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Voices From the Grave: The Funeral of David Ervine

The author is a QUB Pol Sci Honours graduate and has written extensively on imperialism, national liberation struggles and class issues.


After several readings of Voices From the Grave by Ed Moloney, which contains the twin posthumous memoirs of both Brendan Hughes and David Ervine, it is interesting to compare and contrast the two very different accounts contained within its pages. Both Brendan Hughes and David Ervine were working-class Irishmen living in the same city, but that's more or less where the overt similarities end, unless of course one counts the fact that Gerry Adams was an uninvited mourner at both of their funerals!

Provisional IRA volunteer Brendan Hughes' account is by far the more honest and soul searching in Maloney's book, telling of his involvement in Ireland's most recent nationalist liberation struggle. Ervine's account is like a manifesto for collusion, state-sponsored murder and proto-Strasserism.

Brendan Hughes was a lifelong Republican, lifelong Socialist, a former IRA prisoner and a hunger striker. David Ervine was a lifelong Loyalist, a former Loyalist prisoner and eventually leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is widely seen to be the political wing of the UVF. In the latter years of his life, Ervine was a professional politician elected to the Stormont Assembly. He was no stranger to Downing Street in London or the corridors of power in Leinster House, in Dublin and received much attention from the local and international media.

Brendan Hughes ended his days far from the spotlight of Irish politics and the media. Many of his fair-weather friends from his time in the Provisional IRA had long since got respectable and subsequently branded him a dissident, leaving Hughes marginalised and politically isolated. As his health deteriorated, only a small circle of close friends, ex-prison comrades and relatives cared for him, refusing to bow to mainstream Republican pressure to effectively send him to Coventry.

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The Funeral of David Ervine

Ironically, as mentioned above Gerry Adams was a fairly unwanted mourner at both men's funerals. At David Ervine's funeral service at the East Belfast Mission, under the shadow of the shipyard cranes, Adams arrived unannounced to offer condolences to David Ervine's widow Jeannette. Adams's appearance at the service on the Newtownards Road, the epicentre of working-class Loyalism, caused a ripple of raised eyebrows among the more genteel mourners and started gruff mutterings among the UVF mourners. To be fair to all concerned, there were no reports of any unpleasant scenes at the Ervine funeral, and the late PUP leader's grieving widow had consented to Adams's attendance at the service, albeit on a need-to-know basis.

The Funeral of Brendan Hughes

In contrast, at the funeral of Brendan Hughes, Gerry Adams had sought permission to deliver an oration but his offer was refused, in compliamce with Hughes' express wishes communicated prior to his death, to friends, family and Paddy Joe Rice, of the D Company Veterans society. According to close friends of Brendan Hughes who had remained loyal to their old comrade, right up to the bitter end, Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fein figures had tried to effectively hijack the funeral of Brendan Hughes. Francie Brolly had asked permission to sing at Brendan Hughes' funeral but this was refused because of Brolly's close association with the Provisional Sinn Fein leadership.

According to accounts from friends and relatives of Brendan Hughes, Gerry Adams eventually managed to get a 'lift' of his former comrade's coffin and this was the signal for his Sinn Fein colleagues to alert the media to a photo opportunity! An old H-Block comrade of Hughes described Gerry Adams as "chasing the coffin up the road!"

Ed Moloney in Voices From The Grave, suggests that the staged photo-opportunity of Gerry Adams carrying Brendan Hughes' coffin, was to create the false impression that there had been a reconciliation between the two. Moloney reports that after the main funeral ceremonies in West Belfast, Adams had followed the hearse with Brendan Hughes' remains to Roselawn Cemetery, in East Belfast, where only close friends and family were gathered. According to Hughes' brother, Adams looked like a "lost soul" as none of the close-knit group of mourners spoke to him. One can only assume that this was the price Adams had to pay for deserting and abandoning his once close comrade, Brendan Hughes.

Behind The Mask featuring Brendan Hughes

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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