July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Underlying Slur in Morrison’s Hunger Strike Comments

Underlying Slur in Morrison’s Hunger Strike Comments
Irish News letters page
Terry Hughes

I read with interest Danny Morrison’s recent article in the Andersonstown News about the 1980 hunger strike, which was led by my brother, the late Brendan Hughes.

“Whether the republican leadership’s analysis and depiction of what was happening, was correct”, I do agree that the leadership was bereft of ideas on how to resolve the prison crisis.

Not only was there a dearth of ideas on how to bring the prison protest to a successful conclusion, but there was abject failure at leadership level to highlight to the outside world the conditions that the prisoners were enduring, and it was only when the first hunger strike was called that the world would see what was happening to the Blanketmen in the H Blocks.

During this time there were many rallies and meetings to highlight the demands of the prisoners.  On December 8th, 1980 — the eve of Charles Haughey’s summit meeting with Margaret Thatcher — I met with the then Taoiseach in a hotel in Kilkenny to impress upon him the urgency of trying to resolve the hunger strike.  While Mr Haughey told me that he was not pessimistic of the outcome, he certainly did not leave me with the feeling that he would stick his neck out to resolve it.

The hunger strike ended on December 18th, and, as Danny Morrison now admits, there was nothing on the table when Brendan called off the hunger strike after 52 days. 

Danny used the word ‘unilaterally’ to describe Brendan’s decision to end the hunger strike, saying that he did not consult his OC, Bobby Sands. 

There is an underlying slur there, whether or not Danny Morrison wishes to admit it. 

What Mr Morrison did not say – and should have said — was that Brendan had little choice other than to intervene to save Sean McKenna’s life.

I say this because Sean had indicated to Brendan early on in the hunger strike that he was not prepared to die, and had secured Brendan’s word of honour that he would not let him die.

As well as that, several other hunger strikers had informed my brother that they were not prepared to die either. 

So what was Brendan to do in those circumstances? Let Sean die? Brendan believed that that would be tantamount to him committing murder. 

Perhaps Danny Morrison thinks Brendan should not have kept his word to Sean and let him die. If he does think this, he should say so.

Brendan lived to see ten of his best friends and comrades die on the second hunger strike.

It affected him deeply and, I believe, was the primary contributing factor to his own early death.

Abandoned and demonised by his erstwhile comrades in the leadership, Brendan Hughes he died as he lived, a republican, and a man of honour.

First published in the Irish News

How Could Brits Renege if There Was No Offer?

How Could Brits Renege if There Was No Offer?
Letter in the Irish News and Andersonstown News
Gerard Foster

Danny Morrison in a recent article in another publication, un-prompted, wrote about the Hunger Strikes of 1980 and 81. He stated that he, and the Provisional leadership on the outside, was economical with the truth about the ending of the first Hunger Strike.

In fact, over the last 30 years they have stuck rigidly to the same story: Britain reneged on a deal when the Hunger Strikers ended the protest. Even when Richard O Rawe wrote that there was a deal/offer to end the second Hunger Strike, they, the Provisional leadership, said because the Brits reneged on the deal on the first Hunger Strike, they needed guarantees before the prisoners would end the second Hunger Strike.

Now Morrison is saying that there was no offer/deal during the ending of the first Hunger Strike. This does not add up. They could not end the second Hunger Strike because the Brits reneged on a deal they never made during the first Hunger Strike? What is it Danny, was there a deal or not during the first Strike?

I can only think that the Provisionals, in the run up to the next elections, are going to use the Hunger Strikers that died in 1981 as an election tool, it is on the 30th anniversary of Bobby Sands death, this is to try and increase their support. This might also be the reason they picked Pat Sheehan, a Hunger Striker, to replace Adams in West Belfast.

Before they do that, maybe there are some questions they need to answer around the lead up to Joe Mc Donnell’s death.

The one I have already asked: if the Brits didn’t make an offer in 1980, how did they renege?

Why has it taken 30 years for Morrison to tell the “truth”?

Where are the rest of the “Mountain climber” comms that were not to be seen in the book Ten Men Dead?

Adams was on the phone to his British contact when Joe died; where are the transcripts of these talks, who was he talking to (according to the Mountain climber, Brendan Duddy, he has never spoken to Adams), and what deal/offer was on the table from the British government?

None of the surviving Hunger Strikers who to spoke to Morrison or Adams during their visits to the prison hospital in July 1981 have said that either man had told them what was on offer from the British. In actual fact, Hunger Striker Lawrence Mc Keown, in his book Nor Meekly Serve My Time, wrote of the Adams visit, “he told the parents of Kieran Doherty and the Hunger Strikers that there was nothing on the table”*. It is obvious that Adams did not tell the Hunger strikers about his secret contact with the British government. Why not?

Danny Morrison, and others in the Provisional leadership, has been biggest critics of O Rawe and his claims that a Brit offer had been accepted by the prison leadership in the days before Joe Mc Donnell died. They ask repeatedly; why did it take him 25 years to say this? Well, I now ask Danny Morrison this question: why has it taken you 30 years to tell us that there was no offer/deal at the end of the first Hunger Strike?

First published in the letters page of the Irish News and the Andersonstown News


* Page 236, Nor Meekly Serve My Time, Laurence McKeown describes Gerry Adams’ 29 July visit to the hunger strikers:

“On their way out of his cell Doc’s parents met and spoke with Gerry, Bik and the others. They asked what the situation was and Gerry said he had just told all the stailceoiri, including Kieran, that there was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort and if the stalic continued, Doc would most likely be dead within a few days. They just listened and nodded, more or less resigned to the fact that they would be watching their son die any day now.”

Did Hunger Strikers Believe Danny’s Spin?

Did Hunger Strikers Believe Danny’s Spin?
Republicans always insisted that the 1980 hunger strike ended because of British trickery. Now Danny Morrison has changed his story, says Liam Clarke
Belfast Telegraph
10 January 2011

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike and already Danny Morrison has enlivened the debate by puncturing one of the most enduring myths of the period.

For years, republican spokespersons — including Morrison himself — had maintained that the earlier hunger strike, led by Brendan Hughes, had ended in December 1980 because of British duplicity.

Only last year Gerry Adams wrote in the Irish News: “The republican leadership on the outside was in contact with the British who claimed they were interested in a settlement. But before a document outlining a new regime arrived in the jail, the hunger strike was called off by Brendan Hughes.”

Adams added: “The prisoners ended their fast before a formal ‘signing-off’, and the British then refused to implement the spirit of the document and reneged on the integrity of our exchanges.”

In July 1981, during the second hunger strike, this claim of earlier British duplicity proved crucial: it was used to resist proposals by the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), a Catholic Church body, which was attempting to broker an end to the protest after Bobby Sands and three other prisoners had died.

Hugh Logue, a member of ICJP who visited the hunger strikers, recalls: “Danny [Morrison] went in after the prisoners said that they should accept it and told them that they should demand that they [the British] send in somebody to read it out in light of what had happened before. Danny was peddling the myth that the Brits had reneged.”

Logue accepted the spin — but did the six more prisoners who died that year believe it too?

Now Morrison has come forward to put the record straight. He writes in the Andersonstown News that: “Brendan Hughes ended the hunger strike unilaterally . . . we on the outside finessed the sequence of events for the sake of morale and, at a midnight Press conference, merged the secret arrival of a British Government document (promising a more enlightened prison regime: falsely, as it turned out) with the ending of the hunger strike.”

Morrison explains that Sinn Fein made the incendiary claim of a broken agreement because “it was either that or admit — which to the republican base was inconceivable — that Brendan [Hughes] had ended the strike without getting a thing”.

Without evidence of bad faith, it is hard to understand why the second hunger strike continued past the first four deaths.

We now know that, besides the ICJP proposals, Margaret Thatcher had made a secret offer which met most of the prisoners’ five demands — including allowing them to wear civilian clothes. The existence of this initiative was first disclosed by Richard O’Rawe, the PRO for the prisoners.

In his 2005 book Blanketmen, O’Rawe said that he and Brendan McFarlane, the prisoners’ leader, discussed the offer and accepted it in the Maze, but were over ruled by an outside committee headed by Gerry Adams.

Initially, McFarlane denied the conversation. When other prisoners said that they had overheard it, it jogged his memory.

Now, he said that, although the proposals looked interesting, they were too vague. Later a text of the detailed offer was released to me under the Freedom of Information Act and Brendan Duddy, who passed messages between republicans and the British Government, confirmed that it had been dictated to him over the phone by a British official.

Later still, Martin McGuinness confirmed that he had received the note from Duddy and sent it to Adams. Other documents released under FoI showed that Thatcher personally authorised the officials to make the proposal “privately to the Provos on July 5th” 1981.

Thatcher stipulated that, if the IRA indicated privately that it was acceptable, then it would be made public and implemented. On July 8, the statement was tweaked by the British to meet republican criticisms of the language used in it. Nevertheless, the hunger strike continued. Logue can’t understand why, “Danny [Morrison] told the prisoners to request the offer in writing when Adams already had that via Brendan Duddy”.

O’Rawe suspects that the strike was prolonged until Owen Carron, a Sinn Fein member standing as a proxy prisoner, could be elected MP for Fermanagh-South Tyrone.

At the time, Sinn Fein rules banned members from standing in elections, so Carron could not even have contested the seat if the prison protest had been over.

He won the seat on the very day that Michael Devine became the last hunger striker to die. Three months later, the anti-election policy was ditched at the Sinn Fein ard fheis after a rousing speech in which Morrison asked “Will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?”

A whole new republican strategy flowed from the hunger strike and the election. As Adams said in his 1985 Bobby Sands lecture, “The hunger strikes, at great cost to our H-Block martyrs and their families, smashed criminalisation and led to the success of the electoral strategy, plus revamping the IRA.”

High stakes, indeed. And it may have brought peace nearer. But did those who died know the full facts?

First published in the Belfast Telegraph

See also: Danny Morrison on the end of the 1980 Hunger Strike

UPDATED: Danny Morrison on the end of the 1980 hunger strike

Quotes from Danny Morrison, Brendan McFarlane, Laurence McKeown and Gerry Adams on the end of the 1980 hunger strike:

Although it is now well-known that Brendan Hughes ended the hunger strike unilaterally, without consulting his O/C Bobby Sands, we on the outside finessed the sequence of events for the sake of morale and at a midnight press conference merged the secret arrival of a British government document (promising a more enlightened prison regime: falsely, as it turned out) with the ending of the hunger strike.

It was either that or admit – which to the republican base was inconceivable – that Brendan had ended the strike without getting a thing.

Bobby – who turned out to be right – did not believe the British had any intention of working the unsecured promises contained in the document. But we begged him to put them to the test and that if the administration made things impossible then it could be claimed that the Brits were reneging.

Had the British taken the opportunity to resolve the prison crisis at that juncture history certainly would have been different. Instead, the British crowed victory in their briefings to the press and the prison administration felt smug, unbridled and under no obligation.

This bitter experience was to sear itself in the minds of the prisoners who were determined that there would never be a repeat of that scenario.

Tragically, the stage was set for 1981.
Danny Morrison, Andersonstown News, 2011


Previously:

The political responsibility for the hunger strike, and the deaths that resulted from it, both inside and outside the prison, lies with Margaret Thatcher, who reneged on the deal which ended the first hunger strike. This bad faith and duplicity lead directly to the deaths of our friends and comrades in 1981.
Brendan McFarlane, Andersonstown News, 2005


The 1981 hunger strike was a direct result of the 1980 hunger strike. The British government had said that it would not act under duress but would respond with a progressive and liberal prison regime once it ended. The prisoners called off the fast to save the life of Seán McKenna. However, the British immediately reneged on their promises. Because of this duplicity the hunger strikers of 1981 were adamant that any deal must be copperfastened.
Danny Morrison, Irish Times, 2005

The government had promised the same at Christmas 1980 when the first hunger strike ended, only to renege on its promises. Because of this duplicity the prisoners in the second hunger strike wanted any agreement to be copper fastened.
Danny Morrison, Daily Ireland, 2005


Yes, offers were made and discussed and clarified but when we tried to tie the British government down on a mechanism for ensuring they could not renege (as they had at the end of the first hunger strike) they procrastinated. The hunger strikers – as Laurence McKeown made clear the other day – “wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’.”
Danny Morrison, Daily Ireland, 2005

Strangely, there was nothing new to me regarding what was on offer from the Brits back in 1981. Whether it was the ‘Mountain Climber’ or the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, we wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’. We had all of that in December 1980.
Laurence McKeown, An Phoblacht, 2005


The 1981 hunger strike came out of the 1980 hunger strike. The British sent a document to the prisoners which they claimed could be the basis for a settlement. However, the prisoners had already ended the strike before they received the document. The British reneged on their assurances almost immediately. That was why the second hunger strikers were to demand verification of any deal to end their hunger strike.
Danny Morrison, Daily Ireland, 2006


In December 1980 the republican leadership on the outside was in contact with the British who claimed they were interested in a settlement. But before a document outlining a new regime arrived in the jail the hunger strike was called off by Brendan Hughes to save the life of the late Sean McKenna. The British, or sections of them, interpreted this as weakness. The prisoners ended their fast before a formal ‘signing off’. And the British then refused to implement the spirit of the document and reneged on the integrity of our exchanges. Their intransigence triggered a second hunger strike in which there was overwhelming suspicion of British motives among the hunger strikers, the other political prisoners, and their families and supporters on the outside.
Gerry Adams, Irish News, 2009

Gerry Adams: The ’81 hunger strike

the ’81 hunger strike
FRIDAY, JANUARY 7, 2011 (Leargas Blog)
Gerry Adams

On Christmas Eve 1980 this blogs good friend and comrade, former blanket man Fra also known as ‘cuddles’ McCann, returned home after being deported from the USA.

Fra had just spent a gruelling four and a half months campaigning in the USA in support of the republican prisons on protest in the H Blocks and Armagh prisons. He had been denied a visa to enter the USA but like other ex-prisoners and republican activists who travelled to the states at that time, he entered the country illegally during the summer.

With the help of Noraid activists he travelled back and forth across the USA, from the east coast to the west coast and all places in between, talking to Irish American organisations, politicians, councils, trade unions and any media willing to listen. He did hundreds of meetings and interviews.

Fra’s courage and tenacity was uniquely recognised when he was awarded a ‘citation for bravery’ by the Massachusetts State legislature. It was the first of six states that year to support the prisoner’s five demands.

The British government was outraged at Fra’s success and at the effectiveness of the lobbying campaign. London urged the US authorities to arrest and deport him. On October 1st, a few weeks before the first hunger strike commenced, Fra and Dessie Mackin were arrested. They were held in solitary confinement and on lock-up for 23 hours each day.

Noraid succeeded in raising $30,000 in bail money and Fra was released to go back on the road. This blog thinks Desi was not so lucky. He stayed in detention. Eventually Fra was told that he was to be deported. Fra immediately applied for political asylum, a move which delayed the deportation. He continued his work until the first hunger strike ended. Fra then told the US immigration authorities that he wished to return to Ireland and on December 23rd he was put on a plane and arrived home on Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile Dessie, who was facing extradition by the British back to the north, was held for a further 18 months. He eventually won his extradition case and was deported to Dublin.

Meanwhile the first hunger strike had ended on December 18th. But by the end of the first week of January the omens were not good. At the start of the new year the prisoners had issued a statement calling for pressure on the British government to ‘ensure the speedy resolution of the blanket/no-wash protest and the defusion of the H-Block Armagh crisis’.

The prisoners warned that should the British remain intransigent ‘we will be forced to fall upon our own resources…If the British cling to the forlorn hope that they can yet break the men and women of the H-Blocks and Armagh they have but to look at their failures during the last four and a half years of our protest. We will not be found lacking in illustrating our ability and will to escalate our protest if necessary.’

So, the stark deadline in the first edition of 1981’s An Phoblacht/Republican News was one none of us wished to read – ‘Hunger-strike threatens’.

The tension escalated over the following weeks. Efforts by the prisoners to test the willingness of the prison system to implement a new regime were rebuffed. Prisoners were assaulted and personal clothes which families handed in for the prisoners were refused by prison staff. One governor told prisoners that ‘not until there is a strict conformity and you agree to wear prison issue clothes and do prison work will you get your own clothes.’

On January 16th Bernadette McAliskey and her husband Michael were shot and seriously wounded at their home by a unionist death squad. A week later this blog and hundreds more attended a major conference by the National H-Block Armagh Committee that was held in Dublin’s Liberty Hall with a view to rebuilding the public protest campaign.

On February 5th the prisoners issued a lengthy statement setting out the context for their decision and announcing that ‘hunger strikes to the death if necessary, will begin commencing from March 1st 1981, the fifth anniversary of the withdrawal of political status in the H Blocks and in Armagh jail.’

The scene was set for one of the most pivotal periods in recent Irish history.

First published on Gerry Adams’ blog, Leargas

Forget the myths, Adams didn’t trade lives for votes

Forget the myths, Adams didn’t trade lives for votes
Critics of the Sinn Fein president’s role in the hunger strike have failed to make their case. It lacks credibility, says Chris Donnelly
Belfast Telegraph
Wednesday, 5 January 2011

It is a historical feature of Irish republicanism that rival factions have vied for the status of legitimate claimants to the republican mantle, utilising republican icons both from the living and deceased in pursuit of that objective.

Mainstream republicans lost the support of War of Independence veteran Tom Maguire once abstentionism was settled within Sinn Fein; subsequently, Joe Cahill assumed the status of the senior living republican icon until his death.

The association of one prominent member of the Sands family with a dissident republican outfit in the early peace process era was regarded as a coup by the overly- optimistic dissidents who believed – prior to the Omagh bombing – that they were laying the foundations for a return to war.

But the 1981 hunger strikers have been afforded an iconic status amongst republicans of the present generation due to the enduring legacy of self-sacrifice associated with their actions.

It is, therefore, perhaps inevitable that allegations concerning Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams’ role during the hunger strike period should not only have surfaced, but have been so eagerly welcomed by disaffected – and dissident – republicans in recent times.

Richard O’Rawe’s narrative is constructed around the central theme that Gerry Adams wilfully dismissed the lives of fellow republicans simply to gain electoral support for Sinn Fein. It is a convenient narrative for dissident republicans and hence the decision of the more vocal amongst their numbers to adopt O’Rawe’s cause – nowhere more so than in the blogosphere, where arguments have raged on local political websites for years.

It is wholly unsurprising that the Sinn Fein president has spurned opportunities to respond publicly to Richard O’Rawe; Adams is sufficiently long in the political tooth to avoid falling into a trap from which only his antagonist would benefit from having his stature uplifted through such an encounter.

What is missing from O’Rawe’s narrative is a reasonable explanation for the alleged behaviour of Adams. Observing the plight of his comrades in prison, why would he so recklessly dismiss their lives? Suggestions that the motivation was the prospect of electoral advances are extremely dubious.

How could Gerry Adams have known what mileage there was in the electoral route for republicans?

All evidence points to the fact that, while republican leaders were keen on broadening their battlefield and maximising the potential to garner the legitimacy proffered by an electoral mandate, the same republican leaders clearly believed that the British Government would be forced from Ireland by military means and not by electoral victories. Brighton, the Libyan shipments, the European and England campaigns that followed Sinn Fein’s electoral foray through the 1980s, all indicate clearly that an Adams-led republican movement was nowhere near concluding that an electoral path would ultimately provide the only long-term future for the republican struggle. It stretches credibility to believe that Adams was willing to sacrifice the lives of of his colleagues to ensure the re-election of a republican candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

O’Rawe’s arguments have been countered repeatedly by Danny Morrison and others more centrally involved in the prison discussions at the time in what has become a seemingly endless bout of bickering which has led many families of the deceased hunger strikers to request an end to the dispute.

Alas, it would appear that their collective calls are destined to fall on deaf ears for some time to come.

First published in the Belfast Telegraph

The Tragedy of 1980

The Tragedy of 1980
Danny Morrison,
Andersonstown News
3 Jan 2011

A lot of the ‘state papers’ just issued in Dublin, Belfast and London under the 30-year rule relate to the 1980 hunger strike.

Some of the internal memos were, no doubt, sometimes written with caution and with an eye to history. But many were written with spontaneity and contemporaneous with events or after meetings or briefings with politicians and ambassadors, and were meant to be informative and accurate assessments for their superiors.

Thus, there are insights, little cameos and class indiscretions like that from Andrew Brown, a civil servant, wondering about possible tooth decay among the prisoners on no wash who had no tooth-brushes: “if the protestors are a typical cross-section of the population, half of them will already be on their way to full sets of dentures.”

Ho, ho, ho.

Those of most interest to me concern the build-up to the 1980 hunger strike, the communications within government and agencies during it, and whether the republican leadership’s analysis and depiction of what was happening has subsequently proved correct. Until December 19th, which was the last time I saw Bobby Sands alive, I liaised with Bobby who was the OC of the prisoners, and with Brendan Hughes, the leader of the hunger strike.

In going on hunger strike, the prisoners were taking huge risks with their own lives and that of their families. But the stakes were not just personal, they were political, because republican supporters looked up to the prisoners as iconic heroes, while the British recognised that they could damage the republican struggle (of whom the strikers were symbols) if they could break the hunger strike.

The republican leadership knew that the Brits had the luxury of sitting back and toying with the prisoners and their families. The leadership was opposed to the hunger strike but was bereft of ideas on how to resolve the prison crisis and could not and would not advocate surrender. So they supported the men in the Blocks and the women in Armagh one hundred per cent once the hunger strike began.

The British (and Irish) establishments could not afford the prisoners to win, because of the collateral boost a victory would give to republicanism. At the same time, the hunger strike uniquely focused international attention on the horrors of the prisons and on the conflict in a way that exposed Britain, so Britain was under some pressure to compromise.

The hunger strike also exposed the hollowness and hypocrisy of the rhetoric of the Irish government (especially Haughey), the amorality of most of the Catholic Hierarchy (able to explicitly condemn republicans but not British violence), with the SDLP (as always) running around like a headless chicken. To make sure you got something through, whether true or not, to the Dublin government and on to the British all you had to do was confide in some senior SDLP member ‘in total confidence’.

One prescient British intelligence report sent to Thatcher states that the hunger strike is “deeply disliked by the leadership for it confuses the issues, gives scope for division of views, and damaging disagreement, and is outside their control…

“The [hunger strike] campaign could fizzle out, to the shame of the movement. It could turn out also, to the movement’s shame, that no effective way is found to reinforce the prisoners’ efforts.”

Two months into the strike Thatcher was able to tell her cabinet that Haughey – despite his public stance – backed her position, though calling for ‘cosmetic changes in the prison’ and he “accepted that there was nothing more that British authorities could offer them [the prisoners]”. There was, however, a slight shift in her position – the offer of ‘civilian-type clothes’ and the motive, according to Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins, was “to deprive the protestors of a great deal of public sympathy.”

But the prisoners were only too well aware that for them to have accepted these ‘approved’ clothes (‘another type of uniform’), in the absence of movement on their other demands, would have been claimed by the British as, and generally perceived as, a major climb-down, incommensurate with four years of immense suffering.

Thatcher told Haughey that she would not make any further concessions beyond “dressing up what had already been offered”.

“We cannot make any concessions” appear in the margins of other cabinet papers in Thatcher’s blue felt pen.

Although it is now well-known that Brendan Hughes ended the hunger strike unilaterally, without consulting his O/C Bobby Sands, we on the outside finessed the sequence of events for the sake of morale and at a midnight press conference merged the secret arrival of a British government document (promising a more enlightened prison regime: falsely, as it turned out) with the ending of the hunger strike.

It was either that or admit – which to the republican base was inconceivable – that Brendan had ended the strike without getting a thing.

Bobby – who turned out to be right – did not believe the British had any intention of working the unsecured promises contained in the document. But we begged him to put them to the test and that if the administration made things impossible then it could be claimed that the Brits were reneging.

Had the British taken the opportunity to resolve the prison crisis at that juncture history certainly would have been different. Instead, the British crowed victory in their briefings to the press and the prison administration felt smug, unbridled and under no obligation.

This bitter experience was to sear itself in the minds of the prisoners who were determined that there would never be a repeat of that scenario.

Tragically, the stage was set for 1981.

First published on the Danny Morrison website

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There's an inner thing in every man,
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