8 January 2009 Edition
BY ANN O’SULLIVAN, POW DEPARTMENT
IT was with great sadness that republicans in Ireland learned just before Christmas that Mike Duffy, of Philadelphia, USA, had finally lost his long battle with illness and had passed away in the United States.
Mike was a committed and proud Irish republican and he will be missed by many, not only throughout Irish-America but here in Ireland also. Mike was active in Noraid and also with the Irish Political Prisoners’ Children’s Holiday fund (IPPCH), which brought hundreds of children of republican prisoners from Ireland to stay for holidays with families in America. However, it is for his letters and cards to republican prisoners that Mike is most widely known.
Mike’s address, 4110 Farmdale, Philadelphia, is an address well-known to hundreds, if not thousands, of republican prisoners from the late 1970s right through to today.
A card from Mike Duffy was a certainty on a birthday and at Christmas, with its ever-present “God Bless”. These were handwritten and must have run into hundreds of cards each year. Many ex-prisoners will speak of the letters and cards that they received, even in the darkest days of prison protests, from Mike and from other supporters in America. Much of that correspondence was a direct result of the work of Mike Duffy.
Mike was a life-long member of the Republican Movement and was active in republican groups in the Philadelphia area for many years.
In 1979, he set up the Prisoners Writing Campaign to organise Americans to send letters and cards of support to Irish republican prisoners, no matter where they were imprisoned.
Beginning in his own local area, Mike over time became a fixture at Irish-American events throughout the east coast of America. Here he ran a stall, informed people of Irish republican issues, especially within the prisons, and signed them up to correspond with prisoners.
He was tireless and meticulous in his work and became a firm friend of the POW Department.
Over the years contacts between Mike and the POW Department were regular through letters, by phone and eventually face to face. Mike was constantly seeking accurate information on prisoners’ birthdays and addresses. The address issue was particularly important in relation to prisoners held in England. The process of ‘ghosting’ (moving prisoners at short notice to another prison) meant that we constantly had to trace the current whereabouts of these prisoners. Each new address would be forwarded to Mike to ensure that those Irish-Americans in contact with that prisoner were informed of the changed address.
In some cases, ex-prisoners will confirm that the first correspondence they received after a ghosting was a card and a “God Bless” from Mike Duffy.
Mike’s ancestors emigrated to America from Carrigart in County Donegal, and Mike was a regular visitor to Ireland.
During those trips he also visited prisoners in many jails. In recent years, however, he suffered a debilitating illness which limited his mobility and his ability to travel to Ireland. Despite this, it never limited his ability to send cards to prisoners and that continued right up to his untimely death.
I last spoke with Mike some months ago and, although he was obviously ill, he was still animated in asking about current prisoners and ex-prisoners and discussing republican politics.
On behalf of all Mike’s many friends in the Republican Movement, including prisoners, ex-prisoners, those who were never in prison, and on behalf of all in the POW Department who have had the privilege of working with him, I extend condolences to Mike’s family and friends. The Republican Movement is diminished by his passing. Codladh Sámh, a chara.