April 05, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Thomas "Dixie" Elliott


I was born in Rickmansworth England in 1957. My Mother is a Catholic and my late Father was a Protestant. My Father was working over there at the time and my Mother later joined him. They returned to Derry when I was two years old. I went to Saint Joseph's Secondary School where I was really only ever good at art. I became involved in Republicanism at the age of sixteen and was jailed in 1976 at the age of nineteen. I was sentenced to twelve years in 1977 and went on the Blanket Protest, where I remained for four and a half years until it ended after the second Hunger Strike in 1981. I spent nine years out of the twelve year sentence in jail and was released in 1985. I was married in 1988 and it was around this time that I left Sinn Fein. I'm an artist and I also write. I have finished two children's book's as yet unpublished which I've illustrated myself and I am presently writing an adult novel which could be best described as being a cross between Puckoon and An Beal Bocht by Flann O'Brien.

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Thomas "Dixie" Elliott:
"At School we were never taught anything other than mainly British History and growing up in a mixed area of Rosemount we were only ever interested in playing football and being adventurous, as in walking for miles in the nearby countryside pretending we were either cowboys or explorers. My first knowledge of the Easter Rising came about as a result of the conflict and hearing of it in conversations as we waited around to riot. I really became aware of it on Remand in Crumlin Road Jail when I started to read a lot of Irish History."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" TDE: 
"I have been inspired by the ideals of the Proclamation all my adult life and at one time during the Blanket Protest I had learned it by heart as copies had been smuggled in on family visits. I could even recite parts of it in Gaelic at that time. The Men and Women who fought during Easter Week gave us the determination to keep going despite everything the prison administration threw at us. I remember a fellow Blanket Man, Tommy McKearney, giving us a detailed run down of the Easter Rising out of the side of his cell door over several nights after the screws had left. He took us from the GPO to the Battle at Mount Street Bridge and on to other outposts. These stories were what stood between us and breaking point. They ensured our continued defiance."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" TDE: 
"If we were taught about the Battle of the Somme at school I don't remember. However I knew that my Paternal Grandfather Tommy, after whom I was named and who I was very close to, was wounded in the leg during some war. I remember his leg had a bad smell and he used to put us all out of the scullery when he had to clean it out. He never spoke of the war and the leg eventually resulted in his death in 1965 which I took bad. I only in later years found out that he was wounded in France during WW1. I find it amazing that he lived so long with a war wound which clearly had never healed. 
He was with the 150th Field Company and went into action in July 1916. He was in the same wood as his Brother-in-law Thomas McConnell and I was told they met up to say good luck to each other. My Grandfather was wounded the night before they went over the top and the next day 127 Derry men were killed and Thomas McConnell was also wounded. Both are buried yards apart in Derry instead of a French war cemetery having survived the horrors of war together."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" TDE: 
"How many fought out of loyalty to Britain would be the more obvious question. Many Nationalists enlisted having believed John Redmond's claims that their sacrifice on the battlefield on the side of Britain would secure Home Rule for Ireland. Many more feared a German invasion and fought to prevent this happening. How many felt that risking death was worse than living with being labelled a coward? Indeed there were those who fought and died out of loyalty to Britain. What they faced on the field of battle must have been absolutely terrifying."

BJS: "As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" TDE: 
"As I stated above the Easter Rising has been something I looked to for strength during the worst years of imprisonment. I felt that we were continuing their fight on a different type of battleground and with only our bodies as weapons. My Irish identity comes from the fact that, although not born on this island, I have lived here my entire life. At one time I was fluent in Gaelic and even taught it but the passing of time has seen me loose a lot of it. However this hasn't diminished my love of the language."
BJS: "As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" TDE: 
"I only identify with it because I am aware that my Grandfather fought during that war and likely spent many terror filled days and nights in hellish trenches. I was close to him as a child and would wonder what he went through. However there was nothing just about this war and the working class men on all sides were merely cannon fodder for politicians who cared little of their fate."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" TDE: 
"I'll be heading to Dublin to Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising. As for the Battle of the Somme I'll only think of my Grandfather and the fact that 100 years ago in July he was among those sent to the slaughter in muddy battle fields fighting an enemy who knew the same fear as he did and like him prayed they would live and return home to those they loved."
BJS: "Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster's take on the events of Easter 1916 (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?" TDE: 
"The least said about the Irish State and their hypocrisy in regards to the Easter Rising the better. As for Arlene Foster I honestly couldn't care one way or the other whether she attends or not."
BJS: "As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" TDE: 
"Culture and the definition of culture continues to divide we the Irish people. The Scots and the Welsh embrace their language, music and dance etc no matter what religion they might be. Here it divides us when it should unite us as a race. In fact Unionism has an extraordinary belief that culture is based on a celebration of religious dominance over their fellow countrymen and women. This belief is fostered mainly by those who profit politically from sectarian division, as was born out by Arlene Foster's call to the Unionist people to rally behind the DUP to ensure that Martin McGuinness doesn't get the position of First Minister. 
Personally I couldn't care less who among the two gets to be First Minister as both are different sides of the same sectarian coin as far as I am concerned. Gerry Kelly made more or less a similar call to Nationalism in a recent election. And of course both put party before people."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" TDE: 
"I see little hope for the foreseeable future as politics continues to be fought along sectarian lines. Besides the religious aspect there is the so called peace process which protects politicians against all accusations of corruption, failure to change anything for the better and cowardice in the face of Toryism. The peace process ensures that those who shout the loudest about peace safely gets elected on the back of people's fear that if they are rejected at the polls they might well return to war."
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." TDE: 
"I believe that I have covered everything."
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