Friday, December 6, 2019


Mark Ward the new Sinn Féin TD addressing the media at the Dáil

Dublin Mid West is a sprawling constituency with vast housing estates of working class communities cheek to jowl with more affluent neighbourhoods. On Friday afternoon I was there with Nikki, Christina and RG.  We were part of the Sinn Féin team campaigning for Councillor Mark Ward in one of the four Dáil by-elections. While much of the focus in the North is understandably on the Westminster general election, Sinn Féin, as the only real all-Ireland party, was also fighting these four by-elections. They were to fill Dáil seats left vacant when four TDs were elected to the European Parliament in May. 

We all knew the Dublin Mid West contest was going to be a tough challenge. The seat had been held by Frances Fitzgerald, a former Fine Gael Minister for Justice and Tánaiste. It was the one seat of the four that Fine Gael was expecting to win but the local activists led by Eoin Ó Broin knew we were in with a chance. 
Friday was polling day, and for it and the previous three days I had been in the constituency, alongside Mary Lou and other Sinn Féin leaders. You didn’t have to be there long to realise that Mark Ward is very well known and very popular. He’s one of those activists - a Councillor - who seem to know everyone by their first name and what their specific issues are. Mark has a genuinely compassionate and friendly manner when talking to people. This was evident every day on the all doors we knocked, the shops we visited and in the reception he received at a centre for people with addiction issues and in the local Community equestrian centre. It was also obvious that Eoin Ó Broin, the local Sinn Féin TD, is a very effective and popular public representative. 
Mark arriving at Leinster House on his first day with Mary Lou and Eoin
I had requested loudhailers for our car for  election day.  So on the day I was put into a car with Mick Boyle a local activist, and given a microphone with a couple of loud speakers. My job was to travel slowly around the area reminding the voters that it was election day. It was their day, the peoples’ day when voters decide who would represent them. 
I have always found mobile loud hailing a very effective way of getting the Sinn Féin vote out. After the weeks of canvassing it is the best way for encouraging the maximum amount of people to get out and vote. Of course it only works where you know your vote. In Dublin that’s most likely to be working class estates. Like the ones we were in Dublin Mid West in a very focussed way during this campaign. 
It’s also good craic. Give me a microphone and a car and I will happily spend hours urging the voters to exercise their franchise. It’s funny watching how people respond to a disembodied  voice booming at them from they know what where. 
“How y’doing missus? Lovely day isn’t it. Voted yet?”
When they realise it’s me it’s very entertaining.  Friday in Dublin Mid West was no different. Young people especially – once they realised where the voice was coming from - enjoyed the fun.
At one point we were stuck in another of the traffic jams that is a part of life in Clondalkin. A young lad on a bicycle came flying up the road.
“Tiocfaid ár lá” he shouted as he flew past punching the air with his fist. He then did a sharp wheelie and came speeding back again.
As he drew level I put the car window down to slagg him.
He got in first. 
“Jeez, Gerry I thought you were dead!”
And off he flew with his front wheel rising to meet the sky.
My hair also got a lot of attention. 

‘Janey Mac it’s Mattress Mick’. 

Or ‘I didn’t know Billy Connolly was a Shinner’ 

‘Gerry get your hair cut’!

‘Gerry your hair is lovely’. 

‘You’re like bleeding Santy bleeding Claus.’

Let me clarify this hair thing. I have a bet with Martin Ferris and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin that we will let our hair grow until An Taoiseach calls a General Election. So far I am winning that bet. Talking of bets - a few days before polling day I asked RG to put 10 Euros on Mark Ward to top the poll.  

Meantime back in the car with the trusty comrade Mr Boyle I continued to cajole  the punters. Another Mick, Mick O’Brien, and several others were canvassing houses in St. Ronans.

A wee elderly woman answered a knock from one of the team.
She was quite excited.
“I heard Martin McGuinness earlier. He was in the street.”
“No love, it wasn’t Martin”.
“It was Martin. I heard his voice. He was calling for people to come out and vote for Mark Ward”.
“No Missus, I’m sorry it wasn’t Martin ...”
“I’m telling you it was him. I’d know his voice anywhere.”
“It was Gerry Adams not Martin”.
“Oh” she said and paused. “You’re right. Poor Martin has passed. Tell Gerry I’ve already voted for Mark.”
And so it went on. With Martin on his side Mark was flying. A long day for all, but a rewarding one. 
Counting in the by-elections took place on Saturday. When all the counting and recounting was over Mark Ward had topped the poll and won the seat. It was then RG told me he hadn’t placed the bet. We were back in Belfast by then. He told me by text. Typical. 
Mise agus Elisha taking a Christmas moment in Derry
Marks election was an amazing result but proof of what is possible when it is done right. It’s all about getting the basics right. Our other three candidates also performed very well with Tommy Gould coming a close second in Cork. Interestingly quite a lot if people I canvassed asked me about a United Ireland. As with our other candidates Mark Ward was very clear about his Irish Unity credentials. 
Fine Gael failed to win any seats. Fianna Fáil picked up one and held on to one and the Greens got one. It was a bad day for the government and it makes their dependency on independents even more precarious. The fact is that without the confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil they could not survive.
The by-election results are evidence that the government in Dublin is out of touch with the needs and worries and hopes of people. It is a government which is failing citizens across every sector, but especially on issues like the environment, housing, homelessness, in rural Ireland and in health. Just this weekend nurses called for an investigation into the crisis in the emergency departments in the hospitals. With still a month to go until the end of the year already more people have had to wait on hospital trolleys than ever before – over one hundred thousand. Among them was a five year old child with a viral infection who was treated in a room used to store medical equipment. A ninety year old woman spent  two nights on a chair and a trolley in Limerick Hospital.
A wet canvas in Foyle
Early in the New Year An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will call a general election. All of these issues, as well as the crucial matter of Irish Unity, will be on the agenda. I might even get a haircut.  The weekend by-election results are evidence that Sinn Féin is the real alternative to the conservative policies of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. In the meantime a word of thanks to our four candidates Mark Ward, Thomas Gould, Ann Graves and Johnny Mythen and to all of those who worked very hard to achieve a very successful outcome. Especially the Sinn Féin voters.
Now for the Westminster general election – see you on that campaign trail later this week. Watch out for our loudhailer car. And no I won’t be asking RG to go to the bookies for me. You can bet on that. 

With the Shantallow team

Friday, November 29, 2019

We can afford Irish Unity – we can’t afford the Union

In 1921 when the British partitioned Ireland they retained control of the six north east counties. This gave them an influence over the entire island. It also provided their unionist allies with what they thought would be a permanent in built majority. At that time Belfast and its hinterland was the economic power house of this island. Just over £21 million was generated by the Irish economy. Of this £19 million came from the North. The territory was a net contributor to the Empire and British economy. It was financially worth holding on to.
In the years after direct rule was imposed in 1972 there has been a focus on the so-called British subvention. This is the additional money – beyond that raised in taxes in the north – that unionists and the British claim is needed to run the six counties. The figure of £10 billion is usually peddled in this context. Some advance this as a reason why Irish Unity is impossible. How could the southern economy financially accommodate the northern state?
Let’s be clear. The issue of Irish Unity is primarily a political argument. Not an economic one. However, in recent months Sinn Féin’s Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD and his team have been systematically demolishing this argument based on figures produced by the British government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Their first conclusion was that there is no £10bn subvention. This was always only an estimate. When you take the money generated by tax in the North (£17.3bn) away from the £26.463bn that is allocated, the real subvention figure is just over £9bn. An immediate saving of almost one billion.
There are then a number of expenditure categories. These are:
       Total Identifiable Expenditure
       Total Outside the UK Expenditure
       Total Non-identifiable Expenditure
       Accounting Adjustments
Total Identifiable Expenditure is the amount spent directly in our locally elected institutions (Assembly/Executive and local Councils). In other words, this is money spent on our local services. In 2017-18 it was £20,934 bn.
Included in this figure is £3.4bn that is spent on pensions. This derives from national insurance contributions which citizens in the North have paid throughout their lives. When this issue was raised during the Scottish independence referendum the London government accepted that in the event of independence it would continue to have responsibility for this. The North would be no different.
Total Non-identifiable Expenditure is money spent by the British government centrally in Westminster, on British priorities. 85% of this is spent on two issues. Maintaining the British military machine costs the people of the North £1.1bn annually. This £1.1bn to fund British Forces will end after people in Ireland vote to end the union. Clearly any amount paid by the North toward defence in a new Ireland would be substantially less. The other big spender is payments of £1.3bn toward the British national debt. In any negotiation on Unity any responsibility that the North might have for the debt would also mean that we would have a share in British assets.
Other amounts fund the British Royal Family and Palaces, the Civil List, international diplomacy, Military Museums and other items. This would end also.
Total Outside the UK expenditure is exactly that. It is money the British government spends on its international priorities outside of the North and Britain. This amounts to £679 million. These costs would not be applicable in the event of Unity.
Accounting adjustments of two and a half billion are a statistical exercise by London to accommodate the depreciation in value of its public infrastructure most of which is in Britain. There would be a significant saving for Ireland following Unity.
Finally, current British estimates for taxes raised in the North are much lower than the reality. For example, many companies with branches in the North have their HQs in Britain. Corporate taxes are paid from the HQ and as a result the north’s tax take is under-estimated. Using other methods to calculate corporation tax, the amount of corporate tax collected in the north appears to be underestimated by around £500million. 
So, the exchequer books for the North are not as bleak as presented by those who oppose Unity. It is clear that the subvention is significantly less than half of what is claimed. While this still remains a significant amount we know from a variety of reputable economic sources that Irish Unity will bring with it significant benefits. The Hubner report concluded that a single island economy would grow €23.5 bn over eight years. David McWilliams believes that talk about the South not being able to afford the North “is just that – talk.”
The economics of Irish Unity – the subvention – the comparative stats – all of these are just part of the conversation that we need to have to plan for the future. They are part of the conversation that the Irish government needs to stop running away from. It’s a conversation that is already well advanced. Just look at the weekend opinion poll for Amárach/Claire Byrne Live/ which found that 51% people would like to see the referendum take place in the next five years. Less than 30% opposed the proposal. Significantly of those aged between 18-24, approximately 70% were for a referendum. Irish Unity is no longer an aspiration. It is a winnable, doable, achievable project.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Betrayed – again: who is fooling who?

Words have power. They can enrage, motivate, depress, uplift. They can change peoples’ minds - persuade them to adopt new positions, policies, attitudes. Words can exploit and encourage the best and the worst in people. Create revolutions. Defend totalitarianism and oppression. A single word can convey a whole wealth of meaning. Think of ‘Brexit’. One word – six letters – a word that didn’t exist a decade ago and which today has come to symbolise the fears and the hopes of millions - depending on which side of the argument you fall.
The Tories know the value of words. When the British Parliament passed the Benn Act preventing the Johnson government from moving ahead with a no-deal Brexit it was immediately dubbed the “surrender” law. Unionism too knows the value of loaded words. When Johnson finally closed a withdrawal deal with the European Union his erstwhile allies in the DUP labelled it the “Betrayal Act.”
Next month, on 6 December, a unionist rally – “Stop the Betrayal Act” will be held in the Ulster Hall. It will be the latest in a number of smaller similar events. Unionism is venting its anger at another British government. Is it any wonder that the DUP party political broadcast for the general election failed to mention Brexit. How could they? Their alliance with the Tories has contributed to this significant moment in Anglo-Irish and unionist-British relations.

So, unionism is again accusing a British government of another act of betrayal. And once again the Ulster Hall will be the venue for Unionists to protest.  

In the past the Ulster Hall has held significance for unionism in times of political crises. Tory leader Randolph Churchill addressed a meeting there in February 1886. Churchill understood the strategic value of using political unionism as a weapon against the Liberal government of Gladstone. His stance was opportunistic. He had no great affection for unionists describing them at one point as “foul Ulster Tories” but was prepared to encourage violence. At the Ulster Hall Rally he said: “I am of the opinion that the struggle is not likely to remain within the lines of what we are accustomed to look up as constitutional action …”
Later, in an open letter in the Pall Mall Gazette he provided unionists with their war cry for the decades ahead. Churchill wrote: “Ulster will fight, Ulster will be right …”
30 years later the Tories were at it again. Encouraging open rebellion by unionists. On September 27, 1912, on the eve of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, thousands of unionist men and women gathered at the Ulster Hall. Edward Carson was presented with a yellow silk banner, reputed to have been carried by King William's troops at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Within a decade violence and the threat of more violence by unionist leaders, encouraged by the Tories, led to the partition of Ireland. The same Carson, speaking in 1921, on the Tory intrigues that had led him on a course that would partition Ireland said: “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in that political game that was to get the Conservative party into power.”
The lesson then and in the century since is the same. Westminster and English political parties always put English interests first. That was and remains the primary motivator of their policy in Ireland.
As a result when the Wilson Labour government in the late 60s was confronted by the very public evidence of the Orange apartheid state it forced a very reluctant unionist government, against huge opposition and violence, to accept electoral and other limited reforms. Another betrayal.
The Health government scrapped the Stormont Parliament in March 1972. Unionist outrage at the Darlington Talks and subsequent Sunningdale Agreement led to the Ulster Workers Council strike of 1974, massive intimidation by unionist paramilitaries, and the collapse of the executive. More betrayals.
Ian Paisley made a career out of claiming that unionists were being sold out and betrayed. He established the Third Force, worked closely with the UDA and UVF, and brought hundreds to the top of a mountain to wave their gun licences for the benefit of the media. In 1985 the Anglo-Irish Agreement witnessed a co-ordinated campaign of opposition by the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP. Even though the Agreement made little real difference the very fact that Thatcher – who had been lionised by many unionists – signed the Agreement, led to mass demonstrations.
In November 1986 at the Ulster Hall the DUP established Ulster Resistance.  In the press releases handed out to the media waiting outside the Hall by Nigel Dodds it said that Ulster Resistance was being established as an “organised and disciplined force, which will neither bend nor budge” until the Agreement is destroyed. In the following months towns and villages across the North were taken over by thousands of uniformed and masked men as Unionism accused London of one more betrayal.
In the years that followed unionist leaders constantly warned against the policies of Downing Street. Despite accusing the British of duplicity the Ulster Unionist Party in the mid 1990’s for a time helped to bolster the John Major government. Their objective was to block the peace process. That failed too.
For many unionists – especially the DUP – the Good Friday Agreement was another act of betrayal. The decision by Theresa May to accept the Backstop was yet another. The DUP thought Boris Johnson would be different. He would stand against the EU. Betrayed again.
The word ‘betrayal’ is now common currency among unionists. You would think – hope – that some would begin to recognise the lesson of history. English governments don’t care about unionists. They never act in unionist interests except when their interests coincide. And this attitude goes beyond London governments.
Successive opinion polls have revealed that Brexit matters more to Brexit voters than peace in Ireland. On Monday a Sky News poll, conducted by YouGov revealed that Leave voters in Britain would back the break-up of the ‘United Kingdom’ if it delivers Brexit.
42% of those polled thought Irish unity would be a positive development and a price worth paying. 19% said it wouldn’t. There were majorities when the same question was posed about independence for Scotland and Wales.
So as the debate on Irish unity grows, and unionist uncertainty over the future increases, Irish republicans and democrats must seek to engage with unionist opinion. As Mary Lou said in her Ard Fheis speech at the weekend that’s the big challenge of the next decade.
Finally, I appeal to working class unionists or loyalists reading this column; to farmers, business people and civic unionists. Ask yourselves who is betraying who. The unionist political elites – MPs and others - on their fat salaries and big expenses may huff and puff. But it’s all bluster. It is they who are betraying you. As they have for generations. As they do now with Brexit; by voting against nurses pay increases, by divisive sectarian actions; by refusing to tackle poverty, disadvantage and divisions. By opposing basic and modest rights. Ask yourselves this my friend – who is fooling who?

Friday, November 15, 2019

Ar slí na Fhírinne

I met Dickie Glenholmes over fifty years ago. He has been in my life ever since. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for ages. Apart from anything else sometimes we would be in jail. Different jails. At the same time.  But we would keep in touch. We were also some times in the same jail. At the same time. For example in the half hut. Cage 6. Long Kesh.

He and I shared the same bunk bed for a while. Dickie was in the top bunk. Then when he was transferred to another cage I moved into Ted’s bottom bunk.  I always like the bottom bunk.

The half hut of Cage 6 was a bit mad. Or at least the comrades in it were a bit mad.  Dickie was about fifteen years older than the rest of us. Years later in another prison when I was about fifteen years older than most of my prison mates I realised what we younger inmates had put him through in Cage 6. Mad cap escapes. Eccentric resistance to British Army raids. Practical jokes. Nutty adventures. Endless playing of loud music. House trained seagulls.

Dickie brought all manner of good into my life. His friendship. The friendship of his wife Lily, positive and forever loyal. He also introduced me to Spaghetti Bolognese, and forever claimed that I asked for potatoes with it. One his most important introductions was to Kathleen Largey and her husband Eamonn. I knew them through their ballad singing with The Flying Column but Dickie brought me to their home in John Street when I was on the run. Kathleen invited Colette to stay there as well. We began a relationship which lasted beyond Kathleen and Eamonn’s deaths and which continues to this day through Áine and Máire and their children and their other sisters.

Dickie was central to all that. And now he too is dead. After a long illness. He was not getting better and he knew it.  Catholics pray for a happy death. Dickie was blessed with such a conclusion to his long life after being bed bound and in the care of his loving family. Jim Gibney celebrated Dickie’s life and the contribution of his family to our struggle at the graveside with thoughtful words of remembrance, humour and gratitude for a life well lived. 

Gerry Begley brought me to my first games of hurling and football when I was five. He was twelve. That was in the 1950s. Gerry’s father was my Granny Adams’ brother. I lived with my Granny in Abercorn Street North. The Begley’s also lived in Abercorn Street North.  So Gerry took me up Leeson Street to St Finian’s School on the Falls Road when I started my education there. Gerry was a big boy. I was his wee cousin. He was probably dragooned into taking me everywhere from the Dunville Park to Colin Glen and Tornaroy. He was also a lovely hurler and a fine footballer.  A stalwart in Dwyer’s alongside Paddy Elliot. His sister Marie was a fiery Camóg.

Naoimh Eoin under 14 hurlers in the Féile in 1986 and the under 14 footballers and Féile champions both coached by Gerry Begley

When Gerry married Mary they went eventually to Ballymurphy where he and John Grego mentored young athletes, including his sons and our Gearóid, in the art of Gaelic football and hurling. Gerry was a great Gael. I didn’t see him as often as I should have but my older brother Paddy used to have a wee drink with him now and then and they would discuss the twists and turns of Gaelic games at club, county and national level. As always with lapsed athletes the more they talked the better they became in their own recollections of games long passed, of victories well deserved and defeats unjustly foisted upon them by unfair or visually challenged referees.

Gerry with his big cousin Frank from Canada

Gerry’s coffin was draped in the Antrim flag as we carried him on his last journey from the Murph, escorted by his fine family and generations of Gaelic athletes. His funeral was the day after Dickie’s.

The next day we buried Fr Des Wilson.  Ninety four years is a lot of years. Des was astonished that he lived so long. He remained intellectually and mentally vigorous to the end. And hopeful. Hope was in Des’s DNA. Not dreamydroo hope. No! Des’s hope was based on his belief in the strength and goodness and indomitable nature of human beings. Especially in times of adversity. He believed in Jesus. He believed in the Beatitudes. So it was that he left his comfortable position to live among the poor and oppressed. He took his stand with the rest of us and against the powerful including those in his own church.

Celebrating Fr. Des's 93 birthday in July 18

Father Joe McVeigh described all of this wonderfully in his homily at Des’s Requiem Mass in Corpus Christi. I took great comfort from his words. What goes around comes around. Des the educator, the activist, the priest. Des the feminist, the democrat, the philosopher. The prophet. Des the job maker. The writer. Des the dreamer. Des the doer. Des the gardener.

There were three bishops in attendance. Father Des – the mischief maker – would enjoy that. The mountains came to Mohammed.

Ar slí an fhirinne is how we describe in Irish what happens to a person when they die. They are on the way of truth. They know all the answers to all the mysteries of life. And death. The pity is nobody comes back to tell the rest of us what happens. So we can only live in the life we have and do the best we can to make it better for people not as lucky as us. That’s what our three friends did. They lived life as best they could. They did their best. And they left their world better than they found it. And for that I commend and I thank them.

 Fr. Des and Noelle

Tuesday, November 12, 2019



A phobal Dé agus a chairde go léir.
Tá muid bronach inniú. Tá ár gcara Des imithe ar shlí na Fírinne. It’s a fitting way to describe the death of our friend – a man whose whole life was committed to the Truth-speaking the truth and writing the truth.
The Indian poet, Rabin-dranath Tagore once wrote: “Death is not putting out the light/It is only extinguishing the lamp/Because the Day has come.”
For Des the Day has come -at last - the Day of Freedom from the limitations and pains of this life. And while we will miss him terribly, we thank God that the Day has come for Des so that he will have no more suffering.
The last few years have been difficult for him. He often said to us that he would like to go. In fact, he told us one time –about a year or so ago, that he went to the Novena in Clonard to pray that God would take him and when he came out of the monastery he fell and broke his hip. He remarked wryly; ‘Somebody up there has a weird sense of humour!’
Through all his trials and tribulations Des never lost his wonderful sense of humour - nor his humanity. I admired many things about Des –but I think it was his humanity and humility that I most admired! He was such an amazing human being -gentle and kind, firm and principled, joyful and humorous- compassionate and caring.

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit”

To mark his ninetieth birthday a few years ago - Des decided to publish a small book of reflections called “Ninety (Merrily) in the Shade.”  It is both humorous and serious.
He begins:
“We left Maynooth college in the sunny days of June 1949, more than eighty of us, newly ordained Catholic priests, some of us wisely hoping to change the world, others hoping unwisely to keep the world and the church the way they were. We moved happily out of our studious world with its answers we couldn’t question into another world of questions we could not answer.
(He loved that line! He said recently he was proud to have come up with it.)

In the Introduction, his dear friend Eilish Rooney, writes:

“Des has been one of our closest companions. The people who know and love him will be saddened when he leaves this world. His words will be both a comfort and a challenge. They are those of a radical thinker sitting merrily in the shade of ninety looking back and encouraging us all in the words of Jesus of Nazareth “Don’t be Afraid”.
He raises radical questions about the married priesthood , women in the church, justice in the market place, power and politics, workers rights fun in the Bible, and democracy in the Church. It’s a heady mix, writes ELISH. Let’s gather together to talk at the gate, he says. Bewildered believers, evangelicals, doubters, dissenters and ardent atheists alike are all welcome.

“He looks loss, fear and human suffering in the face and he finds reasons to be hopeful. We accompany each other in life’s adventure, he tells us. Des has been one of our greatest companions.”

Indeed. –
I wanted to share these inspiring words by Eilish about Des. They capture the essence of the man -the thinker, the contemplative, the activist, the challenger and the great companion.
I too valued his friendship for more than 40 years. Whenever I was in any bother which was not too often (joke), my first port of call was to Des either here in Springhill or in Falcarragh. All I needed was a good listener and Des was a great listener. I always came away feeling a lot better for having talked to him. 
The great spiritual writer, Thomas Merton, once described a prophet: ‘A prophet is one who cuts through great tangled knots of lies.’ Des fitted that description of a prophet and was in the same league or tradition as the prophets through the ages. He shared their passion for truth and justice. The rage of the prophet against injustice sometimes came through. Des was also a humble man –never seeking the limelight for himself but only to show solidarity with the oppressed and the downtrodden.
Des probably did not see himself as a prophet. He sometimes described himself as a ‘mischief maker’.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Justice..”

Des was a man of courage. The Gospel he believed in is the Gospel of Freedom. His God was the Spirit of freedom that lived in his soul and in the soul of the community-the Spirit that lives on when the earthly body dies. The gifts of the Spirit were evident. The God he believed in was not a distant God in the sky –but the God of Power who took sides, who was present with the people in their struggle for justice, for freedom and for democracy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.”

Des Wilson was born in 1925- the youngest of five boys. The others were James, Gerard, Kevin and Liam. It was wonderful to see the close bond between himself and his older brother Gerard when he used to come over to visit him each week. His father was from Mullaghhoran in Co Cavan and his mother was a Turley from Saval in Co Down. They both came to Belfast in search of work in the early 1900s. His father worked in the pub trade and eventually owned his own pub. Des grew up on the Ormeau Road area. They were fairly comfortable.  Education was important in the home. Aunt Cissie lived with them. She expected high standards and good results. His parents were not very political but he always remembered something his Father said to him: “Son, You can never trust John Bull. Even if he was giving you the present of a pair of trousers, he would cut off the buttons before he gave them to you!” 
Recently, Des told us (Ciaran and myself) that in his early teens he wanted to be either a writer/journalist or a physicist. He even attended extra physics classes –such was his interest and enthusiasm for physics! But after the Belfast Blitz in 1941, when more than 700 people were killed, Des felt a strong call to be a priest –in order as he said in one of his books “to change the world.” 
After studying in St Malachy’s he went to Queens University to study literature and philosophy. He then went to Maynooth for four years to study theology and was ordained to the priesthood in 1949 along with 80 other young men –all ordained for the mission in Ireland.  How things have changed! 
So, in the summer of 1949, Des set out “to change the world” in the parish of Glenravel. He wrote a humorous account of that first appointment in his autobiography! He was then sent by Bishop Mageean to the Mater hospital as chaplain for a year. After that he was sent to St Malachy’s college to teach. Many students found him to be an inspiration –and many have fond memories of this great teacher.
In 1966, after teaching and acting as spiritual director in St Malachy’s for fifteen years, Des was sent by Bishop Philbin to St John’s parish. He was living in the Parochial House on the Falls Road with some other priests.
By this time Fr Des had begun to question the relationship of the official Church with wealth and property and the powerful in society.  He wrote about this. The Church authorities were not impressed. He was inspired by the Worker priests in France in the 1950s and by the thinking of the Second Vatican council in the early 1960’s. 
Like some other priests in different countries - who, even though they came from a comfortable background, left all that to become advocates for the poor—Des Wilson also left it all in 1971 to live among the people in Ballymurphy in west Belfast.
When he went there he got his eyes opened. He had never been in the West of the city before. He had never seen such deprivation and poverty.
In 1971, when he had been a priest for about 21 years -mostly living a sheltered life in St Malachy's College, Des made a decision to stand with the poor and powerless against the powerful and the privileged. It was a momentous decision.
The move out of the Priests’ house on the Falls Road to a council house in Ballymurphy in 1971 did not meet with the approval of the Church authorities at the time. It led to his resignation from the Diocese. However, he felt he was doing the right thing-even if it was a painful time in his life. I think time has proved him right.
Des said to Ciaran Cahill and myself recently that the two happiest days of his life were 1. the day he was born into a loving family and 2. the day he moved to Springhill in Ballymurphy.
In 1972, a year after he set up the Community House, a woman called Noelle Ryan arrived from Dublin and offered to help in the Community House in whatever way she could. She took on the management role and remained until her death in 2014. (Suaimhneas Siorraí uirthi). She, along with her friend Elsie Best, made a huge contribution to the Springhill Community.
At the beginning of his ministry in the parish in West Belfast the British army-the Parachute regiment- had set up a base in Ballymurphy in the Henry Taggart hall.
In a chapter in his book he writes: “They were Trained to Hate us”. These British soldiers abused the people verbally and physically. They beat the people on the street, including himself. This was another new experience for him.
 On 9 August 1971, the day of Internment, the Paras murdered ten innocent people on the streets - including his friend, Fr Hugh Mullan. That massacre has been very much in the news with the new Inquest that has been taking place. Today, it is only right to remember those who died in the Ballymurphy massacre in August 1971: Father Hugh Mullan, Noel Phillips, Joan Connolly, Eddie Doherty, Joseph Corr, Frank Quinn, John McKerr, Joseph Murphy, John Laverty and Danny Teggart. Paddy McCarthy was shot in the hand, then beaten afterwards by the British soldiers. He suffered a massive heart attack and died.
The following year on 9th July 1972, another priest and close friend, Fr Noel Fitzpatrick, was shot dead by the British army in Whiterock Drive as he went to give the last Rites to a young girl of thirteen-Margaret Gargan. Des had preached at his first Mass some ten years earlier. Fr Noel was based here in Corpus Christi.
All of this tragedy and trauma inflicted on his friends and on the people he was sent to serve changed Des’ life forever and caused him to be even more determined to stand with the people against their oppressors.
Des saw that the official Church’s response to all this repression of the Catholic people was very weak. It was then he realised that the official Catholic Church in Ireland had become far too removed from the poor and too closely identified with the well off.  Many times he said how much more the Church leaders could have done with all their resources! They might have helped to avoid much of the suffering.
In 1971, Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta) arrived in West Belfast with some of her sisters. Des welcomed them and found them accommodation –and on 3 October 1971 Des celebrated Mass here in Corpus Christi to mark their arrival. Mother Teresa was in the congregation. A short time later they got their marching orders from some authority in the Diocese. 
The headline in the Andersonstown News the following week read “Canon fires Nun!”
Des had a deep love and respect for the people in the Ballymurphy/Springhill community in which he lived. He always had time for a conversation and a cuppa tea. The door was always open. There was always a céad mile failte. Conversations at lunch in Springhill were a lively and interesting experience.
Springhill Community House became ‘a house of hospitality’ somewhat like the Catholic Worker houses in America -  set up by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1940s and 1950s, and indeed somewhat like the Celtic monasteries in years gone by.
Des Wilson appreciated our rich Celtic culture and appreciated the beauty of the Irish language. He wanted everybody to discover the richness of our own native language.

There were two central tenets to Des Wilson’s faith:
- the conviction that Good will always triumph over evil
- and his belief in the Gospel saying of Jesus –“the Truth will set you free.”

These were like two mantras that he repeated very often.

I first got to know Des when I was a student in Maynooth about 1969/70 -50 years ago!- when he was invited to give the Retreat to all the students in Maynooth. It shows how orthodox he was at the time. He was regarded as a Vatican II priest -a breath of fresh air. There is no doubt that if he had played his cards right he would have become a bishop! But as Ciaran Cahill said to me recently “Thank God he did not play his cards right! Or we wouldn’t have got him!”
Fr Des was a man with a vision of how the Catholic Church should be - a church in which the leaders stand with the powerless, a Church that abhors any kind of authoritarianism and clericalism. He often said that the Church of the future should be a Church of small communities made up of people who want to keep the vision of Jesus alive.
All of his life in Ballymurphy, Des advocated for a peace based on justice and respect for human rights and human dignity. He detested sectarian politics, bigotry and the arrogance of those who thought they had a god-given right to lord it over others. He encouraged people and politicians to engage in dialogue. He set an example by reaching out to political opponents. In the late 1980s, he went to see the then Taoiseach to urge him to open lines of communication with parties in the north –a move which I believe contributed greatly to furthering to the peace process. He never sought any publicity for himself.

“Blessed are the peacemakers..”

Fr Des wrote many wonderful articles in the ‘Andytown News.’ They were always a source of encouragement and even entertainment. He used satire to good effect when describing the antics of some of the ruling class-especially the Royals. It was for him a most important task every week to write his articles. The early days of each week were devoted to writing. On those days he was not to be disturbed! He also wrote for other newspapers like the Northern Standard and the Irish People in the United States. He made numerous broadcasts on TV and radio which were always incisive.
Des was always concerned to build friendships with members of the other churches. Long before ecumenism was heard tell of His message was always; ‘We in the Catholic Community are your friends, the best friends you will ever have. Let us work together for the common good. Let us together build a new society of equals.’

Some, like Reverend Eric Gallagher were willing –but many were frozen. He told me recently that not all Catholic priests were enthusiastic about ecumenism. 
I believe Des is one of the great Catholic priests of this or of any century. He is one of the great sons of Belfast. He was proud of the radical tradition here in this city. He identified with the people of Sailortown who were left without a church building. He identified with anybody or any group who found themselves out on a limb. 
Des has devoted most of his life as a priest to serving the people of Ballymurphy, raising the morale during those dreadful years and defending the people then under attack from the British army and the RUC and the loyalist death squads. Des was busy finding ways to promote recreation and employment –only to have them taken over and destroyed by the British soldiers.
Through all these years, Des Wilson worked tirelessly for peace, justice and human rights. I doubt if anyone devoted more time and energy to this project - in order to create a more humane society, a better future for all the people. During the local disagreements he was there to help heal the splits and offer people another way of settling disputes.
His passion for justice led him to get involved in many justice and truth campaigns - the MacBride Principles and the Equality campaign along with Oliver Kearney and others, justice for the Ballymurphy victims and the victims of many British organised death squads –like the Cairns brothers and Patrick Shanaghan and so many others. He was always committed to finding the truth-urging us to set up our own inquiries and not wait for the government.
Des was awarded a number of International prizes for his work for peace and justice.  For example, the MacBride Peace Award and Pax Christi award. He received honorary degrees in Italy and elsewhere – but alas none in Ireland! What does the Gospel say about the prophet in his own land?
Des was most unselfish and generous with his time and talents. He travelled all over the world to inform people about the truth of what was happening here because he was aware of the propaganda. He was truly blessed by God for the life he was chosen to live - and in spite of the hurts and difficulties and disappointments down through the years, he cherished his life as a Catholic priest.
I am pleased to say that in recent years Bishop Noel and Des became good friends and a close bond had grown between them. Des was really happy about that.  
Des loved Falcarragh in Donegal. He loved the garden and going for walks along the sea-shore. He loved nature and the birds of the air. He loved the mountains and the trees and the expanse of the country. He loved to stand on the bridge over the Ray river beside the Community house there and talking to the neighbours and all who passed by.
Des has left a wonderful legacy which will be fully appreciated in the years to come –Springhill Community House, the Conway Mill, Feile an Phobail, his many writings and books but his greatest legacy is the example he has given of living his life in solidarity with the people of Ballymurphy in their hour of greatest need.
Since his death in the Nazareth Care Home on Tuesday afternoon, many fine tributes have been paid to Fr Des. That is only right and to be expected for he has been a major influence on so many people and such a positive influence for good in this country and in this community-and beyond. His loss is immense -but he has fought the good fight and he has left a great legacy. Today we give thanks for his life and his legacy.
Ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a dheanadh le teaghlach Wilson. I offer my deepest sympathy to Des’ nieces and nephews and cousins and family circle, Des always spoke lovingly of his immediate family.
I offer my sympathy -and also to the Springhill Community -my deepest sympathy. You really cared for him when he needed you most. He loved you all -each and every one. I saw your love for him in action these last few years and especially these last few months and weeks. Thank you Ciaran, Pete, Louise, Margaret Pat and Janette-and all who have helped.
A word of thanks to those friends in America, especially Elizabeth Logue &family in Doors of Hope, who have supported Des all through the years.
If Des’s life has any lesson for the Catholic Church in Ireland and throughout the world – it is that it must, in conscience, take the side of the poor and powerless and stand firmly for social justice and against the tyranny of abusive power, of excessive wealth, of greed, of selfishness. It must no longer allow itself to be co-opted by any State, but should always keep its distance, so that it is free to evaluate the behaviour of governments and to stand foursquare against those who violate the rights and the dignity of citizens. Such a stance will be uncomfortable. But then Comfort is not consistent with the path least travelled, -the path of truth and of conscience.

In his autobiography, ‘The Way I See it’, Des concludes:
‘We have learned a lot of lessons through trial and success as well as through trial and error. Having learned enough lessons, now we have to create freedom for us all to experiment with our new ideas. That pleasant task could last to the end of time and I know only two reasons to make me glad to live for ever in this world. One is to enjoy the beautiful things of the world, like you see standing with friends on a bridge across the Ray River in Donegal looking towards Muckish; the other is that it would give me time to put all the lessons I learned into practice. And maybe we could change the world after all.’

Ar Dhéis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
All will be well!