The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

In Praise of A Journal of Dissent

We Catholics, secure in the rationality of our own brands of denial, don’t scruple to point the finger at potty forms of Protestantism; but in truth – as we’ve seen – there are pleasure-quashers of equal intensity on both sides of the religious split, who together add up to demented fraction on the edge of normal life. And how you react in the end to the restrictions of your own upbringing is as much a matter of temperament as upbringing.
- Patricia Craig, The Rannafast Summer

Mick Fealty • 18 May, 2008

It’s appropriate that The Blanket was conceived and executed from a small house in the middle of west Belfast. The area has for generations had a strong sense of its own separateness, autonomy of thought and civic customs and, particularly during the later part of the troubles, more than its fair share of ‘demented fractions’.

Indeed The Blanket became a chronicle for those within Northern Irish Republicanism (and latter from far beyond the narrow confines of that world) for whom the Belfast Agreement had either been a disappointment or, as in the case of former hunger striker Brendan Hughes, a decisive defeat for the cause he’d spent much of his adult life on. It allowed many individuals the space and community to think out loud about what they saw around them.

The years that followed the ceasefires saw rising inter-communal tensions from the big set piece events. What the mainstream media tended to miss were the smaller stories of intimidation, house burnings and subtle ‘neighbourhood’ management that were for some daily occurrences in housing estates across Ulster. During these difficult times the Blanket gave voice to the victims whose stories the media considered rather too ‘inconvenient’ for the sake of the wider process.

Somewhere in his voluminous writings, Carl Jung, father of analytical psychology notes that that a psychological complex begins life as a secret, that because it remains unspoken, it gradually becomes hidden from the bearer him or herself. That secret then takes on a life of its own and begins to dominate the behaviour of that person in ways in which they can neither explain nor understand. The answer is to tell the secret.

The libertarian blogger Adriana Lukas grew up in the former Communist state of Czechoslovakia.  As a young woman she subsisted on samizdat copies of banned material and news. Books were buried in the garden between reading sessions at the weekend. And yet she observes something crucial about the nature of dissent, “it was never about revolution, or overthrowing the state. Rather it was about keeping sane by speaking to others who shared your views”.

However that’s not how The Blanket was perceived by many inside the political ascendancy of west Belfast. Its writing was often seen either as a threat, or as personal attacks on the larger project, i.e., the Republican Movement. In truth war tends to both to harden people, and lead them to centralize their resources in order to maximize the effects of their struggle. The default view of those external to the system is seen as a threat.

That The Blanket comes to a close now, a year after the resumption of what begins to look like a robust new era of representative democracy in Northern Ireland and the final acceptance of normal policing in almost all Republican areas across the jurisdiction, is probably telling.

The lunacy of charging IRA volunteers with keeping social order in their own communities, (a human rights scandal the scale of which can only be guessed at) is coming to an end. Dissent no longer carries with it the implicit danger of violence or threat of losing your home; or worse, your life.

More broadly an era of protest has passed. There are still a few who are attempting to carry on the armed struggle the IRA effectively abandoned fourteen years ago. But for many others, The Blanket gave another, more civil account of a term that has more commonly been reserved for Republican paramilitaries who refused to follow the lead of the Provisional IRA: ‘dissident’.

One definition of the word is “unorthodox - breaking with convention or tradition”. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of The Blanket has been its willingness cut against a very conformist Catholic grain to question the basic tenets of Irish Republicanism. In particular, the eye for telling detail some of its writers possessed had the effect of bursting those self deluding myths that have sustained an increasingly unreal sense of victim-hood.

Marianne Elliott notes towards the end of her epic history ‘The Catholics of Ulster’, that the revisionists of the Republic

‘spent several decades questioning the anti English underpinnings of their nationalist past – often in a language that shocked the greener nationalists. But the debate, even the shock therapy, was a pre-requisite to the emergence of the now confident Irish state as a player in world politics’.

Perhaps The Blanket’s greatest value has been ‘to speak truth unto paramilitary power’. It is to be hoped that the need for such has broadly passed, but that it is not to be the end of truth telling per se. Northern Ireland needs its awkward truth tellers now more than ever, if it is to free itself from both a bloody-minded past and an abiding sense of its own victim-hood.  And, more importantly perhaps, begin to follow the example of the Republic and take its place in a broader and more optimistic future.



Mick Fealty is the founding editor of Slugger O'Toole.




















Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles


18 May 2008

Other Articles From This Issue:

This Rock of Republicanism
Anthony McIntyre

A History of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein:
1970-1976; 1976-1986; 1987-2007
Liam O Ruairc

Gerry, Come Clean, You'll Feel Better
Dolours Price

Strategic Failures Leading to Unease
Tommy McKearney

The Victory of Ideology
Jerry Pepin

The Blanket, One Last Time
Anthony McIntyre

In Praise of A Journal of Dissent
Mick Fealty

A Genuine Platform of Free Expression
David Adams

Folding Up The Blanket
Seaghán Ó Murchú

The Death and Burial of The Blanket
Michael Gillespie

History Will Decide
Mick Hall

Thank You
Robert W. White

Tales of the Vam-PIRA
Brian Mór

The Blanket: A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Carrie Twomey


24 February 2008

Fear Dorcha
Anthony McIntyre

An Dorcha
Richard O'Rawe

Brendan Hughes, Comrade and Friend
Dolours Price

Meeting Brendan Hughes, "The Dark", 1948-2008
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Still Unfree
John Kennedy

An Unrepentant Fenian
Martin Galvin

RIP Brendan Hughes: "The Dark"
Mark Hayes

For Darkie
Brian Mór

The Funeral of Brendan Hughes: Setting the Record Straight
Anthony McIntyre

Irish News Report of the Funeral of Brendan Hughes
Dolours Price

The Resolve of the Dogs
Tommy Gorman

Adams in the Dark
Brian Mór

Weep, But Do Not Sleep
Anthony McIntyre

Hard Times for Gerry Adams
Brian Mór

Tribute to Brendan Hughes
Bill Ashe

An Irony of Irish Politics
Dr John Coulter

Brendan Hughes, 1949-2008: Irish Republican, Soldier, Socialist
Mick Hall

Ride On
Anthony McIntyre

Brendan Hughes
Archive Material



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