Brendan McFarlane

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Brendan McFarlane (1986)

Brendan "Bik" McFarlane (born 1951) is an Irish republican activist. Born into a Roman Catholic family, he was brought up in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, Northern Ireland. At 16, he left Belfast to train as a priest in a north Wales seminary.[1] He joined the Provisional IRA in 1969.

Early years[edit]

McFarlane was brought up in a strongly religious Catholic family in the republican Ardoyne area of North Belfast. He served as an altar boy at the local church, and at the age of 17 joined a missionary school in Wales, where he began training to become a priest.[1][2] McFarlane joined the Provisional IRA when he was 18 years old, in the summer of 1969. The political conflict known as the Troubles had broken out and he had witnessed the violent disturbances first-hand.[1]

Bayardo Bar attack[edit]

In 1976, McFarlane was sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the Bayardo Bar attack on Aberdeen Street in the Protestant Shankill Road district of Belfast, which killed five people (three men and two women) and injured 60 more on 13 August 1975.[3] In a 1995 House of Lords debate, Gerry Fitt, the formerly Nationalist Party MP for West Belfast, alleged that McFarlane had machine-gunned three pedestrians who were passing by the Bayardo as it was blown up.[4] The bar was attacked because it was allegedly frequented by member of the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The IRA initially denied it had carried out the attack.[5] The attack occurred against a background of severe sectarian violence. The IRA killed 88 Protestant civilians in similar attacks in 1974–76, in reprisal for loyalist attacks on Catholics, which killed 250 civilians in the same period.[6]

According to journalist Peter Taylor, the attack was carried out by the IRA in retaliation for the UVF's ambush of the Dublin-based Miami Showband on 31 July 1975 which had resulted in the shooting deaths of three bandmembers.[7] One of the five people killed in the Bayardo attack was UVF man, Hugh Harris.[8]

Maze Prison – hunger strikes and escape[edit]

McFarlane attempted to escape from the Maze Prison dressed as a priest in 1978. When the bid failed, McFarlane's Special Category Status was withdrawn, and he joined the dirty protest in the H-Blocks.[2]

His nickname "Bik" was acquired after the name of a famous Biscuit company MacFarlane Lang, now known as United Biscuits.[2] Fellow prisoner and author of Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, Richard O'Rawe, described McFarlane as "six feet tall and full of bonhomie", a "great singer" possessing a "striking character". O'Rawe also said that McFarlane was an avid supporter of Gaelic football.[1]

He was Provisional IRA Officer Commanding in the Maze during the 1981 Irish hunger strike in which 10 republicans died. He took over from Bobby Sands in March 1981. Asked why, Sands is said to have replied: "Because you will let me die." He later described 1981 as, "probably the worst year of my life. Despite the political gains, the loss of that year is always with me."[5]

McFarlane went on to lead the Maze Prison escape, the mass break-out of 38 republican prisoners from the Maze in 1983 in which a prison officer died of a heart attack. Fifteen IRA men were caught in the vicinity of the prison, four were captured later that day, 19 got away, with three never being recaptured. Immediately following the escape, McFarlane and other prisoners commandeered a remote farmhouse near Dromore, County Down, and held the family inside hostage.[2] Although he took a map and compass, and other items from the premises, none of the family members, which included two small children and a baby, were harmed.[2] He and the other former escapees made their way across the Irish border and went on the run.[2]

Tidey kidnapping[edit]

After the break-out, McFarlane resumed his IRA activities. In December 1983, he is alleged to have kidnapped supermarket executive Don Tidey in a bid to ransom him to raise money for the IRA. The kidnap was one of spate of kidnappings and robberies ordered by the IRA Army Council in the early 1980s to raise funds.[9] Tidey was taking his 13-year-old daughter to school when he stopped at what he believed to be a Garda Síochána checkpoint. A gun was put to his head and he was bundled into a waiting car. A few days later his photograph was sent to Associated British Foods, and this was followed by a phone call demanding an IR£5 million ransom.[2]

The Gardaí eventually tracked Tidey and his kidnappers – four in all – to Derrada Wood in Ballinamore, County Leitrim on 16 December 1983. In the subsequent shoot-out, a trainee Garda and an Irish Army soldier (Gary Sheehan and Patrick Kelly) were killed. Tidey's kidnappers escaped.

On 16 January 1986, McFarlane was recaptured in the Netherlands along with fellow escapee Gerry Kelly, and subsequently extradited to Northern Ireland, and released on parole from the Maze in 1997.[10][11][12] By 1993 he had become the longest serving prisoner in the Maze.[13]

Kidnapping charges[edit]

In 1998, McFarlane was first charged in the Republic of Ireland with Tidey's kidnapping, but he challenged this on the basis that Gardaí had lost a number of exhibits containing fingerprints – the central evidence in the case. The Irish Supreme Court ruled in March 2006 that the trial could proceed.[14]

The Gardaí based the Tidey charges on items recovered from the kidnap site, including a milk carton and a plastic container, on which fingerprints were discovered. Although the items went missing from Garda headquarters during renovation work, the fingerprints had been photographed and a forensic analysis done.[15]

McFarlane was due to stand trial on 3 October 2006. However his legal team launched a second judicial review in May 2006, on the grounds that McFarlane could not get a fair trial due to "systematic delays in bringing the prosecution".[16] This held up his trial until the Irish High Court ruled on the issue on 8 December 2006. However, McFarlane's representatives appealed this decision in turn. Their appeal was finally dismissed on 6 March 2008,[15] and the trial opened in Dublin on 11 June 2008[17] only to collapse on 26 June when the Garda evidence was ruled inadmissible.[18]

In September 2010, McFarlane was awarded compensation following a European Court of Human Rights ruling. The court found the proceedings relating to the kidnapping of supermarket executive Don Tidey had been "unreasonably long". The Irish government was ordered to pay 5,400 euro in damages within three months and 10,000 euro in legal costs.[19]

Other activity[edit]

In August 2004, Gerry Adams suggested that the IRA might disband to prevent its existence being used as an excuse to delay a power-sharing agreement which would include republicans.[20] An IRA delegation including McFarlane then met with the Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade to discuss Adams' remarks in an attempt to avoid a rift between the groups.[21]

He is now a member of Coiste na n-Iarchimí ("the Ex-Prisoners' Committee") – a welfare organisation for republican ex-prisoners.[22]

Sinn Féin describes him as a voluntary worker, and he has been a vocal supporter of the party's political stance, appearing beside both Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly at rallies and reiterating former prisoners' support for the direction the party is taking.[citation needed]

McFarlane has formed a band, Tuan, which is a regular on the Irish republican entertainment circuit. He also performs quite regularly in the Hatfield House, a popular bar in the Holylands district of Belfast.[23]

McFarlane has also shown solidarity with the radical Basque nationalist movement and has been interviewed in the Basque and Spanish press on the subject of the Basque peace process and the proposed release of ETA prisoners. He has described the ETA prisoners as having been engaged in a, 'legitimate struggle' similar to that of Irish republicans.[24]

Personal life[edit]

He is married with children and lives in North Belfast.[citation needed]

Cultural References[edit]

In the 2017 film Maze dramatising the 1983 prison break, directed by Stephen Burke, McFarlane was portrayed by actor Tim Creed.[25]


  1. ^ a b c d McCaffrey, Steven (12 March 2005). "Former comrades' war of words over hunger strike". Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Kidnap finally catches up with Sinn Féin warrior priest". The Times; The Sunday Times. London. 12 March 2006. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  3. ^ D McKittrich; S Kelters; B Feeney & C Thornton. Lost Lives. Mainstream Publishing=1999.
  4. ^ "Lords Hansard Text (150615-20)". Parliament Publications and Records, Lords Hansard. 15 June 1995. pp. Column 1964. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  5. ^ a b English, Richard (2003) [2003-08-07]. Armed Struggle – A History of the IRA. Oxford University Press. p. 209. ISBN 0-19-516605-1.
  6. ^ CAIN database, Richard English, Armed Struggle, p.173
  7. ^ Taylor, Peter (1999). Loyalists. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. p.149
  8. ^ CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths – 1975
  9. ^ O'Brien, Brendan (1995) [1993]. The Long War: IRA and Sinn Féin from Armed Struggle to Peace Talks (2nd rev (1995) ed.). Dublin, Ireland: O'Brien Press. p. 121. ISBN 0-86278-425-5.
  10. ^ "Passport in man's home bore the name of another man". Irish Examiner. 30 April 1998. Archived from the original on 13 September 2006. Retrieved 11 March 2007.
  11. ^ "Dutch Extradite Two I.R.A. Fugitives". The New York Times. 4 December 1986. Retrieved 11 March 2007.
  12. ^ "Go ahead given for kidnap trial". BBC News. 8 December 2006. Retrieved 11 March 2007.
  13. ^ Neil Darbyshire, "1,550 obstacles to a solution for Ulster", The Daily Telegraph (London), 21 December 1993
  14. ^ "Republican will face kidnap trial". BBC News, Northern Ireland. BBC. 7 March 2006. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  15. ^ a b "Supreme Court clears way for McFarlane kidnap trial". Irish Examiner. Thomas Crosbie Holdings. 6 March 2008. Archived from the original on 16 June 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  16. ^ "McFarlane launches second judicial review". RTÉ News. Radio Telefís Éireann. 15 May 2006. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  17. ^ "McFarlane trial opens today". Today FM. 11 June 2008. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  18. ^ "Maze escaper kidnap case collapse". BBC News. 26 June 2008. Retrieved 26 June 2008.
  19. ^ "Maze escapee Bik McFarlane wins Irish government damages". BBC News. 10 September 2010. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  20. ^ Moriarty, Gerry (7 August 2004). "IRA may need to disarm and disband - Adams". The Irish Times. Dublin. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  21. ^ McDonald, Henry (15 August 2004). "IRA heals rift over Adams 'disband' remarks". The Observer. London. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  22. ^ Chrisafis, Angelique (29 July 2005). "Veterans may assume policing role". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  23. ^ "An Phoblacht/Republican News". 9 December 1999. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
  24. ^ "Las excarcelaciones provocaron momentos difíciles para las víctimas, pero prevaleció la paz". NOTICIAS DE GIPUZKOA (in Spanish). 17 June 2006. Retrieved 11 June 2008. las actividades que nosotros desarrollamos eran parte de una lucha por los legítimos derechos de Irlanda y por lo tanto nosotros no íbamos a pedir perdón por una lucha legítima. De la misma manera, a los presos vascos no se les debe hace este tipo de exigencias, porque están en la cárcel por una lucha legítima "Our activities were part of a struggle for the legitimate rights of Ireland and because of that we weren't going to ask forgiveness for [having been part of] a legitimate struggle. In the same manner, the Basque prisoners don't have to give in to these type of demands because they are in prison for [having been part of] a legitimate struggle".[dead link]
  25. ^ Burke, Stephen (22 September 2017), Maze, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Barry Ward, Martin McCann, retrieved 4 August 2018