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He had just recovered his strength after enduring forty-one days on hunger strike and was confident of an early release from prison. However, he still believed that he had a duty to try to escape. And so, with some help from friendly guards, Peadar O'Donnell slipped out of the Curragh Prison Camp and started out for his beloved Donegal.
O'Donnell chose a rather long and circuitous route home. Stowing away on a boat for Liverpool, he then boarded a second boat for Belfast before catching a train to Londonderry and then walking over the mountains to his home in West Donegal. When his boat docked at Belfast the veteran republican was met by Thomas Carnduff, Master of Sandy Row Independent Orange Lodge. "This is the one time that an Orangeman's handshake is better than a papal blessing", remarked O' Donnell. Not that O'Donnell was ever in line for a papal blessing. The only pronouncements likely to come O'Donnell's way from the Catholic hierarchy at the time would have been denunciations rather than blessings.
Thomas Carnduff and Peadar O'Donnell were political enemies. Indeed, when we consider that Carnduff was a RUC Reservist and O'Donnell was a member of the anti-treaty IRA, it could be said that they were military enemies as well. Yet for all their enmity, O'Donnell and Carnduff were kindred spirits. Both were writer's who used their literary skills to depict the harsh realities of life in their respective home environments.
O'Donnell, the republican and socialist, wrote with passion about the struggle for survival endured by the people of West Donegal against the ravages of poverty, civil conflict and nature. Carnduff, the Protestant who regarded himself as both an Irishman and an Orangeman, wrote with equal passion about the concerns of Belfast's working classes as well as about culture and politics.
While O'Donnell's contribution to Irish literature has been well documented and applauded, the writings of Carnduff have largely been neglected. A self-taught manual worker, Carnduff wrote about a dozen plays for both radio and theatre as well as several books of poetry and numerous essays. His play "Workers" received rapturous applause when staged at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1932, yet the same play was abandoned in his native Belfast when the Opera House objected to its working class ethos. As Sarah Ferris has pointed out, by 1970 the literary reputation of Thomas Carnduff "had sunk without trace".
O'Donnell's reputation as a writer has been adequately recognised, yet his reputation as a republican and a socialist has been dismissed as irrelevant by all but a handful of republicans who steadfastly refuse to equate republicanism with Catholic Nationalism or Green Toryism. The Donegal Democrat, which owed its establishment to the advice given by O'Donnell to three print workers during a labour dispute in 1918, concluded that O'Donnell was merely an agitator "who never achieved anything good for his country".
That is something else the two writers had in common, they were prophets without honour amongst their own people.
Carnduff, the Belfast Orangeman, was a regular visitor to the home of the O'Donnell's in Dublin. During one of these visits he presented the veteran republican with his Orange Sash. O'Donnell promptly placed this in a glass case and exhibited it with pride to all who entered his abode. Political differences they may have had, but O'Donnell had no problem with Carnduff's "orange feet" crossing the threshold of his home; nor did he find the Sandy Row mans Orange regalia to be a source of offence. Men and women of integrity are not easily offended by the beliefs, emblems and culture of their opponents.
Before he died O'Donnell made arrangements with Belfast republican, Jack Mulvenna, to ensure that the Sash was returned to Carnduff's family. In 1991, some five years after O'Donnell's death, the Sunday News carried a report of the Sash being handed over by Mulvenna to Carnduff's sons.
The friendship between O'Donnell and Carnduff reminds us that political adversaries need not dehumanise one another. On the contrary, they should have the capacity to respect each others political integrity and dedication to a cause. It reminds us too that those who have worn the uniform of opposing forces need not live in a state of perpetual hatred, base recrimination and ongoing demonisation. As in the case of Carnduff and O'Donnell, dedicated political opponents are very often kindred spirits who share similar passions and, but for an accident of birth, could have been on "the same side".
Writing from a loyalist perspective, I am saddened by the fact that working class Protestants such as Thomas Carnduff have been relegated to the margins of politics, culture and literature. Misunderstood by those of us who for so long swallowed the bitter pill of anti-Catholic sectarianism, and rejected by others whose bitter anti-Protestant sectarianism refused to acknowledge that anything good could be said or be written by an Orangeman, Carnduff has much to say to us today as we prepare to write an obituary for the Good Friday Agreement.
Life & Writings", (Lagan, 1994) edited by John Gray of the Linen
Hall Library would be a useful place to start for loyalists.
"The Thomas Carnduff Archive" � Sarah Ferris is available at the Queens University Library.
"Peadar O'Donnell", written by Peter Hegarty (Mercier Press 1999), is the latest biography of O'Donnell.
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