Living Proof

Brendan Hughes, the leader of the 1980 Hunger Strike, is losing his sight, which doctors have said is a result of the 53 days he went without food while on hunger strike in prison. The Irish News interviews him in today’s paper.

“I’m not unique, there are hundreds of men out there carrying around problems from that time. If not physical problems there are men with mental problems, alcohol problems, depression, trouble holding down a job or a relationship. The lead up to the Hunger Strikes was well documented, we were brutalised, our food was urinated on, we were beaten and tortured. There are men still suffering in silence today, the recent commemoration events to mark the 25 anniversary of the Hunger Strike didn’t even touch on that terrible legacy. Painting murals on walls to commemorate blanketmen after they have died a slow and lonely death from alcohol abuse is no use to anyone. I would hate for young people now to have this romanticised versions of the events of that time and what went on in the prison, the truth is so very far removed from that and I suppose I’m living proof of that.”

Hunger striker in fight for sight
EXCLUSIVE

By Allison Morris

The leader of the IRA prisoners in the Maze in 1980 has undergone an operation to save his sight, badly damaged by 52 days of starvation during the first Hunger Strike.

Brendan ‘The Dark’ Hughes underwent a cataract operation on Wednesday to save the sight in his left eye.

He will have to undergo a second operation in two months to restore sight to his right eye.

Doctors have told the former republican prisoner that his eyesight has been badly damaged due to the time he spent on hunger strike while a prisoner.

Speaking from his home in Divis Tower in west Belfast the 58-year-old said the lasting mental and physical effects of the prison protests are the true untold legacy of the time.

“I’m not unique, there are hundreds of men out there carrying around problems from that time,” he said.

“If not physical problems there are men with mental problems, alcohol problems, depression, trouble holding down a job or a relationship.

“The lead up to the Hunger Strikes was well documented we were brutalised, our food was urinated on we were beaten and tortured.

“It came to a point where men were coming off the protest because they just couldn’t take any more, it was considered our last option.

“I led the first hunger strike and was also responsible for calling it off, I’ve been criticised for that by certain people but if the truth be told, and I have never said this before, not one of those men was prepared to die.

“Before Sean McKenna went into a coma he said to me, ‘Dark don’t let me die’ and I promised him I wouldn’t.

“They were putting him onto a stretcher to take him to the hospital, we thought an agreement was on the table and I just shouted up the corridor, ‘feed him’ and with those two words the first hunger strike was over.

“I weighed about five stone at the time, you could smell the rotting bodies in the hospital ward, I was very conscious of the smell of my own body eating itself.

“The doctor told the orderlies to feed us scrambled egg and toast, you’d think you wouldn’t be able to eat after all that time but you can and so that’s what we ate; scrambled egg.”

The men were kept in the prison hospital until they had gained enough weight to be returned to the H-blocks

Hughes says that almost immediately he noticed a problem with his sight and went from having perfect vision to needing glasses.

“During hunger strike you notice first your sense of smell and taste go, then your vision, my sight suffered and that has been degenerative.

“About 18 months ago my vision became badly blurred, like a spiders web over your eyes I was lucky to get a cancellation for the cataract surgery this week and so that’s one eye done, hopefully it was successful.

“I’ve also got arthritis and chest problems but it is the mental problems that are the most debilitating.

“I’ve never been able to settle, I don’t like being around crowds of people.

“The only reason I think I settled in Divis Tower is because it’s quite cellular, I suppose that’s what I respond to.”

Strongly opposed to the second hunger strike Hughes says he feels many ex-prisoners have not been given enough help to adjust following their release from prison.

Released from prison in 1986 having served just over 13 years in jail, he says he has struggled with life on the outside and at times turned to alcohol.

“I argued strongly against the second hunger strike but by then I was no longer OC, I was just an ordinary volunteer. Bobby [Sands] knew he would die but he thought his own death would be enough to force the Brits into a settlement, we know now that was not to be the case and 10 men were to lose their lives.

“There are men still suffering in silence today, the recent commemoration events to mark the 25 anniversary of the Hunger Strike didn’t even touch on that terrible legacy.

“Ex-prisoners groups are fine as long as you conform to the present political situation – if you voice dissent then you’re cast aside.

“They are not doing enough because they are too selective as to who they’ll help.

“Painting murals on walls to commemorate blanketmen after they have died a slow and lonely death from alcohol abuse is no use to anyone.

“I would hate for young people now to have this romanticised versions of the events of that time and what went on in the prison, the truth is so very far removed from that and I suppose I’m living proof of that.”

  • Elvis Parker

    ‘If not physical problems there are men with mental problems, alcohol problems, depression, trouble holding down a job or a relationship’

    And thats just the leadership of SF/IRA!

  • Perhaps Brendan may get an offer of help from Sinn Fein.

    Gerry Adams may let Brendan have a ride in his shiny new car, Martin McGuinness may give Brenden a taste of his steak, even a glass of water.

    That should do, now Brendan stop winging and allow the leaders to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

  • Rory

    “Ex-prisoners groups are fine as long as you conform to the present political situation – if you voice dissent then you’re cast aside.

    If this is true then it is an absolute bloody scandal.

    While I favour the present leadership’s drive towards shared government and the full implementation of the GFA and would take issue with those who dissent, I am sure that with most others we would insist that the only criterion for assistance from wefare funds for those who participated should be need.

    There should never ever be any other basis upon which the award of assistance is decided neither social nor moral nor certainly not political.

    But presumably there will be further debate and maybe a full and open investigation. I would certainly hope so.

  • Yokel

    All for what, eh Brendan?

    Next thing it’ll be Gerry walking hand in hand with Paisley down Garvaghy Road

  • Sean

    Forgive me if i am wrong, but wasn’t it was his choice to go on hunger strike, and refuse food?

  • Bill M

    Best wishes to Darkie, hope he has a speedy recovery.

  • Yokel

    Sean, yes it was and fine he takes the consequences.

    The wider point is that it throws light on the Hunger Strikes and what was going on while people starved themselves to death.

    Yes positions change and compromises are made but the ultimate cause for which Brendan and others stuck their neck out for (whether you like their cause or not)is really no nearer because of what they did.

  • Brenda

    Sad, and unfortunately it shows just how people like him were used for adams and co to line their own pockets.
    absolute shame.

  • circles

    I don’t think you can argue that Brendan Hughs was used Brenda – he was the leadershiip the 70s himself.
    However, like Pat McGeown, he always came across as a pragmatist and speaks very openly about his time in the IRA.
    The disgrace is that he is now effectively out in the cold. And when you think of Ciaran Nugent spent his last years, and then when he dies they paint the big hypocritical mural on the Falls.

    Well some heads should be hang in shame.

  • Sinner not a Saint

    Rory,

    You really have no idea what this scumbag Sinn Fein leadership is like…. it promotes useless tossers to places of position who then dictate to veterans what to say or what to do.
    The main reason to promote them is that most if not all are silly women with no idea about politics and have no aspirations to have an individual thought for themselves, they just regurgatate the party line.
    A second reason is that like the Stalin era of Russia, they are only too willing to spy like rats on their supposed “comrades” and report to the leadership who then take action, mostly underhand or chinese whispers followed by dirty filthy smears.

  • Irish Republican leadership Seduced by the trappings of power, living high on the hog.

    Mainstream Irish Republicans have footprints on their heads from the leadership climbing up the corporate ladder, but remember those they tread on the way up will be waiting for them on the way down!!

  • Briso

    Posted by Sinner not a Saint on Oct 06, 2006 @ 04:56 PM

    Rory,

    You really have no idea what this scumbag Sinn Fein leadership is like…. it promotes useless tossers to places of position who then dictate to veterans what to say or what to do.
    The main reason to promote them is that most if not all are silly women with no idea about politics and have no aspirations to have an individual thought for themselves, they just regurgatate the party line.
    A second reason is that like the Stalin era of Russia, they are only too willing to spy like rats on their supposed “comrades” and report to the leadership who then take action, mostly underhand or chinese whispers followed by dirty filthy smears.

    ————————-

    Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh, now I understand! New Labour!!!

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh, now I understand! New Labour!!!
    Posted by Briso on Oct 06, 2006 @ 05:50 PM

    If you want to see how Sinn Fein will operate in govt North and South, just look at New Labour and their record.

    With the trappings of power Sinn Fein will mutate into a centre right neo-con party hidden behind centre left rhetoric, any reference to socialism will be disgarded along with those Irish Republicans who need social help, a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    Perversly this demonstrates Sinn Fein are clearly fit to hold govt office, using the criteria set by other mainstream parties.

  • Cynic

    “Sinn Fein ….promotes useless tossers to places of position who then dictate to veterans what to say or what to do”

    Doh….that’s part of politics, isn’t it. Look at any of the parties in Britain and Ireland and you will see the same pattern. There’s only so much talent out there and they have to make do as they fight their way up the greasy pole. And the skills needed in greasy pole fighting and winning elections arent the same as those needed in fighting the Brits.

    Wake up boys…the whole bloody thing was pointless on all sides….we just havent all realised it yet. Real life and real politics are slowly reasserting themselves.

  • mickhall

    Given the reluctance, even now of the likes of Ian Paisley to concede basic democratic rights to the Catholic population of the north, do those who claim the whole thing wasn’t worth it seriously believe unionism would have moved an inch without the bloody conflagration which was the Provos war.

    UP until 1969 the British State allowed unionist b i g o t s to do much as they wished in the north. Was it all a waste yes if we are talking in terms of human lives, but unfortunately humanity being as bone headed as we undoubtedly are, sadly often needs a boot up its arse before we truly understand how the shoe pinches our neighbors feet. just look to Iraq to understand this.

    Did it achieve the aim it set out with, no, but I tell you what, it gave the nationalist community of the north a confidence which they never possessed since the wretched Statelets inception. These cropies are off their knees, will it be permanent, life never is and that is the real danger of Adams current strategy. For if one does not tenaciously defend political gains, then future generations are doomed to fight for them all over again.

    The nationalist owe a debt of gratitude to men and women like Brendan, for sure as hell the better life which is today the daily fare within the six counties was not gifted to the people by Tony Blair, Gerry Adams or Ian Paisley, but came about due to the fact that people like Brendan Hughes were prepared to sacrifice their youth, health and many of them their very lives.

  • Sean

    Brendan Hughes is a legend of the time. I have great admiration for him. If he stood for election on the falls he would see a SF candidate off. I am disgusted at the way such legends have been treated by the leadership of SF right around the country.

    However were such things inevitable. Is it not the same throughout the world when conflicits turn to potential settlements?

    I wish the dark well.

  • sayoh

    Mr Hughes will just have to live with the conquences of his own actions. If he firmly believed in he cause he went on hunger strike for then that was entirly up to him there is no sense in whinging about it. He made his choise, there are thousands of Innocent Victims ho had no choise but have to live with the daily pain of that was inflicte on them.

    Maybe Mr Hughes should make a claim to the Sinn Fein Benevolent Fund or The Northern (good for a loan) Bank.

  • Alan

    Well . . . I remember a meeting many years ago. A man got up in a room full of politicians in Farset and said,

    ” I’ll tell you how we got into this mess, how so many of us took to guns, got stuck in prison and lost the best years of our lives – it was because we listened to the politicians who said that violence was the only way. You know something – we were duped.”

    The interesting thing is that the man speaking at that meeting was Gusty Spence. I don’t see much difference here.

  • William Joyce

    Interesting thread and some good posts by Mick Hall and Yokel. What did happen to Kieran Nugent? Did he top himself? I don’t think he had the grey matter to be a politician and maybe he wasn’t a fawning lapdog like Fra McCann of Jack(Sean) Crowe. So what did happen to him? The Sinn Fein leadershp have pushed their own, fawning lapdogs to a man and woman. The SF TDs are more unimpressive and htat is why they have to go for Dublin 4 babes like Mary Lou looking for a bit of rough.

  • Cynic

    Mick

    I agree with some of what you say but perhaps not when you brush off over 3000 people dead in our streets as a ‘boot up the arse’.

    But it’s dangerous to look back 40 years and attribute every change in Nationalist or Unionist attitudes to the violence. Society was going through major change all across Europe in the 1960’s through to the 1990’s. Many of the old political certainties, social and moral attitudes were changing too ….look at the differences in Ireland and the UK as an example.

    Your analysis really only works if you see it all as a zero sum game. We can only win something if they lose something. That’s not what HAS to happen. There are other models. The question is, what would have happened in NI had the troubles not developed as they did post say 1972?

    We will never know. PhD’s will be written, but it’s arguable that on both sides the violence insulated us from some of those changes and allowed us to just dig deeper and deeper into our own political trenches with the extremists on each side goading each other on.

  • mickhall

    cynic

    I understand what you saying, although I did write in my post it was a waste, if we are talking in terms of human lives lost. But even many supporters of the Union will admit all be it privately, that prior to the ‘troubles’ NI was set in stone. Whether the emerging democratic protest movements of the day would have managed to shake it to its foundations we will never know. But of course there is a lesson here for future generations if the need arises.

    Amongst the Catholic population there was no tradition within the north of successfully bringing about social and political change by democratic means. Thus young working class men who found themselves at the sharp end of unionist oppression reached for the only viable vehicle which had a track record of defeating the British and their irish acolytes, Óglaigh na hÉireann.

    They were not to know that it would turn out to be a very blunt instrument to bring about social change in the second half of the 20th century within Western europe. All that was for latter.

    Alan

    I agree that Brendan Hughes and Gusty Spence are very similar people, indeed in almost any other european nation they would have been part of the same struggle.

    William Joyce

    The final years of Kieran Nugent’s life were very difficult indeed, without going into detail he ended up being avoided by many people, including a good few of those who sing his praise today.
    To put it bluntly he went the way of far to many old soldiers, no matter whose army they serve in. Many of whom having done their duty to the best of their ability are cast aside to be ignored and forgotten by the powers that be.

    Not by Brendan though, who in almost every interview he has given in the last decade or more he has mentioned the fate of Kieran Nugent and other volunteers who have fallen on difficult times. Indeed that being interviewed from time to time gives him the opportunity to do so is the main reason why he talks to journos.

    Best regards to you all.

  • Lovely Leitrim

    Posted by mickhall on Oct 06, 2006 @ 11:10 PM

    I agree that Brendan Hughes and Gusty Spence are very similar people, indeed in almost any other european nation they would have been part of the same struggle.

    There is a major difference in the roles played by Hughes and Spence.

    Gusty Spence received a life sentence for his part in the murder of a Catholic civilian in the antebellun year of 1966.

    Brendan Hughes joined the IRA to defend his people from such attacks.

  • Joyce,
    Kieran Nugent spent his final years drinking next to a river in Poleglass. Not an offer of help, not a word of encouragement from the people whose positions owed everything to his actions.
    On another point, Fra McCann is no lapdog. When the Shinners do the inevitable and sign up to policing I expect him to be one of the first to go.
    However, he will probably be pushed before then. If there are fresh Assembly elections soon I expect him to be put out to grass. I doubt if he will maintain his position as one of the five west Belfast MLA candidates.

  • William Joyce

    Paul and Mick. Thank you for that. I knew all of them in a former life but I was away for a few years where few communications reached. Nugent seemed ok after he got out and when I did find out he was dead, I googled an Phoblacht etc but they were very coy about it. It is a bad show if they would not give someone like Nugent their best shot, try to have him dried out etc. Easy to say of course but hard to do. What was his funeral like? A big turnout?
    Tom Hartley got shafted after the Poppy Day incident when he had to take the flak for Gerry for attending a Brit do. I doubt Fra McCann carries much weight in Connolly House. Another useful muppet methinks.
    Interesting, and sad, about Hughes and Nugent. Thanks for the info.

  • William Joyce

    Regarding Fra McCann (will he end up on the banks of the Bann) the Indo have a piece saying Phil Flynn, Bertie fixer and connected with the NB hoist, has been dragooned in to help Mary Lou win a seat on Bertie’s turf. Nicky Kehoe’s mates are not amused but Mary Lou, Dublin 4 might be the way forward (as in Co Dwon with Ruane) and Nugent, McCann, Kehoe and the Boys of the Old Brigade the past.

  • Limerick Lad

    The Hunger Strike was a pointless excercise, thugs and criminals trying to elevate themselves to political martyrs.
    Bobby Sands a hero, don’t make me laugh more like a zero.

  • Nationalist

    People need to realise that while the physical force conflict has ended, and the vast majority of people on all sides are glad of that, the struggle to re-unite Ireland will go on.

    It is nearly 100 years since the island was divided by force, and the physical force used in the past in order to try and re-unify was a direct response to the undemocratic, savage and ruthless oppression visited upon a section of our people simply for being Catholic and therefore deemed to be threatening to the Protestant Orange state that the British Government left to their own devises for 50years.

    Non of us, Republican or Nationalist really want a future civil war and are therefore willing to accept what will turn out to be a short period under living (for all intense and purpose) joint authority.

    Unionists might well get to like being in joint authority in Stormont and the transition to being part of a Federal Ireland will not then look or feel so bad.

    If by going down this road we can remove a future civil war from occurring then it is only right that we try to spare our children and grand children of that.

    The last time the Assembly was up and running the joint authority of Catholic and Protestant worked quite well, with the exception of the DUP.

    I am sure that if many people in both communities were to look back a few generations on all sides of their family trees they would no doubt, like Dr Who, find both Catholic and Protestant contained therein.

  • Alan

    “There is a major difference in the roles played by Hughes and Spence.”

    Yes, but, then, some of us prefer to read people’s eyes, rather than the papers.

  • Pat Taffe

    Paul Panther, Fra McCann is a yes man. Not the worst of them but a yes man all the same. He has challenged nothing for years and will only go if forced. He would join the cops if it was what was asked of him in order to stay. Michael Ferguson was a different type of person altogether. The careerists who came into the party in Twinbrook and Poleglass but who never got their hands dirty tried to shaft Michael but he never gave into them. He was an example of everything lapdogs hated. He stood up to Seamus Thiefucane when Thiefucane tried to stroke and embezzle the locals. Fra would never have done that

  • the Indo have a piece saying Phil Flynn, Bertie fixer and connected with the NB hoist, has been dragooned in to help Mary Lou win a seat on Bertie’s turf. William Joyce

    That is all very well, but why isn’t Phil Flynn negociating the withdrawl of the 8.5 million tax demand of Thomas Slab Murphy, allowing Slab to retire as an elder statesman of the Irish Republican Movement?

    By allowing this vindictive action, the Sinn Fein leadership, as well as Bertie and friends, are biting the hand that had fed them over the years.

    To add insult to injury, while Slab get shafted, Frankie G looks like getting 800 million euros.

    If the photo of Bertie, Phil Flynn and Thomas Slab Murphy embracing is made public it may be another nail in Bertie’s political coffin.

    If, however, there is not a chair for Slab, now that the music has stopped, it could be the final nail in the coffin of ????

  • Pat Taffe, you are wrong.
    I know Fra and knew Michael very well. I am convinced that Fra is being put out to grass over policing, facing charges of assaulting a cop hardly helps.
    Michael Ferguson was a fantastic MLA, and fair play to him for standing up the King of the Hannahstown Hill, but look at the Ballymurphy situation and ask some of those on one side of the dispute if he was a yes man.

  • Pat Taffe

    Paul Panther, Fra has signed up to everything despite saying he would oppose it. You may be right and he will get the boot. But if he does not get the boot he will not leave of his own will. When did he ever stand on principle? Micky Ferguson was a party man but not a yes man. His appearance in the Murph was because the local councillor there couldn’t string a sentence together. The N family would accuse anybody of being a yesman who opposed their view of the events in that estate. The line Micky defended in the Murph was very biased but I wonder if he was aware of all the facts. From reading the Andersonstown News I thought it was the Ns causing the trouble until I spoke with people who live there. Was Micky any different? I don’t know.

  • Joe Blogger

    Irelands unsung HERO’s the hunger strikers were. A bunch of low-life criminals some of whom should have been hung for the crimes they committed.

    They only did what they did because they wanted to be seen to be dedicated to the cause they were imprisioned for.

    What about the pain, suffering and misery these low-lifers left on the out side. I am not just speaking about republicans only loyalists have also left there mark.

    Some post mentioned Gusty Spence saying that he and people shouldn’t have listened to politicians, remember Gusty done time for a murder he said he didn’t commitand that was in 1965/6 long before the troubles started.

    These people only reaped what they sowed, and as someone who has suffered as a result of a troubles related incident I hane NO SYMPATHY for any of them, when you see the wrecks of human beings they have left in their wake.

  • Martin

    ”The Hunger Strike was a pointless excercise, thugs and criminals trying to elevate themselves to political martyrs.
    Bobby Sands a hero, don’t make me laugh more like a zero.”

    When you Limerick people deal with your own mess—Caseys,Dundons,Keanes,collopys,Ryans, and the hundreds of knife and gun assaults in Stab city and a whole collection of pond life ”Whadda fcuk ya looookin attt”–then we might listen to your worthless opinions—fix up your own house first—yes we have heard of your Drug fuelled family/scumbag feud

  • Martin

    [url]http://www.thecitizenguide.com/travel/guide/limerick-ireland.htm[/url]

    Scrole down a bit when you get there
    [url]http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,887255,00.html[/url]
    and theres more[url]http://www.ndc.hrb.ie/directory/news_detail.php?cat_id=&news_id=2563&pointer=0[/url]

    [url]http://archives.tcm.ie/breakingnews/2004/02/03/story132530.asp[/url]

    [url]http://alivelimerick.blogspot.com/2006/09/uks-most-wanted-gets-6-years.html[/url]

    [url]http://www.rte.ie/news/2006/0912/limerick.html[/url]

  • Limerick Lad

    When you Limerick people deal with your own mess—Caseys,Dundons,Keanes,collopys,Ryans, and the hundreds of knife and gun assaults in Stab city and a whole collection of pond life ‘’Whadda fcuk ya looookin attt’’–then we might listen to your worthless opinions—fix up your own house first—yes we have heard of your Drug fuelled family/scumbag feud

    Hey Martin
    Not a being a member of any of the Families mentioned by you, my views on the scumbags who were hunger strikers are as valid as any you may or may not have on them and their place in the history of this country

  • Martin

    Limerick,

    Do you consider Tomas Mac Curtain to have been a scumbag –and whether yes or no please give answer

    I didnt say you were a member of those families–but you must be the only person in Limerick who doesnt claim to be one of them–do you know who I am bla blah —yawn.

    And I have recently heard that the ERU in Moyross are finally putting the boot in—Ryan faction leader FAT JOHN–is supposed to have hid cowering at the back of his house in a horse box as the ERU called mocking remarks and dared him to come out and try to harass them like his fellow low lifes have been doing to people for decades—as they did hand break turns outside on his lawn—look at the big man dance—and down in the kings island on the same night a hoodie thug aproached undercover detectives with what seems to be the standard Limerick greeting ”whadda ya loookin adt” only to have his teeth punched out of his head—good stuff ERU—Limerick people have a good look at the people you have been cowering and intimidated by–they got away with it because despite all you hard posturing they knew deep down you were a bunch of balless wonders

  • William Joyce

    http://lark.phoblacht.net/MH1010062g.html

    Back to the issue at hand girls. Not a bad article from Mick Hall. I wonder how many genuine studies have been done of Post Troubles Disorder and how much money has been put into helping them as opposed to the cause they served? I guess, having used its volunters during the Troubles, the ‘Ra/Sinn Fein/The Adams gang have no great problems disposing of them afterwards.
    If you add up all the wasted years in jail, all the things Republicans could have done instead of jumping to the tune of their leaders, the whole thing was a terrible waste.
    The Catholic day would undoubtedly have come as those doing law, not life took the reins. However, Adams, McGuinness and the rest would not have been in its vanguard.
    Many in RSF etc dream of being at the trough themselves “when” the tide turns. Meanwhile, their pawns rot in dreary British cells.
    For what died the sons of Roisin?

  • Billy Boy

    The fate of these terrorists shows what hapens we we turn our backs on the Lord. Unless they repent and accept Jesus and the Word of God, they deserve their fate. These men set out to exterminate the Protestant people of Ulster and our way of life. They failed. Their only hope now is to repent and accept they have committed the most unspeakable of sins.

    Kieran Nugent should be displayed on murals to show the true calibre of the IRA. Am I laone in wondering where Mr Nugent is today and what company he is in?

  • martin

    ”These men set out to exterminate the Protestant people of Ulster and our way of life”

    Bit paranoid there Billy

    And as for the other thing you said—alcoholism is a terribe illness–many people suffer from it not just political opponents–its not something to mock or get on ones high horse about.

    Limerick Lad,
    after you have answered whether you think Tomas Mac Curtain was a scumbag or not then you might care to answer the same question regarding Tomas Ashe and then we can move on to Terence Mac Sweeny