The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Easter Week in Derry and the Lazarus Complex

Eamon Sweeney • 21 April 2004

In reading Anthony McIntyre’s observations on his attendance at the 32 CSM Easter commemoration I was relieved that someone else was at least having doubts about attending their rally in Derry last week.

From the outset I will admit that the major difference between myself and Anthony McIntyre on this particular occasion is that he eventually made the journey from Belfast to attend the event. Although, I suspect that his overriding motivation was chiefly one of curiosity. I stayed at home, approximately a fifteen minute walk away, and listened to the aerial vehicles of the British state attempt to drone their largely futile intimidation down upon those gathered there and on the rest of the Creggan population busying themselves enjoying what was left of a probably much needed day off.

Having spent most weekends and school holidays at my grandmother's home in Creggan from childhood through to mid-adolescence, which included most of the 1970’s and 1980’s, the presence of army choppers are still a perennial feature of everyday existence there, and are now as they were then largely ignored unless they were providing back up for the early morning raiding parties that seemed to be equally intolerant with Catholic front doors as the Catholics that slept behind them. Despite the upbeat media furore about the improvements in our lifestyle that came miraculously with the signing of a piece of paper some six Easters ago, this too is still an all too regular feature of life in Derry’s largest housing estate. It’s just that in certain circles and for obvious reasons this is no longer the correct type of propaganda needed to prosecute a peculiar kind of false war.

It is official, the Creggan is no longer a “ghetto” but a monument to resistance where only one particular republican army ever prosecuted a war. Yet as Tony McIntyre’s article pointed out, he visited the INLA plot to see the graves of Mickey Devine and Patsy O’ Hara. They were both from the area and their last journey went through the estate, as Creggan is the home of the City Cemetery as well.

A painfully poor example of this was made very clear to me three summers ago as I stood at the top of Creggan to witness the unveiling of a plaque to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Provisional officer Eamonn Lafferty, the first Provisional to be killed on active service in the city. I had no intention of attending but my mother insisted because Eamonn had been an apprentice baker under the instruction of another recently qualified baker, my father.

My father had often told me how he had managed to get Eamonn his papers a year early and had tried to procure a job for him in Dublin, and was subjected to shoddy assurances that he would leave each week. Of course at the end of each week he never left, until in August 1971 it was too late. When I arrived next spring I was named after him. Thirty years later on the spot where he had been killed and purely through some sentimental attatchment to my father, I stood and witnessed historical whitewashing at its best as a crude marble cross was unveiled in the absence of any notable Sinn Fein luminaries at all. One in particular was particularly pointed in his absence given his later admissions at the Saville inquiry.

Early on Easter Sunday morning I visited the cemetery with my mother as I do nearly every week to visit my father's grave and those of other relatives.

Amongst those other relatives' graves is my paternal grandfather's, a lifelong IRA member who died in 1968 at the early rumblings of the current phase of what are too often glibly referred to as “The Troubles”. For years now, even before the Sinn Fein year zero (to the rest of us that is 1998), it had troubled me that beside Fred Sweeney’s grave there is a flagpole from which each Easter Sunday the Provisional Movement hoist and fly a tri-colour. This man had died almost two years before the IRA split in 1970, would have never known what a Provo was, but still the flagpole mysteriously dons its yearly national costume and joins the many other dozens that fly in the pristine republican plot and throughout the huge graveyard. It is an impressive sight but nonetheless inaccurate in many respects. Far below in the further reaches old of the old bone yard lies another grave; it is that of Fred's father William, my great-grandfather. His grave too is marked in accordance with symbols of his “paramilitary” activity. It displays the harp and shamrock but above these are a crown. I cannot confirm it but I suspect that in this case father out-ranked son; you see, William Sweeney was a sergeant in the R. I. C.. Having never known my grandfather, he died some four years before my birth, I cannot say which way today’s process would have taken him as a younger man.

From the brief details that emerged about his participation in the IRA, I know that in the early 1950’s he was suspended for a time because of his refusal to attend a medal ceremony presided over by De Valera in the Brandywell area of the city.

Yet he had returned in his late fifties to take an active role in the border campaign of 1956-1962. His job as a train driver on the old Lough Swilly railway provided he and his comrades with ample opportunity in this period to ferry arms in and out out of the city. Only in recent years have I been made aware that the loft of my old house was the resting place of this machinery. It is reported that a least once a month a solemn line of men walked in front a hearse up this terraced street hoisted the coffin shoulder high and took into number 9, whereupon its cargo was unloaded and the coffin left via the back gate to meet the hearse at the other end of the street. It is also true that whilst this went on, in the green at the bottom of the street Derry’s future Nobel Peace laureate played football with the sons of an old IRA man.

These small glimpses of his life as a republican could prompt speculation about his political thinking. Born in Donegal in 1900, he would have been of fighting age at the War of Independence and the subsequent civil debacle that ensued. His shunning of De Valera at that ceremony probably spoke volumes at that time about his thoughts. Therefore the Sinn Fein of today would contend that he was a “pro-treaty” Collins man (remember the treaty they used to hate) and make some decade jumping tenuous link to why the flag still sways above his head stone. Still, I could never attribute any reasoned opinion about what he might think today. We were always taught that reason is what separates us from the remainder of the animal kingdom and following that logic I have always thought it best to let people make up their own minds: after all wouldn’t any other approach resemble what we call dictatorship?

One of the most irksome and offensive developments of the past six years for me has been the latent speculation on behalf of departed republicans by many different factions on which way they would have leaned today. In this I include all republican organisations, the 32 CSM being no different from any other. The transparency accordant with this process and the subsequent ceasefires have seen a plethora of former activists only too eager to relay their tales of comradeship with those who achieved pivotal prominence within Ireland's pantheon of heroes, in other words those who were doomed not to survive. There is little wrong with this at all, whether for financial gain or as a genuine attempt at pairing the edges off a ragged psyche, as the current leadership of Sinn Fein have hardly been recalcitrant in this respect.

As Tony McIntyre pondered about the demise of Volunteers Mc Brearty and McGuire and their attitudes to what they would have seen in Creggan’s Central Drive that Monday, his thoughts did not go beyond the boundaries of pure speculation. That is to say he was not on platform claiming the allegiance of dead hunger strikers, or other dead republicans. I sometimes think that if republican plots did not exist then they would have to be invented. No matter how they met their end, the dead deserve their rest. To place words into the mouths of the dead is nothing more than cynical politicking whether it was Gerry Kelly who spouted them in Derry cemetery on Easter Sunday or Marian Price on Easter Monday. To speak for those gone before us is demeaning to these people. It assumes a collective accumulation of thought that does not take into account the massive political turmoil of the past decade and the bitter ideological schisms that have resulted in the wake of this turmoil. It also illustrates the undemocratic arrogance of those indulging in this word play, and smells clearly of a visible yet unspoken chasm between those who take decisions and those accorded the role of cannon fodder.

As it turned out I attended none of the various parades in Derry over the weekend.

Attendance at Monday's parade would have been one of pure inquisitiveness but was eventually outweighed by a dislike of the 32 CSM who have merely taken their place on a scheduled historical treadmill. As the Provisionals have moved onto acceptance of the status quo, their “real” counterparts have stepped into the breach vacated by them. And, thus it is destined to continue ad infinitum as we still insist in providing the British with the greatest weapon they ever had against republicanism, factional disunity. I have little time, as said for the new vanguard who appear blissfully unaware that they have been infiltrated at all levels and still continue to operate in the mistaken belief that places like Creggan are the no-go areas of previous decades. Indeed the only operators still privy to the use of the no-go rules in Creggan are the licensee and patrons of the Telstar bar, also mentioned by Anthony McIntyre. In fact they have access to a special sub-section of the rules circa 1969-71, referred to colloquially as the Ronnie Barker sub-clauses, meaning that they are truly “Open All Hours”. Equally however I have little time for those who now castigate and actively campaign against those who have decided that physical force is the only way forward. This is not through some wish to witness more carnage waged in my name or anyone else’s name but clearly in the realisation that if this was a boxing match then the British have won the last bout on a massive unanimous points decision. A clear indicator of this is at last the springing of the trap door that is the IMC, who probably would have reported unfavourably anyway despite being gifted the solid gold prize of the Bobby Tohill kidnap affair.

So at mid-afternoon on Easter Sunday I entered another public house on the edge of the Bogside, always famed for its support of politically motivated patrons.

I was surprised to notice that for the first time in many years as the afternoon and the pints progressed in equal amounts that a palpable tension between the shades of green began to develop. No ill words were ventured or no physical rows developed but if you looked closely enough harsh words were squeezing quietly through the corners of intoxicated mouths and invisible daggers cast from eye level were certainly reaching their intended targets. A physical chasm eventually occurred, but without verbal acknowledgement as both sides (at times three sides), found themselves at opposite sides of the bar when at the start of the afternoon cordial intermingling had been the order of the day.

Such however is the nature of Derry, its attitude to republicanism and the nature of its people. I suspect heavily that this type of division is prevalent in other cities and towns but I can only speak of what I see. In this town many only want Lazarus to rise for one day each year, for the remainder of the time it is too uncomfortable to speak of those gone before, their contribution neatly tucked away in a cupboard beside the drums that are beaten in their remembrance every resurrection day, their re-appearance invoked and cobbled awkwardly onto the messianic magic that the day truly represents. The propaganda value and the lure of cameras in the battle for the hearts and minds of voters or in the other a case an auxillary network, having sworn never to bend knee to the attractions of constitutional politics, far outweighs the desire to honour Ireland’s dead; after all this truly captive audience really cannot answer back.

Next day, Easter Monday across town in our shiny new theatre, Feis Doire Colmcille began its eightieth annual run. Irish dancers, far removed from the traditionally attired figures that I remember when I participated, strained their sinews in search of elusive medals. In each of the halls that they competed they were guided by their teachers. In this competition, supposedly a celebration of our culture, competitors, teachers and parents tore strips of each other behind each other's backs. Even in our cultural pursuits these children are taught division. You see there are two separate organisations that control Irish dancing. One is called An Comdhail, the other translates as the Commission or Committee. Even with my non-existent grasp of the Gaelic language I know that An Comdhail translates loosely as Commission or Committee, in other words there are two organisations with the same name. It sounds very familiar don’t you think?




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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.
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Index: Current Articles

23 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


It Hasn't Gone Away You Know
Anthony McIntyre


Brian Mór


We're on the One Road
Tommy McKearney


Easter Week in Derry and the Lazarus Complex
Eamon Sweeney


Time for the Dead

Mick Hall


POWs and the Challenge of Partnership
Aoife Rivera Serrano


'A Real Sensuous Pleasure'
Liam O Ruairc


The Letters page has been updated.


19 April 2004


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




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