Obituary: Brian Moore, 1946 - 2011
The songwriter, cartoonist and playwright who satirised Northern Irish politics
Brian Moore, who died in March after a short illness, will be best remembered as the cartoonist ‘Cormac’ in Republican News/An Phoblacht. Steve Bell, the Guardian cartoonist, said of Moore in 1982 that he offered ‘a consistent and sane analysis… from a Republican viewpoint’ and ‘bloody good strip cartooning, with a lot of bits that shock, and a lot of bits that actually make you laugh out loud’.
Moore, originally from Ardoyne, owed wider influences to a stay in London. He returned as a member of the Revolutionary Marxist Group, hardly an obvious entry card to the emerging Republican movement.
As a key figure in ‘The Men of No Property’ he, along with Dave Scott and Joe Mulheron, created a new singing vernacular in response to the crisis of 1969. It was informed by the Irish ballad tradition, and by wider folk and blues influences. In England they were encouraged by Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger. A first LP This is Free Belfast (1971) followed.
Moore’s song ‘The Ballad of Joking Jesus’, inspired by James Joyce, included the line ‘my father’s a ghost, my mother’s a virgin’ and earned an assault at one St Mary’s Hall concert! His lament for Michael Collins, ‘Hang out Your Brightest Colours’, reflected his perceptiveness – ‘each one wants a part of him, but no one wants him all’.
Christy Moore recognised Moore's talent and used his ‘Jesus and Jesse’ though in a watered down version. Later LPs were England’s Vietnam, and Ireland – The Final Struggle (1977).
Moore simultaneously emerged as a cartoonist in Resistance Comics (1975-1977). Influenced by Charles Schultz’s Peanuts, he added a surrealism all of his own in a world reduced to jelly or turned upside down where worms spoke along with disembodied, two faced, or lobotomized heads, or sometimes a single eye.
He offered ‘genuine bad taste’ as in ‘Faulkner’s last ride’, making fun of his death in a hunting accident. He lampooned himself as Paddy O’Looney, ‘the Irish section of the sixth intergalactic revolutionary movement’. His associate, Red Biddy, ‘the scourge of Irish male chauvinism’ was also memorable.
Soon enough a new Belfast Republican leadership recruited Moore for Republican News/An Phoblacht. ‘Cormac’ was a major selling point there for more than a quarter of a century.
In ‘The Conspiracy’ (1977), a ‘beacon of hope’ is a bowler hatted Orangeman as a lighthouse sinking beneath the waves. Paisley surfaces as ‘Super Prod’ to lead his third force ‘… seeing or unseeing… to meet its destiny’. Blinded by dark glasses they march towards a cliff.
Moore supported the broad Republican struggle with all that that implied. He was all the more effective because he encompassed debate of a sort. A little man hums, ‘A life on the ocean wave’, mocking Mountbatten’s assassination (1979). A woman bystander is outraged, assuming that this is ‘some sort of revenge for Bloody Sunday’, but the retort is, ‘It was just another act of war’.
In 1981 one character is ‘glum’ because he ‘no longer get[s] the kick from’ the deaths of soldiers or policemen ‘that I used to’, but is reminded that ‘a revolution is the carnival of the oppressed’.
Yet, Moore could be humane about the lot of the ordinary British soldier doomed to walk backwards on patrol; he can see where he has come from, but he is ‘unable to see where [he’s] going…’, and reflects, ‘I suppose the British government often gets this feeling’.
All the obvious targets are there: the Peace People, who are consigned to ‘the dustbin of history’, the SDLP ‘who recently made a leftward lurch to the right…’, liberals who worry about Russian dissidents rather than Ireland, the Labour left, the Catholic Church and the Irish government.
Those who failed to support the Hunger Strikers became weasels, but Moore engaged beyond the Republican family. He collaborated with Ian Knox as Kormski in ‘Dog Collars’, which lampooned the clergy in Fortnight (1982-5). Elsewhere he contributed a ‘Bad Taste’ strip to the English Socialist Challenge.
Moore supported the Peace Process, though now the man agreeing with the wall mural saying ‘no return to Stormont’ is his bowler hatted Orangeman on the grounds that ‘… the place is full of bloody fenians’. Otherwise targets for a man who was a rebel in every sense became more opaque, and he abandoned cartoons.
He took to drama instead. Dubblejoint performed his Paddy on the Road (2002), a celebration of Christy Moore, Black Taxis (2003), and two musical comedies, The Session (2005) and The Ballad of Malachy Mulligan (2006). All were re-affirming for nationalist/republican audiences.
Moore's coffin bore the red flag over the tricolour, reflecting his socialist/republican trajectory in politics and culture. He was mourned as a gentle and intelligent man across a wider spectrum. In different circumstances he could have won a far flung audience, but he was an authentic voice of our era. Sympathies are due to his long-standing partner, Maire, and son, Cormac.