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.