the conclusion of the 1981 Hunger Strike I and many
other republican prisoners came to reject Denis Faul.
Although the bulk of us were not church goers we insisted
that all republicans boycott his Masses on our wings.
on our own approved line, we blamed him for bringing
the Hunger Strike to a premature end before it forced
the hand of the Brits and the restoration of political
hurt him deeply.
the enormous support he afforded us throughout the
years of prison protest he must have felt let down
at our hostility and our need to find a scapegoat.
From that point on his criticisms of our movement
seemed to be much more acerbic. He came to see us
as fascists. Yet the true measure of the man was
to be found in his incessant campaigning against
those who treated us unjustly.
first met Denis Faul in 1974 in Cage 10 of Long
Kesh when he was hearing confessions. Then he was
an iconic figure in my mind as a result of the tremendous
work he had done in bringing to light British injustices.
And this great man was hearing the confession of
a 17-year-old. I felt honoured.
I returned to prison there he was again. By now
I wasnt going to confession but he would be
available for those who were and to preach the gospel.
the Blanket protest he was a regular on Sundays
to celebrate Mass in the prison canteen. We all
went. It was the only time we could associate with
each other. Denis made no secret of the fact that
he was an inveterate smuggler. Pulling clingfilm-clad
tobacco from his socks he ensured that Sunday nights
were a source of relief for those who derived pleasure
from a smoke.
avid football fan, he told us the scores of all
the games and it was from him that we first learned
of that illustrious name Diego Maradona. It was
amazing how we could follow the football so avidly
within the prison despite never reading a match
report, watching a game on TV, or listening to it
on radio. Denis was largely responsible for that.
Sunday before Bobby Sands died he told us that our
resilient comrade had fallen into a coma.
knew then it was over for Bobby.
hopes, that had been so built up by his capturing
the Fermanagh/South Tyrone seat, crumbled as we
listened to Denis. Nothing now was going to intervene
and save the life of this pre-eminent IRA leader.
Brendan Hughess announcement two days later
that Bobby had slipped away was something we were
mentally prepared for. It was devastating nonetheless.
the Hunger Strike ploughed forward it should have
begun to look ominously like First World War soldiers
storming trenches they could never hope to take.
alone failed to see it.
emotions were bizarre. I had one punch-the-air moment
during the entire thing, when Laurence McKeowns
mother intervened to take him off it.
absurdly, I continued to think that carrying on
with the strike was the only option. There was neither
rhyme nor reason to it at that point. We could not
go forward and there was no going back.
do not blame our determination on our own supposed
recalcitrant personalities or any fanaticism that
was then attributed to us. It was an attitude tempered
in the vicious crucible of the H-Blocks. But something
had to break the cycle of prisoner deaths and families
despair. That something was a man called Denis.
He moved to bring a halt to it.
doing so he saved the lives of many great men.
took some years to come to terms with and some have
still not. In many ways it took his death to bring
him the vindication he so deeply deserved.
came in the form of an intensely moving letter to
The Irish News from a relative of a dead
hunger striker. The writer simply said: we
asked Fr Faul to help us bring an end to the dreadful
and unnecessary hunger strike.
first diagnosed with cancer he said he hoped he
would reach the age of 84, the innings his father
achieved. I hoped it too. It was not to be.
at his graveside last week in Carrickmore, one of
three former Blanket men, I felt that we had come
to bury a fourth.