18 Bealtaine 2009.
This blog believes that every day brings its own challenges and possibilities and opportunities. That’s what makes life so interesting. The trick is to live every day as if it was your last day. And to live every day as a beginning. In other words to begin again. Every day.
I didn’t intend to write all that. It just flowed into the computer. I suppose its big Marshall’s fault. Marshall has just died. He is a friend of mine. We were internees in Long Kesh together. He died of cancer in the early hours of Sunday morning. The problem is that a lot of my friends are dying. Big Duice fell to cancer a month ago. Cormac before that. And Siobhán. And Cleaky. Seando is battling away like a good un. And Moke. And Jeff.
Most of these comrades have two things in common. They are all relatively young. Mid fifties to sixty-ish. Except for Siobhán, all of them are former Long Kesh prisoners. Siobhan was in Armagh Women’s Prison.
Marshall is about the same age as me. Maybe, a year older. He is one of the good guys. In Long Kesh a bunch of us tried to escape a couple of times. A lot of the time we had to abandon our plans. Sometimes in the most hilarious circumstances.
Marshall and me were the world's most unsuccessful escapees. We tried digging tunnels. Cutting the wire. Disguising ourselves. Of course we weren’t on our own. We were part of that very honourable penal tradition that gave the world Papillion and Larry Marley and other great escape merchants.
Marshall and I were caught together once. In the early hours of Christmas Day. Four of us cut our way out of Cage Six and were slowly slicing our merry way through a forest of razor wire towards freedom when the alarm went up. We got extra time for our trouble.
Todler, who is also dead, always said that it was Marshall who gave us away. Marshall had a little bald spot at the back of his head. He was very conscious of this. Todler said that the search lights on the prison wall reflected off Marshall’s bald spot and alerted the prison regime that something was afoot. Marshall denies this of course.
I think Todler was right.
The fact is that Marshall was spotted first. He, and we, were hugging the ground in single file, crawling away from Cage Six. When Marshall was spotted he jumped up from where he was, in an effort to distract attention from the rest of us.
‘Ho, ho, ho’ he bellowed at the surprised prison warders. ‘Ho, ho, ho. Happy Christmas’.
He then started to walk away from where we were lying, undetected. Of course he didn’t get very far. Sirens screamed. Search lights arced and punctured the Christmas darkness. Flairs lit up the Long Kesh sky line.
British soldiers and prison officers sped up and down watchtowers and walkways, shouting and swearing as Marshall continued with his Daddy Christmas routine.
‘Good King Wenceslas last looked out on the feast of Stephen ….’ he crooned.
The screws were not amused. Especially when, eventually, the rest of us joined Marshall. They didn’t take kindly to our Christmas carolling. You couldn’t blame them. Anyway the long and the short of it was we spent the festive season in the punishment block. Ach is é sin scéal eile. That’s another story.
Marshall was also there when Long Kesh was burned down. Big boys made us do it. To be fair it wasn’t just me and Marshall. All the political prisoners played their part, internees and sentenced prisoners, alike.
During that episode the British army pumped CR gas into the prison camp. Many of us were familiar with CS gas but CR gas is even worse. I felt as if I was drowning when it was fired at me and Todler. It was like my lungs were filling up with water.
Jim McCann, one of the prisoners at that time, has been campaigning on that issue. According to his research 12 per cent to 15 per cent of the prisoners affected in the camp have since contracted various forms of cancer, including leukaemia and other lung diseases.
Big Marshall was in the thick of all that. Maybe there is no connection between his death from cancer and the deaths of our other friends and I certainly don’t want to be upsetting any of their families. Especially Marshall’s clann, at this sad time. But I do know that Marshall was concerned about the CR gas and his illness. He said so recently.
This blog will return to the CR gas issue later this week. For now it is time to grieve for Marshall and to celebrate his life. He was a man who cared deeply about Ireland. About his community. About his family. To them all goes our sympathy and condolences. To his wife Ann,their children Conor and Laura. To the Kearney family, a sound republican clann who suffered greviously during the conflict and to Linda, Ann, Marshall and Ciara and their mother, Maureen and to the wider family circle.
Tá Marshall ar slí na fírinne anois. Go ndéanaidh Dia trócaire air.