By Bernadette McAliskey (for the Blanket)
I met George the very first time I went to America, in 1969 ‘straight from the Bogside front-line.’ I met a lot of people then, and thereafter, but there remains a small core of stalwarts, who have been my friends, compatriots, and companeros ever since that momentous trip; foremost amongst these, were my two great mentors Paul O’Dywer and George Harrison, both gone from us now.
I know that George had no belief or expectation that his life, having quietly been brought to a close in the comfort of his own sitting room, he might, against all the odds, find himself before a court once more. He was probably right.
But in the possibility however remote of it happening, a celestial emergency call to George’s saviour, Frank Durkan was on the cards.
‘Hi Frank, it’s Paul here. George is at the Pearly Gate, refusing to recognise the court, unionising the gate keepers and demanding to know the calibre of the occupants before pleading. He has also suggested to Peter that his boss isn’t a patch on Fidel, and indicating that some of his character witnesses might need temporary release from a warmer place in order to testify. Should I take the case?’
I suggested a plan B for Frank - Leave the phone off the hook, just in case.
You will each, today, be paying tribute and sharing memories of George’s unique contribution to all our lives, his political commitment and principle, his personal generosity, and his lifelong involvement in the struggle for a better world for human beings to live in.
When George decided that Eoin McNamee, himself and myself would organise the fundraising for a memorial to Tommy Patten, a young Mayo man who fought and died in the Spanish Civil War, he told me how Eoin and George had been refused permission to go to Spain by the republican leadership, on the grounds that they didn’t speak Spanish. They protested that young Patten didn’t speaking Spanish either. ‘Nor does he speak English’ was the reply. They said their goodbyes and parted with their Gaelic speaking comrade at Paddington Station, London.
Young Patten headed to Spain with a ‘soda round’ his mother made and a change of underwear both tied in a brown paper parcel. Eoin was en route to America, where, in California, he quickly learned Spanish from Mexican workers in a bid to get to Spain, and George headed briefly to unionise the Irish Navvies of N. England before following his O.C. to the USA.
Many years later, George reassembled the last of his old unit, and those he felt represented them adequately in their absence; he detailed their last duty, which he personally led, until its conclusion - the daily health care of their comrade and commanding officer, who was terminally ill. George saw to it that Eoin’s needs in life and his wishes in death were attended to, and his ashes are buried on the mountainside in Broughderg, Co, Tyrone, where his inscription reads in Spanish, Irish and English.
I could not persuade George to make the trip for the funeral. His work was done. There was no need, no reason for him to come. These conversations lead to talk of such things and I was somewhat surprised at the strength of opinion with George dismissed his own ashes returning to Mayo. The land which buried one Mayo man in six-foot of concrete hardly needed to be graced with the remains of another. Forgiveness was not high on George’s agenda, except where his friends were concerned and the ordinary weaknesses of their human nature. The names many of us identify as ‘disembodied’ heroes, from many cultures and struggles, George knew as real flesh and blood people who had their strengths and weaknesses, people he had worked with in the vast canvass of his political activity.
Loyalty, reliability and discretion were the hallmarks of this old soldier although on occasion he would remark to me, with glee:
‘If Joe Cahill gets to hear of this we’re court-martialled’
- I would always reply ‘you’ll be court-martialled, George. I’m not one of ye.’
- ‘You’ll be court-martialled, anyway, my girl, if Cahill gets wind of this.’
I only once knew George to pull rank. We were on a Noraid picket line and George as usual was cross pollinating the revolution by distributing leaflets from other organisations - Cuba Solidarity, Puerto Rico were to the fore. He was asked to stop and declined to do so. Negotiation was minimal, if he didn’t stop he would be evicted from the picket. ‘Evict’ was an unfortunate choice of word.
He threw back his square shoulders and stuck out his solid Mayo neck; ‘You don’t have the strength for it,’ he challenged, and the hapless organiser seeking no public confrontation with George retreated from the threat but insisted that George was ‘harming the cause’ and proffered a new sanction; he would report this altercation to the leadership.
‘You don’t have the credentials,’ retorted George with undisguised disdain, and continued his revolutionary duty of spreading the word.
George Harrison was above all other things a modest, quiet man. Even in the prime of his youth, a stranger passing him in the street, would have no hint, no signal, no reason to suspect that this was an uncompromising radical, a committed internationalist and socialist, a militant, an activist, a man whose every waking hour was devoted to struggle armed or unarmed, to bring about revolutionary change in the world into which he was born.
Only a fool like George Bush and a braggart like Tony Blair could delude themselves that the George Harrison’s of this world can be defeated by their military intelligence, satellite surveillance, warmongering, human rights denial, and pathetic attempts to seal their borders. George Harrison, Mayo man, Irish Republican, Socialist, Internationalist Humanitarian and Labour Organiser led them all a merry dance for 70 years of adult life and lived and died on his own terms.
We shall miss him.
Could any of us ask for more? - except - I hear George add - the birth of the 32 County Socialist Republic.