Three books for the sixth month


I thought it would be a good idea to devote an occasional column to the books. We can come back to Brexit, protocol and other similar issues at another time.

So, in this column, I review three books: “United Nation” by Frank Connolly, “On The Blanket” by Eoghan Mac Cormaic and “International Brigade against Apartheid: Secrets of the People’s War that Liberated South Africa”, by Ronnie Kasrils.

They are clearly political books, which may not surprise any of you. I am also aware that these three are written by men. So, lest I give you the wrong impression, let me clarify that my reading activity is not limited to political books or male authors. I’m binge reading, so Sebastian Barry’s “The Sacred Scripture,” Billy Connolly’s “Windswept and Interesting” are also on the way, and Sylvie Simmons’ “I’m Your Man.” I prefer real books to Kindle or other electronic models. Richard is a Kindleman. But a book is a book and for me there is no substitute. I am also always seduced by a beautifully presented volume. Imelda May’s “A Lick And A Promise” is a prime example. I recommend it unreservedly.

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“International Brigade Against Apartheid: Secrets of the People’s War that Liberated South Africa.”

I have known Ronnie Kasrils for many years. He is a friend of Ireland and a champion of those in the world who fight for freedom and justice. In 1961 he was a founding member, along with Nelson Mandela and others, of Umkhonto we Siswe – MK for short – the armed wing of the African National Congress. In post-apartheid South Africa, he was Minister of Intelligence and Minister of Water.

Ronnie is currently in Ireland to promote ‘International Brigade Against Apartheid: Secrets of the People’s War that Liberated South Africa’. It provides a remarkable insight into the international solidarity that was crucial to achieving a free South Africa. Last week I had the honor and pleasure of launching the book with Ronnie at an event in Áras Uí Chonghaile.

During his long years of service with MK and the ANC, Ronnie spent much of his time in exile organizing those outside South Africa who were part of the anti-apartheid campaign, as well than those who helped MK. The International Brigade, writes Ronnie, “served a just cause for freedom from tyranny, and was made up of volunteers motivated by the spirit of international solidarity”.

Irish citizens were extremely supportive of the struggle against apartheid. The stand taken by Dunnes Store workers remains a shining example of the solidarity of workers in one country with workers in another.

Irish Republicans also have close and long-standing brotherly ties to the ANC and the MK. Kadar Asmal, who founded the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and later served as a minister in post-apartheid South Africa, revealed in his book ‘Politics in My Blood’ that the MK in June 1980 attacked the oil refinery of Sasolburg – the largest in South Africa – implicated the IRA.

In the introduction to his book, Ronnie refers to the concept of Ubuntu. It is a recognition that we are all connected together in our humanity. This is the essence of international solidarity. Where we see injustice, whether at home, in Palestine or in South Africa, we have a responsibility to help end it. Ar scath a cheile a mayor ann na daoine.

Ronnie’s book is a must read for anyone interested in the national liberation struggle. His remarks at the Belfast launch were inspiring and insightful.

“On the cover”

Eoghan Mac Cormaic is one of our most determined, cheerful, modest and intelligent writers. He is part of that growing group of Republicans, especially former political prisoners, who have produced an account of their experiences. This new book by Eoghan is based on his Pluid-Scéal na mBlocanna H 1976-81. Published by Coiscéim in 2021, it tells the life story of Eoghan On the Blanket, mostly in H Block 5.

In this English version, he takes us through prison resistance from A to Z. Very clever. And funny too. Eoghan has always known how to handle words. He used to produce crossword puzzles in English and Irish for the entertainment of the other cover men. In 1989 and 1990 Sinn Féin’s POW department published two Irish crossword books compiled by Eoghan and years later he published another himself. He still produces a crossword puzzle for Éire Nua, the quarterly United Ireland online magazine.

Eoghan brings the same quirkiness with words to “On The Blanket”. His A – the first chapter – gives us A for Arrival, Agóid, Aire, Authorities, Administration and AGs, Aifreann, Achs. And so on through the alphabet.

But what about Z or XI I wondered? No problem for Eoghan. X gives us X-rays and xenophobia. Z gives us ZZ Top, a popular band of musicians from that era with wild long beards much like many of the men on the cover. Zinc, part of soft metal toothpaste tubes that were used to write on cell walls.

Eoghan describes the culture that underpinned the general protest, “…confined by prison but not prison-conform. Although locked up twenty-four hours a day, this community was free and rejected the rules of the prison. For a period of about five years, they, we, became a separate people with our own rules, our own customs. We showed no respect for the prison, its screws, its governors, its rules, or its buildings because the only respect we had in this place was for ourselves. and terrorized, we have always enjoyed and maintained our self-respect.”

One of the most soulful letters in the Eoghan alphabet is C for fellowship. In a page and a half, it explains what it meant in H Blocks and Armagh Women’s Prison. It must continue to guide us today, just like the generosity and bravery of our hunger strikers. I was also shocked to read that a third of those who served their time on the cover are now dead. I don’t know if this is due to their prison experience or a sign of how old our generation is. Eoghan assured that they would not be forgotten.

“United Nation”

It took two years for Frank Connolly to write “United Nation”. In its early days, the Brexit negotiations were moving towards a “no deal”. It was just before the arrival of the Covid pandemic. In this highly readable book, Frank opted for a narrative style that sets out events as they unfolded instead of a more formal dramatization dealing with issues of the economy, agriculture, education, health, environment, constitutional law and other relevant issues. .

This approach works well. Frank is a very good writer and an accomplished journalist. He has published bestsellers including “NAMA-LAND” and “Tom Gilmartin”. “United Nation” is a highly accessible and compelling read, and an important and timely contribution to the growing debate about the future of Ireland.

Frank also interviews dozens of people. These include high-level political actors from all walks of life and experts on various aspects of social, economic and constitutional issues. But it also has a cross-section of opinion from the arts community with singers, writers, actors and poets, as well as grassroots community activists, particularly from the North.

As he said at the Belfast launch in the historic Linen Hall, he also sought input from those with wisdom and experience in key areas that needed research…. “Brendan O’Leary and Colin Harvey on constitutional issues and future political structures, David McWilliams and Seamus McGuinness on the potential of the Island-wide economy, Dr Gabriel Scally on health and Tony Gallagher, Jarlath Burns and Áine Hyland on education, Mike Tomlinson on social protection, John Sweeney on environment, agriculture, transport, Dermot Walsh on the justice system and the police, Patricia King and Orla O’Connor on workers’ rights , women, migrants and other cultural and ethnic minorities in a new Ireland……..”

He sought advice and knowledge on future relations with Britain, the role of the EU and US and wider global relations, as well as influential figures from a unionist and loyalist cultural background. who were prepared to discuss the question of Irish unity. He also spoke with a number of academic researchers, historians, politicians and activists.

Frank Connolly is a longtime and active United Irishman, but this book is not about his opinion of what a new unified Ireland would look like. Instead, “United Nation” is based on factual, informed research and the opinions of a wide range of interesting people, their representative organizations and their communities.

There are a number of central themes that run through “United Nations”. They include the reality that the type of independent, inclusive, integrated and united Ireland cannot happen without a radical transformation in meeting the basic needs of all our citizens on the island. It was never just about joining six and twenty-six counties.

Most of the respondents agree, regardless of their different opinions, that the future is the most planned.

I’ll leave the last word to Frank Connolly. He says: ‘It is perhaps an irony of history that it will take a strong left and a radical government to bring about such a deep and profound transformation.’

The three books reviewed here are available at An Fhuiseog Bookstore. Go to [email protected]: https://www.facebook.com/AnFhuiseog/


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