Archive for February, 2008

Brendan Hughes is laid to rest

Posted in marcella on 26 February 2008 by micheailin

Thousands line the street to bid ‘The Dark’ a fond farewell

By Ciarán Barnes
22 February 2008

More than 2,000 mourners lined the streets of West Belfast on Tuesday for the funeral of IRA hunger striker Brendan Hughes.

The 59-year-old’s coffin, which was draped in a tricolour and had black gloves and a beret on top, was carried by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.
The former IRA leader was cremated at Roselawn Cemetery after funeral Mass at St Peter’s Cathedral.
Fr Brendan Smyth, who conducted the service, said Brendan’s hunger strike in 1980 had taken a huge physical and mental toll.

Hunger striker

“His life after that time could not outrun or forget all that had happened to him and the many like him,” he said.
The first hunger strike was called off after 53 days, with IRA volunteer Sean McKenna on the verge of death.
Fr Smyth told mourners Brendan made a “brave decision” in ending the protest.
He added: “We know that when someone has the courage to do the right thing, then nothing but good can come from it, and we know of at least one person whose life was immediately saved for him having taken that courageous decision.”
Brendan joined the IRA in 1969.
He was arrested in the early 1970s along with Gerry Adams and Tom Cahill and sent to Long Kesh.


He escaped shortly afterwards in a rolled-up mattress but was eventually re-arrested.
In January 1978 he was transferred to the H-Blocks where he became the IRA’s Officer Commanding and led first the hunger strike against prison conditions.
Bobby Sands, a close friend of ‘The Dark’, took over from him as OC in Long Kesh.
Bobby Sands ordered the second hunger strike in 1981 in which he and nine other inmates died.
Brendan never fully recovered from his hunger strike ordeal and two years ago underwent an operation to save his sight.
Although a staunch critic of Sinn Féin in his later years, he remained hugely respected by supporters of the party.


An Unrepentant Fenian

Posted in marcella on 26 February 2008 by micheailin

Martin Galvin • 24 February 2008

Radio Free Eireann, New York’s influential Irish radio program, begins each week with a song that shouts the words “unrepentant Fenian”. Once the description “unrepentant” Fenian or “unrepentant” Republican puzzled me. Repentance denotes regret and a contrite turning away from some misdeed or wrongdoing. Fenianism or Republicanism I took to be a virtue or accolade, synonyms for Irish patriotism. No one speaks of a repentant patriot. Why should a Republican or Fenian ever be repentant and why would it ever be noteworthy to single out a Republican for being unrepentant?

Brendan Hughes surely lived and died as an unrepentant Republican. He could have no more repented or disowned or denied his part in the IRA’s fight against British rule, than he could repent being Irish or disown Belfast or disavow the legitimacy of the Irish struggle by donning a British criminal uniform in the H-blocks of Long Kesh.

The very suggestion that he repent, disown or even mitigate his part in the struggle to make himself more politically palatable to the British crown or a Paisley led Stormont would have been met with that sly mischievous smile, perhaps a chuckle and an instruction to ”cop yourself on.”

Like countless others, I knew of him long before I would meet him. Like a Jim Lynagh, or Pete Ryan or Francis Hughes among so many others, Brendan Hughes was one of those volunteer IRA soldiers whose courage and determination seemed to overflow into those alongside them, somehow instilling confidence that the overwhelming military advantages held by British crown forces would someone be neutralized or overcome because he was there.

It was perhaps most characteristic of him that when he escaped from a British prison he did so not to gain freedom and safety in the south or even a respite, but to get back to the fight within days.

In the H-blocks he had the unenviable, if not near impossible task of rallying the H-block blanketmen, keeping up their spirits and morale in the daily fight against British criminalization while exercising the restraint and patience required by the Republican movement, to build a campaign and network of support in Ireland and beyond.

He was instrumental in the campaign which would eventually inspire countless thousands across Ireland and around the globe to rally behind the blanketmen against Thatcher’s brutal torture.

When all attempts at a political resolution, including that by Cardinal O’Fiaich were dismissed by Thatcher, and the ultimate protest, hunger strike, was forced upon Republican political prisoners, Brendan Hughes volunteered to lead. While himself suffering 53 days of hunger strike after having undergone years of protest the decision fell upon him to end the first hunger strike when it seemed that the British had ceded an honorable resolution in time to save the life of Sean McKenna. We would then see Thatcher renege and choose the tactics which would mean the death of ten hunger strike martyrs, in her vain effort to break the struggle by breaking the prisoners.

Twenty years ago after his release from Long Kesh, Brendan volunteered to come to the United States to collect funds on behalf of the Republican Movement. It was not an assignment he relished, but one that was important to the struggle. He would begin meetings candidly by explaining he was not there to seek monies for Irish Northern Aid or the families of political prisoners or for Sinn Fein.

He threw himself into the tour, patiently and diplomatically meeting small groups answering questions and explaining strategy. He worked with patience, determination and some humor and succeeded nearly doubling his original goal. Years later it would be speculated that he was perhaps too successful. Denis Donaldson would be sent to New York the next year and someone would quip that agent Donaldson was Britain’s answer to Brendan’s success.

In those days, the British trumpeted the propaganda fiction that the IRA fight was continuing not due to the injustice of British rule but because so-called godfathers were profiting from the war. Anyone who ever visited Brendan Hughes would see this claim for the lie that it was, as he clearly never profited, benefited or was enriched by a struggle in which he long played a leading role.

Later, he would come to disagree with the deal that would barter away acceptance of British rule with a unionist veto, in exchange for power, places and patronage within Stormont. How easy it would have been for him to keep silent, and simply continue to enjoy, the esteem, camaraderie and job opportunities, to which his part in the struggle more than entitled him. Instead the same beliefs which brought him out on the streets of Belfast to join the struggle against the forces of the British crown led him to decide that loyalty to the struggle now demanded him to speak against the deal, and direction in which the Movement was headed.

His positions are public and in most cases show him taking a stand to defend others. He spoke out for a Republican debate on a political alternative to Stormont .He supported the demands of Republican prisoners at Maghaberry for segregation which was now being used by the British in place of a prison uniform as a new tactic of imposing criminalization. He urged against a Republican feud after the murder of Joseph O’Connor. He spoke for support for former Republican prisoners whose time in British jails had taken huge physical, mental and financial tolls. He expressed deep fears that the movement which could not be broken by British repression was being co-opted by power, privilege and profits within a British regime. Most recently he was to the forefront in opposing any Republican backing of the RUC-PSNI, which he saw as an endorsement of British rule, criminalization and repression, a force whose members had murdered, tortured and jailed Republicans.

His arguments were seldom answered on the merits but sidestepped with fanciful claims that Brendan was affected by the hunger strike or his years of imprisonment. The worst and most hurtful of these was the slander that he was against the leadership on a personal basis. This was a movement led by some with whom he had fought alongside, been imprisoned and risked his life. The idea of speaking against these leaders must have been heartbreaking for him and harder in some ways than than refusing the crown uniform in Long Kesh. Such slanders were created to enable others to rationalize themselves to themselves without dealing with the truth behind his words.

In remembering this unrepentant Fenian there are no better words than something he, himself wrote for THE BLANKET, about a relative named Charlie Hughes, who had given his life in the struggle and whose memory Brendan said inspired and sustained him while on hunger strike:

“He lies in the plot of the brave from where his inspiration reaches out to touch those of us who had the honour of knowing him.”

A life dedicated to the IRA and a broken heart

Posted in marcella on 24 February 2008 by micheailin

By Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune
February 24, 2008
**Via Newshound

From his flat high in Divis Tower on the Falls Road, Brendan Hughes looked down on the city he bombed. He pointed to a car hire firm, owned by a wealthy unionist businessman in the 1970s, and one of the IRA’s prime commercial targets.

“We bombed that place so many times, yet he kept re-opening it. I respected him for not giving up,” said Hughes. In the end, Hughes’ heart was broken by the belief that the leadership of the movement he served for three decades had given up the goals he still cherished.

Visiting the former Belfast Brigade OC in the tiny, threadbare flat where he spent his last years was always an emotional experience. The war, and the peace, had left him with indelible physical and mental scars. A slight figure in a Che Guevara t-shirt, he chain-smoked and drank to ease the pain of what he called “the sell-out”, but it never really worked.

As I’d leave his flat, he’d hand me pages of thoughts he’d scribbled down on Sinn Féin, poverty in republican areas, the Middle East conflict, and Catholic Church child abuse scandals. An atheist, he wanted the Church – not the IRA – disbanded.

Nicknamed ‘the Dark’, Hughes had been a ruthlessly committed paramilitary. His gun battles with the British entered republican folklore. Yet he was a complex man, displaying a compassion often missing in republican ranks.

Once, he’d a chance to kill a young British soldier in Leeson Street. The terrified soldier cried for his mother: “I stood over him with a .45 aimed at his head. I could have pulled the trigger and sent him to eternity. But morally and emotionally, I wasn’t able to end his life. He was a mere child, so frightened.”

Later, Hughes was haunted by the faces of IRA colleagues whom, he believed, had died for nothing. He’d spend days crying in his flat. A photo hung on the wall of Hughes in Long Kesh, with his best friend, Gerry Adams, arms around each other. “I loved him. I’d have taken a bullet for Gerry. I probably should have put one in him,” Hughes said.

He accused the leadership of abandoning republicanism for “personal power” and said the GFA (Good Friday Agreement) stood for ‘got f**k all’. He’d developed left-wing politics as a teenage merchant seaman. Entering African ports, he was appalled by the poverty he saw. He gave boxes of the ship’s supplies to locals.

He joined the IRA in 1969 and was jailed in 1973. He soon escaped, rented a house in the affluent Malone Road, dyed his hair, and donned a suit and tie. He became businessman Arthur McAllister, travelling around Belfast in disguise, coordinating the IRA campaign.

Eventually, his cover was blown. He spent 13 years in jail and 53 days on hunger-strike. On release, he rejoined the IRA. He worked for internal security but became suspicious of the ‘department’ which, it has since been revealed, included high-placed British agents.

His first clash with the leadership came when he complained of the £20 a day wages paid to ex-prisoners by a large west Belfast building contractor. An Official IRA member, shocked to see ‘the Dark’ carrying bricks and sweating in a ditch for a pittance, was told by the boss: “He’s cheaper than a digger.”

When Hughes tried to organise a strike, he was offered £25 a day on condition he not tell the others. “I told (the boss) to stick it up his arse and I never went back. I wrote an article about if for Republican News but it was censored.”

His wife had become involved with another man when he was in jail. Other prisoners urged him to give her a hard time. Hughes apologised to her for “always having put the movement first”, and told her to be happy.

While others of his rank secured holiday homes and businesses after the IRA ceasefire, Hughes survived on disability allowance. Just last month, he was left without heating until another ex-prisoner lent him an electric fire.

He craved solitude, visiting the pub in the quiet of early afternoon, and coming home to watch Channel Four’s ‘Deal or No Deal’. Prison had left him with arthritis. He was prone to chest infections and started to go blind. He didn’t eat well and neglected to take his medication. Political disillusionment had weakened his will to live.

In 1995, he was approached by army council member, Brian Keenan, who expressed discontentment with Adams and McGuinness and asked for help in devising a new military strategy. Hughes was interested but thought it a false approach to have him reveal his hand.

While he remained against the peace process, he came to believe all opposition should be peaceful and ‘armed struggle’ was pointless. Despite his militancy, Hughes’ outlook wasn’t narrow. He was chuffed when, years after jail, a Protestant prison officer tracked him to Divis. They went for a drink.

Two years ago, he visited Cuba to see the Sierra Maestra where Che had fought. He loved the locals and was angry the authorities barred them from hotels reserved for Westerners. In solidarity, he refused to enter.

He died, aged 59, after total organ failure. His ashes will be scattered on the Cooley Mountains, his parents’ grave, and the Falls Road IRA garden of remembrance. The last of the writings he gave me conveyed his inner torment: “I go to bed in pain, I wake in the middle of the night in pain, I get up in pain. What the f**k was it all about?”


This article appeared in the February 24, 2008 edition of the Sunday Tribune.

Tributes paid as mother of republican hunger striker dies

Posted in marcella on 23 February 2008 by micheailin

Irish News
Wednesday 20/02/08

Tributes have been paid to Margaret Hughes, mother of Co Derry hunger striker Francis Hughes, who died yesterday after a two-year illness.

Margaret Hughes nee McElwee (94) died at home comforted by her family.

She is survived by her husband Joe, who is aged 99.

“On behalf of the Sinn Fein leadership I would like to extend my deepest condolences to Maggie’s husband Joe and large family circle at this difficult time,” Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister, said.

Another son, Oliver, an independent republican councillor in Magherafelt, said that while Mrs Hughes had been very sad that Francis had died on hunger strike, she was intensely proud of him. In the last years of her life she took great comfort from praying for him and from the belief that he was watching over her, Mr Hughes said.

Francis Hughes was involved in the 1980 mass hunger strike before becoming the second prisoner, after Bobby Sands, to go on hunger strike the following year.

Mr Hughes died after 59 days without food. His cousin Tom McElwee also took part in the protest and was the ninth hunger striker to die.

Boston renamed the street in which the British consulate in the city is located as Francis Hughes Street.

Mrs Hughes’s funeral will leave the family home at 6 Scribe Road, Bellaghy, tomorrow at 10.15 for Requiem Mass and burial at St Mary’s, Bellaghy.

Thousands attend funeral of IRA prison commander

Posted in marcella on 23 February 2008 by micheailin

Irish News
By Rebecca Black and Allison Morris
Wednesday 20/02/08

Thousands of mourners from all over Ireland and beyond travelled to Belfast yesterday for the funeral of veteran republican Brendan Hughes (59) who died on Saturday after a short illness.

LAST RESPECTS: Sinn Fein councillor Fra McCann and party president Gerry Adams help carry the coffin of veteran republican Brendan Hughes from St Peter’s Cathedral in west Belfast yesterday. Mourners lined streets along the route taken by the cortege in the lower Falls area PICTURE: Hugh Russell

Former ‘officer commanding’ (OC) of the IRA prisoners in the Long Kesh internment camp and later the H-blocks of the Maze prison, Mr Hughes, known as ‘The Dark’, had suffered from ill-health for a number of years.

Much of this was put down to physical damage caused by 53 days without food during the first republican hun-ger strike in 1980.

The coffin, draped in a Tricolour with the IRA trappings of black beret and gloves, was taken from his sister Moya’s home at Grosvenor Road to St Peter’s Cathedral in the lower Falls area of west Belfast.

The cortege was led by Mr Hughes’s two children, Jose-phine and Brendan.

Released from prison in 1986, Mr Hughes was later to become an outspoken critic of Sinn Fein and the political direction taken by his former comrades.

Despite this, party president Gerry Adams, who was imprisoned in Long Kesh in the 1970s with Mr Hughes, was in attendance and helped carry the coffin.

Around 2,500 people filled St Peter’s and nearby streets, overshadowed by Divis tower, where Mr Hughes lived.

Among the mourners were Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarland who took over as IRA OC during the second hunger strike in 1981, senior republican Bob-by Storey and Sinn Fein director of publicity during the jail protests Danny Morrison.

The funeral brought to-gether republicans of all shades of green, keen to show their respects to a man who once topped the British government’s most-wanted list.

Fr Brendan Smyth told mourners how there were rumours that Mr Hughes had left prison with only the clothes on his back.

“That is not to say he left empty-handed – there was the baggage that he carried with him that nobody could see,” Fr Smyth said.

“The mental scars that came with his imprisonment and the treatment he re-ceived, the nightmares that would haunt him for the rest of his life and the untold physical damage inflicted on his body that would plague him in later years.”

Mgr Thomas Toner, who had been a chaplain at the Maze during the protests, was among the congregation.

Following Requiem Mass the coffin was carried through the lower Falls, where mourners lined the route, before making its way to Roselawn Cemetery for cremation.

Day that a door opened briefly into ‘The Dark’

Posted in marcella on 22 February 2008 by micheailin

Belfast Telegraph
Thursday 21, February 2008

Working in Belfast during forging of the Good Friday agreement and the tense implementation years that followed, making sense of the peace process often necessitated talking to former paramilitaries on both sides.

So when Brendan Hughes, a revered IRA icon to many Irish-Americans, went public with criticisms of Sinn Fein’s peace strategy in early 2000, I immediately sought an interview.

I’d read about the ruthless IRA operative, the mattress-roll escapee and the 1980 republican hunger strike leader. So I half expected a massive ego to greet me when I arrived at former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre’s Ballymurphy home to interview him.

However, Hughes was totally without airs. He answered all questions, including pointed queries as to the plausibility of his alternatives to Sinn Fein’s strategy.

He said that he’d long held reservations about the peace process but had remained quiet out of “loyalty to the republican leadership”.

Hughes said that when he joined the Provisional IRA in the early 70s, ” there was a simplicity about it – that we would fight the Brits and force them down Belfast Lough and out.”

When that didn’t happen, he later became an ardent supporter of the radicalisation of the republican movement that evolved from mid-70s debates among Long Kesh internees.

“Our whole philosophy within the prison was to bring about a 32-county, democratic socialist republic,” he said.

“And that’s mainly my objection now, and my concerns with the republican movement: that it is developing into a purely middle-class movement, that it has dropped the 32-county democratic socialist republican principles.”

Hughes believed that most American supporters never grasped the republican movement’s late-70s leftward shift. After being released from the Maze, he was sent on a fundraising trip to US in the late 1980s, where he said he was shocked at how conservative many supporters in groups like Irish Northern Aid (NORAID) were.

“I remember sitting in a hotel room with a bunch of these guys, and they were all pretty well-off,” he said.

“There was a briefcase with the money in it on the table. And they were banging the table. This guy, what did he call himself – the ‘OC of the Irish-American Republican Army’ – was banging the table demanding that I shoot the Queen, that we shoot postmen, that we shoot anyone with the crown on their caps.”

Hughes believed the peace process back home had involved similar republican efforts to court moderates and conservatives, and that that strategy had taken the movement into a cul-de-sac, and far from a united Ireland.

Of Gerry Adams, often pegged as a chief architect of that strategy, he said: “Nobody works harder in this movement than Gerry. And I have great admiration for him in that regards. And he’s my friend, my comrade.”

But, he added, a flood of British peace money had left many republicans ” making a living out of politics here now, and people who are in a position of power and influence. And it becomes enjoyable … (but) a lot of people are left behind, a lot of the ordinary working republicans are left behind.”

Hughes insisted that only “open debate and open criticism” could save republicanism.

“The leadership has to allow itself to be open to criticism from people like me – not negative criticism, positive criticism,” he said.

Adams carries Hughes’ coffin

Posted in marcella on 21 February 2008 by micheailin

Brendan `The Dark` Hughes, once one of Belfast`s most feared IRA gunmen, died at the weekend after a short illness aged 59.

Crowds swelled to more than 2,000 as his coffin – draped in the Irish Tricolour and topped with black beret and gloves, was carried from his home in west Belfast to St Peter`s Catholic Cathedral in the Divis Street area of the city.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams today carried the coffin of a former IRA hunger striker who fell out with the party over the peace process.

Hughes spent 53 days on hunger strike in the top security Maze Prison in 1980 and fellow faster Raymond McCartney , who is now a Sinn Fein Assembly member, was among the mourners at the biggest republican funeral seen in Belfast for some years.

Hughes was Officer Commanding the IRA men in the Maze during the battle of wills over prisoner of war status and the men`s refusal to wear prison uniform.

He led the dirty protest – when the men wore nothing but a blanket and smeared their cell walls with their own excrement.
That developed into the hunger strike led by Hughes but called off after 53 days when one of the men, Sean McKenna, was near death.

Bobby Sands took over as OC and in 1981 ordered another hunger strike which first claimed his own life and then nine more republicans.

Hughes was released from jail in 1986 and resumed active republicanism again but became disillusioned with the direction of the Sinn Fein leadership in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and dismissed them as `the Armani suit brigade`.

He accused them of betraying core republican principles and their working class background.

Despite the fallout a former comrade loyal to the Sinn Fein leadership said: “There was still a lot of respect and fondness for Brendan despite all the things he said in recent years.”

Mr Adams` decision to carry the coffin was a clear sign any rift had been healed.