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Brendan Hughes

Brendan Hughes

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Brendan Hughes also known as "The Dark", was an Irish republican and former Officer Commanding
Officer Commanding
The Officer Commanding is the commander of a sub-unit or minor unit , principally used in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. In other countries, the term Commanding Officer is applied to commanders of minor as well as major units.Normally an Officer Commanding is a company, squadron or battery...

 (OC) of the Belfast Brigade
Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade
The Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA was the largest of the organisation's command areas, based in the city of Belfast. Founded in 1969, along with the formation of the Provisional IRA, it was historically organised into three battalions; the First Battalion based in the...

 of the Provisional Irish Republican Army
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an Irish republican paramilitary organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion...

 (IRA). He is best known as the leader of the 1980 Irish hunger strike
1981 Irish hunger strike
The 1981 Irish hunger strike was the culmination of a five-year protest during The Troubles by Irish republican prisoners in Northern Ireland. The protest began as the blanket protest in 1976, when the British government withdrew Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners...

.

Background


Hughes was born into a republican
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 family from the lower Falls Road area of Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

. He was a cousin of Charles Hughes, who was the OC of D Company in the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade
Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade
The Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA was the largest of the organisation's command areas, based in the city of Belfast. Founded in 1969, along with the formation of the Provisional IRA, it was historically organised into three battalions; the First Battalion based in the...

 during the Falls Curfew
Falls Curfew
The Falls Curfew was a British Army operation during 3–5 July 1970 in an area along the Falls Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The operation started with a weapons search but quickly developed into rioting and gun battles between British soldiers and the Official Irish Republican Army...

, and was shot and killed in March 1971 by the Official Irish Republican Army during the feud between the Provisional and Official IRA.

Republican activity


Hughes joined the IRA in 1969, sided with the Provisional faction in the split of 1969-70, and was "on the run" in Belfast by 1970. From 1970-1972 Hughes was involved in a number of attacks on British soldiers and bank robberies in order to raise funds for the republican movement.

Hughes described his normal day during that period as "you would have had a call house [a safe meeting place] and you might have robbed a bank in the morning, done a float [gone out in a car looking for a British soldier] 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."

Initial prison escape


On 19 July 1973 Hughes was arrested on the Falls Road along with Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams is an Irish republican politician and Teachta Dála for the constituency of Louth. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he was an abstentionist Westminster Member of Parliament for Belfast West. He is the president of Sinn Féin, the second largest political party in Northern...

 (now President of Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

) and Tom Cahill. They were interrogated for more than 12 hours at the Springfield Road Royal Ulster Constabulary
Royal Ulster Constabulary
The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the name of the police force in Northern Ireland from 1922 to 2000. Following the awarding of the George Cross in 2000, it was subsequently known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC. It was founded on 1 June 1922 out of the Royal Irish Constabulary...

 (RUC) barracks and later at Castlereagh before being transported to Long Kesh
Maze (HM Prison)
Her Majesty's Prison Maze was a prison in Northern Ireland that was used to house paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles from mid-1971 to mid-2000....

.

On 8 December Hughes escaped inside a rolled-up mattress in the back of a dustcart, and fled across the border to Dublin. After ten days he had returned to Belfast after assuming a new identity, becoming a travelling toy salesman named "Arthur McAllister". For five months Hughes lived in Myrtlefield Park near Malone Road
Malone Road
The Malone Road is a radial road in Belfast, Northern Ireland, leading from the university quarter southwards to the affluent suburbs of Malone and Upper Malone, each a separate electoral ward...

, and was believed to be the new O/C of the IRA in Belfast following the arrest of Ivor Bell
Ivor Bell
Ivor Malachy Bell is an Irish republican, and a former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who later became Chief of Staff on the Army Council.-IRA career:...

 in February.

On 10 May 1974, Hughes was arrested following a tip-off, and the house was found to contain a submachine gun
Submachine gun
A submachine gun is an automatic carbine, designed to fire pistol cartridges. It combines the automatic fire of a machine gun with the cartridge of a pistol. The submachine gun was invented during World War I , but the apex of its use was during World War II when millions of the weapon type were...

, four rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

s, two pistol
Pistol
When distinguished as a subset of handguns, a pistol is a handgun with a chamber that is integral with the barrel, as opposed to a revolver, wherein the chamber is separate from the barrel as a revolving cylinder. Typically, pistols have an effective range of about 100 feet.-History:The pistol...

s and several thousand rounds of ammunition. Hughes was subsequently sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Three years after his arrest Hughes was involved in a fracas, and received an additional five-year sentence for assaulting a prison officer. As he was convicted after 1 March 1976, Hughes was transferred from the compounds to the H-Blocks and lost his Special Category Status
Special Category Status
In July 1972, William Whitelaw, the British government's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, granted Special Category Status to all prisoners convicted of Troubles-related offences...

. He refused to wear prison uniform and joined the blanket protest
Blanket protest
The blanket protest was part of a five year protest during the Troubles by Provisional Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners held in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. The republican prisoners' status as political prisoners, known as Special Category Status, had...

. Shortly after arriving in the H-Blocks, Hughes became the OC of the IRA prisoners, and in March 1978 ordered the prisoners to begin the dirty protest
Dirty protest
The dirty protest was part of a five year protest during the Troubles by Provisional Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners held in the Maze prison and Armagh Women's Prison in Northern Ireland.-Background:Convicted paramilitary prisoners were treated as ordinary...

.

Hunger strike


Hughes was the Officer Commanding
Officer Commanding
The Officer Commanding is the commander of a sub-unit or minor unit , principally used in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. In other countries, the term Commanding Officer is applied to commanders of minor as well as major units.Normally an Officer Commanding is a company, squadron or battery...

 during the 1980 hunger strike. Against the wishes of the IRA Army Council
IRA Army Council
The IRA Army Council was the decision-making body of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, more commonly known as the IRA, a paramilitary group dedicated to bringing about the end of the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The council had seven members, said by the...

, on 27 October 1980, Hughes along with six other republican prisoners, including Tom McFeely, John Nixon, Sean McKenna, Tommy McKearney
Tommy McKearney
Tommy McKearney is an Irish republican, socialist, and former hunger striker and volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army.-Background:McKearney was born into a family with a long republican tradition...

 and Raymond McCartney
Raymond McCartney
Raymond McCartney is a Sinn Féin politician, and a former hunger striker and volunteer within the Provisional Irish Republican Army .-IRA membership:...

, refused food and started a hunger strike.

During the second month of the hunger strike the British Government led by Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

, sent an intermediary to inform Hughes of a possible compromise, despite previously having publicly rejected any compromise.

Hughes had promised one of the hunger strikers, Sean McKenna, that if he slipped into a coma that he would end the hunger strike and as McKenna was on the verge of death, Hughes found himself in a dilemma. Hughes assumed that the compromise was in good faith and ended the hunger strike after 53 days. However, when the document arrived at the prison there was disappointment at the final position of the British government.

In interviews he gave to Boston College
Boston College
Boston College is a private Jesuit research university located in the village of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA. The main campus is bisected by the border between the cities of Boston and Newton. It has 9,200 full-time undergraduates and 4,000 graduate students. Its name reflects its early...

, Hughes declared the hunger strike "a failure".

Bobby Sands
Bobby Sands
Robert Gerard "Bobby" Sands was an Irish volunteer of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and member of the United Kingdom Parliament who died on hunger strike while imprisoned in HM Prison Maze....

 took over as leader of the republican prisoners in the Maze, and, starting on 1 March 1981, led the second hunger strike, which Hughes opposed.

Release


Hughes was released from prison in 1986, and returned to live in Belfast, staying initially at the home of Gerry Adams. He was appointed to the IRA's Internal Security Unit
Internal Security Unit
The Internal Security Unit was the name given to the counter-intelligence and interrogation unit of the Provisional Irish Republican Army...

 and liased between Northern Command and rural units in Tyrone
Tyrone
The name Tyrone can refer to:*County Tyrone, a county in Northern Ireland, roughly corresponding to the ancient kingdom of Tír Eogain*An Earl of Tyrone*A small steam train which runs between Bushmills and the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland-Places:...

 and Armagh
County Armagh
-History:Ancient Armagh was the territory of the Ulaid before the fourth century AD. It was ruled by the Red Branch, whose capital was Emain Macha near Armagh. The site, and subsequently the city, were named after the goddess Macha...

. In 1990, Hughes appeared at a press conference in Bilbao
Bilbao
Bilbao ) is a Spanish municipality, capital of the province of Biscay, in the autonomous community of the Basque Country. With a population of 353,187 , it is the largest city of its autonomous community and the tenth largest in Spain...

 organised by Batasuna
Batasuna
Batasuna was a Basque nationalist political party based mainly in Spain, where it was outlawed in 2003, after a court ruling declared proven that the party was financing ETA with public money. Batasuna is included in the "European Union list of terrorist persons and organizations" as a component...

, the political wing of the Basque nationalist paramilitary group ETA
ETA
ETA , an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization. The group was founded in 1959 and has since evolved from a group promoting traditional Basque culture to a paramilitary group with the goal of gaining independence for the Greater Basque Country...

, to support an amnesty for ETA prisoners.

He resigned from the Army Council in 1994. At the start of the 21st century, he became increasingly critical of the political direction of the Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 leadership.

In 2000, he criticised the Sinn Féin leadership for allowing building firms in west Belfast to pay low wages to former prisoners and stated his belief that the republican leadership had sold out on their ideals in order to achieve peace in Northern Ireland.
In October 2006, Hughes was pictured on the front page of the Irish News wearing an eye patch, after he underwent an operation to save his sight which had been badly damaged due to his hunger strike. Many former prisoners also experience health problems upon release.

Hughes died in hospital aged 59 on 16 February 2008.

Quotes


"..all Sinn Fein have done, all the IRA have done is just to become another SDLP...And you have poor fools that run around with the badge of IRA across their chests and the British government sitting back and laughing. They eventually got the IRA into the position they always wanted...They've now succeeded in turning a revolutionary movement into a conservative organisation, one that they can deal with and are quite happy to deal with."

-Hughes, interviewed by Anthony McIntyre

External links


Obituaries