The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Incorruptible

Anthony McIntyre • 9 May 2006

A British official once said of the 1981 hunger strike that it had gripped Northern nationalists by the umbilical cord. For him the event had pulled them right back into some vortex of primordial irrationality where myth reigned and reason was at best an obstructive nuisance. He was right in so far as he fingered a psychological impulse so potent that the human body becomes the site of an emotional volcano that erupts and physically rampages its way through the veins, up and down, back and forth, guided by neither rhyme nor reason, crisscrossing in search of an outlet.

Twenty five years on and the capacity of that hunger strike to rouse palpable anger and unadulterated animosity is as tangible today as it was then. The past week in particular has been as poignant as it was focussed. As much as I try to reason about the events that we were part of, film footage showing IRA and INLA funerals from a quarter of a century ago sends my brain into shutdown mode and sets my heart pumping out surge after surge of bright red hatred for the British of the time.

Hatred is the most destructive of emotions and it is with it that many of us who came through the violence and deprivation of the blanket protest wrestle each time we dwell on the era. The gravity of it at any one point is determined by the imagery. Visiting the graves of the three Belfast volunteers who succumbed in 1981 always lends itself to sadness, but one that is calm. When we leave and make our way across the cemetery in the direction of the Falls Road, other things come up in conversation and the sombreness of the graveside begins to lighten. For intensity there is nothing to compare with the molten rage that incinerates the mind courtesy of actually watching the funerals. Perhaps it is the knowledge that only days before those being laid to rest were still alive, if just about, and but for the malevolence of a British prime minister would have remained so. A coffin in motion carrying the motionless dead causes a vengeful thirst which for as long as it lasts can only be quenched by revenge.

Each funeral cortege is like a scorching needle thrust into the mind. The thoughts of the immense suffering those being buried went through in the years and not just the months before they died simply fills me with a raging anger at the callousness of Thatcher's British government. No human being should suffer pain where avoidable but if Thatcher were on fire the first thought would be to dial 999 and ask for a petrol tanker. On further reflection the second thought would be to ask for two.

There is a lot of discussion today - much of it self-serving - about what position the dead hunger strikers would have adopted had they survived. It is a futile exercise and advances little apart from calculated efforts to channel the legitimacy that flows from the emaciated bodies of the ten dead men into the service of some current position. In a bid to have them function as stanchions of the peace process at least one revisionist commentator has sought to statistically infer that around 80% of those who died in the H-Blocks would be supportive of the Adams leadership. Apart from the dubious methodology involved, it ignores the fact that three of the dead were INLA volunteers. Perhaps they would by now have endorsed the Provisionals but who believes it? Maybe the seven IRA hunger strikers, possibly believing that the criminality they shunned had permeated the Provisionals so thoroughly that belonging to the group was no longer an option. Highly unlikely. Futile speculation, all of it. Truth is, we simply cannot tell.

There are some things that can be said and which remain speculation-free. When the men died all ten did so in opposition to a partitionist outcome, an internal solution, a re-enacted Stormont, a British police force in the North, the hegemony of the consent principle/unionist veto, a Good Friday type agreement with its power sharing executive coupled to cross border bodies. The era in which the hunger strikers protested and died was possessed of a logic which viewed these 'achievements' as the substance of a humiliating defeat. That they might have changed their minds had they lived is a real possibility. But we cannot know. Laurence McKeown who thankfully survived the hunger strikes after going without food for 73 days told an RTE interviewer that while he supports the outcome that looms today he would not have physically fought for it. It is a sentiment many of us who did fight would agree with. If it is not worth fighting for it is certainly not worth dying for.

Sitting with my five year old daughter in Monaghan on Saturday watching a DVD of the hunger strikers' funerals, I strove to suppress the lump in my throat. As each photo of the ten men appeared she would ask 'who is that?' Every coffin would prompt the question, 'who is inside that.' I do not want to pass on to my daughter any of my prejudices or intense aversions. She must be free to make up her own mind. I will always refrain from speculating to her on who would stand where today. But I am determined that she will learn about ten men who defied the British state's campaign of violence in Ireland and who with their own blood wrote a powerful alternative narrative to the false one scripted by the British. The witness they bore so honestly in their time would be corrupted were we to falsify it to suit a new era. Shameless revisionists can try as they might but the integrity of the H-Block protests and hunger strike deaths remains incorruptible and beyond opportunistic interpretation.















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

11 May 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Incorruptible
Anthony McIntyre

Ruarí Ó Brádaigh: Robert White's biography of a Republican idealist
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Can of Worms
John Kennedy

The Wrong Man
Martin Ingram

Gotta Be Cruel to be Kind
Dr John Coulter

Revising the Rising?
Forum Magazine Editorial

Solving the Irish Problem
Michael Gillespie

Geoffrey Cooling

Thank You, Bobby Sands
Fred A. Wilcox

Welcome Back, David. Now, Go Away Again!
Eamon Sweeney

Give Them That Auld Tyme Religion
Dr John Coulter

Meal Ticket
John Kennedy

Examples of Dialogue
Conn Corrigan

Two-State Solution
Mick Hall

Peter King - Still Irish America's Champion
Patrick Hurley

Statements on the Murder of Michael McIlveen
RSF; 32 County Sovereignty Movement

Profile: Chahla Chafiq
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

18 April 2006

Grave Secrets
Anthony McIntyre

Spoiled Rotten
David Adams

Let Bygones be Bygones
Mick Hall

Urgent Memo — Judas Was One of the Bad Guys!
Dr John Coulter

Cluedo in Donegal
Anthony McIntyre

Easter Message
John Kennedy

Óglaigh na hÉireann Easter Statement
The Sovereign Nation

IFC Easter Statement, 2006
Joe Dillon

Lincoln's Despair
John Kennedy

Fred A. Wilcox

Hamas Being Forced to Collapse
Sam Bahour

Profile: Philippe Val
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index



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