The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Republican Not Bandit Country

Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, 'Something is out of tune.' - Carl Jung

Anthony McIntyre

When the Daily Telegraph journalist Toby Harnden, was reported to be writing a book on the IRA in South Armagh a number of years ago, the general expectation within the republican community was that the end product would be a rabid right wing tirade the only purpose of which would be to excoriate the IRA. What else do Daily Telegraph journalists do was the consensus. So it was with some surprise that Bandit Country was greeted so favourably on the streets.

Whatever, the view of the republican leadership, it did not deter people from reading the book. Not that those who read it always bought it. My own copy, a birthday present from a life long friend, is literally falling to pieces it has been thumbed through so many times by numerous people. Brand new when I first read it, there is now barely a page attached to the spine. All those who read it were republicans. And each commented on it favourably. Like all works there are faults with it which are best dealt with in a proper review. But these pale compared against its strengths. And Harnden is to be commended for striking the balance that he did. Of course there is a integrity to Toby Harden that is brought all the more into focus in a week when a man - despicable and subservient creature that Clifford McKeown is to have killed a Catholic taxi driver as a birthday present to some leader - is convicted on the word of the journalist Nick Martin Clarke who previously counted him amongst his sources. Harnden, at some considerable risk to himself, has recently defied our legal 'masters' on these matters by refusing to disclose the identities of his sources.

The reason so many republicans wanted to read Bandit Country was because of their respect for the IRA volunteers of South Armagh who in the republican psyche occupied a sacred pantheon. What made them tick, how they could maintain such a record of outstanding success, why their opponents - the cream of the British forces - failed to combat them in any effective fashion were the type of thoughts that had ran through our minds for years.

Those of us who populated the ranks of the IRA in the earlier days of its existence can remember the exasperated Merlyn Rees of the British Government complain that the IRA ceasefire of 1975 had no standing in South Armagh. He had a point - in August of that year its volunteers killed four soldiers in a landmine explosion allegedly in retaliation for the British having killed a local IRA leader, Francie Jordan. In December they surrounded a British observation post and killed three more who had declined the offer from the volunteers to surrender.

British troops, in terms of proximity, even when somewhat removed from the area had an intense dislike of the IRA there. Travelling from the remand cage in Long Kesh to court one morning in 1976, we were detained for 'the count' at the prison tally lodge. From inside our holding van we could hear a British soldier on guard duty complain that the Alsatian dog he had with him was stupid - it was 'an Irish dog' he informed the screws who accompanied him. 'Pressing my mouth to the gap at the rear of the van we were encased in, I commented, 'it's a Crossmaglen dog - it eats soldiers.' His fury was undisguised. He banged and kicked the side of the van while using language he hardly learned from the vicar, while we sat inside laughing.

In 1979 at the height of the Blanket protest the South Armagh IRA provided us with one of our greatest morale boosts by wiping out 18 British soldiers in an operation which has gone unparalleled throughout this conflict. We thought our fellow protestors in H5 were hallucinating as they shouted the news to us in H4. It started with four soldiers dead and then proceeded upward until we stopped listening to them, thinking that some prison orderly was feeding them bum sceal.

In 1981 when the Belfast and Derry IRAs failed lamentably to hit the British in response to their policy of allowing the hunger strikers to die, South Armagh waded in and killed five soldiers in one operation. Years later the most senior ranking RUC members to die as a result of the armed struggle met their maker on the country roads of South Armagh. Resilient, ingenious, determined, ruthless and clinically efficient, their efforts throughout the war against the British won for them the unalloyed admiration of friends and the grudging respect of opponents. The region's military prowess and ability to operate as a skilled army in the field ridiculed the British attempt to criminalise the republican struggle.

Republicans of every hue who came through the struggle look back with admiration upon South Armagh. It occupies an elevated plateau in republican iconography. The circumstances pertaining to the recent death of IRA volunteer Keith Rodgers now threatens to collapse that plateau. Partisan newspaper reporting that the death resulted from a clash between 'the IRA and a gang' does nothing to dilute the major indictment of the republican struggle that would result from its most cherished military battleground becoming the site for bloodletting over property disputes or some other activity not remotely associated with republicanism. Whatever the republican struggle was waged for it most certainly was not for this.




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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.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

25 March 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


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


21 March 2003

War In Our Time But Not In Our Name
Anthony McIntyre


Belfast Schools Against War
Davy Carlin


Not Your Father's Socialism

Kevin Donegan


Disturbing Secrets
Liam O Ruairc



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