The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

The Untouchables

I'm told you raised your hand against yourself ... at last brought up against an impassable frontier, you passed, they say, a passable one - Berthold Brecht

Anthony McIntyreOther View Winter 2002

The book Suicide and Attempted Suicide by Erwin Stengel was one that was sent into the prison to me by a friend, Aine, in 1986. In an ironic twist which caused both bafflement and considerable anguish, Aine later took her own life and requested that her ashes be spread over the grave of one of the 1981 hunger strikers. A former prisoner made the journey and honoured her wishes.

In his book, Stengel noted that in several East African tribes the tree on which a person had hanged himself had to be felled and burnt. It was a thought that crossed my mind two weeks ago when I discovered that my journey through the Whiterock had been thwarted by someone who, in the words of Brecht, ‘destroyed a torturable body.’ When the PSNI stopped me and told me that I could proceed no further, I didn’t ask why. I thought it was a situation involving joyriders, frequent enough in that part. Taking a diversion, I met a former republican prisoner on the Whiterock Road. He explained what had happened to cause the diversion. A man had hanged himself. At that point I half-wished we had missed each other if only to avoid the involuntarily shudder that meandered its way through my body.

Only seven days earlier I had been in town when a street trader whom I knew approached me and told me that a certain man had died as a result of his own hand in the graveyard. As it turned out he had been given the wrong name although the similarity between it and the name of the dead man was so pronounced that it was easy to see how the mistake could have been made. Despite not seeing eye to eye with the man whose name had wrongly been conveyed to me as the victim, I immediately felt for him and his family. Why it had happened and what could have been done to prevent it were the type of questions that raced through my mind. It is those instances that we come to realise that the dislikes, grudges and animosities we bear are for the most part political and that no personal expiation is required on the part of our opponents to appease and neutralise them.

Upon being told the reason behind the diversion I could have turned back to visit the scene. Chancing my arm I could perhaps have gained access to the restricted area. I had a press card and with a bit of persistence may just have got through. But I chose not to, telling myself that it would be an intrusion on the dignity of the person who had ended it all hanging from a tree; that in some way by returning I would be violating the last bit of personal space chosen so deliberately by this man on which to bid the world adieu. The real reason I refrained from going was entirely different. I did not want to see the dead body hanging from a tree. I did not want to experience the unease that it would prompt within me. I chose not to share with the victim a moment of my physical presence, even as a gesture of sympathy, a mark of respect or a symbolic act of companionship offered to one whose loneliness ruptured the social safety net which can sometimes prevent such things happening. Beyond our touch in life, I hesitated to reach out and touch him, even symbolically, in death.

On my return journey, the path seemed clear of the PSNI so I ventured up. Tentatively, I peered towards the trees from beneath the peak of my baseball cap wondering which one he had settled for upon which to draw his final breath before the drop into nothingness. Children playing noticed me and said ‘there’s his rope mister’. A cyclist of about 11 wearing a Leeds United football top was, in true Tom Sawyer fashion, trying to entice other kids down the street by telling them that the body was still there. They told him he was spoofing. I pondered on what macabre satisfaction children derive from such insouciance, then checked myself. My own thoughts drifted back to 1974 when a man in ‘A’ Wing of Crumlin Road jail tried to hang himself on A3. He was moved to the hospital wing and one of the screws asked would I carry his belongings down to the office on A1. I did, and then facetiously asked ‘what about his rope?' The screw I offered it to seemed appalled, appreciating the seriousness of the matter much more than I did. At 17 these things have a different hue; the pain is not appreciated, the mental turmoil seldom understood. Who was I to judge children much younger? They were only exercising their freedom and experimenting with their world.

Suicide is a problem plaguing West Belfast. Community workers appear to be at their wits end trying to grapple with the phenomenon. They do their utmost to find a social solution that obviates the individual solution that lonely depressed beings see as their only option. And until our ‘why?’ becomes more compelling than the ‘why not?' of those who succumb, the hanging trees of West Belfast will continue to support those most solitary in our midst.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely.
- Adam Michnik

Index: Current Articles

13 December 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Giving Political Leadership
Liam O Ruairc


The Truth About Turkey
Mags Glennon


Belfast Socialists, Capitalism and War
Davy Carlin


Don't Join the RUC/PSNI

Sean Matthews


The Untouchables
Anthony McIntyre


Chaos Theory: Stickies and Stones Break Bones
Eamon Lynch


8 December 2002


The British State Murder of Pearse Jordan
Anthony McIntyre


The Falls And Shankill March As One
Davy Carlin


Alternatives to the GFA?
Paul Fitzsimmons


Ted Honderich: A Philosopher in the Trenches
Paul de Rooji


Uri Davis and the Battle Against Israeli Apartheid
Anthony McIntyre


Palestinian Children In The Night
Sam Bahour


Solitary Confinement Kills
Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Cephesi




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