The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Where are the guards of honour?

Sean Magee • 14 February 2005

I was only 17 years old when standing at the side of my friend's coffin. I was proud to be his friend and proud to be a member of his IRA guard of honour. It was the only thing I could do at the time for my dead comrade and friend.

I have never forgotten my deep sense of helplessness and inadequacy primarily at the impossibility of rectifying the situation by restoring things as they once were for my friend and secondly my sense of complete uselessness to a family who unlike me, will be grieving for all time to follow, the loss of a deeply cherished brother and son.

Among my many thoughts while in "aire" beside the IRA Volunteer's coffin, I pondered on my own long rite of passage (6 years) from a green beret to a black beret and how I yearned for the day when I would eventually graduate from Na Fianna Eireann to Oglaigh Na hEireann.

Thinking was in itself a powerful distraction from the tingling irritable sensation in my locked "at attention" legs and thinking also served as a buffer for me from the full painful reality of permanent loss through death that only close family members experience.

I still vividly recall the many thoughts that rushed through my mind when in sideway sneaky glances I looked at the closed tight coffin draped in the Irish Tri-colour with a black beret and black gloves on top. The coffin was closed tight and I thought about what, if anything, might remain of my lifeless friend and mentor's body.

I tried then like I do often to conjure up and relive our many past moments together and our previous conversations. One conversation which remained most vivid and lingered as a loving memory went along the lines of the fallen IRA comrade holding up an armalite (AR15) in a call house saying he would "kill me if I got killed". When I reflect on my friend's words, I also recall his love for the common Irish people and the underdog anywhere else in the world.

My comrade always spoke with certainty about his beliefs that the IRA would eventually achieve a United Democratic Socialist Republic. He also talked about his death as an unlikely event that might come about and if it should occur, his death would only be a small sacrifice for the liberation of others.

I look upon his death then as I do today as a noble and altruistic act. An action whereby this IRA volunteer like many hundreds of other men and women from the ranks of the IRA died so people like me might live and live in a better place in time and space free from fear and oppression deriving from the British. However, I never thought I would have to contemplate a time when some individuals within the Republican family itself would be the root cause of much fear and oppression, and today they are.

The volunteers then and up until the most recent present lived by the people, of the people and for the people. The Volunteers were a genuine conduit for the Republican movement directly from the home and hearth of the people. The volunteers listened to the people and carried back the mood of the people to the leadership. The movement was truly a bottom up movement on the move and moving with the people. I believe Sinn Fein is failing as a true conduit from hearth and home or worse it is not listening to the people.

Once in the not too distant past, the common people were clearly defined by republican soldiers and thinkers alike in terms of revolutionary support, suffering and succor and not votes or potential votes based on a political science and a self hypnotizing program set to achieve political power in corrupt corridors with robots armed with a "big picture" theory. A theory it seems that few if any are willing to put before the people and much worse none will tolerate any enquiring, whatsoever. So who are the people now and who really knows the game plan - big picture, if one exists at all?

People in the republican community who ask questions today are being regarded as negative, non-committed, non-programmed, not green booked or simply bad republicans or not republicans at all. Where is the positive Irish republican confidence borne out of integrity, altruism and love for the common Irish people gone today? Is it still there and I don't see it? Is it bad to even ask or is it worse that I am so stupid because I have to ask?

The Irish republican people and more often our young people are often asked to stock take or muster up resistance, come out and vote, block a road, take a kicking or not to defend their homes for the sake of the too complicated to explain "big picture".

A big picture theory that intentionally or not has created self styled arrogant elites with measuring sticks. There ought to be no measuring sticks held up against the rite of passage within the broad Irish republican family and yet there is. What is so complicated about the "big picture" that it is beyond the intelligence of the common people who faced the might of the British war apparatus with fists, bricks, stones and sometimes prams?

The Republican Movements of all shades would, if my experience counts, be ruthlessly self critical especially when assessing their entire liabilities and assets as a people driven organization. A peoples' movement on the move with the people that my dead friend and me joined and served were definitely schooled and disciplined in such a manner; has this republican ideology changed? I am not afraid of change but I am sensing a change within the republican areas, where there is a growing reluctance and a deeper fear developing within the Irish Republican family. The people are becoming less willing to offer their opinion or criticism not only about the Provisional Republican Movement but also to it. So who is moving away from whom?

The same movement once encouraged me to embrace self criticism as a means of improvement via the ranks of Na Fianna Eireann and later also in the IRA. Many volunteers were always mindful and more pertinently, reminded not to bring the organization into disrepute. Many of us didn't, many of us went to jail, and others went to the grave. Some of us have yet to arrive at either place thanks to the others and the common people.

Recently, I went to another wake in the heart of a staunch republican community. I looked at the people on the streets and many of them were schooled just as I was. Some of us nodded, few of us spoke. We had little to say. We felt the pain of a Short Strand family. We shared the peoples' anguish of ruthless self criticism upon us. Robert McCartney was murdered by one of our own - an action that brought a republican organization into disrepute and the McCartney family left with the lifelong loss of a cherished son, partner and brother and the Short Strand community with the loss of a friend.

When my friend died the Catholic Church was mounting ferocious attacks against funerals of IRA members and the local parish priest then was particularly outspoken. My friend's Mother was and she remains to this day a daily mass-goer and communicant. During her son's wake she stuck to her daily routine and headed for morning mass as usual. When she arrived back I said to her, "How can you go near that church after what the parish priest said about your son?" My friend's mother replied, "It isn't the parish priest or any priest that I go to mass to see."

It has taken me years to understand and fully recognize not only the dignity and strength that permeates throughout most Irish Catholic Republican homes especially at a time of death but also to come to terms with my own ignorance and stupid republican elitism.

The quiet dignity and strength that I recognized and witnessed at the home of my friend, comrade and mentor is no different to the dignity I encountered at the McCartney home. Their grief was no less, both families lost a son. But, one family's son died as a highly reputable IRA member and another family's son was killed by an IRA member disreputably. Sin é.




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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

14 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

An Ireland of Equals Will Not Be Built on Fear
Gerard Quinn

'Law and Order' From Behind a Balaclava
John Kelly

Where Are the Guards of Honour?
Sean Magee

Losing Hearts and Minds
Mick Hall

Protest? You're Having a Laugh
Michael Benson

Brian Mór

When A Leader Deserts His Men
Anthony McIntyre

No News
James Fitzharris

I Didn't Know Her, But I Did
Fred A. Wilcox

Parents Must Fight Bigotry
David Adams

9 February 2005

Oderint dum Metuant
Anthony McIntyre

Life Amongst the Proveau Riche
Brian Mór

Can Republicans Succeed Without Upholding National Sovereignty?
Francis Mackey

The Party or the Process
Dr John Coulter

Sean Russell and the Nazis
Mick Hall

Counting the Bodies
Liam O Ruairc

Elections' Aftermath
Ghali Hassan

What did Aeschylus write in "Daughters of Danaus"?
Toni Solo



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