Absence of a united clear line on the first hunger strike prefigured disaster in the second, the 1980 archives reveal

The Irish Times’ reading of the British National Archives for 1980 reveals that Pope John Paul II came to  favour the Church putting  pressure on the Maze prisoners as well as on the British government to end the first hunger strike – an approach apparently greeted with lack of enthusiasm at first by Cardinal O Fiaich whose leadership was viewed as being ” not particularly helpful.”  Clerical exceptions were seen as Frs Faul and Alec Reid who is reported in one despatch as suffering a breakdown. Lessons of the first hunger strike were fated to be ignored by all sides – except perhaps by Sinn Fein. The only element that was definitely repeated in the  handling of the  second was the confusion of the first.

The newly released papers report that Archbishop Heim (Vatican ambassador to London) told British officials the pope’s message to the bishops “gave a significant steer to them to do what they could to prevent the continuation of the hunger-strike”.

British officials believed the message “had obviously been somewhat unwelcome” to the bishops, “to judge from the lack of any announcement from Archbishop O’Fiaich or any others, or the release of the text”.

But the message was “clear enough: the Irish hierarchy should not address themselves merely to the British authorities (as they have up to now) but also to the prisoners themselves (which they have hitherto failed to do)

Interestingly the Daily Telegraph’s longer account begins with pressure from the Pope being politely rebuffed by the Prime Minister.

“I would ask you to consider personally possible solutions in order to avoid irreversible consequences that could perhaps prove irreparable.”

Mrs Thatcher wrote back explaining that the prisoners – six from the Provisional IRA and one from the Irish National Liberation Army – had all been convicted of serious crimes such as murder, and insisted she would not make any concessions such as granting them political prisoner status.

The Guardian’s report includes a world survey of prisoner uniforms and the extract:

 Secret cabinet minutes on 23 October record (NI Secretary Humphrey Atkins) proposing to issue a statement making clear “that the government [was] in no circumstances prepared to grant special status to the PIRA prisoners but that as part of the continuing process of penal reform they were prepared to allow all prisoners to wear approved civilian clothing.

“[Atkins] considered that a statement on those lines would deprive the protesters of a great deal of public sympathy … and would be better made now than at a later stage when it could be presented as a surrender to the prisoners’ action.”

The prime minister agreed but insisted that “once the government’s position had been made clear, no further concessions should be offered.” Similar comments – such as “We cannot make any concessions” – appear in the margins of other cabinet documents on the hunger strike in Thatcher’s characteristic blue felt pen.

 The other well-trodden theme was Charles Haughey’s brief honeymoon with Margaret Thatcher over what the phrase “totality of relationships” actually meant. Both the British and the Irish archive, here reviewed by historian John Bowman, are in basic agreement that Haughey stretched the meaning to what became breaking point.



Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    We have the archives. The Irish archives. The British archives.
    The Guardians reading. The Torygraphs reading. The Irish Times reading.
    We have the Vatican input.
    We have Cardinal O’Fiach defying Thatcher and more crucially the English Catholic Church to reveal himself as Irish and republican and Catholic.
    The linking of Fr Faul and Fr Reid is interesting as it is my perception they were very differently motivated although I confess to only knowing the latter.

    But how exactly is the “disaster” of the Second Hunger Strike defined? Certainly if more people had learned the lesson of the First Hunger Strike, then the Second may not have happened. But clearly if the Second Hunger Strike had not happened, then a train of events…..including Bobby Sands MP….Sinn Féins political engagement…….would not have happened.
    We are where we are. And the Hunger Strikes were milestones.
    As Ive said often……I am delighted with the Peace Process.
    Therefore with relunctance I cannot accept that the Hunger Strikes were a disaster except of course for the families concerned and the innocent lives lost outside prison walls during that period.
    The only people who seem to think that the Hunger Strikes were a (historical) disaster are unionists and others who dont like the place where we have ended up. People who want to turn the clock back to 1965.

  • The Word


    “to reveal himself as Irish and republican and Catholic.”

    Cardinal O’Fiaich was very much a big hearted Catholic Church leader, who was taking the compassionate Christian position in relation to the first hunger strikers.

    He was not to know that the levels of sympathy that followed the first hunger strike were being eyed up by those who, initially opposed to the strike, saw where it may lead. They were to become central when events were to take their course. But then who could be so callous?

  • 241934 john brennan

    Hunger Strike History: Below is mostly an extract from Barry White’s 1984 book – ‘John Hume, statesman of the troubles’. It contends that the first hunger strike was ended by a combination of sleight of hand on the part of the Northern Ireland Office, and naivety on the part of Sinn Fein leaders, who were opposed to the hunger strike. The duplicitous manner of ending the first strike caused the second viz:

    “Prison conditions were difficult when the first hunger strike began in October 1980. Some IRA prisoners were four years into the ‘dirty protest’ and 18 prison officers had been murdered. Sinn Fein opposed the prisoners’ decision. Gerry Adams wrote: “We are tactically, strategically, physically and morally opposed to a hunger strike.”

    Fifty days into that strike, and with Sean McKenna going blind and fading fast, John Hume made a crucial intervention. His proposals to the government concentrated on freedom of movement, so prisoners could have association within the H–block, and freedom to wear their own clothes. Brendan Hughes, the IRA’s prison leader, sent word to Hume that if he could deliver the strike would be over. When John Hume relayed that message to Humphrey Atkins, NI Secretary of State, the feedback was very positive. Hume then advised the prisoners that if he appeared in person with an official, their points would be guaranteed. If not, there was no guarantee.

    Hume waited at home. When no call came, he rang Atkins only to be told: “We weren’t able to meet your points.” However, the strike was over that same day, 18 December. A NIO official met Redemptorist priest, Father Meagher, at Aldergrove. They went to the Maze and presented a long document to the starving men. Later when the small print was read, the agreement was not what it seemed. Where Hume wrote ‘civilian clothes’ the NIO had changed it to ‘civilian type clothes.’ The prisoners should have known from Hume’s instructions that something was wrong. It is believed the provisional leadership, outside the prison and unconvinced about the hunger strike, accepted Stormont Castle’s deceitful deal in order to prevent Hume taking political credit – which he had promised not to do.

    It was out of Bobby Sands’ subsequent feeling of betrayal that the second hunger strike was born on 1 March 1981. It led to the futile deaths of 10 prisoners. Outside the prison an explosion of sectarian violence resulted in 50 more deaths. Recruiting and funding for the IRA greatly increased. That hunger strike ended when next-of-kin, assisted by Monsignor Faul, assumed power of attorney when prisoners went into coma. Thus relatives, not provisional leaders, rightfully made the life or death decisions.

  • JeanMeslier

    Going slightly off course, but Bertie has just disclosed he will not be standing in the next southern general election.

    Another one bites the dust

  • The Word


    “Where Hume wrote ‘civilian clothes’ the NIO had changed it to ‘civilian type clothes.’”

    This point really underscores the weaknesses of Sinn Fein as a party. At this point on their journey they were killing and asking people to die.

    By 1987, just seven years later, they were sending signals to John Hume to get them out of the mess they were in. The same approach: “don’t you dare make us look stupid”, and only the decency of Hume – as evidenced in relation to the hunger strikers – allowed them to fall off their lofty tower gently.

    These people then come away with notions that they are the good people and the rest of us just don’t understand their heroism. I suppose there are a few idiots who would.

  • JeanMeslier

    “..This point really underscores the weaknesses of Sinn Fein as a party…”

    Take your stoop tinted glasses off and join the real world.
    Humes legacy (Margaret) is boasting to the 3 main southern parties that she’s a partitionist ffs

  • The Word


    As are they.

    The only party that crosses the border does so on the basis that there is no natural ground between the south and north. Plain stupid!

    Centrist in the North. Communist in the south. Plain stupid. Does anybody believe them about any of their positions?

    Kill to achieve unity. Then peace to achieve separatness. Unity will now come when they stare the unionists out.

    Where’s the strategy?

    Margaret’s leading from the front. We can never leave anything to you boys.

  • I rewatched the Hunger Strike documentary last night with O’Rawe, the Hughes &O’Hara families etc. Those who gained from the hunger strike – Adams, Morrisson, Gibney, the ghoul Harltey and others also figured as the main players. There was a nice shot of the young and sprightly Seamus Ruddy, as well as Bernie McAlliskey and some other good people. As McA said, the good guys lost. The bad ones certainly won.

  • Mark

    Alan ,

    I see you have been Western Unioned already .

    Didn’t you say that you knew Seamus Ruddy back in the day ?

  • JeanMeslier

    “..Centrist in the North. Communist in the south…”

    Forget about the glasses jibe. Just keep taking the tablets chum

    Rumour in Newry/Armagh is that Frank Feeley topped the poll at the Stoop election convention for council candidates.
    We’ll not be breaking with the old non-coherent SDLP statements, any time soon then, in this neck of the woods!

  • slappymcgroundout

    “prefigured disaster”

    You mean 10 dead hunger strikers? Or the rise of Sinn Fein to power? Or both? In helping you answer, simply recall that even Mr. Taylor reports in his series that hunger strike = election of Big Gerry = defeat for Maggie. I believe that such might be what the late Pope JPII meant when he wrote, as you relate: I would ask you to consider personally possible solutions in order to avoid irreversible consequences that could perhaps prove irreparable.

  • slappymcgroundout


    In your absence, you missed my one post re the one hunger strike. I will post an edited version of the same for you now.

    Try reading the first and third letters here:


    Next, the absurdity of O’Rawe’s claim is made plain by one of his supporters (from the Planet of the IRSPs):

    “A further message was approved by Thatcher on the evening of July 7th and communicated to the IRA on the afternoon of 8th July. The documents further suggest that the IRA was cool at first but later in the day said that only the tone, and not the content, of the offer was unacceptable. As a result, a further draft statement, enlarging upon the previous British statement, was communicated to the IRA for their consideration. The documents say the IRA was advised that if they accepted this statement and “ordered the hunger strikers to end their protest” then the statement would be issued immediately. Otherwise a statement would be issued re-iterating the British government position of June 30th.”

    Query, some were protesting in favor of their five demands. Surely, a statement conceding the five demands would result in some ending their strike. Why would you need them to end their strike before you made your statement public? You afraid that the hunger strikers will make sport of you by not accepting your concession to their five demands and instead die just to spite you?

    Now, if the strike ends first, then there’s room to not make a statement for public consumption. Or to do some other things, like make a statement not quite agreeing with what those who ended their hunger strike believe you had agreed to. Recall here the end of the first aborted hunger strike.

    Now consider some other words from the one hunger striker quoted above in the An Phoblacht piece (in the Irish News):

    “So, this Tory cabinet of Maggie Thatcher, having decided that it was in Britain’s best interest to act to break the Hunger Strike, comes up with a list of concessions they are prepared to make, presents this to the leadership of the Republican Movement, who supposedly reject them and what do the Brits do? They walk away with their tails between their legs.

    If the British had thought it was in their interest to end the Hunger Strike then they would have done so regardless of what the Republican Movement did or did not do. They would simply have gone to the media – having first confided with and secured the support of the SDLP, the Catholic hierarchy and the Dublin government – and announced concessions they were prepared to make. We on hunger strike would then have been faced with either calling it off or trying to continue with a now deeply divided support base, not to mention internal and family divisions. It’s not rocket science.”

    Indeed, it isn’t rocket science, and there’s your answer. It doesn’t matter what the likes of O’Rawe claim some to have wanted. All the British govt needed to do was to go public with its concessions, which is a course of action that more than a few have taken down through our recorded human history.

    Now, so you can’t help but get the point, remember when this all occurred, which was following the death of the late Bobby Sands and the massive outpouring of sympathy in relation to his funeral and accompanying funeral procession. Surely, the Brits would have liked to avoid any blame for the death of any additional hunger striker(s), seeing as how such blame could only serve to empower the PIRA. If what O’Rawe claims is true, all the Brits had to do was go on the tv and restate the demands and their position with respect to the same, and blame those in Sinn Fein and/or PIRA outside the prison for any future deaths. Again, that never happened. And it didn’t happen because the Brits knew what the response would be, in four words, not favorable to them.

    By the way, when you understand the dynamic, then you will know why the leadership outside ALWAYS opposed hunger strike. ALWAYS. You see, some might not be as hard ass as them, and so demand, British responsive position, leaving Sinn Fein/PIRA outside the prison in the wholly unenviable position of having to guage whether any rejection leading to death of hunger striker will serve to discredit the movement (or the opposite, an early end that is seen as weak capitulation). And as Gerry told Peter Taylor during the one interview back at that time, otherwise impossible for those outside to fairly judge the merit of the strike, the merit of any response, and thus whether the strike should continue, as they are outside and not inside the prison. That’s why the policy has always been, no hunger strike, and if you folks go ahead anyway, you inside are in charge, and not us, since that way, no one can blame us for any of the deaths and we aren’t put in the morally untenable position of being asked to judge with respect to conditions that we are not enduring. The long and short of the matter is, simply, that in the case of the hunger strike, the inside of the prison holds those outside hostage (how in Deity’s name can those outside not support the hunger strike once it has begun?). And that’s how we go from the report of the one soul above, to wit, “We are tactically, strategically, physically and morally opposed to a hunger strike” to “we steadfastly support the hunger strikers”.

  • Mark: Yes, I knew Seamus Ruddy quite well and, like most others, I liked and respected him. I think of him quite often and, to use that awful cliche, I do hope the family closure.
    As regards the morons who killed him (at least one of whom is on the INLA’s list of fallen, where Ruddy is not), they epitomise one side of Irish Republicanism’s cancer. How can you argue with an armed savage? You cannot.
    The IRSP/INLA hide behind a myriad of cliches when the murder of Seamus Ruddy comes up. They actually destroyed a good smuggling network not only by their violence towards Ruddy but by their sheer stupidity, a thing that cannot be highlighted when a monkey is sticking a rod into your ear.

    Slappy: I read the letters as you suggested but I got nothing from them mostly I suppose because he said/she said does not interest me, especially when PRN first edit it. Maybe you will get something from this.

    Look at how they spit out O’Rawe (and Ruddy and so on). Say what you like about him but he did his bit as they say. Now they demonise him.
    Thank you for giving me a link to an Phoblacht. Now let me give you one, to someone else I knew.

    This guy died as a despised wino.Look at the people quoted as signing his praises: the usual suspects, who hardly did a day’s jail between them.

    As regards the legacy of the ten dead hunger strikers, three of whom were INLA: didn’t James Connolly say something about apostles of freedom being worshipped when dead and repudiated when living? That has certainly been the case nationally in Ireland and internationally as well.
    It is not pleasant to think back to those heady times. It is very unpleasant to think of the main beneficiaries when they spout on about Another Man’s Wound.
    If forced to choose, I prefer the fallen.

  • 241934 john brennan

    The present provisional movement is self styled “Irish Republican”, but it is not in the tradition of Christian republicanism. Instead it is akin to defunct Russian, Italian and German versions, whose causes were Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. In common, they all espoused a “cult of the citizen” and put it above the laws of God and man. Citizen armies, despite terrible atrocities against fellow humans, were excused culpability on grounds that all is justified by the cause – just like Cromwell’s citizen army and the IRA. So it was that a Sinn Fein chairman publicly asserted that the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville was not a crime.

    Such cults are alien to the Irish psyche. Before Christianity we had Brehon law, to redress wrongs against neighbours. Even those who feared neither God nor man feared that deliberate harm to a neighbour meant, “they would never have any luck.” Monsignor Denis Faul summed it up better by saying: “They bear responsibility for that.”

    He vigorously opposed all injustice, but did not condemn individual IRA foot soldiers. Instead he spoke against unjust methods approved by IRA leaders and their untrue justifications and promises. His appeal over the heads of the leaders showed his confidence that the ordinary Irish people will not abandon their characteristic faith, culture, heritage and innate tradition of respecting the dignity and rights of others.

  • Mark

    Alan ,

    It was a savage time alright ……

  • The Word

    Jean Meslier

    ““..Centrist in the North. Communist in the south…”

    Forget about the glasses jibe. Just keep taking the tablets chum”

    Where do you think they are?

  • The Word


    “is self styled “Irish Republican”, but it is not in the tradition of Christian republicanism. Instead it is akin to defunct Russian, Italian and German versions, whose causes were Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. In common, they all espoused a “cult of the citizen” and put it above the laws of God and man.”

    The “cult of the citizen” is, I think, best expressed in the work of one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite philosphers, Friedrich Nietszche, who coined the phrase “Superman” to define the superior human being who made up his own moral code. Nietszche went on to run down Christianity in “The Antichrist”, telling us that it undermined the greatness of Germany.

    Of course, there’s nothing new about this “superior moral framework” these people adhere to. It is simply the outworking of the values of the Old Testament, pre-Christ, and they are simply arguing that we are in a post-Christian era.

    The Israelites, then every empire that ever existed through force including Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Mussilini anmd even the English.

    You could say it’s learned stupidity, to adhere to the values of those you say you oppose. That’s just always going to mean a world at war.

    Peace is an option, even for them.

  • 241934 john brennan

    The Word
    The point I was trying to make is the supremacy of human rights, which are inalienable – unlike citizens’ rights which are bestowed, or removed, at the whim of the state, totalitarian party, (e.g. Communism, Sinn Fein etc) or ruling despot (e.g. Cromwell)

    A wee example – Gerry Adams is insistent about his citizen’s right to speak Irish, even when not understood. But he didn’t and doesn’t uphold the absolute right life for Irish citizens in all circumstances. eg Jean McConville. In this respect the Irish Republican Army (Provos) was no different to that led by Cromwell – both self styled citizen’s armies

  • Rory Carr

    From American Football to the Hunger Strike to Cromwell in three easy moves…only on Slugger.

    I imagine that a piece on domestic linen in the Amish community would probably wind up the same.

    Happy New Year!

  • The Word


    Yes, of course. Very true.

    Sinn Fein see themselves as being the Irish nation in politics, bestowing virtues and vanities on its followers. We regularly hear them giving motivational speeches and statements, patronising the voters and, as you suggest, bestowing gifts to their followers in the form of state-sponsored schemes and the like.

    They big themselves up through the Old Testament ideology at the heart of their approach and the approach of all expansionist nations.

    The problem, of course, with their approach is that it has a market in the North because of the unionists and the British also playing by similar means, and cynicism becomes the common currency. In the south 700 years of emasculation by the British has rendered such an approach irrational.

    They may be able to big themselves up due to the present cynicism about the financial crisis in the shortterm but that has to be just a blip because there is no basis in the southern Irish psyche and naturally high empathy levels to suddenly begin to define themselves as a new empire.

    One of the proud boasts of the Irish people is that their country never entered another man’s country as a foe, and that the Irish have gone everywhere in the world to find new friends.

  • granni trixie

    FJH: I do not follow the logic behind your definition of people who define the HS in negative terms as “people who want to turn the clock back to 1965” or as “unionists” (very revealing that – the way you use ‘unionists’).

    You seem to be saying that without the HS ‘peace’ would not have been achieved but I say that this is simply not knowable. If there had not been a HS are you claiming that this conflict would have continued forever? Remember war weariness and political,structural and cultural change have all played their part. I grant you that the security situation could either crucially hinder or facilitate change.

    Support for the HSers beyond the heartlands was based mainly on humanitarian grounds and gave SF leadership confidence to push for the ballot box rather than the armalite. Against this positive for republicans, in 1981 WB was engulfed in commmunity intimidation and had an atmosphere like when ‘a terrible beauty was born’.
    I tend to be a pragmatist but just do not accept that the ends which to me amoujnts to suicide, justified the means. I assure you also that I do not want the clock turned back.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Granni Trixie.
    My starting point is where we are now. A place I find rather pleasant ……alas I am far too old to fully benefit but my children are reaping the rewards. As are their children.
    You will note that the comments to which you refer were actually the first to Mr Walkers original post.
    I merely challenge his assertion that the second hunger strike was a “disaster” except as I stressed in my original comments “of course for the families concerned and the innocent lives lost outside prison walls during that period”.

    Clearly without the Hunger Strike, there might well have been a Peace Process and even an agreement but I suggest it would be very different to the one we have today. Most unionists…..and I know a few……would regard the Hunger Strike as a “disaster” ……not just for the very understandable humanitarian reasons which I share……but because it energised the Irish Republican Army, re-vitalised Sinn Féin and produced in the long run a very different process and agreement to their preferred option which was the total defeat of
    and republican terrorism.

    in that sense unionists who hanker after 1965 O’Neill unionism, visits to convent schools and minor adjustment to the status quo as envisaged by the likes of “moderates” like Basil McIvor etc.
    The inclusive nature of the peace agreement with which we ended up…..which accomodated rather than defeated republican terrorism is I believe more likely to endure than a security based triumph supported by very nice people.

    I view it all in a historical sense and of course that conflicts with any moral reservations I may or may not have.

  • The Word


    “because it energised the Irish Republican Army, re-vitalised Sinn Féin and produced in the long run a very different process and agreement to their preferred option which was the total defeat of republicanism, terrorism
    and republican terrorism.”

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the final agreement was not Sinn Fein’s preferred option either.

    I think it’s inconceivable that this “energised” IRA and “re-vitalised” Sinn Fein would have stopped their campaign in the aftermath of the hungerstrikes were it not for other factors. Their best argument seems to me to be that it was all out of control. That’s why it stopped.

    But it appears to me that others with more influence than may be noticeable felt that it was all out of control and that it was going nowhere.

    But the hungerstrikes intensified the war with many more recruits, only for some people to decide that enough was enough.

  • granni trixie

    FJH: You may be interested to know that you have something in common with Bernadette McAlliskey in recent years – you have appropriated “the nice people” to insult (in response to a challenge of mine at a public meeting in WB). Well, I have worked out that “the nice people” seems to stand for people who the speaker sees as not getting their hands dirty,who do not ‘care’ about people in the ‘heartlands’,standing loftily above it all. Funny old world also that others on this site seem to see activity in a violent campaign as a virtue and activity to bring about change by non violent means, a vice.

    Fortunatately, I can live with myself if all I am accused of is being ‘nice’. And fortunate old (!) you who can divorce your thinking from morality (note – not the same as moralising).

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Granni Trixie,
    Alas I have little if anything in common with Ms McAlliskey.
    I do however regard myself as a “nice person”. Indeed I am an extremely nice person. Ive never considered people were insulting me when they described me as “nice”.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Daniel O’ Connell, the great Irish liberator and parliamentarian ( note: not a Westminster absentionist) accurately said of physical force republicanism – some 150 years before the Maze hunger strikes:

    “She has no head, and cannot think; no heart and cannot feel. When she moves, it is in wrath; when she pauses, it is amid ruin; her prayers are curses – her God is a demon – her communion is death – her vengeance is eternity – her Decalogue written in the blood of her victims: and if she stops for moment in her infernal flight, it is upon a kindred rock, to whet her vulture fang for a more sanguinary desolation.”

  • Rory Carr

    A most colourful flight of fancy surely, John, but accurate? Hardly.

    Unless, of course, you mean that it accurately reflects your own emotional fancies and with that we can have no argument.

  • The Word


    Fine quotation from a truly great Irishman with the wisdom of Gandhi, the oratory of Martin Luther King and the dedication of John Hume.

    “if she stops for moment in her infernal flight, it is upon a kindred rock, to whet her vulture fang for a more sanguinary desolation.”

    Yes, that’s exactly where we’re at now with the fangs buried deep, causing more headless, heartless action to create unity through deception, destruction and death.

  • 241934 john brennan

    I have to disagree with you. In the context and history of physical force republicanism, the Daniel O’ Connell quotation is entirely and historically accurate.

    In the history of the “republican struggle” there have always been the same recurring themes: blood sacrifice, the culture of death, internecine murder etc – “Oh Lord I do not grudge the two strong sons I saw going out to die.” – “Our sons have sons,” etc. Nonsense that beguiles a younger generation along the same road that leads only to the graveyards.

    When will we ever learn from history?
    Michael Collins was only one of many republicans deliberately murdered by fellow republicans – many more than were murdered by security forces and loyalists. Directly relating to the Maze hunger strikes, the blood sacrifice and culture of death mentality was directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of 10 hunger strikers, 18 prison officers, and 50 civilians outside the prison, killed in an explosion of sectarian violence.

    “He, who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” is a very old biblical truism. So when Martin McGuiness says “the war is over for good”, does that mean a final end to the “republican physical force tradition” that brings nothing but shame and death to Irish people, everywhere?
    If so, three cheers.

  • Rory Carr

    I really don’t see, John, the merit in justifying, or attempting to validate, O’Connell’s colourful nonsense by reference to the colourful (though much less fanciful) poetry and prose of Republican lore.

    Waffle is waffle is waffle, whatever the source.

  • The Word


    “O’Connell’s colourful nonsense”

    The only man more hated than Daniel O’Connell by physical force Irish republicans was John Hume at the height of the Troubles.

    O’Connell could see through the facade of this, it might be said, “essentially Protestant middleclass” manipulation of Catholic peasants. The “king of the beggars” was only too aware of the depth of the commitment of these republicans to real justice when he saw John Mitchel (who J. Mitchel McLaughlin is named after) writing editorials in the USA arguing the case for chattel slavery and breeding slavery, the worst kind, of black people.

    I would argue that these supremacist views are inherent in the psyche of Irish physical force republicans, coming as part of a moral framework viewed through the eyes of middleclass Protestants with their particular take on the Bible.

  • 241934 john brennan


    Daniel O’ Donnell’s colourful oratory liberated many and harmed none. Hence his nickname.

    For many young and gullible idealists, some republican lore and prose is seductive and addictive, often the cause of regretable criminal convictions -and sometimes fatal consequences.

  • Brian

    O’Connell didnt do much of anything to help those millions of souls who starved to death and millions more who fled to avoid death.

    It was easy for him to moralize about violence as he was not one of those at the mercy of a foreign landlord and without any food.

  • The Word


    Mighty as O’Connell was in Parliament the Famine came at the end of his life – he died during it in 1847 – and his powers were then much reduced and unable to overcome the British Liberal Party’s attachment to laissez-faire economics. But he didn’t start it as some republicans appear to believe, given the degree of their hatred for him.

    Yes, he mortalized about violence. “Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right”.

    Young Ireland didn’t feed many people in those days either.

  • Rory Carr

    “I would argue that these supremacist views are inherent in the psyche of Irish physical force republicans, coming as part of a moral framework viewed through the eyes of middleclass Protestants with their particular take on the Bible.” writes The Word

    to which I can only reply by asking – in eager anticipation of how he is going to make this work, ” Go on then, Mr Word, make your argument.”

    I can hardly wait.

  • The Word


    Irish physical force republicans weren’t the first people on earth to argue that the persecutions of the past are the justification for the evil needed to form the nation or indeed to then sustain that nation in all its righteousness and warmongering to prove its superiority. Its an old argument made by the chosen and what nation doesn’t think its chosen from the Israelites to the Greeks, to the Romans, eventually to the British.

    When does it all stop? Mankind in perpetual war? The Bible says it stops when Christ comes with his “sharp sword” coming out of his mouth to strike down the Nations. “He will over them with an iron scepter”.

    That’s how peace will be established, so it goes. It may seem naive but the nation state has only ever been a vehicle for the maximisation of Money, not justice.

  • Brian

    “Irish physical force republicans weren’t the first people on earth to argue that the persecutions of the past are the justification for the evil needed to form the nation or indeed to then sustain that nation in all its righteousness and warmongering to prove its superiority.”

    Word-That was hardly the only argument for physical force republicanism in its inception. But I get your overall point on nationalism in it’s most destructive and thoughtless form.

    Rory, I see in your profile you list “Stalin” as someone you admire. I dont even know what to say…

  • tacapall

    The Word I suppose we can say the same about the History of christianity and your own church. Religious wars were not argued they were fought and those who fought for their religion were ruthless. Colonialism was the evil that forced mankind to both kill and kill in defence and indeed who signed the papal bull for the english to invade Ireland.

  • Rory Carr


    My admiration for Stalin is based on two simple facts – he consolidated the revolution and led the Soviets to victory in the Great Patriotic War. His defects of character and political mistakes pale into insignificance when set beside those achievements.

    My other hero, Pancho Villa, also suffered from somewhat of a bad press – but, boy, was he not magnificent !

  • Brian

    Stalin, after that disastrious first summer/fall, got out of the way and let his generals run the war (something Hitler couldn’t/wouldn’t do). It would be hard to argue that anyone else in that position wouldn’t have prevalied…not when you could throw ten of millions of bodies at the enemy and were facing an overstretched war machine led by an increasingly delusional madmen. Stalin also put forth policies that left millions of Soviets to die needlessly during the war. And you seem to overlook that it was his pact with Hitler which led to the War in the first place.

    Some revolution…..a revolution betrayed (in Trotsky’s words) and hijacked by a megalomaniacial monster. Besides, if the revolution could only be consolidated through the starvation of millions, the death sentences of millions more, and tens of millions of innocent people being sent to gulags than it was a revolution which spelt untold misery for the Soviet people.

    The only thing he consolidated was his own power of life or death over hundreds of millions people. Lenin saw the monster he was at the end, but Stalin made sure no one would hear of it.

    I could see Trotsky or Lenin possibly being on your list, but Stalin? Can’t agree with that.

    Regarding Pancho Villa, I got a good story you’ll like about him that was told to me by a friend of a friend I met when I was in New Mexico. It happened to his grandfather….a robin hood type story. When I get a second I will relay it.

  • The Word


    “hardly the only argument for physical force republicanism”

    Actually what I suggested covers a range of arguments and I don’t think there’s much left out.

    Stalin? Are they having us on? Justice without empathy is hardly based on the realities of the human species.


    The Church justified some war based on cetain conditions but in recent time has come to its senses in the reality of Christian teaching:-

    As John Paul II said, “Humanity should question itself about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war”, and as the Second Vatican Council noted, “insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ” (Gaudium et Spes 78).

  • Rory Carr


    I look forward to reading your Pancho Villa anecdote, so much so in fact that I am prepared to overlook your shortsightedness on Stalin’s legacy. The fact that you put forward Trotsky, that murderous, nasty, egotistical incompetent who, but for Stalin’s intervention, would have lost the Civil War, as someone to be admired leads me to suspect that you may not be over-well read in the history and aftermath of the Soviet revolution. A good introduction might be to read a leading Trotskyite exponent, biographer of the definitive three-volume biography of Trotsky and leading anti-Stalinist of his day, Isaac Deutscher, whose single-volume biography of Stalin, read objectively. will perhaps give you a clue as to my mind-set.

    But do please hurry with your Pancho Villa story – I love to hear all and anything I can of this fascinating fellow who only recently has been rehabilitated in Mexico as the great hero of the revolution which he most assuredly was.