An Interlude with Seagulls: Memories of a Long Kesh Internee by Bobby Devlin (1982)
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Originally published by the author in Belfast (1982)
These extracts are copyright Bobby Devlin and are included
on the CAIN site by permission of the author. You may not edit, adapt,
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MY REASONS for writing this book are many-fold, but a primary one was to capture the memory of the antics and behaviour of those men who were in the Cages of Long Kesh from 1972 until 1974.
I hope the contents do not offend or embarrass anyone; the bad language used is unfortunate but it was part of the Long Kesh vocabulary and a few "lf's" and "b’s" helped to ease tension.
I only wanted to highlight and reveal the light-hearted attitudes most men had to their predicament. It will also show to members of ex-internees’ families how their "Wee John" or "Big Paddy" behaved himself behind the wire.
The story of Internment is a path well trodden by JOHN GERARD CONEY.
The story of Internment is a path well trodden by JOHN McGUFFIN in his book on that subject. My work is not meant to be a serious treatise on the matter as I am only reflecting on my own experiences during the period I was there.
Many of my friends and acquaintances have died since. Gerard Coney was shot whilst trying to escape from Cage five. My memory of Gerard was his constant joke-telling with a County Tyrone accent which had us in raptures even though he kept us awake half of the night. Paul (Basil) Fox from Belfast loved a good prank and now he is gone.
"Massie" Moyne from Berry was quite a character and was always involved in the mickey-taking. Sean McDermott and Tucker Kane have also gone, God rest them all.
Even though we had laughs there was heartache from broken marriages and frustration at the thought of loved ones having to bear the burden on the outside. Long Kesh was a concentration camp and still is!
Recently I watched that famous prisoner of war film "The Great Escape" and the plight of the Allied prisoners brought the memory of Long Kesh back to me. Even though Willie Whitelaw re-named it the Maze Prison, it did not change anything. How many of Her Majesty’s Prisons are controlled by an Army garrison?
I shall never forget the barbed wire, the rats, and the degrading treatment of internees by the British Army during early morning raids and I will always remember the spirit and good humour of my comrades which inspired me to write this book.
The word internee was one of the first words I could say as a child in the 1940’s. This was due to the fact of my eldest brother Paddy being interned in Crumlin Road Prison. In that part of the Falls Road, that was Conway Street, Norfolk Street and Cupar Street, there were many young men interned by the British in what has become known in Republican circles as the ‘Forties’ Campaign." As it was in the seventies, there were hundreds of lads from all over the Six Counties interned for suspected Irish Republican Army membership.
I vaguely remember standing outside Crumlin Road Gaol holding my mother’s hand awaiting admittance for a visit to see my big brother. Those big dark green doors looked awesome. All I can remember about the visit was my mother crying as we bid farewell to Paddy through a big wired grill. I could never understand all that.
Thirty years later, all this was reversed as my brother came to visit me, only he was now an M.P. and the Northern Ireland Minister for Health and Social Services, whilst I was on the other side of the wire. As the accompanying screw said at the time, "It could only happen in fecking Ireland."
The internees were housed up in ‘D’ Wing of Crumlin Road Gaol in the 1940’s. Just as their counterparts did in the seventies, they played pranks on one another and many humourous tales came from within that awesome structure.
In ‘D’ Wing they had the doctor’s visit in the morning, and one particular doctor was considered a "Quack." He was on his visit to ‘D’ Wing along with the P.O. who called out to a certain internee to come from his cell for the doctor’s visit. An uncharitable voice sounded from the cell "I’m not going out to that oul’ fucker!" The enraged P.O. bawled out "Who called the doctor a fucker?" Then some comedian retorted "Who called the fucker a doctor" to howls of laughter.
We had a doctor similar to that one at Long Kesh; no matter what your symptoms were he gave you tablets, One internee fractured a leg playing Gaelic Football and he was carried on a stretcher to the "hospital" where the said doctor proceeded to prescribe tablets.
The seagulls appeared on the scene during the Forties on the Prison Ship ‘Al Rawdah’ in Strangford Lough. Like their descendants at Long Kesh, they too mocked the poor internees. A ploy of some men on the ‘Al Rawdah’ was to tie bits of food scraps onto cord and fling it skywards into a frenzied mass of gulls. A poor gull would grab a mouthful triumphantly then it would have its head nearly jerked off by the rigorous pulling of the men on the ship. In the end the seagulls retaliated with a "Kami Kaze" excretia bombing offensive.
The same type of humour, despite hardship. has been shown right through the different periods of internment in the forties, from 1956-62 and the early seventies. I am sure each period had its "Hannibal" or "Paddy Cooke" or even a "Sunshine", who were all characters during my time as an internee. I cannot speak of what is happening now in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh or of what is to come, but I hope and pray that all of it must end sometime, and that Long Kesh will become a museum instead of a concentration camp.
An Interlude with Seagulls
Long Kesh had its own vocabulary; so that you can understand the slang, here is a little guide.
"In I Go"
Whenever I see the majestic movement of a seagull in flight, my mind drifts back in time and conjures up a vivid picture of an awful place called Long Kesh.
To anyone who hasn’t had the "pleasure" of seeing Long Kesh, then I must explain that the place was an attraction for those milk coloured scavengers of the sea. I caught my first sight of those particular birds on the 22nd of December, 1972. It was then that a certain Mr. William Whitelaw decided that I should be excluded from society. I was interned on the suspicion that I was a "terrorist". How on earth did I get to that place?
A few months earlier I was getting visits at my house by the British Army and on one particular morning, they brought me to Castlereagh Police Headquarters which was a latter day "Chiangi." The interrogation procedure there is really a violent version of "Mastermind." There you are seated on a lonely chair facing a barrage of questions such as "Who’s the P.R.O. of the Aughnafatten Flying Column?" or "Who killed Cock Robin?"
I went into Castlereagh a poor, humble postman, but according to information received, I was a Brigadier General in the Irish Republican Army. This dramatic promotion must have even eclipsed General George Armstrong Custer’s meteoric rise in the American Civil War.
They threatened to send me to Long Kesh. However, I was reprieved and cast out into the loyalist area of East Belfast. I stood waiting for a bus and I whistled a few bars of the "Green Grassy Slopes of the Boyne." Those times were bad for a "Fenian" such as I to be caught in loyalist territory.
For the next few months I was really terrified of going back to that place, so I began to stay at a friend’s house at night, just to see if the Brits would call at my home during the night or early morning. In the meantime, I was still working as a postman (Her Majesty’s Mail must get through) and this meant that I had to get up at five in the morning to catch a lift for work. The people I was staying with did not have an alarm clock so I always brought my own to get me up in time for work. I carried this in my heavy coat pocket.
On the morning of the 19th December, I was making my way towards home from my friend’s house when this character jumped out of a garden shouting "freeze!" I said to hi’m "I am freezing," I was immediately flung against the wall as someone shouted "We’ve a right comical bastard here Serg."
He started to frisk me as I was placed arms out-stretched against the wall. Suddenly he felt a bulky object in my pocket and I thought to myself, "Sweet Jesus I’ve got that bloody alarm!!" As the brave soldier pulled out my alarm clock, he yelled out "F... me, he’s a mad bomber." There was also an unpleasant odour from the chap. I found all this so embarrassing and from here on, it was "Jingle bells" all the way to Long Kesh via Castlereagh, as it was near Christmas.
That was how I got to Long Kesh. As the army and police escorts handed me over to the screws I felt like someone out of a James Cagney movie with my bedraggled appearance and handcuffs to match. It is amazing, the type of thoughts which go through one’s mind at a time like that, but all I could do was hold my head in my hands saying, "F... that alarm clock."
I was ushered into the "hospital" which consisted of four beds with four walls and a roof on top. A screw in a white coat informed me that I must have a medical examination before being allotted a Cage. I then ‘thought to myself, "Perhaps if I fail the medical they will send me home." The doctor was at lunch so I had to wait in the hospital ward. In this room there were several internees sitting on beds. One of them, a big fellow, came over to me holding a crucifix, shouting in Gaelic "Sin sin" or words to that effect which mean "that’s that." I quickly side-stepped him and asked the other fellow, "Does he bloody think that I’m Dracula?" "Don’t take any notice of him, he’s mad, sure he’s always annoying my rabbit," said the other fellow, sitting at the edge of the bed. He seemed to be holding an imaginary object in his hands and I asked "What rabbit?" "The one I’m feeding in my hands, blind Alec!" he roared back. I said to myself, "F... me, where’s the Special Branch, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa. I’ll do anything to get out of this place." Just then I was rescued by a screw for my medical, at which I am proud to say, that I was passed fit and led to Cage 3.
Before I continue my saga, I must inform the reader that my "big brother" is Paddy Devlin, formerly of S.D.L.P. fame, or infamy, it all depends on your politics. The S.D.L.P. was never "top of the pops" in the Long Kesh Cages. A new inmate to a Cage is always treated with caution. I was known as Paddy Devlin’s brother, and I was condemned as an S.D.L.P. man, which made me an S.D.L.P. terrorist. Nevertheless, I was accepted eventually into the brotherhood of Cage 3.
"A Sojourn in Cage 3"
Most of the internees at this time were housed up in five cages, numbering 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7. Cage 3 consisted of four nissen huts. Two and a half of these were used for living accommodation. The partitioned half of one hut was used as a wood work room. The last hut was used as an assembly hall. There was a little tin hut which was called a drying place and then there was the washroom. All these buildings were in a confined space and sixty per cent of the ground was un-surfaced. It was here that I spent my first Christmas in Long Kesh.
I was just getting my bed made when some of the lads asked me to go out for a walk around the cage. Out we went and I turned right on leaving the hut, but my friends informed me that you must walk in an anti-clockwise manner like everyone else or people would regard you as an eccentric.
That Christmas of 1972, was bitterly cold as the frost glinted on the barbed wire. Overhead an army helicopter hovered and the pilot blared mockingly through a loudspeaker, "A Merry Xmas to one and all." There were joyous retorts of "The same to you, and we hope you crash you black bastards." The air was filled with shouts and banter of the lads as they walked around and around the various Cages. This was a traditional walk taken around nine-thirty at night. Just before ten the screws shouted "hot plate." This was a heating element in which we warmed our food for the ten o’clock tea. We were ushered into the huts at this time and locked up for the night.
I shall never forget my first night in Cage 3, as it was bitterly cold and I slept with my clothes on. There was a T.V. in the hut was an ‘idol of worship’, and I was of that faith. To combat argument over which programmes to watch, each hut elected a panel of three to write out a choice of viewing for each night. Films and sport always caused resentment as to which was on. There were many occasions on which a T.V. committee was ousted in a "Coup d’etat" to be replaced by a one man dictatorship.
In the cages of Long Kesh there were lads from Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Tyrone, Down and Fermanagh. They were all ordinary lads from working-class families. They were not criminals as they were there because of their political beliefs.
A few weeks had passed and we were now into 1973, and a steady influx of internees kept coming, but there were very few going. Willie Whitelaw had stopped the big releases months before. There was a lovable character who had just moved into our hut, and he was called Paddy Cooke. He was a down to earth type of person, with an over abundance of wit and charm. Paddy had little or no education and he and I became quite friendly. One night I asked him if I could help him to learn to read and write and his reply was in the affirmative. I was delighted at this, but there was an old drinking friend of Paddy’s called Mucker, and he was annoyed because he wanted to teach Paddy to read and write. Eventually I agreed to let Mucker teach Paddy, but kept an interesting eye on Mucker’s teaching methods. We obtained the very basic teaching books, so the teacher and pupil started with the well known "Dick and Dora" books. They used the drying hut for the lessons and after a few days some of the lads and myself decided to pin our ears to the tin hut during one of Mucker’s evening classes. This was how it sounded:
Mucker would read aloud, "Here is Dick and this is Dora." Paddy would chant back, "Here is Dora;" immediately there was a terrible roar from Mucker, "Here is Dick! Dick! ye stupid bastard ye!" So much for adult education.
Paddy kept an interest in broadening his horizon just as his backside was broadening. To see him run in his underpants was like watching a rhino in football shorts. We once stole Paddy’s laundry list and the laundry charged three times the amount for his shorts in comparison to any others.
Paddy used to entertain the whole hut at night with his hilarious yarns, some of which related to his own experience of life. My favourite was the tale about him and a friend at the Broadway cinema watching a western. The picture was just reaching one of the highlights as the hero and villain met for the showdown in the main street, when suddenly the screen flickered and flashed, only to see the hero ride off into the sunset with his beloved and that was the end of the movie. The cinema had closed forty-five minutes earlier for some unknown reason that Monday night.
This really annoyed Paddy and his compatriot, and they went to ask the projectionist, who lived nearby, the next day. They asked him why the film was cut short and he replied, "Fuck that! I wanted to see ‘Movie Macabre’ on the T.V." Paddy and his friend proceeded to give the poor projectionist a hiding.
Even when he tried to be serious, Paddy was terribly funny. We coaxed him to participate in a quiz one night. It was his turn to answer as the Quizmaster asked him to spell "abracadabra" the magic word. Paddy refused saying; "Fucking sure I won’t, I might disappear." The whole place was in an uproar. Paddy was "magic" right enough.
Mucker, not to be outdone, also took part in the quiz and was asked the following question. "What was the food of the Gods?" Mucker grinned confidently, answering "Rice." The Quizmaster stated that this was wrong, which annoyed Mucker, who asked "What was the food of the Gods then?" The Quizmaster replied "Ambrosia", and Mucker retorted triumphantly, "I told you it was fucking rice!" I have often wondered how Magnus Magnusson would have coped.
Cage Three was badly overrun with mice and impertinent mice at that. They would just run over the bedclothes right under one’s very nose. We used to have fun with them whenever any were caught. A poor mouse would be caught with a "sweetie bottle" and charged with treason before a kangaroo court. If found guilty, then the poor mice would have to run the gauntlet to the wire.
One of the huts in Cage Three had a miniature race track for captured mice. There were about four mice in each race and this particular small mouse turned out to be a bit of a "Nijinsky" as it won all of the races. There were thousands of cigarettes placed as bets for "Nijinsky" to win the next race. There was a ‘gala’ attendance at the next race and all the punters yelled "Come on Nijinsky" at the off. However, poor "Nijinsky" was left hobbling at the start, and he was abused with countless profanities which was rather pointless, as all mice are born out of wedlock. It was later discovered that a devious punter had "doctored" poor little Nijinsky’s left rear leg.
In Cage Three part of our activities involved woodwork and leatherwork, which had developed to a very high standard of art in handicraft. The articles ranged from colour-designed "hankies", harps, celtic crosses, music boxes and spinning wheels, plus other ornamental designs. These items were much sought after, especially with the name of Long Kesh written on them, as this name is now symbolic to the Republican struggle. Long Kesh harps and crosses take pride of place in many households in many countries of the world.
There were some beautiful items done by people like Billy Kelly, Seán Cooke and Kevin Hannaway. These are just a few of many ‘working-class lads who had this hidden artistic talent. Billy Kelly could draw a complicated beautiful Celtic design ‘from memory; so too could Terry Ginley and they were always busy helping less talented people, such as myself.
Some of the work turned out by the less endowed (and I include myself in this category), was always sure to cause sarcastic comment. One of the first items I made was a plaque with one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, Patrick Pearse’s profile painted on it. This was sketched on, from a well worn tracing, and Pearse’s nose was badly out of shape. As I was not a perfectionist, I finished it and proudly sent it out to Liam McKinley’s wife, Molly. When it was being passed through the searching point, a screw (Prison Officer) remarked on how unusual it was to see a plaque with an image of Brian London the boxer on it. To eternal embarrassment, Molly keeps that infernal item for future reference so that one day she can blackmail me.
It was around this time that Dan Farrelly was just finishing his "immortal hankie" of "Our Lady of the Sorrows". He made the same mistake as I, by using a well worn tracing of the Madonna. When it was completed the eyes seemed odd. Dan had previously laughed his head off at my ‘masterpiece’ of Patrick Pearse, so I burst out laughing when he showed me the finished hankie. God forgive me! but there was a picture of Our Lady, and she looked really brazen with a "come and get me" look in her eye. Dan was furious as he yelled, "You’re fucking jealous as it’s better than your Brian London." He proudly displayed it to Billy shouted down the hut, "Our Lady looks like a brass nail." Dan was now crimson with rage and I tried to console him by saying, "Look, if she does look like a prostitute then pretend it was Mary Magdalen, so just change the name." I had to run for my life out of the hut, not returning until he had cooled down.
Cage Three was badly overcrowded just like the rest of the cages, and it was a benevolent gesture of Willie (Whitewash) Whitelaw to open another cage. There was a re-shuffle and I ended up in Cage Five which was near to the perimeter of the wire. It was in this cage that I met new friends. At first I thought this was going to be a place of peace and tranquility but this was not to be, due to the arrival of a character "affectionately" known as ‘Hannibal.’
Cast Into The Mole’s Den
Before I continue I must explain that although I experienced many lighthearted moments in Long Kesh, there were other times whenever anguish, remorse and even horror took their place. The people who were incarcerated there will never forget walking around looking out through wire, just like animals in a zoo. Their mental condition bore great strain due to the worry for their loved ones on the outside. Many ex-internees will never recover from a nervous disturbance which was caused by being just there. We always referred to an attack on your nerves as ‘‘Bangor Reserves’’ which was then termed ‘‘Bangers and if your bangers were troubling you, then you certainly had problems.
I was to spend the next twelve months in Cage Five. It contained lads from Andersonstown, Ardoyne, New Lodge, Unity Flats, Falls, Short Strand and "The Bone", which were all well known Belfast Catholic areas. There was a sprinkling of our country brethren from Derry, Tyrone and Armagh. It was quite a lively cage as more than half of the number were under twenty-five years of age. One fact always stuck in my mind and that was the terrain, which seemed to be popular with moles or badgers as the place appeared to have an unusual amount of burrowed tunnels.
We were just settling in to our ‘new’ cage whenever some new entrants from lovely Derry on the banks of the Foyle arrived. Four of them came into our hut on that Saturday afternoon. We decided to play a prank on them. We told them that the priest came on Saturdays and he always liked to hear the new men’s confessions. Whenever you think of it, these poor lads were being pestered for "confessions" from the Special Branch and now some bloody priest was wanting them to confess to him.
One of us dressed as a priest and the others put a blanket across the drying hut as this was a makeshift confessional. I can remember about seven of us hiding behind the blanket to hear one "sinners confession and it went something like this.
Bogus Priest: "Come in my son, and tell me how long it has been since you were last at confession?"
Then the priest would give the poor lad a thump on the ear with a boxing gloved hand and he would holler "Get outa here ye bastard ye." Then the poor, perplexed sinner would fly out of the hut.
These "confessions" went on in every cage and they were very popular with an individual named Hughie, from the Lenadoon area of Belfast. He always insisted on being the priest, so on one particular day it was decided to "set Hughie up." A new entrant was informed about the bogus confession and he was instructed on what to say.
During these confessions Hughie always tried to pick up some juicy scandal about the unfortunate person, but this time the tables were turned on him.
Hughie in his solemnly priestly manner began.
Hughie - "God bless you my son, how long has it been since your last confession?"
Hughie - "Are you going with a girl?"
Hughie - "Did you have it off with the young lady?"
Hughie - "What was the girl’s name and where did she live?"
As soon as the "sinner" told Hughie who the girl was, Hughie nearly strangled him, as the young lady involved turned out to be his own daughter. It took a while before Hughie was calmed down and assured that the whole thing was a hoax. Hughie refrained from donning the mantle of a priest after that experience.
As I have mentioned before, there was a certain gentleman named Hannibal in Cage Five and he was the "prankster supreme." He was also a part-time rumour monger.
He used to love to start rumours about releases by saying "Whitelaw is going to let 200 out next week." Although we never believed him, we really wanted to. Whenever Hannibal returned from a visit all the New Lodge Road men would clamber by the wire to hear the latest Hannibal bulletin.
I must confess that I enjoyed helping Hannibal with his various pranks. There was a big fellow in our hut called Mickey Doherty and he was a cycling fanatic. I was talking to Mickey about cycling and I told him that Hannibal’s brother raced for Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics. Mickey went over to Hannibal and asked him about his brother’s cycling prowess, but to Mickey’s consternation, Hannibal snapped angrily at him "Are you trying to be fucking funny because my brother is a spastic invalid and goes about on a wheelchair." Poor Mickey’s face reddened, but when he heard our laughter he knew that he had been the latest victim of Hannibal’s ‘wired up’ sense of humour. We were all convinced that Hannibal was a ‘plant’ by the British, put there to wreck our bangers.
The days of 1973 were dragging by and sometimes the place would get the better of me, so I would remedy this by walking around the cage. By walking alone like this I got peace of mind, reminiscing about the past, and this helped to settle my bangers. I always watched the familiar seagulls that loitered on the rooftops and listened to their mocking cry whenever they were disturbed. The seagulls had a role to play in the "Long Kesh Saga", as many an object was flung at them by frustrated internees. We were really jealous of them, as they could fly away at any time, whereas we couldn’t.
At different times a war of pranks was fought between the inmates of the various huts. My hut was subjected to an early morning visit at five, by dozens of seagulls pecking on the roof and causing a furore with their squawking. The noise of the pecking was exaggerated by the metal rattle of the nissen roof.
A "tout" or informer from the next hut, informed us that just before lock-up on the previous night an A.S.U. (Active Service Unit) planted bits of bread on our roof, thus resulting in the visit of those bloody seagulls. This called for immediate retaliation against that outrage. We planned a similar operation against the perpetrators the following night. It was too successful as the sea gulls went berserk in trying to get the bread off the roof. We had smeared our bread with evo-stick adhesive which made it a little more difficult for the gulls to lift. Just imagine the din caused by the frantic pecking on the tin roof of the hut and at five o’clock in the morning. We had struck back with a vengeance that touched on the genius. For the next few months we had to mount armed guards with brushes just before lockup to prevent further operations against us.
I have often wondered how the screws viewed us when we got up to these antics. They seemed to enjoy watching the goings on, but only from the distance. Each month we used to have an early morning visit by the British Army who would storm into the huts beating their shields just like the Zulus at Rorkes Drift. An officer would call out in a refined English accent "This is a military raid. Don’t talk or move until you are told to go to the canteen with your knife, fork and spoon." In our hut there was a young lad who had his head shaved, just like "Kojak." As he slept the other way around we were able to draw a funny face with a big grin on his head. We didn’t expect the Brit raid the next morning. Anyway most of us were awake except the lad with the shaven head and he was being glared at by a vicious looking soldier who seemed to think that the shaven head with the cheeky grin was the lad’s face. The angry soldier belted the lad’s head with his baton growling "Wipe that stupid smile off your face, you arrogant bastard!’’
Privacy was an unknown thing in Cage Five, and at times those seeking solace or peace of mind would do so in the toilets. It was a type of transcendental meditation for one to just sit there and dream. It was also a good place to get a load of one’s mind. This form of relaxation was soon shattered, due to several windows at the rear of the toilets. Through an open window it was possible to operate the chain from the outside. Eventually, we were all victims of the ‘Phantom Flusher’. Just imagine sitting there in deep contemplation, then, "Whoosh", you are soaked. It is a terrible sensation, taking off from the toilet like a rocket from a launching pad with your trousers around your ankles. A "direct hit" could always be confirmed by the despairing cry of "You dirty rotten bastard!"
It was possible to see into the toilets and it was noticed that a certain internee always seemed to be looking out from the toilet window. This seemed strange, so this particular individual came under close scrutiny. Our first report stated that he sat in reverse manner on the toilet.
Another report stated that he sat in the manner of a jockey using his hand like an imaginary whip. The lad concerned was a Lester Piggot fan right enough, but we still were uncertain and worried. Hannibal, who always exaggerated, declared that he saw our friend sitting side-saddle on the toilet bowl. That was an un-truth, because Hannibal was never too keen on the fellow because he was a better darts player than him. Hannibal could be vindictive at times.
We were beginning to think that the lad was a little "kinky." One night we sent a deputation approaching him on this delicate matter, and to our relief, he told us that he sat back to front on the toilet to combat the "Phantom Flusher." A few days later he was sitting on the toilet facing out the window to outwit the flusher, when an unkind person flung a bucket of water over the door, drenching him. Oh well! It is a well known military saying, that you never expose your rear. I wonder which famous military commander said that? Was it Napoleon, or Wellington, or maybe "Hannibal?"
In the spring of nineteen and seventy-three, a ray of sunshine came into our lives with the arrival in Cage Five of a suntanned lad called Dominic. This character became known as "Sunshine" and he really was a "Walter Mitty." We established from his conversation that he was "just off the boats" meaning that he was a seaman. This event created a precedent in Long Kesh.
At that time we were all interned for being suspected members of the Irish Republican Army, and now there was a sailor in our midst. Were they now interning members of the "Irish Republican Navy" or did such an organisation exist? Anyway we were lumbered with Sunshine who was forever trying to impress us about his travels.
I can remember one evening watching an Elvis Presley movie on T.V. when Sunshine sat down beside me and gave me a running commentary on Las Vegas. During one scene Elvis was singing at the famous Flamenco Night Club and Sunshine said to me "They’ve done that place up since I was there." Honestly, "Whicker’s World" could not compare with Sunshine. He was a little gullible and fell easily to the Long Kesh pranksters.
Before an internee went up to the Commission, which was a form of trial, the authorities presented a list of allegations against that particular individual, on type written sheets. One bright afternoon, Sunshine was called to the front gate of the Cage and was given his "allegations." After reading them Sunshine swooned like a prima donna. On the papers it stated that he blew up two soldiers, shot so many policemen and alleged that he was a mad bomber. Whenever he came around we assured him that it was a complete hoax. We had borrowed an old typewriter and done the nasty deed.
There was a chap on the bunk below me called Liam McKinley, of the greying locks, who could put the finishing touch to any cross or harp with his artistic writing. I was guilty at times of making Long Kesh a purgatory for Liam.
He always liked to retire early so that he could dream about Mollie, his wife. I always sang or chatted to the early hours of the morning, which kept poor Liam awake. He would shout out insults such as "Baldy bastard" or ‘‘Falls Road waster", and I used to reply ‘‘Flatterer.’’ In the end I always had to go cap in hand to beg forgiveness so that he would do the writing on my harps. Beneath that rugged, dour, exterior there beats a heart of gold, because he never refused me. If Liam never gets into heaven, then St. Peter must be a "stickie."
Cage Five Really Was "Wired Up"
As a child I was thrilled by the escaping exploits of those British Prisoners of War on the movies. Believe it or not, Long Kesh was similar to the Nazi concentration camps. All those scenes were recaptured for me there in Long Kesh. We too had a few over the wire, under the wire, through the wire, and the screws opened the front door for a few.
On one occasion an internee was informed that he was allowed several hours period for parole. The internee insisted that he wasn’t due for parole and despite his protests they threw him out of Long Kesh. They did not see him for a long, long time, because although they had the right name, it was the wrong man. There was a poor distraught internee with the same name waiting for parole in another cage. That other fellow has gone down in history as the only man every to be thrown out of Long Kesh.
Liam Hannaway "R.I.P’ a fine Republican who spent a large
slice of life in British Prisons because of his principles.
We used to get great enjoyment by creating mock escapes. A new internee was always the victim of this type of hoax on his first night in the hut. That first night always made a person apprehensive, especially being locked up with thirty-odd "terrorists." One will do anything to be accepted in that society. On one particular night, a new lad in our hut was informed that there was going to be a break and he was all for it. I told him to stand by the toilet window and keep watch. If a screw came by he was to whistle a few bars of "The boys of the old Brigade." I gave him a tin of polish to blacken his face.
After a while the lights went out and our brave internee with blackened face, donned a balaclava helmet. The scene was now set as we all waited for the signal. Shortly afterwards a shadow whispered, "Psst Bobby!" I answered "What’s up?" He replied "I can’t whistle." I told him to sing "The boys of the old Brigade" but he replied, "I don’t know all the words of it, will the ‘Broad black brimmer’ do?" At this time I was getting a little impatient because of the sniggering in the background. I whispered to him, "For Jesus sake sing ‘Are you from Dixie?’ just sing anything." At this stage I had to restrain myself from bursting into laughter and everyone in the hut was ready for an uproar.
After lights out, it was corny joke time followed by jibes and insults. Hannibal’s laugh was one of the oddest sounds I’ve ever heard. It sounded firstly like a stuttering car exhaust then lowered into the hissing sound of a snake. We all tried to imitate this unusual laugh and he always raged at this. If Hannibal could identify his impressionist then he would hurl insult and abuse at that particular individual. He caught one fellow on and shouted "Your Da was called "Sawdust" because he did the plate collection in Chapel, and used to shove a lot of loose change into his sawdust filled pockets which didn’t jingle. Ever since that night that poor lad was called "Harry Sawdust."
During the summer of 1973, a young internee named Patrick Crawford, was found hanging in the woodwork room. This tragic event cast a lot of depression over the entire camp. Several weeks had passed whenever we decided to try an ouija board one night in our hut. The atmosphere was ripe for all ghosts, spooks and banshees to appear and even a spectre of Paddy Crawford was supposed to have walked through the partition of the half hut into the woodwork hut. The night we choose for this was wet and windy.
The scene was set for us to try and conjure up some spirits who were supposed to have haunted the place. Most of us were taking it very seriously, but a few others were out for a laugh. It all began very quietly as six of us sat around the table which was lettered and numbered accordingly. All of us put on a show of bravado, but underneath we were really scared. Just after a few minutes in the darkened room by candlelight, the glass began to move on the table and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. We had had contact with a spirit who had claimed to be an American airman named Harvey. As Long Kesh was a converted American air-base during World War II, then we began to believe him. We asked him many questions and he answered some and to others there was no response. Hannibal was in bed during all this, due to him being a devout Catholic he refused to partake in the proceedings, that is until we began to receive a response back from the spirit. Hannibal shouted the following request, "Ask him if there will be any releases?" We complied to this request, but the spirit’s answer to this was "Dry your eyes and do your wack" (time). Poor Hannibal threw the blanket over his head praying fervently with his rosary beads.
The spirit of Harvey began to fade whenever two unoccupied boots started plodding down the floor and we all zoomed into bed. At one end of the hut the water boiler started pouring water. I knew Hannibal feared situations like this, and I tied an illuminous "Child of Prague" statue onto a brush and started to wave it at the end of his bed. There it was hovering and glowing in the air, until some sacrilegious bastard flung a boot at it. What a profane thing to happen in Catholic Ireland. Hannibal was calling everyone "all the bastards" in between decades of the rosary, in fact he would have got into the Guinness Book of Records for saying so many rosaries in so short a space of time. As it was a pro-British compilation of facts, then we decided from nominating Hannibal.
The whole "seance" had been rigged, as the knob of the water container was operated by the use of dark twine, and the dark boots were manipulated with dark twine tied along the roof of the hut. Eventually we settled down, except for one or two whose bangers were playing them up. I must admit that there were several times in Cage Five when I was frightened.
Five minutes of anxious silence passed, then our hero gave a cough to clear his voice and he burst into rapturous song "Sure it’s a Broad Black Brimmer." The lights went on, simultaneously accompanied by roars of laughter. There was our friend strolling down the floor like Al Jolson in the Winter Garden theatre on Broadway. "Yuh ain’t heard nothin’ yet folks!" Whenever he realised what had happened, he jumped straight into bed calling us all "a shower of bastards."
This type of activity helped us all "to do our time" or in other words, it prevented us from cracking up. Around midnight the hut seemed to transform into the atmosphere of a hospital ward. Some would be writing letters, some would be reading and others would reminisce over a cup of tea. Most nights I would join Junior Parker, Paddy Fitzimmons and Hannibal and exchange humourous tales.
The death of Paddy Crawford had unsettled many of us and it began to play on our minds. There used to be an unseen spirit who went around pulling at the bedclothes of different individuals. There were many reports of some unseen presence pressing a heavy weight on a person’s chest. I experienced these happenings myself.
The woodwork hut where Paddy Crawford was found hanged was used by myself for studying. For days afterwards I could not go near the place, then I eventually plucked up the courage. As I entered the hut I kept my eyes downwards, moved over to the other side and sat down to my studying. About an hour passed whenever glanced up at the heating element from which Paddy had been hanging, and there was a pair of legs dangling in mid air. My heart almost leapt into my mouth when suddenly I realised that some stupid so and so had left a washed pair of jeans hanging from the heater to dry.
"Spot The Looney"
At different times of the day some soldiers would be patrolling the perimeter of the wire and were subject to some verbal abuse, but they gave as good as they got. There was one particular rainy day the Brits were patrolling by and Junior Parker shouted through a window "I hope you all get drenched you bastards, and the next time you come in here, I’ll knock your bollocks in and my name is Freddie Holden." During the next Brit raid Freddie was a favourite target for the soldiers. He has never forgiven Junior, even to this day.
Each time a tunnel was found in Cage Five, a Brit raid would follow and the Brits really enjoyed humiliating the internees by destroying personal items and throwing food on the floor to be trampled on, or urinated on. Outside we all had to run the gauntlet of steel-helmeted figures as they smacked the backs of our legs with their batons, shouting "Irish bastards." They always smashed the windows of the huts, yet the Camp Governor blamed the "Republican Rabble" for any damage caused.
Part of the daily routine involved different individuals performing various duties such as a storeman to look after the issue of toilet items and cleaning utensils. A body of men was elected by all, such as a representative to control each hut and a Cage administrator. This was all done to maintain a certain standard of hygiene and discipline. In Cage Five it was extremely difficult to keep the younger lads in check, and at time things got out of hand.
It was a lovely afternoon in May when Tucker Kane and I were strolling past the washrooms, whenever Gerard Kane, who was a terrible prankster, came zooming out of a doorway leaving in his wake a trail of obscenities along with a flying bucket of water which I walked in to. I have mentioned before about the rivalry between huts, well I retaliated by throwing a bucket of water over Gerard and that started it, we had our own "Kane Mutiny."
You cannot attack an Ardoyne man in day light and expect to escape the consequences, especially if he has a lot of brothers. Frankie, Patrick and Gabriel all joined in to uphold the family name, and so a "Water War" commenced, with everyone in the two big huts battling it out. The half hut which contained both the more refined type of internee along with the aged and infirm, such as Liam McKinley and Junior Parker, did a "De Valera Stunt" by remaining neutral and barricading themselves in.
The two huts fought it out with buckets, then some military genius brought in the heavy artillery by using the dustbins full of water. It was like holding "It’s a Knockout" in Whipsnade Zoo.
Under our "Geneva Convention War Rules" you were not allowed to carry the war into the huts, but Gerard Kane was a war criminal, he ran into our hut and flung water all over the beds. This was a gross violation of the rules. We made a flag of truce then held a Peace Conference. The negotiations were hectic and heated with neither side giving an inch. As active service units stood by, a "Henry Kissinger" was needed to avoid another outbreak of hostilities, then it happened.
By some divine intervention, a suavely dressed, tanned young gentleman came strolling nonchalantly into the cage chiding us, "You are all getting on like a lot of children." It was "Sunshine" returning from parole as he got out for 24 hours because his dog was having pups or something.
We all used our venom on poor Sunshine and he was nearly drowned. His arrival certainly retrieved a nasty situation. In the end we all suffered due to us not having a change of clothing. Whenever we hung our clothes out to dry it started to rain.
I always found this type of activity useful ma therapeutic sense as it relieved tension. At this particular time, morale was excellent in Cage Five, even though we were having a dispute with the Governor over visiting conditions. We had not received any visits for weeks and the Governor was forcing more petty restrictions unto us.
Whitelaw was seemingly bothered by the name Long Kesh as he changed the name to "H.M. Maze Prison" just like that! as Tommy Cooper would say. Why did the name of Long Kesh bother the British? I can only put it down to the embarrassment the name caused in the so-called civilized Western World. The name Long Kesh symbolised British oppression in Ireland and Willie wanted to "whitewash" the place by renaming it the Maze Prison.
As any reader of this can guess, I had a limited education. My mother used to say "I didn’t go to school but I met the scholars coming out." In Cage Five I became interested in studying because of a liking I had for history. We had a male teacher coming weekly to give lectures on various subjects. He advised me to do two subjects at ‘O’ Level, such as English Language and History, which I did. Some of us were always trying to kindle an interest to get some of the lads to go to these classes.
The teachers who came to Long Kesh deserve the highest praise and I myself owe them an awful lot. I began to tread the path of knowledge the following week. At the first lecture the gentleman concerned took an essay with him to mark for me, and I couldn’t wait to see what he thought of it the following week.
The time arrived for my teacher’s next visit, and I was called to the gate where I was confronted by two attractive young ladies. They had been assigned to Cage Five, where I was the one and only student. Now wasn’t I the lucky boy, or so I thought! They introduced themselves as Breda and Celia. During the first lesson my face began to redden. This was held in a little hut with rather large windows, which we called "the transline hut." There were thirty or forty flattened countenances staring enviously through the windows. My essay was on Will Shakespeare’s love-tragedy "Romeo and Juliet" which turned out to be tragic for me the following week. When that first session was over the whole cage put their names down for further education.
I’ll never forget that next lesson as there was thirty or so crammed into the "wee hut." My essay on "Romeo and Juliet" was read out, then we acted different parts of the play. I was seething with anger at the titters and snickering of the other students who just wanted to "eye" Breda and Celia up and down. The worst time of all was when I had to bring the girls tea and biscuits and run the gauntlet of suggestive remarks such as "Hey Bobby D. you’d do anything for a flash", and "What do you get for your tea and biscuits." That night in the hut after ‘lights out’, Parker shouted: "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" then there was a tumultuous response of: "He’s in Long Keshio!" I retorted about them all being born out of wedlock. (end of Scene I.)
"It was like Butlins" - Cage 22 campers
Each Cage was allowed use of the football pitch at least once a week. Gaelic football was the most popular of all there, and it certainly was the most competitive. If there were medals at stake then it became a pitched battle. Whenever any game was over, you would have a scene like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in football boots.
There would be broken limbs, steakers (black eyes) and bruises galore. The most famous or infamous match was fought out between Cage Two and Cage Three. Each team contained excellent players, but they suffered from what I called "medal fatigue."
The match was a see-saw event right up until the last ten minutes, whenever Cage Three went in to a comfortable lead, then "bang", it happened. Someone got punched and then it was like Custers last stand.
There was Dessie Reynolds and the Meehans battling for the honour of Cage Two, then on the other side there was big Fra McCullough, Gerry McKerr and Freddie Scappacticci all battling away. The match came to a halt thus ending the inter-cage tournaments. It was a pity because those cages had two excellent teams. However, it was all in the line with our policy of promoting Irish Culture. The only culture I could remember about that day was the "agriculture" from the countrymen.
The first Sunday of June in 1973 is imprinted in my memory. It was a beautiful summer’s day. I can remember standing beside Paddy Crawford during Mass and I recollect him going to Communion. There was nothing unusual in this, but my next vision of Paddy was of him hanging limply by the neck in the woodwork hut.
After lunch some of us went for a walk around the cage which was the habitual exercise. On passing the woodwork hut I noticed one of the lads pushing at the door, trying to open it. We assumed that someone was larking about so we walked on.
After fifteen minutes later I was having a cup of tea with Dan Farrelly whenever someone walked into the hut saying "There is someone hanging from the ceiling in the woodwork hut." At first we thought of this being a hoax, then Dan and I ran around to the woodwork hut. We were a bit. hesitant on approaching the half open door. There was a screw near by and he was afraid to come near us. I entered the hut and looking downwards I could see on the sunlight floor a slow twirling shadow. The hair on the nape of my neck began to rise and I do not know where I got the courage to turn left at the door, but I did and was terror-struck. There was Paddy Crawford hanging by the neck on a strip of mattress cover. His neck was stretched grotesquely like a turkey hanging in a butcher’s shop window. There was a chair beside him and his feet were just a few inches off the ground as he veered slowly like a discarded Christmas decoration against a slight breeze.
Dan Farrelly cut him down and Paddy Rice and myself laid him down. At first we thought there was still life there, as Paddy attempted a kiss of life and I massaged his heart. There were tears in our eyes as we shouted "Paddy, Paddy" but he appeared to be in a deep sleep. At this time I was terribly upset, because this was my first experience of seeing death. A few of the screws, medics and a Prison Doctor shortly arrived and pronounced him dead.
By now all the Cage inmates were outside the hut as the news of what happened spread. The incident shocked us all. There was then a poignant scene. We lined up in two lines as the body of Paddy Crawford was carried on a stretcher. His left hand slipped out under the sheet and Paddy Rice took the hand in his own walking towards the gate. We were now at a loss as what to do, until someone suggested a prayer for the deceased and we all gathered in the canteen to say a decade of the rosary.
After this traumatic experience we had to stay indoors because the R.U.C. were investigating the incident. My morale was at its lowest during this period. We glanced at each other in silence, even the most loquacious such as Hannibal were dumbstruck.
The incident aroused great debate throughout the media. There were allegations that Paddy Crawford was an informer and that some of the inmates had beaten him up before they hanged him. There were no visible signs on Paddy of having been beaten whenever we cut him down.
As regards to Paddy being an informer, well only the British Army or Royal Ulster Constabulary can answer that one.
The other end or half of the Nissen hut adjacent to the woodwork side was used as living accommodation. The inmates of this were in a bad way. One of them claimed to see Paddy walk through the partition in the early hours of the morning. Everyone’s bangers got so bad that a priest had to be sent for to bless all the huts.
Despite the situation someone had to get a laugh, and at this time only those infernal seagulls seemed to laugh, and mockingly at that. One of the first people who found Paddy Crawford was having an afternoon "siesta". Someone climbed about with a belt around his neck and contorted his face with the tongue protruding, then nudged the sleeper who awoke with a scream. It took some time before that individual could be calmed down.
I think it’s appropriate at this part of my writing, to refer to the escapes and informers which were contemporary to the Long Kesh scene, just like Colditz and Stalag 17 concentration camps. We had the tunnels, attempted escapes and informers.
In Cage Five some held the opinion that an informer was "planted" in along with the men. As that Cage was so near the wire perimeter then it was ideal for tunnels, especially with a sandy surface. All the tunnels were eventually discovered. One of these, a screw discovered accidentally - as he fell into it. We were all charged with damaging prison property and trying to escape on another occasion.
Over in Cage Three a definite tout or informer was discovered. A slip of the tongue apparently gave him away. He was bumming about only doing a few weeks then he would be out. Someone took him to task over it, but he took asylum in the camp hospital and from there he was taken elsewhere en-route with a paid flight to Australia where he is still skulking about.
Some of these informers even told where the cage brew was hidden, which maddened the men even more. An early Brit raid was always expected by all the Cages, but Cage Five was always more popular with the British Army as they came to see us more regularly.
We had a sinister Brit raid one night at around 11.30 p.m. and they wrecked the place. At different intervals we had to go through the usual gauntlet of ‘brave" Brits who swiped blows with their batons on the backs and legs of each internee as he passed through. Some of us would run through it to a chorus of laughter from the Brits. Some others walked defiantly between the howling, cursing lines, who yelled "run you Irish scum."
Even though I was scared, I approached the gauntlet dandering slowly like Robert Mitchum scowling at the Brits, then I would run like hell with a Sebastian Coe finish for the canteen. Once we were in the canteen the Brits went berserk smashing in all the windows. All we could do was give them the fingers. We all started singing rebel songs and when we exhausted our repetoire we gave a Royal Command Variety Performance because all the Brits were gaping in through the smashed windows.
Manuel Collins, Harry McCrory, a Derry lad named Jimmy and myself, formed a singing act called "The Cheese Sandwich Quartet." We gave a rendering of hits from the fifties and sixties. These songs brought tears to the eyes of Jim McCormick from the Markets, as they reminded him of his "Teddy Boy" days.
Then I did my impression of Al Jolson. I gave them the whole works from ‘Dixie’ to ‘California’. I’m sure the Brits thought we were mad, never the less we had a good laugh and more important, it passed the time.
We were herded back into the huts and we watched the Brits depart in fading green legions with shields upright like the victorious Zulus returning to King Cetewayo’s Kraal after the Battle of Islandlhawana. Our huts were in the usual expected horrible mess, except that this time the toilet was torn from the floor. Most of our foodstuff was thrown over the floor and trodden on. The water boiler had been urinated in. They had obviously been looking for something and one of the screws told us that on information received, there was a pair of pliers in the Cage.
I don’t know if they found the confounded pliers or not, but they could have bought a pair in Smithfield for £1 .50. The only consolation from this raid was that the Cage’s informer had his belongings destroyed as well.
Once you were interned there seemed only one outlet and that was the Tribunal. After a few weeks your name would be called and that meant a trip to the gate where the Assistant Governor handed you a paper containing a list of allegations such as attempting to shoot soldiers or members of the U.D.R. and R.U.C., even the odd explosion would be mentioned. Anyhow, one had to face these allegations at the Tribunal.
This type of hearing was not unlike ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus.’ What really surprised me was that this charade was headed by respected members of the Judicial society from England. I was led in by a screw and I sat there until the Judge addressed me, then I stated that I did not wish to partake in the proceedings as the whole set-up was against the European Convention for Human Rights. So I sat there as a figure entered the room and sat behind a blanketed screen. This gentleman turned out to be a Special Branch Officer. The Branch man would quote items of information he had received from a "reliable" informant that Robert Devlin was a terrorist.
After each piece of information, the Judge would ask if the informant was paid or not. The first "revealing gem" of information was that Robert Devlin of .... Avenue, was a brother of Paddy Devlin the Politician. The Judge asked was this paid information and the Branch man answered in the affirmative. I could have told him that at half the price.
I was then asked to leave the room which I thought was ill-mannered of the Judge. There was a period of time held in Camera, and God knows what went on in there. In about a half hour, I was sent for and the learned gentleman informed me that he had no choice but to detain me, but I could appeal this verdict within two weeks, but the only thing I would be "a peeling" would be an orange as there was no way I would sit through that farce again, and I never ever did.
They look like Bandidos but once you got to know them
they were O.K. (Sean McDermott R.I.P. 1st left back row)
"Yuletide in Cage Five"
In the latter half of 1973, a new Cage was built, the first of its kind, which contained cubicles down one side of each hut which was still of the Nissen type. Everything was larger than the other Cages, even the yard brushes were bigger. In fairness, it was a definite improvement. This became known as Cage 22, or the "Old Peoples’ Home" by the cynics.
The Governor (God bless his cotton socks!) sent word around the Cages for volunteers. A load of men went from Cage Five and those of us who stayed, bade them farewell at the gate. It was a touching sight as our gallant internees trekked off in line from the old cages with all their worldly goods on little carts, and about twenty screws scouting the way for them. The scene was likened to the Children of Israel leaving Egypt with Liam Hannaway in the part of Moses leading the way, and Dan Turley just like Aaron in the Bible, John O’Rawe by his side. There they were, being led to the promised land of Cage 22. The only difference was that we prayed not for manna but for releases.
Later on I was a guest at Cage 22 for six weeks. The reason being that another tunnel appeared in Cage Five. I must point out here that in the past I have always been a supporter of Wildlife Preservation, but those badgers or moles caused us a lot of discomfort.
The Brits came in and wrecked all the huts, smashing toilets and windows, so a lot of us were sent around various cages and I ended up in Cage 22 on Halloween, and I was there for six weeks.
It was a well run cage with many activities being organised, such as sport, quizzes, with Irish language and musical classes. I was here until the beginning of December. At this time my father was ill in hospital, and I was allowed five hours parole to see him. This all took place at the time of the Sunningdale agreements. Whenever I returned from parole I spent just one day in Cage 22 as we were all returned to Cage Five. I had all my belongings with me, plus all the latest news for Hannibal.
Rumours about releases were forever on the go, especially now that an agreement was reached at Sunningdale. The Gaelic for news was Scael and the greatest rumour monger of all time resided in Cage Five, Hannibal, alias "Bum Scael Hayes." He earned this name because of previous declarations by him about releases were wrong. Whenever rumours about releases went about, then the men’s bangers started, and Hannibal wrecked more men than all the Brit raids put together.
I was always expected to have first hand information on any movement on the political front, especially any "scael" about releases because of my big brother Paddy. This situation became unbearable whenever he became Minister for Health and Social Services on the newly formed Northern Ireland Executive on December 1973. On my return to Cage Five he wouldn’t give me time to put my gear back. I informed him that there would be a big release before Christmas. All the Long Kesh wires started buzzing and we were all looking forward to a Happy Christmas. Those few weeks before Christmas were very enjoyable and memorable, because of the speculation about numbers. We were all optimistic and we all rushed to finish off harps, crosses and gifts before we got out. We had great fun with our Anti-Post betting list which we called the Grand National Releases which read as follows:
2/1 Bobby Devlin.
As it happened all the favourites fell at the first fence. On the morning of the 22nd of December, we had a Brit raid, yet we were not greatly annoyed, because we knew there was a release and crafty Hannibal knew who would be getting out because a friendly screw told him some names which turned out to be correct.
After the raid about nine or ten men were called to the gate and informed that they were to be released. There were mixed feelings of both joy and remorse at this time. Those of us who were staying congratulated the lucky ones They had about one hour to pack everything and go. It would have taken me just a few minutes to collect my things, but I had to wait for nearly another year with the seagulls.
I'll never forget that atmosphere as the vans took the lucky ones away. A cloud of gloom descended upon the place as we all returned to the huts because it started to rain. There was very little conversation as we crawled back into bed pulling the blankets over our heads.
The hut was very quiet, the rain rattled on the roof and I lay there feeling sorry for myself. I glanced across the hut to where Junior and Hannibal lay, and they too were having the "Big D" which in Long Kesh terminology means a big depression. I knew what was really bugging them and that was the fact of having to spend another Christmas in this "hole." Then suddenly it struck me -"Football" - I shouted over to Hannibal, "Aren’t we supposed to be out on the pitch today?" He said "That’s right!" We all chorused "Let’s go. Fuck them and their releases." We had to splash our way through that particular match as the place was flooded, but we did not care because it was helping us to do our "Wack" and we nearly drowned one another. The Brits in the lookout tower shouted "Happy Christmas you poor bastards" and we saluted them Churchillian style.
Christmas Eve 1973 approached and still the rain came down. We planned to have a party that night. Jehovah did not forsake us that Christmas Eve because a miracle happened in Cage Five. Our urns of milk which had been empty and left outside before the Brit raid, now bore an alcoholic beverage which tasted not of this earth. It was a repeat of the wedding feast at Canaan when Our Lord changed the jars of water into wine. If it wasn’t a miracle then how the devil did it get there?
A party was held that night in our hut, and I can remember just a little of the proceedings. The goodies which our families had sent us were laid out on the tables, and it was quite an impressive spread. We couldn’t wait to get at the "Heavenly Brew". I’ve never tasted anything like that before or since. I remember drinking a mug full and having to endure Hannibal’s jokes when Junior Parker sang "My Way." We freed our native land in song, and wished our families the season’s goodwill. I proposed a toast to Willie Whitelaw and we all came to the opinion that he was a big bastard.
The scene was almost Dickensian. There we all were, a right bunch of "Tiny Tims" forgotten by old Ebeneezer Whitelaw Scrooge on Christmas Eve. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present or Future would not visit "Willie Scrooge" in dread of a detention order being signed on them. At the time we were a bit harsh on Willie, because Francis Pym was now the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but it was Willie who put us all in there at first.
I took some more of that exotic concoction, when suddenly the roof of the hut began to whirl and I did not know whether it was Ash Wednesday or Pan Cake Tuesday. At this stage I was supposed to have done an Al Jolson impression, but everything afterwards was blank.
On Christmas morning the priest was in the Cage earlier than expected as he wanted to be back home for his Christmas dinner. I must apologise to that priest for the retorts of "Fuck Off" by certain individuals because they thought it was a screw. All they could make out was a dark clothed figure. My head felt as if the Gong in the J. Arthur Rank Films was going off in it, and my stomach was heaving.
I struggled to my locker, took out a tin of Andrews Health Salts and put some in a cup of water. My head was so sensitive to noise that I pleased with the cup "Please don’t fizz!’’
The Mass that morning was said in Irish by the priest, to responses which sounded more like Swahili.
"Happy New Year"
We were glad to get that Christmas over and eagerly looked forward to the New Year. On New Year’s Eve we had quite a few chuckles as we exchanged humourous anecodotes about Belfast and our own areas within it. My own particular favourite story happened during the 1969 riots. It occurred in Conway Street which ran from the Falls Road to the Shankill Road. The Catholic Falls Road end was destroyed by petrol bombing from Loyalist mobs.
Near the half-way stage of the street was mixed and the armed men had to be shown who lived where. There was a certain Catholic family, who shall be nameless, had their door knocked. The man of the house was confronted by two men and one of them stuck a huge, ugly Webley revolver against his nose saying: "You’ve five minutes to get out!" The gunmen expected our friend to panic and beg for mercy, but they were dumb-struck as he asked them "Would you not wait until we’ve seen the end of Gideon’s Way?" Believe it or not, that really happened.
Paddy Fitzimmons from the Short Strand, told us about how he and his mates went to the house of an old uncle who had died. The old man had lived on his own and they decided to stay for his "wake." They all bunched up a few pounds and someone fetched a few cases of Guinness. This was about nine o’clock at night, and Paddy’s father had to go out on an errand and didn’t return until midnight. As he approached the door he could not believe his ears because there were sounds of music and laughter coming from within. He burst in through the door and one of the "mourners" was down on one knee singing "Mammy" with the rest joining in on the chorus. They were all "full" and Mr. Fitzsimmons cleared them all out just like Jesus cleared the merchants from the Temple of Jerusalem. Imagine this all happening and the poor man lying there in his coffin. I don’t think Paddy went home for days after that. We all roared with laughter at that one.
All the different areas were represented by different hilarious stories. There was a classic one from the "Pound Loney." In Milford Street there used to be a funeral under-takers and they were always "on call." They received a message to go to attend someone who had passed away in Bow Street, and were informed that the door would be left open. The corpse was in a bed in the downstairs living room, covered with a white sheet.
The undertaker brought his apprentice with him and they walked into Bow Street and into the first house which had an open door. The apprentice wondered why no-one else was in the house, but the undertaker assumed that the people were afraid. Anyway, there was a body on the bed right enough, covered by a white sheet. As the apprentice went over the body, he noticed a rather large object protruding so many inches high, situated at the lower region of the body.
The apprentice was baffled and bemused, saying "What will I do with this?" The undertaker smiled and confidently lifted a large mallet, gave the protruding object a severe blow and immediately there was a horrific howl from the body. "What will we do now?" cried the frightened apprentice. The undertaker moaned "Oh Jesus, we’re in the wrong house."
By 1974 Long Kesh had extended greatly as there were now several Loyalist Cages containing both U.V.F. and U.D.A. members. There was very little contact between the Loyalists and ourselves. Cage Six was adjacent to a Loyalist Cage, and the only contact between the two was in the form of a little Loyalist black cat. The little animal certainly wasn’t politically biased, or perhaps it just hadn’t any Loyalist principles, because it was a frequent visitor to Fenian Cage Six. Anyway, to cut a tale short (pardon the pun), some unkind member of Cage Six tied a little green, white and orange ribbon onto the cat’s tail, and whenever it returned home all hell was let loose. Mr. Pym missed his chance of charging those Loyalist detainees through the auspices of the R.S.P.C.A.
Early in 1974 I was moved to Cage 22 and I had mixed feelings at leaving Cage 5. Anyway, Hannibal’s "scael" about releases was getting hot and heavy due to the newly elected Labour Government. With the advent of Merlyn Rees as the new Northern Ireland Supremo then, we thought that a socialist "Valhalla" would prevail and that the gates of Long Kesh would be flung open. Even at this early stage he was being called "Merlyn Release." Boy! Were we in for a surprise.
I settled in quite easily in Cage 22, and I was able to catch up with my reading there. In the Cage there were several dedicated men who really loved the Irish Culture with its language and music. Liam Hannaway, Francie Brolly and Eamon Caughey did great work there.
I really enjoyed the "Bun Rangs" or basic Irish lessons run by Francie Brolly. There was one particular lesson I recall, when Francie was giving a lesson about a cat jumping on a kitchen table to eat a fish. He asked one of the lads to convert that into Gaelic, but the lad described it thus, that the cat jumped on the table but it was eaten by the fish. When Francie pointed this out, I shouted "Ta Pirana ar an tabla."
We were now approaching Eastertide which is an emotional time for Republicans as it was on Easter Monday that the Nineteen and Sixteen Rising happened. We all could not wait to see the messages of greetings in the Irish News from our loved ones, such as:
Each message was always concluded with a patriotic quote as above. My favourite one was sent to Billy Kelly by his mother, and it went something like this:
Billy enjoyed it ‘ore than anyone. Since the "troubles" started, the Irish News has made a fortune from these insertions.
In Cage 22 there was a fair percentage of country lads from Tyrone, Armagh, Derry (Londonderry if you kick with the wrong foot) and Down. There was always good natured banter between us "City Slickers" and our "Country Brethren." I always held admiration for the country lads of Cage 22 because of their good humour and sincerity. It was really incorrect calling them country lads as most of them came from towns. But if you lived outside Belfast, then you weren’t a "City Slicker."
A popular feature in our hut was the late night movie on B.B.C.2 on Saturday nights. I recall one night we were watching Alan Ladd in "Shane" and as you know, this was a well worn movie on television. As a matter of fact it was only surpassed by John Wayne in "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon."
During "Shane", a young boy with a high-pitched shrill in his voice, is always calling out monotonously "Hi ye Shanennn!" or "Are ye fast on the draw Shanennn?" It really was irritating listening to it constantly.
Anyway, there we all were sitting in the dark drinking tea, just with Alan Ladd riding off into the sunset and the young lad is wailing out "Goodbye Shane, we’ll sure miss yuh Shanennn!" All of a sudden there was a fierce cry in a country accent, "Ahhh! Fuck you and Shane," and a big boot came flying out of the darkness going through the set.
We all jumped up seething with indignation, ready to set about the perpetrator, demanding to know who threw the boot. When six-foot-plus John Pat from the Oak Leaf county said "Me!" then we all responded with "You were dead right, as it was rotten." Big John Pat always looked as if he could eat a horse between two bread vans, and that was that.
A lot of the characters from Cage 5 were now in Cage 22 such as Hannibal and Sunshine. Sunshine was getting worse at trying to impress us of his great knowledge. One day Benny McKeating was drawing a Phoenix and Sunshine not wanting to miss anything, started to glance over Benny’s shoulder. Benny winked at me and I knew Sunshine was ready to walk into something.
Benny asked him what it was he was drawing, and Sunshine said, "I can’t remember the name, but one escaped from London Zoo." Whenever we laughed at this, Sunshine shouted, "I’m only kidding, it’s a bald eagle."
At around this time the Open University was in vogue, and Sunshine had to get into the act somewhere. He enrolled to study for a degree in "Humanities." After several weeks he had a mountain of books on top of his locker covered in dust. One Friday afternoon we noticed that Sunshine was watching television and "University Challenge" was about to come on, and we all gathered behind him. All the different students had started the programme in the usual manner, i.e. "Jimmy Duffin reading History at Oxford," and so on, until the last student finished, then we all chimed in "Sunshine. from the Markets, reading Humanities." He ran out of the hut in disgust.
Spring was in the air, and so were those bloody seagulls as they glided overhead squawking and shitting all over the place. It was comical to see a nicely dressed internee with a bright white shirt walking around early in the morning waiting to be called for his wife’s visit, whenever a seagull would swoop down and "Geronimo" he would score a direct hit on the poor fellow with his droppings. Then the seagull would return to an unknown base.
There was really a love-hate relationship between ourselves and the gulls. Phil McCullough had a seagull over in Cage 3 which became quite tame, and it used to walk around with him.
It was always good to see the wife and children during a visit which lasted thirty minutes. Whenever I returned from a visit I would be overcome by a deep depression. Some of the lads tried to overcome the "Big D" by throwing a blanket over their heads and trying to sleep it off. I would rather fight it by walking around the cage for about an hour, then go inside for a yarn and a cup of tea. Most huts which had about thirty or so internees, would be split up into groups of men who pooled their resources such as food, etc. These were called "cliques" and each member took his turn to make the tea. "Hotplate" time was really a ritual that happened at ten o’clock which was lock up time. We always had different choices of meat or snacks which were put into the hot plate at nice, and these were well wrapped in tin foil to contain the heat. One wet Saturday night after lock up, we all congregated around the table eagerly awaiting a nice warm meal even though Dessie Quinn was "Duty Cook." The tin foil parcels were roasting hot and we opened them onto the plates in great expectation, and lo and behold, what was the dainty dish set before us - "Boiled Beetroot." Poor Dessie was called all the stupid bastards and even Liam McKinley, his brother-in-law, joined in the condemnation. Dessie neglected to look inside the tin foil to check. Mrs. Maggie Quinn was called a few names by her son on that occasion. Each time I remind Dessie of this, his face goes as red as a beetroot. We had to become seagulls ourselves that night and swoop on the other cliques for grub.
Our hut in Cage 22 was going through a turbulent period because of the bloody television. There was always rows over the choice of programmes. We elected a three man selection board to try and sort this out. I was unfortunate enough to be on it. Saturday night could always be a problem, especially with two late movies on. In this situation we had a vote in the hut as to which film to choose. I was writing the programmes down and Sunshine was reading them out for me from the paper. I asked him what was the film on I.T.V. and he shouted over to me "John Wayne in The Comancheros", then I asked him what was on B.B.C. 2 which he said was a war film called "Flying Down To R-Ten". He seemed a little vague about this, anyway I was in a hurry and the "war film" won the vote. Once the list of T.V. viewing went up, then that was final, there could be no changes. The time for the late night movie on B.B.C. 2 drew near, and we all relaxed to watch the war film. We always preferred the "blood and thunder and violence." The music commenced and on came Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing away amidst howls of derision and abuse. "Who the hell said this was a war film?" I went over to Sunshine and checked the paper, and there it was "Flying Down To Rio". Sunshine thought the ‘Rio’ in print looked like ‘R.10’. That was that, I had to resign from my position to avoid revolution. The television always caused animosity and dissension.
I remember on one occasion there was a T.V. documentary about a certain film director or producer called Andy Warhol, whose work was supposed to be pornographic. This was advertised about a week before the showing and it caused some concern among the older internees who felt it should not be shown. This was debated the length and breadth of Long Kesh and all the furore about it only increased a curious desire to view it. In the end it turned out to be a damp squib.
Every few weeks we were shown a film in the big hut. A ‘Cert X’ or a war film were always "Top of the Pops." It was hilarious in a World War II battle scene involving the Brits and Germans. Each time a British Tommy "bit the dust" there would be a big cheer, then a tremendous "boo" if a German got blitzed. This was in direct contrast to whenever I was a child going to the matinees in the Diamond or Clonard cinemas on the Falls Road. Then we always cheered the Allies against the Germans.
A similar situation occurred out in Aden in the Middle East at an R.A.F. Cinema where they were showing the film "Zulu". Every time a Zulu was killed the British servicemen would cheer, but if a redcoat was "blitzed" the same Arab workers in the cinema would roar their approval. It was like being at a cup final.
During a "Cops and Robbers" movie in the Kesh, the "baddies" always got a cheer. The screw showing the film always enjoyed the reactions of the audience.
There were times when things would get on top of people. Fights often broke out over the simplest of matters. I remember getting a black eye during a "friendly" sparring session with Jim Truick, and I saw Sunshine getting "decked" after a violent game of chess with Tony McAllister. Then one night there was "blue murder" in our hut over whose turn it was to use the minature snooker table. Paddy Fitzimmons, an amateur boxing champion, sorted it all out with a few left hooks.
Cage 22 Festival Season
Each year in the Republican areas of Belfast the anniversary of Internment, that is the ninth of August, is always "celebrated" with bonfires and blowing whistles at three o’clock in the morning. I still cannot fathom why we "celebrate" because the event brought great hardship to many decent living families.
A few weeks prior to the third anniversary a group of individuals including myself got together to organise a Cage 22 festival. It included a mini olympics, novelty games, and various "cultural" activities such as "musical chairs". This all proved that we were all "cracking up". We formed a committee to form a committee which formed other committees. The place was like a Soviet communal farm with all these committees.
The Cage 22 festival turned out to be a great success due to the charity of some fine people who sent in plaques trophies and medals: The plaques were really beautiful and I was determined to win one as they were for first place in every event.
I remember on the first day we held the four hundred and forty metre heats. One of the heats contained Hannibal and yours truly and coming around the first bend I fell like a steeplechaser at "Beechers" as I was going neck and neck until my tumble: then it was Hannibal’s neck and my arse. There was a demand for a stewards inquiry as some spectators claimed that Hannibal tripped me. I ended up getting several stitches in my arm which worried me in case I could not continue my efforts to win one of those plaques. Hannibal didn’t trip me in that race but if it had been a race for a release paper then the possibility was there.
The next event was the half-mile and the favourite was the "White Tornado" Eamon Caughey. He could really go in the shorter distance races. The half-mile race involved four circuits of the cage. There were about a dozen entrants at the start and Peadar Mc Ilvenny with Eamon Caughey zoomed off as if it was a hundred yards sprint. This absolutely wrecked me after one circuit but I knew if I could keep in touch with the first four then I would be in the medals. For the next three laps I hung on and got in behind Eamon and Peadar going down the home straight and I gave it all I had which wasn’t much, yet I tied a second place with Peadar until Gerry Maguire (God Forgive Him) shouted "There’s another lap to go"’. By now I had come to a halt but then everyone dashed off again. That "fifth" lap nearly killed me as I struggled around on "rubbery" legs to finish outside the medals. I was exhausted and had to lie down. We were convinced that we ran five laps instead of four. Gerry Maguire was the adjudicator who counted laps but I will still argue even to this day that I ran five. Gerry must have been counting how many harps and crosses were done that week for the Green Cross 73 instead of the laps.
In the next two events "the mile" and "the Marathon" I came second and so after all that endeavour I was still "plaqueless". There was only one event left in which I could win a plaque and that was the "Fancy Dress Bonanza".
The hours before this took place were hilarious, as each entrant went foraging for anything to wear. I had borrowed a suit with a loudly coloured broad check, a flashy tie along with a gangster type hat and finished it all off with a violin case. I was supposed to be "Al Capone" as we paraded in the yard in front of all the lads. There was I with an outrageous cigar in my mouth shouting "Nah punks is a gonna talka ta Al Capone like dat!" and I would raise the violin case in the required manner. That went down very well and I thought that the elusive plaque would be mine, then, "Honky Tonk" Liam Shannon appeared in drag and he was tremendous. Clad in a red satin low necked dress he glided across the yard like Gina Lolabrigada (isn’t that name a mouthful)! He went down so well that he was lucky he was not raped. Liam won deservedly and I was second as usual.
It was my big brother Paddy who sent in those plaques which were sponsored by leading business men. My wife Teresa, brought them up on the Long Kesh bus and took a fancy to them and said that I better win one, which I didn’t.
Eamon Caughey won five of the plaques in the athletic events which was a wonderful performance by him. Eamon promised me one of those plaques.
All the events were well supported and provided great entertainment for the spectators. One of the highlights was the "Veterans Race" or if you wished to be unkind "The Oul Crocks Race." This involved a forty yards "dash" down the home straight which involved a handicap according to your age and the older you were then you could get a few yards start.
We all enjoyed the over forties jogging down the track with cobwebs flowing in the breeze. At the end of the race there were bodies lying all over the place. There were a few coronary cases which really had us worried. On the following morning there was a constant flow of casualties to the Camp Hospital which provoked this outburst from a harassed medic "When will them fucking sports be over?"
At the end of the "Sports Festival Fortnight" we had the prize giving entertainment consisting of individual artists singing or playing an instrument which went down very well. The highlight of the evening was a series of sketches which showed the trials and tribulations of a poor internee, from his arrest right through the different stages of his progress from Castlereagh to Long Kesh.
The whole play was acted by about six people who played three or four roles each. I had to play the Internee’s wife, a Special Branch Man and Billy Hull, the leader of the Loyalist Association of Workers. Owen Callaghan played the leading part and he was very impressive in his role.
The best remembered scene was when the internee arrives at Cage 22 and he is introduced to all the different "characters" of the Cage. Impersonations of various people were done accompanied by a record which identified the personality being portrayed. I came to on to a very popular tune of the time "Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree" and the audience knew right away that I was doing "Hannibal" wearing his anorak and trying to do his funny walk. At the end of the music I shouted "There’s two hundred getting out next week" which brought the house down accompanied by a lone voice shouting "Devlin your’e a wastin’ Bastard."
There was a particular scene where I played a Special branch Man in Hollywood Barracks and all I got was boos, but as I walked off I shouted down to Hannibal "Hayes, thanks for everything, there’s a cheque in the post." I don’t think he heard it as the place was in an uproar.
The final scene was about the Internee in front of the commission. He had to call a witness to verify his good character. As our friend worked in the shipyard before his arrest then he called his shop steward to speak on his behalf. The shop steward turned out to be the then prominent Big Billy Hull, of the L.A.W. Billy is asked if he thinks that the defendant is a terrorist and Billy states the following "Even though this man is a Fenian I don’t think he’s in the Ar Ri Ah, but there’s something I must add to this. If Mister Heath thinks that he can intimidate the Loyalist Association of Workers then he has another thing comin’. We’ll bring the Shipyard out and we’ll block the town!" At this point poor old Billy is trailed out of the commission by panicking screws and our poor old internee is re-detained.
The man whose original idea for this farce was Benny Mc Keating. We all got together in the canteen and pooled our ideas. It is difficult to remember everyone but there was Owen Callaghan, Liam Mc Kinley, Paul Fox, Gerard Coney, Benny Mc Keating and Raymond Finlay who directed the scenes.
I wrote some of the material for the Hollywood and Commission scenes. We learned our lines and situations weeks before and taking part in it was a wonderful experience for me. It rounded off an unforgetable fortnight. Whenever I meet some of the people today who witnessed it they always express their enjoyment at having watched it. I lost over a stone in weight without having to diet. I had to go straight to the show after running in our Marathon. That night after Hot Plate was called I was tired, but happy.
In the end the screws were disappointed at the "Sports Festival" being over as they enjoyed watching all the activities. The only ones who were glad to see the end of it all were the screw medics.
The screws were not all bad but the Scottish, English and Welsh screws found it difficult at first to accept the status of an internee in comparison to that of the ordinary "hoods" as criminal prisoners were described. We wore ordinary civilian clothing and did not participate in normal prison life such as work detail or wear prisoner’s garb.
The screws were always earning top wages in Northern Ireland and this was clearly evident in the Northern Ireland Office’s Television advert for recruiting Prison Officers. The Housewife on the television advert would purr "Oh! Joe" knowing that he was going to apply for the lucrative post.
The internees’ wives would banter the screws and call them mockingly "Oh Joe!" It annoyed them so much that an official complaint was made about it from the Prison Officers Association and that particular advert was eventually dropped.
Even today the "Prison Service" is expanding and with so much unemployment in Northern Ireland then this is growing into the biggest employing body in the Province. If that isn’t an indictment on society then I don’t know what is.
During the early summer of 1974 the Loyalist strike took place and water, electricity went off and everything in Long ‘Kesh came to a halt except the internees walking around anti-clockwise.
We had no means of cooking food or making tea so the odd door would go missing and old bits of wood were used to make fires. Each "clique" would hold their own barbeque on which bits of bacon, sausage, eggs and tomatoes were heated up. It was like a hobo scene from the hungry thirties "Buddy can ye spare a dime." We milled around waiting the coming feast. The occasional cry from a benevolent cook would ring out "Fuck off you, it’s not ready yet!" or "That’s three sausages you’ve had ye greedy bastard ye." It was during this time of trial and tribulation that Hannibal’s "works of art" were greatly appreciated because two of his Harps plus one Celtic Cross which looked like a coat hanger helped to heat up Liam Mc Kinley’s stew.
I can remember one morning during the strike foraging for wood along with Frank Glenholm to heat up a pot of tea. He said, "We’ll need some wood for tonight to heat the grub." Little did Frank know that he wouldn’t be needing it as he was released in the afternoon.
I never worried about wood because Sean Henderson had a big door on which he did pressups and strangely enough It got narrower each day. It is an absolute fact that the door in question helped Sean Henderson to lose weight and myself to put it on. Sean often wondered where that door went to, well, if he reads this book then he will find out.
One of the main reasons for Cage 22 being a good disciplined place was due to the fact of Jimmy Roe being in charge. In his youth Jimmy was a hard tackling back on the last great ‘Antrim Gaelic Football side of 1951. He used to tackle the Long Kesh Governor in the same manner with complaints on behalf of his constituents in Cage 22.
On one particular occasion Jimmy was trying to get "steradent" or something similar for cleaning his false teeth but he was informed that it was against the rules. The verbal conflict between Jimmy and the Assistant Governor over how the false teeth should be cleaned reached a heated climax with Jimmy pulling out his "sparklers" and leaving them on the table with this immortal phrase "If I can’t clean them then you fucking well clean them" and he stormed out of the Governor’s office leaving a bemused Assistant Governor staring at the angry grin on the table.
Needless to say Jimmy made his point because a few days later a screw handed him two tins of steradent whispering side-mouthedly "Say fuck all to anybody about this." If Jimmy ever went up for election as a Republican Councillor then I would vote for him because he could always get to grips with a problem or literally get his teeth into it.
Cage 22 had curtained cubicles and I shared one of these with Kevin Hannaway. Kevin was a bit of a "Rip Van Winkle" and he could never be wakened for his morning visit. I would shake him and he would unconsciously let out a tirade of obscenities then turn over. Liam Hannaway the father would enter then I would make a quick exit because it took a verbal volcano from "Dasie Hannaway" to awaken Junior. The rest of the hut always had a chuckle until Liam swished back the curtain and then there was an immediate silence.
Liam Hannaway was small in stature but was one of the most respected men in Republican circles. When it came to sticking by his principles then he was a "big" man because a great part of his life had been spent in Gaol defending his principles.
During the summer of 1974, a trickle of internees began to be released. One afternoon Sunshine walked out of the gate with a bundle under his arm alongside a screw and he was chiding us "Enjoy yourselves because I am going home." We didn’t take him seriously as he was always getting out on parole. Sunshine never returned so he had the last laugh.
In September I was at Francie Brolly’s Gaelic Language class whenever a screw came to the hut door asking for me. I was brought to the front gate and ushered into the P.O. ‘s hut. There was an Assistant Governor seated there and he asked "Are you Robert Devlin?" I replied in the affirmative then he said the magic words "The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has deemed it necessary to release you."
My legs went like jelly as I was told to go and pack my things and he presented me with my release paper. I returned in a daze to the Gaelic Class then I flung the paper upwards shouting "I’m Free."
Kevin Hannaway and Tucker Kane helped me pack some items because I came in with little and I wanted to leave with little. I couldn’t say much because I was choked with emotion at leaving all my friends behind the wire. Liam Mc Kinley said farewell and Hannibal called me all the names and for once I could not return the compliment because I was holding back my emotions. I just gave a wave and walked away from the gaping figures at the wire.
Outside in the car park there were dozens of visitors and I hitched a lift back to Belfast on one of the mini-buses. All the women in the bus insisted that I be left home first as they wanted to see my wife and children’s reaction on my home-coming.
They all cheered as I went through my front-gate and would not leave until I rang the door bell. Everything was an anti-climax because there was no answer as my wife and children were out. I stood red-faced for a moment then I nipped round the back, left my gear and jumped back into the vehicle and headed down the Falls. I was hoping to surprise everyone by walking into my mother-in-laws home in Linden Street. This was not to be because as I turned the corner my little girl Margaret was sitting on her Granny’s doorstep and she saw me and ran into the house shouting "My Daddy’s home from Long Kesh."
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within the University of Ulster.
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