Sunday, February 2, 2014

Remembering the Cypriot Connection

 Photo of Cathal og Goulding with a plaque presented posthumously to his father by EOKA veterans.

The plaque reads:
"To our dearest comrade Cathal Goulding
In remembrance of the difficult but glorious days we had together in the British prisons.

Your Cypriot comrades in the British prisons 1956-1959"

(One important fact absent from the following articles is that it was Joe Christle and his group who were behind the successful escape attempt. More on that to follow)

Cypriot solidarity recalled

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.

The passing of Vias Livadas is mourned by not only his own countrymen, but also Irish Republicans, as the passing of a true friend and comrade in struggle. Over 50 years ago bonds of comradeship, solidarity and friendship were forged in British prisons between the revolutionaries of Cyprus and Ireland which have endured to the present day. Leaving aside political differences, Vias Livadas and his generation of Cypriots wrote a heroic chapter in their nation’s history resisting the British occupation of their country, a struggle which the Irish people could readily identify with.

IF one goes into an in-depth study of Irish and Cypriot history and the legacy of conflict that has been evident in both countries, it becomes apparent that Cyprus and Ireland share a number of parallels.

When Irish President Mary McAleese visited Cyprus, she spoke of the similarities between the two islands, adding that both countries were divided with “a legacy of mistrust”.

The tale of a joint Cypriot-Irish escape plot from the British prison of Wakefield of 1959 proves, however, that this legacy does not extend to the political prisoners of EOKA and the IRA, who did not appear to have any problem in trusting each other.

Even though the plot was largely unsuccessful on both the part of EOKA and the IRA, the two nationalist organisations fighting against British colonial rule in the 20th century, none of the prisoners that were incarcerated together in the British prison for around four years have ever forgotten what EOKA fighter Vias Livadas describes a “special relationship with our brothers-in-arms”.

In an interview with the Cyprus Sunday Mail , former IRA volunteer Seamus Murphy, the only one of the five prisoners involved in the plot that actually managed to escape, tells of the unique relationship between the Cypriot and Irish prisoners as well as the attempted escape.

“The punishment I had received at the time was imprisonment for life, back in 1955 as the Cypriot struggle for independence was beginning,” he said.

“The Cypriot prisoners that were brought to Wakefield were placed in the same wing as us and we all interacted and spoke to each other about our various experiences during work in the tailor shop and the exercise yard. We talked about anything and everything, from politics to how to defeat the British. Anybody fighting the British Empire was a great friend of ours,” he said.

The interview, that took place just before an event marking the launch of Livadas’ book Cypriot and Irish political prisoners in English prisons, was interrupted by the arrival of another EOKA fighter, Renos Kyriakides.

Murphy leaped out of his chair and engaged in a long embrace with Kyriakides, telling me what a great man he was. The old friends had been re-united after 50 years, but it seemed that they had not spent a day apart.

As we got back to business, Murphy told me of the extent of the relationship between the prisoners.

“A number of our lads started learning Greek, two IRA guys had learnt the language at one stage. After more than 50 years, I heard two of the prisoners who were at Wakefield communicating with each other over the phone in Greek,” he said.

Livadas’ book has been dedicated to Nicholas Ioannou, an EOKA fighter the prisoners believe was killed by the British Special Branch after the British authorities became aware of his part in their plans of a joint escape.

Murphy said that before his death, Ioannou had visited Dublin and the contacts between EOKA and the IRA in Dublin had been established.

According to Murphy, the prisoners spent a lot of their time discussing how to escape from Wakefield.

“We actually had a number of different plans, many of them quite extreme to be honest. We had even thought of attacking the prisons using an airplane, however strange that may sound.

“There were five men that had been earmarked for the escape. Two of them were EOKA men [George Skotinos and Nicos Sampson], another two were IRA, myself and Joe Doyle, while there was also a fifth with us, Tony Martin, who had deserted the British army in Cyprus and fought on the side of EOKA before he was arrested,” he said.

When I asked Murphy how they managed to keep the attempted escape a secret, he attributed this to the trust that the men had with each other.

“We definitely kept very low key and only on the morning did the other Cypriot prisoners become aware of what we were planning. I had actually told Vias [Livadas] because we were extremely close, but not many people knew what we were up to.”

“On the day [February 12, 1959], we had prepared thoroughly, we had smuggled in a number of hack saw blades so that we can cut through the bars and men who had come all the way from Dublin were expecting us on the other side. They had cars, money and clothes with them and two safe houses had been rented in Manchester.
“I was the only one who actually managed to escape on the night by scaling the wall and made my way back to Ireland with the help of the other IRA men.

“Thankfully, the Cypriot struggle for independence ended later on in the year and the other prisoners were also released.”

Additional information from the Cyprus Mail and the book 'Irish and Cypriot Political Prisoners in Britain, 1956 to 1959,' by Vias Livadas, one of the EOKA leaders then serving a life sentence in a British prison for his part in the struggle for Cypriot independence.

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