25 March 2005
TAKE FIVE: The lives they led
BY Laurence McKeown
At Easter time we remember those who gave their lives in the struggle for the Republic; family members, close friends, neighbours, schoolmates, and others known to us only through song and text. Too often we interpret, “given their lives for the Republic”, as applying only to those who died in battle. We don’t immediately think of those who endured poverty, harassment, torture and imprisonment as they struggled for the vision of a better society and the impact their activism had upon their families, parents, partners and children. Leaving hardships aside, what too of the opportunities in life they denied themselves? The comforts and rewards that would have come easy to them had they applied their skills, commitment and dedication to the pursuit of more individualistically oriented goals. To turn an ideal into a reality requires conviction and carries a price tag. To move a struggle forward requires more than cheap talk.
The republicans convicted of the killing of Garda Gerry McCabe recently issued a statement apologising for his killing and stating that they no longer wished the issue of their release to be a stumbling block to future negotiations. It’s not that the men now think they are not entitled to release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. They believe that as much today as at any time in the past when they pursued numerous legal challenges to their continued incarceration. But for the overall good of the peace process, for progress, for the Republic, they are prepared to endure further years of imprisonment. They are to be commended in their selfless stance.
Maybe those who killed Robert McCartney will reflect on the actions of the prisoners in Castlerea and consider how they too could help further the cause that they signed up to? Did they ever ponder what sacrifices they might one day have to make? Or was being in the IRA more important in itself than the goal for which that organisation struggled?
Romanticism may well regard falling in combat on the battlefield as the only true manifestation of martyrdom, but it rarely happens that way.
It’s more about a daily slog, about hardships, anxieties, fears. It’s about taking harsh decisions in the cold light of day that you know will impact greatly upon you personally. It’s about giving up the personal for the collective.
When we think of our patriot dead it’s about the lives they led and the courage they displayed; not their deaths.
Laurence McKeown was a republican prisoner for 16 years in Long Kesh and spent 70 days on the 1981 hunger strike. He is the author of a doctoral thesis, the co-author of a feature film, H3 and two plays, The Laughter of Our Children and A Cold House. **He also wrote Out of Time - Irish Republican Prisoners Long Kesh 1972-2000.