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- New collective cultural group representing 13 loyalist bonfires launched in east Belfast
- Hillsbourough Drive 2016: Chris Thackaberry
- Supreme Court decision on non-jury trials for British soldiers will have a huge impact on legacy – A response to solicitor Darragh Mackin
- Why the toxic issue of legacy will have caused many young unionists to follow their most basic instincts and cheer Karen Bradley’s comments to the rafters
- Outreach Clinic
- FORGOTTEN VICTIMS: Is it ‘Time for Truth’ from Sinn Fein for the family of Ambulance worker Robert Shields, murdered by IRA terrorists in 1980.
- And here is the Weather Forecast: Primo.
- An Ulster Education: Chris Thackaberry
- Finucane campaign highlights the hypocrisy at the heart of republicanism’s legacy propaganda
- Irish Journalism Finally Wakes Up: The GFA Says Nothing About Hard Or Soft Border
Category Archives: prison life
On behalf of all UVF/RHC prisoners in Bush 1 and 2, Maghaberry Prison, could I extend Christmas greetings to all our families, friends, comrades and supporters across the UK and wish them all a prosperous New Year. The support you have given us all over the years has been truly welcomed and long may it continue. Special greetings to ken Wilkinson and family-the PUP and all the staff at EPIC. To all the ACT Area Action groups we wish the same.
Christmas greetings to my fiancée Carol and children, Cheryl-Linzi-Kurtis-Billy-Christopher-wee Travis and wee Ella. Have a great Christmas and New Year in the knowledge that I will be thinking about you all. It won’t be long until we are together again. Ivan.
To my family, friends and all those who have supported me over these last few years could I convey my heartfelt thanks and wish you all a good Christmas and a Happy New Year. I couldn’t have done it without you. Special greetings to Terry-Eddie-Ron-Plum-Warren-Ricky-Hec-Jimmy-Tinker-Chrissie and Davy-all the guys in the Royal Bar and those in the rangers and Barrington Street clubs for their generous efforts on my behalf. An extra special thanks to William and Beano-friends for so long who have always been there for me. Greetings to all those who contribute to longkeshinsideout-great reading for all of us-and to those who supported ‘etcetera’ theatre company—keep it up. Bobby.
To Sandra, David, Michelle, Rachel, my 6 sisters and 2 brothers, Bradley, Adam. Charlie, Cody and Sam, Nigel, Cookstown, Jemo, Steve Irwin, Players and Staff at Lincoln Court Football Club and all the guys in the office plus any other firends…Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a happy New Year. Thanks for all your support and hopefully it won’t be too long until we are all together. Po.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to my darling wife Linda, children James, Chris and Aine, Stephanie and Mark..and grankids Priya, Abbie and Caleb. Have a nice Christmas. Xoxoxo. Stevie McConnell.
To all my friends and family, wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for your constant support throughout the years from myself and all the men in Loyalist Bush House/Hotel Maghaberry. Have a good one and remember to drink a few for us too!! Ha! Ha! All the best—Stevie B—East Belfast.
A documentary first aired on BBC Radio in March 2002 and featuring interviews with 2 former political prisoners. Eddie Kinner of the UVF and Brendan “Bik” McFarlane.
My back is aching, my shoulders burn the palm of my hand feels like a hole is being driven through it. In some ways that’s exactly what is happening. I have a towel wrapped round my hand and I a digging a blunted metal knife into the soil which is inches from my face. It is freezing down here but I am sweating with the exertion. I dig as much soil as I can before putting it into a large metal pan or Dixie. It has handles each end. I tug the rope and the pan is pulled away. I hold the rope tied to my end. I feel a tug. I pull the pan back up to me and start the process again. Dig in at the bottom. Work up. I didn’t suffer claustrophobia but this space is enough to worry anyone. Its maybe 18 inches square. Its not like the movies. I will never watch the Great Escape again. The clay sticks with an oily cold feel. We lie on the mud which mixes with the condensation from our breath. The biggest fear is a cave in. There is always one man behind. Close enough to pull the digger back in case of a collapse. I was never into geography at school but now we become experts on soil nature and alluvial clays. For the record one of our smart alecs says the Kesh is built on ‘Upper Oligocene clays . Personally I would call it shit because it’s a bastard to dig through. We take turns doing the face work, the pulling out work and then the disposal work. A team of men are set aside to clean every bit of earth and clay from the floor. Getting rid of the bloody stuff is a real problem. Just watch the movies. True enough. Some days I get a good patch. Firm, no stones and heavy. Other days it is gravel and stones nearly like a concrete mix. Deadly on the hands. Some days its mushy. Its the worst. How do you shore that up? We use anything and I mean anything to line the sides and especially the roof. We are only 6 or 7 feet down but that’s a lot of earth above your head. It doesn’t take a lot to trap a person and hold them. . It only take minutes to suffocate. Every so many feet we dig a sump or pit to take the excess water. We joke about asking Arthur Scagill for some pit props from the pits Maggie is closing. But we don’t know how to get them through security.
When we started it seemed so easy. But each day it got a bit longer and so our speed slowed with the pulling in and out. I don’t like the crawl up to the face. Im not the smallest guy here. I crawl using my elbows fearful of knocking out a prop and causing a cave in. One of the guys has devised a ventilation system. Thank heavens otherwise I couldn’t do this. The serious effort burns up the limited oxygen. we pour out the carbon dioxide. I sometime would still feel faint. The light is strung from the sides. Very small and weak light. We whisper when down here but doubt if anyone overhead would hear. At times we have felt via tremors people above but cannot hear the voices.
Compound 18 is a UVF/RHC cage set in a corner of the Long Kesh prison camp. Our numbers are dropping and soon we fear this cage will close because of its proximity to th e external wall. A decision was made to escape. We have some men serving out at least 35 years many 25 years minimum. Many of us know we will be here for along time. We are going to get out or maybe die trying. Same difference.
I hate it when I eventually get back to the surface. The day light seems dazzling. But the air is so fresh. My legs wobble a bit. And my back still aches. At first I didn’t care about my hair but I would get a shower quickly and found both clay and stones sticking tightly to my scalp. I got our resident barber to shave it all off. Far easier to clean now. I wrap a towel around my head, change into clean clothes and take my shorts and t shirt to the shower to wash away all the clay. This is important as tell-tale signs and be picked by an inquisitive screw. Some of them are sharp bastards.
We fall into a routine and pattern. Debate starts about who will go when the time is right. We have worked out the line of sight of the towers. We will have help on the outside but it will be a bit of a turkey run. Even getting a few men away will be a victory. We talk in code in case the huts are bugged. We walk the wire and talk. If we go then we leave our parents and families. You cant exactly go home and hope no one notices. I prefer Scotland. We have good support there. We have no guns. An army helicopter periodically flies low and slow over the compound. Someone says that they have special radar that can detect hollows below the ground. We wonder. And wait. Another bright spark talks about ground sensors that picks up vibrations. He has seen it in a movie?
The screws have just told the cage C.O. that we are moving. We are being split between cages 19 and 21. We have not dug at night but we will now. Ironically one of the giveaway signs was smell. That stale dank smell of freshly dug earth. We were worried that screws coming in for the morning head count would wonder what the odd smell was. Even Big Rabs night time farts couldn’t cover that smell.
The only time I ever experienced digging holes and fresh clay was at funerals. I have a growing respect for grave diggers. We try harder to dig faster while staying safe. It is difficult to estimate the distance accurately but we guess that we will fall short of the high wall. There is a hurried plan to get out on the ground and scale the wall with rope. Hardly ideal but needs must. Night time. Quietly. Overcast with no moon. We are all fit and lean. We all have a great motivation to go. We are putting the screws off with every lame excuse possible. But we cannot risk them thinking that an escape is about to take place. Our hand is forced. We are given a date to leave.
We pick our time. The first batch is ready to go. The man at the front will go upwards and then the debris will be ferried back along a chain of hands. It is inevitable that clothes will get some dirt but it cant be helped and it is 3am. Co incidentally, things are happening in Belfast and elsewhere to keep the peelers and brits occupied. The dig up seems to take forever. This is it. No more digging after this. We all did the good luck thing before we started down.
The knife breaks the surface. There are grass roots. The smell of fresh air. The orange glow from the security lights. A sudden stop. Waiting for a shout, a siren. A searchlight. Everyone is quiet and tense. The rope is passed up to be used quickly and quietly. The lead has to chance a look. He gets a hoist up from the man below. He looks left. The space seems huge after his confinement. He looks right. Good heavens above. A screw and dog are walking away from the hole. They show no signs of having heard anything. The lead man drops down and whispers the news. Two minutes earlier and they would have walked in on the mass escape attempt. We have to wait. We need at least 5 minutes good time to the rope up secured and men starting to scally up. But the longer the team sits the odds increase of another dog patrol. The lead man eases gently up just peeking out. He does a 360. All clear. And then voices. He ducks down. What fucking now. A near by gate has a wicket gate in it. Two screws are talking. We hear them crystal clear in the cool still air. One is gurning about his sore big toe. He thinks he has gout. Then we hear a shout. A screw in a lookout tower is shouting down. Bantering. I think, ‘Why don’t you all come down here and have a fucking party’. This is unusual. We had men stay up all night to monitor and record what activity there was. Yes there were dog patrols. Most of the men in towers just closed the trap door and slept. Did they know or suspect something? We all wait. Tension and excitement are starting to dissipate.
Nerves are jangling. Fraught. The absolute silence is a killer. One man has a watch. The time is 4.05am. I look at Barry, the driving force behind this undertaking. The eyes say it all. No need for words. It is summer time. It will be light soon. Daybreak. Dawn. Our chance is slipping away second by second. All the hours of digging, pain, drudgery, dirt and wet cold shivering will be for nothing. We wait until we can wait no longer. The screws gossip about their bosses and who earns what. Another doggie patrol is seen. There is no room for debate. There is an order. Return. Now. And quietly. Not a word is said. Plenty of time later for regrets. The screws will go berserk when they find this enterprise as they will. My back is still breaking. But that’s nothing compared to how my heart is.
Reunion Night for an Old Friend.
TUESDAY 30TH DECEMBER 2014
IT IS WITH REGRET WE ANNOUNCE THE PASSING AWAY OF EX PRISONER GEORGE WITHERS FROM KILLYLEAGH. SADLY, GEORGE DIED THIS MORNING AT THE ULSTER HOSPITAL, DUNDONALD.
A reunion night has been arranged in support of an ill ex-Loyalist Prisoner of the Seventies. It will be held in Toye Orange Hall, this Saturday the 29th of November AT 7.30 PM. All visitors will be made welcome–a small admission fee of £5:00 will be charged and there will be a small auction of Long Kesh Loyalist memorabilia in support of the night.
Toye Orange hall is situated about a mile from Killyleagh, on the right hand side of the road travelling from the Comber direction. It sits down off the road beside a small row of terraced cottages. Please be there to support an old comrade who was always right up there on the front line for us, in times of conflict. It is important that we as former comrades support each other to the best of our ability when required. Simply by turning up at this small event will mean a lot to the person who is at present suffering ill health. Your support means everything to him.
Tales From The Gulag
A Loyalist Prisoner tells of the last few hours spent In Magilligan Camp before being transferred to Long Kesh in October 1977. Magilligan compounds had been opened as an alternative to the Maze in mid 1974 and at one stage there was 8 full cages-4 Republican and 4 Loyalist….2 UVF and 2 UDA
A Sunday in October. The second or third. Doesn’t matter which. Bright. But cold. And where we were-cold. Always cold. Coats were the order of the day in this neck of the woods. Sometimes you had to get dressed to go to bed. Summer- there was some improvement. A little. But generally cold. The wind blew like nobody’s business. All year round. Occasionally a warmish wind, but a wind none the less. In the winter the gusts cutting through the wire at times sounded like a cabal of demented banshees. We crouched almost at forty degrees headlong into the gales when we walked the wire-hands stuffed in our pockets and talking –loudly-out of the side of our mouths.
There was thirty odd of us. The remains. The remnants. We didn’t have much. Not to start with. And even less now. Our meagre possessions had been wrapped and tied and bundled and tagged and dispatched before us. We awaited the order. To move out. By mid morning we had overdosed on tea and coffee. The game of Continental—the last on this turf—was being played by five bored and coated souls-surrounded by a dozen spectators. Double deck piled before them. Small talk was done. Finished. Last night seen to that. There was an acceptance now. A stillness. A realisation that the point of no return had been crossed. A threshold. Of sorts. Each time the end door opened a collective swivel of heads-a craning of necks-an expectancy-to be dashed by the appearance of one of “us”. The odd one lay on top of the bed-waiting. A few still “ bouled” the wire. Talking the inane talk of incarceration.
The door opens. A shout. That’s us. The sound of vans engines running-more than one. Can’t be for visits—its Sunday don’t forget.
Finish the hand is the order-the card players resume. There’s nothing at stake. This time. But credibility. A win’s a win. Everyone else drifts away from the table. Last minute stuff. Mental check lists. Psyche yourself up.
An apprehensive looking P.O. appears and calls for our C.O. Joe is one of the card players. He doesn’t answer. But studiously takes a card from the pile of dirt. Lays down a run to the ten-three sevens-three two’s and his last card for the dirt saying-Count them ladies.
As Joe heads towards the P.O. the other four Mavericks simultaneously throw their cards in the air. A last defiant, pseudo-rebellious gesture. We await the word from Big Joe.
Right lads…he says on his return. It’s alphabetical order—form up in the canteen and wait to be called.
No use me rushing then, I’m well down the list-probably the third run.
Time for another coffee. Most of our stuff has been forwarded on..we are only left with enough personal stuff to less than fill a brown paper bag. Hope it doesn’t rain.
The canteen has small groups standing about. Chatting-smoking-wondering-all in a rather muted fashion.
A group of UVF prisoners in “H” compound 1975
going anywhere. The compound had been thoroughly searched the day before. A conflab. We wait. Resigned to—whatever.
No search..first eight names are called out by the P.O. and repeated by Joe.
—–They troop off to board the mini bus. Outside the canteen the yard seems filled with screws. Like a search team waiting to pounce.
Some light hearted banter lifts the subdued atmosphere-somewhat.
“Got your bucket and spade Ronnie”?
“ Bring us back a rock, Lulu”.
Very quickly it is my turn. I board the bus with a miserable brown bag as do seven others. Our names are checked –Martin–McClean—McClelland—Niblock—leaving the canteen and again boarding the bus twenty yards away . They’re taking no chances.
From H to the Army camp was a short drive-less than five minutes I’m sure. The other cages blurred past..merging into the pages of the past already.
There was an equal amount of screws on the bus as there was us. We were packed in and it was uncomfortable. Through the countless gates and into the unknown. None of us had seen this side of the fence before. It was a different world. The bus entered a shed..perhaps a garage. The tall double doors closed behind us. Suddenly the weak midday sunshine was blocked out and we were encased in complete blackness. The bus engine was turned off and the silence became perceptible.
It was difficult to see anything. An odd cough or muttering was all that could be heard. Seconds later as I gradually adjusted to the darkness I could make out shadows-outlines of figures-I could feel the men on either side of me-one a screw but couldn’t recognise them.
The side panel of the van sliding across noisily invaded our silence. One by one we dismounted from the van. The screws on alighting all turned to the right-seemingly a pre-planned manoeuvre. By the time the last of our crowd had stepped down my vision had returned enough for to make out a semi-circle of British soldiers in firing stance each pointing an SLR in our general direction-no more than eight feet away. It was slightly disconcerting. Although there were overhead lights it was dark and gloomy. We remained silent. The noise of the big doors sliding open distracted us. Another-different noise assailed us..like an ever increasing wind-building fiercely in tempo-but unseen.
A P.O. emerged from the gloom. A different one from H. And indeed one I hadn’t seen about much before.
He carried an arm full of handcuffs. These he gave to the waiting screws before calling us forward one at a time to be shackled. In file we left the hangar each handcuffed by the left hand to a screw. Outside the hangar we were into the teeth of a hurricane and assailed by a deafening roar. We turned right and in front of us stood a Wessex helicopter-surrounded by armed soldiers-and with the side door open.
Once on board we were met by another senior prison officer again carrying handcuffs. By the time he had went round us all we were either handcuffed by both arms to either a screw or fellow prisoner, or in my case to a screw and a steel post. All the Army personnel on board wore ear protectors. Prisoners and screws were exempt.
It was useless trying to strike up a conversation such was the crescendo so we each leaned at various angles to see out the door which remained open for the entire journey. Almost as soon as we were airborne it became teeth chattering cold. Most of us had either light jackets or pullovers on and soon realised why the screws to a man wore overcoats.
The journey was short-less than half an hour-and completed for the most part at low level. We could clearly see the traffic on the country roads-the sheep and cattle on the hillsides. When we came to Lough Neagh it was as if we were literally skimming across the surface of the water. The cold intensified. We longed for the journey to end.
It did. Within moments the screw to my left nudged me and nodded towards the open door. There, framed in the doorway and looking just like an aerial photograph was Long Kesh camp-The Maze….Our destination. It quickly came to us and with a different pitch and rising of decibels our chopper hovered momentarily before touching down on a pad within the Army camp.
Soon we were processed and en route to our designated compounds-in my case 18. Whatever we had thought before coming to here or whatever plans we had worked out were simply ineffectual now. We had had our destiny –at least in the short term—worked out for us from on high. We had departed the Gulag on the Coast and arrived-without a fanfare-to the Academy—The Spence University–The Shankill Sandhurst-and life was about to change—for each of us-but dramatically for some.
By William ‘Plum’ Smith
Reviewed by Danny Morrison
Some years ago I was on a panel in the Waterfront Hall along with Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party. We were discussing a play we had just watched, The Chronicles of Long Kesh. Billy and other loyalists in the audience took great exception to the depiction of their prisoners in the play, and objected to prison experience and indeed the conflict generally being monopolised as mainly a dominant republican story (on stage, in literature and in film).
Of course, the required response was for loyalists to take control of their own story and write their own accounts. That process was already underway, for example, in such a work as Reason To Believe by former loyalist lifer, Robert Niblock, a play which was well-received and reviewed.
I was thus glad to hear a few weeks ago that former UVF prisoner William ‘Plum’ Smith had written a book and I went along to the packed launch in Crumlin Road Prison. I have to say, I was very impressed and enjoyed Inside Man, about Plum’s five years in prison for the attempted murder of a Catholic, Joseph Hall, whom he shot in Unity Flats. ‘Enjoyed’ might be misinterpreted as mischievously delighting in the woes and suffering of an opponent. But what I mean is that his is a very honest, human account, and at times a very funny account, of life in prison and his life before that: what made him a loyalist who was prepared to go beyond parading and take up arms against what he perceived to be the enemy (however I disagree with that description).
It is a book that nationalists and republicans should read in order to learn about the loyalist mindset which is too easily dismissed and stereotyped. Obviously, I would take issue with his analysis of what was happening in 1968 and 1969 because I think unionism misread the Civil Rights Movement and was fairly complacent because it had power and could exercise that power. That power had worked for fifty years so why change tack, why reform, why make any concessions? But once we were plunged into violence then every past slight, every insult, every act of past discrimination and every memory of injustice, and the greater sense of alienation, would feed the explosion that was to become the IRA and its long campaign.
Plum Smith was born on the Shankill Road in 1954, so he and I are almost coevals (I was born in Andersonstown in 1953). His father often had to go to Scotland or England when work was slack in the North, as had my own father and neighbours.
Seventeen-year-old Plum was first arrested during a riot in June 1971 and was subsequently sentenced to six months in Crumlin Road Prison. There he was attacked by republicans who outnumbered the loyalists. He was only out seven months when he was rearrested and this time convicted of the attempted murder of Joseph Hall and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
“The IRA, Nationalists, Republicans or Catholics were killing people in the Protestant Community and I was retaliating in kind. I had neither sense or remorse, nor a sense of loss of freedom or how long I would lose that precious freedom. I had no regrets, nor did I contemplate what the future would hold.”
In August 1972 he was among nine loyalist prisoners placed in a remand cage in Long Kesh which the year before had opened as an internment camp. In the cages around him were up to 500 republicans. He was to return to the Kesh as a sentenced prisoner with political status where the undoubted leader and major influence was Gusty Spence. Initially, loyalists from different groups were all mixed together but later, as factionalism arose, each group (UVF, UDA) demanded its own cages – a development that Plum Smith regrets because he believes it led to even more feuding between the groups.
Earlier in 1972, as a result of an IRA hunger strike, the British government had introduced Special Category Status which was political status or POW status in all but name. It was perhaps the most progressive penal concession made by the British during the conflict and was to lead to ‘relative’ calm in the prisons. (No prison officer had been shot during this time.) It was withdrawn by the British in 1976 with devastating consequences that led to a blanket protest and the hunger strikes and deaths outside and inside the prison – only for the British government, years later, to again concede political status after its disastrous experiment failed.
This memoir is a mine of information about the discussion papers produced and the level of debate which went on inside the loyalist cages. They advocated a Bill of Rights, reform of the RUC, integrated education, cross-border cooperation in non-contentious areas (tourism, regional development, agriculture, etc) and instead of power-sharing, ‘Equal Responsibility’ (which was probably power sharing!). Whether the workshops, the literature, amounted to anything of substance in the end is open to opinion, but he establishes the fact that there was a culture of political engagement and self-examination.
Looking at old photographs and sometimes scratchy silent Super 8 film of these men in prison, what I do find alien (and perhaps it is just me) is the apparent fetishism with military discipline and military display within loyalist cages.
I am not sure of the degree of militarism (marching, parading, saluting, bed and hut inspections) that went on inside the cages of republicans serving prison sentences. What I do know, is that among us internees at the lower end of the camp, the drilling that went on in Cage 2 bored me and the majority of others to tears. We’d rather watch Top of the Pops and M.A.S.H. than practise drill in a freezing Nissan hut. But from Plum’s account the prisoners, apparently willingly, enthusiastically, were up for marching at the crack of dawn and had the best polished shoes in Ireland! (Sorry, the UK!)
He also reminds us of escapes by loyalists – of which I was unaware – the first of which was in 1972 from Crumlin Road Jail.
He epically tells the story of the republican burning of the camp (which was now huge, consisting of 21 cages) from the loyalist perspective and of the incredible degree of cooperation (a non-aggression pact between prisoners) that existed that night. The gas affected every area and the republicans were surrounded and being beaten by overwhelming numbers of riot troops.
“Republicans began moving their injured out of the football fields back into Phase 6, just outside our compound. We used the wire clippers to cut the fences and make entrances into C19. Those who we thought were the most seriously injured we brought into our compound, into the wooden study hut and gave them first aid using the medical supplies we had procured the night before.”
The following day he watched as soldiers beat prisoners: “I have never seen such brutality in all my life.” The republican prisoners were to be given two pieces of bread and milk but the soldiers put the bread and milk in a heap, tramped and spat on them and then made the prisoners run a gauntlet of batons to get their food.”
A loyalist rescue party, incredibly, also took prisoners to safety.
Three years later, after the withdrawal of political status, loyalists were on the blanket protest for a time but came under pressure to call off the protest because of its identification with their enemy – the IRA. I wonder what would have happened to the prisoners had they pooled their opposition to the withdrawal of status? Would the British government have folded earlier than they did? Would the prisoners have found common humanity in common ground? Would it have helped bring down the walls that separated them a little?
There was, of course, the establishment of a Camp Council in the early 1970s made up of all republican and loyalist factions. Whether this had potential to mature into something significant – a lobby, finding consensus, engaging in acts of conciliation – we will never know because it was thwarted by the NIO who were moving towards the strategy of ‘criminalisation’.
I can absolutely identify with Plum’s graphic descriptions of life behind the wire, the raids, the deceptions employed to get ‘one’ over the governor and staff, including the smuggling into the jail of a transmitter! He captures the atmosphere, the personal suffering, the death of a prisoner through medical neglect, his learning of the Irish language, loyalist involvement in further education, the joy of comradeship but also the travails of imprisonment, especially the difficulties for one’s loved ones.
They made long journeys, visited week-after-week, waiting for long hours, often experiencing humiliating searches for a half-hour visit which was often cut short at the whim of a prison officer who alleged that smuggling was taking place (often a bit of tobacco, the historic currency of prisoners). Families lost their breadwinners and the prisoners often ‘lost’ their spouses and their children, especially those prisoners serving lengthy sentences.
Released in 1977 Plum Smith became a shop steward with the ITGWU, remained a determined advocate on behalf of loyalist prisoners and in 1994 chaired the press conference when the loyalist ceasefire was announced. These might have been the golden days for the Progressive Unionist Party when it looked like it was on the verge of making a major and sustained breakthrough but through numerous mishaps, and the tragic death of the talented David Irvine, the party’s support fell, and with it, I suppose, came disillusionment and some internal chaos.
Plum Smith has always been amiable and accessible and prepared to cross the peace line. He has been an honest witness but also a reflective protagonist. After the signing of the Good Friday Agreement he was one of his party spokespersons selling the deal to the public and addressed a meeting at a women’s centre in Belfast. After his contribution an elderly woman got up to speak in favour of the Agreement and swung many doubters in the room. He writes:
“A few weeks later I met the woman who had organised the meeting and I asked her who the lady was, did she know her? She said to me, “Plum, that man you shot all those years ago was her son.” I was taken aback. She then said that the lady had expressed her joy that I had been so positive about the agreement and supported me in the work I was now doing. What can you say to that? Her face never haunted me, it humbled me. Her dignity and compassion was so elevated. She was someone’s mother and my victim was someone’s son.”
Plum Smith in 1971 went inside as a kid. But he came out a man. A man dedicated to his community, to reconciliation and peace.
*Danny Morrison is a former prisoner who was Sinn Féin’s National Director of Publicity, 1979-1990. His prison memoir is titled ‘Then The Walls Came Down’
Quae Iungant Nos
Who Shall Unite Us?
It was a warm summer. It was the year the Queen was in Belfast as part of her Jubilee celebrations. Man United where beating Liverpool in the FA Cup Final. The Peace People were up and running. But I was in the Crum. It was packed and gone were the segregated wings. C wing was loyalist in 1974 when I was there for a sleepover. The Crum was mad at the best of times but this was an eventful year. The place was packed due to Paisleys failed strike. The Shankill butchers were in. And Lenny M was coming down from the Maze. We were packed 3 and 4 to a cell. The heat made for long days. There was a massive search of the prison for explosives. There had been an explosion in one cell.
The routine was day in day out. What that meant was with republicans we alternated the 3 periods of getting out. One day we were out 3 times, the next day we were locked up all day in the cells while they got out. But news would come in from the outside. We had heard of the deaths of two loyalists. It was decided to hold a joint event for both.Tommy- ‘Da’ -Mawhinney was a serving UVF prisoner in the Kesh compounds. He was from the Woodvale. Tommy was an extremely popular person, both inside and outside the jail and the nickname was testimony to this. Being one of the older generation, he was someone many of the young volunteers looked up to. It was a simple heart attack and he was dead. On the outside a UDA volunteer from Monkstown, William Hobbs, died from burns after a bomb exploded prematurely.
It was the afternoon session and we all trooped out to the ‘C’ wing yard. The sun struggled to find its way into the yard but it was warm. We started walking round in the usual way. Suddenly an order was barked out and we all went into the centre of the yard. ‘Line up in threes’. Many of us had experience of marching. There were over 300 of us and we filled the yard. When you get the order heads will bowed for 1 minute. QUIET! Suddenly the yard was very quiet. We knew that the Provos on the north side of C wing could watch. Some prisoners from A wing at our backs were also watching. Our heads were bowed to remember our dead. From the screws box I could hear them talking. They were reading out all the names of the men taking part ‘in an illegal parade’. We didn’t care. We would all be punished. We were all remand but under Diplock we were guilty under proved innocent. It was long minute. UDA standing side by side with UVF and Red Hand. In fairness to the Provos and ODCs they didn’t cat call or show disrespect. With head bowed I studied the ground beneath my feet. I heard the cooing pigeons on the roof and then the chatter of a starling.
‘Heads up. Dismiss’.
And suddenly we went back to our normal routine. Walking and talking. It was a change to a boring routine. A remembrance of the troubles outside and what the cost was to ordinary people. This was a show of solidarity. It’s now 37 years ago. Remember them also next week . Remember when loyalists stood together.
Football in the Compounds-Reminisces of a Hankie Ball Player
There was no Queens Park Strangers. Certainly no Borrussia Munching Barnbrack. And definitely no Real Madrid Street. What we did have was Compound 21…or 16..or 18B…and the immortals—at least in their own minds– 19A. In Magilligan, because compounds were given letters instead of numerals we had, on occasions AA playing against CB..or HB up against FA . The Crumlin Road set-up was different again-less formalised football meant no leagues against other wings. So it may have been landing against landing or just 2 teams made up from within whatever particular Wing being occupied at any one time. In the early days football was a very haphazard affair.
You got it infrequently and there was little or no organisation involved. Basically two teams were picked to play and it was more about getting out of the compound..sometimes in order to visit someone else at the wire. There were always good players of course. Some would have been known from outside before their incarceration. As time moved on and football did become an important factor in jail life then of course it became more serious. Too serious at times.
If someone was in remand who had a reputation of being a good footballer there was an effort from the different camps within the Kesh-or Magilligan-to get him in to a certain compound. Now and again a mix would have been put in though and someone who was rumoured to be the next Charlie George and eagerly waited on turned out to be more like Charlie Drake when it came to football. It was around 1976 that the soccer became a big thing in Long Kesh. This was the year of the first inter-compound football tournament.
In Magilligan a similar venture had been in place from late 75. Four Loyalist compounds-2 UDA and 2 UVF-formed 8 teams and played a league. It was ultra competitive and had a record number of sending-offs. The four elected sports reps-1 from each compound, myself included-took up the refereeing duties and this was a job in itself. A bookie-in fact a number of them was in place in Magilligan-and this too made for some very combative and spirited encounters. If I’m not mistaken the A team from Compound A-UVF-won that first tournament, finishing ahead of E compounds first team-UDA-and they had a number of good players in the team.
Some of those who spring to mind from the victorious A team were Bobby Rodgers-Victor Thompson-Rab McIntyre who had been for trials at Old Trafford and Davy Barr..who had been with a number of Irish League clubs including Portadown. The other cages held other good players..Shane Hamilton (Chico ) and Guffer Liggett out of E–Danny Black and a couple of Rathcoole guys from Compound C and Jim Rossborough –a rumbustious and marauding centre forward out of H. If this inaugural tournament was a success the initial one in the confines of Long Kesh was less so.
After many months of wrangling between the jail authorities and the representatives from the compounds the go ahead was given to commence. Barely minutes into the first game in which the pre tournament favourites were playing each other-19 against 16—UVF against UDA—a deliberate tackle broke a players leg and the game was hastily abandoned—as was the league. Although inter compound football continue in Magilligan until it’s closure in October 1977 it would be a long time before the idea was resurrected in Long Kesh. In Magillgan in particular—perhaps because many of the matches were being bet on—there was a great interest from outsiders. It wasn’t unusual to see the pitch ringed with a large number of screws—who of course would have had their own bets running—or indeed the IRA prisoners—lined along either D compound wire or along the fence of the other pitch-F.
Eventually it did kick off again and although there was the usual problems it never got out of control and by and large it was quite successful. Spectator numbers were limited in an attempt to quell potential trouble and the notion that the next major incident could stop the mixed soccer for good seemed to work.
The truth is there was only a few inter compound leagues or cups in total and dwindling numbers—people getting out and the advent of the H Blocks which stopped others coming to the cages-meant that no longer could compounds field 2 teams. By the time the mid eighties came around each compound was dependent on recruiting other players from different compounds to make the numbers up, otherwise the football would have ceased completely.
I played football behind many walls and wires in a “career” that stretched from 1973 until early 1990. Many a professional would have been proud of that or the fact that conservatively those of us who served a heavy sentence and played an average of 2 games a week—EVERY week-would have racked up around 1500 appearances!! Some going on all weather pitches—and many of us still have the scars and bumps-bruises and limps to show for it. There was many hankie ball players but very few prima donnas in those days. The stick would have been too much to take. Magilligan led in many ways by supplying us with good quality kits and on occasions the proper balls. For a long while Long Kesh trailed behind in this department and many of the kits were threadbare..hand me downs and distinctly second rate. Boots were almost nonexistent for many years and unless you had your own sent in you were reduced to playing in trainers—old fashioned gutties—or at the start of proceedings just whatever you had. Eventually, after many years the jail started supplying cheap Mitre boots and these became like gold dust. They also went missing quite a bit so became much sought and looked after items. They also at one time supplied a brand of “trainer” that I believe were manufactured in D Wing in the Crum, and these were deadly. They were the nearest thing you could get to a steel toe capped trainer and a hefty boot on the shin with one was sure to put you out of action for the next few matches.
Despite all these obvious drawbacks-manufactured or otherwise-many’s a good player graced the—well not turf—but the hard core of Long Kesh. It is impossible to remember let alone mention them all but there are quite a few stick out in my mind. Everyone will have a particular favourite and always with good reason. There was the stylish players—the ball players—the Hardmen—the psycho’s who thought nothing of slide tackling on the gravel—or the goalkeepers who had to be mad to dive full length on basically concrete. Then there was the dribblers—the selfish players—one’s it was rumoured you would need a Board paper to receive a pass from—the dry weather players—the ones who were legends—in their own mind. There was huffers-and puffers and slabbers and wasters. There was strokers and jokers and big girls blouses. There was dead eye dicks and those who couldn’t hit a cow on the arse with a banjo. But to all those who crossed the line thanks for all the memories. I recently conducted a wee straw poll. Contacted between thirty and forty ex prisoners—those fortunate enough to still be alive—and asked a simple question-“ Who was the best player you seen in prison” To me the result wasn’t surprising. I knew a lot of different names would crop up-and they did. I knew a couple of names would appear near the top—and they did. Not surprisingly. In the end only a vote or two separated two great footballers. I was lucky enough to play with-and against-both. One for far longer than I would have liked.. But-that’s Life.
The person who finished top of the pile in this particular poll was Geordie McKimm. Geordie was only there for a couple of years but whilst he was he stood out-head and shoulders. In modern day football he would be called a box to box man—he was a fantastic passer of the ball..great vision and could basically do what he wanted with the ball. He was only a young man-20/21 and extremely fit. A worthy winner I feel. Only a vote or two behind was Jimbo Tipping. Jim was a Shankill Road man and had passed through Magilligan before arriving in Compound 19. It’s no exaggeration to say that Jimbo was one of the best strikers of the ball I have ever seen. When he hit them they stayed hit. In the end it was hard to get goalkeepers for the other team when Jimbo was playing!! Jim was strong—six foot plus—and a great header of the ball. He had a superb all round game and for want of a better word was extremely “competitive”. These two were comfortably clear of the rest of the field in the poll. There were many other mentions but I would prefer to do is pick the eleven players who I think would make up the best team..going by the many hundreds of players I played with or against during my time behind the wire. It is a personal opinion and is not definitive–neither right or wrong. I stand to be challenged and would welcome some debate on it. So here goes. 11 men..no subs.
Eddie Martin. Former goalkeeping apprentice at Notts County and went on to play for 5 Irish League clubs…as a striker.
Rab. McCreery. Glentoran legend. His brother Paul was also a smashing player..but no room for him in this team.
Clifford Healey. Powerful centre half..very aggressive and unbeatable in the air.
Victor Thompson. Assured and steady..could play as stopper or sweeper.
Cliff Whiteside. Classy full back-great left foot and impossible to get past.
Bobby Rodgers. Two footed—Good in the air for a small man-and great goalcorer.
Shane Hamilton. Hard to get the ball of..good passer and fantastic ball skills.
Colin McCurdy. Colin went on to play for Linfield-Fulham and Northern Ireland. Great athlete and super finisher.
Sammy Frickleton. Sammy was a Scotsman I remember from the Crum.. He had played for Ballymena before imprisonment and went on to play for East Fife and Sligo Rovers—despite having a large King Billy tattoo on his chest!!
*** The poll also included some ex Block men and the names put forward there included Noel Large and the aforementioned Guffer Liggett.
Albums of the Kesh.
Bad Co./Bad Company-1974
In a year that brought us such melodic masterpieces like Wear It’s At by The Rubettes and the master-ful eponymous Quatro, 1974 can be remembered as one of the halcyon times for outstanding albums. Think Court and Spark/Joni Mitchell—461 Ocean Boulevard/Eric Clapton—Diamond Dogs/Bowie—Planet Waves/Dylan—On The Beach/Neil Young—or perhaps one of the greatest live albums of all time-It’s Too Late To Stop Now by Van Morrison. We layabouts in Compound 11 were certainly spoiled for choice and rather cash strapped laying out all those £2:20’s. In between all the boot bulling-drilling-lectures-cleaning-route marching-exercising and protesting sometimes we were lucky enough to book an hour on the Dansette in the study hut to spin out personal favourites. It has been well documented before that many albums were synonymous with Long Kesh…and by this time those that were most favoured would have been Tubular Bells—Dark Side of the Moon—Band on the Run and for the older generation known as the Sad Sacks—Porter Wagoner’s Greatest Hit or the Worst of Charlie Pride. Albums like these, when being played always drew moans of despair from the younger prisoners and remarks about receiving free packets of blades with every album bought.
Bad Company was of course a manufactured band. Singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke from the wonderful Free plus Boz Burrell from King Crimson and Mick Ralphs late of Mott the Hoople. If the new amalgamation wasn’t being lauded as a new Supergroup-a la-Cream or to a certain extent CSNY– much was expected of them —-and they didn’t disappoint. Rodgers’s voice was a powerful fulcrum for the band. He epitomised rock and roll with his raunchy much imitated voice andwith the band signed to Swan Song records—Led Zeppelin’s label-they had truly arrived with a bang. The album-Bad Co.-was released early in 1974 with the first single coming right away. Can’t Get Enough of your Love remains the bands highest charting single. Although the song was credited to Mick Ralphs it could have been lifted straight from a Free back catalogue and rivalled Alright Now for intensity and rockability—testimony to Rodgers wondrous voice. Indeed, such esteem was he held in, that in between the breakup of Free and the formation of bad Company Rodgers was the number one choice to replace Jim Morrison as lead singer of the Doors after that talismans untimely death in July 1971.
Bad Co. Was much played in Eleven that summer and for many of us was a great antidote to the saccharin sweet drivel that plagued the charts. By the following year the same line up would regale us with another masterpiece-Straight Shooter complete with my personal favourite Paul Rogers lyric—“Johnny was a schoolboy when he heard his first Beatle song—Love Me Do I think it was……… “. In 1976 they released their third album—Running With the Pack. This album was a particular favourite for one of my closest friends—in Cage 21—who used it for the next 12 years as a writing pad when composing letters home. The myriad of inscriptions on it over all of those years would have given a cryptographer a few nights overtime in Bletchley Park, attempting to decipher the modern day hieroglyphics. Both were great albums with some exceptional tracks but the immediacy of Bad Co. ensured that this was the album we—of a certain age and disposition—would remember them by. We watched in wonder when we seen them on television performing on of their classic tracks..we dreamed of the day when we could wear those tight fighting loons, and platform shoes—rather than the quasi paramilitary garb we were now used to—to be allowed to grow our hair to almost unmanageable lengths rather than the short back and sides that was now regulation fare. The music alone was what made us semi-rebels—and that was as good as it got.