This week my brain felt as if thought-rocks had been bounced off it to the point where I could hardly walk a straight line, let alone articulate a sentence. Excess of alcohol has a similar effect, except that while booze gives you a painful hang-over, Feile An Phobail will provide brain-nourishment for weeks.
I’ve done blogs on some of my experiences earlier this week – High Court judge Richard Humphreys (who, I’m reliably informed, shouldn’t be addressed as ‘Your Honour’. Surprising, that, given that the twenty-six counties has retained other British trappings like those absurd wigs and gowns).What did I learn from the judge? That the tug of war between reconciliation with former enemies and the principles of democracy can be difficult. The Good Friday Agreement and democracy says 50% + 1 is a majority, while at the same time it’s very important that unionists see the solidly-grounded, equal society that a new Ireland would/will offer them.
Then there was the event involving documentary-maker Sean Murray and journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Murray is the man responsible for the documentary Unquiet Graves, about the Glenanne gang which killed, with ‘security’ forces help, dozens of innocent Catholics. Birney and McCaffrey, as the world and its mother knows by now, were arrested and their computers seized by our spanking new police service, the PSNI. That’s what happens when you try to speak the truth in this state.
But the one that got me by the emotional throat was yesterday’s re-issue of Danny Morrison’s Hunger Strike book. Let me confess to a dog in the fight first: I’m among the several dozen contributors in the book who recall their memories of the Hunger Strike days. The book was first released on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hunger Strikes; this new edition has several other contributions, including Michelle Gildernew and, crucially, George Stagg, the brother of Mayo hunger-striker Frank Stagg who died on hunger-strike in 1976. The Dublin government of the day went to great pains to avoid having Stagg buried in the republican plot in Ballina, including burying him in the family plot and pouring several feet of concrete over the coffin to prevent its removal. As it happens, republicans bought the empty plot beside where Frank was buried, dug down and across underneath the concrete, and today Stagg’s body lies with other dead republicans in the republican plot.
But it wasn’t that story, or the words and presence of Gerry Kelly, who suffered force-feeding for some 160 days in an English prison. Nor even the presence of Martina Anderson, who served fourteen years in prison and was subjected to brutality and abuse of bestial dimensions.
It was when Francie Brolly took to the stage at the end of the event and sang the H-block Song, which he wrote. As he sang, many in the audience joined the chorus. Truly, music and well-crafted lyrics tell events with a power and feeling that nothing can match. Like everyone else in the audience, I suspect, I was near to tears when he finished. Go raibh maith agat, Francie. It was a privilege to hear you. And I got it all on my phone….
Here’s the link so you can watch him too. Listen carefully: it sums up so much.