The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Laughter of Our Children

If you break a nation's nationality it will think of nothing else but getting it set again. It will listen to no reformer, to no philosopher, to no preacher, until the demand of the Nationalist is granted. It will attend to no business, however vital, except the business of unification and liberation - George Bernard Shaw

Anthony McIntyre • 18 April 2004

The Easter Monday Commemoration in Derry was a larger event than I had anticipated. Perhaps because its organisers are the 32 County Sovereignty Movement I usually half-expect that the public interpret this to mean that no more than 32 should turn up at the group's rallies. Bodies strategically squeezed by the peace process live an anorexic existence, forever faltering on the edge of abyssal isolation. Competing with those who have been funded by the prosperous and the powerful to turn their face against republicanism and divest themselves of any radicalism is an uphill battle. In the case of the 32CSM, there are few votes for war. People register with their feet and usually stomp away in the opposite direction. The movement is numbers repellent.

In any event, myself, my daughter Fírinne and friend Shando arrived in the afternoon, and after meandering through Derry streets we found Creggan Shops where the parade was due to assemble before marching off to the City Cemetery. On arrival I noticed the Telstar Bar. It was where I had a few pints one cold November Sunday afternoon in 1992. Then, I was along with Seamus 'Scotchy' Kearney from South Derry. We had met in the blocks and were now literally tasting and swallowing freedom together. Before going into the bar we were told the locals termed it Palm Springs, as the palms of coat pullers were often thrust in front of drinkers. Taking Fírinne inside to let her use the toilet, I saw no tappers but little else had changed. It provided an appropriate backdrop to the day’s proceedings, given how so much else had remained the same. Brits still here, RUC still hounding republican marches, prisoners still inside - and all those lying in their graves for a united Ireland that nobody any of them knew will ever see.

Such was my genuine surprise at the size of the crowd - two to three hundred was more than I expected to turn up - and the fact that there was at that point no familiar faces I commented to Shando that maybe it was the Sinn Fein commemoration and we could end up like the two British Army corporals at Casement Park if somebody were to shout, ‘there’s two republicans, kill them.’ But he too had been through the bar to use the loo and being more attentive than I had noticed a poster on the wall advertising Gerry Kelly as the speaker on Easter Sunday. The Sinn Fein event had taken place the day previous so they may all have been off at the Cenotaph while we stood in Creggan. As Kelly is a faithful follower of the Adams-Goulding strategy, I commented to Shando that he had probably just read something out from a 1977 copy of the United Irishman and neither he nor the crowd had been any the wiser.

While we were standing waiting for proceedings to get underway, a colour party emerged from what appeared to be an alleyway. Responding to commands barked out in Irish it seemed to lurch rather than march across open ground to the point where it would head the parade towards the cemetery. Only one woman in a phalanx of perhaps 15. This group were certainly not for letting go of republican tradition easily. She was at the back and masked - only that her comrades too had their faces covered I quipped hers could have been a burka. By this time Marian Price and others we knew had gathered. Republicans that I at any rate did not agree with but republicans nonetheless. There would be no scowls cast in our direction or murderous mutterings about stoning us under Gerry-A-Law for our adulterous ways, for having been unfaithful to Stormont, and for having an affair with radical ideas.

The march had barely started before the cops were announcing that it was illegal and that anyone taking part was liable to prosecution. Alex Levin said of Germany that illegality is minimal because it is against the law - it works the opposite way here, something Marian Price, to much applause, took up during her address to the crowd in the cemetery: ‘we don’t ask permission from the RUC to honour our dead.’ Different speakers read out messages from the variant of the IRA supported by her group along with a statement from republican prisoners. It could have been Belfast in 1974.

As the crowd clapped so did Fírinne. At three years of age she hadn’t a clue but I reckoned she had the wit to know if I were to take her sweets away from her and told her that I was only pretending to put them beyond use, she would have howled her protest to the heavens. There are some things that even babes won’t fall for.

At one point I drifted up to visit the graves of the two INLA hunger strikers from Derry, Patsy O’Hara and Micky Devine. No Derry IRA volunteers died during that strike but I spent some time thinking about George McBrearty and Pop Maguire, gunned down by the SAS in the midst of the furore produced by hunger strikers dying. They had taken to the streets as our comrades and were as much the victims of the British government policy of the era as those who died within the prisons. Young men, their lives wrenched away from them in their prime. What parade would they have attended had they survived? But they did not have the chance. And now we had gathered to honour them. Former protesting prisoners poignantly remembering those who had died in support of us. Had they only known how little the party they were effectively launching with their own blood would gleefully settle for, would they have ventured out that day?

During her oration Marian Price hit out at the media presentation of the conflict. She maintained that her movement would never accept a partitionist assembly and that the Northern state was irreformable. She promised unremitting and ceaseless resistance. As I listened to her I cast my memory back thirty years earlier when in an English prison she was been violently force fed every day along wither sister Dolours, Gerry Kelly and Hugh Feeney. A Chinese wall may separate her views from my own today but at least I knew I would not hear her tell us that she had starved for Stormont, had never been in the IRA, or that she had only gone to England for the Cheltenham Races and had inadvertently been caught up in a dastardly republican plot to bomb the British capital.

In a strange twist Fírinne picked up a flower that had become detached from its chosen spot and told me she would give it to her mother. People come to graveyards to place flowers, not take them home with them. My three-year-old daughter’s innocent gesture moved me. I wanted it to symbolise a reversal of the order of things.

I was glad I went, but had second thoughts about having brought my daughter. At the cemetery I met old friends from the prison. They were not supporters of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement but like myself wanted to stand in the company of other republicans and remember those who had failed to complete the journey we had made, even if it was only back to where we had started out, give or take a few reforms along the way. An hour later as we stood on a beach in Donegal alongside Tommy Gorman, my abiding sentiment was one of relief. I at least had walked from the cemetery holding my daughter’s hand. I had survived the H-Blocks and the vibrancy of life that I could feel coursing through her veins was proof of that. We were three ex-blanket men, the product of cells where visibility was restricted to 12 feet, society's past. Fírinne, Shando's children, Tommy's grandchildren all playing together in the sand in front of an ocean, its contempt for limits so striking, are society's future. Beaches not cemeteries are where Fírinne will spend her future Easters.

She gave her mother the flower.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

19 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Laughter of Our Children
Anthony McIntyre


Prisoners Families Physically Removed from Maghaberry Visit
J. Sean Burns, IRPWA


Profile of a Glove
Kathleen O'Halloran


Irish Americans
Gerry O'Hare


The Globe and the Village

Lila Rajival


16 April 2004


Two Codes of Ignoble Submission
Kathleen O'Halloran


32CSM Easter Oration, Derry
Marian Price


Threat to Dissident...?
J. Doherty


Another Recruit
Brian Mór


R = PB -C
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain


The Public, Private and Academic Partnership:
Towards a New Paradigm of Public Protection

Terry O'Neill


Anthony McIntyre


"Colombia-US Free Trade Treaty - far more than trade"
Emilio Sardi (with reflections by Toni Solo)




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