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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Brian Campbell: A Captivating Voice


'Hunt out criticism. Take as much as you can, it's absolutely vital' - Brian Campbell


Anthony McIntyre

It is always a touch schmaltzy when, all too frequently, eulogies of the dead fail to match their subjects who seem to have lived lives considerably far removed from those described by the eulogisers. For the recently deceased Newry writer and republican activist, Brian Campbell, it worked the opposite way. The obituaries penned about him seemed far too small in which to fit the spirit and vitality of the man.

Brian Campbell was born in Coleraine but moved to Newry with his family while a child. Whether he would have described himself as someone who grew up in the then border town, or in the H-Blocks where he served a lengthy sentence for IRA activity is a moot point. While much has been said about his gentle side, he was a hard man but in the best possible way. For those of us who had the dubious pleasure of finding him on the opposite team on the long since abandoned H-Block football parks, we were pitched against a demon. He played with unbridled vigour. It mattered little whose legs shielded the ball, Brian behaved as if limbs were things to be pushed or crushed in his quest to get the leather. Nor did it much matter to him if his opponent was half the size and repaid him in kind. He took it in the same tough spirit in which he handed it out. Although he had the physical strength to subdue the opposition, there was nothing of the bully about Brian Campbell.

When the former editor of Fortnight rang to tell me that Brian had been buried the day previous, to say I experienced a sense of shock would be an understatement. My first words were 'are you sure?' Vitality like that which gushed through the body and spirit of Brian Campbell could not simply have evaporated. So many nights since have seen my sleep disturbed by dreams of him. Nothing in particular stands out from them other than a sense of coming awake and having this awareness that Brian is dead. Few deaths have that impact.

He had no fear of the different idea. University educated by the time he arrived in prison, he soon put his knowledge to good use in promoting the jail journal, the Captive Voice. When he heard that a book of alternative poetry existed that was not exactly flattering of the jail leadership he unsuccessfully sought it out so that he could publish the material. There was only one occasion that comes to mind when he suppressed a contribution to the magazine. An article had been written by one of the few openly gay republican prisoners. Immediately, a letter of protest was sent to Brian arguing that no such article should ever be allowed to see the light of day in a republican publication. While I thought the letter should have been carried, even though I disagreed strongly with its contents, Brian Campbell refused to publish it on the grounds that the whole camp knew about the anti-gay sentiment that existed within its midst. He would not be reinforcing it. Agree or not with his action, Brian was instinctively taking up the admirable position of defending the underdog.

Nor was he slow to rattle the cage of those who failed to write in language that the bulk of people could understand. Having composed a review for the Captive Voice of Children of The Arbat, I found myself on the receiving end of Brian's sardonic critique. His complaint - because the book was about Russians written by a Russian, I didn't have to review it in Russian. He carried it all the same.

One afternoon in Dublin shortly after I had interviewed Bernadette McKevitt in the wake of the Real IRA's slaughter of the innocent in Omagh, I bumped into Brian outside the office of An Phoblacht/Republican News, the Sinn Fein paper he now edited. I discussed the interview with him. At a time when it was popular for many republicans to pretend that they would never have approved the type of operation that was carried out at Omagh, and who thought suppressing people like the sister of Bobby Sands was a good idea, Brian was calm and reflective. 'Let them speak but at the same time where are they going?' was his attitude. When Laurence McKeown, who worked closely with Brian on a number of projects, said after his death, 'he had manners and a great civic spirit', it was easy to see why.

By the time of his death Brian Campbell was a well-established writer and playwright. I attended a showing of his first play Des about one of the few great Irish priests, Des Wilson. Although it was favourably reviewed, I came away thinking that the Des I knew was a much more laid back personality than the passion driven character that Brian had produced. I felt that he had taken his own passion and put it into the character he had created. There was so much energy in the play that at times I was left pondering if I was watching Brian or Des.

Other plays that he produced in collaboration with Laurence McKeown were The Laughter of Our Children and A Cold House. In addition to plays he wrote the script for the film H3, again accompanied by Laurence.

Brian edited An Phoblacht/Republican News for three years. A short history of the paper claimed that he left in 1999 to pursue his own writing interests. I never quite could reconcile the creativity of Brian Campbell with the stodgy conformity of that particular party paper. Earlier this year he helped found Daily Ireland. Whatever intellectual freedom exists in that enterprise will be challenged with the passing of Brian Campbell.

Survived by his wife Grainne and children Niall and Mairead, Brian Campbell lived a life much too short, yet long enough to make a lasting positive mark on those of us who had the joy of knowing him.

Brian Campbell, writer and republican, born January 4 1960; died October 8 2005.




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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.
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Index: Current Articles

24 December 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

A Perfect Spy
Tom Luby

Anthony McIntyre

Spies and Lies in 2005
Eamon Sweeney

Defeating the Enemy Within
Mick Hall

SF Tinker, Tailor Their Spy Story
David Adams

Language: The Means of Creating Realities
David Kirk

Mebyon Kernow & Cornish Nationalism
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Timetable for Change
Dr John Coulter

CRJ — New Name for the IRA?
Anthony McIntyre

GEM, A Story of Global Exploitation and Misery
Morten Alme

First International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners and POWs
Irish Freedom Committee

Brian Campbell: A Captivating Voice
Anthony McIntyre

25 November 2005

Political Policing
Willie Gallagher

One Sweet Deal for Some, but for The Rest of Us?...
Mick Hall

Who's In Charge Around Here, Anyway?
Eamonn McCann

Playing the Game
Anthony McIntyre

Dr John Coulter

RSF Presidential Address 2005
Ruairi O Bradaigh

To Go On: Irish Travellers meet Academia
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Genius decommissioned while Stupid keeps the guns
Tomas Gorman

Cut Off Aid to Regime in Uganda
David Adams

Sticks and Stones
Anthony McIntyre



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