The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Working Class Hero

 

Mick Hall • 8 October 2006

In a recent Irish News article which the paper tagged an exclusive, Allison Morris broke the news that Brendan Hughes, the former Commander of the PIRA Belfast Brigade, Officer Commanding within the H-blocks, and Hunger Striker was suffering from failing eyesight and ill health. On reading the piece it is clear Hughes' failing health was not the main motivating factor which made him give Allison Morris her 'exclusive'. It is pretty clear, and not for the first time, he used his failing health as a hook to entice the journalist to interview him, which then enabled him in the process of being interviewed to highlight the health and social problems that countless former members of Óglaigh na hÉireann have had to face since they have been released from prison. There seems little doubt in the mind of Brendan Hughes that the root cause of this ill health, etc., was the ordeal a majority of these men experienced whilst taking part in the Blanket protest and the Hunger Strikes that brought the protest to a conclusion.

Brendan Hughes is one of those rare human beings whose first thought is for those around him and for the comrades he once had responsibility for, no matter that this was in the distant past. The caliber of this man was demonstrated when he first went on to the H blocks and took command of the protesting prisoners within them. His first act was to attempt to talk the men off the Blanket protest, for he understood clearly the bitter personal consequences that would arise from their continued participation in the protest. He quickly realized due to the water under the bridge this was an impossible task, and although he could have attempted to order them to cease the protest, he instinctively realized to do so would be to trample on all the suffering these men had experienced and to ignore what had led up to the Blanket protest in the first place. Thus he decided to accept his responsibilities and lead from the front, not least by participating in the first wave of hunger strikes.

It is well worth reading what Brendan said to Allison Morris for it epitomizes why he is regarded in such a favorable light by not only his former comrades, but even amongst those he fought against so tenaciously. Although the tag to interest the press was his cataract operation, his real purpose was the welfare of his former comrades. He tells readers that far from his ill health being unique, there are hundreds of men out there carrying around problems from that time. If not physical problems, there are men with mental health problems, alcohol problems, depression, trouble holding down a job or a relationship, a majority of whom suffer in silence. He also had future generations in mind when he mentions the recent commemoration to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strike, stating that in his view it didn't even touch on that terrible legacy. He went on to say that he would hate for young people now to have this romanticized versions of the events of that time and what went on in the prison, as the truth is so very far removed from that.

He also condemns those prisoners groups that are controlled by PRM, pointing out that in his opinion if you dissent against the Adams strategy then you are cast aside. Finally he rages, as he has at every opportunity, against the sad and lonely death of the first Blanket-man Kieran Nugent when he says, "Painting murals on walls to commemorate blanketmen after they have died a slow and lonely death from alcohol abuse is no use to anyone."

Every now and again in working class life if we are lucky, we may come across men and women like Brendan Hughes. They have a selfless attitude and it would not remotely cross their minds to ask someone to do something they themselves would not first attempt. People instinctively recognize them as leaders and that they take up this responsibility not for personal advancement, but because people demand it of them and because it is the right thing to do. They are not ambitious people, simply special and this is why when us ordinary souls come across them we trust them to do right by us and admire them greatly; and our admiration does not whither when they no longer hold a powerful or important position.

The fact that they often come to the fore in difficult or turbulent times is perhaps because many of those with the sharpest elbows keep their heads down during these periods. Thus it is only natural when quieter days return, people like Brendan Hughes slip from the public eye, only to return to the spotlight either in the obituary columns of the press, or when we gather at their funerals to pay our last respects and chat and marvel about their exploits. They rarely rise to the very top of Political Parties, Trade Unions, Businesses or the Military. This is not because they lack the ability to do so, far from it, but for more humane reasons. One of them being the fact that personal ambition is not their motivating factor, but also because of their honesty and common decency. They therefore refuse to make the compromises necessary to climb the greasy pole within the type of society we live in today.

As perverse as this is, it is yet another reason why the likes of Brendan Hughes is loved by the people from whence he came and career politicians like Gerry Adams are tolerated and at most in a small number of cases respected. Working class heros are few and far between these days, and Belfast is lucky to have one amongst their midst. For no matter what a certain songster may or may not have thought, a working class hero is something to be.



 

 

 

 


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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

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Index: Current Articles



10 October 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Hail The Messiah
Anthony McIntyre

HET: History of Whitewash Continues
Martin Galvin

To Deal or Not
Martin Ingram

One Small Step for Paisley, One Giant Step for Ireland?
Dr John Coulter

The Haunting
John Kennedy

Subversion of an Irish Peace Plan
Brian Wardlow

Working Class Hero
Mick Hall

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 15 - 22
Michael Gillespie

Ryanair
John Kennedy

Racism: The Social Cancer
Dr John Coulter

Forced Out
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters Page Has Been Updated.


2 October 2006

Delusions
Anthony McIntyre

Reply to Andytown News on Republican Family Meeting
Martin Galvin

Lights Out
John Kennedy

Creating A Viable Alternative
Dr John Coulter

Teflon Kid
John Kennedy

When Fear Trumps Reason
David Adams

Stay Out of Neo-Con Mire
Mick Hall

Who really is the Biblical Anti Christ?
Dr John Coulter

Serving Judas, Not Justice
Anthony McIntyre

 

 

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