|Carol Cullen (now Caral Ni Chuilin)|
According to the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht (12 August 1999), 'Prisoner Day at the West Belfast Festival proved to be one of the most popular events of the Festival' Hundreds of people braved the sweltering heat and crammed into the Felons Club in Andersonstown to meet former and current prisoners and view an exhibition of their artwork'.
One of the events during the day was the launch of a new book, Executed: Tom Williams and the IRA, which had been 'written by serving prisoner Jim McVeigh' and the launch was chaired by Carol Cullen of Tar an Nall.
This was followed by a series of readings by and and about prisoners, given by a number of leading republicans and according to the Sinn Fein newspaper 'recently released prisoner Rosie McCorley read out Carol Cullen's beautiful poem of solidarity to a fellow prisoner'. It's a short poem about female IRA prisoners in Armagh:
By yourself, alone with your dread, but not for long.
Eight in all held you down.
We couldn't hear you calling for us
But we share, we share your anger,
Those of us spared the degradation this time.
Each of us individually comfort you,
Our comradeship consoling you,
Each of our hands making a fist,
Showing our white knuckles,
Our strength, our sisterhood.
So Bobby Sands wasn't the only 'poet' in the ranks of the IRA and perhaps republicans can now look forward to the publication of a volume of poetry by Carol Cullen.
Of course that volume would now have to appear with the name Caral Ni Chuilin, because some time after 1999 Carol Cullen 'Gaelicised' her name to Caral Ni Chuilin.
Nevertheless her talent as a poet, something on which there will be a variety of views, may help to explain why she was appointed by Sinn Fein as Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure ... or maybe not. That is for others to decide.
However Carol or Caral is not the only poet in the ranks of Sinn Fein in North Belfast. Indeed the North Belfast constituency must be unique in having two Sinn Fein MLAs who are both poets. Yes Gerry Kelly is a poet too. Now I haven't had the opportunity of reading any of his work but according to a reference in Contemporary Irish Republican Prison Writing: Writing and Resistance:
In his poem 'On the Boards' Gerry Kelly recounts his harrowing experience of the punishment cells of the H-Blocks during the winter of 1976-77.
The poem seems to have been published in Words from a Cell, a little volume of poetry that was written by Gerry Kelly and published by the Sinn Fein Publicity Department in 1989. It runs to 65 pages but anyone looking for a copy should be aware that on Amazon used copies are selling for $65 plus postage and a bookseller in Limerick recently sold a copy for 70 euro! That works out at around 1$ per page!