6 April 2006 Edition
Brian Campbell remembered
There was not a dry eye in the house as the crowd of several hundred gave Brian Campbell's partner Gráinne and his mother Kathleen a standing ovation. For over two hours the crowd listened attentively to comrades and friends of Brian speak about the man they knew.
And the man they knew was a partner, father, son, brother, IRA volunteer, footballer, political prisoner, writer, poet, playwright, film maker and scriptwriter.
One time editor of An Phoblacht, Brian was also a speech writer for Conor Murphy MP for Newry/Armagh, and a key member of the team which planned Conor's successful Westminster election.
Brian Campbell died suddenly last October. His death at a young age shocked the Republican Movement. His loss was particularly felt among his own people in Newry and South Armagh.
The recent memorial night was organized by the Dubblejoint drama company who worked with Brian in the production and writing of several of his plays. Brian's story was recorded on stage by the actors he worked with using the words he wrote.
Brian was an innovator, a thinker, a man who tested people to test themselves, to explore their inner capacity to think and act artistically. His vehicle for such discovery was the visual arts: drama and film making, when freedom from prison provided him with the opportunity.
While in prison it was the written word he creatively used to encourage republicans to tell each other and the world around them what was going on inside their heads. This led to publications like An Glór Gafa/The Captive Voice, which lasted 10 years and was written and edited on location, in the H-Blocks.
Gerry Kelly MLA was one of the people Brian met in the H-Blocks. He told those gathered that he was keenly interested in poetry and writing poems and had done so before he met Brian but had done so in the 'poetry closet'. Brian encouraged the poets and the prose writers to come out, to put their ideas on paper for publication in An Glor Gafa.
Gerry said Brian's approach challenged the macho side of republican prisoners by encouraging them to attend the poetry workshops he helped organise in the wings. Gerry was used as Brian's poetry workshop ambassador as he traveled around the H-Blocks on a Red Book security classification.
In prison Brian honed his skill as a writer and editor, clanging away on an antiquated ribbon typewriter.
Gentle by nature he was rigid when it came to word excess, preferring brevity to make the intended point, according to Laurence Mc Keown, former prisoner and collaborator with Brian on a number of literary projects.
Many prisoners experienced Brian's blue pen through their fledgling musings but all said he edited with sympathy and often explained his changes for fear of disheartening the individual.
Behind Brian's gentle manner there was clearly a tough person. This side of his character was given full throttle when he was playing Gaelic football. On the pitch he was transformed. No quarter asked and none given.
Outside prison his talent as a writer blossomed. He was involved in the production of the oral history of the H-Blocks, Nor Meekly Serve My Time . He jointly wrote with Laurence Mc Keown the powerful film H3, which put the blanket protest for political status on the big screen.
For the 20th anniversary of the Hunger Srike he wrote the play, Laughter of our Children which traveled across Ireland.
His play Cold House was particularly challenging for republicans. In it we heard the views of the RUC as well as the IRA, both caught up in the conflict.
Pam Brighton, Dubblejoint's Artistic Director, spoke of feeling robbed by Brian's sudden death, a loss not only of a life but of what that life had yet to produce for the stage and the screen. And it was this potential, this 'what might have been' which preoccupied Brian's family and friends as they celebrated and appreciated what he had produced in his all too short life.