Extracts from 'Internment' by John McGuffin (1973)
[KEY_EVENTS] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
INTERNMENT: [Menu] [Reading] [Summary] [Background] [Chronology] [Main_Pages] [Sources]
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
The following extracts have been contributed by permission of the author John McGuffin. The views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
Originally published in Tralee by Anvil Books, 1973
These extracts are copyright John McGuffin and are included
on the CAIN site by permission of the author (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org). . You may not edit, adapt,
or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use
without the express written permission of the author. Redistribution
for commercial purposes is not permitted.
I would particularly like to thank those internees, past and present, without whose assistance this book could not have been written. Many of them wish to remain anonymous and I must respect their wishes, but my special thanks go to Eddie and Mary Keenan, Frank and Rebecca McGlade, Jimmy Drumm, Paddy Joe McClean, Pat Shivers, Willie John McCorry, Geordie Shannon, Art McMullen, Patsy Quinn, Tony Cosgrove, Billy O’Neill, Joe Parker, Gerry Maguire, ‘Tex’ Dougan, Eamonn Kerr, Hugh Corrigan, Harry McKeown, Phil McCullough, Paddy Murphy, Chris Canavan and John Hunter. Nor can any acknowledgement be complete without mention of Nora McAteer, Jimmy McKeown, Liam Begley, Paddy Brown, Dermot Kelly, R. W. Grimshaw, Michael Walsh, Dicky Glenholmes, Gerry and Rita O’Hare, Robin, Jackie Crawford and Archie ‘Jim’ Auld.
The untiring efforts of the Association for Legal Justice and the Anti-Internment League to uncover the evidence of ill-treatment were of great help to me, as were the staff of the Linenhall Library, Belfast. Advice on various legal matters was kindly given by Kevin Boyle and Patrick Lynch, LL.B. The list of personal friends who were of assistance is too lengthy for inclusion but I would particularly mention Judith, Joe, Dave, Eleanor for her erratic typing, and for their hospitality John Johansson and Bill and Jacqui Van Voris.
It should be stressed that none of the above are in any way responsible for the opinions expressed in the book, which are my own views. I am, finally, greatly indebted to Dan Nolan for the benefit of his wide experience in publishing.
IT HAPPENED HERE
IN the early hours of Monday 9 August 1971, I was kidnapped from my bed by armed men, taken away and held as a hostage for five and a half weeks. I was not in Uruguay, Brazil, Greece or Russia. I was in the United Kingdom, an hour’s flight from London. I was in Belfast.
A crashing on the door awoke me. It was 4.45 o’clock. I went down stairs in my pyjamas to answer. As I opened the door I was forced back against the wall by two soldiers who screamed at me "Do you live here?" Overwhelmed by their perspicacity I admitted that this was so, whereupon they ordered me to get dressed. I foolishly asked why. "Under the Special Powers Act we don’t have to give a reason for anything," an officer said. "You have two minutes to get dressed." Through the window I could see in the dawn light half a dozen armed men skulking in our tiny front garden.
I was given exactly two minutes to get dressed while a young soldier boosted his ego by sticking an SLR up my nose. My wife, not surprisingly, was almost in tears as I was dragged down the stairs and into the street. She ran after me to give me my jacket and was roughly ordered back into the house. Our quiet residential bourgeois neighbourhood hadn’t seen such excitement in years as I was frogmarched and escorted at the double down the avenue by eight soldiers. As we sped down we were joined by a dozen more who had been hiding in nearby gardens, wreaking havoc on the horticultural efforts of various OAPs. People who looked out into the early morning mist must have imagined that a Vietcong patrol had been sighted in the locale.
"Tie him up and gag the fecker" [sic] an educated English accent ordered. "That’s hardly necessary," I said, as I was frisked for the second time up against a lorry, or ‘pig’ as they called it. This was accepted, albeit reluctantly in the case of a corporal who was positively twitching with desire to practise his boyscout knots upon me. My shoes were taken off me and I was put none too gently into the back of the ‘pig’. Two men with sten-guns covered me. "Nice morning," I ventured. "Shut your fecking Fenian mouth."
I sat there and watched the army manoeuvres. Back up the avenue they scurried, to a friend’s house, I thought. Obviously, however, they were out of luck. But, never men to return empty-handed, they came back with another friend, Liam, who lived at my house. He was barefoot and, it subsequently transpired, had been arrested in error for someone else. The two other houses they raided in the area were empty and so, after casually wrecking the two flats they hastened back, each man covering the other. There wasn’t a soul about and their antics began to assume a somewhat surreal aspect. Any amusement to be derived from the situation soon evaporated, however.
Sitting shivering in the back of the ‘pig’ I began to try to work out what was happening. I had known, as of course had anyone involved in Irish politics, that internment was on the cards, but I had never expected to be involved. For three years I had been a member of the People’s Democracy, a libertarian socialist group, and had attended meetings, marches and pickets, all perfectly legal. I had contributed articles to their weekly paper The Free Citizen, again perfectly legal. My wife and I had received compensation from the government for being beaten. up at Burntollet by B Specials. But the public had been told over and over by the Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, that only IRA and UVF men could be interned. What, therefore, were Liam and I doing freezing in a lorry with stenguns covering us at this ungodly hour? Could the discredited Faulkner have panicked to the extent that in order to prop up his Orange State he had resorted to arresting unarmed socialists? It appeared so.
We were driven to Annadale TA camp and forced to stand, legs apart, against the nissen huts. Then back to the ‘pig’ where we were joined by another PD member, Michael Farrell, and an unknown man whom I later discovered was Harry McKeown. They, too, were barefoot and when ten soldiers joined us in the back of the ‘pig’ we were very cramped. We sped through the deserted early-morning streets, with no idea where we were being taken. Each time we passed a police station I mentally crossed it off the possible list of destinations. Up through Carlisle Circus and past Crumlin jail. "Christ, it must be Rathlin Island," McKeown said. No one spoke, and the ‘pig’ made a sudden sharp right turn through to the Antrim Road. Then up a side street and into what we were later to learn was Girdwood barracks.
Four lorries were in front of us and slowly disembarking were other men, mostly in pyjamas. A helicopter, engine revving, stood on the turf outside the TA hail. Another half an hour was spent shivering in the back of the lorry until we were told to jump down, without our shoes, into the mud and make our way, guns in our backs, into the hall. Soldiers, RUC and Special Branch men thronged the corridor and entrance hall. As we were ‘processed’, polaroid flash pictures were taken and affixed to a card. A further search. Watches, rings, belts were taken and we were pushed into the gym hail where about 150 other people were squatting on the floor. Many were in pyjamas or shirtless. Heavily armed soldiers walked up and down, risking apoplexy or a coronary by incessantly bellowing, "No talking, you scum."
Every five minutes or so groups of six of us were called out. The first three groups didn’t return. The fourth did. They were dishevelled and several were bleeding, including a young man I knew, called Murphy. Was this the treatment we could all expect? I tried to comfort myself by thinking "Westminster must have sanctioned this internment; they’ll have to behave themselves.." Then I remembered Cyprus and Aden and Hola Camp in Kenya. My optimism flagged. The familiar lines of R. W. Grimshaw came back to me: "what can you expect from a pig but a grunt?" I braced myself and looked around. Very few faces I recognised. Mostly old men and very young boys. A man was led in by the police. Good Christ! He was blind! What sort of people were these, at whose mercy we were?
[The army also detained three winos, picked up drunk at Dunville Park bus shelter, and a dog. All were released after 24 hours. It is not reported what the dog was suspected of — people will find this hard to credit, but it is absolutely true.]
My name was called. Apprehensively I shuffled forward. I was taken by two young SB officers who identified themselves — the only ones to do so during my four interrogations — into a room and desultorily questioned. They obviously knew very little about me and cared even less. Name, address, occupation (lecturer) and a few general comments such as "Well, it’s at least five years for you." What interested me more was the view past them through the window. On the lawn outside, the helicopter stood, engines still revving and blades rotating. A dozen or so barefoot men were being forced to run the gauntlet between two rows of military policemen who were clubbing them with sten-gun butts and batons. Those who fell were badly kicked. When they reached the helicopter they were grabbed in and then thrown out again almost immediately. The noise of the helicopter drowned any screams.
The interrogators noted my concern. "That’s nothing to do with us," one said. "That’s just the army letting off a bit of steam."
"I’d like to see my lawyer," I said, feeling foolish. They laughed. "I’m entitled to see a lawyer and to know what I’m being charged with," I tried again. They stopped laughing. "Listen, you smarty bastard, under the Special Powers Act we can keep you here as long as we like. You can’t see anyone. No one will know where you are and we don’t have to charge you with anything. If one of those soldiers happens to shoot you, there’ll be no inquest either, you bastard." Having read the SP Acts I knew this to be unfortunately all too true. They lost interest and led me out again, this time upstairs to a crowded room where about 220 people were crammed on the floor. A faded sign on the door, under a regimental motto, said ‘Merry Xmas’. Beside that a portrait of Her Serene Highness Elizabeth R. gazed serenely down.
People were still being brought in and I saw another two PD members, John Murphy and Oliver Cosgrove, president of St. Joseph’s Students’ Council. I sprawled down beside Liam, who was looking very pale. I glanced down and saw congealed blood on his leg. "What happened?" I whispered. "Helicopter run," he grunted. It was only later I learned that he and others had been taken about four feet up in the air and pushed out backwards, believing that they were much higher off the ground, having been told so by the soldiers.
The door opened and a young lad, his arm covered in blood, was thrust onto the floor. A policeman completed the task by going over and kicking him in the ribs. I later discovered that the lad’s name was Patrick McGeogh and that he’d had to run the gauntlet three times.
Military police patrolled us, preventing anyone from dozing off or talking, but with over 200 sprawled on the floor whispered conversation was possible at times. The young man in front of me was obviously in pain. He was Eamonn Kerr. Then I saw the pus oozing out of the sores on the back of his neck. Soldiers under command of Major Lloyd had stubbed out four cigarette butts on his neck in the ‘pig’. William Burroughs has said "a paranoid is someone who has some small idea of what is really going on." I began to see his point.
New military police wandered in and out making jocular remarks about getting the Fenians to sing ‘the Queen’. No one stirred. At about 11 a.m. we were ordered to the door in groups of six, to get a cup of warm swill. An English gentleman put his head around the door and announced that he was a priest. Did anyone want to see him? His accent seemed to put off many. Only four queued up, shamefacedly. "You’ll all be needing the last rites soon enough," the military policeman beside me smirked. Slowly they began to call out names. These were taken away in groups of six, apparently the mystic number, and disappeared from sight. By lunchtime our numbers had been reduced to 87. We were then taken downstairs again for ‘lunch’.
Again we sat in ranks on the floor. No talking, no dozing, no sprawling. As different NCOs came on duty the ‘rules’ changed. We were shuffled in order and made to walk in circles. Throughout the afternoon we were called out for further questioning. The boredom and uncertainty dragged on. We had little idea of time, of what was happening outside, of where our friends were, of what was going to happen to us. Most of the 87 were old men or youths. The blind man, Peter Farran, was still there. By now they had given him a table to sit at.
The sergeant began to play a very real role in our lives. It was apparently his job to invent as many petty regulations as possible to make our lives uncomfortable. To go to the toilet necessitated queuing in a corner, looking straight ahead and putting one’s hands on the shoulders of the man in front. Failure to comply exactly with this occasioned anything from a rebuke to a sten-gun butt in the kidneys, depending upon which NCO was guarding this vital installation. Time dragged on. ‘Tea’ was as unappetising as ‘lunch’. Watery ‘stew’ "and you’re fecking lucky to get anything." "Eat it, it may be your last." More reassurance. RUC men sat around the room, but it was clear that they were mere message boys; the army was in control. Some requests for a doctor were scornfully refused.
Uncertainty was the worst enemy. A man, later identified as Geordie Shannon, was taken off to hospital. He suffered from ulcers and had been forced to squat, head between knees, for an hour. It was four days before he was brought over to the jail.
The night shift came on to guard us. They, of course, had new sets of rules for us to obey. A new ‘game’ was introduced. It consisted of going down the line pointing at men and saying "tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, fecking nailbomber !" Whereupon the fifth man would be set upon and beaten. Exhaustion had set in but people were still being called out and interrogated. At about 11 p.m. we were ordered to erect camp beds and given two blankets each. "Those Irish bastards smell; give them showers," the sergeant said. That we smelt was true, but hardly surprising, since men, still in their pyjamas in many cases, had been dragged through the mud. Everyone’s feet, with or without socks, were encrusted with filth.
The showers proved another opportunity for jocular fun. Several youths were forced into showers that were boiling hot, the next lot into freezing ones. We were issued with army socks and toothbrushes. "Compliments of her majesty," I was told. At midnight lights were dimmed and we piled into the rows of camp beds. I fell asleep but was soon awakened by a soldier shining his torch into my face. "O’Hara?" he asked. "No," I mumbled. He moved down the line. I dozed off again. Suddenly there was a thunderous sound. Batons hammered on the walls. "Get up you bastards." We fell out of bed. It was 3 a.m. ‘Rollcall’. A Branch man came round and solemnly took everyone’s name yet again. "What are you doing standing there, get to bed!" We dropped off once more only to be aroused at 5.30 am for ‘breakfast’. Half a bowl of stale cornflakes. The beds were dismantled and we resumed squatting on the floor. People were still called out singly for further interrogation. Police walked in grinning and held up the morning newspapers to show us headlines "13 shot dead". "Ardoyne burnt to the ground" (an exaggeration). The sergeant, refreshed from his sleep, was also forthcoming. "That’s 13 less of you Irish pigs; none of ours was got." Word filtered back from those who’d been interrogated again. The death toll had risen to 18, including four women and a priest.
I got talking in whispers with my neighbour, George O’Hara. After doing the ‘helicopter run’ he, too, had been dragged into it, but, unlike the others, he had been taken up some 200 feet into the air. Two military policemen had then told him to "talk or we’ll shove you out." Shades of Vietnam!
My further three interrogations were tragi-comic. At no time was I questioned about the IRA, UVF or bombs. All questions which could be termed in any way relevant were concerned with what was socialism. Bizarre jokes were thrown in, such as "did I know that Farrell was getting Moscow gold?" So help me! Moscow gold! I explained that libertarian socialism as advocated by the PD and Farrell in particular was directly opposed to state capitalism as carried out by totalitarian regimes like the USSR. "That’s just the KGB’s cleverness," I was told. They clearly didn’t believe it for a minute, but any smear in a storm. Next I was asked about Jerry Rubin. Was it not all a part of the international conspiracy, the trouble here? The next questioners were the most bizarre. A lugubrious gentleman gave me a lecture on the evils of atheism (I am an agnostic, but this theological distinction passed my Presbyterian inquisitor by). Did I believe in hellfire? Did I know that I would burn in all eternity? He didn’t quite spell it out but the clear implication was that if I confessed to some crime or other — unspecified — he would be able to get on some kind of supernatural shortwave and put in a good word for me. Next I was asked what I was doing in the same room with a band of child murderers, rapists and mad bombers. All of them? All of them! "Even the blind man?" I explained that I had been dragged there by armed men, knew virtually none of the men and boys in the room, and rather doubted the allegations so wildly hurled about them. A view backed up by the Special Branch themselves when they released over 80 of them that day. They didn’t seem very interested in me after these exchanges and contented themselves with telling me that I’d get "at least five years." For what? For speaking at civil rights meetings (perfectly legal meetings, in fact) which had led to "all this trouble."
Their tactics with me may have been innocuous enough, but what others suffered was not. Quite a few were badly beaten — a fact obvious to all who saw them emerge from the interrogation room; many were told that the streets where their families lived had been "burnt down by the Orangemen," that their relatives had been shot, sons arrested, their friends had "squealed and told all about them," that everyone believed that they had squealed and that only the SB could smuggle them out of the country, that they had lost their jobs (about the only true statement made) and finally, that if they didn’t talk "we’ll rip out your teeth with pliers" — which were brandished by a well-known Branch man named Harry Taylor.
By lunchtime on the second day discipline had relaxed slightly. The sergeant graciously permitted one cigarette per man before and after the ‘meal’. Then we had a period; of exercise — five minutes walk outside. Soldiers gathered to make humorous remarks about ‘the animals’. A playful corporal kept slipping the leash of his Alsatian as we passed him until the bewildered beast turned and tried to bite him., We were hastily rushed back inside lest we should laugh.
Rumours began to spread that they couldn’t keep us more than 48 hours without officially charging or interning us. This was incorrect. They can do anything they like. under the Special Powers Act, and most of the men we met in Crumlin Road jail who were from out of Belfast were kept six days without being issued detention notices, let alone internment notices.
We continued to squat on the floor. Many were afraid to go to the toilet because of the blows some received there. Everyone was stiff and very tired, but still we were told nothing. Eventually, at 9.30 p.m., we were ordered to collect the bags containing our ‘personal effects’ and to put on our shoes. Suddenly there was a bustle of activity. About 25 military policemen and a dozen RUC men entered and surrounded us. Guns were cocked. Special Branch men entered and a senior officer appeared with a list. As he read from it, those called were to stand up and move over towards the door. The list was obviously incompetently compiled. Many of those called weren’t in the hall or had been released earlier. The dates of birth of several people were incorrect but the Branch refused to recognize this and so sons were still mistaken for their fathers and vice versa. Eventually, 17 men were marched out. Were they being interned? Or released? We had no idea. My friend Liam, who had been arrested in error for someone else, was last to go.
Then it became really frightening. The SB withdrew, leaving the soldiers. They began to drill us, shouting what presumably to them were merry quips. "You’re the feckin’ bomber then, are you?" (This to a 77-year-old dignified man who never for a minute deigned to complain). "Haven’t got your Thompson now, have you? You’ll have to be fitter than that to join the British army" (this to a 70-year-old asthmatic who had had seven hours sleep, and that interrupted, in the last 65 hours, and who was quite unable to keep up with the exercises). Some of us were given ‘fatigues’ to do, which ranged from cleaning out toilet bowls with our bare hands to dishwashing. I was more fortunate and was given the task of sweeping the floor under the tutelage of a pimply teenager, eager to impress his superiors with his wit. My efforts were dearly regarded as inadequate and he let me know by constantly prodding me with the butt of his sten-gun. "Keep awake, you dozy sods," they continually yelled. It was now 2 a.m. My mind started to drift off. Things took what I felt was a very surrealistic turn. In front of me was the company notice board, upon which were pinned three notices — all of them blank! During the day one had been taken down and replaced with a blue notice, but it, too, was blank. (On looking back, I thought that I must have imagined this, but others who were standing in the front row with me have confirmed it). I kept trying to work out some kind of secret message from the board. Was it in the colour of the drawing pins? In the different shapes of the blank paper? Invisible ink? I felt myself falling asleep and a kind soldier awakened me with his baton across my back. "Feckin’ bastard." I began to wish that if they must swear so repetitiously, they would at least say ‘fuck’ instead of using this emasculated surrogate.
A quarter to four. Surely they must let us go. After all, the blind man was still in our group along with most of the very old men, and the only two other people in the hall whom I knew were not only not terrorists, but clearly couldn’t be mistaken for terrorists. I wasn’t even a Republican, a political belief quite legal in any democratic society. But then William Craig had banned Republican clubs, hadn’t he, and the House of Lords had upheld the ban. I began to think of getting home and getting some sleep; surely it was just all a bad dream? About 3.50 a.m. the military police massed in strength again, this time even more threateningly. Most of us had had only a disturbed seven-hours sleep out of the last 67 hours. Was it to be a mass beating? Mentally I tried to resign myself to it. But no. Out came the lists again.
Of the 60 still remaining, 48 of us were called up in groups of six. As I stood waiting to be taken out an SB man began to talk to me. "It’s Crumlin for all you lads," he said, "and they’ve brought back the B men."
We were taken out into the entrance hall and photographed again with a RUG man holding us by the collar. We had been 46 hours in Girdwood barracks. At no time since our arrest had we seen a doctor, although later Brigadier Marston Tickell was to claim: "Those arrested were given a medical inspection both on arrival at the ‘police station’ and again on moving into the place of detention." (Army press briefing, Belfast, 20 August). "These medical tests are available for inspection," he went on to say. This, in fact, was totally untrue. No one was inspected. About ten men saw someone who, it was alleged, was a medical orderly. His only action was to order Edward Campbell to have his head completely shaven because he had ‘venereal scabies’. (No such disease exists). Pressmen who asked to see the mythical medical records were refused.
"Draw pistols," came the order. The group of six of us who had been called out of the hall together were forced down a corridor to our right, a RUC man holding each of us by the scruff of the neck and a redcap with a pistol at our heads, beside each of us. I could hardly stand for fatigue. "If there’s any sniping out there we can afford to lose two of you bastards on the way over," a corporal said.
Then we were out of the building and onto the path; We were rushed over the by now infamous ‘obstacle course — broken glass, barbed wire, sharp stones. We were more fortunate than people like Michael Farrell who had had to traverse it in daylight — with bare feet. We at least had our shoes on, but one slip meant a cruel beating. Then we were rushed through a hole in a wall and found ourselves in the grounds of Crumlin Road jail. A rapid dash over the football pitch, with soldier snipers all around it. A final dash down a grassy slope and inside the walls of the prison itself. We were out of the hands of the soldiers. The screws couldn’t be as bad? They weren’t. Most seemed very subdued. There was no violence shown towards us.
Two to a cell. Initially, we found the usual plethora of petty and nonsensical regulations. All the conditions the old internees had fought for, over the last 50 years, had to be fought for again, but, within two days, a prisoners committee had been elected and began to demand changes from the Governor, Major Albert Mullin. Because the treatment accorded in Crumlin was tolerable, Mullin was addressed as ‘governor’, unlike ‘commandant’ Kerr of the Long Kesh camp.
We retained our civilian clothes, although most of these were torn and filthy; it took time to get fresh clothes sent in. We could get food and books sent in, and for the first time got to see newspapers. Free copies were sent in by the Irish News, Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph as well as a few Independents. The day after we arrived we were joined by those who had been sent over from Girdwood a day before us. They had been put up in D wing and had, by and large, received worse treatment than we had — more beatings, attacked by the guard dogs, put over the ‘obstacle course’ in bare feet. Most of them bore the marks of rough treatment and some were still confined to hospital, but the medical authorities didn’t want to know about any allegations of maltreatment.
From the papers we learned that about 110 men, mainly from rural areas, had been detained on the HMS Maidstone, a hulk moored at the coal wharf. They were getting only four hours on deck out of 24 and were apparently much more cramped than we were. At first we also had been limited to four hours but strenuous protests had forced the prison authorities to extend this, after the first week, to letting us out of the cells from 7.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (4 p.m. on Sundays) and this was later extended to 9 p.m. After the first week we were able to eat together in the small recreation hall, although this necessitated some men having to eat with the toilets only a few yards away. Still, for most it was better than being forced to eat in our cells every day. Lights went out at 10 p.m.
Most of the time, if the weather was dry, we spent in the small prison yard. The yard was overlooked by both C wing and D wing where the convicted prisoners were, and the first day when we entered it we were greeted by an incredible spontaneous outburst. From every cell window cigarettes, food, books, papers and encouragement showered down. That these men, whose conditions were worse than ours (though as some of them pointed out, "At least we’ve got a release date on our cell doors"), were so generous was, to me at least, a morale booster.
Helicopters flew over every day, landing in Girdwood, a sordid reminder for most of us, exacerbated when they swooped low and gesticulated and mocked us.
We were not allowed to contact lawyers for several weeks and our initial postcards out were held up for four days, presumably while SB men perused them. Later, "as a favour" we were permitted two postcards a week and eventually a 20-minute visit from relatives, with a warder sitting between us. It had been harder on relatives and wives. In most cases they had been trying without success to find out where we were being held. Some, like Mrs. Shivers of Toome, were only told where their husbands were after nine days. All had been fobbed off with bland lies by the Ministry for Home Affairs and shuttled from one authority to another. One army official evidently believed that it was a good joke to give the number of Paisley’s ‘Dial-a-Prayer’ to relatives requesting a phone number to get permission to apply for a visit.
On 14 September 12 of us were released. The next day the other detainees were moved to Long Kesh.
THE POLITICS OF INTERNMENT 1971
In the mid-1960's people might have been forgiven for thinking that internment was a thing of the past. (True, the obnoxious Special Powers Acts were still on the Statute Book, but they were in abeyance). Such thinking was not to be right, however. The monolithic structure of Unionism proved incapable of reforming itself under the onslaught of the civil rights campaign. Terence O'Neill might have been able to save the Unionists with his pragmatic approach and his appreciation of the need for change, but their diehard 'not an inch' backwoodsmen would have none of it. And so the week of 12 - 16 August 1969 saw the old familiar pattern: a police force unable, and, in many cases unwilling, to prevent the sectarian attack upon the Falls Road periphery, led in some cases by the B specials. That month was to see house burning, intimidation and murder — ten civilians dead, including a 9-year-old boy asleep in his bed, shot by a high-velocity Browning machine-gun used with murderous recklessness by the police in their Shorland armoured cars; 145 injured, hundreds of families burnt out of their homes, 90% of them Catholic. Free Derry was born that week. The barricades went up in Belfast. The first steps towards the irrevocable demise of Stormont were taken. And, predictably, men were detained, without charge or trial.
At 6.45 a.m. on 14 August, 28 Republicans were arrested and taken from their homes. As usual, no 'Loyalist' extremists or gunmen were arrested.
When the English Special Branch men arrived next month to sort out the RUC they asked for the files on all the 'terrorists'. They were handed the records, mostly out-of- date, on the IRA. "What about the UVF," they asked. "It doesn't exist," was the reply. "We have no records on Loyalists."
But this time it was not to be internment. The British army had had to be called in. Callaghan and Wilson had summoned Chichester Clark to Downing Street. The B men were 'phased out'. The Scarman Tribunal was set up. The Labour Government was tired of the old-fashioned traditional Unionist methods. Moreover, from behind the barricades a campaign was being mounted. Illegal radios proliferated. Street newspapers were born. The detainees were released after 17 to 20 days. The message should have been clear; internment should have no place in the 1970's.
But the Unionist hierarchy learn nothing from history. The gangling figure of Chichester Clark, the stand-in PM, shambled off into obscurity as 1970 and 1971 saw an escalation of the violence by the Provisional IRA, themselves a reaction to the attempted 'Loyalist' pogrom of 1969.
On 23 March 1971 Brian Arthur Deane Faulkner achieved his lifelong ambition and became PM. The English press warned that he was the 'last man in'. If he couldn't control the situation, direct rule was a certainty. But despite the obvious immensity of the task, Faulkner was confident.
This was the moment for which he had schemed, intrigued and betrayed, for so long. With a staggering record of disloyalty to previous PMs, he could hardly expect to be trusted or liked, but surely all could agree on his shrewdness and ability.
In fact, Faulkner's intelligence was always greatly over-rated by the media. And his biggest mistake was soon to come. The Sunday Times 'Insight' team claim that "when he took over the issue was not whether internment was to come, but when and on what scale. By then Faulkner had been an advocate of internment inside Chichester Clark's Joint Security Committee, for six months." Whether this is true or not, and on balance it seems a reasonable statement, it is certain that Faulkner had completely failed to learn the lesson of how and when internment 'worked'. He had been Minister for Home Affairs in 1959 under Brookeborough, and, with the help of his trusty aide, the civil servant William Stout, he bad been responsible for the implementation of internment, which he apparently felt to be responsible for the defeat of the IRA border campaign. As is made clear already, this just was not so. The campaign failed, for lack of popular support, and, most important, the internees could languish in Crumlin because there was no campaign to get them released.
Nevertheless, one of Faulkner's first actions upon becoming Northern Ireland's last PM was to order the RUC Special Branch to work with the Director of Military Intelligence at Lisburn in drawing up a list of those Catholics who should be interned. The army were unhappy. General Tuzo, the GOC in Northern Ireland since February 1971, consistently opposed internment, believing, rightly, as it turned out, that they could not get the right people. But as the violence escalated, Faulkner became more and more insistent. On 9 July he telephoned Heath. "I must be able to intern now" he demanded. Accordingly, with some reluctance, a 'dry run' was agreed upon. At dawn on 23 July, 1,800 troops and RUC raided Republican houses throughout the province, searching for documents. They got enough to encourage them. The decision to intern was only a matter of time then, despite army objections.
The position was complicated by the mistrust and, in some cases, downright hostility between the army and the RUC. As the Sunday Times team put it: "The army believed the police list was politically motivated, and the police believed that the army's list showed inadequate local knowledge." Both were correct. Some sections of the army had favoured a small internment in the spring of 1971, with only 50 or 60 men being lifted. They had been overruled. Now the task was to be much greater.
The list had more than 500 names on it. Of these only 120 or 130 were gunmen or officers in the IRA. The vast majority were regarded either as 'Fellow-travelling sympathisers' or troublesome political activists — like PD socialists. The police contribution was the names and addresses of former internees. But Faulkner was determined. At the Joint Security Committee meeting at Stormont, Shillington, the Chief Constable, agreed with Tuzo that internment would not work. That made no difference. Faulkner secretly flew to London that afternoon. There he convinced the Cabinet. Tuzo could offer no alternative. Maudling was his usual indolent self. Whitelaw said nothing. Internment without trial was acquiesced to. The date was set for 10 Augnst. On Sunday 7 August, however, Harry Thornton, an innocent building worker, was driving his car past Springfield Road barracks when it backfired. Soldiers opened up and killed him. His friend Murphy was dragged from the car, covered with Thornton's blood, and savagely beaten by police and army. Within minutes the people of Clonard went wild. The fighting went on all night but had died down the next day. But the army were taking no chances. At midnight on Sunday the order went out: operation internment was brought forward 24 hours. Brian Faulkner had unwittingly signed himself his own political death warrant — and that of Stormont, too.
INTERNMENT 1971: THOSE DETAINED
THE initial internment sweep on 9 August 1971 was, militarily, a complete failure. The IRA had known of it for some time and as a result virtually every senior IRA man was billeted away from home. Of the 342 men arrested (the British army tried for 450), 116 were released within 48 hours. 226 men were detained: 86 from Belfast, 60 from Co. Derry, 20 from the Newry area, 20 from Armagh and 40 from Fermanagh and Tyrone. Initially, 124 men were held in C wing of Crumlin (the number was to rise to 160 within five weeks) while the remainder were held on the Maidstone.
Within days Unionist Ministers were claiming a fantastic success — a lie which subsequently caused them great embarrassment. Faulkner claimed 80 IRA officers arrested; the British GOC claimed 70% of terrorists on the wanted list. The claims could not have been much further from the truth. Of the 160 men in Crumlin, no more than 80 had anything to do with the IRA, and of these only four were senior officers (none of them the top men). The rest of the internees were political opponents of the Unionists — like the PD and NICRA members, old retired IRA ex-internees, militant trade unionists, public speakers, and, in some cases, people held on mistaken identity.
But the arrests continued and after three months even the Unionists had to admit that the numbers did not reflect the 'resounding success' that Albert Anderson, MP claimed. In the first three months 882 people were arrested. Of these, 416 were released within 48 hours after suffering various forms of maltreatment, 50 were detained and then released, ten were released on the recommendation of the Brown Advisory Committee, 278 were interned and 128 detained. In other words, 54% of all those arrested were released.
The six-month mark showed even more startling figures: 2,357 arrested under the Special Powers Act, 598 interned, 159 detained, and 1,600 completely innocent men (by even the Government's standard) released after 'interrogation' — nearly 67%.
Persistently, Faulkner was to claim that every man arrested was "a terrorist or a member of the IRA." At times he gave various breakdowns of the figures as to how many belonged to each wing of the IRA, how many were officers, etc. Yet when Whitelaw took over and released 47 internees and 26 detainees, with 27 more internees released within a fortnight, the ex-PM and Minister of Home Affairs was strangely quiet about the release of so many dangerous 'terrorists'. When this was put to him he angrily replied that the men released by Whitelaw, who had only arrived, had been on his release list — a clear admission that these men were held by him as political hostages.
And so on 7 April, while the doors did not exactly fly open, a start was at least made to free admittedly innocent men. It is interesting to note that of the 13 men listed in the Sunday Times 'Insight' query into whether all men were, as Faulkner put it, "still an active member of the Official or Provisional wing of the IRA or has been closely implicated in its campaign," six — Seamus O'Tuathail, Charles Fleming, John McGuffin, Oliver Kelly, William McBurney and Charles Brady — were released by Faulkner himself, and Liam Mullholland (77) and Gerry Dunlop were released within a fortnight of Whitelaw's arrival.
Some of the internees underwent very strange experiences while inside. Twenty-two of them were ex-service men and one — Joe Parker, an ex-sergeant in the Loyal Regt N. Lancs — had the terrible experience of being paroled to attend the funeral of his son, who, while unarmed, was gunned down by troops in a drinking club in Ardoyne. The army claimed this was an accident. Parker, who was subsequently released, had to report to his old regiment, then stationed in Ardoyne, every six hours during his parole.
John Curry, Billy O'Neill and Sean Keenan were paroled during internment, due to the tragic deaths of their children who fought the British army while their fathers were incarcerated (O'Neill, who was released in April, also had his house blown up).
Harry McKeown saw his wife and child arrested and grilled overnight. The son, Henry Joy, was reluctant to talk, though his age, 11 months, may have had something to do with this. McKeown was released in April. So was Ronnie Bunting, son of the buffoonish Burntollet ambusher, Major Bunting. Ronnie junior, a CRA worker, was beaten by the Special Branch for "having disgraced his father." Billy McBurney was released and re-arrested four weeks later. The second time he was taken back to Long Kesh but kept for only two minutes, the shortest ever internment. Nonetheless, the army or the police leaked to the press the story that they had captured the Official IRA's finance officer — a bad mistake, as McBurney, buying a copy of the Belfast Telegraph on 23 March 1972 and regarding this as a serious libel, made straight for his lawyer.
Oliver Kelly was one of the three successful candidates in the Law Society of Northern Ireland's final examinations, qualifying him as a solicitor. The Ministry of Home Affairs refused him permission to attend the high court to receive his certificate.
Des. O'Hagan, a lecturer at Stranmillis College, was, while interned, charged and convicted of non-payment of rates. Describing this as a sick joke, O'Hagan said that he would not pay the £44.9l even if he could, since he was interned without trial. He had previously been taken from Long Kesh to be fined £25 for possessing 'illegal documents'. Another internee was threatened with punishment because he failed to turn up for jury service! Worst of all, one internee was taken out and given three months because he had a copy of Republican News in his pocket when interned — yet An Phoblacht, the United Irishman and Republican News were freely allowed into Long Kesh by the commandant.
Councillor James O'Kane was recommended for release by the Brown Advisory Board, but as principle demanded that he refuse to sign what he regarded as the repugnant oath, he was expelled from the Belfast Council for 'non attendance'. In a gesture of solidarity, Councillor Hubert Cranston (Unionist) said, "He's a good friend of mine — if he was being hanged I'd buy a rope." Councillor O'Kane subsequently had his house blown up by 'Loyalists', and an elderly neighbour who was visiting was killed.
Paddy McGuigan was interned for three months, apparently for the crime of writing 'The Men Behind the Wire', which, with 'The Boys of the Old Brigade' became the internees 'anthem'. Gerald Brady, an American citizen on a visit home, was also unfortunate enough to be interned. The US consul remained silent.
One of the most embarrassed internees was 'Doc' Boyd. A former B man he was indeed a member of the Republican movement. He was lifted from a house on the Grosvenor Road in October and held for nine months until being released by Whitelaw. However, in the routine of the release procedure internees had to formally answer to their name and give their address. Having only stayed in the house from which he had been arrested for one night, and that nine months previously, Boyd was unable to recall the exact address. Eventually, an embarrassed screw had to whisper the address to him before he could be set free.
LONG KESH was, according to Harold Wilson who visited it (unlike Edward Heath), "a grim place." It was worse than that! The airfield, two miles south of Lisburn, had been built during the Second World War and after 1945 it became the Army's Command Vehicle Park until 1969 when, in August, British troops moved in and turned it into a vast tented encampment.
The Newsletter gave the official Government view of the camp;
This airfield was built by an Ulster at War; today, 30 years later, Ulster is at war again with an enemy even more sinister than the last one — and once again the airfield is in use. Once mighty Short Stirling Bombers were built here and thundered off these runways to join the offensive against Germany. But now the concrete is blocked by the 15-foot fences and watch-towers of a camp built to hold men who are considered a danger to Northern Ireland. The camp's brand new buildings are clearly visible, inside a compound which is in turn within the main compound. High watch-towers stand in each corner and there is also one in the centre, and spotlights burn permanently.
There are 12 main buildings inside the top security compound. Inside are two tiered bunks and lockers for personal effects. The internees are divided into groups and each group has its own TV and radio sets. There are separate toilet blocks with hot showers, washbasins and lavatories. All the buildings are centrally heated [sic!] and in the adjoining rooms the internees are given four meals daily. Quarters are set aside for visits by relatives or legal advisers. There is also a sick bay.
Apart from the purple prose, this account is grotesque for its distortions. But these were typical of an embittered and vindictive system. When Tory MP, ex-Lt. Col. Colin Mitchell ('Mad Mitch' of Aden infamy) could blandly report that "conditions in Long Kesh are better than when I was a soldier, and probably better than some of these fellows have at home," who could blame The Newsletter for its talk of holiday camps? (Mitchell also told internees that he would "intern all socialists").
In fact 'Billy Faulkner's little holiday camp' was squalid, nasty and brutish as even the nine-man all-party group of Westminster MP's found, and the International Red Cross and Amnesty International were even more condemnatory.
Overcrowding was, perhaps, the worst feature. Each cage (and by May 1972 there were ten cages) measured 70 yards by 30, and was surrounded by a 12-foot-high wire fence with coils of meshed barbed-wire on top. Each cage had four nissen huts and one washroom. Three huts acted as sleeping quarters, the fourth as a canteen. Each hut was 120 feet by 24 feet and had to house 40 men. There was not an inch of space between the bunk beds, the roofs leaked, the wind whistled in and everyone spent the nights huddled in heavy pullovers beneath the two thin blankets. The 'central heating' was a small electric heater, fixed high up on the wall. Those fortunate enough to be within two yards of it got some heat. Everyone else froze. Rats appeared.
The separate 'wash hut' contained ten wash-hand basins, eight toilets, and eight showers. It had to serve 120 men, and because of the length of the queues many just gave up shaving. Besides, traditionally, 'revolutionaries' are bearded. The other hut served as canteen, workshop, 'library' (without books), recreation room (one table tennis table), writing room, class room, place of worship and music room. For all 120 men.
No association was allowed between the cages. The initial attempt to divide the men into Officials and Provisionals failed dismally and from then on the authorities contented themselves with random distribution, which meant that fathers, sons and brothers were often separated by the barbed-wire. The conditions led to serious health problems. There was an outbreak of scabies; men had mental breakdowns and had to be transferred to Hollywell Mental Hospital; several dozen men had to be transferred to hospital because the camp 'hospital' was hopelessly inadequate.
The Civil Service bureaucracy meant that weeks had elapsed before any complaints could be dealt with, and the additude of 'Commandant' Kerr and 'Vice-Commandant' Truesdale was regarded by the internees as unhelpful, to say the least. A wall of silence greeted even the most reasonable requests and then the buck was passed to a Mr. Buchanan at the Home Office.
Frustration was increased by the bland utterances of MP's like St. John Stevas who spoke of "study rooms" and "improvements in the library facilities" when he knew that there wasn't even a library let alone an improved one.
Very few of the 'distinguished' visitors to the camp even got to see the internees. On 4 December 1971 Paisley got to within 70 yards of the cages and stopped. Nonetheless, despite the usual attempts to clean up the place before such visits, the Red Cross eventually reported unfavourably on the camp. They commented on the overcrowding and lack of educational and recreational facilities. Six months later, a football field was provided but no other progress was made towards ameliorating conditions. On 4 December 1971 the Internees Camp Council listed the grievances that they had attempted to take up with Truesdale, now camp 'Commandant' (1) Religious services — no Sunday services for all the men; (2) Visiting conditions; (3) Lack of free association; (4) Lack of physical education or the promised gym; (5) No educational facilities; (6) Lack of entertainment — outside groups not allowed in to give concerts; (7) Men's welfare; (8) Still no library; (9) No liaison with the Ministry's inspectors.
As usual, nothing was done.
During the winter when it rained the men were confined indoors. The rain made pools outside as there was no drainage, and while the warders plodded round in Wellington boots the internees were not permitted them "for security reasons."
At night the glare of the searchlights reflected off the roofs was blinding. The dogs howled. The soldiers banged their batons monotonously on the walls of the huts to prevent sleep. Small wonder some men cracked up. The ex-service-men internees claimed that the camp was much worse than those in Kenya, Cyprus and Aden where they had been stationed. Old internees said that eight months in Long Kesh were much worse than four years in Crumlin.
The usual hunger strikes proved ineffective. They were of short duration and of no threat to the authorities. The most serious incident was the mutiny on 25 October. As often happened in the past, the 'disturbance' started over poor food. A delegation from 119 men in Compound 2 asked the 'commandant' to come and inspect it. He refused. Out of frustration one of the internees set fire to the hut. The soldiers who patrolled the outside wire acted quickly. CS gas was poured in for 15 minutes until the internees and warders were lying overpowered. Then up to 350 soldiers arrived, armed with axe handles with metal strappings on their ends. Random beatings were rigorously carried out on heads, faces, shoulders, arms. Thirty-one men were so badly injured that they required hospitalization — five of them in Musgrave Park Hospital. Billy Denvir had both arms broken; two others had their jaws broken, one his nose, another his shoulder. Lawrence McCoy needed 14 stitches. Even Liam Mulholland, aged 77, was beaten and injured. When the 'riot' had been quelled the men were lined up and searched. Some were picked out, taken to the back of the huts and beaten again by the soldiers. Meanwhile, the sleeping quarters were ransacked by the soldiers who destroyed food in the lockers, any new clothes, all musical instruments. Photographs, prayer books and all reading matter were ripped up. Money, watches and cigarettes were stolen.
Some of the warders had tried to protect the internees from the soldiers, but to no avail. All complaints, protests and demands for an inquiry were met with stony silence from 'Commandant' Truesdale and the Ministry for Home Affairs. The only official statement claimed that "five men had been injured, none seriously."
Visiting Long Kesh was a harrowing experience for relatives. One visit of half an hour per week was permitted. Initially, visitors had run the gauntlet of 'Loyalist' elements outside the camp but after a month the entrance arrangements were changed. Armed with a permit (for which one could wait up to four weeks) one travelled down to the camp, generally in one of the minibuses provided by the CDC or local relief committee.
A wait in the car park, permit verified, and then another wait in the temporary shelter erected there. One could wait for over an hour for one's name to be called. The only concession to civilization was the tea hut, manned by volunteer Quakers — the only religious organization to do anything for visitors. At length a screw entered and called one's name. Out into another minibus and then a short drive inside the camp. A thorough search by men and women police officers, and then another wait in a crowded and smelly hut. At last, another screw, a walk through the wire and into one of the 16 visiting booths — with the internee on one side of the desk and his visitors on the other. Screws patrolling up and down outside in the corridor, 30 minutes strained conversation, and then the internee led away, searched and sent back to his cage. His visitors shuffled out.
Medical facilities in the camp were totally inadequate. Upon arrival internees were assured that a doctor was available daily and that the emergency bell in each hut could summon medical aid if necessary. The internees accepted this and the bell was used only in real emergencies. Despite this it was found that the bell was ignored by the warders and no doctor ever appeared at night. For example, on 3 February, William Skelly of hut 61 suffered a severe asthmatic attack with bronchial complications. It took 95 minutes of bell-ringing to get him medical attention. More serious cases, such as Michael Moan of hut 60, whose right hand, the medical authorities acknowledged, was withering away, were told that there were no facilities to treat them in Long Kesh — but they were not transferred elsewhere.
One of the few bright points was that, by and large, the internees got on well with the screws — the local ones, that is. When recruitment for prison guards was down, English and Scottish warders were transferred to the Six Counties and given substantial bounties. To the internees and the local warders they were mere hired mercenaries; many of them left after a very short stay. But all the warders were preferable to the soldiers who patrolled the perimeter. They were fairly friendly, found their job distasteful and could often be bribed to procure alcohol — after the camp still had been discovered.
Study in Long Kesh was virtually impossible for the eight youths doing A levels and the four students doing degrees. John Hunter, a law student at Queens University, Belfast, commented: "The private room claimed by the camp authorities is, in fact, a partitioned-off space in the corner of a doctor's draft-ridden hut from which the noise from the rest of the hut is in no way excluded. The heater is useless beyond a range of 18". Books are stolen or torn up by the regular search parties. Our eyes suffer and we get headaches from the continual glare of the blinding lights."
An additional hazard was the attitude of the camp administrators towards those teachers who voluntarily gave up their spare time to travel to Long Kesh and give classes to those internees studying for GCE examinations. For example, on 7 December 1972 fifteen teachers, hitherto regular visitors, were refused admittance because they put down their nationality as Irish rather than British on the entrance forms.
Sinn Fein Cumainn, both Provisional and Official, were formed in most of the compounds, language and history classes were conducted though nothing as exotic as the "guerilla classes on tactics, weaponry and ideology" claimed by Labour MP Patrick Duffy at Westminster. Press statements flowed out to The Irish News. One internee, Des O'Hagan, even became a weekly correspondent for The Irish Times. But uncertainty as to their future remained the worst enemy of most internees (consultations of the ouija board in two compounds proved unreliable), and it was not until the fall of Stormont and the imposition of direct rule that any optimism became manifest. But the steadily increased rate of releases from the beginning of April was not to herald the closure of Long Kesh. As internees were moved out, short-term prisoners were moved into the vacated cages. Long Kesh is still with us. Only now they call it the Maze prison,
THE Maidstone was a bad blunder on the part of the security forces. The original Special Branch lists of those to be interned were such that all who were picked up could be confined in Crumlin Road jail, but by the time Brian Faulkner and his aide, William Stout, had added the names of their political opponents plus those of old-time Republican internees from as far back as the 1940's, a further holding centre was needed. And so the 120 men who were arrested in places other than Belfast were brought first 'to Ballykinlar, there to undergo Compton's 'positions of discomfort', plus fear, hunger, exhaustion and the interrogation techniques of the British military police and RUC Special Branch. After two days they were transferred by helicopter to Belfast, in batches of six, handcuffed together. None knew where they were being taken. The army guards mentioned a "special new camp on the Orkneys," "the Isle of Wight" and other outlandish places. Many of the men were too tired and shaken-up to think rationally; many were close to hysteria. As they put down at the docks, fears of being transported to England increased. But it was not to be. There, skulking in the mud, was HMS Maidstone, the successor to the Argenta and the Al Rawdah.
The Maidstone was totally unsuitable. Built in 1937, she had been used as an emergency billet for troops in 1969. Now she had been hastily converted into a prison ship (as an added irony, Joe Heaney from Armagh, who was detained on her in 1971, had served on her when in the Royal Navy in 1961). Physically, the ship was cramped, stuffy and overcrowded. The prison itself was at the stern and consisted of two bunkhouses, one up, one down, and two messrooms. Above these were the rooms of the governor, Jimmy Moore, and his staff, and above them the deck, used twice a day for exercise and surrounded by 10-foot-high barbed-wire. Forward were the army quarters, separated from the prisoners by a high mesh fence and a solid gate. The ship was moored at the jetty, 20 feet from the land, entry to the jetty being guarded by sand-bagged army emplacement. Short Brothers' airfield overlooked the ship on the pier side, and on the starboard lay a 300-yard stretch of water leading to a huge coalyard. One of the particular inconveniences about the berth of the ship was that she was moored at the only wharf in Belfast equipped for unloading liquid tar and pitch. When she was first being used as an army billet the tar importer asked for his facilities to be moved elsewhere at a cost of £60,000. But to save money the Ministery for Defence permitted holes to be cut in the ship's sides for heated pipes to run through, at a cost of £5,000. The continual arrival of tankers was at first a grave security risk.
The prisoners settled down quickly although many of them were badly shaken. One of their first tasks was to establish links with the outside world and tell of the treatment meted out to them at Ballykinlar. Moreover, 11 men had disappeared. This was the group which included P. J. McLean, Pat Shivers, Brian Turley, John McKenna and Gerry McKerr. They were to turn up nine days later in Crumlin Road, having had to undergo days of torture (or 'physical ill-treatment' as Sir Edmund Compton was to describe it) on the direct orders of Faulkner, then Prime Minister.
It was a week before those on the ship could receive any visits, and arrangements for visitors were virtually nonexistent. Permits, without which no one could visit, often arrived after the date fixed for the visit. All the relatives of the men had to travel considerable distances from Derry, Newry, Enniskillen and Armagh, for example. Taking time off work and making arrangements for someone to look after the children often involved expense beyond the means of many of the families, especially with the breadwinner interned. Moreover, visitors were initially subjected to degrading strip searches. Mrs. Mary Cassin of Armagh whose two sons, Eugene and Denis, were both detained on the Maidstone (Eugene was released after five weeks; Denis was later moved to Long Kesh) told how she had been searched and otherwise humiliated and eventually allowed to speak for twenty minutes to one son, through two wire grilles, twelve feet apart. Mrs. Cassin reported that it was her first and last visit to the ship.
Stories of what had happened at Ballykinlar were hurriedly whispered to relatives, but Paddy Smith from Newry, who had little time for this strategy, roared out the facts to his wife before being physically hauled away by the screws.
Dermot Kelly and Liam Shannon of Armagh PD succeeded in getting out the first written account of their experiences. Photos of handcuffed men being hauled to the helicopters appeared in the National Press. Gradually the truth was becoming known.
There were 142 men aboard the Maidstone — the numbers were to rise, too — and for them life was much worse than for the men in Crumlin Road. Hunger strikes broke out frequently in protest against the poor food and the cramped conditions. The food was not improved by the practice of soldiers in putting human hair, dirt and even bits of glass into it. Exercise was limited to two hours on deck in the morning and two in the afternoon. To ward off the boredom the ship's committee, which comprised four Provisionals and two Officials under the chairmanship of the veteran Derry Republican, Sean Keenan (who had already experienced 11 years imprisonment without charge or trial), drew up rotas of men to take care of the food serving, as well as those detailed to latrine duty. Several of the prisoners objected to this, claiming that they saw no purpose in being what they regarded as lackies. "Let them do the work," was their demand. Friction on the boat was exacerbated by the fact that while the committee might represent those detainees who were members of either wing of the Republican movement, the independents, the socialists and those arrested by mistake were not represented. Cassin, Kelly and Shannon, all of Armagh PD, ran into trouble with the committee several times over their demand that they were entitled to bombard the governor and the Ministry for Home Affairs daily with protests about their arrest, treatment and conditions. They believed that there was no point in accommodating the authorities either by agreeing to appointed spokesmen or by accepting 'lag labour'. Kelly later claimed that what he termed 'aggro' was one means of remaining sane. In fact, both he and Shannon were to pay for their 'impertinence' in demanding their liberty and rights. After five weeks' incarceration they were informed that their lawyers were on the Maidstone to see them. They were pushed into the interview room only to be confronted by two RUC men from Armagh.. The door was locked. Kelly, an accountant, was charged with burning cement lorries 18 months previously; Shannon, a solicitor, was charged with "scandalizing a court and preventing the course of justice" (by defending a client successfully). Two days later both men were released. In fact, nothing more had been heard of these charges 20 months later, but they are indicative of the attitude of officialdom.
The hunger strikes were all abortive. The rota system fell into disarray and the committee split up. Morale was low and tension high. A plan to take over part of the ship was voted down at the last minute, leaving bitter allegations about vote rigging. Cooped up as they were for twenty hours a day (longer if it rained) and with only 2,000 square feet of deck and that encrusted with the excrement of scavenging seagulls, and surrounded by barbed-wire, many men were edgy and irritable. One 18-year-old, an epileptic, had to be taken off the boat so bad was his condition which had been brought on by the savage beatings he received at Ballykinlar.
The sleeping habits of some internees added to the sense of unreality. There were men who remained awake all night and slept throughout the day. Solo, bridge and chess were their ticket to sunrise. Others displayed more individualistic traits. Art McAlinden, an old internee from the 40's, never slept in a bunk after the first night, but remained curled up on an old couch. Sean McShane — 'the Cuckoo' — moved continually from bunk to bunk each night, with a marked preference for the bunks of released detainees, believing perhaps that their 'luck' would be transferred in some symbiotic way to him.
Another constant irritant was the frequency of 'reprisal' raids and 'searches' by troops. For example, on 27 February the detainees were locked up for three hours while troops literally plundered their quarters, stealing their cigarettes and destroying their hand-painted handkerchiefs and match-stick crosses. All complaints to the governor were stonily ignored.
14 September saw the release of a handful of men, and during the following week others were transferred to Long Kesh. But still the numbers built up. On 16 January 50 men were taken from the ship by helicopter to the new camp at Magilligan. Next day the 'Magnificent Seven' escaped. The ship was being used increasingly for detainees, many of whom had just been through the 'interrogation process' at Palace barracks — and many of whom had to be removed to hospital after it.
At the end of May a determined hunger strike was begun. After nine days it was called off. The news had just been announced. Direct Rule. Whitelaw to be Supremo. One of Whitelaw's first actions was to free 47 internees and 26 detainees. Two days later, 9 April 1972. the men on the Maidstone were moved to Long Kesh. It was announced that the ship was no longer to be used as a detention centre. A sordid and ignominious chapter in its history had ended.
MAGILLIGAN camp is situated by the beach in the wind-wept reaches of Co. Deny, 24 miles from Deny city. It became Brian Faulkner's second internment camp on 16 January 1972 when 50 men were moved there from the already overcrowded Maidstone. It contained four cages, laid out on the Long Kesh pattern. Each of the first three cages contained two sleeping huts, with a separate combined canteen and recreation hut; the fourth cage had four sleeping huts, smaller than the Long Kesh ones and restricted to 16 men to each hut. Consequently, at its peak wage, the camp held 160.
Christy Canavan, who inside six months experienced the Maidstone, Long Kesh and Magilligan, felt that Magilligan was definitely the worst. There were far fewer recreational facilities; for instance, no carving or carpentry work was permitted. The cold wind from the Atlantic blew continuously and the damp huts were not improved by the heating system, an inadequate coke fire which gave off noxious fumes. The camp's remoteness meant real hardship for visiting relatives, and although there were only 160 internees, they were nevertheless divided in such a way as to separate brother from brother and father from son. Greg Quinn was elected O/C and he tried to get the usual classes organized, but time hung heavy on the men and the frequent arrivals and departures meant a lack of continuity.
Escape was on everyone's mind, especially with Co. Donegal so near, just across Lough Foyle. The only attempted escape, however, was a spontaneous one as four Officials who, on their second day in the camp, took advantage of a power-cut to go over the wire. They got through two sets of wire and were crawling across the' ground outside the huts which accommodated the soldiers who guarded the perimeter when the electricity went on again. Their lives were saved by one of the warders who wrestled with a trigger-happy guard who was about to open fire. Other internees claimed that this escape attempt frustrated a planned escape bid for that weekend, because security was tightened next day. Tunnelling was considered and rejected because of the unsuitable sandy soil.
The camp contained its quota of spies, but, as usual in a tightly-knit community such as Northern Ireland, this ploy was unsuccessful: anyone who was not personally known would have his story checked out quickly. The life. was monotonous and grim; one internee who experienced acute delusional paranoia had to be quickly moved to a mental home. The only real highlight was in January when an anti-internment march to Magilligan was stopped by members of the 1st Paras on the beach outside the camp. As internees climbed onto the roofs of the huts and waved flags, the marchers, after their four miles cross-country trek, straggled along the beach. There, oblivious of the TV cameras, Paras batoned people indiscriminately. Viewers saw people being savagely kicked as they lay on the ground and rubber bullets being fired at them from close range. Despite widespread protests no inquiry was held, no disciplinary action was taken. A week later the Paras were in action again — on 'Bloody Sunday'. This time their toll was 13 dead.
The Whitelaw takeover spelt the end of Magilligan — as an internment camp. On 1 May it was closed and the remaining internees were moved to Long Kesh where the releases of the previous week had provided vacant billets. But that was not the end of the camp. Next day 60 short-term (less than three years) prisoners from Crumlin Road, which was grossly overcrowded, were moved into Magllligan. Loyalist associations protested as the majority of the prisoners moved to Magilligan were 'Loyalists'. This, however, was but an interim measure. Magilligan's days as an internment camp were at an end.
THE 1971-1972 internment period became notable for the number of escapes successfully effected. These were, of course, immensely beneficial for the morale of the internees and those engaged in the civil resistance campaign — and very damaging for the Government's already dented image.
The first attempt was made in September in Crumlin Road jail. Five men, using ropes made of sheets to which were tied hooks from the metal struts of two tables, succeeded in getting on top of the outside wall, during a football match. The escape had been timed to coincide 'with an explosion outside the wall set off by comrades, but 'It 'backfired' when the men heard a nail bomb go off on the Antrim Road and mistook this for the signal. They got to the top of the wall, however, only to be confronted 'by an army patrol pointing their guns at them. The coincidental nail bomb had alerted the army. The five jumped back down and mingled with the footballers who were restraining the screws. An immediate investigation to determine the identity of the five would-be escapers was thwarted when all the men in C wing threw their sheets out onto the landing in a pile so that the escapers could not be identified.
Faulkner announced that security was being tightened. The following month the nine 'Crumlin Kangaroos', as they became known, went over the wall when rope ladders were thrown over from outside. Dressed in football gear, on 17 November, nine men' went over the wall, through the already-cut barbed-wire perimeter and into waiting cars. "Screws made only half-hearted attempts to stop us," one escaper said. Two, Keenan and Mullan, were recaptured near Omagh, but the other seven successfully crossed the border and were soon to appear at a press conference in Dublin. Two monks and several local businessmen were subsequently charged with aiding and abetting the escapers.
In fact, the IRA had its own escape committee, both inside and outside the prisons and camps, but even they bad nothing on the opportunity provided by the next piece of bureaucratic incompetence. Sean Hanna, of Henrietta Street, walked out the front gates of Crumlin. He had just finished a two-month sentence and was to be brought to court to appear on an explosives charge. If acquitted of this, he was certain to be interned. (Over a dozen men acquitted in the courts or against whom the Crown had withdrawn all charges were arrested as they left the court and interned. But the prison authorities had made a 'mistake'. Hanna, having walked out, completely disappeared. The Government announced that security was being tightened.
Two weeks later an even more embarrassing escape was made. The Green Howards, stationed in Ardoyne, were cock-a-hoop. They had captured Martin Meehan and Tony 'Dutch' Doherty, two of the most wanted local Provisionals. Both were severely beaten up and then tortured in Palace barracks. Next they were detained in Crumlin in the last week of November. (It is interesting to note that the army informed the press, who gleefully splashed it, that Meehan and Doherty had been responsible for nearly every murder that had taken place in Northern Ireland in the previous three years. They had "conclusive proof," they said, that Meehan and Doherty had killed the three Scottish soldiers shot in Ligoneil, to say nothing of the five Green Howards shot in Ardoyne. Despite all this 'proof' Meehan and Doherty were not charged with any crime — just detained under the Special Powers Act).
On 2 December the prison authorities got a phone call from the press. Reporters had asked people of Ardoyne why bonfires had been lit and were told that it was because Meehan and Doherty had escaped; could the prison authorities confirm this, the reporters asked. The authorities were startled. It was the first they'd heard of it. A check was made and the awful truth revealed. Meehan, Doherty and Hugh McCann were, indeed, gone. In fact, Meehan and McCann had crossed the border before the prison authorities even knew they had escaped. Doherty stayed around to take care of some business and leisurely crossed over the next week. For five hours they had hidden, uncomfortably, in a manhole, up to their knees in water, until the rest of the prisoners had gone in from exercise, and then, under cover of fog, went over the wall, using a sheet. Comrades on the inside had wrecked the normal head count by staging an 'incident'. Furious, Faulkner ordered an inquiry into prison security. It was prepared by Cyril Cunningham and handed to Faulkner on 7 December. On 9 January 1972, a wet and stormy day, Brendan Dunlop (18) escaped from the Palace barracks torture compound. He had been escorted by a policeman to the toilet and, on his return, had ducked behind the hut instead of re-entering it. The policeman, preoccupied with the rain, assumed that Dunlop had gone in and he wandered off. Dunlop waited a while and then escaped over the barbed-wire fence under cover of the storm. He then calmly walked five miles across town to a friendly house. Two days later he was in Dublin.
On 9 January also an attempted tunnel escape from Crumlin was foiled. Three tunnels, two nearly complete, from C wing Nos. 9, 14 and 20 were discovered. Three days later two guns were found in Crumlin. It obviously wasn't as secure as was desirable and so several men were moved to the Maidstone since it was 'more secure' — but it was also very overcrowded. Consequently on 16 January fifty men were taken from the Maidstone to the new camp at Magilligan. This sudden move spurred on the internees on the ship. Next day seven of them escaped from the 'escape-proof' Maidstone.
This was the most bizarre of all the escapes. The men had been watching the tide for weeks, trying to gauge it. Tin cans were tossed out and their movements checked. The antics of a young seal were observed. Finally, the men were ready to go. Butter had been collected from food parcels and, during the evening recreation period, 5 o'clock, the men smeared themselves all over with the butter as a precaution against the cold. Then they daubed on boot polish, and, clad for the most part only in football shorts or pyjamas, they cut the bar on the porthole with a fret saw and slipped through. Meanwhile, their comrades chatted to the overconfident guards. No escape was expected and vigilance was slack. After all, armed guards on the deck manned searchlights, the water around the ship was full of barbed-wire, and it was also far too cold for anyone to survive in.
Undaunted, the men clambered down the Maidstone's steel hawser and entered the water. Several of them were cut by the barbed-wire but all succeeded in struggling through it. In single file they slowly swam the 400 yards through the bitterly cold water to the shore. It took them twenty minutes. Then the first hitch occurred. Two cars, and members of the Andersonstown unit with warm clothes were waiting for them — 500 yards away. The men had landed at the wrong spot. Moreover, a delay in their starting time caused by a recount on board meant that when they finally made the pier on Queen's Island their comrades were nowhere to be seen.
Resourceful as ever, they reverted to the stand-by plan. Peter Rodgers, in his soaking underwear, emerged from cover and approached Queen's Road bus terminus. A startled bus dnver having a cup of tea was asked for the loan of his greatcoat; Rodgers explained that he had fallen in. The driver lent him the coat and set out on his run back to the City Hall. The men, tired and freezing, waited until the bus returned at 6.30 p.m. The driver went into the security office, presumably to report the incident and the 'loan' of his coat. As he entered, the seven men broke cover. Rodgers, who before internment had been a bus driver, leapt into the cab and drove off as the others piled. in. 'Gunning' the bus — "the bloody thing only did 40 mph" — Rodgers drove for the main gates. The security guard had several minutes to phone through an alert which would result in the heavy gates being closed, but luck was on the escaper's side. The gates were open. As they drove past the gesticulating gate-men they waved back. The security guards, perhaps too astonished by the sight of semi-nude black men, did not fire. The bus headed for Verner Street in the Markets area, across the bridge. It was soon picked up by an army land rover but the soldiers were not foolhardy enough to pursue it right into the heart of this staunch Republican area. Instead, they alerted the local regiment, the Royal Horse Artillery. Colonel Tony Budd appeared in front of the TV cameras that evening to inform an alarmed public that everything was under control. The escapers were surrounded in the area and could not get away. In the morning they would go in and arrest them. This caused some amusement to the 'Magnificent Seven' (as they were instantly named) who were by then sitting in a drinking club in a completely different part of, the city, watching the Colonel on TV. In fact, they had been no more than three minutes in the Markets. Word of their arrival had spread instantly through the grapevine and people had flocked into the narrow little streets bringing them clothing and two get-away cars. They were clear before the soldiers arrived.
Next day the Royal Horse Artillery indulged themselves by smashing down doors and ransacking the area, but to no avail. Frustrated, they vented their rage on a few local inhabitants and detained 25 men for 'screening'. But no escapers, wanted men or guns were found. Within a week the Magnificent Seven were giving the by then customary press conference in Dublin.
By now things were all set for an escape from Long Kesh. There had been an abortive attempt in the first week of November when eight men had tried to break out of Compound 1 which lay closest to the perimeter. They had slipped out of their nissen huts at night and successfully cut their way through the first barbed-wire fence. But a patrol of soldiers with guard dogs had spotted them and they had had to dash back to the huts. The authorities were unable to identify any of them, but security was again tightened. Not enough, however. On Monday 7 February, Francis McGuigan, a well-known Republican (Provisional) from Ardoyne, walked out of the camp. As with the Meehan — Doherty — McCann escape, the press were the first to know. McGuigan's mother was able to tell them that her son was safe before the camp commandant was even aware that he was missing. McGuigan was soon over the border, but reticent about his method of escape as other people were involved and it could be used again. Rumours flew and Unionist MP's alleged that he had escaped disguised as a priest. In a heated question-and-answer session, the Junior Minister for Home Affairs at Stormont, John Taylor, revealed that it had taken 18 hours to discover his escape because "it wasn't possible, without the assistance of the army, to have periodic roll calls or even head counts at Long Kesh. Needless to say, the internees do not cooperate in such exercises," he added. Rev. William Beattie of the Democratic Unionist Party displayed his brand of Christian charity in the comment: "The Minister's attitude that the internees be given human treatment only insults this House because they are not human; they are subhuman."
Crumlin Road jail was soon to be in the news again. On 12 February a mass jail break by 85 political prisoners on remand in C wing was narrowly foiled. The theme tune of TV's 'Dr. Who' was the signal for the break, and at 5.50 p.m. all the prison officers on C wing were 'taken over' by the internees. No violence was used, except in the case of one English officer who struggled, and a young lad, who wasn't involved in the break, thinking it was just a riot, hit him with a billiard cue. The screws were tied up and "treated courteously," according to the would-be escapers' statement. Using the keys, the men got into the passage leading to the exercise yard and sawed through two bars with the omnipresent hacksaw. Out into the yard they went with mattresses and blankets to put over the barbed-wire. Meanwhile, three more screws chanced to walk in and two of them were tied up also — making eight in all. One, however, seeing what was happening, ran back and gave the alarm. As the men were getting over the wall the soldiers arrived with orders to shoot. The men were forced back and, rather than risk death, they surrendered. "But for one bit of bad luck, C wing's 85 'remands' would all have been freed," claimed a statement smuggled out of the jail to The Irish News and published on 15 February 1972.
Nor was that the end of tribulations of the security forces at Crumlin Road jail. On 5 May 19-year-old Michael Joseph Willis of Belfast disappeared from it. Again it took an anonymous phone call to alert the authorities that an escape had taken place. Willis, an Official Republican, had just been sentenced to ten years on a firearms charge. After ten days he was rescued by the IRA, escaping in a garbage truck. A week later he, too, appeared m Dublin. An interesting sequel was his appeal against the sentence. This was heard, in abstentia, on 1 June, and the sentence was reduced to seven years, the judge commenting that "Willis seems to have absented himself from custody."
CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.
Last modified :