9 May 2002 Edition

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John McGuffin

The death occurred recently of `John McGuffin, journalist, author, lawyer, political activist and wit. McGuffin will be fondly remembered by An Phoblacht readers for The Brigadier, his viciously satirical column which seemed aimed at proving that the pen is mightier than the sword. He also wrote two important books, The Guinea Pigs, about 14 Irish political prisoners on whom the British Army experimented with sensory deprivation torture in 1971, and Internment, a history of that particular form of repression in Ireland. Both books are available for download, as are other examples of McGuffin's caustically entertaining prose, at his Dispatches website (http://www.mcguffin.freeserve.co.uk). Always fond of a quote, McGuffin described Dispatches as such: "Dispatches is unashamedly Republican, Socialist, Anarchist, Guevarist and iconoclastic. We take our philosophy from the 'Father of All Historians' the great Herodotus. In the 5th century BC he succinctly laid down the historian's function: 'Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all; the conscientious historian will correct these defects.'

And, it must be said - 'amnesia is the handmaiden of hypocrisy' - which is basically what George Santayana meant when he wrote: 'Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to fulfil it.'"

An Phoblacht's CORMAC below pays tribute to his longtime friend and comrade.

The timing at least was perfect. May Day! It was a most appropriate date to pay our last respects to John McGuffin. We carried the coffin, draped with the anarchist flag of red and black, into Roselawn crematorium. The weather was changeable and unpredictable and even that seemed appropriate. The room was filled with family, friends and old comrades. And stories were told about McGuffin. It was recalled how he turned up at the Burntollet march with an anarchist banner but no one was willing to carry the other side. To McGuffin this proved the correctness of his position. He always knew when he was right and the rest of the world was wrong.

Irascible. That was one of the words used by Joe Quigley to describe him, for no one here was about to pretend that we were talking about a perfect human being. Yet no one who listened as Joe, Fr. Des Wilson, Bernadette McAliskey, and Eamon McCann spoke could doubt for a second the respect that they had and the affection they felt for him.

When this, the comparatively respectable section of the obsequies, had been completed a large number of us headed for a pub. And it was there that we entered the real McGuffinesque world. A few drinks accompanied by rebel songs, ballads about social injustice, and stories in dubious taste. For one phrase that is seldom used in the same sentence as "McGuffin" is "good taste". The hilariously tasteless pieces that he wrote for this paper under the name "The Brigadier" are a testament to this. For although some of us will remember him most as a valued friend and drinking companion, many more will remember him for his writings, which ranged from his exposure of the systematic torture of internees (The Guinea Pigs) to ribald tales from the pubs and clubs of Belfast and Derry.

So yet another friend and comrade is lost to us and the world has become a poorer place, a less colourful place, and a lot less fun.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1