July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

An Phoblacht and The Irish News

An Phoblacht and The Irish News
By Staff Reporter
Irish News

The editor of The Irish News, Noel Doran, last night welcomed an apology from the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht over allegations about an opinion article by the party president, Gerry Adams.

In its latest edition, An Phoblacht claimed that Sinn Fein had asked for the right of reply to detailed coverage of the 1980/81 hunger strikes which was carried by The Irish News on September 28.

An Phoblacht, in a commentary beside its main editorial page, said: “When the response from Gerry Adams was harshly critical of The Irish News itself, the article was blocked.”

In a statement last night it said: “In this week’s An Phoblacht newspaper we published an article from Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams on the 1980/81 Hunger Strikes. We claimed that The Irish News had refused to publish it. This was untrue. An Phoblacht regret this and are happy to clarify the point.”

Mr Doran said: “The article from Mr Adams was requested by us in the first place and was not the result of an approach from Sinn Fein. We agreed in writing that we would publish it and we do so today.

“I am glad that An Phoblacht has withdrawn its serious allegations, and, although I was surprised that the paper did not check the background with us at any stage, I now regard the matter as resolved.”

Sourced from The Irish News

“Rusty Nail”: Update to Adams & The Irish News

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Update to Adams & The Irish News
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

This week’s issue of An Phoblacht, as noted below, contained an attack on the Irish News written by Gerry Adams, which was prefaced by a claim that the Irish News had refused Adams a right-of-reply. This comment has appeared on Gerry Adams’ blog this evening, from a Paul Doran (no relation to Noel Doran), who wrote to the Irish News to complain about their treatment of Adams after reading about it in An Phoblacht. He has reproduced the exchange between himself and Noel Doran, the editor of the Irish News. (It should be noted that all comments on Adams’ blog are pre-moderated, which means they are vetted before they are published.) It seems An Phoblacht was lying about the Irish News and Sinn Fein owes them a big public apology in addition to the private ones they are falling all over themselves issuing at present. Tomorrow’s edition of the Irish News will carry an apology along with Adams’ revised article about the 1981 Hunger Strike. (Full text of comment follows the jump.)

UPDATE: This just in from An Phoblacht:

Top Stories
In this weeks An Phoblacht newspaper we published an article from Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams on the 1980/81 Hunger Strikes.
We claimed that the Irish News had refused to publish it.
This was untrue.
An Phoblacht regret this and are happy to clarify the point.

See also An Phoblacht’s index page for their current issue (scroll to bottom)

From the comments section at Gerry Adams’ blog:

Paul Doran said…


  Based on your article in An Phoblacht this week I wrote a letter to them today.and received the following

  A chara.

  I am greatly annoyed that you have failed to publish the article by Gerry Adams which appeared in An Phoblacht this week. When you would publish comments from the likes of Gareth Fitzgerald.

  Is Mise
  Hi Paul,

  Thanks for your message. Everything which An
  Phoblacht said about the Irish News was untrue.
  We approached Gerry Adams over a seven-week
  period in advance of our hunger strike coverage,
  asking him for either an interview or an opinion
  article, but he was unavailable. After the
  coverage appeared, we approached him again to see
  if he could comment on the issues arising. At no
  stage did Sinn Fein seek a right of reply, as An
  Phoblacht claimed. The article which we had
  requested eventually arrived, and we immediately
  agreed to publish it. As it was much longer than
  expected, and would require a response from the
  paper, we told the party in writing that it would
  appear within a matter of days. The party then
  changed its mind, withdrew the original article
  from Mr Adams and said it would submit a revised version shortly.

  An Phoblacht made no attempt to check any of this
  with the Irish News, and instead proceeded with
  its false allegations against our paper. We have
  since received a series of private apologies from
  Sinn Fein representatives, and we are expecting
  an on-the-record statement from the party
  shortly. We have also, today, finally received
  the revised opinion article from Mr Adams, which
  we intend to publish tomorrow. We further expect
  that An Phoblacht will issue an apology to the Irish News in its next edition.

  Noel Doran,
  October 11, 2009 5:34 PM

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Gerry Adams: The Irish News and Garret FitzGerald’s ‘new memory’ about 1981 H-Blocks Hunger Strike deal

The Irish News and Garret FitzGerald’s ‘new memory’ about 1981 H-Blocks Hunger Strike deal
By Gerry Adams
An Phoblacht
8 October, 2009

Sinn Fein asked The Irish News for a full right of reply and the newspaper agreed.  When the response from Gerry Adams was harshly critical of the Irish News itself, the article was blocked.  An Phoblacht carries the article below.  We are waiting for the Irish News to do the same.

TWENTY-EIGHT years ago, ten Irish republicans died over a seven-month period on hunger strike, after women in Armagh Prison and men in the H-Blocks (and several men ‘on-the-blanket’ in Crumlin Road Jail) had endured five years of British Government-sanctioned brutality.

The reason for their suffering was that, in 1976, the British Government reneged on a 1972 agreement over political status (“special category status”) for prisoners which had actually brought relative peace to the jails.

You would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

Nor would you know from reading Garret FitzGerald’s newly-found ‘memory’ of 1981 that in his 1991 memoir he wrote:

“My meetings with the relatives came to an end on 6 August when some of them attempted to ‘sit in’ in the Government anteroom, where I had met them on such occasions, after a stormy discussion during which I had once again refused to take the kind of action some of them had been pressing on me.”

This came after a Garda riot squad attacked and hospitalised scores of prisoners’ supporters outside the British Embassy in Dublin only days after the death of Joe McDonnell.

It is clear from FitzGerald’s interview and from his previous writing that his main concern – before, during and after 1981 – was that the British Government might be talking to republicans and that this should stop.

With Margaret Thatcher he embarked on the most intense round of repression in the period after 1985. Following the Anglo-Irish Agreement of that year, the Irish Government supported an intensification of British efforts to destroy border crossings and roads and remained mute over evidence of mounting collusion between British forces and unionist paramilitaries.

The same FitzGerald was portrayed as a great liberal, yet every government which he led or in which he served renewed the state broadcasting censorship of Sinn Féin. This denial of information and closing down of dialogue subverted the rights of republicans. It also helped prolong the conflict.

The Irish News played an equally reprehensible role.

As far as I am concerned, this newspaper is ‘a player’ in these attacks on Sinn Féin. Oh, but had The Irish News given a series to the Hunger Strikers when they were alive! Instead, at the same time as The Irish News decided to publish death notices for British state forces, this paper refused to publish a death notice from the Sands family because it carried the words “In memory of our son and brother, IRA Volunteer Bobby Sands MP”.

The men who died on hunger strike from the IRA and INLA were not dupes. They had fought the British and knew how bitter and cruel an enemy its forces could be, in the city, in the countryside, in the centres of interrogation and in the courts.

But you would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

The prisoners – our comrades, our brothers and sisters – resisted the British in jail every day, in solitary confinement, when being beaten during wing shifts, during internal searches and the forced scrubbings.

The Hunger Strike did not arise out of a vacuum but as a consequence of frustration, a failure of their incredible sacrifices and the activism of supporters to break the deadlock, to put pressure on the British internationally and, through the Irish Establishment, including the Dublin Government, the SDLP and sections of the Catholic hierarchy – although you would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

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 promised, allegedly liberal regime arrived in the jail, the Hunger Strike was called off by Brendan Hughes to save the life of the late Seán 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.

This was the prisoners’ mindset on 5 July, 1981, after four of their comrades had already died and when Danny Morrison visited the IRA and INLA Hunger Strikers to tell them that contact had been re-established and that the British were making an offer.

While this verbal message fell well short of their demands, they nevertheless wanted an accredited British official to come in and explain this position to them, which is entirely understandable given the British Government’s record.

Six times before the death of Joe McDonnell, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which was engaged in parallel discussions with the British, asked the British to send an official into the jail to explain what it was offering, and six times the British refused.

After the death of Joe McDonnell, the ICJP condemned the British for failing to honour undertakings and for “clawing back” concessions.

Ex-prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who never left his cell, never met the Hunger Strikers in the prison hospital, never met the governor, never met the ICJP or Da nny Morrison during the Hunger Strike, and who never raised this issue before serialising his book in that well-known Irish republican propaganda organ, The Sunday Times, said, in a statement in 1981:

“The British Government’s hypocrisy and their refusal to act in a responsible manner are completely to blame for the death of Joe McDonnell.”

But you would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

Republicans involved in the 1981 Hunger Strike met with the families a few months ago. Their emotional distress and ongoing pain was palpable. They were intimately involved at the time on an hour-by-hour basis and know exactly where their sons and brothers stood in relation to the struggle with the British Government.

They know who was trying to do their best for them and who was trying to sell their sacrifices short.

More importantly, they know the mind of their loved ones. That, for me, is what shone through at that meeting. The families knew their brothers, husbands, fathers. They knew they weren’t dupes. They knew they weren’t stupid. They knew they were brave, beyond words, and they were clear about what was happening.

All of the family members, who spoke, with the exception of Tony O’Hara, expressed deep anger and frustration at the efforts to denigrate and defile the memory of their loved ones. In a statement they said:

“We are clear that it was the British Government which refused to negotiate and refused to concede the prisoners’ just demands.”

But you would not know that from reading this series in The Irish News.

Sourced from An Phoblacht

Irish News rehashes bogus claim of ‘deal’ during Hunger Strike

October 1, 2009
Top Stories
Irish News rehashes bogus claim of ‘deal’ during Hunger Strike
An Phoblacht

p9-pic1In a ‘special investigation’ this week The Irish News has rehashed the claim made by Richard O’Rawe in 2005 that a deal was on offer from the British government to resolve the 1981 Hunger Strike and that this alleged deal was scuppered by the leadership of the Republican Movement.

Even though O’Rawe’s claim was comprehensively refuted by republican ex-prisoners, The Irish News has revived the allegation, partly to sell newspapers through stirring up controversy on an issue of such huge interest and deep emotion and partly to attempt to discredit Sinn Féin. To create a new ‘angle’ to the story The Irish News went to former Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald who claimed he ‘believed’ that there was such a deal and that the IRA blocked it. This from a politician who has been vehemently opposed to republicans throughout his career and whose main concern, as he still makes clear, was not the hunger strikers but the fact that the British government was talking to republicans.

McGuinness response

Writing in response in The Irish News on Monday, Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said he found it “quite ironic that in their desire to get at Sinn Féin our opponents are attempting to portray Thatcher as someone anxious to resolve the Hunger Strike”. McGuinness continued:

“Nothing could be further from the truth. According to our critics, the hunger strikers, on whose behalf we were acting, should have accepted an ‘offer’ which came to the prisoners and us, via a phone-call from a British official in London, through the intermediary (since identified as Brendan Duddy – an honourable man), to myself, to a phone-call to Gerry Adams, and in a verbal message to Danny Morrison to the prisoners. Clearly, they have chosen to forget of what mettle the hunger strikers were made, of their experiences of British deceit in December 1980. Sinn Féin had political and ideological differences with the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP).

“We and the prisoners suspected that it would sell the prisoners short. Despite being a vehicle for the British government delivering a compromise and avoiding direct negotiations, even the ICJP’s expectations/demands that the British would send in someone to stand over what London was implying in messages was refused six times in the hours before Joe McDonnell died.

“This year the British government selectively released documents about this period under the Freedom of Information Act and our critics have seized upon their release, but not their content, as some sort of proof.

“That the republican leadership was in contact with the British was revealed long ago, not least in the 1987 book Ten Men Dead. I would encourage people to read this book and the documents released in 2009 and compare it to the allegations of those who never visited the hunger strikers in the prison hospital, never dealt with the prison administration and the British government or liaised with the ICJP (which, on its terms, to be fair, was attempting to resolve the situation).”

Former hunger striker

Also writing in the The Irish News Laurence McKeown, former hunger striker, described the deal claim as “totally unfounded” and disproved since it was first made. He said the claim has rumbled on “fuelled by an assortment of disaffected former members of the Republican Movement and political opponents of Sinn Féin”. He continued:

“Trying to ‘answer’ the claim is a bit like trying to convince an alcoholic that they’d be much better off not taking that next drink. There will never be an answer that will suffice, a response that will be adequate.

“So why bother? For the families of the six who died later that summer and for the thousands of ordinary people who did so much for us during that period.

“The Tory government of Maggie Thatcher is infamous for the trail of suffering, death, social upheaval, destruction of communities, and removal of civil and workers’ rights that it wreaked not just in Ireland but in Britain itself. But let’s just suppose for a moment that it wanted to end the Hunger Strike. Britain acts only in Britain’s interest so if it was decided that it was in their best interest to concede some or all of our demands it would not have been out of some humanitarian sentiment but because not to do so would be damaging to Britain’s long-term interests.

“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.

“Is this the same government that cold-bloodedly slaughtered the Argentinean sailors on the Belgrano? That smashed the powerful National Union of Mineworkers and left whole mining villages and communities desolate?

“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.

Never a deal

“What we know for definite is that during the Hunger Strike there were always offers from the British but never a deal. And given that four comrades had already died and the hunger strike of 1980 had ended with not the merest crumb of concession there was no way we were ending ours without a concrete, copper-fastened deal witnessed by guarantors who could stand over it. And anyone who was on it or involved with it, including Richard, knows that to be the case. Such was our suspicion and distrust of the British.

“In the peace and tranquillity of 2009 it’s easy to forget that. To de-contextualise events. To forget the power of the emotions then and the strength of convictions. It’s also easy to wish it could somehow have been different. What is unforgivable, though, is to attempt to make cheap political gain from those events and in the course of it to cause hurt.”

Sourced from An Phoblacht

The breathtaking hypocrisy of Garret FitzGerald

October 1, 2009
Editorial, An Phoblacht
The breathtaking hypocrisy of Garret FitzGerald

Former Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald has joined the chorus of those who are attempting to revive the spurious allegations of Richard O’Rawe, comprehensively refuted when they emerged in 2005, that republican leaders deliberately scuppered a ‘deal’ that could have saved the lives of six of the ten hunger strikers of 1981.

Such hypocrisy is breathtaking. What concern did FitzGerald ever show for the hunger strikers, the H-Block or Armagh prisoners or the nationalist people in the Six Counties? Like the rest of the political establishment in the 26 Counties he stood by while prisoners endured years of torture and as the crisis in the jails was growing towards its tragic climax. And then, rather than support the just demands of the prisoners, he dithered in the face of British intransigence.

FitzGerald’s New Ireland Forum of 1984 was conceived with the primary purpose of shoring up the SDLP which was facing a major challenge from Sinn Féin. The republican party was excluded and the policy of censorship and exclusion of republicans was reinforced under the Hillsborough Agreement of which FitzGerald and Thatcher were co-sponsors.

It is clear from FitzGerald’s interview in the Irish News this week and from his previous writings that his main concern before, during and after 1981 was that the British Government might be talking to republicans and that this should stop. With Thatcher, he embarked on one of the most intense rounds of repression in the period after 1985 when the Border was reinforced and collusion between British forces and unionist paramilitaries was stepped up.

The same FitzGerald was portrayed as a great liberal, yet every Government which he led, or in which he served, renewed broadcasting censorship of Sinn Féin. This denial of information and closing down of dialogue helped to prolong the conflict.

It is important that FitzGerald and co. are corrected and challenged, firstly for the sake of the memory of the hunger strikers and for their relatives. They need to be challenged secondly because their spurious allegations form part of an effort to discredit the republicans of 2009.

Such efforts will fail. They will never distract republicans from their task of achieving the just, peaceful and united Ireland for which the hunger strikers gave their lives.

Sourced from An Phoblacht

Pádraic Wilson Hunger Strike Talk & Disco with Full Bar

NOTE: Text of Speech

H-Blocks former O/C to speak at Hunger Strike event in Whiterock
An Phoblacht, 13 August 2009

Padraic-WilsonLEADING Belfast republican Padraic Wilson is to speak at a Belfast Hunger Strike Commemoration night in the Whiterock Leisure Centre on Sunday, 16 August.

Padraic, from the Andersonstown area, has been involved in the republican struggle for almost 40 years.

The former Blanketman was in jail at the time of the 1981 Hunger Strikes and knew many of the Hunger Strikers personally.

Padraic’s republican involvement began in 1972 when he joined Fianna Éireann. In 1976, he was arrested and charged with possession of explosives and was remanded to Crumlin Road Jail.

He was sentenced to six years in 1977 and went straight on the Blanket, spending the period of the Hunger Strike in the H-Blocks.

Released in 1982, he became active again immediately and was Sinn Féin’s west Belfast organiser for a number of years in the 1980s.


Padraic was arrested again in 1989 but charges against him were dropped in 1990. While on bail he was again arrested in 1991 with Jim ‘Flash’ McVeigh and Tony O’Neill and sentenced to 24 years.

He was IRA Officer Commanding the H-Blocks from 1996 to 1999, during which a tunnel escape was narrowly averted and Republican prisoner Liam Averill escaped dressed as a woman.

Padraic was released to attend the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis and a number of briefings in the run-up to the 1998 Agreement.

hunger-strikeAfter being released in 1999 he became active again in Sinn Féin and currently holds the position of Director of International Affairs.

Doors open for the commemoration night in the Whiterock Leisure Centre at 7pm on Sunday 16 August and admission is £5.

Live music will be provided by Tuan folk, which will be followed by a disco.

There will be a full bar in place.

People are advised to come early to avoid disappointment.


Sourced from An Phoblacht

An Phoblacht: Hunger Strikers’ families challenge false claims over deaths

An Phoblacht, Top Stories: Hunger Strikers’ families challenge false claims over deaths


THE families of the majority of the men who died during the 1981 Hunger Strike have rejected as “false” the claims being made about the fast and the deaths of six of the H-Block prisoners.

The families are particularly incensed at the claims – raised by former H-Block prisoner Richard O’Rawe and repeated by the British media  – that Margaret Thatcher’s government offered the protesting prisoners a deal and that this was rejected by the leadership of the Republican Movement out of political expediency.
Read the rest of this entry »

“Rusty Nail”: Account of Gulladuff Meeting

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gulladuff: More Heat Than Light
Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole

UPDATE: SINN FEIN issues statement calling for a cover-up

Wednesday night in Gulladuff, South Derry, Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison and Bik McFarlane met with some members of some of the families of the 1981 hunger strikers. Anyone having any hopes of Sinn Fein supporting and honestly participating in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should just go home now. It was a complete farce from beginning to end. Goons from West Belfast patrolled the parking lot and guarded the door to the community hall. When former Hunger Striker Gerard Hodgins, and Jimmy Dempsey, a former prisoner and father of John Dempsey, the 16 year old boy who died in the riots that occurred at the death of Joe McDonnell, and who is buried in the republican plot alongside McDonnell, along with a representative for the O’Hara and Devine families, asked to participate in the meeting, Danny Morrison forcibly closed the door on them, snarling that they were not wanted, that they had had their chance at the Gasyard Debate to speak to the families and if the families chose not to attend then, it did not mean that he had to allow them into the hall now. When it was pointed out that the representative was there at the request of two of the families, he stated he would go back and ask the families if entry would be permitted. He then locked them out.

Not long after, Bobby Storey, who had nothing to do with the hunger strike, came out and confronted the trio, insulting Gerard Hodgins under his breath by claiming he was in the Continuity IRA and making allegations about the recent break-in at his home. He clapped Dempsey on the back and turned on a sweeter tone, saying he was sorry about his son but he had no right to be there. Hodgins stated he wanted to make clear that he was not in the CIRA, that such allegations were spurious, and was Storey the source of them for the Andersonstown News. Storey rudely snapped, “I’m not talking to you,” and went on attempting to pacify Dempsey. Hodgins responded, “But I am talking to you,” whereby Storey whipped round, pointed his finger directly at Hodgins and said, “See you? I will speak to you at a time and place of my choosing.” This was a clear threat, which Hodgins underlined by asking incredulously, “Are you threatening me?” Realising he had gone too far, Storey made his excuses to Dempsey and was let back into the hall. Dempsey was clearly unhappy at being locked out of a meeting he felt, as his son’s death was a direct result of Joe McDonnells’, he had every right to be at, to ask, did his son have to die? If the outside leadership at the time had accepted the Mountain Climber offer, and Joe McDonnell had not died, nor would have young John Dempsey.

Yet Bobby Storey, a man who had nothing to do with the hunger strike and who had just threatened a hunger striker, had the doors unlocked for him.

And that was only the fireworks outside the meeting. Inside, it got worse.

With an inauspicious start, Adams introduced the meeting referring to “conspiracy theories by anti Sinn Fein elements” and drawing a comparison to conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Michael Collins, one of which alleges he was set up and shot by his own IRA men.

All the inconsistencies in the press to date were only amplified at the meeting. Attempts to clarify points or challenge previous statements were met with indignant fits of pique, such as Morrison claiming he would never sit in the same room with Richard O’Rawe, “the man who accused me of murdering 6 hunger strikers!”, or Gerry Adams repeatedly asking, “Do you think I am telling the truth, yes or no?”

Bik McFarlane also kept to the discredited nonsense that it was the hunger strikers who rejected the offer, despite evidence that the hunger strikers were never told the details of the offer.  He and Morrison claimed that all the hunger strikers (including Lynch and Devine) were told about the Mountain Climber offer and had refused, saying it was not enough. McFarlane then denied he ever had the the “Tá go leor ann” conversation with O’Rawe based on that claim, saying, “How could I? After hearing the men reject the offer put to them?” This notion does not jibe with any of the historical records and accounts of that time period.

Bik McFarlane claimed that he was always saying “I agree with you” in Irish to Richard, in a pathetic attempt to explain away the prisoners coming forward who overheard the conversation between himself and O’Rawe accepting the Mountain Climber offer. He was explaining that the prisoners who heard that conversation were mixing up the numerous conversations he had with O’Rawe in which he agreed with what O’Rawe was saying. This of course moves further still from his starting position of never having had any such conversation with O’Rawe, to now having had so many, he and other prisoners would be unable to keep track of them.

The ICJP and Mountain Climber offers were conflated in an attempt to obscure the outside rejection of the Mountain Climber offer. PRO statements, statements which were written at the behest of Adams, were repeatedly presented as if they reflected the private comms between the prison leadership and the outside. None of the private comms referring to the Mountain Climber, which O’Rawe had given Adams in 1986, were produced.

O’Rawe was demonised in the meeting, called a liar, painted as the villain and ascribed nefarious motives for pursuing the truth. Some families’ representatives were characterised as ‘anti-GFA’ and those who had attended the Gasyard debate, many of whom were former blanketmen, were derided as ‘yahoos’. A dubious motion was attempted to get the families to agree to a joint statement that would say they were all agreed any probing into the past should cease. They ‘had enough’, ‘old wounds had opened up’, and O’Rawe ‘should stop’,’ he was ‘only after money for books’; Danny Morrison fanned the flames of the attacks on O’Rawe’s character, keeping them going whenever they appeared to peter out. He mentioned O’Rawe’s taking him to court ‘over things I said during an RTE interview’, described how no matter how often he would meet O’Rawe, he never mentioned the relevations. A meeting on the hunger strike was turned into a manipulative back stabbing session. The Sunday Times and Republican Network for Unity were in for kickings as well. The proposed joint statement was objected to and not supported by all. A suggestion that the families meet with O’Rawe and others was knocked back. It was put forward that one of the families approach O’Rawe to tell him to ‘back off’ and ask for a response.  No motions proposed were passed; the meeting was becoming very emotional and many family members were close to tears.

Adams, McFarlane and Morrison were asked would they cooperate with an independent inquiry; the answer was a resounding “NO.”

After an hour and a half of hectoring, emotional manipulation, browbeating and more lies, Mickey Og Devine left early, visibly upset. He was disgusted with what he felt was nothing more than a sham, and with all the shouting and deflection when points were raised that challenged the platform. Other family members were also emotionally distraught when the meeting ended not long after he left.

Last weekend in New York, Gerry Adams waxed nostalgic about the peace process, noting how long it took to get from the start of the process to where Sinn Fein are today. He made observations about all the people – ‘the naysayers and begrudgers’ – who were against the peace process, who did not think it would work, and who did not want Sinn Fein to participate in such. Yet, he proudly claimed, Sinn Fein persevered.

Some Slugger readers will recall, in 1996, prior to the Good Friday negotiations, the image of Adams and McGuinness standing outside locked gates, begging civil servants for access to the British talks going on without them. Now Sinn Fein locks out republicans from their ‘private’ Widgery on their own actions during the Hunger Strike. A widgery in which they absolve themselves of any and all wrongdoing and condemn those who seek only the truth, putting figurative nailbombs into the pockets of anyone who dared challenge them.

The hypocrisy of allowing Bobby Storey, party enforcer, to stand menacingly at the back of the hall with his arms folded, glaring at anyone who didn’t pay homage to Dear Leader, while barring entry to a former hunger striker, the father of a young Fian killed as a result of Joe McDonnell’s death, and representatives requested by families is staggering.

However long it takes from being locked out of a SF widgery until finally achieving a full independent inquiry, with the ability to challenge all views openly and forthrightly in order to ascertain what exactly did happen and why, with or without an official Truth and Reconciliation Commission, those seeking the truth of what happened in July 1981, will persevere, just as Sinn Fein did, despite the naysayers and begrudgers who would rather bury the truth, or present a whitewash as fait accompli. No one is asking for another Bloody Sunday type inquiry – but a Widgery is unacceptable.

In using the families to hide behind the skirts of, it must be remembered that Sinn Fein has not had a problem with disrespecting and going against families of hunger strikers’ wishes when it suits them. Slugger has already noted the Sands family withdrawal of support for the Bobby Sands Trust, of which Morrison, McFarlane and Adams are on the board, because they were deeply unhappy with what they felt was the abuse of their relative. In addition, the Sands family were also vocal about their displeasure with the Denis O’Hearn biography of Bobby Sands, Nothing But An Unfinished Song. This did not, however, stop Sinn Fein, through Eoin O’Broin’s Left Republican Review, from publishing the book in conjunction with Pluto Press, nor launching the book across the country and supporting the children’s edition of the biography, which was co-written with Laurence McKeown. Sinn Fein was so ecstatic about that book they wanted it introduced into school curriculum.  The Sands’ family position on the book, and indeed, the gross abuse of Bobby Sands’ image by the party, means absolutely nothing to Sinn Fein.

If we support the right of O’Hearn, as a historian, to write a biography of a noted historical figure, and the right of former prisoners McKeown and Elliott to contribute to an adaptation for children, while also endorsing its use in schools, despite the express wishes of the family; then it follows that we must support O’Rawe’s book as well.

This therefore becomes an issue of freedom of speech; for if families are to hold history hostage to their emotions, nothing would be written. If families are to be manipulated by politicians who wish to bury the truth of history, and people are then expected, via emotional blackmail, to defer to “the families’ wishes”, nothing would be written but the politicians’ lies. Families may express their disapproval but that will not and should not stop history from being probed, challenged, written, and read.

Clearly, ‘private’ meetings are not sufficient to address public concerns about important issues such as the hunger strikes, which had a massive impact on society beyond a handful of family members. Enough information and evidence is now out in the public domain that needs answered elsewhere from Diplock courts. Blanketmen have the right to ask their leaders of the time for a public and truthful accounting of what they did and why, without it being reduced to a browbeating exercise in deflection. The republican community at large is deeply scarred by the hunger strike and they too deserve the truth. Beyond that, the unionist community also has a right to know was the hunger strike prolonged for the promotion of Sinn Fein, as that impacts their own history greatly as well. The truth can’t be disappeared, no matter how many attempts to bury it are made.

Somehow, the bodies keep being found.

Father and son Jimmy and John Dempsey, as written about by Gerry Adams. Jimmy Dempsey was denied entry and locked out of the meeting in Gulladuff.

An Phoblacht, 15 May 2003
Remembering Fian John Dempsey
Within hours of the death on hunger strike of Joe McDonnell, the British Army shot dead 16-year-old Fian John Dempsey. He and two comrades were on active service when they come under fire from a squad of British soldiers at the Falls Road bus depot in Belfast.
John Dempsey died later in the Royal Victoria Hospital. Last week, on Monday 5 May, republicans from the Turf Lodge area of West Belfast unveiled a plaque at the Falls Bus Depot near the spot where he was killed.
As a tribute to the young republican, we reprint an edited version of an article written by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, using the pen name Brownie, in which he outlined the political and social conditions that influenced the thinking of young nationalists and led them into the struggle for national liberation.

Until the morning of last Wednesday week, Fian John Dempsey, aged 16, lived in one of the grey houses which sprawl on either side of the Monagh Road in Turf Lodge.

His family, a week after his death, are now like so many other families, trying to pick up the pieces – in the heart-rending vacuum which is always created by sudden death, especially by the death of one so young and cheerful as John.

At the wake on Thursday week he looks only twelve years old, his body laid in an open coffin flanked by a guard of honour from Na Fianna Éireann.

Hardened by many funerals, by too many sudden deaths, yet one is riveted to the spot unable to grasp the logic, the divine wisdom, the insanity, which tightened a British soldier’s trigger finger and produced yet another corpse.

“He’s so young, ” exclaimed those who call to pay their respects. “Jesus, he’s only a child.”

All night, neighbours, friends and relatives call. All with the same reaction.

But young people call also, shifting uncomfortably in adult company, but strangely unshocked – not visibly at any rate – by what they see in the sad living room of the Dempsey home.

Just a tightening of young faces as they gaze silently at John’s remains, a hardening of eyes, and then silently out again to stand in small groups at the street corner. None of the awkward handshakes and mumbled “I’m sorry for your troubles”.

They understand better than most the logic which directed the British Army rifle at John, and, having understood, they pay their respects and move outside – to wait.

John’s mother, Theresa, sits comforted by friends, while her husband Jimmy stands, a gaunt figure at the head of his son’s coffin, gently stroking John’s head. Jimmy shakes hands with Dal Delaney – both fathers of dead patriots (the latter of Dee Delaney killed in a premature bomb explosion in Belfast in January 1980).

Many of Jimmy’s prison comrades come to the house. He spent six years in Long Kesh as a political prisoner, and soon talk turns to the Kesh, but not like at an adult wake where ‘craic’ flows non-stop.

At least, not in the living room, where the youthful figure in the coffin brings one sharply back from what has passed to what lies ahead, from what has been done, to what still remains to be done.

The next morning, the slow sad procession to the chapel on a bright warm summer morning; and after Mass, the girl piper heralding our passing as we make our way, once again, to Milltown. Down from the heights of Turf Lodge, past the spot where John was murdered, and by the British Army barracks, through the open gates of the cemetery, to the republican plot, where two open graves – one for Joe McDonnell – await our arrival.

John left school at Easter. He played hurling and football for Gort Na Mona and soccer for Corpus Christi, and like his father and his many uncles he was a keep fit enthusiast with an interest in body building.

He joined Na Fianna Éireann in October 1980 and like many young people from Turf Lodge, was subjected to regular harassment by British soldiers.

Wreaths are laid before we leave for Lenadoon and the funeral of Joe McDonnell.

John Dempsey’s funeral, a smaller and in many ways a sadder ceremony than Joe’s, is a stark reminder that for the first time in contemporary Irish history, the struggle has crossed the generation gap.

When Joe McDonnell was first interned in 1972, John Dempsey was a mere seven years old. Yet they were to die and be buried in the same republican plot, within hours of each other, in the service of a common cause and against the same enemy.

As Jimmy Dempsey said of his son, “John has joined the elite. He died for the freedom of his country.”

(A tribute by Brownie) first published in AP/RN 18/7/81

Marcella Sands on record about Denis O’Hearn’s biography of her brother, Bobby:

In response to an article headlined ‘New Book is First Study of Bobby Sands’, which appeared in a recent edition of the Andersonstown News, I wish to put the record straight.

According to the article, the author of the book, Denis O’Hearn, “thanks the hunger striker’s sister Marcella for her help with the book.” This suggests that I had “helped” or participated in some way in the compilation of this book and, therefore, endorsed it. This is misleading and untrue.

I wish to state categorically that neither I, nor any of my family, helped Mr O’Hearn with his book in any way, nor does my family endorse the book. Indeed, the opposite would be the case as his book contains numerous factual inaccuracies.

Denis O’Hearn’s acknowledgment of the family’s position:

[Part of the article could give] the mistaken idea that the Sands family participated in the research for the book. This is not so. I met Marcella Sands when I was beginning my research and she told me that the family did not feel that they could participate because they were writing their own memoirs and it would create a conflict of interest if they also helped me. I respected their decision and on numerous occasions when people asked me, I made it clear that Bobby’s immediate family was not participating. 

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Statement: Oliver Hughes

Francis Hughes’s family speaks out


THE family of Francis Hughes, the second Hunger Striker to die in 1981, have responded to the Sunday Times story. Speaking through Oliver Hughes, they said:
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Sinn Fein Timeline

Timeline referred to in Sinn Fein statement
*Compare with previous timeline from Danny Morrison, 2006
See also Expanded Timeline 29 June – 12 July 1981

Timeline around Joe McDonnell’s death, 1981 H-Block Hunger Strike

29 June 1981
Four hunger strikers have already died: Bobby Sands on Day 66, Francis Hughes on Day 59, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara on Day 61 of their hunger strikes.

Joe McDonnell is on Day 52 without food. NIO Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins reaffirms that political status will not be granted and that implementing changes in the areas of work, clothing and association present “great difficulty” and would only encourage the prisoners to believe that they could achieve status through “the so-called ‘five demands’”.
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Statement: Sinn Fein

Allegations ‘false and without any substance’ – Sinn Féin


SINN FÉIN said the claims in The Sunday Times were “nothing new” and have been “comprehensively refuted, both by documentary evidence and witness testimony, when they first appeared in Richard O’Rawe’s book some year ago.”

A Sinn Féin spokesperson described the allegations as “false and without any substance”, adding:

“Indeed, all of the documents, including those published in the Sunday Times, point clearly to a republican leadership seeking to find a resolution and a British side seeking a victory over the prisoners.”

The spokesperson said these include the recent discovery and publication by the Bobby Sands Trust of a previously unpublished interview with Sir John Blelloch, a member of MI5 who had been seconded to the NIO as a Deputy Secretary at the time of the 1980 and 1981 Hunger Strikes (see ‘Timeline’ on facing page and, for the full interview with Blelloch www.bobbysandstrust.com/archives/1069).

The Sinn Féin representative ended by saying:

“If people study the documentary evidence and follow the actual timeline of events then these allegations are exposed for what they are and show clearly where the truth of this matter lies.”


Sinn Fein Timeline

Sourced from An Phoblacht

Statement: Danny Morrison

An Phoblacht, Top Stories: British Government holds back documents on 1981 Hunger Strike‘Sunday Times’ H-Blocks story backfires

AN attempt by The Sunday Times last weekend (5 April) to call into question the republican leadership’s handling of the 1981 H-Blocks Hunger Strike by publishing British Government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act has actually boomeranged on the reporter who wrote the story, Liam Clarke. [Liam Clarke, after being challenged by the Bobby Sands Trust, had to admit last month that a quote he attributed to Bobby Sands and used in a lurid headline – “Sinn Féin is turning into Sands’s dodo” – wasn’t said by Bobby Sands.]

The British Government documents themselves, far from being incriminating, actually corroborate the account of what happened at the time by Sinn Féin, surviving Hunger Strikers, O/C Brendan McFarlane, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace and detailed research by authors David Beresford, Padraig O’Malley and Denis O’Hearn.
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O’Rawe refuted: Danny Morrison publishes H-Block comms (2006)


June 8, 2006

An Phoblacht

Top Stories

O’Rawe refuted: Danny Morrison publishes H-Block comms
Claims fatally undermined

“At present the British are looking for what amounts to absolute surrender. They are offering us nothing that amounts to an honourable solution.”

Richard O’Rawe 1981

Unsupported claims made by a former republican prisoner Richard O’Rawe, and widely reported in the media in recent weeks and months, that the IRA leadership had allowed several republican Hunger Strikers to die in 1981 has been fatally undermined this week.

Former Sinn Féin Publicity Director Danny Morrison, who was a key liaison person with the Hunger Strikers during 1981, has produced secret communications written by O’Rawe during the period and which prove that the allegations are without foundation.
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An Phoblacht: Interview with Bik McFarlane

An Phoblacht, Top Stories: “The Hunger Strike will never, ever leave me”
Remembering 1981: Former H-Block O/C Brendan McFarlane

Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane was Officer Commanding (O/C) the H-Block prisoners during the 1981 Hunger Strike. Last Friday, 5 May, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, McFarlane spoke to An Phoblacht’s ELLA O’DWYER about the journey that brought him to undertake one of the most difficult challenges ever faced by an Irish republican.

A noticeable feature of Brendan McFarlane’s personality is the comprehensive way in which he looks at things. Observant and lateral thinking, he sees the bigger picture. In terms of awareness, he has an edge. This awareness carried him through his prison sentence and, no doubt, impacted on his selection as O/C during the 1981 Hunger Strike.
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Laurence McKeown: Answering back on the Hunger Strike

Answering back on the Hunger Strike
Laurence McKeown
10 March, 2005, An Phoblacht

Laurence McKeown writes:

Dear Richard,

There are individuals in history who we regard as great people; moments in history we look back at in wonder.

In our own lives too, there are times that we like to relive and feel once more that sense of achievement, of success, of joy, comradeship or love.

There is a danger, though, that as the years pass, as the hair thins and the wrinkles appear, that we look back through rose-tinted glasses. We start to see things a little differently. Our role in events becomes somehow inflated.

We realise, for the first time, the significance of our own input into events. We recall the profound comments we made at critical moments of debate; the input we had into crucial decisions; even the dazzling pass on the football field, without which the star striker could not have scored and thereby won the day. And we wonder why history has not recorded our part in all of this.

The Sunday Times, that organ of Irish republicanism, revealed to me last week your historic role in events, Richard. 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.

What was news to me was that you were going to call off the Hunger Strike. Strange that. You see I don’t recall you ever being on the Hunger Strike. Were you in the cell at the bottom of the ward? And when were you going to tell the rest of us about your decision?

The death of our ten comrades did not get us our demands. It took many more years, much more suffering and even death to achieve them. But we did it.

You weren’t with us Richard. In fact, if I recall, you left us shortly after writing your last press release about their sacrifice.

I didn’t see you leave Richard. I was blind at the time. But I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.

Maybe you left us to carry out courageous feats elsewhere? Maybe you’ll tell us more about those in future publications. Because for me, actions speak louder than words. Always.

There are some great individuals in history, Richard. And then there are those who would love to be great. What is precious is knowing the difference.

• Laurence McKeown was on hunger strike in 1981 for 70 days.

First published in An Phoblacht

Jim Gibney: Long Kesh Revisited

Long Kesh revisited
An Phoblacht, 16 August 2001

At approximately 12.30 pm last Friday, 10 August, I stood in silence in the cell where Bobby Sands died 20 years ago. A few minutes later, I was in the cell where Francis Hughes died and a few minutes after that in the cell where Raymond McCreesh died. It was the first time I was in their cells in 20 years. I had visited them at various stages on their hunger strike and as I wandered around the wing of the prison hospital where they spent the last days of their young lives, the memories came flooding back.

I saw Bobby lying on his bed, his mother and sister Marcella by his bed. He was close to the end yet there was a calmness, a serenity about him and the bedside scene. I saw Francis again, as he was, days before his death, lying sick on his deathbed with his mother and brother Oliver by his side. In Raymond’s cell I recalled him telling me, “Francis had a bad night last night. He hasn’t long left.”

As we stood in Francis’ cell, Gerry Adams told the story about the time Don Concannon, Roy Mason’s number two, visited Francis. He arrived at the gaol in a fanfare of publicity. He was a man in a hurry, on a mission. He was a courier with a very important message that Francis had to hear. It would change everything. Concannon told a man close to death, “You have no support. You’re going to die.”

And the man who put fear into the British Crown forces and had them on the run in South Derry; the man who liberated Bellaghy’s Scribe Road, where he played and grew up as a boy with his cousin Tom Mc Elwee, retorted sharply, “Close the door on your way out!”

Everything about the prison hospital was different. Everything was smaller, the reception area, the canteen was narrower. The cells jumped out at you with their doors wide open.

In the hospital canteen, Danny Morrison described a remarkable but heartbreaking scene. Sitting around the table with him were Mickey Devine, Tom McElwee, Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch, Laurence McKeown and Joe McDonnell.

Joe was too weak to walk so he was brought in on a wheelchair. Martin Hurson was in his cell too ill to move. Throughout the meeting, the lads attended to Joe, making sure he was alright. Joe’s only concern was to query Danny over whether he had smuggled in cigarettes. He smoked throughout the meeting.

“Where was Bobby’s cell?” Gerry asked me. “There it is,” I said mistakenly, pointing to a warder’s office. “No here it is,” I quickly corrected myself.

“And here up the landing,” I said to Danny, “this cell here, this is where Raymond died.” I shouted for Tom Hartley, who was going through the cells looking for items of historical interest for his vast collection in the Linenhall Library. “Tom c’mere. C’mon see Francis’ cell.”

I watched Maura McCrory, who led the `Relatives’ Action Committee’, the `RACs’, the support organisation for the prisoners, press her body into the corner of the cell where Bobby’s head would have rested on his pillow. She moved her body slowly along the wall against which Bobby’s bed was placed. She was engaged in an intimate, tactile ritual reaching back through 20 years of her own life to touch Bobby on his journey’s end.

Marie Moore, now a Sinn Féin Councillor but 20 years ago an important figure in Sinn Féin’s POW Department, wept quietly in Bobby’s cell.

I looked for the cell where I think I last saw Patsy O’Hara. I couldn’t make up my mind which one it was but the image of him was powerful. Sitting in a wheelchair in a multi-coloured cotton dressing gown, gaunt, his dark hair lined with sweat, he smiled at me and waved his long arm, which lingered for a long time in the air.

The visit to the prison hospital ended too quickly. I would have liked to have spent some time on my own in Bobby’s cell.

The visit was very emotional for all of us. During the hunger strike, we buried our emotions under ten ton of concrete. We couldn’t afford to allow our emotions to surface naturally. Had we done so then we would have been overwhelmed by the sadness of it all, by the burden of watching ten young men slowly dying. We would not have been able to do our job of managing the hunger strike, of building support for the prisoners’ cause on the streets.

But there comes a time when one’s emotions have to be freed up. The visit to the prison and the events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the hunger strike have helped all of us come to terms with the part we played in an epic human and political episode in the struggle for freedom.

The visit to Long Kesh had started at 10am that morning. On board the mini-bus were Dessie Mackin, Marie Moore, Maura McCrory, Mairéad Keane, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Martin Ferris, Larry Downes and myself. Gerry Adams travelled separately.

It wasn’t long before the `craic’ started and the prison experiences were tripping off people’s tongues. I noticed they were all humorous.

We were met at the prison by two warders in civilian dress. They were our official guides, although Gerry quickly assumed the role as our unofficial guide. “There’s the internees’ visiting area,” he pointed out. “Is that the prison hospital?” asked Danny. “No,” said the warder, “That’s the stores. The hospital is over there.”

“Is that Cage 2?” I asked. “No,” said Gerry and the warder interjected, “It’s further on down.”

“Where’s the gate the lads escaped out of?” someone shouted out. “It’s further up the wall. It is blocked up now,” said the warder. “That’s where I was caught trying to escape,” said Gerry, pointing to an area outside the internees’ visiting area. He was sentenced to three years for his efforts.

The first Cage we visited was Cage 6. It was here that Gerry was interned with `Darkie’ Hughes and Ivor Bell. The internees had nicknamed it the `General’s Cage’ because of the number of senior republicans held there. It was from here that the `Dark’ and Ivor successfully escaped and Gerry was caught.

We moved onto Cage 17. Dessie made us all laugh when he told the story about a prank played on him by the `King mixer’, Martin Meehan and `Cleaky’

Clarke in the `70s. Martin wrote a `Dear John’ letter from Dessie’s then girlfriend, now his wife. Dessie was so angry at being `dumped’ that he threw a necklace that his girl had bought him over the wire onto the football pitch. Over 90 men watched Dessie and fell about laughing.

The following morning he had the entire Cage out on the pitch helping him to look for the necklace.

I was keen to visit Cage 3, where I was interned for most of the time I was there. I was disappointed to see Cages 3, 4 and 5 no longer there. The passage of time had taken its toll. All that was left was the concrete base on which the Nissen huts were built.

I went alone to the site of Cage 3. I quickly reflected about myself, an 18-year-old boy, captured, trapped in a strange world, a world that had suddenly shrunk and was framed by barbed wire, gates and locks. I felt sorry for the 18-year-old who never had a normal youth. In the midday sun, breaking through the clouds, I realised I was mourning for a lost youth.

Standing in the middle of the concrete base close to where my bunk bed had been, I travelled back nearly 30 years. I could see the raw energy in the 18-year-old as he stormed around the Cage, pacing seven to the dozen. A lump came into my throat as I watched him receive the news of his father’s death. I looked again at him as he walked from the Cage on eight hours’ parole to bury his father in March 1973.

A smile of pride flashed across my face when I recalled being asked to participate in the escape that saw John Green walk to freedom from Cage 3, dressed as a priest. From the same Cage I watched Mark Graham from the New Lodge Road trying to escape. The plan was that Mark would hide underneath the lorry that brought the internees their food parcels and escape when it left the precincts of the prison. The plan went disastrously wrong when the lorry went over a ramp and the axle snapped Mark’s spine. He never walked again.

I looked at the corner of the hut where a young Joe McDonnell slept or mostly didn’t, because he kept our hut awake most nights with his peculiar brand of humour. Joe was a character.

I `bowled’ round the yard and came to the spot where on 14 September 1974, the prison governor called me and told me I was being released. And then I heard Danny shouting and looked across to his old Cage, Cage 2, which remained intact. The visit to Long Kesh was over.

We gathered ourselves together, boarded the mini-bus and were transported to our own mini-bus for the journey home.

The trip home to Belfast was in marked contrast to the one travelled earlier. There was no `craic’, just silence. We were lost in our own thoughts of what we had all been through. That afternoon I cried sore but I knew the visit did me good. I’ll need a few more visits to the gaol to fully come to an appreciation of the role Long Kesh has played in my life.

It shaped the person I am today and I know it did the same for thousands of others.

That is why Long Kesh should be preserved as a museum, just like Kilmainham.

There’s a story to be told. Thousands of political prisoners, republican and loyalist, passed through its gates and locks. Prison warders also have their story. Let them all be told.

Sourced from An Phoblacht


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A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.

There's an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend? It has withstood the blows of a million years, and will do so to the end.