Bobby Sands Corsica Tribute

 

A musical tribute to IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands has appeared on a Corsican nationalist website – CorsicaNustrale’s Channel – and also on Youtube. CorsicaNustrale campaigns on behalf of Yvan Colonna, a political prisoner who is serving a life sentence.

 

Leaving Cert Special

 

Bobby Sands and 1916 leader Tom Clarke feature in a series of broadcasts on the Irish radio station Newstalk aimed at Leaving Certificate students. The series, Talking History, has been running since 1st March and is also be available on Podcast and on iTunes for students to download.

A special Leaving Cert programme broadcast on Sunday, April 11th, featuring Patrick Geoghegan and a team of historians, teachers and students, discussing key topics relating to the history syllabus, key questions, examination approaches and themes is also available for downloading.

The documentary on Bobby Sands begins about two minutes into the broadcast and features, amongst others, two hunger strikers, Laurence McKeown and Raymond McCartney, and BBC journalist Peter Taylor who covered the period in question.

Powerful ex-POW Memoir

A memoir by Tim Brannigan, a former republican prisoner from the Falls Road, describing in vivid detail what it was like growing up black in Belfast during the conflict has been showered with praise and has been featured prominently on radio and all the major newspapers in Ireland and Britain.

‘Where Are You Really From?’ is a fascinating and powerful memoir but also a major tribute to Tim’s mother Peggy (nee Brennan) and tells how a year after his birth and while he lived in St Joseph’s Baby Home (run by the Nazareth Sisters) she plotted to adopt the child that her relatives believed had been stillborn.

The reason for the subterfuge was that Peggy, who was married to a Belfast man, was pregnant to a young Ghanaian doctor at the RVH with whom she had had an affair.

Growing up as an ‘adopted’ child Tim remembers hearing stories about his grandmother Kitty Brennan.

“Granny was born in Sailortown,” he says. “She was staunchly nationalist and would sit Mum on her knee and sing old Irish laments to her. Family lore has it that, as a young woman, Granny was arrested and fined for waving one of the first Irish tricolours ever seen in Belfast in support of the men captured during the Easter Rising. The prisoners were taken by ship to Belfast from Dublin and, as they left the docks, they were marched past Granny’s house. It was then that she showed her true colours, defiantly waving her flag.”

As well as being a moving story about Peggy Brannigan and her love for her black son Tim, the book also covers Tim’s time in the H-Blocks as a republican PoW (he was sentenced to seven years for possession of weapons), his later work as a journalist and his journey to meet his biological father.

For the older people of Belfast’s Carrick Hill it will represent a trip down Memory Lane, when they played host to a regiment of US soldiers during the Second World War when they were based in a derelict factory called Marsh’s Buildings, only yards from Peggy’s house. Ironically, these soldiers were part of an exclusively black regiment and caused something of a stir in a community where many people had never seen ‘coloureds’ before!

“A powerful memoir,” is how the author Danny Morrison described it. “Well-written, full of humour and pathos, you just can’t put it down. Fair play to Tim for it takes a lot of courage to be so open, honest and frank about one’s life. But there is no doubt that the character who stands out in this book, who triumphs over life’s adversities is Peggy Brennan from Carrick Hill.”

‘Where Are You Really From?’ by Tim Brannigan is published by Blackstaff Press, £9.99

Remembering Deir Yassin

The Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, 1948, when Zionist paramilitaries, on the eve of Israel declaring independence, attacked the Palestinian village and killed over one hundred villagers, including women and children. The attack, aimed at breaking Arab morale, created terror within the Palestinian community and many in surrounding villages fled their homes and have been barred from returning ever since.

Dina Elmuti, a graduate student in the Masters in Social Work program at Southern Illinois University, at Carbondale, recalls the home her grandmother was driven from, in this article from Window Into Palestine.

Irish Resistance Marked In Italy

The memory of Bobby Sands and the struggle for Irish freedom are to be celebrated in Italy at a special conference on 24th April. The Historical Institute of Resistance in Pistoia (a city near Florence in Tuscany), which is an institute related to Italian anti-fascist resistance, each year chooses an internationalist theme: last year it was South Africa; in 2008 it was Ruanda.

This year, 2010, it will be dedicated to the Irish struggle for freedom. The City Council of Pistoia and the Province of Pistoia will both promote additional events throughout the province.

Planning began on the 9th of January for students of secondary schools at a conference hosted by the journalist and the author of the book ‘Storia del conflitto anglo-irlandese. Otto secoli di persecuzione inglese’, Riccardo Michelucci. A second conference of 300 students of Irish History, attended by journalists and local television, was addressed by the author Silvia Calamati (and translator of Bobby Sands’ writings) on the 16th January. A short film on Bloody Sunday was shown and was followed by a Q & A.

Former republican prisoner Rosaleen McCorley will address the 24th April conference on the historic legacy of the 1981 hunger strike and the event will also include screenings of films related to resistance to British rule in Ireland and the political gains made by the Republican Movement. For further information contact Salvatore at dinobros@tiscali.it

 

 

 

Daring Escape From Crum

“Accounts of many escapes from Irish jails have been written – yet more books are still eagerly sought from which to learn more of the deeds of IRA prisoners. In truth, until this book,” writes guest reviewer, Gerry O’Hare, “I had only heard verbally anything about the escape attempts made by Danny Donnelly, from Omagh, and Belfast’s John Kelly, from Crumlin Road Jail (in 1960 during ‘Operation Harvest’).” Review continues…

Eamonn Boyce’s ‘The Insider’, and its account of jail breaks of that time, was reviewed earlier.This is the definitive account of Danny Donnelly’s successful escape from the Crum in 1960 – and of the heartbreak and failure of North Belfast’s John Kelly, who didn’t quite make it. It is a story of two men’s attempts to overcome the odds against them by their jailers and – not unsurprisingly – the disapproval of some of their comrades.

Donnelly and Kelly didn’t inform the IRA’s jail council for fear permission would be refused them.

In a tribute to his comrade, Danny dedicates the book to the late John Kelly who died in 2007. The dedication also praises the Kelly family who lived in the shadow of Crumlin Road Jail, in Adela Street, which runs between the Crumlin and Antrim Roads.

When Kelly’s mother died, there was a Belfast silent tribute paid to her. It was said, “She never locked her back door”. IRA men on the run would understand and nod approval. Practically every prisoner who was ever released found their way to Mrs Kelly for breakfast and onward help home.

‘Prisoner 1082, Escape From Crumlin Road – Europe’s Alcatraz’ relives the story of the preparations and escape of Danny Donnelly, an 18-year-old student from Omagh, County Tyrone, convicted of IRA membership in 1957 and sentenced to ten years. We learn that he came from a family steeped in the Gaelic tradition and republicanism.

Born on September 8th 1939, he was the youngest of six children of Peter and Margaret Donnelly (nee Docherty) in a part of Omagh known colloquially as Gallows Hill.

His education was at the hands of the Christian Brothers, mostly from the South, and they would have appeared to install in the young student a love for his country and a yearning for its freedom from the British.

He tells us that growing up in Omagh gave him a sense of being a stranger in his own country. Discrimination was rampant. Catholics had no chance of a job in the town or even with the local county council. His brothers all emigrated except himself:  “I went to jail,” he says.

This, of course, was not uncommon for Catholics in the six northern counties.

“We grew up in an atmosphere of disengagement from the organs of the state – from the Bureau of Employment to the local council to the police force. From an early age I wondered why people accepted these unfair conditions. I felt that things must change or be made to change. Such an opportunity seemed to present itself in the early 1950s,” he writes.

Donnelly seems to have been fascinated by the results of British elections and the successes of Tom Mitchell and Philip Clarke.  He was outraged at the way the British unseated them, despite the people’s votes. It wasn’t long before he joined the IRA and came under the tutelage of Cork’s Daithi O’Connell. He learned the art of bomb-making and tells us that he became “rather adept” at it. He was also, along with the other local volunteers, taught to use Lee Enfield rifles and the Thompson sub-machine gun. It was the era of the Flying Columns around which ‘Operation Harvest’ was planned.

It began on December 12th and Donnelly’s first taste of action involved an attack on Omagh Barracks. Some of his group went off to commandeer a lorry but, as he and others lay in a ditch, they heard an explosion and, a short time later, another. The column was told that the lorry hadn’t been commandeered as planned and their anticipated element of surprise was gone. They were advised to disperse and head for home in Omagh (others headed further up the Sperrin Mountains).

The following day’s papers were full of other, more successful, operations: the blowing up of Magherafelt Courthouse in County Derry; a ‘B’ Special hall in Newry destroyed; a British Army territorial building blown up in Enniskillen and two bridges blown up in other parts of  County Fermanagh.

The young Donnelly’s activities became known to the Special Branch and eventually he was arrested and given ten years for membership of the IRA. He was charged along with ten others from the Omagh districts. The jury took five minutes to convict him and sentence was duly handed down. He had expected four or five years.

Lord Chief Justice Mc Dermot, however, singled him out from the rest of his comrades and said, in passing sentence: “It is quite clear to me that you are one of the ring leaders. Parliament has made provision that the manner in which accused like you may be punished includes, not only long terms of imprisonment and whipping, but the sentence of death”.

Danny says of this tirade: “I listened with growing incredulity as he sentenced me to ten years”.

He finds jail life a culture shock, but knuckles down and continues his studies which will stand by him in later life. Escape was on his mind from the beginning and increased when he heard of the escape from the Curragh by Daithi O’Connell and Ruairi O Bradaigh in December 1958.

“Since my imprisonment, I had dreamed of escaping. On smoggy days I wondered if I could climb the outer wall during periods when the warders would count and re-count, to establish if anyone was missing”.

A decision by his jailers to build a higher wall actually hastened those plans.

“The missing part of my jigsaw … was put in place when the authorities raised the low link-wall (from the administration block to the outer wall) to the same level as the outer wall”.

Having found a weak link in the system, he realized he needed a companion and, in the summer of 1960, found a Belfast man to fit the bill. John Kelly instantly warmed to the idea, and so the plan was hatched. An extra bonus was that John’s cell was immediately above his own. Their idea was to cut through the bars of the cell to access a yard where the wall was nearest to the main Crumlin Road, giving them a starting point that allowed a restricted choice of timing.

Next, they needed a rope, 70-feet long, to stretch from an anchored spot on the administration block across the new link-wall and down the outer wall, which they estimated at 30 feet high.

“The challenge here was that, at a certain spot on the link-wall, and for the last ten yards, we would be in full view of the armed police in the gun towers while crossing. Therefore we planned to be less than ten seconds on that part of the wall so that, even if we were spotted, the chances of them taking up their weapons and firing in that space of time were fairly remote”.

Christmas Eve was set as the escape date, the logic being that Belfast would be so full of shoppers it would be difficult for the police and soldiers to spot them. Also Christmas-time within the jail was a bit more relaxed, especially for the warders.

“As a 21-year old, I also had a romantic historical reason for choosing the date as it was on Christmas Eve that Red Hugh O’Donnell escaped from Dublin Castle in 1592.”

We learn how they acquired their rope and hacksaw blades. It was John’s job to get the material and Danny’s to find the hiding places. There follows a detailed account of the trials and tribulations of their attempts to prepare for the escape – nothing’s ever that easy!

Events led to them having to postpone the escape until Boxing Day. Both men got out of John’s cell and made it to the wall. Danny gets to the top – but the rope breaks, and John falls back into the prison area. They had agreed a plan in case they were separated and, in driving snow, Danny is disappointed there is no outside help. Unfamiliar with the locality, he manages to heed John’s directions and finds himself outside the Kelly home where the door is opened by a young Oliver Kelly.

“Come on in,” he says, as if escaped prisoners are the norm at their door!

Danny says, “The Kellys were highly respected within their own neighbourhood, by churchmen in Belfast and among the business community with whom they worked on a daily basis.

“Internees and released prisoners had a standing invitation to go directly to their house, where they would receive a great welcome, a meal, good advice, directions or lifts to bus and train stations and, on many occasions, money.

“The Kelly household was revered in republican circles not only throughout the North but among many in the South also.”

In excellent hands, he makes good his escape across the border.

It was not all without pain for Danny. He suffered serious injuries to his foot and vertebrae which took a long time to heal. Nevertheless, he reported back to GHQ and eventually met the then Chief of Staff, Ruairi O’Bradaigh, and Mick Ryan.

The final phase of his book concerns how he sought work and continued his business studies.

It is a remarkable tale of success leading to his selection as Honorary Secretary of the Council of the Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management in the Republic and later, on two occasions, President of the Institute.

He drifts away from his active involvement in the IRA gets married and has a family. That he took such a long time before he got down to writing the book is explained through his concern about the direction the IRA took, leading to the long, armed campaign from the ’70s to the ’90s. He blames the British for not acting earlier to promote a just society, and I leave readers with his explanation for not remaining involved.

“I avoided being personally involved in the physical conflict by chance and, to a certain extent, through having other commitments.

“Thus I never rejoined the IRA as many of my Crumlin Road comrades did at that crucial time, nor was I part of the bitter Provisional/Official split. I knew many on both sides, and still meet with some of them from time to time. However, I was, quite frankly, appalled at the ruthlessness with which those feuds were carried out and the business that informed them.

“I consider myself quite fortunate to have been outside all that.”

The book is important as this escape seemed until now to have disappeared off the map.

Historians and the ordinary reader will be grateful to the author for telling his story.

‘Prisoner 1082 – Escape From Crumlin Road’ by Dónal Donnelly, published by The Collins Press, Price: £11.99/€12.99