The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Horse's Head

The arts of power and its minions are the same in all countries and in all ages. It marks its victim; denounces it; and excites the public odium and the public hatred, to conceal its own abuses and encroachments - Henry Clay, 1834

Anthony McIntyre • 26.03.03

After the death of IRA volunteer Keith Rodgers in South Armagh two weeks ago his leadership issued a statement. In it the claim was made that the dead volunteer had been 'shot dead by an armed criminal … He was unarmed at the time of his death. He was not on active service … Keith died while defending his community against armed criminals.'

According to a report in the Observer Keith Rodgers was part of a group 'armed with baseball bats and guns' who intended 'to attack a number of men who were also aligned to its South Armagh brigade.' This version contrasted somewhat with the IRA's and had more in common with the view of Patrick O'Callaghan, a brother of one of the supposed 'armed criminals'. He claimed the dead man was part of a masked and armed gang who tried to kidnap his brother Kevin. The incident had arisen out of a dispute over the purchase of land on the southern side of the border and Patrick O'Callaghan claimed to have been warned by the IRA that he would be shot if he had anything to do with building houses on the land. He also said Keith Rodgers was armed and that he and the wounded man had been shot with their own weapons.

Two days after the shooting Brian Keenan speaking at the graveside of Keith Rodgers denied that the dead volunteer had been carrying a weapon and insisted the incident was not related to a land dispute but had everything to do with criminality by people masquerading as republicans.

Some time after the funeral it was reported that mediators were involved in negotiations between the IRA and those with whom the organisation was in dispute. What such mediation seems to have secured is a demonstration of the power the IRA exercises over its neighbours. In Mario Puzo's The Godfather, a recalcitrant film producer was jolted out of his sleep by the blood seeping from the severed head of his prize racehorse. He relented and accepted the mafia offer he hated but dared not refuse.

Earlier this week Patrick O'Callaghan withdrew his original comments:

I am satisfied that the version of events which was given to me was in fact untrue. I now fully accept that the incident was not connected with the purchase of land. My life has not been threatened by the IRA over the purchase of the land. I accept that this incident arose as a consequence of criminal activity in the south Armagh area. I now know that Keith Rodgers was unarmed. I also now know that neither he nor the man injured were shot with their own weapon or weapons.

By virtually repeating Keenan's version of events O'Callaghan - so at odds with what was initially his own - left little room for doubt that he had witnessed the horse's head. This would fit in to a broader pattern identified by media reports which suggest the existence of a republican regime of internal repression wielded against those who do not see things as the IRA do. Republican sources had allegedly confirmed that the IRA leadership in the area had issued an edict that anyone who openly criticises it should be beaten or shot. The victims would then be branded as criminal.

Such thirst for total control was manifest in the discourse employed by the republican leader Brian Keenan at the funeral of Keith Rodgers. There he fulminated that 'there is no place in this community, or any republican community, for degenerates who abuse and contaminate the struggle … depraved degenerate people - a band of vermin.'

Keenan's language places him in the company of strange bedfellows. At the march 1990 funeral of UDR man Thomas Jameson, Willie McCrea labelled those IRA volunteers who killed him 'bloodthirsty vermin.'

The Sunday Times journalist Liam Clarke in a sensitive but perceptive article suggested that Brian Keenan should be charged under the North's hate legislation. In his view the funeral eulogy made Keenan sound 'like a Nazi'. Some may be inclined to dismiss Clarke's depiction as being typical of 'the enemy press.' This would be a woefully inaccurate characterisation.

In his writings Bobby Sands protested the use of the word 'vermin' which he had heard used over 100 times during his six day interrogation by the RUC in the autumn of 1976. He later found it was used more by H-Block screws than anybody else. He felt it was linked to a need to exercise superiority: 'it is a mentality that makes it so easy for them to torture us or butcher us when the opportunity arises. A mentality much the same as those who maintained and organised the Nazi concentration camps.'

Was this what it was all about - power over the people?


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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

28 March 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


"Stop the Deportations of the Irish in America!"
Sean O'Neill


The Horse's Head
Anthony McIntyre


"Sprint to Baghdad"
Karen Lyden Cox


Bombing Basra to Baghdad
Anthony McIntyre


Operation 'Coxswain' Continues



25 March 2003


Fitting Ireland into Foreign Moulds
Paul Dunne


Republican Not Bandit Country
Anthony McIntyre


Denigration of Heroes

Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dodging Double Dicks at the Freak Dance
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain


Bombing Baghdad Rather than Ankara
Anthony McIntyre




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