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11 May 2006 Edition

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Reviews: TV documentary and re-published book dealing with the Hunger Strike

Get this book and read it Twice.

Nor Meekly Serve My Time. The H-Block Struggle 1976-1981

Compiled by Brian Campell. Edited by Brian Campell, Laurence McKeown, Felim O'Hagan.

ISBN number 1-900960-29-X

Price £9.99

Originally published in 1994, Nor Meekly Serve My Time has been relaunched to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strikes. The book traces a stream of events- the IRA prisoners' experience of remand in Crumlin Road jail, the blanket protest and the hunger strikes of the early eighties.

An important feature of the work is the account of how the Hunger Strike ended. The latter part of the book describes a closure to the protracted republican protests of the late 1970s and early 1980's, in so far as you could apply the term 'closure' to the period.

The Hunger Strikers haven't gone away and, as stated at end of the book's epilogue signed up to by the republican POWs: "Today the inheritance of our dead comrades is all around us we pursue the new goals which we have set ourselves".

In the foreword to the original book, Bernadette McAliskey depicted the sorrow felt at the time; "No deaths have been harder for me to come to terms with than the deaths of the hunger strikers". The introduction to the 25th anniversary edition, written by former Hunger striker Raymond Mc Cartney, is even more telling when he quotes an extract written by former hunger striker Leo Green: "I became aware of a smell from my body. It was a smell sensed by other hunger strikers. A smell you sometimes sense when paying respect to the dead."

But Nor Meekly Serve My Time is far from a morbid read. The testimonial style structure, where many individuals contribute to the book, adds character and all sorts of characters talk. They are variously witty, sombre or reflective. All are profoundly honest. Of particular interest is an account by Seanna Walsh on page 237 about the period towards the end of the 1981 hunger strike. This account is only one in a stream of interviews that throw light on a very important period in the republican journey.

Nor Meekly Serve My Time is a uniquely sensitive documentation of historical events, a chronology that outlines, not only the course of events at the time, but also records the political development going on in that period.

This is an important book. Not simply because of its delivery of a clear outline of what went on in the Blocks during the late 70's and early 80's, but also in terms of its literary status. Nor Meekly Serve My Time should have a place on every library shelf and is a must for anyone wanting to understand the context and events of a period that was one of the most important in terms of modern Irish History.

The foreword of the second edition of Nor Meekly Serve My Time is dedicated a major player in the production of the book- Brian Campbell, former editor of An Phoblacht who died last October.

Get this book and read it twice.

BY ELLA O'DWYER

History distorted to suit 2006 agenda

TV Review. Hunger Strike. RTÉ 1. Tuesday 9 May.

The second part of RTÉ's documentary on the 1981 Hunger Strike was about contemporary politics and not the tragedy of 1981. Such is the respect for the ten hunger strikers that few political opponents would attempt to attack them now. Today the angle is to distort history and present the IRA as evil manipulators who deliberately prevented a settlement in order to promote Sinn Féin's electoral strategy.

Discredited former republican Richard O'Rawe was placed centre stage in the programme. The entire account of the Hunger Strike from the death of Bobby Sands to the end of the strike hinged on O'Rawe's spurious claim that a viable compromise was rejected. O'Rawe has been comprehensively refuted since the publication of his book last year. But in this programme he was represented as one side in a non-existent 'debate' within republicanism about how the Hunger Strike was conducted. Facts were distorted to suit this scenario. For example it was not made clear that the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace had strongly and publicly criticised the British government's approach at the time.

The British had tried to deceive the prisoners to end the first Hunger Strike. They displayed that same bad faith during the second strike, making it imperative from the point of view of the prisoners that any settlement was in black and white and that there were cast iron guarantees. All these facts have been documented. They were in the statement from the prisoners announcing the end of the Hunger Strike. As far back as 1987 the efforts at a settlement before Joe McDonnell's death were documented in David Beresford's Ten Men Dead.

The purpose of the programme-makers was revealed in the string of commentary from bitter opponents of republicans who poured forth their bile - Seán Donlon lamenting that the strike was front-page news in the USA, Austin Currie on republicans' "brilliant propaganda war", Ken Maginnis "despised those who gave a degree of credibility" to the prisoners and Denis Faul on how Sinn Féin was "doing very well" and "having a ball" while prisoners died. The programme carried no response to any of these from republican interviewees.

Garret FitzGerald got away with the totally false statement that the British Embassy march of 18 July 1981 consisted of "5,000 mainly IRA people from the North". It was nearer 20,000 and they were people of all walks of life, from all over Ireland. But support for the prisoners in the 26 Counties was totally played down in this programme and the election of two prisoner TDs, including hunger striker Kieran Doherty, was only mentioned in passing.

By the end, the programme had descended to the level of one of those Sunday morning radio 'chat' shows where 'the great and the good' of Dublin 4 talk off their hangovers. With his sneering comments which ended the programme, Eamonn McCann should feel more at home in that atmosphere than in his native Derry.

BY MÍCHEÁL MacDONNCHA.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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