23.2.08

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.

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