Monday, June 28, 2021



My sister Frances died two weeks ago. She asked that I say a few words at her funeral. This is what I said:

Our mother had thirteen children. Three died shortly after they were born.  They were our Seán’s twin Brendan; and Seamus and David the other twins. Sixty years later our brother Liam died in February 2019.  On the day of his funeral big Eamonn, our Anne’s husband, also died. And now today we bury our wee sister Frances.

Death is part of the story of life. Is é seo ar sceal. Sibling grief is a very special grief. Brothers and sisters usually know each other for the whole of their lives. So during these sad days Margaret and Paddy and Anne and Seán and Maura and Deirdre and Dominic and me are reflecting no doubt, in our own ways, on childhood memories and all the good times and bad times of lives bound up together.

So too with brothers-in-law and sisters-in-laws. And Frances’ friends. Everyone will have special memories of her.

It’s also a time when our generation ponders on the reality of our own mortality. But this isn’t just about our generation. It’s especially about Frances’ own wee family. It’s about Patrick and Ciaran, Liam, Sinead, Maura and their spouses and children. It is about our Frances, their mammy and mamo. 

Frances had a hard life. Let there be no doubt about that. Some girls and other young people, have injustice heaped upon them in their formative years. It is to their great credit that many of them, like Frances, survive to grow into strong, loving, caring independent women.

When the British Army brought their war to Ballymurphy our house in Divismore Park, opposite the military base at Henry Taggart, was a particular target for them.  Following the internment swoops and at the time of the Ballymurphy Massacre, wee Maureen McGuinness and Colette helped our mother to evacuate the younger children from our home.

Frances was among them. She was sixteen. As they fled the British Paratroopers opened fire. When asked what she did Frances would smile and say; ‘I ran as fast as I could’.  

Our family never returned to 11 Divismore Park again. The Paras took over the house and wrecked it.

This was Frances’ introduction to decades of war, of house raids and arrests, prison visits, protests in support of the prisoners, and political campaigning. She marched and demonstrated for a lifetime with the rest of the risen women of Ballymurphy and Belfast.

 But she also found love. She and young Patrick Mulvenna were married on November 11 1972. She was widowed less than a year later. Patrick was an active IRA volunteer. Along with another freedom fighter, the legendary IRA warrior Jim Bryson, Patrick was killed when they were ambushed by Brits firing on them from a concealed position on 31 August 1973 in Ballymurphy.

Frances was pregnant. She gave birth to Patrick’s son, Patrick on what would have been their first wedding anniversary. As a young widow – a single parent with a baby son - Frances faced up to all the challenges life threw at her with fortitude and courage. I am sure she wasn’t always in a good place but she persisted. And she prevailed.

And she found love again. With another IRA volunteer Billy McAllister. From that union came Ciaran, Liam, Sinead and Maura. Patrick was outnumbered by McAllister’s but they all thrived together.  Later Billy and she separated but they remained good friends. He used to bring Frances her dinner. She loved his cabbage.Billy died in March 2019.

Eventually through all the hard years of the conflict, a few house shifts and the ongoing arrivals of grandchildren Frances moved into 34 Springhill Avenue. She always described it as her favourite home. 

Her children, adults now, have nothing but praise for her. I know all of us probably think our mammy is the best mammy we ever had. But Patrick, Ciaran, Liam, Sinead and Maura are certain about that. As long as you knew how far you could go. They all agreed that you couldn’t cross her. If you went too far the reprimand was accompanied with a stern reminder. ‘I’m your Mammy and don’t you forget it.’

She spoke her mind and tried to keep them on the straight and narrow.  But if this wee woman - and she was tiny – all four foot and eight inches of her; if she was a good Mammy she was a Super Dooper Granny. It was as if she wanted to ensure that whatever she lost out on in her youth, her grandchildren would be cherished and nurtured so that they might reach their full potential, whatever that might be.

She told her daughters that her aunts – the generation before us - were the really strong women. She drummed into them that they were the best role models. I am glad my favourite aunts Síle and Brenda are still with us. And aul Paddy and Mrs Mulvenna.

Frances was a quiet republican. She told her children she wanted to see a United Ireland. When she was in hospital she said she wanted to go to the Conway Mill Republican Museum when she got out and the new one in the Roddy’s when it was finished.

She suffered from ill health for years. But she always said everything was okay, even when it wasn’t. She believed in prayer and Jesus and his mother.

She told me she didn’t want to die. Did she have a premonition that she would not grow to be too old?  Who knows?  She insisted on Patrick bringing her to Milltown Cemetery in March to pick a grave and she went to the Credit Union to pay for it. She was very fussy about her last resting place and rejected the overtures of the man from Milltown a few times before picking her spot.

‘I don’t want to be looking at the motorway’ she told him. ‘I need to see the Mountain and the Republican Plot’.

Afterwards she told Patrick she was silly. The headstone would block her view.  She also sorted out her funeral arrangements with Healy’s. When Patrick queried all this she dismissed his concerns. Everything was ok she told him.

Each of her clann will remember her many acts of kindness and giving. All her children benefitted from her love. But for me her presence at Maura and Michael’s wedding just a few short weeks ago - when she discharged herself from hospital in pain and under pressure - was an act of unconditional maternal love and of her desire for her whole family to have a good and joyful day out together. She wanted everyone to have a happy memory.

Patrick and Brídín, Ciaran and Mary, Liam, Sinead and Manuel, Maura and Michael. Maura you were right to bring your wedding forward. Your mammy wanted her family to be happy. All of us.

I always told Frances that she is my favourite sister. She knew I tell all my sisters that. But she knew I was telling her the truth. I tell all my sisters that as well.

She was a loyal friend to Colette and she had a special bond from childhood with our brother Liam. And now she is gone. Ar slí an fhirrine. So I want to finish by talking to Frances’ grandchildren and great grandchildren.

To Padráic, Cliodhná, Deirbhile, Mairtín, Seánna, Kevin, Orlaith, Ciara, Tiernán, Meghan, Cori, Liam, Caitlín, Miceal, Gerry Óg, Kyla, Caelán, Oisin, Barra, Conchúr, Olivia and Maebh. And her three great grandchildren; Freyah, Zara and Sieanna.

I want to ask the older ones who knew their granny better than anyone else to tell your stories of her to the younger ones. The wee ones missed the life you shared with Frances. Tell them about her.

Tá aithne an mhaith agaibhse ar bhur mamo. Níl cuimhneadh ag na daoine óga uirthi. Cathfidh sibhse a bheith ag caint faoi leo.

Caithfidh sibhse  na scealtaí a rá. Agus na deanagaí dearmaid. Tá bhur saol nios fearr inniú mar throid Frances ar bhur son. So sin bhur obair a gar phaisti nios aoiste agus na sean daoine eile.

The young women here and the girls should know especially that the rights you enjoy today - your entitlements- came about because many, many working class women like Frances fought for you even before you were born by taking a stand in their own homes, on the streets, the prisons and the churches.  

My daughters had daughters as brave as were their mothers. And my fourth green field will bloom once again said she.

All these extraordinary ordinary wee women standing up for us all and for your future.

Bhi fhios acu, agus ní chainteoir mór í Frances no a lan do na mná eile, níor thug sí nó siad óraidí de gnáth. Ach bhí fhios aice agus acu gan Saoirse na mBán ní bheidh Saoirse na hÉireann. Agus ní bheidh.

This is one of Frances’ big days. I can see her smile at me saying that. It is the day we tell her slán. Even though we did not want her to die we give thanks that she passed quickly eased by the wonderful nurses and carers and medical workers.

Let’s set aside the angry times. The sad times. The hard times. Let’s remember the good times. The funny times. We think of our lovely Frances. Let us give thanks for her life. Go raibh maith agat sister. All of us are privileged to have loved you and to be loved by you.   Slán Francesco. x

210621: Boris is a Chancer: Nor Meekly Serve my time: The biggest Cuban Flag in the World

Boris is a Chancer

Last week was not a good week for Boris Johnson. Even before the weekend’s G7 summit began in Cornwall the news agenda was already dominated by reports that the US government had issued a démarche to the British in advance of President Biden’s arrival.

I must admit I had never heard of a démarche. During my years of negotiations with the Irish, British, US and other governments it was not a piece of diplomatic speak I had ever come across.  

Apparently it is a formal diplomatic note or memo which expresses the grave concern of one side about the behaviour of the other. It’s not something that one ally normally issues to another. It’s certainly not something that usually finds its way into the media. There is no precedent for the stern message of concern delivered by the US government to the British government about Britain’s Brexit policy, and its threat to the Irish Protocol and to the Good Friday Agreement. And it did find its way into the media.

Some media reports after the summit reported that US President Joe Biden had a “candid” conversation with Johnson. Jake Sullivan who is President Biden’s National Security Adviser said: “All I’m going to say: they did discuss this issue... The president naturally, and with deep sincerity, encouraged the Prime Minister to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the progress made under it. The specific beyond that I’m not going to get into.”

The G7 is made up of the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The EU is invited to participate as a guest as are a number of other guest states. This year’s meeting which was hosted by Boris Johnson had a wide-ranging agenda which covered everything from the pandemic, including the distribution of vaccines, to the climate change crisis and the upcoming UN summit on climate to be held later this year in Glasgow.

The summit was intended by Boris Johnson to be a showcase for Britain as it seeks to reassert its leadership as a global economic power. Instead it turned into a PR debacle with a succession of G7 leaders privately, and some publicly, suggesting that the British government’s policy approach to Brexit and the Irish Protocol is dishonest and untrustworthy.

To the annoyance of the British the media spotlight, especially the international media, turned time and time again to the British attitude to Ireland and the Protocol. One after another state and EU leaders questioned British sincerity and good faith.

In a tweet Ursula von der Leyen the President of the EU Commission wrote: “The Good Friday Agreement and peace on the island of Ireland are paramount. We negotiated a Protocol that preserves this, signed and ratified by Britain and the EU. We want the best possible relations with the UK. Both sides must implement what was agreed on. There is complete EU unity on this.” Michel Barnier who negotiated the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol for the EU put it more succinctly: “I expect him (Johnson) to respect his own signature.”

British Ministers tried to shift the focus and to put the blame back onto the EU accusing it of being belligerent and inflexible.

However, Johnson was repeatedly reminded in media reports that he had lied when he claimed that the Protocol would require no checks in the Irish Sea. He was reminded also that his government tried to pass a law in the British Parliament last year that would have opened the way for his government to unilaterally tear up an international agreement.

Elements of the British media were especially critical. An editorial in the Observer said: The prime minister’s dishonest diplomacy and willingness to jeopardise Northern Ireland’s stability for Brexit will greatly diminish Britain’s role in the world.”

The threat by the British to unilaterally extend the 30 June ‘grace periods’ that delay the introduction of some border checks has also angered the EU. The so-called ‘sausage war’ and the bizarre image of a stern faced Sammy Wilson defiantly standing in front of an ‘Ulster is British’ poster holding a handful of British sausages, was a surreal moment in the midst of the current crisis.

This reflects the failure of the British government to negotiate and agree a mechanism to allow for the shipment of chilled meats between Britain and the North. Some unionist politicians have been moved to make the bogus and outrageous claim that the EU is intent on starving the people of the North.

The fact is that Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol were all negotiated by Boris Johnson and his government, supported by the DUP. They were warned repeatedly of the significant economic and political risks they were taking but chose to ignore these.

In a scathing criticism the Johnson government a former British Ambassador to the USA and the EU, Nigel Sheinwald, warned: “There is no point in writing new Atlantic charters which depend on mutual trust, mutual confidence and the rule of law, when you are operating as chancers.”

Instead of trying to calm the situation the British chose to up the ante. Dominic Raab the British Foreign Secretary accused the EU of being “bloody minded” and “purist.” Johnson threatened to suspend the Protocol and invoke Article 16 which allows for either side to take unilateral action in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

The British tried to drag the verbal row into an argument over sovereignty by wrongly claiming that French President Macron had suggested that the North is a different country. A claim he did not make.

Finally, the decision by Edwin Poots to send President Macron a copy of the Good Friday Agreement deserves a special mention. This is the same Poots who said: “The DUP campaigned against the GFA, it consistently opposed and never signed it or signed up for it.”


Nor Meekly Serve my time

“They were real, they were young, they were full of life. They were like anyone else. They were like you. The prison robbed them of their lives; we should never compound that by only recalling their deaths. The accounts from their friends and comrades that you are about to read, breathe life into them and make them real. You will enter their world and form an impression of them. You will get to know them a little.”

Those words, referring to the young men who died on hunger strike in 1981, were written by former IRA prisoner and hunger striker, Laurence McKeown, in his introduction to the recently reprinted 40th anniversary edition of the book he previously co-edited with Brian Campbell and Felim O’Hagan, Nor Meekly Serve My Time: The H-Block Struggle 1976-1981.

The book, containing accounts from 28 former blanketmen, was compiled clandestinely in the H-Blocks over 30 years ago to mark the approaching 10th anniversary of the hunger strike. It was written by prisoners whose memories of those protest years remained very fresh. Some were still in prison from the time of the protest; others had been released only to be re-imprisoned again at a later date. All of them could vividly recall their experiences of those years of protest, and for some, the last moments they spent with one or other of those who died on hunger strike. Sometimes it was a few words shared, a hug, or just a smile or a brief glance. No words necessary or no words adequate.

I recall reading the book when it was first published in 1994. On one page I found myself laughing out loud at some prank or other that a blanketman had played on a comrade, only to turn the next page and be openly moved to tears with some poignant recollection revealed – perhaps the death of a parent or sibling and being refused parole, or someone writing about those last moments shared with a hunger striker. And throughout the book the accounts of beatings; forced washes, mirror searches, wing shifts, and the casual daily brutality that went on day in day out, week in week out, for almost five years.

But this is not a book filled with despair; quite the opposite. What you are left with is a sense of camaraderie that is sometimes difficult to comprehend, so intense is it, and, throughout, a sense of hope. The human spirit rising above adversity.

It’s a story about young men. Like the story of their women comrades in Armagh jail they were determined that they would not be criminalised and nor would they allow the struggle they were involved in to be criminalised.

I’m delighted to see the book re-printed and I encourage everyone to take some time out during this, the 40th anniversary year, to read it. Its strength lies in its openness;  its value rests in its humanity.

‘Nor Meekly Serve My Time’ – The H-Block Struggle 1976-1981 is published by Beyond the Pale Books

It is available also at


The biggest Cuban Flag in the World

Well done to Cuba Solidarity Forum Ireland, Gael Force Art, and others, including Chris Hazzard MP (who helped carry it up the mountain) - who last week erected the largest Cuban Flag in the world on the Black Mountain. The flag, which is 150 by 75 feet in size was accompanied by the hashtag #UnblockCuba. The initiative was taken as part of the campaign to win support at the United Nations for the lifting of the US led blockade which has been in place since 1962.

Next week the UN General Assembly will vote on this important issue. In annual votes since 1992 the General Assembly has voted for an end to the blockade. In the last vote in November 2019 187 of the 192 member countries voted to end the blockade.

So well done to all of those who took part in the Black Mountain initiative, #UnblockCuba


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Dublin City Council vote to protect Moore St: A fine day, thank God: Frederick Douglass

Master Plan for Moore Street Unveiled

Most readers know that Moore Street in Dublin City Centre holds a special place in the history of Ireland. It was in Moore Street and the surrounding streets and laneways and at the nearby GPO that a fierce battle was fought between the 1916 republican forces and the British Army. Number 16 Moore Street was where five of the seven signatories of the Proclamation held their last meeting before the surrender. The National Museum of Ireland has described Moore Street as “the most important historic site in modern Irish history.”

Regrettably not everyone sees it that way. In the late 1990s the Moore Street terrace was scheduled for demolition. Later a developer Chartered Lands produced a plan that would have destroyed much of the site. An alliance of relatives of the signatories, of those who fought in 1916, republicans and a range of other groups and individuals commenced a campaign to save Moore St.

Their dedication to the development of the site as a cultural and historic quarter in which the 1916 buildings and streetscape would be preserved for future generations was matched by the determination of successive Irish governments to hand most of the land over to private developers for profit.

I have visited historic landmarks in other places. Robben Island in South Africa was an infamous prison where ANC and other political prisoners were held for decades under the most cruel regime. It is now a World Heritage Site. In Europe the battlegrounds of former wars are protected and the cemeteries of their dead protected and cared for. The same in the USA. I visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution where debated and adopted. The building is a UNESCO site and is cherished.

But in Dublin we have Irish governments with no sense of the history of their own land, no imagination, no sense of history and no vision for the future.  Only four houses -14-17 Moore Street – were adopted by the Irish government in 2007 for preservation as a national monument. 14 years later and no work has been carried out. The buildings remain derelict and sealed off from the public.

In the meantime another developer – Hammerson – has been trying to achieve what Chartered Land failed at.

The public campaign to preserve Moore Street and the 1916 battlefield site entered a new phase last week with the publication by the Moore Street Preservation Trust and the Relatives of the 1916 Signatories of their preliminary plan for the area. The plan was published several days after the British-based property company Hammerson also announced that it had submitted the first three of six planning applications it intends lodging which cover the Dublin Central site.

In an initial response to the Hammerson plan James Connolly Heron, great-grandson of James Connolly, and spokesperson for the Moore Street Preservation Trust criticised the Hammerson plan has falling far short of what the site needs.

Connolly Heron was especially critical of the extraordinary intervention by An Taoiseach Mícheál Martin who provided an endorsement to Hammerson which they carried in the media announcement of their proposal.

Uachtarán Shinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald challenged the Taoiseach on this in the Dáil. She said: We now have the disgraceful situation where we have a Government that ... supports a plan to turn one of the most significant sites in modern Irish history over to a private developer. Shame on the Government for taking that stance.”

Last Thursday the Moore Street Preservation Trust and the Relatives of the Signatories published a preliminary copy of their Moore Street Master plan. Commissioned by the Moore Street Preservation Trust and devised by leading architects Fuinneamh Workshop Cork and Kelly and Cogan Dublin.

The Master plan presents an imaginative and realistic way forward for an area neglected for generations. The 1916 terrace will be restored and the ground floor shops let with over shop living facilitated. Existing ancillary buildings at the rear of the terrace will be converted for retail, cafe/restaurant use. New builds within the block will provide 45 units in mews and loft style developments, a theatre space and public meeting hall. Incubator retail units and workshops will be woven into the ground floor of these developments.

The terrace gardens will be exposed and restored for public use and the centuries old street market trading tradition, long in decline will be retained and enhanced with the re-opening of all pitches and the provision of storage and wash room facilities for the traders.

The Moore Street Master plan conforms to the recommendations of the Ministers Advisory Group on Moore Street 2021 and the Lord Mayors Forum   2021. It also has the support of a wide range of individuals and groups including, The Easter 16 - Relatives of the 16 executed leaders; the GPO Garrison Relatives; Sinn Fein; People Before Profit; the Green Party, as well as well known writers, historians, artists and actors including Adrian Dunbar; Tim Pat Coogan; Damian Dempsey; Frances Black; Christy Moore; Ruan O Donnell; Paul Ronan; Saoirse Ronan; Fionnula Flanagan; Robert Ballagh and Jim Fitzpatrick.

So, if you want to preserve Moore Street and the laneways of history go to and join the battle to preserve Moore St.

Finally, a little postscript:

Dublin City Council passed an emergency motion on Monday evening this week adding the terrace (10-25 Moore Street) to the list of protected structures. These are the building occupied by the Volunteers who evacuated the GPO at the end of Easter Week 1916 and where the last meeting of the Leaders occurred.

The motion was proposed by Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha and was supported unanimously at the Council’s June monthly meeting. This is a hugely significant decision by the Council at a time when some of the buildings are under threat of demolition in a development plan proposed by property developer Hammerson. This vote begins the process of assessment towards listing them and as such they are now legally protected.



A fine day, thank God.

This column is launching a Celebrate the Good Weather While it Lasts  campaign. The CTGWWIL will endeavour to get people to express unconditional delight about whatever weather we have. Down with glum assessments about our clime and that sort of thing.

Maybe its an Irish thing. Maybe not. Maybe other people are also obsessed by the weather. Or maybe not. We Irish  all the time converse about what lies in store for us weather wise, sometimes quothing TV weather forecasters as if they were ancient prophets.

And we are usually pessimestic. Why do we describe a rainy day as a bad day? Why when the day is sunny do we warn all and sundry that it wont last?

Some will even remark; Well thats our summer over after a few hours of sunshine.

When I say to anyone Its a fine day they invarabley respond with Aye ..... but there’s rain on the way!

Nine times  out of ten that,  or a variation of it, is the reaction. Its like they are wishing the sun away.

And it affects unionists as well as the rest of us. Dark clouds are non party political. Many a time even the most sunny cheerful DUP representative has greeted my Good morning. Isnt the weather great? with a Aye but its going to break later this afternoon.

Thats something else that we have in common.

Ive got to thinking that maybe people dont even reflect on what they are saying. Its almost an automatic response. It doesnt help that sunshine in Ireland seldom endures. Little wonder we have  a lot of  Irish  words and phrases  for rain. But rememberwithout the rain our island would not be an Emerald Isle. But you would think we should appreciate the sun all the more when it does visit us?

So lets give thanks for the weather we have. Especially these days when the sun brightens up everything.

I remember talking to a friend of mine who did time in prison in France. He also did time in prison here. He was very unlucky.

What was the difference between doing time in Ireland and doing time in France? I asked him one day.

He reflected for a wee while before answering. Then finally and thoughtfully he said.

Nobody in jail in France talked about the weather.

I rest my case. Up The CTGWWIL!


Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was an escaped slave who travelled from the USA to Ireland in 1845. Douglass toured Ireland speaking about slavery and telling of his experience. Douglass gave his first Irish lecture in Dublin in September 1845. Over the following months he travelled to Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Belfast. He returned to Belfast another four times.

Ireland was in his own word “transformative” for Douglass. He said of his time here that he had become a man, rather than a chattel. He also came to see the issue of slavery not in isolation but as part of a wider campaign for equality and social justice.

Professor Christine Kinealy is the foremost expert on Douglass and especially on his time in Ireland. Professor Kinealy is the Director of Ireland's Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University and in 2018 produced the definitive account of Douglass’s time in Ireland taken from his own letters: Frederick Douglass and Ireland
In His Own Words.

Most recently she has finished work on a walking map – Frederick Douglass Way, Dublin 1845 – 1846. She is currently working on a Belfast walking map which identifies many of the locations where Douglass addressed Belfast citizens.
Among the places identified are:

·        Grave of Mary Ann McCracken  -  Clifton Street Cemetery - abolitionist and humanitarian – founder of Belfast Auxiliary Female Anti-Slavery Society 

·        Lancasterian School Room, 42 Frederick St. Façade remains of Quaker house -  Frederick lectured on temperance  

·        Cathedral Quarter: Independent Meeting House – Donegall Street – first and final (6 October 1846) lecture. Now Redeemer Central  

·        Victoria Hotel (formerly, Royal Temperance Hotel), 12 Waring Street – Frederick stayed here 

·        Rosemary Street – First Presbyterian Church – Frederick lectured to ‘a large audience’ 

Douglass’s close association with Belfast should be a matter of great public pride. This map will be an important addition to his story. Plans are also advancing to erect a statue to him.

Dublin City Council Commemorations Committee has agreed to erect a plaque to Frederick Douglass.  It will be on the Irish Film Institute, Eustace St, where Douglass spoke when it was the Society of Friends Meeting House.

It was chosen from the Dublin venues which he spoke in because of the central role the Friends played in his tour. The building next door - the current Friends meeting house - has a plaque to the Dublin United Irishmen who met there when it was the Eagle Tavern. The Douglass Plaque should be unveiled sometime this summer. The proposal to take this initiative was put by Sinn Féin Councillor Micheál MacDonncha. This column will share details as soon as they are available.