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Reading Fidel

November 26, 2016 by  

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-1997-0325_f4a5ddc19b705c8265040d6d9e8446b0-nbcnews-ux-600-700Fidel 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

 

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The German War

November 1, 2016 by  

Finished reading The German War – A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45 by Nicholas Stargardt, a monumental work of research, condensed into a narrative featuring certain protagonists throughout, their letters and diaries: from soldiers, their lovers or wives; writers and journalists; doctors and tradesmen and railway workers; and the large numbers of civilian victims and Holocaust murdered.

Among the dead were Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to swear oaths to Hitler or perform military service. They were beheaded for their stance. One was Karl Kühnel whose last letter to his wife, Rose, reads:

“When this letter reaches you I am a prisoner no longer. Instead, my earthly life is already finished. I already said farewell to you once… Do not lose heart, and harbour no rancour against anyone. It doesn’t help. Now forge your own good fortune.”

Kühnel had previously served in WWI but was determined that no machine gun of his would ‘tear a father from his children who had done me no harm. I tried to kill my conscience with counter-arguments and gradually succeeded to some extent… It is not possible to act against my conscience and so not possible to take up a weapon against a person and do him harm.”

backUnfortunately, Karl Kühnel was in a tiny minority of German soldiers (one hundred and twenty one) who refused to fight, while millions of others, lemming-like, succumbed to the cult of der Führer and brought disaster to many peoples and themselves. And one of the most (at least to me) shocking aspects of the book is the extent to which regime and society merged, and the extent to which many ordinary German citizens knew or had a fair idea what was going on regarding the extermination camps and the work of the Einsatzgruppen death squads in the eastern territories conquered by Nazi Germany.

Of course there was fear and intimidation, and subsequently many would take refuge in the fact that living under a dictatorship absolved them of personal responsibility. But Hitler could not have got away with half of what he did had it not been for the silence of the churches (Protestant and Catholic) and the quiescence of the population, too many of whom shared his anti-Semitic and racist views and enjoyed the spoils of war. Indeed, such was their understanding of their collective guilt that, as Stargardt points out, they came to view the RAF and USAF bombings of cities and the immolation of thousands of children, women and men (420.000) as divine (or Judeo-organised) punishment for what they had done.

The real heroes were those who had hidden, the 1,400 Jews in Berlin who survived the war.

It is also incredible the large numbers of people who squared in their head toleration of the regime (and ‘this or that’ thing it did) by arguing that it was the lesser of two evils – “the greater is to lose the war”. There was collective complicity. One journalist felt free enough to write in a newspaper: “yes, but the methods? Anyone talking about methods is always wrong. What matters is the result. For a doctor the result has to be the complete elimination of cholera, the result for our people the complete elimination of the Jews… Between us and the Jews the issue is who will survive whom.”

Even a soldier such as Willy Reese, who was horrified and guilt-ridden by what he had seen and done (and wrote it down as a poem), kept fighting for what he believed to be a future Germany, free and spiritual, without Hitler. He wrote:

Murdered the Jews
Marched into Russia
As a roaring horde
Muzzled the people
Sabred in blood
Led by a clown
We are his envoys
Of the one everyone knows
And are wading in blood.

After the war, old networks proved strong with the professional elites, says Stargardt.

“Soon, 43 per cent of the West German diplomatic corps were former SS men and another 17 per cent had served in the SD or Gestapo. In Bavaria, where American efforts at denazification had gone further than in the other Western zones, 77 per cent of Finance Ministry officials and 94 per cent of judges and state prosecutors were former Nazis.”

It is impossible to make sense of such killing, death and destruction. As the New York Times in its review said rather restrainedly, “It is an uncomfortable business seeking to understand a society so full of both perpetrators and victims.”

30th October. My recorded interview for BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend was broadcast today. It was on the issue of Brexit. This is what I said:

What Brexit reminds nationalists in the North is of Britain’s historical and divisive role of interfering in Irish affairs, whose legacy we are still dealing with in fragile, distrusting and testing circumstances.

Once again, Britain’s interests trump those of the Irish people, a clear majority of whom, both North and South, are opposed to the creation of a physical international border across the Irish landscape and the imposition of passport checks and customs posts.

British assurances about a ‘soft border’ or replicating EU financial aid amount to nothing, given the pup the British public were sold during the referendum that a vote for Brexit would result in £350 million a week going to the NHS.

It appears that Britain has forgotten all the lessons of the conflict and the compromises we on this island made in order to create peace and stability. I, like most republicans, do not trust Britain. That’s why the Belfast Agreement has the status of an international treaty. Our membership of the European Union provides us with some protection from British abuses – as well as being an economic lifeline, supporting farmers and border regions and multiple peace and infrastructure programmes.

It’s ironic that while the violence of dissident republicans has failed to destabilise the power-sharing administration or undermine support for the PSNI, the British government for its own selfish reasons is prepared to risk plunging the North back into conflict.

Unless the exceptional circumstances of Ireland are respected, you can almost write the script of a potentially unfolding tragedy. During the conflict roads were dynamited and bridges blown up by the British army in order to control the movement of traffic and people in border regions. As a result of the peace process all those roads and bridges were reopened and watchtowers torn down, allowing the free movement of people and commerce. Ditching those hard-won and precious gains would be a catastrophic mistake.

Farmers with land straddling both sides of the border, and the 40,000-plus who daily commute to work across the border in both directions will resent being stopped, delayed and ordered to show documentation as their nationality and status is checked, as their cars and vehicles are searched for refugees or contraband. You can count on protests, pickets, marches and rallies against customs posts, checkpoints and road closures. Police or border guards will confront protestors. Someone will get hurt. Arrests will be made. Imprisonments may follow. It could escalate from there.

I travel throughout my country regularly. I will not be producing a passport or a driving licence, or identifying my passengers, be they from Andersonstown, Athlone or Aleppo, just because of some little Englanders, obsessed with immigrants, who know little about us and care even less.

28th October. Took part in a platform discussion tonight in the Felons Club to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of Maire Drumm who was assassinated in the Mater Hospital on 28th October, 1976.

25th October. Did a television interview for Thursday night’s The View regarding my tweet joking about SDLP leader Colum Eastwood addressing the UUP conference last weekend.

22nd October. In the Armagh Harps GAA Club, Armagh city, I gave the annual Peter Corrigan Lecture on the subject of the 1981 hunger strike.

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The Other Woman

October 21, 2016 by  

back-end-diane-athillFinished Diana Athill’s wonderful, candid, scandalous and life-affirming memoir, Alive, Alive Oh! Born into privilege she knew from an early age that she was a rebel who sided with the downtrodden. Here she is on colonialism:

‘At the tail end of all colonial situations there are white people protesting that they didn’t deserve to have stones thrown at them by black men, or their houses burnt down, because they never took a penny from the place and devoted years to serving it – and often they are not lying. But even when they are not, their lament reflects their illusions rather than the injustice of the event. The black people who gathered on Tobago’s beaches to shout ‘Get out Whitey!’, and marched into hotels where they tore up visitors’ books and broke ashtrays (they were by nature a mild and law-abiding lot who didn’t want to hurt anybody) may conceivably, one day, burn down houses such as that of my friends. If that is all they do – and it may well be all, since there are few signs of constructive political thinking in Caribbean opposition politics – they will contribute nothing to their own welfare, but they will at least be expressing a more acute awareness of the truth than the people who built the houses. They will be saying that even if they cannot alter the economic structure which condemns them to exploitation, they will no longer stand being used as live furniture in someone else’s beautiful dream.’

bookNow in a nursing home, which she loves, she says, ‘“Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits,’” quoting someone whom she can’t remember! At ninety-nine she is as feisty as ever: “I talked about it [thinking about things] the other day with someone who is also in her nineties, though not so far into them as I am, and she said, ‘Yes, of course, men. What I do when I’m waiting to fall asleep is run through all the men I ever went to bed with,’ whereupon we both laughed in a ribald way, because that is exactly what I did too. It cheered me up to learn that I had not been alone in indulging in this foolishness.’

I love the little observations she makes: ‘After reading a biography of Jung I had concluded that psychiatrists were people who could make a little nuttiness go a very long way.’

A woman who never married, she preferred to have affairs: ‘The role that seems to me most comfortable is not that of Wife, but that of the Other Woman. And in that role I am good, because I have never for a moment expected or wanted to wreck anyone’s marriage.

‘What I was really happy with was a lover who had a nice wife to do his washing and look after him if he fell ill, so that I could enjoy the plums of love without having to munch through the pudding.’

She says that her philosophy was enjoy life to the full and ‘death was just something that would occur when I was old – and which was not, and never had been, frightening.

‘That this was true, I owe to Montaigne. I can’t remember when I read, or was told, that he considered it a good thing to spend a short time every day thinking about death, thus getting used to its inevitability and coming to understand that something inevitable is natural and can’t be too bad…’

For more on Diane Athill see here.

18th October. Finished The Islander by a friend I correspond with, John McMillan. Though told in the first person through the eyes of Rupert Carr (from Rathlin Island) the novel follows in the footsteps of John’s other coming-of-age and semi-autobiographical novels, Upstream; The Soul of the City; and Summer In The Heat. Rupert witnesses events in the early days of the Troubles (the Burntollet March) and then the trendy-lefty Sixties and Seventies days in England when micro-left groups proliferated and protested – and, later, mostly sank. But there was much I could relate to and he writes really well, evocatively, about this period.

14th October. Wrote small feature about a photograph which Bobbie Hanvey thought was one he took of Patrick Rooney’s funeral in 1969.

24th September. Spoke along with former Armagh Jail prisoner Brid Brownlee in Falcarragh, County Donegal, at an event to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike.

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Amy Schumer!

September 23, 2016 by  

amy-bookFinished reading Amy Schumer’s The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo – not my usual fare, needless to say. But I had seen and enjoyed her film Trainwreck, a few months ago, and heard her being interviewed on the radio where she came across as intelligent, confident and witty. The book lived up to my expectations of its author – raunchy and funny – and I found her candidness refreshing, especially the chapter on her mother.

Whether it was cathartic to write, I am sure her mother Sandra found it traumatising to read!

Her description of how she succeeded in comedy, through sheer hard work, is fascinating. But even though she has ‘made it’ there is constant pressure: ‘Unlike musicians, comedians are expected to always bring new shit. No one wants to hear the greatest hits, so I was back to square one. This requirement of comedy is exhausting and challenging, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s exciting and humbling to have to start over – and the payoff is even better. You feel so accomplished when you’ve accumulated enough material – one joke at a time – for an entire special.’

She rails against the fashion and media shaming industry which upholds slim models (‘waifish elves’) as the norm and promotes a masculine view of women. She says that when she gets out of the shower and looks at herself she looks ‘blotchy and messy and not at all like the girls in those magazines. But I am still fucking beautiful. I’m a real woman who digests her meals and breaks out and has sweet little pockets of cellulite on her upper thighs that she’s not apologising for. Because guess what? We all have that shit. We’re all human beings.’

Amy is one well-rounded (psychologically!) individual and writes honestly about herself, about love, family and relationships.

12th September. Took part in a solidarity picket at the Falls’ International Wall to mark the 72nd birthday of Leonard Peltier and call for his release.

8th September. Finished a delightful first novel Orange Boy Blue by Julia Roddy, a sophisticated ‘love-across-the-barricades’ East Belfast story.

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4th September. Visited the scene of the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson outside his home at 36 Eaton Place, London; No 9 Eaton Place, the former home of Sir Edward Carson; and Gerald Road Police Station which is now a listed building, and where Wilson’s IRA assassins, Reggie Dunne and Joe O’Sullivan, were taken and badly beaten after the shooting.

3rd September. At Reading Prison, England, for the launch of the ArtAngel project around themes of imprisonment. It was here that Oscar Wilde wrote De Profundis, his letter to Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas, which deals with the subject of alienation, sorrow and suffering. He wrote: ‘To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.’

 

My imagined ‘letter’ from Reggie Dunne to the IRA after the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in 1922 is on display at Reading Prison in a cell and a recording by the actor Will Howard is available.

1st September. Read The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam which I couldn’t really get into, although good writing.

28th August. Finished Red Dust by Gillian Slovo, a novel about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with many twists and turns, as the torture of political prisoners, including one ANC member who has been ‘disappeared’, impacts on survivors, victims’ families and the culpable. Begs the question: is establishing the truth always more important than the pain it might cause?

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Children of the Revolutionaries

August 24, 2016 by  

Read again that powerful memoir Every Secret Thing by Gillian Slovo (pictured), which is a deeply personal examination of the damage done to familial relationships by parents who are full time revolutionaries/activists and whose love of, and sacrifices for the cause of freedom are also borne and suffered by their innocent children. It is a story that will certainly resonate with those Irish republicans whose commitments led to them being away from home either on-the-run or serving lengthy prison sentences. In fact, after a talk which Gillian gave some years ago at Féile an Phobail, the daughter of parents who had both been in jail turned to Bill Rolston and said with great conviction: “How does Gillian know my life story?”

From that moment Bill was determined to write a book on the subject which became, Children of the Revolution.bill-cover

In the majority of cases it was one parent who carried the family but in the case of Gillian Slovo both her parents were major figures in the anti-apartheid movement, away travelling and organising. Gillian’s mother, Ruth First, paid with her life. She was killed by a parcel bomb in 1982 in Maputo, Mozambique. Gillian’s father was Joe Slovo, a communist and the commander of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Having myself written memoirs, which invaded the privacy of loved ones, I could empathise with Gillian’s many dilemmas about the ethics of scrutinising and publicising the lives of others because their lives were so intimately a part of our own.

12th August. On behalf of the Bobby Sands Trust I was presented with a £350 cheque from photographer Stuart Borthwick, author of The Writing on the Wall, a book based on the mural photographs Stuart has taken over many years. The cheque is a contribution towards the upkeep of the Falls Road mural of Bobby Sands.

11th August. Chaired Scribes at the Rock and interviewed Paul Laverty about his writing and his long-collaboration with the director Ken Loach.

Thomas McElwee7th August. Gave the oration in Bellaghy at the commemoration for Thomas McElwee (pictured) following a march through the town. This is what I said:

“In my experience the damage inflicted on us by the sectarian six-county state and the British occupation was compounded by partition and the Free Statism of the southern establishment. When RTE covered Bobby Sands going on hunger strike, or Tom McElwee going on hunger strike, what they covered was their Diplock court convictions.

“They never covered the men’s political or moral convictions because that would have gone against the desire to criminalise our struggle which was much easier to do than confront the power of Britain and British intransigence.

“1981 was the longest year in my life – but what must it have been like for the families of comrades dying a slow death?

“I do believe 1981 was ‘our 1916’. After 1981 all was changed utterly. After the Easter Rising, within a few weeks the British had executed the leaders, but here in the North the hunger strike deaths took place over a seven month period.

“In the middle of the hunger strike we thought a breakthrough was possible. We had been told that the British government was interested in settling it. I was allowed into the prison on Sunday 5th July to meet with the hunger strikers. I can still see those men around that table in the canteen of the hospital wing. On my left Kieran Doherty, then Kevin Lynch, then Thomas, Thomas McElwee, who by that stage had served 1,300 days in a H-Block cell on protest. Martin Hurson was too ill to attend. At the bottom of the table was Paddy Quinn. On the right was Laurence McKeown, then Micky Devine, then sitting beside me in a wheelchair was my old friend and comrade Joe McDonnell who would be dead within three days. They all spoke, including Tom, and he was adamant that their demands must be met.

“Just before the first hunger strike in 1980 ended the British government was full of promises – that they would introduce an enlightened, progressive and liberal prison regime. But as soon as the hunger strike ended, and the pressure was off, the British reneged on their commitments, refused to budge and their bad faith triggered the second hunger strike.

“This experience of bad faith was what was foremost in the minds of the men around that table. They said they wanted to see what the British government was offering and they wanted it confirmed in a way that the British could not subsequently repudiate. The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace similarly asked the British to send in an official to explain what, if anything, was on offer.

“I left the hunger strikers to go to the doctor’s office where I was in telephone contact with Gerry Adams on the outside. He was liaising with Martin McGuinness who was liaising with Brendan Duddy the British contact. It was no way to do business and was open to misrepresentation and distortion. But as I was waiting to see what the British would say, a deputy governor, John Pepper, burst into the office and ordered me out and I never saw the hunger strikers again. The ICJP six times called upon the British to send in a representative to meet the prisoners but they never replied.

“After Joe’s death Michael Alison, the prisons minister, was asked to give the British position. He compared talking to hunger strikers as like talking to hijackers: ‘you continued talking while you figured out a way to defeat them,’ he said.

“And that was the policy that was to lead to the deaths of Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Micky Devine.

“I stood here 35 years ago and was honoured to give the oration at Tom’s funeral just as I am honoured to be here today in the presence of his noble family.

“Back then the British army and the RUC occupied and took up positions on surrounding roads. They were protected by not one but by six helicopters. Benny, who was also in prison on the blanket, arrived just in time from the H-Blocks on a 10-hour parole. Tom’s coffin was carried from the house by his sisters. At the end of the lane IRA Volunteers stepped forward and fired a volley of shots over his coffin.

“A piper played the H-Block song and many people quietly sang:

“‘I am a proud young Irishman,
“In Ulster’s hills my life began,
A happy boy through green fields ran
And I kept God’s and man’s laws.’”

“Among the mourners was Dinny Gleeson, a veteran of the War of Independence who had been in a Flying Column and had fought the British army and the Black and Tans – a real connection with 1916 and our long struggle for freedom.

“Chairing the graveside ceremony was veteran republican John Davey, who had been interned in the 1950s, 1960s and again in the 1970s. Indeed, it was in Long Kesh Internment Camp that he and I became friends. John himself was later to die in violent circumstances when he was assassinated coming from Council business to his home in Gulladuff.

“I wish to repeat what I said that day 35 years ago. Thomas McElwee was invincible from beginning to end, in life as well as in death.

“His dying words remain powerful and indeed were extremely prescient and are even more relevant today. Thomas said: ‘I bear no animosity, no ill-feeling towards anybody. I would like to live among the people… and promote peace and harmony among Catholics and Protestants and also with the British.’

“I have always found it remarkable that the oppressed are always more forgiving than their oppressors. It is very tempting to feel bitterness.

“The British were full of great spite and great cynicism. Their position was: ‘We know we cannot defeat you. But we will make sure you die.’

“I say they were cynical because not long after the hunger strike they conceded the five demands. When I was imprisoned in the H-Blocks some years later, I and my comrades had political status, prison conditions won for us by Thomas and his comrades.

“But the hunger strike was bigger than that. It inspired a new generation who put manners on the British, brought thousands more into republicanism, empowered the people, and created a political momentum which is unstoppable, a political movement in Sinn Féin which will un-partition Ireland.

“So we draw courage and great inspiration from Thomas McElwee and his example. He towers over the people who hunted him, arrested him, charged him, judged him, convicted him, stripped him, beat him, and the system that killed him.

“He towered over every one of them, and he was only twenty three.

“What a man. What a soldier. What a hero. What a son. What a brother.

“Thomas McElwee.”

6th August. Spoke at St Mary’s University College in panel discussion with the Rev Bill Shaw after the showing of Alain Frilet’s film, Long Road To Peace.

4th August. Did RTE interview with Eamon Mallie re 66 Days portrayal of Bobby Sands’ hunger strike.

2nd August. Did studio interview on Talkback, chaired by Mark Carruthers, about the film 66 Days, and a claim by the DUP’s Gregory Campbell that he was censored from attending a screening of the film in Andersonstown as part of Féile an Phobail.

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Féile na bhFlaitheartach 2016

August 15, 2016 by  

BACK END 1Just received the clar for this year’s Féile na bhFlaitheartach 2016. Here are the details.

The Aran Island of Inis Mór will host for the fourth time the bi-lingual Féile na bhFlaitheartach/ The Liam & Tom O’Flaherty Weekend Festival between the 27th & 28th August. The theme is ‘Fís 1916/The Vision 1916’. The keynote speech will be given by the historian and former editor of the Irish Press Tim Pat Coogan. His talk will focus on the ideals of 1916 and is titled: “All changed, changed utterly”.

Appropriately the school will be opened by Fearghas Mac Lochlainn, grandnephew of Pádraig and Willie Pearse.

The O’Flaherty brothers were born and raised on Inis Mór. Liam the radical novelist and short story writer is without doubt the most famous, but Tom too made his literary mark in the short story genre although probably more so as a left-wing activist and polemicist in the USA.

Insurrection
In this the centenary year of the Easter Rising the festival will naturally focus on the events of 1916. However, it will be a commemoration with a difference as it will examine the period and its aftermath through the radical lenses of Liam and Tom O’Flaherty. This will be achieved in a series of ways. For the first time ever there will be a dramatic re-telling in Irish of Liam O’Flaherty’s last novel Insurrection, which presents his take on the 1916 Rising. This will be performed by by Máirín Mhic Lochlainn and Aisteoirí Chois Fharraige.

bACK eND 2First World War
Another first at this year’s school will be the public reading in English by Fionnghuala Ní Choncheanainn of a virtually unknown story of Liam’s, The Discarded Soldier, which was written at the request of his brother Tom to be published in the Communist Party of the USA’s daily paper, the Daily Worker, in 1924. This short work can be traced directly to Liam’s experiences as a soldier fighting in the First World War and is more than appropriate to re-produce in this centenary year of the bloody and senseless Battle of the Somme. As the story’s title indicates the author realised that soldiers are seen as totally expendable, of little or no importance during and after war. This is a powerful piece of anti-war literature.

Tom O’Flaherty’s short story, Na Líonta. Ar Círín na Breachlainne Móire (The Nets. On the Crest of Breachlainne Móire), will be read by Máirín Mhic Lochlainn in the Garden of Remembrance next to the O’Flaherty family homestead, on the Saturday afternoon.

The Aran Islands Connection and 1916
As with every year at Féile na bhFlaitheartach links are made with the people of the three Aran Islands. This year is no exception. Indeed, for the first time the Aran Drama Youth Group from Inis Mór will take centre stage with its award-winning sketch “Comóradh Fir Chróga 1916” (Celebrating the Brave Men of 1916) on the Saturday evening.

A particularly favourite section of the Féile takes place at 12.30pm on the Sunday in Tí Joe Mac, Kilronan. This year’s theme is appropriately entitled: What was Aran like in 1916? The broadcaster, film-maker and former County Councillor Seosamh Ó Cuaig will pose the question: Where were Liam and Tom O’Flaherty in 1916? The situation in Aran in 1916. This will be followed by Máirin Ní Chonghaile remembering Seán Ó Briain of Inis Meáin, who fought bravely in 1916. Then the memories of Brian Seoige from Inis Oírr, who also took part in the 1916 Rising will be re-told. And finally Fionnghuala Ní Choncheanainn will read Liam O’Flaherty’s The Discarded Soldier. As always each of these themes will prompt a lively discussion in both Irish and English.

For further details see:

www.facebook.com/pages/Liam-and-Tom-OFlaherty-Society
www.galwaydecadeofcommemoration.org/content/events/feile-nabhflaitheartach-
fis-1916

bACK END 3 AND 4

FRONT

 

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Siege of Lisbon

August 2, 2016 by  

All my reading life, especially in those earlier years when I was immortal and time was infinite, if I began a book I would finish it, regardless of how poor or disappointing. But with old age, and shelves of novels and memoirs one will never get around to read, some books now get dropped if they haven’t impressed in the first thirty pages.

BACKI was almost on the verge of giving up on The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago (pictured), an author whose work I really like, despite his paragraph-long sentences, minimal punctuation, and streams of dialogue in which whom is speaking is not readily flagged. I stuck at it and suddenly, around page 100 or thereabouts, everything fell into place and became immensely rewarding and satisfying and had me laughing aloud at the shenanigans of the main character.

Raimondo Silva, a proof-reader for a Lisbon publishing house, is a fretting, conscientious middle-aged bachelor, who stops dyeing his hair (which is a major decision), then falls in love with his commissioning editor, whilst he is writing a fictionalised version of the actual four-month siege of Lisbon in 1147 when the Moors were ousted by the Christians who established the Kingdom of Portugal.

But it is more than that. It is about the unreliability of the writing of history and about how trustworthy are historians who often speculate and interpret incorrectly as well as subjectively.

He writes beautifully with great imagery: “… I can see… the fleet of the crusaders sailing down the river, the smooth water glistening as only water can, and all blue, the colour of the sky overhead, the oars move slowly up and down, the ships resembling a flock of birds that drink as they fly close to the surface, two hundred migratory birds named galleys, long-boats, and cargo ships…”

1st August. Interviewed by Dr Lachlan Whelan from Indiana University-Purdue University for his essay about ‘images of the informer and the interrogator in contemporary Irish writing.’ He is quoting from my novels, West Belfast; On The Back Of The Swallow; and The Wrong Man.

30th July. Chaired ‘1916’ event in Bellaghy GAA Hall and introduced the guest speaker, writer and journalist, Tim Pat Coogan.

27th July. Finished my feature for the Artangel Project, ‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison’, featuring 31 artists and writers including Steve McQueen, Colm Toibin, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Maxine Peake, Patti Smith, Wolfgang Tillmans, the late Richard Hamilton, Rita Donagh, Gillian Slovo, Jeanette Winterson and myself. It runs from 4th September until 30th October. Details here – https://www.artangel.org.uk/project/inside/

18th July. Interviewed on the Nolan Show with Nelson McCausland, discussing the film 66 days. Interviewed by my 13-year-old grandson Lorcan for a video project about growing up in the last century!

13th July. At the commemoration in Galbally Cemetery for the 35th anniversary of the death of Martin Hurson who was just 25 when he died on hunger strike after forty-six days.

10th July. At a commemoration and wreath-laying ceremony at the Roddy McCorley Club grounds for the 35th anniversary of the death of Joe McDonnell on hunger strike. Speaking to Goretti, Joe’s wife, and the McDonnell family.

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‘66 Days’ at Galway Festival

July 11, 2016 by  

Flag bearerSpoke at Galway Film Fleadh on Friday night after the showing of 66 Days, the new film about Bobby Sands’ hunger strike. I had been interviewed for the film but this was the first time I had seen it and I found it extremely moving and the story brilliantly rendered. Former comrades of Bobby, including Bik McFarlane, Richard O’Rawe, Colm Scullion, Seanna Walsh and Tomboy Loudan, spoke about how Bobby kept up their morale through the dark times and how he inspired them. I took part in the Q&A afterwards with the director of the film, Brendan Byrne, and Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times. Was later interviewed by Niall Ó Dochartaigh, Senior Lecturer in Political Science & Sociology at Galway University, who chaired the Q&A.

6th July. Interviewed by Matthew Whiting (LSE) who is writing a book on the transformation within Irish republicanism, how electoral participation evolved, how and why republicanism changed its strategy.

1st July. Interviewed by Una Murphy from VIEWdigital, a community journalism online site, about Féile an Phobail, Scribes at the Rock and the Feile Women’s Choir who will be providing the flourish to Scribes on Thursday 11th August in the lounge of the Rock Bar.

Ireland Writers Retreat28th-29th June. Hosted creative writing course for mature students as part of the Ireland Writers Retreat.

27th June. Interviewed by Sean Hillen at Teac Jack’s in Derrybeg as part of the Ireland Writers Retreat week about my life and experiences.

23rd June. Photographed by Bobbie Hanvey for about fifteen hours (okay, an hour) at Neil Shawcross’s studio.

21st June. Interviewed by commentator Jude Collins via Periscope on this Thursday’s Brexit referendum.

17th June. Finished Paris Trout by Pete Dexter about a store owner in Georgia who kills a fourteen-year old black girl, shoots her mother, and then expects to get off lightly because ‘that’s the way it is’.

16th June. Interviewed by Peter Keleghan from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for a television documentary on 1916-2016-Emigration which will go out next November or December.

11th June. Spoke in Beechmount at a commemoration in honour of Seando Moore who died six years ago.

7th June. At Brexit debate in St Mary’s University College.

3rd June. Finished re-reading Vol I of my favourite short story writer, Anton Chekhov, beautifully produced in a four volume illustrated collection by The Folio Society, London.

2nd June. Interviewed by Kitty Janvrin, a student from the University of South Carolina currently working on her honors thesis and focusing on how oral histories work to record conflicts like the Troubles, focusing on the Boston College Belfast Tapes project.

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‘Some Will Be Innocent’

July 7, 2016 by  

BACK

“I’ll be with you, whatever,” was what Tony Blair told George Bush regarding Bush’s plan to bomb and destroy Iraq. It is a damning indictment contained in the Chilcott Report into the war in Iraq. Millions of people around the world tried to stop the war before it began but were undermined by many politicians and gung ho journalists in support of invading a country which had no connection with the attacks on the USA on 9/11.

‘Some Will Be Innocent’ is a feature I wrote which was published in February 2003, a week after we marched against Blair and Bush’s plans to wage war. Here it is:

A MILLION in London, one point three million in Barcelona. Half a million. A hundred thousand. Four hundred thousand. Staggering numbers of humanity across the world trying to prevent a war.

How long does it take to cast a vote? In the city – around half an hour at the most, maybe? But how long does it take to march through that same city? Or travel to that city for a march? Allow yourself plenty of time to travel if you are coming from outside. Allow yourself the whole day.
That was the commitment of ordinary people expressing their will against an unjust war. And for hundreds of thousands this was their first political demonstration, so strongly do they feel that a war against Iraq is immoral.

I marched in Dublin in one of the biggest demonstrations the capital has ever witnessed. And if I were Taoiseach Bertie Ahern I would take note of the angry mood of the people, including the results of a new opinion poll which show that the majority disapprove of the use of Shannon airport by US forces.

WERE elections available, were the chief war mongers Bush and Blair to run on a manifesto of attacking Iraq, then millions – including, in Tony Blair’s case certainly, many of his erstwhile supporters – would reject them at the ballot box. Six hundred cities! There were marches against Bush and Blair’s proposed war on Iraq in six hundred cities across the world last Saturday, from Belfast to Berlin, from Dublin to Detroit. The last time there were numbers like that on the streets was at the height of the Vietnam War, yet these demonstrations were held even before the first shots of war have been fired, the first photographs of innocent dead have appeared.

The attitude of Tony Blair in his speech to a Labour Party conference in Scotland last Saturday was sickening and patronising. He said: “I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honour. But sometimes it is the price of leadership. And the cost of conviction.”

Who the hell does he think he is, that his convictions are more important than the next million persons’? He went on to describe rogue states which have Weapons of Mass Destruction as “answerable to no democratic mandate, so are unrestrained by the will of ordinary people”. Does he not appreciate the irony? Has he a democratic mandate for making war? He is so democratic that he won’t even put the issue to a vote in the House of Commons and, despite the massive size of the march in London, he appears unrestrained by the will of ordinary people. His speech included reminders that Saddam killed a million people in an eight-year war with Iran. He omitted that Saddam used mustard gas laced with nerve agents to kill many of those young Iranian conscripts and that in locating his victims he was guided by USA satellite intelligence, after relations with the USA had been restored. He omitted that the man who restored relations with Iraq back then was Donald Rumsfeld, the current US Secretary of State.

Blair reminded us that Moslem Kurds in northern Iraq had been butchered, and prisoners tortured, but omitted that throughout this period – including when Saddam used gas on thousands of civilians in 1988 – Saddam was a great trading ally of Britain which maintained full diplomatic relations with his murderous regime.

Blair said that 135 out of every 1000 Iraqi children die before the age of five but omitted the numbers of children that had died through disease and malnutrition as a result of sanctions. The one truth that Blair uttered was, “If we remove Saddam by force, people will die and some will be innocent. And we must live with the consequences of our actions, even the unintended ones.”

Live he will: die they will.

What is the case against Iraq? Two Brownie photographs taken from outer space which even UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has politely ridiculed, and a plagiarised ten-year-old PhD? The USA and Britain said they had the proof and demanded that the weapons inspectors be allowed in – believing that Saddam would refuse them access and thus hand the USA a causus belli. But the inspectors were allowed in and the USA and Britain haven’t produced the proof, have relied instead on rhetoric and whipping up mass fear which has only raised suspicions that the war is about other issues, perhaps oil or as a deterrent to other rogue states. While Saddam is a cruel dictator he is no different from the normal cruel dictators the USA is routinely allied to. Yes, the Iraqi people are entitled to freedom. Just are the Palestinians who have asked for help, who are being killed and tortured and whose land has been invaded by a foreign power which has weapons of mass destruction and which has ignored US resolutions not for ten years but for thirty-six years.

If Saddam can be overthrown in conjunction with the Iraqi people, and not some exiled businessmen being groomed in Washington but people who are willingly prepared to sacrifice their lives and who wish to replace him with a democratic, secular republic which will eliminate poverty and injustice then the world would not balk at helping them. It is just that we do not believe that this is what it is about and the track records of the USA and Britain are not reassuring. The people who will die in a US/Brit war on Iraq are the innocents, by the hundreds, by the thousands, whose opinions were never sought. So, in Blair’s case, a war for ‘democracy and freedom’ is to be waged on behalf of people who have not asked for help, against those people, by a government which has little support from its own people and is not prepared to consult its own parliament. Brilliant.

And, in Bertie Ahern’s case (who in regard to the North once lectured that no land is worth shedding one drop of innocent blood), instead of giving leadership he will sit on the fence rather than raise his voice on behalf of Irish people against what is clearly an unjust war.

 

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Time After Time

May 29, 2016 by  

backI’ve just finished reading Ben Elton’s latest novel Time and Time Again (published eighteen months ago). And recently I just finished watching the US TV mini-series 11.22.63. The two stories have plots that are remarkably similar – though about different historical characters.

11.22.63 is based on a novel published in 2011 by Stephen King about a time traveller, a High School teacher, who attempts to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on the basis that had Kennedy lived he would have been a force for good.

In Elton’s novel a former SAS soldier travels back to 1914 to kill the assassin Princip Gavrilo and prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, so averting not just World War I but also WWII whose roots were in the severe reparations imposed on a defeated Germany post-1918 which gave rise to Nazism, Hitler and the Holocaust.

The repercussions of tinkering with history in both book and film are also remarkably similar. Which presumably must be a bit of embarrassment to Ben Elton whose novel appeared three years after King’s?

 

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