Danny Morrison


Life
1953- ; grew up in West Belfast; ed. Youth Club magazine, 1970; ed. magazine for Belfast College of Business Studies, 1971; ed. Republican News, 1975; became Publicity Officer for Sinn Féin, renowned for summary of Sinn Féin/PIRA policy as ‘an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other’; decisively defeated by John Hume in European Elections, 1984 when Sinn Féin promised to supersede SDLP in electoral popularity; issued West Belfast (1989), a novel; convicted for false imprisonment of RUC informer and sentence to 8 years imprisonment, 1990;
 
studied with Open University while in Long Kesh (The Maze) prison; issued a second novel, On the Back of a Swallow (1994), launched in West Belfast during 4 days parole, and dealing with society’s treatment of homosexual love; issued The Wrong Man (1997), a novel, dealing with the misidentification of a so-called ‘tout’ [informer] within the IRA; also Then the Walls Came Down (1999), letters home from jail during 1990-92; isseud All the Dead Voices (2002), an autobiography; also rewrote The Wrong Man as a play; Morrison is joint-person of the annual Feile an Phobail festival in West Belfast; a fifth grandson, Lorcan, was born in 2002.

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Works
Fiction, West Belfast (Cork: Mercier Press 1988), 232pp.; On the Back of the Swallow (Cork: Mercier Press 1994), 256pp.; Then the Walls Came Down: A Prison Journal (Cork: Mercier 1999), 318pp. Drama, The Wrong Man [dir Sarah Tipple] New Strung Th., London 2005).

Autobiography, All the Dead Voices (Cork: Mercier Press 2002), 192pp.; with Brid Rodgers & Monica McWilliams, “Northern Futures”, in The Irish Review, No. 31 [Irish Futures Iss.] (Spring-Summer 2004), pp.79-87; espec. pp.79-82 [see note, infra.].

Miscellaneous, Foreword to The Diary of Bobby Sands (1981); and Do., trans. into German as Bobby Sands, Tagebuchaufzeichnungen der ersten 17 tage seines Hungerstrikes, Vorw. Danny Morisson [q.d.]; review of Dermot Bolger, A Second Life, and Joseph O’Connor, Desperadoes, in Summer Books, Fortnight (July-Aug. 1994); ‘Jude the Unobscure’, review of Jude Collins [Gerard Keenan], Booing the Bishop and Other Stories, in Fortnight Review 344 (Nov. 1995), p.36; Foreword to Patrick Magee, Gangsters or Guerrillas?: Representation of Irish Republicans in Troubles Fiction (Belfast: Beyond the Pale 2001) [infra]; ed. Hunger Strike: Reflections on the 1981 Hunger Strike (Dingle: Brandon Press 2007), 267pp.

Bibliographical details
The Irish Review [“Irish Futures” Issue], (Spring-Summer 2004) contains “Northern Futures”, by Danny Morrison, Brid Rodgers and Monica McWilliams - in which each responds to the editors' request ‘to a range of politicians and activists in Northern Ireland to imagine the future of the province in a generation's time.’ (See extracts under Quotations, infra.)

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Criticism
  • Mark Liberman, interviews Danny Morrison, in Fortnight, 280 (Jan. 1990), p.18 [infra];
  • Medbh McGuckian, review of On the Back of a Swallow in Fortnight (Dec. 1994), [infra];
  • Danine Farquharson, ‘Resisting Genre and Type: Narrative Strategy and Instability in Danny Morrison’s The Wrong Man and Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark’, in Writing Ulster, No. 6 [‘Northern Narratives’], ed. Bill Lazenblatt (1999), pp.90-112, espec. 91-101;
  • Rory Brennan, review of Then the Walls Came Down: A Prison Journal in Books Ireland (Feb. 2000), p.18 [infra];
  • Kevin Myers, Irishman’s Diary (11 May 2000) [infra];
  • Richard English, ‘Revolutionary writing’, Fortnight, 404 (May 2002) [infra].

Internet: There is a Danny Morrison website at www.dannymorrison.com.

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Commentary
Mark Liberman, interview with Danny Morrison, in Fortnight, 280 (Jan. 1990), p.18: West Belfast tries to ‘put things into a wider context, into a historical perspective, by showing how we’ve got to this point’. The novel concerns the politicisation and then imprisonment of Jimmy O’Neill and records his changing attitude to violence; it ends with diary entries among which the following: ‘the three men were British soldiers - they were from a Scottish regiment. I again felt like crying. This is wrong and I am moved for the man who thinks this is right.’ (1971; p.124). In 1972, however, he has ‘for a moment a great suicidal tendency for Ireland. Felt like assassinating Ted Heath or Reginald Maudling’ (p.227). Jimmy shoots a British soldier, rationalising his act in recognition that the soldier probably supported the same FA Cup team as himself: ‘it doesn’t come easy to copy the killers and kill, and even up history a bit’ (p.175). He believes that he will ‘live in some sort of communion with him […] maybe even thinking about him when his widow has stopped’ (p.177).

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Medbh McGuckian review of On the Back of a Swallow in Fortnight (Dec. 1994), [q.p.]; ‘first novel was a heady Graham Greene-like exploration of the fifth commandment, the fifth column of it … second analyses complexity of sixth … Anyone seizing on the theme of incipient homosexuality as evidence of the author’s won has merely to comb the text to be disappointed by his acute hetero-ness. The few explicit passages evoking adolescent awakenings and passionate initiations have flesh-and-blood women as their soul object – consenting adult males never come near physicality.’

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Rory Brennan, review of Then the Walls Came Down: A Prison Journal, in Books Ireland (Feb. 2000), p.18; remarks, ‘the Northern Irish tone of compulsive jokery, nicknames, put-downs and “anarchic?” with predominates […] there is something missing, a seriousness possibly connected with responsibility, that Morrison has just not addressed and that needs to be here’; notes that Morrison quotes O’Donovan Rossa (p.18).

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Kevin Myers, “Irishman’s Diary” (The Irish Times, 11 May 2000), writes on the subject of ‘winning the peace’ and complains that terrorism is laundered as ‘republican activities’ in Sunday Times publicity for Morrison’s The Walls Came Tumbling Down: A Prison Journal; cites his abduction of an alleged informer as the cause of his imprisonment and speaks of triumph of green gestapoism; ‘the IRA has lost all its previous wars, yet won the literary peace which followed.’ Remarks that Ernie O’Malley’s account of the murder of three young captured British army officers is free of both regret or remorse’ and that ‘it went on to serve as an enduring template of how to treat captured British soldiers’; recalls that when Lennox, Tom and Nora Robinson wrote in Three Homes (1934) of the mysterious murder of a young Protestant from West Cork in 1921, they could not more than allude to it, such is the pall of silence cast over the non-‘republican’ viewpoint’; lists IRA-men Gilmour, McGartland, O’Callaghan and Collins who ‘did their bounden duty’ to assist the forces of law and order.

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Kevin Myers, “Irishman’s Diary” [column] (The Irish Times, 21 Sept. 2005), takes Morrison to task for his letter to the Irish Times lamenting the lack of food service on the Dublin-Belfast express, and narrates the killings of various victims of IRA interrrogations - including the instance of the kidnapping of one Sandy Lynch in which Morrison was found to be complicit by an N. Ireland court - and ends by asking Morrison to ‘endure life’s little misfortunes in silence. In other words, Danny my boy, you’re alive. So shut up.’ (reprint in More Myles: An Irishman's Diary, 1997-2006, Dublin: Lilliput Press 2007) pp.138-40.)

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Richard English, ‘Revolutionary writing’, Fortnight, 404 (May 2002), quotes: ‘I always wanted to become a writer […] I poured any talent I had into publicity, or the other term - that the enemy uses - propaganda’. Further, Morrison admits that he wrote On the Back of the Swallow ‘to prove to myself that I wasn’t just a Troubles writer’. He goes on, ‘My preference would be to be doing nothing else but readling novels or history or philosophy or essays or literary criticism, and writing literary criticism and writing fiction.’ Forthcoming book of essays initially to be called The Dead because ‘it’s all about dead people: either dead friends, dead comrades, dead writers, dead composers.’ (pp.22-23; bio-notes as supra.)

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Quotations
Life After Long Kesh’: ‘I read voraciously in prison - European and world literature … I find fiction much more expressive and it gives you scope to explore complex human natures and to unearth and to describe truths which otherwise eludes observation’; his first novel, West Belfast (1988), an attempt to show readers, especially those in the Republic, how a peaceful community could move from a position of civil rights to supporting the use of violence’; ‘Shortly after On the Back of the Swallow was issued a ceasefire was called and I just felt really exhilarated and liberated […]. And I also though that this was perhaps the opportunity I had been waiting for 24 yers to become a serious writer, because I had always seen myself in that light util the troubbles came along and I got absorbed in the struggle’; although Morrison began The Wrong Man during the ceasefire, he finished it after Canary Wharf [bombing], and two moods are evident in the book. ‘Although West Belfast had an agenda, The Wrong Man was written in a non-judgmental way…. I don’t take sides in it, nor do I promote one particular side, and I felt I was able to do that because of the sense of liberation and elation amongst people in general, including republicans. But morale went into tailspin after the British Government started to throw up issues of permanence, clarification, decommissioning. At an early stage it started to turn sour, so when I began the book I had no republican hang-ups, and I wrote it without the mindset I had when writing West Belfast’; Morrison says the book has turned out a ‘bleak and disturbing novel’, and the book became darker as a result of the breakdown of the ceasefire. ([q. auth,] review supplied on Virginia Tech. Irish-studies Email List in 1988.)

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Bodenstown address (1981): “There are today, politicians, historians and intellectuals (and newspaper editors)”, Dan Morrison of Sinn Féin told the Bodenstown gathering in June 1981, “men of property, who spend hours swivelling in their leather chairs, their judgement tempered and choked by their own affluence, concocting distortions of republican history to berate us … [and] support their contention about just how different the Republican Movement today is supposedly from the Republican Movement the past”. (Quoted in Marianne Elliott, Wolfe Tone : Prophet of Independence, 1989 [see further comments, infra].)

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Violence Rewarded, While Feile Is Punished’ [on Feile an Phobail / People’s Festival]: ‘The cost to the taxpayer/exchequer of last September’s [2005] loyalist rioting and destruction was £3million. / Many years ago, buses used to be burnt on the Falls Road at a cost in compensation of about £100,000 for two, I think. / That was before Feile an Phobail was established as a West Belfast community arts festival in 1988. The festival was aimed as a positive alternative to the annual protests linked to the anniversary of the introduction of internment and RUC/British army attacks on marchers or those at bonfires. It was aimed at supplanting riots and civil strife and providing an alternative to conflict. Of course, its critics never let up about its political debates and lectures or sporting events named after dead republicans. If you weren’t moulded in their middle-class, middle-of-the-road image, and no matter what good you were doing, you were to be demonised and denigrated, especially if you were having fun. / Over the years the festival – as a result of voluntary workers, and funding from state and statutory bodies - became better organised and formally established with an office and staff. West Belfast is not prolific in terms of businesses, industry or financial corporations yet thanks to consistent sponsors, such as Bass Ireland, the festival became the envy of even mainstream festivals and a major attraction to overseas visitors. During festival time people were employed as bar and security staff. The resources of the area were utilised and optimised. / Feile an Phobail also sees itself as having a role in education and in promoting non-sectarianism, community relations, inclusiveness, anti-racism. / Given the historic deprivation in the area prices were kept at a minimum and all literary, political events and lectures were deliberately free. The events which made some profit – marquee concerts, comedy night, tribute nights – helped to defray the costs of some of the cultural events which had received only limited funding. / But it was never easy. / The Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC) – which is funded by the Department of Arts, Culture and Leisure (DCAL) – likes to subsidise the occasional Elton John or Pavarotti concert in the grounds of Stormont. But four years ago it refused to fund the Harlem Gospels Choir at Clonard Monastery for spurious reasons, including that it made no “significant contribution to promoting social cohesion.” All the main churches were represented, including Buddhists and Hare Krishnas, and a delegation of Shankill women’s group. That same week DCAL listed Feile as attracting the largest audience in Belfast City Council area! / The refusal meant that Feile had to find over £10,000 to cover costs. […]’ (Daily Ireland, 21 June 2006; see Dannymorrison website, accessed [online] 1.4.2007 - being the latest entry posted at that date.)

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The Wind That Shakes The Barley [1996; dir Ken Loach] is an honest portrayal of how conflict took its toll on the people of one small community in rural Cork during the Tan War and Civil War. Dáil Eireann, the democratic choice of the majority of the people, has been suppressed and British rule is enforced by bayonet and bullet. The IRA fights back and the community stoically suffers great repression in turn. To deter informers and protect itself the IRA Flying Column kills one of its own men – a pathetic, weak, inarticulate youth who betrayed his comrades. The IRA also executes an articulate Protestant landlord (who holds his own convictions) for supplying information to the British and in reprisal for the hanging of two of its men. […] Loach does not balk at portraying the brutality of war from all sides. However, we only hear about and do not see the Belfast pogroms against Catholics in the North (when hundreds died), which is the first instalment they have to pay for the Government of Ireland Act. Partition is thus made a fait accompli (the Belfast Parliament opened in June 1921) even before the Truce (July 1921) and negotiations lead to the divisive Treaty which ultimately divides the IRA and sparks civil war in the South. / I left the cinema stressed and distressed because of the story’s overwhelming sadness and could even appreciate – though not empathise – with the pragmatism of the emergent Free State forces who considered full freedom to be elusive. Some balked before the threat of Lloyd George’s “immediate and terrible war”. Some felt that the critical decision to settle was based on the reality of the IRA being poorly armed, having little finances and the people reeling from the terror of the Tans. Some also felt – and how wrong they were - that the Treaty was “a stepping stone to the Republic”.’ (Ibid.; 12 June 2006; [Go online or see copy, in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index or direct.)

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Northern Futures”, in The Irish Review, No. 31 [Irish Futures Iss.] (Spring-Summer 2004), pp.79-87; espec. pp.79-82: ‘Ten years ago, in 1993, I was in prison and had just two more years to go before by release (barring a major incident in the jail and punishment by loss of remission). I had just finished an Arts Foundation Course with the Open University, and had the opportunity to continue with the OU or to begin writing a second novel. The OU course stretched out for another five years, whereas when I was released from prison I would need to put my life back in order, get a house and earn a living. I chose to throw myself into another book. / My first book, West Belfast (1989), had been was was pejoratively called a “Troubles novel”. But in the second book I wanted to prove I wasn’t solely a “Troubles novelist”. I had been in the Republican Movement full-time since 1972 but I had many other interests besides politics, not least fiction and a desire to write. / Although I had been in the leadership of the Republcan Movement before my arrest in 1990, I was not involved with or privy to its subsequent decision-making. Certainly, in Crumlin Road Jail my curiosity had been aroused in December 1990 when the IRA announced its first Christmas ceasefire in sixteen years. And, reading between the lines of the various British and Irish republican statements, I suspected that contact had been re-established and tentative moves towards talks were beginning.’ [79; cont.]

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Northern Futures” (in The Irish Review, 2004) - cont: ‘The book that I did decide to write, was it turned out, was, in a loose sense, a “post-Troubles novel”. But On the Back of the Swallow was written more out of a desire to experiment and explore beyond the usual issues I had habitually dealt with, than in anticipation of a new political dispensation and beginning. / It was set in an unnamed city (but one with the geography of Belfast), in an undated year (but contemporary), where there was no communal conflict, no armed struggle, no IRA or British army or RUC. I decides to assume that the Troubles had been resolved in the 1920s or 1930s and that we were now dealing with the issues of a socierty not preoccupied with a national question or political conflict. / There remained, however, the individual: in my story a gay individdual, whose passionate friendship with and love for an adolescent youth provokes the forces of a wrathful, conservative society in all its bitterness. I felt that literature could play a role in challenging prejudice and in upholding certain values. / As it turned out,s some assumingly perspicacous reviewers misread the novel, including she in The Irish Times who wanted to know what did Danny Morrison thing he was playing at: where were the IRA punishment beatings, etc. How ironic. Even fictionally I was not allowed to move on from the Troubles and imagine how the individual could survive in a new society, albeit one that mimicked or resembled some aspects of the worst of the old. My fictional Belfast was in gestation, though I wasn’t aware of it.’ [... 80; cont.]

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Northern Futures” (in The Irish Review, 2004) - cont: ‘[...] The sense of morality has changed, the power of the priest has evaporated. The reputaton of the Catholic Church - which used ot ahve considerable moral force - has been mauled by a continual flood of child sexual scandals. The fall-out may be to give way to an increasingly materialistic approach to life. A consequence of reduced spiritual values and some sort of political harmony, might, ironically, give rise to apathy as a common value around which today's infants as adults could paradoxically unite. We don't deserve that. / I would prefer that we foster a progressive outlook, a culture that is concerned about the social and economic struggles of other peoples, particularly in the Third World.’ (p.81.) [Of his grandchildren:] ‘I don't mind if they come to have a blasé attitude towards politics as long as they have peace, justice, equality, and are free to make choices. I also like to think that sectarianism will become a major victim of peace, and that our communities will have become more integrated so that the only “peace walls” in Belfast will be the few preserved as examples for the tourists or as artefacts of a war long over.’ (p.82; end.)

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Brian Moore: Danny Morrison’s foreword to Patrick Magee, Gangsters or Guerrillas?: Representation of Irish Republicans in Troubles Fiction (Belfast: Beyond the Pale 2001), slams Brian Moore’s Lies of Silence as ‘preposterous’ in its account of IRA practices. The author of the study is a graduate of Long Kesh. His study begins with John Broderick, The Fugitives (1962).

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Notes
Jo O’Donoghue (of Mercier/Marino Press) writes in answer to Kevin Myer’s [q.v.] column using Danny Morrison’s The Walls Came Down as ‘a launching platform for intemperate attacks on RTÉ, Irish public opinion and the author himself (Irishman’s Diary, 11 May 2000), citing Billy Hutchinson, Brian Keenan, Eoghan Harris, Maurice Hayes and Mary Holland among those who noted the humanity, thoughtfulness and tolerance of the book. (The Irish Times, 13 May 2000.)

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