Monthly Archives: February 2023

Provos’ Money Man In Hot Water……

People in New York, as well as Dublin, Dundalk and Belfast will all have stories to tell about Des Mackin. Seems he has now attracted the attention of The Irish Times, about which you can read here and here; maybe someone might now care to take a look at hotel ownership North of the Border……now there’s a story

So, Farewell Then Henry, It Was Nice Knowing You….

We had all been expecting Henry McDonald’s death for some time, but even so, the end of life for someone that you liked and have known for many years, and was in the prime of life, still comes as an unwelcome shock. He rang me late last year to tell me of the fateful cancer diagnosis, that he had at best just a few months left of life but we continued our conversations as if maybe it would not happen. We often talked of, or rather emailed about soccer, he of his beloved but, like himself, seemingly doomed Everton and me of Spurs, like his team, cursed by poor management and overshadowed by better financed and led local rivals.

We had other things in common, notably a fascination with the Troubles and in particular the journey undertaken by the Provos, one which saw them ending at a place eerily similar to his and my starting point, a place familiar to anyone who had been persuaded that left-wing, anti-sectarian politics offered the best way forward and that ideas were more powerful weapons than guns could ever be.

We also had this in common:

In 1973, I joined the Republican Clubs in the Markets, a natural progression, it seemed, from the civil rights agitation in which, as a student at QUB, I had been involved, and there met his mother who was a fierce devotee of the cause; perhaps it was her inherited DNA that charted his life’s course. By the autumn of that year I was penniless, in debt to the bank and with no prospect, on a teacher’s meagre salary, of ever knowing anything but penury.

Col Gaddafi saved my life. He had expelled the British Council from Libya not long after his 1969 revolution and sent to Ireland for English teachers, offering salaries that were a multiple of the wages paid by Larne tech college. Within weeks, I waved farewell to Belfast (temporarily) and the Mellowes-McCann Republican Club (permanently) and boarded a plane to North Africa, a language laboratory on the University of Tripoli campus, subsidised food (fillet mignon was the same price as mince meat), sun-soaked Mediterranean beaches and a light work load. Not long afterwards my crippling debt had become a bad memory.

When I returned to Belfast it was with a determination that my life, at least politically, would take a different direction. A year or so after I landed in Tripoli, the Officials had split when internal differences over armed struggle and the national question had become irreconcilable and a long, bloody feud had claimed too many lives to count. Not only had the political activity of a few years before become life-threateningly dangerous but it was also now pretty pointless, at least to my mind.

Henry, meanwhile, followed in his mother’s footsteps and unlike myself was still addicted to the kool-aid, at least for some long time. I hesitated interrogating him about those early, pre-journalism years but I knew something then of his political journey.

I first met him at UTV’s headquarters in the early 1980’s where myself and others had been asked to discuss possible community-based TV programme ideas.

I had started writing, along with a group of talented and diverse writers for the Belfast Bulletin, a leftish and occasional publication which covered issues like the De Lorean car company and Roy Mason’s economic and security policies. Henry had been invited to the meeting, UTV told us, as a representative of a Dublin-based film company called Iskra, which had the same name as the Bolshevik publication founded by Lenin in pre-revolutionary Russia. You can read the fascinating story of the Irish Iskra and its links to the Workers Party here.

Henry also appeared to maintain links with East Germany and here below, is a photo of a very young looking Henry, with a group of, I assume, Belfast comrades somewhere in the GDR. He looks so young he might still be at school. The guy on the far right has a T-shirt with the letters ‘GDR’ printed on the chest:

On this internet site, Henry writes of his experience in East Germany:

‘Actually I was in East Berlin as a 17-year-old callow young communist in 1981. I was in a communist youth group working with the East German FDJ. We lived in an international tented village and our neighbours in the camp including comrades from Cuba, Mongolia and Vietnam as well eurocommunist parties from Spain and Italy.

‘I remember playing badminton one morning before we went to work with a former Vietnamese soldier who spoke French. He had a scar under his eye and he explained it was from a wound during clashes with the Chinese in the war two years earlier. Work, by the way, was digging up old kilometre stones on the Moscow to Berlin railway and replacing with new shiny plastic ones. Ideology was the attraction back then although there was a lot of hedonistic fun too.’

None of this means that Henry’s later journalism was fatally tainted but to understand why a journalist wrote what he or she wrote, it helps to know where they came from. We should all expect and even welcome the same scrutiny.

RIP Henry.