Tuesday, May 5, 2015

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Remembering Not Forgetting


The 5th of May is a memorable day in the republican calendar. When it happens to fall on a Tuesday the poignancy seems even more enhanced. The creative, vibrant life of Bobby Sands, the first of ten republican prisoners to die during the H Block hunger strikes, ended on Tuesday the 5th of May, 1981.

It was the first thing to enter my mind as I awoke this morning to get my son off to school after the bank holiday weekend. The skies had opened and the rain pelted down. For that reason my focus drifted towards the day Bobby was buried in Milltown Cemetery, in rain strewn Belfast. Today’s downpour seems almost symbolic if you are given to that type of thing. It combines the last day of his life with his funeral of two days later and infuses them with a greyness to match the skies above my head. 

In a few minutes time upon completion of this short piece I will write a brief note, as I do every day of his imprisonment, to Alec McCrory in Maghaberry. It will be penned on a Remember The Hunger Strikers postcard, the most appropriate of ink drawing surfaces on which to inscribe a message between those who were on the blanket protest on the day that is in it.


This very moment 34 years ago Alec was a teenage republican prisoner enduring the hardship of the blanket protest and, like the rest of, us just in receipt of the news of the death of Bobby. I don’t recall what block he was in at the time but no doubt the sombre quietude that enveloped H3 was replicated wherever he was. Alec was a republican comrade of Bobby who like him felt the British had no place in Ireland. Today Alec is still a republican who continues to believe that Britain has no place in Ireland.  Time has not contorted his memory.

We can debate the reasons ad infinitum, but whatever way it is looked at the Provisional IRA campaign failed wholly to achieve a united Ireland. Its leaders have in its stead signed up to a partitioned Ireland and have legitimised the means by which partition is sustained, the consent principle: something they had previously sought to violently overthrow. They administer rather than subvert British rule. They demand that republicans who oppose that rule in the manner that Bobby Sands did be informed upon to the British police so that they may be passed to the same unreformed prison service that turned the keys 34 years ago. Martin McGuinness, the chief of staff of the Provisional IRA at the time of Bobby’s death might not have been familiar with the work of Alexander Dumas but he articulated it with aplomb when he stood, appropriately chastened, alongside the British security and unionist political establishments to reaffirm Dumas that ‘the difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.’

On Thursday, the anniversary of Bobby’s funeral, those same leaders will be urging people to go out and vote for Sinn Fein in the British general election. In North Belfast they might even tell you that as a Catholic it is your duty to cast your vote for the Catholic politician with the greatest potential to snatch the seat from the Protestant politician who currently holds it. They might even tell you that when you go out to vote that you should look upon your ballot paper on the 34th anniversary of Bobby's burial as you would his coffin. It is to be carried with care and solid purpose, that a vote for Sinn Fein is a vote for Bobby Sands, and if you don't vote you stain his coffin. You will be made to feel that that when you cast your vote against the Protestants you will remember the Catholic Bobby Sands and forget Eric and Desmond Guiney, the Protestants, who died within hours of Bobby.

If that is how you wish to remember Bobby Sands you will have lost "the struggle of memory against forgetting."

15 comments :

Seán Ó Maoilearca said...

"the struggle of memory against forgetting."

The Stormont limpets lost that struggle a long time ago.

DaithiD said...

I guess its a measure of the man that I have always felt a slightly lesser Republican for thinking his poetry was godawful dire.

menace said...

Dathi, was thinking this as I drove past Miltown last night,
'There’s an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend?
It has withstood the blows of a million years,
And will do so to the end.'

DaithiD said...

Menace, good for you I guess. Incase its not clear from my comment, I am in awe of Sands legacy in every other aspect of his contribution. Its just I detected my own cowardice in the area of his poetry, because I don’t feel comfortable admitting I don’t like it. It’s a trivial point anyway, just figured after thirty years all the other superlatives given in tribute to him have been used up.

Ché said...

Maybe your just an arsehole daithi!

DaithiD said...

Not all the time Che, and never only.

Tain Bo said...

Daithi,

are you saying his poetry was dire as in wick or dire in the subject matter? I do not want to pick you up wrong as poetry like all else is subjective. Certainly, the subject matter is dire it was born in a direness and being honed in less forgiving surroundings.

I doubt he set out to add himself to a list of noteworthy poets but penned in a sense of escape if only for a few brief moments of defiance through imagination. Sadly, that defiant imagination would take him to the grave unbroken by the system with a belief:

It is ‘the undauntable thought’, my friend,
That thought that says ‘I’m right!’


There is depth in his writings if you look for it nothing elaborate but simple truths.
Nice one, I think you left Che trying to figure out how to lace up a pair of loafers.

Tain Bo said...

Anthony,

remembering to forget, that is forgetting what the hunger strikers died for and replace it with the more acceptable false memory of the greater cause of the shins.
Still piggybacking on the 10 men but have reduced it to Bobby Sands as he won an election and the other 9 are mainly unspoken off as they have no election value.

A vote for Bobby Sands was a vote for the hunger strikers.

DaithiD said...

Thanks Tain,
I think that line(s) you quoted is one example of the ‘obviousness’ of some of his works, it can be sickly sentimental too. I emphasise these are only trivial points in the context of Bobby Sands overall contribution to the Republican Movement. I wondered if it would resonate with other people who normally pride themselves on being independent thinkers too. If we can continually find new ways of giving tribute, it will continually affirm the primacy of his contribution to the Republican Movement.
Im not sure of the Che/lace up loafers reference, does that mean you think I’ve confused him? I think he confuses himself, assuming there is meant to be some consistent logic to his comments. Infact his only consistency is using “!” instead of “.”, a pedant would count them on the “Markets Murder” thread to embarrass him.

DaithiD said...

Tain,
You might reasonably ask “well whats your stuff like then?”, here is a little something I penned a while back :

You rest there, silent and motionless,
Textured like Autumn leaves, your scent fills the air,
Alone together like a thousand times before,
Then something happens.
Your shape changes,
You begin to sink,
Im losing you like I always do,
Come back my shit!


So clearly its about poop and toilets etc, but its done in a tasteful way. I wouldn't be arrogant to wonder if this is worthy of its own article AM?

AM said...

DaithiD if you want poetry published send it thru

DaithiD said...

Thanks AM, on second thoughts it might be too damaging to my employment status If they ever get found. Unless I assume an alias, Brownie has been taken....how about Jobby Sands?

Ché said...

Fucking stomach churning if you ask me!
But good luck dathi, the wizzard of Louth made a good career with crap, no reason you shouldn't !

Publish it, it reads like his books to the wizzard even made a few pound at it!

Tain Bo said...

Daithi,

I understand it is trivial there is no requirement to like fair play to you. I think you touch on a keynote with the sentimental aspect. It is important to separate the man and the icon. If we hold him above the people beyond reproach that enters mythical status a world away from the ordinary man who entered into the blocks like so many others.

In fairness on the writing side, we have the luxury of changing or reworking what we write. The cold brutal world of the blanket men is one we can imagine were only those with the nature of a Spartan warrior would endure.
The first blanket man went in with the same thought I’m right refusing the label of criminal and others followed replacing the I, with we are right, creating the circumstances for a long protest.

Republicanism has a selective memory whilst Bobby Sands is elevated to icon status his comrades barely get a mention and I am guessing in time they will be thought of as much as Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg.

In some respects when we hear the term hunger strike there seems to be an automatic leap to Bobby Sands, which tends to imply his sacrifice was greater than that of his comrades. Somehow, I do not think he would be in agreement with that portrayal.

It would be difficult for me to recall the hunger strikes without including the prison struggles and those who engaged did so out of belief not for a party but for the people.
That belief system has been corrupted those whom feign remembrance also make believe that prison struggle ended in 81 but continues today there is no difference pre or post Irish people are still in British jails.

Anthony demonstrates as much by referring to Alec then and now the silence on republican prisoners’ echoes back to the silence on the blanket protest.

Tain Bo said...

Daithi,

It never entered my mind to question you about poetry. It is fairly good witty and clever and a first for me I can say I liked your shit, ha, to be clear that is the poem.

Confused Che is an understatement a witty one-liner knockout. I try to avoid tail wagging growlers; admittedly, I was tempted to query the education phobia but when I need to speak with an idiot, I stand in front of the mirror.

I am guessing commandant Che nipping at your heel is not a fan of either your comment or your shit poem. Undoubtedly, you can hold the rampart on this one I do not have the energy to chase my tail.
The republican censorship has spoken do not say anything that may lead to a wee bit of critical dissection.

Anthony, you might have to dedicate a page for the poet’s corner.