff custom procedures will drive the business economy here downwards which weighted with the withdrawal of EU funding to our farming & agricultural sector, along with the withdrawal of EU funding to our infrastructure construction projects, makes here, a very dull place. Indeed, we become an economic basket case region on a level the conflict never even got near.
I reiterate the call again, it is essential that the Northern Ireland Assembly fights to protect workers lives, and equity with free trade which is a necessity for our unique economy. It is essential that our post-conflict evolution is recognised and we secure special status zone category with the EU. In size and scale this is not Britain; our small population of 1.8 million who land border the EU (our southern neighbours) require continued free movement, trade and ongoing EU peace & financial commitments to continue unabated (finance that I do not see the UK government rushing to guarantee!).
*Glenn Bradley is the Regional Manager Ireland of an international hard landscaping material supplier. He is committed to eradicating labour and human rights abuse in global supply chains via ethical trading initiatives where he is a trainer, and is the ascending Chair to the Business & Human Rights Forum here in the North. A former soldier he is also involved in peace-making and is a member of Veterans for Peace, made up former ex-services personnel who are against war as a solution to problems. You can follow Glenn on Twitter @Bradleygj or on Instagram @BelfastBrad
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January 22, 2017 by danny
Two days after his meeting with communist GDR officials, Hans Herbert Grimm, went home to Altenberg and committed suicide. It was 1950 and Grimm was fifty-four years of age. Grimm, a schoolteacher, had taken part in WWI, and in 1928, anonymously, wrote a semi-biographical novel, Schlump, based on his experiences. Unfortunately, publication of his anti-war novel coincided with, and was overshadowed by the publication sensation of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front.
Schlump can be a very funny book though not as funny as The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek. Young Schlump (the nickname of the actual character Emil Schulz) volunteers for military service and is initially enthusiastic until he experiences the brutality and inhumanity of the front line and trench warfare, and the poverty and starvation at home when he is wounded and on leave. He curses the Kaiser and the military brass but it is the pacifistic subtext and the debunking of the propagandised myth of courage which the Nazis took exception to in the novel.
In one scene, after Schlump lands a plum office job away from danger, he meets a reservist called Gack who has been assigned to the post. Gack considers himself a bit of a philosopher whereas Schlump considers him ‘a right nutter’.
After a British bomb is dropped on the village marketplace, killing a young pregnant woman, Schlump rails against war and says: ‘This entire war is nothing but the cruellest, vilent slaughter, and if mankind can put up with such an atrocity for years, or stand by and look on, well, it deserves nothing but contempt. But he who fashioned mankind, he ought to be throughly ashamed of himself, for his creation is an utter disgrace!’
Gack thunders at him that he is talking blasphemy and Gack later says: ‘I am here because my captain ordered me here. I will go at once to the trenches, and with joyful heart, if he so commands. But I also know why providence led me to a place where I have a lot of time on my hands. Look, I know that we are going to win the war, and after the war there will be a great united Europe in which the soul of every people will be free to unfold itself. Its leader will be a man with a superhuman soul, a man from our nation, who has suffered more than any other.’
Schlump is flabbergasted ‘at the peculiar madness of Gack the philosopher.’
When the Nazis came to power they publicly burnt many books, including Remarque’s and Grimm’s. It was believed that no copies of Schlump had survived but in 2013 a manuscript of the novel was found hidden inside a wall at Grimm’s home and it was then realised that he had been the author.
Grimm joined the Nazi Party out of a sense of self-preservation and was a language interpreter during WWII. It was a decision for which he would be punished, postwar, when the communist government in Soviet-occupied East Germany banned him from teaching. A friend of his, another teacher, had been interned in Buchenwald (which remained open as a camp) and died there from starvation. Despite former pupils, and the head of the Cultural Department, vouching for him, and that he revealed himself as the author of the anti-fascist Schlump, GDR officials were unimpressed. Grimm was allowed to work in theatre for a time but then he was banned from even that and had to work in a salt mine.
It was two days after he was summoned to a meeting with GDR officials in 1950, about which no record remains and about which he said nothing, that Grimm took his own life, though by what means it is not clear.
In 1928 Hans Herbert Grimm had written, ‘My publisher hopes that one day someone will come along and rediscover Schlump.’
And so it eventually was – in 2014: a century after the awful war it depicts.
20th January. Did four interviews about last night’s announcement that Martin McGuinness will not be standing in the forthcoming Assembly election. First was with Richard Chambers, journalist with Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show; next, BBC Radio 4 (along with Ian Paisley Jnr MP); then on BBC Talkback with Brian Feeney and Reg Empey; and finally on Radio Foyle after the 1pm news.
10th January. Did an interview with Niall Cullen, a PhD student in Contemporary History at the University of the Basque Country, on the reciprocal influence between Irish republicanism and Basque nationalism.
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January 7, 2017 by danny
Finished reading and was very disappointed with Bertolt Brecht’s didactic Threepenny Novel, which was written in 1934. Couldn’t engage with it, found little or no redemption although there was some humour.
What I learnt is that in 1934 a soft boiled egg had to be cooked for four-and-a-half minutes!
I also noted this about the philosophy of the character, Peachum: “To swindle other people was, after all, the honest aim of every business man. Only the world was much wickeder than one thought. There seemed to be no limit to evilness. That was Peachum’s deepest conviction, his only one.”
I also liked the poem about war.
See also my feature, Before The Deluge, for some more about Brecht.
4th January. Gave a presentation to students on Boston’s Northeastern University Honors Program, organised by the indefatigable author and professor, Michael Patrick McDonald.
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December 30, 2016 by danny
My interview with the New York-based Irish Echo is now available and can be read here – irish-echo-interview
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December 26, 2016 by danny
The Irish Times cultural section carried a feature on Then The Walls Came Down and the US-based Irish Echo also published a Q & A with me on the book. Here they are, with the Irish Times first:
A prison diary made up of love letters
As Then The Walls Came Down is released on Kindle, Danny Morrison explains how he came to ‘write’ it:
“Draft Notes for 4th book
Begun 8.20am, Tuesday, 3 May ‘97”
That was the entry in my logbook.
My third novel, The Wrong Man, a sympathetic portrayal of an IRA informer, had just been published, and I was ready to begin number four. I wanted to write a novel about a woman, from a woman’s perspective. I had already written a novel from a young gay man’s point of view but this new challenge proved an insurmountable task. Successive drafts repeatedly found their way into the wastepaper basket. I just couldn’t get into the psyche of my character – or perhaps faithfully portray a woman.
A year later I added in philosophical despair to the above entry, “Begun and abandoned many times”.
I had begun writing The Wrong Man in prison and finished it upon my release. From prison I had written to my partner every night. Prisoners were restricted to one sheet of paper per letter – which many of my comrades admitted they found difficult enough to fill – whereas I enjoyed writing, the practice of writing, and the thinking that it produced. So, daily, I had to request to see the governor, and, à la Oliver Twist, ask him if I could have more paper.
Some years into my eight-year sentence my partner and I broke up. I asked her to make sure she personally destroyed all my letters and not to entrust that to anyone else.
Fast forward. It was around about the time I was giving up on novel number four that a friend told me that my girlfriend had left two huge bags of my prison letters in her loft. It turned out that they hadn’t been burnt, after all.
Going through them I realised that as well as being love letters, I was also writing about men in prison, what they were really like beneath the bluster. I was giving a running commentary on the conflict, both inside prison and outside, and what I thought republicans needed to do to break the deadlock. I was telling my partner about the books I was reading, the music on the radio and the memories that songs and symphonies brought back.
Going through the letters I realised I was also telling her the story of my life: what school had been like, our teachers, the neighbours on our street, my first job, how I felt when I first met her, right through to how on top-of-the-world I felt after our last visit.
In Crumlin Road Jail (where we were locked up 23 hours a day) and, afterwards, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh I read voraciously – hundreds of novels. I wrote reviews of almost every book I read (solely for my own advancement and delight) and commented on whether they “worked”, the author’s use of narrative devices, dialogue, plotting, etc.
I read many authors on the art of writing – from Angela Carter to Virginia Woolf, Somerset Maugham, Paul Scott, André Maurois. Edna O’Brien visited and wrote to me and I corresponded with several writers including Dermot Healy and Tim O’Grady. Writer Jennifer Johnston and poet Medbh McGuckian were also regular visitors and gave workshops to a group of us.
Scouring the letters, I realised that in my hands was the makings of a book. It took quite a while to transcribe them but even after omitting extraneous information, and much editing, I was still left with a huge volume of material, about 160,000 words, which was eventually honed to around 85,000.
I called the book Then The Walls Came Down, after the lyrics of the Traveling Wilburys’ song Tweeter and the Monkey Man, which brought back good memories my girlfriend and I shared, though the title also resonated appositely with the ceasefire and burgeoning peace talks.
Walls, first published in 1999, finally went out of print this year and so I decided to make it available as a Kindle download and also to reintroduce to the narrative several thousand more words from the unpublished letters.
This is what The Irish Times said at the time: “Remarkable as a human document… The flashes of humour and compassion bear comparison with those in Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy. A must-read for anyone interested in the North.”
Looking back, it is also a picture of me as a writer on a learning curve.
23rd December. The US paper Irish Echo carried a piece on Then The Walls Came Down being adapted for Kindle:
Danny Morrison’s Then The Walls Came Down, which was first published in 1999 to favorable reviews, went out of print earlier this year. However, it’s now been made available on Kindle with additional material, some of it political, that had been excluded from the original for reasons of space.
“It’s a collection of my prison letters from Crumlin Road Jail and the H-Blocks before, during and after the IRA ceasefire,” Morrison said of the book. “It is very personal, about my relationship with my partner and the difficulties imprisonment imposes on relationships. But it is also about how I viewed the early stages of the peace process.”
A reviewer in the Irish Times said it was “remarkable as a human document” and another in the same paper described it as “one of the most important books to emerge from the conflict in Northern Ireland” and as a “vividly humane account of life in prison.”
A Belfast Telegraph reviewer had praised Morrison’s 1997 novel The Wrong Man in similar terms, saying it “should come to be regarded as one of the most important books of the Troubles.” The Sunday Times recommended it as a “powerful and complex piece of storytelling,” while The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature called the novel “a powerful evocation of betrayal, deceit and guilt.”
As well as his career as a writer and commentator, the former republican prisoner is secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust and was chairperson of Féile an Phobail from 2004-2014.
Morrison, Sinn Féin’s national director of publicity from 1979-1990 and an Assembly member for Mid-Ulster from 1982-1986, was well-known as the first to articulate the “Armalite and ballot box” strategy, which, he has said, “argued for the party to engage with and embrace electoral politics.”
Date of birth: Jan. 9, 1953
Place of birth: at home, 17 Corby Way, Andersonstown
Spouse: Leslie Van Slyke
Children: three sons, to two earlier relationships
Residence: Andersonstown, Belfast
Published works: West Belfast (1989 & 2014); On The Back of The Swallow (1994); The Wrong Man (1997); and Rudi – In The Shadow of Knulp (2012); Then The Walls Came Down (1999 & 2016); a memoir – All The Dead Voices (2002); a play – The Wrong Man (2005), and some scenes for the play Binlids (1998); a collection of political writings – Rebel Columns (2004); and editor of a literary anthology – Hunger Strike: Reflections on the 1981 Hunger Strike (2006). My short stories have appeared in a number of publications and have been broadcast on BBC, RTE and Lyric FM.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I write in my upstairs study but I take notes everywhere, and at any time, whenever an idea comes into my head or I want to remember a snatch of conversation. I was at a residential in Berlin last year for some dedicated writing. But I also – unexpectedly – wrote the last chapter of The Wrong Man at Heathrow when my flight had been delayed.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
To write is to practice to write, to be always experimenting, to feel comfortable with words and sentences, where they sit, how they sound, do they communicate meaning and mood. One of the most important things one must do is: read! By reading classics – novels which have withstood the test of time – you will learn how the masters carried off certain effects, how they were in control of their material and how that material immortalized an imaginary life.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada; Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
What book are you currently reading?
Fear by Gabriel Chevallier.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
The Butcher Boy by Pat McCabe.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Black Mountain, above West Belfast.
You’re Irish if…
You were born in Ireland, practice kindness, tolerance and hospitality, and go with the flow.
19th December. Did interview via Skype with Aidan Olsson, a seventh grader at Summit Middle School in Boulder, Colorado, who is doing a National History Day project on Bobby Sands and the effects of the hunger strikes of 1981.
11th December. Then The Walls Came Down went ‘live’ on Kindle.
6th December. At lecture in St Mary’s University College by lawyer Mike Mansfield who spoke about the McGurk’s Bar massacre, December 1971.
28th November. Went to showing of Tony Blair’s Killings in St Mary’s University College, Belfast, and spoke to George Galloway who made the documentary.
24th November. Attended reception in the Merchant Hotel for the new Canadian High Commissioner, Janice Charette.
23rd November. Spoke at University College Cork after a showing of the film about Bobby Sands, 66 Days.
12th November. Spoke at Beechmount commemoration in memory of my friend and comrade, IRA Volunteer Stan Carberry, whose anniversary is on 13th November.
10th November. Wrote short piece for The Irish Times on my reaction to Donald Trump winning US Presidential election:
Around two-thirty you could see the disbelief on the long faces of pundits and politicians alike as it struck them that Trump was going to win.
Many US citizens, including that country’s intelligentsia, have been appalled and embarrassed by Trump’s racism, sexism, bullying, his vulgarity, political inexperience and general ignorance. But it was wishful thinking on their part to think that ‘common-sense’ would prevail at the polls and that Hillary Clinton would be a shoe-in.
They got it wrong.
Trump, the snake oil salesman, the purveyor of fraudulent goods and empty promises, got it right. He successfully tapped into the deep anti-establishment anger of millions of Americans – their fears, insecurity, every slight (real or imagined) visited upon them by federal government.
And so, now, it’s our turn to pay.
Trump’s protectionist policies will eventually hurt our economy, in addition to the anticipated damage and serious repercussions of the British government’s decision to leave the European Union – a Brexit, which Trump supported.
It’s impossible to know Trump’s foreign policy (he has no experience in that field) or whether his irresponsible threat to repudiate the nuclear deal with Iran was just campaign rhetoric. Among the first to warmly congratulate him were Russian President Vladimir Putin; Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the far-right, anti-immigration French National Front party; and the Dutch MP and anti-Islam campaigner, Geert Wilders.
“No-one knows what he is going to do,” said one of his more honest handlers.
One man who did know the consequences of things – albeit three centuries ago – was Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the US, who said: “Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”
Unfortunately, before it does end in shame, none of us will be immune from the effects of a Donald Trump Presidency on international peace and stability, on ours and the world’s economy.
8th November. Did interview with BBC Talkback on why Sinn Féin’s abstentionist policy regarding Westminster will not change.Print This Post
December 12, 2016 by danny
My memoir, All The Dead Voices, was published in 2002 but has been out of print for some years. It was launched in Culturlann by the then Mayor of Belfast, Alex Maskey, and there was a large crowd in attendance. However, just before the launch, when the representatives of Mercier Press opened the boxes of books sent up from the Dublin warehouse they discovered that the printer had sent the wrong book! We managed to get some copies from a variety of bookshops in Belfast but still there was not enough to go around.
Anyway, it is now available for downloading for free as a PDF document, here.
“These accounts are honest and plain in their language but simple and effective as they convey the weight of sorrow that is inherent in the human condition”
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November 26, 2016 by danny
Former British Army soldier Glenn Bradley, who is a member of Veterans For Peace, and participates in a number of reconciliation initiatives, recalls reading Fidel Castro whilst on duty in Germany.
Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara are constants in my life.
Che, murdered in tragic circumstances, became the icon, the poster boy for socialist revolution, and his iconic image adorns my living room wall to this day.
Fidel, the change management pragmatist, became the old man of socialist revolution whose appearance to me came largely via the televised media until I decided to learn for myself.
Dates are becoming blurred to me but I think it was around May 1989 I found myself on notice for deployment to what was then termed ‘Münster Nord Site Guard’.
At the time I was an NCO in the 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Rangers (1 R IRISH). The Battalion had just completed a first historic operational tour in County Fermanagh as part of the British government policy to ‘internalise’ the conflict in Northern Ireland by pitting Irish people against Irish, but had returned to BAOR as part of the then Cold War postings of that era.
The FRB (Fermanagh Roulement Battalion) tour I’d just been on and the Operations in which I had participated during it had left a questioning impression on me about the “how & why” causes of conflict, and so I’d chosen to widen my mindset.
The site at Münster Nord was/is secret, but safe to state it was recognised that the US enjoyed sovereignty in this part of Germany and the site housed nuclear missiles. As a NATO structure the Americans controlled the Nukes, we Brits guarded/protected the site and the (then West) Germans monitored the wider soft structure perimeters through policing operations. The duties are laboriously boring and when not actually in an observation tower, patrolling or on radio stag, you’ve to kill time reading, watching TV, or whatever. However, when deployed to site, one was on site for the period, a little ‘nuclear cage’, as we’d have said at time.
I used the opportunity to learn and had brought with me History Will Absolve Me and Socialism & Man in Cuba by Fidel Castro.
I became engrossed, and became through Castro’s words inspired, yet even then the irony of my situation was not lost on me: a working-class, West Belfast lad, institutionalised by the British Army, respecting and being influenced by revolutionary socialism (Caribbean style), while sitting on top of a US Nuclear Silo!
The books were a catalyst for positive mindset change in my life, and given the passing of that ‘old man’, but inspirational leader Fidel Castro, I just wish to record my thanks to him and to Ernesto.
“My idea, as the whole world knows, is that the capitalist system now doesn’t work either for the United States or the world, driving it from crisis to crisis, which are each time more serious.”
RIP Fidel Castro