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                                   Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Gerry Conlon (born 1955)

Gerry Conlon was born and educated in Belfast. He went to work in London in August, 1974 but returned to Belfast on October 19th of that year. On November 30th he was arrested by in Belfast and flown to Guildford in England where he was interrogated for three days until he signed a false confession to having bombed two Guildford public houses on October 5th, 1974 in which seven people died and fifty more were injured.
In his statement to the police [which was subsequently shown to have been altered] Conlon implicated seven members of his family then living in England [know as The Maguire 7] and his friends Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson; all of whom were arrested and likewise signed false confessions under police duress.
Gerry Conlon's father, Guiseppe Conlon, was arrested when he went to England to find out about his son's arrest and was subsequently convicted of handling explosives in the Maguire 7 trial.
On September 22nd, 1975 Conlon, Armstrong, Hill and Richardson - 'the Guildford 4' were convicted on 33 charges of murder and conspiracy on the basis of false confessions. Conlon was sentenced to 'not less than' thirty years while Armstrong and Richardson were given sentences of 35 years and detention at the Secretary of State's Pleasure respectively. In October, 1977 the Guildford 4's Appeal was rejected. On January 23rd, 1980, Guiseppe Conlon died under police guard in Hammersmith Hospital where he had been sent from Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Friends and relatives of the Maguire 7 and Guildford 4 mounted a media campaign to highlight their wrongful conviction and after the broadcasting of several documentaries the Guildford 4's case was referred back to the Court of Appeal and on October 19th, 1989 their convictions were quashed and they were released after fifteen years in prison. © This extract is from Conlon's autobiography Proved Innocent (1990).
Gerry Conlon
Gerry Conlon

The presence of the Irish republican prisoners, here at Wakefield and in most of the twenty other prisons where I've been, affected my entire prison life. But, because I was not IRA and never became IRA, I want to explain why these men had such a strong and lasting effect on me.
Some of them like Roy Walsh, I grew up beside in West Belfast, and our shared background made it inevitable we would knock around together in prison. Others, like Shane Docherty and Joe O'Connell, were in a position to know for sure I was innocent and because of this they felt a sense of responsibility for me. So there was always going to be, to a greater or lesser degree, a natural sympathy amongst all Irish prisoners.
But there were other reasons. The first is that the Irish were constantly singled out by the screws, and by the whole prison system, as a special group deserving special treatment.
The Irish were subjected to very particular forms of discrimination, especially in relation to visits. The Irish were constantly hassled and harassed and confronted and challenged to assert their identity as Irish. It was paradoxical, because one of the reasons the screws did it was through fear of terrorist-type offenders, fear that they would mix with other prisoners and infect them in some way. Until now there hadn't been significant numbers of republican Irish in English gaols. In Wakefield I began to see how scared the system was of them and how it tried to contain them by isolating them from other inmates. The more important result was that their solidarity with each other was increased.
The situation would have forced solidarity on any group, even if it hadn't already existed naturally and, in fact, there were quite a few Category A Irish who were not convicted of IRA offenses - John Foley in Wakefield was one - but who became, like me, part of the Irish group in prison.
The last reason is most difficult to explain, especially if you are talking to people whose ideas about the IRA come form the English tabloids. Republican prisoners are different from other prisoners, because they are not there for personal gain and they are not freaks. That sets them apart from everyone else. They are generally very disciplined. They don't involve themselves in the pettiness of much of prison life, such as setting up complicated attacks on the nonces, and grudge attacks on screws or other prisoners. They also look after their own. If, for some reason, somebody gets in a some of money, the first thing he does is buy food for the Irish table. If anyone begins to become depressed - as I did very often - they would try to help you, talk you through it, coax you out of it.
Every day in prison is like walking through a minefield. It's full of danger, full of people who can be set off into acts of unbelievable violence by any trivial thing - by not saying good-morning, or by saying good-morning, or by just looking at them. So the attitude of the Irish -sticking together at all costs, taking no shit from anybody but not looking for trouble either - meant that they were a strong influence for good over me, offering the protection and the sense of belonging which I so badly needed. They were like an extended family. That will sound strange only to those who have the 'IRA monsters' stereotype in their heads. © Penguin


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