- Created: Friday, 15 May 2009 13:40
- Written by Paul Mallon
IRA commander in Belfast and leader of the H-Block prisoners
Brendan Hughes dedicated his life to the fight against British imperialism in Ireland. Born in the Grosvenor Road area of West Belfast in 1948, he was first arrested by the British army while in Aden with the merchant navy on suspicion of being an ‘Arab terrorist.’ From 1969, he understood the need to defend nationalist areas from British army and loyalist attack; he joined the Provisional IRA in the early 1970s, becoming a skilled street fighter, his unit carrying out five or six attacks in a day at the peak of the armed confrontation with the British army in the 1970s.
Arrested alongside current Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams in May 1973 and interned without trial, he was held in the cages of Long Kesh until his escape in October 1973. Outside he assumed a new identity and resumed active service with the IRA, directing and leading operations from a house in the middle class Malone area of South Belfast. In May 1974 he was captured again by the British army and served over 12 years in prison. Whilst inside, Brendan took on a leadership role among Republican prisoners and pitted himself and his comrades against the British Labour government’s attempts to criminalise the Irish national liberation struggle. He was among hundreds of political prisoners who took part in the five year long struggle from May 1976 for political status which involved the no wash and blanket protests. In October 1980 Brendan led the first hunger strike for 53 days before it was ended in December. Brendan never fully recovered from his hunger strike and suffered from a variety of heart and vision problems and arthritis.
On his release from the H-Blocks in 1986, Brendan resumed active service with the IRA. His role within the movement continued to be a military one overseeing arms smuggling. A dedicated socialist, Brendan attempted to organise his fellow workers against low pay and conditions on the building sites of West Belfast.
In recent years he became one of the most principled and articulate opponents of the so called Irish peace process. Asked in 2000 if he were satisfied with the outcome of the struggle and the peace process, Brendan stated, ‘No. I do not feel any satisfaction whatsoever. All the questions raised in the course of this struggle have not been answered and the republican struggle has not been concluded. The things which we cherished such as a thirty two county democratic socialist republic are no longer mentioned.’
Brendan Hughes died as he lived, an unrepentant Irish revolutionary.
FRFI 202 April / May 2008