By Laurence McKeown (for Daily Ireland)
"Sagart ar an sciathan" (priest on the wing), the blanketman at the top of the wing called out. Footsteps, the rattle of keys, a cell door opened. We waited. So much of the blanket protest was about waiting; waiting on a monthly visit, a letter, sceal from outside, a wing shift, or waiting on the next beating. Muted voices, the cell door closed, a grille clanged shut. The voice of Brendan Hughes, former OC of the republican prisoners in the H-blocks and himself still recovering from his hunger strike, then rang out the length of the wing: "Bobby's dead."
It was the news we had been expecting for days but as it turned out we were probably the last ones to hear it - our smuggled radio had packed in a few days earlier.
Once the words were uttered the wing fell silent.
Very significant moments in life are often the quietest ones. To utter words somehow seems to take away from the importance of what is happening.
Yet there is the desire, or human need, to communicate with others, not in long sentences of dialogue but to utter simple words. To make sounds. To hear our voices speak. To hear the voices of others. To reaffirm to one another we exist.
What we knew in that moment of silence was that things had changed for ever.
The blanket protest of five years was over, replaced by something much larger.
Where it would take us no one knew. But we understood we were in the final stages of a battle and that we were up for that battle; resolute through a comradeship forged in struggle waged under extreme conditions.
Twenty-five years later analysts offer their interpretations.
History and political developments post 1981 are explained in a coherent, systemic manner. Maybe the academic mind needs to make sense of things according to materialistic values and within parameters of 'normal behaviour'. But there was nothing normal about our lives in the H-blocks during the years 1976-1981 so why should our thinking and actions be assessed according to a 'normal' system of measurement.
The great, the good and the scientist are left baffled and confused. They speak a multitude of deafening words by way of explanation. The poor, the oppressed, the colonised understand totally. They utter monosyllables - to comfort, to reach out, to affirm life and struggle.