ON THIS DATE (1ST MARCH) 20 YEARS AGO : A NON-SLEEPING EGG CURRIE SPEAKS…
“We didn’t sleep..” – the reply given by Tory politician Edwina Currie to a ‘Twitter’ user who stated she had slept with John Major. In the same year that she had put all her eggs in one basket, she was named as runner-up to Margaret Thatcher in BBC Radio 4’s ‘Women of the Year’ poll but it is for her snide remark about the Irish that she is best remembered for here : she was quoted in ‘The Sun’ newspaper on the 1st March 1997 – 20 years ago on this date – giving her views on Irish people – “They’re so intelligent, the Irish. Give them an education and they can do anything. I remember the first time I met an Irish accountant. I laughed because I couldn’t believe it : an Irish accountant…!”
Oh but we’re good with figures, Edwina : 1+1+6+9 = 848 and 26+6 = 1. And you can count on that.
PROSE AND CONS.
By prisoners from E1 Landing, Portlaoise Prison, 1999.
Grateful thanks to the following for their help, support, assistance and encouragement, and all those who helped with the typing and word processing over the past few months. Many thanks to Cian Sharkhin, the editor of the book, Mr Bill Donoghue, Governor, Portlaoise, Mr Seán Wynne, supervising teacher, the education unit in Portlaoise Prison and the education staff, especially Zack, Helena and Jane. Education officers Bill Carroll and Dave McDonald, Rita Kelly, writer, print unit, Arbour Hill.
First Print : November 1999, reprinted March 2000, illustrations by D O’Hare, Zack and Natasha. Photograph selection : Eamonn Kelly and Harry Melia.
CALMING THE STORM. (By M O’Callaghan.)
I hear the wind
feel the storm
walked with raindrops
just this morn
within the confines
my mind’s alert
fired up now
named her place
today she’s graced
momentarily though it seems
clouds of darkness
(Next – ‘Candlelight’, by M. O’Callaghan.)
ON THIS DATE (1ST MARCH) 52 YEARS AGO : IRISH PATRIOT RE-INTERRED IN GLASNEVIN CEMETERY, DUBLIN.
Pictured, left – Roger Casement’s body being re-interred (on Monday, 1st March 1965 – 52 years ago on this date) in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, having been released by the British from Pentonville Prison in Islington, North London.
He was born on the 1st September, 1864, in Sandycove, County Dublin, the son of Captain Roger Casement of the 3rd Dragoon Guards of the British Army and Anne Jephson from Mallow, County Cork. His mother had him secretly baptised in her own religion, Roman Catholic, but he was raised in the Protestant faith of his father. As both his parents died young, Roger was taken in by an uncle, near Ballycastle, County Antrim, and educated as a boarder at the diocesan school in Ballymena.
From 1895 onwards he held consular appointments at various locations in Africa, including Boma in the Congo (1904) where, for the British Foreign Office, he investigated Belgian human rights abuses of the indigenous people. Later, in Peru, he was commissioned to undertake a report on the reported abuse of workers in the rubber industry in the Putumayo basin, which earned him a knighthood after his findings were published as a parliamentary paper (1911). He had been a member of the Gaelic League and became increasingly radicalised by the opposition of the Ulster unionists to Home Rule from 1912 onwards and wrote nationalist articles under the pseudonym ‘Seán Bhean Bhocht’.
He rarely receives a mention when it comes to the writers and poets of 1916 (“Of unmatched skill to lead by pathways rife/With danger and dark doubt, where slander’s knife/Gleamed ever bare to wound, yet over all/He pressed triumphant on-lo, thus to fall” – ‘Parnell’, by Roger Casement) yet his reports from the Putumayo and from the Congo show a writer of great talent. His descriptions of the horrendous brutality inflicted on innocent and perfectly peaceful native inhabitants was enough to force a change of policy with regard to the treatment of workers and slaves on the rubber plantations. Casement wrote in 1911 that “..the robbery of Ireland since the Union has been so colossal, carried out on such a scale, that if the true account current between the two countries were ever submitted to any impartial tribunal, England would be clapped in jail..”. For his part in trying to stop that robbery he was convicted of treason by the British and sentenced to death after a three-day ‘trial’ (held at the Old Bailey in London between the 26th and the 29th of June 1916, where he was prosecuted by ‘Sir’ Edward Carson, the Orange Order bigot).
His speech from the dock is not as appreciated as it should be – “With all respect I assert this Court is to me, an Irishman, not a jury of my peers to try me in this vital issue for it is patent to every man of conscience that I have a right, an indefeasible right, if tried at all, under this Statute of high treason, to be tried in Ireland, before an Irish Court and by an Irish jury. This Court, this jury, the public opinion of this country, England, cannot but be prejudiced in varying degree against me, most of all in time of war. I did not land in England; I landed in Ireland. It was to Ireland I came; to Ireland I wanted to come; and the last place I desired to land in was England. But for the Attorney General of England there is only “England”— there is no Ireland, there is only the law of England — no right of Ireland; the liberty of Ireland and of the Irish is to be judged by the power of England. Yet for me, the Irish outlaw, there is a land of Ireland, a right of Ireland, and a charter for all Irishmen to appeal to, in the last resort, a charter that even the very statutes of England itself cannot deprive us of — nay, more, a charter that Englishmen themselves assert as the fundamental bond of law that connects the two kingdoms..” (…more here).
I say that Roger Casement
did what he had to do.
He died upon the gallows,
but that is nothing new.
Afraid they might be beaten
before the bench of Time,
they turned a trick by forgery
and blackened his good name.
A perjurer stood ready
to prove their forgery true;
they gave it out to all the world,
and that is something new.
For Spring Rice had to whisper it,
being their Ambassador,
and then the speakers got it
and writers by the score.
Come Tom and Dick, come all the troop
that cried it far and wide,
come from the forger and his desk,
desert the perjurer’s side.
Come speak your bit in public
that some amends be made
to this most gallant gentleman
that is in quicklime laid. (From here.)
Roger Casement was sentenced to “death by rope” on the 29th June 1916 and was executed by the British on the 3rd of August that year in London, England. On the 1st March 1965 – 52 years ago on this date – his remains were re-interred in the Republican Plot of Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
RICOCHETS OF HISTORY.
At the end of a year in which *IRA decommissioning has been met with widespread euphoria, Phil Mac Giolla Bháin takes a stubborn look at the facts and concludes that the celebration party may be a little premature. From the ‘Magill Annual 2002’ (*PIRA).
The IRA’s guns have been a central theme of my life. I grew up listening to how they were acquired and why they had to be used. My Westmeath grandfather was apprenticed out to Westport to a man who would teach him tailoring. There he met my grandmother, a Derrig.
The Derrigs were ‘out’ in 1916 and ran the IRA in West Mayo after they came back from Frongoch. By that time my grandfather had inherited his father’s job as a guard on the train from Westport to Dublin. Passing through martial law areas freely, he took dispatches encrypted by his young wife all the way to the general headquarters of the IRA, to ‘Mick’. Back in the west, he ran an entire underground communications system and, in 1935, the ‘(State) Bureau of Military History’ asked him how many volunteers he lost : his disdainful reply to the Free State clerk was – “Lost men? We never lost a dispatch…” He also had a gun, and he never lost that either. Guns, he deemed, were the necessary tools with which to accomplish an important national task.
Mayo’s guns went up to the border the year before I was born. I sat as a boy in his widow’s front room in James Street, Westport, listening to the events of August 1971 and I knew what the man on the radio was on about, as my mother and I had just taken a coach through Belfast on Monday 9th August 1971. She had thought that Monday would be quieter… (MORE LATER).
ON THIS DATE (1ST MARCH) 36 YEARS AGO : BOBBY SANDS BEGAN HIS HUNGER STRIKE IN LONG KESH PRISON.
The 1981 hunger strike was the culmination of a five-year protest during this on-going struggle by Irish republican prisoners ; a ‘blanket protest’ began in 1976 when the British government withdrew ‘Special Category Status’ for political prisoners and, in 1978, after a number of attacks on prisoners leaving their cells to ‘slop out’, the protest escalated into the ‘dirty protest’, where prisoners refused to leave their cells to wash and covered the walls of their cells with excrement. In 1980, seven prisoners participated in the first hunger strike, which ended after 53 days then, on Sunday, 1st March 1981 – 36 years ago on this date – (P)IRA POW Bobby Sands began his hunger strike.
He received widespread media attention for his protest and more so when, on the 9th April 1981, he was elected as an abstentionist member in a Leinster House (Free State ‘parliament’) election, after being nominated to contest the seat by Dáithí Ó Conaill, the then vice president of the then Sinn Féin organisation. Bobby Sands was, as far as Irish republicans are concerned, a ‘Teachta Dála’ (TD) who was elected to take a seat in a 32-county Irish parliament, unlike the Free State representatives who sit in an institution in Kildare Street in Dublin today and claim to be ‘TD’s in an Irish parliament’ and, indeed, Bobby’s motives and those of Dáithí and the other then Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle members who nominated him to contest the election were pure, unlike the motives of the self-serving time-keepers who sit in that Kildare Street premises today : the motives of the former involved a principled unwillingness to allow themselves and the struggle they were part of to be criminalised and to highlight to the world that they were fighting a political struggle against Westminster and its allies in this country.
Bobby Sands was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for his alleged part in a fire-bombing campaign which, as part of an economic war against the British presence in Ireland, targeted business premises (in this instance, the Balmoral Furniture Company) with the intention of making it financially unviable for Britain to maintain its grip on that part of Ireland, a fact which present-day Provisional Sinn Féin and other Leinster House members seek to ignore or gloss over when referencing the so-called ‘ineffectual/grubby deeds’ of those who continue that struggle today.
On the 9th April , 1981, Bobby Sands was elected by 30,492 of those that voted in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone district, prompting, years later, this thesis from a republican leader : “Contrary to allegations made in the news media, there was not a straight line from the election of Bobby Sands in 1981 to the Stormont Agreement of 1998. Rather was the line from March, April and May 1981 to the same months in 1998 disfigured and distorted by an internal power-struggle for the leadership of Sinn Féin accompanied and followed by deceit and artifice as the ideals of Bobby Sands were steadily perverted and a section of the then powerful revolutionary Republican Movement turned into a constitutional party..” (from here).
Bobby Sands, 9th March 1954 – 5th May 1981. RIP.
GROWING UP IN LONG KESH…
SIN SCÉAL EILE.
By Jim McCann (Jean’s son). For Alex Crowe, RIP – “No Probablum”. Glandore Publishing, 1999.
Biographical Note : Jim McCann is a community worker from the Upper Springfield area in West Belfast. Although born in the Short Strand, he was reared in the Loney area of the Falls Road. He comes from a large family (average weight about 22 stone!). He works with Tús Nua (a support group for republican ex-prisoners in the Upper Springfield), part of the Upper Springfield Development Trust. He is also a committee member of the ‘Frank Cahill Resource Centre’, one of the founders of ‘Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh’, the local Irish language primary school and Naiscoil Bharr A’Chluanaí, one of the local Irish language nursery schools.
His first publication last year by Glandore was ‘And the Gates Flew Open : the Burning of Long Kesh’. He hopes to retire on the profits of his books. Fat chance!
PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE (does my head in…)
Inside our ‘survival bags’ was our equipment ie Mars Bar, boiled sweets, tobacco and cigarette papers (whether you smoked or not!), plasters, a lace with a knot in it for garrotting people and stuff, a box of matches, an apple and a piece of charcoal. This was for either blackening your face in case of night survival or for gunshot wounds etc, and we had to carry the ‘survival kits’ at all times except for visits.
In order to ensure that we would be ready to survive at a moment’s notice, the cage staff would carry out spot checks (we were dependent on a friendly member of the staff giving us a warning about an impending spot check). This would give us a chance to steal someone’s Brandy Balls or Big Kelly’s Turkish Delight to replenish our missing, presumed eaten, ‘survival equipment’.
Anyone who had the misfortune to be missing any item out of his ‘survival kit’ could find himself cleaning toilets for a week or brushing the compound but, thankfully, we managed to survive it! The months before had seen us organised into different sections – we had section leaders and section Training Officer (T.O.), and their task was to whip us into an effective fighting force. The entire cage became an assault course – the canteen had blankets put over the windows and the light bulbs were removed. You couldn’t see anything at all. Your eyes couldn’t become used to the dark. There was absolutely no light. Tables and chairs were set up as barriers that had to be got over, under or gone round… (MORE LATER).
ON THIS DATE (1ST MARCH) 169 YEARS AGO : ‘STARVATION FEVER’ ARTICLE PUBLISHED.
An article entitled ‘Starvation Fever of 1847’ was published in the ‘Dublin Medical Press’ periodical on this date – 1st March – 169 years ago (1848). The author was a Dr. Daniel Donovan, Skibbereen, Cork, and that article helped to focus world attention on the ‘Great Hunger’ that was obliterating the Irish people at that time-
‘Dr. Donovan…emerges as one of the most heroic figures of An Gorta Mór…a bold and successful surgeon, an oculist and a general practitioner, a talented and prolific author and a champion of the oppressed and destitute Irish people..(he) was unambitious and unselfish and chose to remain in Skibbereen where patients came to consult him not only from other parts of Ireland but from England and Scotland, some even taking
the long Atlantic crossing from America..’ (from here).
In the article, Dr. Donovan wrote “Although the fever which committed such frightful ravages during the entire of 1847 has in a great degree subsided, yet we cannot, I fear, hope that the enemy is altogether subdued, more particularly as want and misery (to an extreme degree) are likely to be the lot of the majority of our population for the ensuing spring and summer; and the privations of the poor, as regards food (and) clothes seemed last year to generate that epidemic which, like the rod of Aaron, has swallowed up the memory of its predecessors, and compared with which the pestilence of 1741 (proverbially known as the ‘year of slaughter’) scarcely deserves notice.
When the sanitary condition of London is attracting so much the attention of the legislature; when commissions are daily held, and reports daily made, upon questions regarding the health of the metropolis; when so much laudable indignation is expressed at having the sinks and cess-pools of St. Giles’s and the borough lead to the annual loss of a few thousand lives, from the exuberant population of the ‘great wen’, it is remarkable that so little notice has been directed to the subject of fever in Ireland, more particularly that of last year, which (independent of other diseases) has destroyed, at the lowest calculation, five hundred thousand human beings – swept off from among the better classes the most useful and benevolent members of society, and has created an amount of orphanage and widowhood that will for years press down the energies of the industrious. The immense havoc of last year can be best estimated by comparing the mortality with that of 1741 and 1817, years that are chronicled among the melancholy eras of our unfortunate country…whilst starvation and squalor, the causes that engendered this plague, continue to prevail among the people of this country, it is absurd to think that fever will limit its ravages to the poor, or confine its visitation to Ireland.
Generated in the damp, dark cabins of the half-starved peasants, it will reach the mansions of the wealthy despite of stone walls, and iron gates, and sturdy janitors, and will spread to our more fortunate neighbours on the other side of the channel, in defiance of vagrancy acts and quarantine regulations; and in vain will the sewerage of London be improved, and the cellars of Liverpool be rendered less pestilential, unless that the physical and social condition of the Irish people be raised; for so long as their present abject misery continues, so long will the generation of wide-spreading epidemics be perpetuated…” (more here – well worth a read).
And this, too, from different witnesses of that time, deserves to be highlighted : “In Co. Armagh, 400 paupers have died in Lurgan workhouse in the past eight weeks…50 deaths in Kilkenny poorhouse last week, with 520 patients in the fever hospital…I met 50 skeletons of cows, scarcely able to move, driven to pound for the last May rent…in one house a corpse lies for the last four days; no one could be got to enter it to relieve the dying, or remove the putrified victim…in Rosscarbery, Co Cork, a man decapitates two children while stealing food. In the same neighbourhood a woman is jailed for taking vegetables; on being released she finds her children have died of starvation…there are nearly 1,000 prisoners in Cork county jail charged with larceny and sheep stealing, one tenth of whom have typhus fever…in Kilkenny, a 13 year old boy breaks three panes of glass in a shop window so as to be transported and taken “from his hardship”…the most doleful of all sights and sounds is to hear and see starving women and children attempting to sing for alms…in Ballaghaderreen, a child aged two dies of hunger in its mother’s arms during Mass…when a poor woman comes home to her children in Killeshan, Co Carlow, one of them, maddened by hunger, bites off part of her arm…in Donoughmore, Co Cork, Father Michael Lane writes in the baptismal register: “There died of the Famine from November 1846 to February 1847, over 1,400 of the people (almost a third of the population) and one priest, Dan Horgan…numbers remained unburied for over a fortnight, many were buried without a coffin…” (from here).
Oscar Wilde’s mother, Jane Elgee (aka ‘Speranza’, Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde), in her mid-20’s at the time, was moved to write the following :
Weary men, what reap ye?
Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye?
Human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, hunger-stricken, what see you in the offing?
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger’s scoffing.
They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping?
Would to God that we were dead.
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread …we are wretches, famished, scorned, human tools to build your pride,
But God will yet take vengeance for the souls for whom Christ died.
Now is your hour of pleasure
bask ye in the world’s caress;
But our whitening bones against ye will rise as witnesses,
From the cabins and the ditches, in their charred, uncoffin’d masses,
For the Angel of the Trumpet will know them as he passes.
A ghastly, spectral army, before the great God we’ll stand,
And arraign ye as our murderers, the spoilers of our land.
That good woman sums-up the despair and anger felt then, and still felt to this day. As it should be.
Thanks for reading, Sharon.