Brendan Hughes is laid to rest

Thousands line the street to bid ‘The Dark’ a fond farewell

By Ciarán Barnes
22 February 2008

More than 2,000 mourners lined the streets of West Belfast on Tuesday for the funeral of IRA hunger striker Brendan Hughes.

The 59-year-old’s coffin, which was draped in a tricolour and had black gloves and a beret on top, was carried by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.
The former IRA leader was cremated at Roselawn Cemetery after funeral Mass at St Peter’s Cathedral.
Fr Brendan Smyth, who conducted the service, said Brendan’s hunger strike in 1980 had taken a huge physical and mental toll.

Hunger striker

“His life after that time could not outrun or forget all that had happened to him and the many like him,” he said.
The first hunger strike was called off after 53 days, with IRA volunteer Sean McKenna on the verge of death.
Fr Smyth told mourners Brendan made a “brave decision” in ending the protest.
He added: “We know that when someone has the courage to do the right thing, then nothing but good can come from it, and we know of at least one person whose life was immediately saved for him having taken that courageous decision.”
Brendan joined the IRA in 1969.
He was arrested in the early 1970s along with Gerry Adams and Tom Cahill and sent to Long Kesh.


He escaped shortly afterwards in a rolled-up mattress but was eventually re-arrested.
In January 1978 he was transferred to the H-Blocks where he became the IRA’s Officer Commanding and led first the hunger strike against prison conditions.
Bobby Sands, a close friend of ‘The Dark’, took over from him as OC in Long Kesh.
Bobby Sands ordered the second hunger strike in 1981 in which he and nine other inmates died.
Brendan never fully recovered from his hunger strike ordeal and two years ago underwent an operation to save his sight.
Although a staunch critic of Sinn Féin in his later years, he remained hugely respected by supporters of the party.

An Unrepentant Fenian

Martin Galvin • 24 February 2008

Radio Free Eireann, New York’s influential Irish radio program, begins each week with a song that shouts the words “unrepentant Fenian”. Once the description “unrepentant” Fenian or “unrepentant” Republican puzzled me. Repentance denotes regret and a contrite turning away from some misdeed or wrongdoing. Fenianism or Republicanism I took to be a virtue or accolade, synonyms for Irish patriotism. No one speaks of a repentant patriot. Why should a Republican or Fenian ever be repentant and why would it ever be noteworthy to single out a Republican for being unrepentant?

Brendan Hughes surely lived and died as an unrepentant Republican. He could have no more repented or disowned or denied his part in the IRA’s fight against British rule, than he could repent being Irish or disown Belfast or disavow the legitimacy of the Irish struggle by donning a British criminal uniform in the H-blocks of Long Kesh.

The very suggestion that he repent, disown or even mitigate his part in the struggle to make himself more politically palatable to the British crown or a Paisley led Stormont would have been met with that sly mischievous smile, perhaps a chuckle and an instruction to ”cop yourself on.”

Like countless others, I knew of him long before I would meet him. Like a Jim Lynagh, or Pete Ryan or Francis Hughes among so many others, Brendan Hughes was one of those volunteer IRA soldiers whose courage and determination seemed to overflow into those alongside them, somehow instilling confidence that the overwhelming military advantages held by British crown forces would someone be neutralized or overcome because he was there.

It was perhaps most characteristic of him that when he escaped from a British prison he did so not to gain freedom and safety in the south or even a respite, but to get back to the fight within days.

In the H-blocks he had the unenviable, if not near impossible task of rallying the H-block blanketmen, keeping up their spirits and morale in the daily fight against British criminalization while exercising the restraint and patience required by the Republican movement, to build a campaign and network of support in Ireland and beyond.

He was instrumental in the campaign which would eventually inspire countless thousands across Ireland and around the globe to rally behind the blanketmen against Thatcher’s brutal torture.

When all attempts at a political resolution, including that by Cardinal O’Fiaich were dismissed by Thatcher, and the ultimate protest, hunger strike, was forced upon Republican political prisoners, Brendan Hughes volunteered to lead. While himself suffering 53 days of hunger strike after having undergone years of protest the decision fell upon him to end the first hunger strike when it seemed that the British had ceded an honorable resolution in time to save the life of Sean McKenna. We would then see Thatcher renege and choose the tactics which would mean the death of ten hunger strike martyrs, in her vain effort to break the struggle by breaking the prisoners.

Twenty years ago after his release from Long Kesh, Brendan volunteered to come to the United States to collect funds on behalf of the Republican Movement. It was not an assignment he relished, but one that was important to the struggle. He would begin meetings candidly by explaining he was not there to seek monies for Irish Northern Aid or the families of political prisoners or for Sinn Fein.

He threw himself into the tour, patiently and diplomatically meeting small groups answering questions and explaining strategy. He worked with patience, determination and some humor and succeeded nearly doubling his original goal. Years later it would be speculated that he was perhaps too successful. Denis Donaldson would be sent to New York the next year and someone would quip that agent Donaldson was Britain’s answer to Brendan’s success.

In those days, the British trumpeted the propaganda fiction that the IRA fight was continuing not due to the injustice of British rule but because so-called godfathers were profiting from the war. Anyone who ever visited Brendan Hughes would see this claim for the lie that it was, as he clearly never profited, benefited or was enriched by a struggle in which he long played a leading role.

Later, he would come to disagree with the deal that would barter away acceptance of British rule with a unionist veto, in exchange for power, places and patronage within Stormont. How easy it would have been for him to keep silent, and simply continue to enjoy, the esteem, camaraderie and job opportunities, to which his part in the struggle more than entitled him. Instead the same beliefs which brought him out on the streets of Belfast to join the struggle against the forces of the British crown led him to decide that loyalty to the struggle now demanded him to speak against the deal, and direction in which the Movement was headed.

His positions are public and in most cases show him taking a stand to defend others. He spoke out for a Republican debate on a political alternative to Stormont .He supported the demands of Republican prisoners at Maghaberry for segregation which was now being used by the British in place of a prison uniform as a new tactic of imposing criminalization. He urged against a Republican feud after the murder of Joseph O’Connor. He spoke for support for former Republican prisoners whose time in British jails had taken huge physical, mental and financial tolls. He expressed deep fears that the movement which could not be broken by British repression was being co-opted by power, privilege and profits within a British regime. Most recently he was to the forefront in opposing any Republican backing of the RUC-PSNI, which he saw as an endorsement of British rule, criminalization and repression, a force whose members had murdered, tortured and jailed Republicans.

His arguments were seldom answered on the merits but sidestepped with fanciful claims that Brendan was affected by the hunger strike or his years of imprisonment. The worst and most hurtful of these was the slander that he was against the leadership on a personal basis. This was a movement led by some with whom he had fought alongside, been imprisoned and risked his life. The idea of speaking against these leaders must have been heartbreaking for him and harder in some ways than than refusing the crown uniform in Long Kesh. Such slanders were created to enable others to rationalize themselves to themselves without dealing with the truth behind his words.

In remembering this unrepentant Fenian there are no better words than something he, himself wrote for THE BLANKET, about a relative named Charlie Hughes, who had given his life in the struggle and whose memory Brendan said inspired and sustained him while on hunger strike:

“He lies in the plot of the brave from where his inspiration reaches out to touch those of us who had the honour of knowing him.”


A life dedicated to the IRA and a broken heart

By Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune
February 24, 2008
**Via Newshound

From his flat high in Divis Tower on the Falls Road, Brendan Hughes looked down on the city he bombed. He pointed to a car hire firm, owned by a wealthy unionist businessman in the 1970s, and one of the IRA's prime commercial targets.

"We bombed that place so many times, yet he kept re-opening it. I respected him for not giving up," said Hughes. In the end, Hughes' heart was broken by the belief that the leadership of the movement he served for three decades had given up the goals he still cherished.

Visiting the former Belfast Brigade OC in the tiny, threadbare flat where he spent his last years was always an emotional experience. The war, and the peace, had left him with indelible physical and mental scars. A slight figure in a Che Guevara t-shirt, he chain-smoked and drank to ease the pain of what he called "the sell-out", but it never really worked.

As I'd leave his flat, he'd hand me pages of thoughts he'd scribbled down on Sinn Féin, poverty in republican areas, the Middle East conflict, and Catholic Church child abuse scandals. An atheist, he wanted the Church – not the IRA – disbanded.

Nicknamed 'the Dark', Hughes had been a ruthlessly committed paramilitary. His gun battles with the British entered republican folklore. Yet he was a complex man, displaying a compassion often missing in republican ranks.

Once, he'd a chance to kill a young British soldier in Leeson Street. The terrified soldier cried for his mother: "I stood over him with a .45 aimed at his head. I could have pulled the trigger and sent him to eternity. But morally and emotionally, I wasn't able to end his life. He was a mere child, so frightened."

Later, Hughes was haunted by the faces of IRA colleagues whom, he believed, had died for nothing. He'd spend days crying in his flat. A photo hung on the wall of Hughes in Long Kesh, with his best friend, Gerry Adams, arms around each other. "I loved him. I'd have taken a bullet for Gerry. I probably should have put one in him," Hughes said.

He accused the leadership of abandoning republicanism for "personal power" and said the GFA (Good Friday Agreement) stood for 'got f**k all'. He'd developed left-wing politics as a teenage merchant seaman. Entering African ports, he was appalled by the poverty he saw. He gave boxes of the ship's supplies to locals.

He joined the IRA in 1969 and was jailed in 1973. He soon escaped, rented a house in the affluent Malone Road, dyed his hair, and donned a suit and tie. He became businessman Arthur McAllister, travelling around Belfast in disguise, coordinating the IRA campaign.

Eventually, his cover was blown. He spent 13 years in jail and 53 days on hunger-strike. On release, he rejoined the IRA. He worked for internal security but became suspicious of the 'department' which, it has since been revealed, included high-placed British agents.

His first clash with the leadership came when he complained of the £20 a day wages paid to ex-prisoners by a large west Belfast building contractor. An Official IRA member, shocked to see 'the Dark' carrying bricks and sweating in a ditch for a pittance, was told by the boss: "He's cheaper than a digger."

When Hughes tried to organise a strike, he was offered £25 a day on condition he not tell the others. "I told (the boss) to stick it up his arse and I never went back. I wrote an article about if for Republican News but it was censored."

His wife had become involved with another man when he was in jail. Other prisoners urged him to give her a hard time. Hughes apologised to her for "always having put the movement first", and told her to be happy.

While others of his rank secured holiday homes and businesses after the IRA ceasefire, Hughes survived on disability allowance. Just last month, he was left without heating until another ex-prisoner lent him an electric fire.

He craved solitude, visiting the pub in the quiet of early afternoon, and coming home to watch Channel Four's 'Deal or No Deal'. Prison had left him with arthritis. He was prone to chest infections and started to go blind. He didn't eat well and neglected to take his medication. Political disillusionment had weakened his will to live.

In 1995, he was approached by army council member, Brian Keenan, who expressed discontentment with Adams and McGuinness and asked for help in devising a new military strategy. Hughes was interested but thought it a false approach to have him reveal his hand.

While he remained against the peace process, he came to believe all opposition should be peaceful and 'armed struggle' was pointless. Despite his militancy, Hughes' outlook wasn't narrow. He was chuffed when, years after jail, a Protestant prison officer tracked him to Divis. They went for a drink.

Two years ago, he visited Cuba to see the Sierra Maestra where Che had fought. He loved the locals and was angry the authorities barred them from hotels reserved for Westerners. In solidarity, he refused to enter.

He died, aged 59, after total organ failure. His ashes will be scattered on the Cooley Mountains, his parents' grave, and the Falls Road IRA garden of remembrance. The last of the writings he gave me conveyed his inner torment: "I go to bed in pain, I wake in the middle of the night in pain, I get up in pain. What the f**k was it all about?"


This article appeared in the February 24, 2008 edition of the Sunday Tribune.


Tributes paid as mother of republican hunger striker dies

Irish News
Wednesday 20/02/08

Tributes have been paid to Margaret Hughes, mother of Co Derry hunger striker Francis Hughes, who died yesterday after a two-year illness.

Margaret Hughes nee McElwee (94) died at home comforted by her family.

She is survived by her husband Joe, who is aged 99.

"On behalf of the Sinn Fein leadership I would like to extend my deepest condolences to Maggie's husband Joe and large family circle at this difficult time," Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister, said.

Another son, Oliver, an independent republican councillor in Magherafelt, said that while Mrs Hughes had been very sad that Francis had died on hunger strike, she was intensely proud of him. In the last years of her life she took great comfort from praying for him and from the belief that he was watching over her, Mr Hughes said.

Francis Hughes was involved in the 1980 mass hunger strike before becoming the second prisoner, after Bobby Sands, to go on hunger strike the following year.

Mr Hughes died after 59 days without food. His cousin Tom McElwee also took part in the protest and was the ninth hunger striker to die.

Boston renamed the street in which the British consulate in the city is located as Francis Hughes Street.

Mrs Hughes's funeral will leave the family home at 6 Scribe Road, Bellaghy, tomorrow at 10.15 for Requiem Mass and burial at St Mary's, Bellaghy.

Thousands attend funeral of IRA prison commander

Irish News
By Rebecca Black and Allison Morris
Wednesday 20/02/08

Thousands of mourners from all over Ireland and beyond travelled to Belfast yesterday for the funeral of veteran republican Brendan Hughes (59) who died on Saturday after a short illness.

LAST RESPECTS: Sinn Fein councillor Fra McCann and party president Gerry Adams help carry the coffin of veteran republican Brendan Hughes from St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast yesterday. Mourners lined streets along the route taken by the cortege in the lower Falls area PICTURE: Hugh Russell

Former 'officer commanding' (OC) of the IRA prisoners in the Long Kesh internment camp and later the H-blocks of the Maze prison, Mr Hughes, known as 'The Dark', had suffered from ill-health for a number of years.

Much of this was put down to physical damage caused by 53 days without food during the first republican hun-ger strike in 1980.

The coffin, draped in a Tricolour with the IRA trappings of black beret and gloves, was taken from his sister Moya's home at Grosvenor Road to St Peter's Cathedral in the lower Falls area of west Belfast.

The cortege was led by Mr Hughes's two children, Jose-phine and Brendan.

Released from prison in 1986, Mr Hughes was later to become an outspoken critic of Sinn Fein and the political direction taken by his former comrades.

Despite this, party president Gerry Adams, who was imprisoned in Long Kesh in the 1970s with Mr Hughes, was in attendance and helped carry the coffin.

Around 2,500 people filled St Peter's and nearby streets, overshadowed by Divis tower, where Mr Hughes lived.

Among the mourners were Brendan 'Bik' McFarland who took over as IRA OC during the second hunger strike in 1981, senior republican Bob-by Storey and Sinn Fein director of publicity during the jail protests Danny Morrison.

The funeral brought to-gether republicans of all shades of green, keen to show their respects to a man who once topped the British government's most-wanted list.

Fr Brendan Smyth told mourners how there were rumours that Mr Hughes had left prison with only the clothes on his back.

"That is not to say he left empty-handed - there was the baggage that he carried with him that nobody could see," Fr Smyth said.

"The mental scars that came with his imprisonment and the treatment he re-ceived, the nightmares that would haunt him for the rest of his life and the untold physical damage inflicted on his body that would plague him in later years."

Mgr Thomas Toner, who had been a chaplain at the Maze during the protests, was among the congregation.

Following Requiem Mass the coffin was carried through the lower Falls, where mourners lined the route, before making its way to Roselawn Cemetery for cremation.


Day that a door opened briefly into 'The Dark'

Belfast Telegraph
Thursday 21, February 2008

Working in Belfast during forging of the Good Friday agreement and the tense implementation years that followed, making sense of the peace process often necessitated talking to former paramilitaries on both sides.

So when Brendan Hughes, a revered IRA icon to many Irish-Americans, went public with criticisms of Sinn Fein's peace strategy in early 2000, I immediately sought an interview.

I'd read about the ruthless IRA operative, the mattress-roll escapee and the 1980 republican hunger strike leader. So I half expected a massive ego to greet me when I arrived at former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre's Ballymurphy home to interview him.

However, Hughes was totally without airs. He answered all questions, including pointed queries as to the plausibility of his alternatives to Sinn Fein's strategy.

He said that he'd long held reservations about the peace process but had remained quiet out of "loyalty to the republican leadership".

Hughes said that when he joined the Provisional IRA in the early 70s, " there was a simplicity about it - that we would fight the Brits and force them down Belfast Lough and out."

When that didn't happen, he later became an ardent supporter of the radicalisation of the republican movement that evolved from mid-70s debates among Long Kesh internees.

"Our whole philosophy within the prison was to bring about a 32-county, democratic socialist republic," he said.

"And that's mainly my objection now, and my concerns with the republican movement: that it is developing into a purely middle-class movement, that it has dropped the 32-county democratic socialist republican principles."

Hughes believed that most American supporters never grasped the republican movement's late-70s leftward shift. After being released from the Maze, he was sent on a fundraising trip to US in the late 1980s, where he said he was shocked at how conservative many supporters in groups like Irish Northern Aid (NORAID) were.

"I remember sitting in a hotel room with a bunch of these guys, and they were all pretty well-off," he said.

"There was a briefcase with the money in it on the table. And they were banging the table. This guy, what did he call himself - the 'OC of the Irish-American Republican Army' - was banging the table demanding that I shoot the Queen, that we shoot postmen, that we shoot anyone with the crown on their caps."

Hughes believed the peace process back home had involved similar republican efforts to court moderates and conservatives, and that that strategy had taken the movement into a cul-de-sac, and far from a united Ireland.

Of Gerry Adams, often pegged as a chief architect of that strategy, he said: "Nobody works harder in this movement than Gerry. And I have great admiration for him in that regards. And he's my friend, my comrade."

But, he added, a flood of British peace money had left many republicans " making a living out of politics here now, and people who are in a position of power and influence. And it becomes enjoyable ... (but) a lot of people are left behind, a lot of the ordinary working republicans are left behind."

Hughes insisted that only "open debate and open criticism" could save republicanism.

"The leadership has to allow itself to be open to criticism from people like me - not negative criticism, positive criticism," he said.


Adams carries Hughes' coffin


Brendan `The Dark` Hughes, once one of Belfast`s most feared IRA gunmen, died at the weekend after a short illness aged 59.

Crowds swelled to more than 2,000 as his coffin - draped in the Irish Tricolour and topped with black beret and gloves, was carried from his home in west Belfast to St Peter`s Catholic Cathedral in the Divis Street area of the city.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams today carried the coffin of a former IRA hunger striker who fell out with the party over the peace process.

Hughes spent 53 days on hunger strike in the top security Maze Prison in 1980 and fellow faster Raymond McCartney , who is now a Sinn Fein Assembly member, was among the mourners at the biggest republican funeral seen in Belfast for some years.

Hughes was Officer Commanding the IRA men in the Maze during the battle of wills over prisoner of war status and the men`s refusal to wear prison uniform.

He led the dirty protest - when the men wore nothing but a blanket and smeared their cell walls with their own excrement.
That developed into the hunger strike led by Hughes but called off after 53 days when one of the men, Sean McKenna, was near death.

Bobby Sands took over as OC and in 1981 ordered another hunger strike which first claimed his own life and then nine more republicans.

Hughes was released from jail in 1986 and resumed active republicanism again but became disillusioned with the direction of the Sinn Fein leadership in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and dismissed them as `the Armani suit brigade`.

He accused them of betraying core republican principles and their working class background.

Despite the fallout a former comrade loyal to the Sinn Fein leadership said: "There was still a lot of respect and fondness for Brendan despite all the things he said in recent years."

Mr Adams` decision to carry the coffin was a clear sign any rift had been healed.

Brendan Hughes

The Herald

Former Provisional IRA commander;
Born October 1948;
Died February 16, 2008.

BRENDAN Hughes, who has died aged 59, was a a one-time commander with the Provisional Irish Republican Army who broke with former comrades when they pursued peace in Northern Ireland.

Hughes spent his final years criticising Sinn Fein leaders for accepting Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord and said that, while the IRA should not return to violence, its political leaders made people suffer needlessly for decades when the British government had offered similar peace terms as long ago as 1975.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, a longtime comrade of Hughes inside and outside prison, helped carry his coffin outside St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast, where both men joined the IRA as teenagers. Veterans of the IRA and dissident groups were among more than 2000 mourners.

Hughes specified before dying that he wanted to be cremated rather than buried in the IRA's roll of honour section in Milltown Cemetery, west Belfast, where dozens of his comrades lie.

Hughes and Adams were arrested together in July 1973 and both interned without trial. Hughes, reputed to be one of the IRA's most determined gunmen and bank robbers, escaped six months later.

He returned to Belfast posing as a toy salesman and operated from an apartment in the wealthiest district of the city, where he directed IRA operations in the city.

Police raided Hughes's safe house in May 1974 and arrested him. He became the IRA's commanding officer inside the Maze prison, where he oversaw a six-year campaign to force British authorities to concede them status as "political prisoners."

The protest involved going naked rather than wearing prison uniforms, smearing their own excrement on cell walls - and finally mounting the 1980 hunger strike. Hughes and six others refused food for 53 days before Hughes ordered the hunger strike to end in bitterly disputed circumstances.

Hughes was replaced by Bobby Sands as IRA commander inside the prison. Sands and nine other inmates starved to death in the 1981 hunger strike that also failed to achieve their demands.

Hughes resumed IRA activity after his 1986 parole, but grew disillusioned when former colleagues turned full-time to politics and pursued compromise after the 1997 IRA ceasefire.

He said Sinn Fein leaders had turned their backs on the working class, preferring to take good paying government jobs in a Northern Ireland that remained British territory. Hughes called the IRA's 1975 ceasefire an opportunity lost.

"Think of all the lives that could have been saved had we accepted the 1975 truce. That alone would have justified acceptance. We fought on and for what? What we rejected in 1975," he said in 2000.

Hughes and his wife, who had a son and daughter, separated while he was in prison. All survive him.


Funeral of IRA man and hunger striker

By Victoria O'Hara
Tuesday 19, February 2008
Belfast Telegraph

Thousands of mourners gathered today to attend the funeral of veteran republican Brendan Hughes.

Mr Hughes (59), a former hunger striker, died last Saturday after becoming critically ill.

Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams was amongst about 1,500 mourners who packed the church and lined the streets to pay their last respects to the former IRA commander.

A lone piper played as the coffin, draped in an Irish tricolour, was carried by friends and family from his sister's house to St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast.

During the requiem mass Father Brendan Smyth referred to Mr Hughes's nickname, The Dark.

He said it both invoked worry and commanded respect amongst the community.

Father Smyth said: "Today we come to lay that man, that name to rest."

Mr Hughes was born in Belfast in 1948 into a republican family in the Falls Road, joining the IRA on the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969.

He was also involved in arms smuggling, helping to bring Armalite rifles from America.

By 1973 he was captured along with Gerry Adams at a Falls Road house.

They were interned at Long Kesh and six months later he escaped in a rolled up mattress in a rubbish lorry. He was later rearrested.

In October 1980 he went on hunger strike with six other men which lasted 53 days.

However, he called it off as one of the strikers approached death.

Father Smyth told mourners that Mr Hughes had both his critics and those who supported him, but said the decision to stop the hunger strike in1980 saved one man's life.

Mr Hughes's lengthy fast, however, left him with a variety of heart and vision problems.

Father Smyth also said Mr Hughes had suffered from depression in the past.

He added Mr Hughes left prison with only the clothes on his back, but he didn't leave empty handed.

"He had baggage no-one could see," Father Smyth said.

Obituary: Brendan Hughes - IRA leader and hunger striker

Belfast Telegraph
Monday 18, February 2008

Brendan Hughes was an IRA fighter who for much of his life pitted himself against the British presence in Northern Ireland but latterly became a bitter critic of the republican movement's political direction. Once a close colleague of the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, he played a pivotal role first in the fierce Belfast IRA gun-battles of the 1970s and then later in the lethal confrontations behind bars in Long Kesh.

But while Adams and others went on to re-fashion, gradually but radically, the IRA and Sinn Fein into the grouping which today shares power at Stormont, Hughes was left stranded in traditional republicanism. Even after he came to feel betrayed by the evolution of modern republicanism, he remained nostalgically attached to the spirit of the most intense days of the IRA's "armed struggle".

A classic photograph from the 1970s shows him grinning arm-in-arm with Adams inside Long Kesh (which later became the Maze prison). Many disillusioned years later the picture still hung in Hughes's tiny flat in west Belfast: "The reason I keep that there is it reminds me what it used to be like," he explained. "I loved Gerry. I don't anymore, but I keep the photos to remind me of the good times."

A small swarthy man nicknamed "the Dark", Brendan Hughes was born in Belfast in 1948 into a republican family in the Falls Road, joining the IRA on the outbreak of the troubles in 1969. Hughes related to the BBC journalist Peter Taylor, who interviewed him extensively, that when the British Army first came in he chatted to soldiers. "Some of them were 16, 17 years of age," he recalled. "I remember sitting talking to them, sometimes to two, three o'clock in the morning."

But as the situation rapidly deteriorated Hughes joined the IRA. He excelled in the street-fighting which took many British military lives, his unit carrying out five or six attacks in a day. He was also involved in the arms-smuggling which gave the IRA an edge in many encounters with troops, helping to bring in the light but deadly Armalite rifles from America.

By 1973, high on the Army's most-wanted list, Hughes was captured along with Gerry Adams at a Falls Road house. The two men said they were beaten up by troops, Adams writing that they were "barely able to walk upright and very badly marked, black and blue all over our bodies." They were interned at Long Kesh. Six months later Hughes escaped in a rolled-up mattress in a rubbish lorry: "The mattress was full of sawdust and he nearly choked," Adams was to recall.

He escaped to across the border to Dublin, where he assumed a new identity, Arthur McAllister, and returned to Belfast 10 days later, pretending to be a toy salesman. Back on the streets, he rose through the ranks to become the IRA's Belfast commander, hiding out in a flat in the plush Malone area. When he was re-arrested he and Adams shared a cubicle in Long Kesh's Cage 11, known as "the generals' cage".

There they developed plans for an overhaul of a movement which seemed in danger of defeat. Hughes was to spend more than a decade in prison, but far from being removed from combat he and others opened up a second front there. In October 1980, as IRA commander within the jail, he went on hunger strike with six other men. It lasted 53 days, but as one of the strikers approached death Hughes called it off, an act which saved one life but which led to a further hunger strike the following spring under Bobby Sands, in which 10 republicans starved themselves to death.

Hughes's lengthy fast left him with a variety of heart and vision problems and arthritis. But the mental scars were even deeper. Released from prison six years later, he sought counselling for post-traumatic stress, saying: "The hunger strikers' faces are always before me." He later said: "Sometimes I've sat here crying for a week. During one period I was almost at the point of jumping off a bridge."

Gerry Adams, who described Hughes as "a good-hearted generous comrade, quick-tempered but immensely kind," yesterday commented: "He never fully recovered from the hunger strike." He added: "Although he disagreed with the direction taken in recent years, he was held in high esteem by all who knew him."

The theme of Brendan Hughes's life was one of loss. There was much loss of life in his IRA career, both of British soldiers and of fellow IRA members, especially those who died on hunger strike. There was his own loss of liberty and the loss of his wife who, with his consent, formed another relationship in his absence.

There was also the loss of his relationship with Adams, which meant a lot to him but finally ended in disenchantment. Hughes did not advocate a return to "armed struggle" but he was against the peace process, and could not square it with the old simplicity of pounding away at the British. He is certainly not the only person in Ireland to grapple with the huge question of what the troubles meant. As he put it: "I keep wondering – what was it all about?"

David McKittrick

Brendan Hughes, political activist: born Belfast 1948; married (one son, one daughter); died Belfast 16 February 2008.

Former IRA hunger striker Hughes dies

Irish Times
17 February 2008

Many articles posted on Brendan Hughes might be identical or nearly so, but I will include the major sources so in the future it can be seen who published what.

A former IRA hunger striker who fell out with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams over the peace process has died.

Brendan 'The Dark' Hughes, once one of Belfast's most feared IRA gunmen, died after a short illness aged 59.

A member of the IRA from the start of the Troubles in 1969 he was involved in a number attacks on the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary and also robberies.

Brendan Hughes photographed in Long Kesh prison

He joined the Provisional IRA when it broke away in 1970 from the Official IRA.

In 1973, he was arrested along with Gerry Adams and Tom Cahill after the British Army raided a house on the Falls Road. They were detained in Long Kesh, which would later become the Maze Prison.

Six months later he escaped in a rolled-up mattress in a refuse lorry and fled over the Border.

In the Republic, Hughes assumed a new identity, Arthur McAllister, and returned to Belfast pretending to be a toy salesman. He lived in a house in the affluent Malone area of the city and for five months believed to have been the Provisionals' Belfast brigade commander.

After five months, however, his new identity was rumbled and the Army raided the house in Myrtlefield Park.

In 1977, Hughes was transferred to the H-Blocks where he became the Officer Commanding of the IRA prisoners in the Maze. Republican inmates were engaged in a protracted battle of wills with the jail authorities and British government, insisting they were prisoners of war refusing to wear uniforms and staging a blanket protest.

After fellow prisoners rejected a suggestion from Hughes that they should wear the uniforms and subvert the system from within, he ordered in 1978 an escalation of their campaign with a no wash protest.

Known as the dirty protest, the prisoners refused to leave their cells to go to the toilet and later refused to empty the chamber pots they were provided with. They eventually ended up smearing their own excrement on the walls of their cells on Hughes' orders.

Two years later, the dispute escalated again when the prisoners decided to go on hunger strike. Hughes and six other prisoners - Raymond McCartney, Leo Green , Tom McFeeley, Sean McKenna, Tommy McKearney and Irish National Liberation Army inmate John Nixon - started to fast.

Two weeks later in Armagh women's jail, three prisoners joined the hunger strike.

The hunger strike lasted 53 days after republicans believed they had struck a deal with the authorities.

Hughes called the hunger strike off as Sean McKenna was on the verge of death.

Bobby Sands, who had been a close aide of Hughes, took over as Officer Commanding in the Maze Prison. When republican disillusionment with the prison authorities intensified, Sands, who would become the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, ordered a second hunger strike in 1981 in which he and nine other prisoners died.

In 1986 Hughes was released from prison and became active again in republicanism.

However in the years after the 1994 and 1997 IRA ceasefires and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, he became increasingly disillusioned with the direction of Sinn Féin. In interviews he dismissed Mr Adams and the leadership as 'the Armani suit brigade' and accused them of betraying core republican principles and their working class roots.

Mr Adams paid tribute to Hughes, despite the reported rift. "Brendan was a very good friend and comrade over many years of struggle," he said. Mr Adams insisted that, although Hughes disagreed with the direction he had taken in recent years, he still held him in high esteem.

"Brendan will be missed, not least by his family, but also by the wider republican family with whom he dedicated such a large part of his life in furtherance of Irish republican goals," he said. "He was my friend."

Obituary: Brendan Hughes

IRA commander in Belfast and leader of the H-Block 'dirty protests' of the 1970s

Anne McHardy
The GuardianThe Guardian,
Tuesday February 19 2008

In the 1970s, Brendan Hughes, who has died aged 59, shared a cubicle inside Cage 11 of the Long Kesh internment camp - the Maze prison - in Northern Ireland with Gerry Adams, now the president of Sinn Fein. Hughes had been influential in the formation of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein, its political wing, in the early 1970s, when the Provos split with the Official IRA, which wanted to change tactics and work through constitutional politics.

Hughes was important as a street fighter, an arms smuggler and a strategist. He was involved in making international contacts and organised the arms business, helping to equip the IRA with its signature Armalite rifle, smuggled in from the US. He supported Adams until Sinn Fein moved into constitutional politics, and agreed to share power with the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party in the devolved government at Stormont.

Hughes was born into a working- class Republican family, very much like that of Gerry Adams, in the Lower Falls road area of Belfast. He joined the IRA in 1969, when his uncle, Charles Hughes (killed in 1971), was its Belfast commander.

The IRA was then growing in strength in response to a violent Protestant backlash against Unionist government attempts to reform discrimination against Catholics; its leadership recognised Hughes as an effective street fighter. In many interviews with a BBC television journalist, Peter Taylor, Hughes, a small, swarthy man who was nicknamed "The Dark", talked about making four or five attacks a day. He spoke of firing on British army patrols and about attacking soldiers and robbing banks to fund arms purchases.

Hughes described his normal day: "You would have robbed a bank in the morning, done a float in the afternoon, stuck a bomb and a booby trap out after that, and then maybe had a gun battle or two later that night." A "float" meant going out in a car looking for a British soldier to shoot.

But Hughes could also recall the time before the IRA and Britain became enemies, when British troops were first deployed in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, and were seen as being present to protect Roman Catholic houses against Protestant fire bombers. Hughes, who was only in his early 20s then, used to chat to the soldiers, teenagers who came from working-class backgrounds just like his own.

In 1973, however, he was arrested in a raid on a house in the Falls, together with Adams; the pair were badly
beaten and interned in Long Kesh. Six months later Hughes escaped, rolled inside a mattress, and was smuggled across the Irish border in a dustcart. He was given a new identity and quickly returned to the Falls as a toy salesman, Arthur McAllister. He hid in a flat in Malone, a middle-class area near Queen's University, but remained active on the Falls, becoming the IRA commander in Belfast.

When he was arrested again in 1974, and a submachine gun, four rifles, two pistols and several thousand rounds of ammunition were found in his home, he was given a 15-year prison sentence under anti-terrorist legislation and returned to Long Kesh, where he shared a cubicle in Cage 11, known as the Generals' wing, with Adams.

In 1976, he assaulted a prison officer and was sentenced to a further three years, but, because a new criminal status for terrorist prisoners had been intoduced by the British government in March 1976, Hughes was moved from the concentration compounds in the village of Long Kesh into the newly built prison quarters on the same site, the famous H-Blocks.

There he led the protest for the return of the prisoners' political status, refusing to wear prison uniform and then, from mid-1977, beginning the "dirty protest", refusing to wash or to use prison toilets. In 1980, with four others, he began a hunger strike, but called it off after 53 days, when a deal from the new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, seemed to be on offer and another hunger striker, Sean McKenna, was close to death. In 1981 leadership inside the Maze was taken by Bobby Sands, who began a second hunger strike, during which 10 men, including Sands, died.

Hughes spent 10 years in the Maze, but during that time continued to be influential in the development of IRA strategy inside and outside prison. He continued to have links with international terrorist groups, including ETA, the Basque separatists in Spain.

After his release, he grew disillusioned with Adams as the peace process intensified, but continued to be nostalgic about his street-fighting past and his early, warm relationship with Adams. Adams said of Hughes that he was "a good-hearted generous comrade, quick-tempered but immensely kind. He never fully recovered from the hunger strike. Although he disagreed with the direction taken in recent years, he was held in high esteem by all who knew him."

Hughes's health was badly damaged by the hunger strike and he suffered from heart and eye problems, and arthritis: he died in hospital.

He and his wife, who had a son and a daughter, separated while he was in prison. They all survive him.

· Brendan Hughes, political activist, born October 1948; died February 16 2008


'The Blanket' - Brendan Hughes - Archive Material

Please check out the list of archived material THE BLANKET has posted.

Brendan Hughes - Archive Material

The Brendan Hughes Interview by Joe O'Neill


**See also Decomissioned Provos thrown on scrap heap

Brendan Hughes was one of a small group of Republicans in the Lower Falls (Belfast) who split from the IRA in 1970 to form what was later to be known as the Provisional IRA. In the sometimes violent split within the movement at that time one of the first victims was his cousin, Charlie Hughes, who was shot dead in a gun battle in the Lower Falls by members of the Official IRA.

After almost three years on the run, Hughes was arrested, along with Gerry Adams. They were tortured for over 12 hours in Springfield Road barracks and then Castlereagh before being flown to the cages of Long Kesh. Within 5 months Hughes had escaped from Long Kesh, crossed the border, and within 10 days was back in Belfast with a new identity, to assume command of the Belfast Brigade.

Captured again, 6 months later, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on weapons, explosives and documents charges. Hughes, as Brigade O/C (Officer Commanding) was caught with what the press called a "Doomsday Plan" which was the IRA plan for the defense of the Nationalist community in Belfast.

While O/C of Republican prisoners in Long Kesh, Hughes was charged in connection with a prison riot and given an additional 5 years. However, at this time, the process of Ulsterization and criminalization had begun and he was taken from court to the infamous H-Blocks.

"That morning" said Hughes, "I left Long Kesh, Brendan Hughes, O/C Republican prisoners, recognized as a political prisoner and that afternoon, I was Hughes, 704, in the H-Blocks."

In the H-Blocks Brendan Hughes was instrumental in organizing the men on the blanket protest and was elected O/C with Bobby Sands as his adjutant. As the protests by the men escalated, without any movement by prison authorities or the Thatcher government to resolve the prisoners demands to end their inhumane treatment, he called for volunteers to join him in a hunger strike.

Hughes resigned as O/C, to be replaced by Bobby Sands and was joined by 6 of the 90 men who had volunteered to go on hunger strike. After 53 days without food, with Sean McKenna within hours of death and the others in very serious condition, the strike was called off as the government delivered a document which satisfied the prisoners demands.

After the government reneged on their agreement the strike led this time by Bobby Sands commenced with deadly consequences.

In our interview Hughes discussed a wide range of topics on the Irish political landscape.

G21: Share with us your opinions on the Good Friday Agreement.

HUGHES: The decision was taken from the top down, there were no discussions, there was nothing taking place.

What we heard was, 'The Hume/Adams Document' and I am very annoyed at this because, I have spent my whole life in this Republican movement and all of a sudden everyone is talking about 'The Hume Adams Document' and I asked if I could see it. To my knowledge no one has ever seen it.

I thought it was a disgrace that John Hume knew where this movement was going [and] I didn't know where it was going. I didn't know anything about 'The Hume Adams Document', what the hell is it? Then, 'The Hume Adams Document', developed into the 'Good Friday Agreement'.

What was the Good Friday Agreement all about? All of my life I spent attempting to bring down Stormont, attempting to remove the British from Ireland and all of a sudden, all of that language was gone. We no longer talk about a British declaration of intent to withdraw from this country and we have got to the stage where we were actually fighting to get down to the Stormont, that we just spent 30 years trying to bring down. The loyalty factor eventually burnt out with me, the loyalty factor was no longer there.

G21: So what is your opinion of the Sinn Féin leadership?

HUGHES: Stormont is OK as long as we're in it. What was developing here was a sort of a class thing within the Republican movement. You had the "Armani Suit Brigade" and a lot of these people I had never come across before. I had never spent time in prison with them and their politics drifted away from me -- their politics -- I didn't drift away from my politics, their politics drifted away from me to a stage where I believed I needed to say something, because these people are running away with my movement.

The suffering and everything that we represented was no longer there anymore and these people had it, they were wining and dining at Stormont.

I believe very shortly, we will be wining and dining in Westminster. I believe that they have run away with the politics, the real politics of the Republican movement, the Republican struggle, and I believe that they have to be resisted. Which I am doing.

It wasn't easy for me to go public and criticize all these things that were going on, but I feel a moral responsibility to do so. Even though it puts me on the fringe and I am called a dissident and other names. But I know damn well, that what I am saying, is representative of the ordinary people on the ground. The Republican Movement

I believe this Republican movement belongs to the people. I don't believe that people like me should walk away and form another small group to oppose this group. This group is the Republican movement. We have fought, we have gone through an awful lot of struggle and I believe it has been hijacked by a handful of people who have gone in a particular direction that I disagree with.

But it is my movement. I don't want to form another movement, I want my movement back to what we fought for.

I don't believe that it is totally hopeless. I believe it can be won back. If I thought it was hopeless, I would probably leave the country. I believe that I have a moral responsibility and a duty to carry on the struggle. It's not easy, a lot of the people I am talking about are comrades and friends of mine. I wish they could change and turn this thing around and bring it back to the people. Bring the movement back to the people. Not a political party that's running to Stormont, running to Westminster with their Armani suits on and jutting about in their State cars. The same regime that's been oppressing us for so many years, they have become a part of.

G21: So what's your position on decommissioning?

HUGHES: The IRA has been asked to decommission. We were all told that there would be no decommissioning. When you bring a stranger to a dump, an IRA dump, and point out where that dump is, to me that is decommissioning.

I certainly would not go near that dump again, so that dump is, by and large, decommissioned. Forget about it. It has been identified.

Yet I am told there will be no decommissioning.

To me that is decommissioning.

People are telling lies. We are doing everything we were told would not happen. We still hear at some commemorations people getting up on platforms and telling blatant lies. 'The war is not over'. By and large, the war is over. The current joke in the town at the moment is:

Q. 'What is the difference between a Sticky (Official IRA) and a Provie (Provisional IRA).

A. Twenty years.'

The only difference is that the Stickies didn't have to decommission.

G21: The controversy about the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) still rages. What are your thoughts?

HUGHES: What I was beginning to see was the reintroduction of a different type of philosophy. The words they were using 'the RUC has to be changed' no longer 'disbanded.'

G21: Your feelings on commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Hunger Strike?

HUGHES: Anyone who is going out to commemorate the Republican struggle should commemorate the people who died in the struggle. It should be about respect and to commemorate the sacrifice that these people made. I believe the party of the working class is entitled to commemorate the working-class people who died.

I believe a party of the Middle or Upper-class should not be allowed to capitalize on those people's deaths. Those people died for working-class issues and I believe that the only people who should be allowed to capitalize on that are working-class people who are fighting for working-class issues. I don't believe the leadership of the Republican movement, at present, is fighting for working-class issues or fighting for the issues that these people died for.

G21: So it sounds like you might be accused of advocating armed struggle.

HUGHES: We are sitting in Divis Towers now and there is £10 million of equipment on top of this roof, there are armed British troops on top of this roof.

As long as there is one British soldier on this roof, I believe that people have a right to oppose that. Unfortunately, the occupation forces are still here and unfortunately, the leadership of the movement that I belonged to have become a part of that, they have become a part of the problem."

Former hunger striker Hughes dies


The former hunger striker and IRA commander Brendan Hughes has died in hospital.

The 59-year-old Belfast man was taken into hospital last week after becoming critically ill. His family said he passed away on Saturday night.

He was the "officer commanding" IRA prisoners in the Maze jail and ordered a dirty protest and later led the first republican hunger strike in 1980.

Brendan Hughes

In recent years he became critical of Sinn Fein and the route it was taking.

Brendan Hughes joined the IRA in 1969, he was arrested in the early 1970s along with Gerry Adams and Tom Cahill and sent to Long Kesh, which later became the Maze prison.

He escaped shortly afterwards in a rolled up mattress but was eventually re-arresseted.

Known as The Dark, Mr Hughes later recalled in journalist Peter Taylor's BBC series Provos how he gave himself up when the security forces arrived to arrest him while he was on the run in Belfast.

"They came to the door and they knew right away who I was," he explained.

"I was protesting about the fact that they were raiding the house when the Special Branch man turned round to me and says: 'Oh come on, Brendan you've had a good enough run'.

"I knew that was it. They were quite friendly this time. I was put in the back of the jeep and taken to Castlereagh. I wasn't punched and I wasn't insulted."

In 1977 he was transferred to the H-Blocks where he became the IRA OC and led the hunger strike.

"Brendan will be missed, not least by his family, but also by the wider republican family with whom he dedicated such a large part of his life in furtherance of Irish republican goals".
Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein president

It lasted 53 days after republicans believed they had struck a deal with the authorities on the issue of prisoner's uniforms.

Mr Hughes called the hunger strike off as Sean McKenna was on the verge of death.

Bobby Sands, who had been a close aide of Hughes, took over as "officer commanding" in the Maze Prison. He ordered the second hunger strike in 1981 in which he and nine other inmates died.

Brendan Hughes never fully recovered from his hunger strike ordeal and two years ago underwent an operation to save his sight.

In interviews he later dismissed Mr Adams and the leadership as "the Armani suit brigade" and accused them of betraying core republican principles and their working class roots.

In a statement issued on Saturday the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he held Mr Hughes "in high esteem" and had been "a very good friend and comrade over many years of struggle".

"Brendan will be missed, not least by his family, but also by the wider republican family with whom he dedicated such a large part of his life in furtherance of Irish republican goals," he said.

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