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28 October 1999 Edition

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A propagandist in love

The Walls Came Down
A Prison Journal
Danny Morrison

Danny Morrison's latest book is a thoughtful and compelling account of imprisonment, his imprisonment to be precise. It is primarily a tale of a couple, one present, the other known by reference, trying to keep their relationship alive in the face of an impending heavy sentence. The book is written in diary form, through letters Morrison penned, primarily to his partner, but also to friends and comrades. In 1990, he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder, kidnapping and IRA membership, all in connection with notorious informer Sandy Lynch. Morrison was held on remand in Crumlin Road and then sent to Long Kesh after his conviction.

The enforced isolation from his work outside (Morrison had been Sinn Féin's Director of Publicity before his arrest) gave him plenty of time to reflect on the political situation and his evolving attitudes towards it. This is evidenced in a number of key letters spread chronologically through the book, perhaps the most fascinating of which is one to Gerry Adams, penned from Long Kesh. In it, Morrison quotes from a book by white ANC member Albie Sachs, who wrote: ``We might find ourselves confronted with hard decisions, whether to hold out for generations if necessary, until we are finally able to overthrow and completely destroy the system of apartheid, or to accept major but incomplete breakthroughs now, transforming the terrain of struggle in a way which is advantageous to the achievement of our ultimate goals.'' Morrison shared these sentiments and advocated reaching out from a position of strength, an analysis reached independently of movement by the republican leadership in that direction outside.

One of Morrison's strengths as Sinn Féin Director of Publicity and as editor of this paper before that was his great sense of humour, evidenced here in a healthy dose of entertaining anecdotes at the expense of himself and those poor unfortunates who had to share a prison with him. Morrison's love of literature is another recurring theme, but the real meat of this book, around which all else often appears incidental, is his relationship with his partner and the terrible pressures put on it by the prospect of years spent apart.

It is in the exploration of this love affair that we find expectation, hope, despair, frustration, lust, longing, exhilaration, both first hand from Danny and reflected in his replies to his partner.

The only occasion Danny's partner gets to speak directly is right at the death, a deliciously weighted couple of paragraphs that only serves to whet the reader's appetite for more.

Perhaps an epilogue to inform readers that love conquered all in the end would have spoiled the balance of the book, but I'm fond of happy endings, so I'll let that one slip.

Overall, this story of personal and political evolution and turmoil is an impressive addition to Morrison's steadily expanding body of work. Well worth a tenner.


A defining, revealing and traumatic conflict

Civil War in Connacht 1922-1923
By Nollaig O Gadhra
Mercier Press,1999

GIVEN the dearth of material on the Civil War, anything on the subject must be welcome. Let me declare a personal interest in this.

My great uncle, Tom Derrig, was on the Civil War IRA Army Council and was shot and captured by Free State soldiers in January 1923.

At the time, he was Adjutant General and, with Liam Lynch incommunicado in the South, effectively Chief of Staff. While in that jail he went on hunger strike. Playing cards held at the jail to this day bear his autograph - as Gaeilge ar ndoigh - that he and his comrades used to distract them from the fact that they were on hunger strike.

The Civil War defines the Irish experience of the 20th Century. A republican minority resisted the centuries-old ancien regime of British imperialism. The people were galvanised by the revolutionary leadership shown by the IRA. Britain was forced to retreat from territory they had considered safely theirs since Cromwell's time.

The British fought back by proxy. In this they were aided and abetted by conservative elements in Irish society unsettled by the sight of a risen people. Britain was only too happy to supply artillery and ex-squaddies in the ``National Army''.

The British have had their proxies in the 26 Counties ever since, from prominent lawyers to potato merchants.

This book is based substantially on a series of notes completed in 1972 - at a time when there were far more survivors of the Civil War - by the late J.J. Waldron.

Because of this, although the book claims to cover the Civil War in Connacht, it is fairer to say that its strength is in its Galway source material, especially Tuam.

For any republican without anything on their bookshelf about the Civil War, this book is worth considering for the appendices alone. Nearly half the book's 188 pages are taken up with documents that relate to the wider struggle and place the book in an all-Ireland context.

There is a deafening silence in nationalist Ireland on the Civil War.

People who would claim to be republicans haven't a notion why it started or what it entailed.

It is out side the scope of this review, but it is something that I intend to examine in my weekly column soon.

This is particularly problematic since Neil Jordan's hugely successful Michael Collins film - although I loved Julia Roberts' Irish accent, the historical accuracy of the last 20 minutes on the Civil War had all the academic rigour of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Suffice to say, the book chronicles the events that ran from the Treaty debate until the order by the IRA to ``dump arms''.

Most striking in the book is the list of republican prisoners executed. Correctly, in my view, the list starts with P.H Pearse, Kilmainham, 3rd May 1916, and concludes with William Shaughnessy, Ennis, 2nd May 1923.

They, and the 115 names listed between them, were all murdered by the enemies of the Irish people.


A Tyrone tribute

West Tyrone Remembers
Price £5

``The fools, the fools, the fools they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.''

Of all the things that Pearse wrote or said, this part of his oration at the graveside of O'Donovan Rossa is, I think, the most telling. It is often quoted by republican speakers at the graves of dead comrades the length and breadth of the country.

The revisionists and anti-republican elements, especially in the 26 Counties, throw this sentiment back in our faces and accuse us of living in the past.

Yet for me, Pearse's words sum up what is a central tenet of republicanism; that we must remember those many, many patriots who have given up their lives in the struggle for Ireland's freedom.

It was with this in mind that I read the recently published booklet West Tyrone Remembers, a tribute to the republican dead of that area of the north west of Ireland around the Tyrone/Donegal border.

The booklet, produced by the National Graves Association (Strabane Branch), includes tributes to Volunteers who died as far back as 1921, when Jim McNally was killed at a training camp in the Sperrin Mountains.

Then there is the tribute to Volunteer David Devine. Aged 16, he was shot dead in an SAS shoot-to-kill operation in Strabane in 1985 along with his brother Michael and Charles Breslin.

So young yet prepared to give so much. It is right that we remember them and remember that when we commemorate our republican dead we are not looking back into the past but envisaging the republic that we shall build in their memory.

Available from John Kelly, 12a Bridge Street, Strabane, County Tyrone. Tel: 01504 886824.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1