Putting Hunger into perspective

Steve McQueen’s film Hunger has generated much discussion both here and elsewhere. Last night, off the back of interest from the film, éirígí hosted one of a series of public meetings on the topic in the Conway Mill, Belfast. The speakers were Bernard Fox who spent 32 days on Hunger Strike, Jake Mac Siacais a former cellmate of Bobby Sands and Fergus Ó hÍr a founding member of the National H-Block Armagh Committee and a former Belfast City Councillor. Slugger’s cameraman in residence, Gerard, went along. Below is his account and footage.

UPDATE: More material added below the fold

From Gerard:

An opportunity to speak to people directly engaged in these events

Last night’s talk was to a packed venue, Bernard wasn’t great, but I think he is a bit reserved, if you listen to him it comes through. Bernard Fox, Jake Mac Siacais and Fergus Ó hÍr were the three speakers, the outline of the talk was, a blanket man, a hunger striker and building the political response to the hunger strike. It closely followed the film ‘hunger’. Fox speaks on talking to McQueen. What influenced him to make the movie, how McQueen had included the screws with knuckledusters during the beatings. Fox told him that didn’t happen, just tell the truth and they removed the knuckle dusters.

The priest in the film, and the role of the priest during the actual hunger strikes is discussed. Fr Faul, gets roasted. He was a bigot according to Fox, and anti republican according to Jake. Both agree he had his own agenda. A questioner puts a question inspired by Joe Duffy’s recent article in the press. Was the brutality republican propaganda?? Where will republicanism be 30 years from now? That gets answered well, it will still be here, in what form we don’t know, and a call for unity from Mac Siacais.

A very emotional meeting, with many questions coming from young people who’s knowledge of the hunger strike is all second hand.

Putting the hunger strike into perspective.

The prisoners were the weakest link, smash them and you smash the struggle: Criminalisation:

The role of the priest. Faul was clearly political, he had his own agenda, which was anti republican and a bigot:

The brutality was it republican propaganda? (Beginning with Fox discussing meeting the director of the film leading on to the brutality aspect):

Building a political response to the hunger strike. The emergence of the relatives action committees, with no clear strategy:

UPDATE: A friend has kindly forwarded me some links to coverage from the defunct Voice of the Lark website of a similar event in the Conway Mill in 2001 reviewing the Hunger Strike and political situation, it had contributions from Brendan Hughes, Marian Price, Tommy McKearney and John Nixon. Though the message seems very similar.

Lessons Learned, Lessons Forgotten

Adams may have to concede defeat – a review by Malachi O’Doherty

Marian Price

  • ggn

    Mark,

    Good media.

  • Something strange seems to be going on, if we are to believe the mass media, the days of the public meeting are long gone, (me thinks tell that to Obama?). Yet time and again I see video’s of public meeting on web sites like slugger or you tubes ‘sleepy jean’ which prove the opposite. Meeting halls are packed.

    Is this a revival of the political meeting or did they never go away. whatever the truth it seems today people do wish to go along to political meetings, their only criteria is that those they have to listen should be interesting. Having watched these videos these guys pass that test imo.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    It would be interesting to see republican combatants discussing other more uncomfortable (for them) aspects of the troubles like their targeting policy (e.g. bombs in civilian areas, shooting off-duty soldiers) using a similar format.

  • Ann

    I don’t know how anybody could starve themselves to death. It was interesting to hear Bernard Fox’s account of being in the cell with someone else, rather than being alone. I would have thought the effect would have been on the person going hungry, rather than the person who was eating, that was a surprise, something new that I hadn’t heard before.

    How did they eat in a room full of shit? Emaciated bodies of men living in foul conditions being beaten by screws……

    The film made the history real. Reading about something is different to seeing it..

  • percy

    yes it would sammy, and by the way where is the movie showing. It was supposed to be on channel 4

  • Ann

    By the way, on the subject of the priest. In the film there doesn’t seem to be any problem between the priest and ‘Bobby’. The priest was a little ncaring but nothing else.

    There is a seventeen minute discussion between them, where ‘Bobby’ tells a little story about his youth, does anyone know if there is any truth to the story? How ‘Bobby’ put the animal down?

  • Ann

    Sammy why do loyalists not have discussions about their history?

  • Ann
  • percy

    ann
    but where/when can you see the movie….. arrghghh

  • Ann

    Cinema percy…..:)

  • Ann

    Percy its tough going. Don’t say you weren’t warned! The actor who plays ‘Bobby’ appears to waste away before your eyes, at one point his rib cage is protruding and his stomach sagged in, and he is carried by a warder like a limp doll. I don’t know how they did it, but its remarkable.

    You will see where they put the sheepskin rug on the bed for him to lie on and the frame to keep the bedclothes of him, just like its been recounted so many times. But seeing it is something else.

  • Ann

    and before I forget 🙂 the mirror in the circle where the men are forced to squat over it…the lice in the cells, the brown shit on the walls making fags from bible paper… It’s an excellent movie.

  • JG

    Great stuff. I can’t wait to see it.

    Percy,

    It’s out in all the main cinemas here, I’m sure you’ll catch it easy enough over yonder.

  • percy

    ahh that would be it JG, up and aboot I see.
    No rest for the wicked 😉 same here

  • percy

    Ann
    I seen half of it on a pirate thingy, but it wouldn’t let me see the other half 🙁

  • Ri Na Deise

    A fantastic piece of film making tbh. Stark imagery and no over dramatisation. You literally wince with every blow landed, feel almost physically ill taking in the filthy conditions.

    The latter part of the film is very tough going due to Fassbenders dangerous dedication to the role. He actually looks about 4 stone and in serious pain.

  • JG

    That’s right Percy. Strictly speaking I’m writing something but in reality I’m here chatting to you!

    Hope all’s well over there…

  • JG

    Oh btw Percy, I liked your “bloody-minded” comment over yonder in response to waco’s piece about Pól Brennan.

  • SDNY

    Percy, I’m living in the states so I downloaded the torrent for it and watched it, DVD rip, great quality. just search torrentspy.com for ‘hunger’ and you’ll find it no bother! download the torrent and let limewire take care of the rest!

  • percy

    thanks mate, there’s just no mercy over there.
    That is not a higher morality as they like to kid themselves.
    It’s ok over here, watched the All Blacks beat our team though, not too sweet.
    Going to check cinemas for the movie “Hunger”

  • percy

    thanks SDNY,

  • William

    I’ve saw the film ‘Hunger’ last night…..what a waste of £7.50 to see such rubbish…not a mention of what old Bobby was up to ….he wasn’t in the Maze for nothing, was he????? Political prinsor my foot, convicted terrorist who choose to go on an extended slimmers’ diet and paid the price for his folly. The awards this film have received are a greater indictment on those who gave them, than the rubbish that received them.

    McQueen should stick with creating the rubbish, that these days qualifies for discredited awards such as the Turner Prize, rather than films that glorify terrorists.

  • William,

    I see you were unable to leave your prejudices at the door before entering the cinema. One of our major shortcomings as human beings is our inability or unwillingness to see the world through another man’s shoes.{or woman}

    Perhaps if you had attempted to do this after watching this movie you may have come away with more than you appear to.
    For example I have been told by people from both sides of the community that the scene in the film when the prison officers wife is looking from behind the curtain when her husband starts his car to drive to work. Caught the tension and fear that people lived under during the ‘troubles.’

    There were many revealing clips in this film which made it way above the usual drivel that is turned out by the movie industry.
    The fact that McQueen was able to place politics on the back burner and concentrate on Sands the man was extremely astute in my view as we were able to understand far more than is the norm.

    When you ask what Sands was in prison for you are missing the point entirely, but so be it, although it is worth mentioning that if he had refused to go on the blanket and later take command of the Republican POWs, he would have been, with full remission, been released in under four years.

    Instead he decided to lead from the front in an attempt to bring the blanket protest to an end. Love him or hate him you cannot deny he achieved his aim.

  • JG

    Well said, Mick. Methinks William had his mind made up before the opening credits.

  • Well said Mick.

    Empathy or open-mindedness, as well as having one iota of humour were never unionists/loyalists strong points.

    Harrowing movie, hard to watch at times. Another brilliant movie about the North was Bloody Sunday, it was like you were taken in a time machine and sent back to witness events in Derry in 1972.

  • Ann

    what a waste of £7.50

    £3 will get you into any movie house on Tuesday nights.

    convicted terrorist who choose to go on an extended slimmers’ diet

    Thats right they did choose. If you listen to the video it not only tells you that they chose to , but that they locked themselves into it. Listen to Jake and he tells you the reaction of the solicitor when the prisoners wanted to apoint another person to be their appointee rather than their families, because the families would not be able to watch them die.

    It, from what we now know, was a very calculated decision. Planned from the beginning, with all angles covered. Check out in the video what they said about the first hunger strike. That the leader had not been on the hungerstrike himself, which put him in a position between a rock and a hard place. Not to aportion blame on the dark. Second time round the leader would lead from the front. At one stage there was 75 names on the list to fast to death.

    As Mick Hall said, love them or hate them, it doesn’t take away from the things they endured, or the comrade ship that flowed from it. I think that is why they called for unity, because now former comrades in the HS and dirty protest are at odds about the direction SF is taking them. Will this SF strategy lead to a UI or not, or will republicanism now be forced to start again, not with armed struggle, I think that is dead completely, but republicans coming together under a new group looking for new peaceful ways to achieve their aim.

  • Ann

    As regards Thatcher, I’d completely forgot that it was a labour government that did the damage first. Don Concannon, (what a blast from the past) visited the screws often to pat them on the back. I’d forgotten all about the labour governments involvement in all of this, until reminded in the video. Its difficult to remember all the finer details of the history of this, but Thatcher and the Conservatives weren’t alone in this, although she was the worst.

  • Ann

    Looking back at the HS, you had this massive historical event, which was taking place within what was regarded as part of the UK, yet it hardly touched the people of England, even those who were involved in the labour movement and the left. I remember being part of a small group of trade unionists who had arranged to meet a labour MP on another matter. She had just accompanied Concannon to the north when he made the visit to the maze that was mentioned. (not sure if she actually went into the Maze)

    She told us in a boastful manner that ‘Don’ had put the prisoners straight, there would be no support from the LP on this, as the party was as one with the Thatcher government. I found her attitude appalling as she clearly had no idea nor cared about the consequences and almost laughably believed Concannon’s opinions carried some weight with the hunger strikers.

    She appeared to have absolutely no perception of the hunger strikers strength of will etc. Yet she and ‘Don’ must have been briefed by the British government before they made their trip to Ireland.

    Up until then, I had never had much time for the British LP, but from that day on for me it was a lost cause; as even back then the LP leadership was so far up the English establishments back passage, it was only a matter of time before they would re-emerge as a fully formed neocon/thatcherite puppy in the image of Tony Blair.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Mick Hall,

    The IRA were blowing 8 colurs of shit out of their cities so it unrealistic to think they (LP and other British parties) would support a people involved in a hunger strike to prove they had good cause for doing so.

    Technical borders aside this was a ‘National’ struggle between British and Irish and if we Irish have the right to be Nationalistic then so do the Englezes irrespective of whther they are members of the Labour party or not.

  • Ann

    I think you have the wrong end of the stick Sammy, I think Mick is referring to the fact that the British got this so terribly wrong. They mismanaged the whole affair.

  • Sammy

    I do not think it was the LP leadership or the majority of English people being nationalistic, apart for the odd bang if you had no Irish connections, Ireland whether 6 or 26 counties was just not on most English peoples radar let alone there agenda. Most probably thought it had all been solved years ago and if we look at the opinion polls of those days, if it had not they believed it should dam well have been and the sooner they were shot of the place the better.

    If I remember correctly even that wretch Concannon said he was pro unity as did the woman I mentioned. I do not know if you have ever lived in England, but most English people do not give a fig whether someone from Ireland is Catholic or Protestant, or comes from the north or south, as far as they are concerned you are all Irish and that is that.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Mick Hall,

    my point is simple. The IRA were blowing up British towns – most British people knew that – they were shooting their soldiers – most British people knew that. They did not like this sort of stuff and most of them thought ( incorrectly in my opinion) that the pople who were blowing things up and doing the shooting were criminals/terrorists and had little sympathy for them wishing to end their lives via hunger strike.

    If you are going to go to ‘war’ against someones state you have to accept the populace/politicians will not be best pleased.

    Both the Englezes and the Provos followed the logic of war (of which the HS is a by-product) for far too long – before both sides arrived at the compromise of the GFA.

  • Sammy

    Ah, but unlike you I am not talking about some mystical British people which do not exist on the eastern side on the Irish sea, but English people, because whether you believe it or not, very few people who live in England regard themselves as British.

    As to the IRA blowing up English towns it did not happen, and until the very last part of the troubles, unless they or their family were caught up in an IRA bombing, most English people regarded them as an irritant at most, the IRA’s activities did not really impact on peoples daily lives.

    As to when British army solders were killed by the IRA, people did not like it, far from it in fact, but they viewed it much as they do today when a squadie is killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In truth in a pretty callous manner seeing the solders as professional men @ women who made a free choice when they joined the army; and no matter how much the government has tried to whip up jingoism of late, this attitude still prevails.

    Not least because the government is caught between a rock and a hard place, for if it allows officially sponsored state funerals of service personnel killed on active service, it will simply highlight the futility of having troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus the government and its tame media is reduced to giving it big once a year on remembrance day.

    I’m off, best regards

    Mick

  • Northsider

    Went to see ‘Hunger’ today, and was stunned, cowed, moved, disturbed, and left in a state of total disorientation and emotional turmoil – it is a fantastic piece of cinema.

    Bottom line: it is not just the story of Bobby Sands, or the prisoners, or the brutality or the conditions, or the politics – but what I was left with was how horrific this war was as it was fought here, in the Maze prison, and how this reflected what was going on outside.

    You had the prison screw, and him doing what he thinks his right, with all the attendant fears and dangers and violence (both meted out and received) and you had the prisoners, led by Sands, doing what they thought was right with all the squalor, and fear, and loathing and beatings – and occasionally, when we look for sense and context, and like the voice of some awful God, Thatcher intones on the soundtrack the appalling strategy that put these two sets of people here in Ireland, Irish people, against eachother in this arena.

  • percy

    Sammy
    Mick and Northsider are closer to the heart of the matter which is the British strategy attempting to criminalise and smash republicans, the prisoners thought they were the weakest links. they didn’t figure on Bobby Sands.

    “I do not know if you have ever lived in England, but most English people do not give a fig whether someone from Ireland is Catholic or Protestant, or comes from the north or south, as far as they are concerned you are all Irish and that is that.”

    100% correct Mick, I live in England.,

    saw the movie this evening, it was harrowing,moving, and overwhelming in the sense of the courage it took to go through with a hunger strike to the end… I’ve much the same feeling about it as Northsider.

    Its is being shown in the UK, but in selected cinemas.

  • Nic

    The crappy video quality takes away from this post, and anyway, nothing new to learn here unless you count a few trivial details for the trainspotters. Preaching to the long-since converted and all that.

    Overall, I liked the Marian Price piece best. Honest and forceful, she stands up straight for violent republicanism, and makes no bones about the constitutional politics motivating the bombers and hunger strikers.

    IMO, it’s equally important that those too young to have experienced these “historic” events understand the implications of the views in that article.
    The (R)(C)IRA exists to unite ireland under it’s rule and has always regarded that goal as superceding the wishes and well being of the Irish people, and Marian makes that point very well.

    Contrast that with the patronizing double-speak of Malachi o’ Doherty (as we’ve come to expect from the Armani set in modern violent republicanism). Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness as social workers motivated all along by a desire for equality and a future for the youth?

    An insult to the intelligence of the rest of us who know them better than that. We ought to make sure our children and grandchildren understand it also.

  • mick cooper

    The boul William must be given some credit, at least he paid in to see Hunger, now his assessment of the movie (that’s what it was Billy a movie) is not something most people will agree with but he’s entitled to his view albeit predictable
    Have you seen 50 dead men walking Billy, its real good and true life, so is Shrek it’s about a big green monster, oops spoiled it ! sorry.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Prods say very bad and Taigs say very good. Proper critics appear to be with the Taigs and personally as I’m sympathetic to Bobby and Co. I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

  • anne warren

    Re Northsider: “the appalling strategy that put these two sets of people here in Ireland, Irish people, against each other in this arena”.

    Tend to agree with this statement, except for the fact that even though neither the other set nor the majority of English, Scots and Welsh hold the same view, one set of these Irish people is convinced its British . . .
    As Mick correctly observed ” most English ( + Welsh and Scots) people do not give a fig whether someone from Ireland is Catholic or Protestant, or comes from the north or south, as far as they are concerned you are all Irish and that is that.”

  • William

    I would say Mick Hall, Dave and JG had their minds made up before the opening credits…it helps when you support the organsation that Sands belonged to.

    I just dislike the film industries obsession with portraying the likes of the terrorist Sands as someone whose memory should be cherished. The only aim that moron achieved was his believe that he was ‘dying for Ireland’. What did he ever do when he was ‘living for Ireland’ …. engage in the murder and mayhem that his organisation was so good at.

    I have never engaged in terrorism, supported or voted for terrorists and I am a better person for it. So I don’t take any lectures from the above mentioned, especially Hall…if he is the same left-wing writer, who is well known for his looney lefty political diatribe, then it is to be expected from him, that he sees merit in that drivel that is ‘Hunger’.

  • welcome to reality

    “Percy its tough going. Don’t say you weren’t warned! The actor who plays ‘Bobby’ appears to waste away before your eyes, at one point his rib cage is protruding and his stomach sagged in, and he is carried by a warder like a limp doll. I don’t know how they did it, but its remarkable.

    You will see where they put the sheepskin rug on the bed for him to lie on and the frame to keep the bedclothes of him, just like its been recounted so many times. But seeing it is something else. ”

    I’m soooooooooooo moved by above………

    also picture the following “hunger striker” glorious moment where bobby’s fellow traveller thomas mcelwee (yes THAT’S the same guy the GAA award a trophy to) in a moment of heroic bravery killed a 26yr old girl who opend her own business the “Alley Katz Boutique”

    Also picture the moment when the bomb detonated and blew a young girl to literlally peices.

    One is reality, the other is a film.

  • mick cooper

    Bobby and his comrades gave the world a lead, with the courage of their convictions. Few people would have the bravery to carry out a hunger strike to death, they have left a legacy that’s unsurpassed in modern day politics.

    The movie Hunger was a harrowing portrayal of Bobby’s suffering, graphically it was very difficult to watch, although it only touched on the brutality the prisoners suffered at the hands of their captors. Any wonder it has won awards, the director should be commended at the highest level, which no doubt he will.

    May they rest in peace

  • Grassy Noel

    Hey Fick,

    I heard Bobby put the fear of God in you and your colleagues. Nightmares and cold sweats to this day.

    He’ll be remembered long after you and your pals are in the ground, and there’s a tricolour flying over the cemetery.

  • ‘Hunger’ is certainly a powerful piece of cinema but the “truth”? I doubt it.

    It is, as was the gathering in West Belfast to “discuss” it, a version of events that serves to buttress a partisan view of the past.

    No doubt the audience in the mill all had a little éirígí in their pants as their prejudice was stroked by the platform party.

  • Granni Trixie

    During the Hunger Strikes I used to visit a ‘special’ school where I saw real courage – kids,some of them with time limited conditions, struggling to make the best of their lives.

    Why could Sands and the others live for Ireland instead of dying? Why are they held up as examples of heroism by Republicans – is it any wonder we have a high level of suicides of young people in some localities?

    For the record, I thought the film Hunger was masterley – as a film – but it was certainly not morally neutral.

  • Driftwood

    Hostel is a much better film about the criminally insane.

  • mick cooper

    Whatever floats yer boat driftwood, you obviously enjoy the criminally insane, each to there own oul hand.