A bond of friendship and solidarity lasting over 50 years was celebrated in Dublin last month. The occasion was the launch of the English language edition of Cypriot and Irish Political Prisoners held in British prisons 1956-1959.
The author Vias Livadas, a veteran of the Cypriot independence struggle and former political prisoners spoke movingly of the friendship forged in extreme adversity between the Irish Republican prisoners and he and his fellow countrymen.
The Pearse Centre was full to overflowing as the large crowd mixed with Irish Republican and Cypriot veterans of this fascinating episode in anti-colonial history. Also in attendance was the Cypriot ambassador to the 26 Counties Sotos Liassides and Prof Frixos Joannides, formerly of University College Dublin. Also in attendance was former Mid-Ulster TD Tom Mitchell as well as Republican Sinn Féin joint Vice- Presidents Cathleen Knowles McGuirk and Des Dalton as well as Ard Chomhairle member Des Long.
The ceremony mixed Irish traditional music with a reading by Anna Barron of Padraig Pearse’s ‘The Fool’.
The launch was chaired by life-long Republican activist and veteran of the 1956-62 Resistance campaign, Charlie Murphy, whose brother Donal was one of the Republican prisoners held in Wormwood Scrubs prison in England during the 1950s. Veteran EOKA resistance fighter and political prisoner Renos Kyriakides recalled with emotion his first contact with Irish Republican prisoners in Wormwood scrubs prison in August 1956.
On entering the prison the EOKA prisoners faced a gauntlet of abuse and threats from the ordinary English prisoners encouraged by the Prison warders. In the food hall they were met by the first friendly faces when they met the three Irish Republican prisoners held there, Donal Murphy, Sean Mac Stiofain and Manus Canning who introduced themselves, together the small group of Irish and Cypriot revolutionaries faced down the English mob. It marked the beginning of comradeship which over 50 years was still very evident for all at the launch to see.
Manus Canning recalled the conditions endured by the Cypriot and Irish political prisoners giving a graphic description of the inedible food. He also shared his command of the Greek language a legacy of his time spent in Wormwood Scrubs. The book was launched by author and historian Tim Pat Coogan who said that both countries had been subjected to partition. “But whereas Ireland historically had to deal with only one major power Cyprus is tossed like a cork in a storm set off by many cyclones.”
The author Vias Livadas spoke of the historical links between Ireland and Cyprus. Both were nations locked in a common struggle for nationhood against a common enemy he said. Vias Livadas said that the Irish and Cypriot prisoners were known as “the rebellious team” and their “permanent goal” was escape. Indeed the only successful escape from Wakefield prison was the fruit of the cooperation between Irish Republicans and EOKA when Seamus Murphy scaled the wall to freedom.
The intention of the EOKA fighters if their escape had been successful was to join the Resistance campaign in Ireland, if this had come about it would have been an almost unique practical demonstration of international solidarity
A remarkable story of connected with the escape is recounted in the book relates to a Cypriot woman Katina Pilina who donated her dowry of #500 - a huge sum of money at the time -towards supporting the escape plan. In 2007 when attending the launch of the Greek language edition of the book in Cyprus, Seamus Murphy finally met the woman who gave up her dowry to aid his escape.
Katina Pilina travelled to Dublin for the launch and a presentation was made to her by Seamus Grealy who was one of the principal people involved in organising the escape.
Presentations were also made by the Cypriot EOKA veterans to Maire Mhic Stiofain widow of Sean Mac Stiofain, Charlie Murphy accepted on behalf of his brother Donal, the family of the late Joe Doyle, Manus Canning, Seamus Murphy and Cathal Og Goulding on behalf of his late father Cathal Goulding.
This historic and at times moving event ended with a rendition of Brendan Behan’s ‘The laughing boy’ in Greek by historian Manus O’Riordan.
Vias Livadas’ Cypriot and Irish Political Prisoners sheds light on a shared chapter in Cypriot and Irish revolutionary history when international solidarity against imperialism and colonialism was lifted beyond mere lip service and proved that the spirit of comradeship and resistance could transcend language, miles or prison walls.