‘Internment’ by John McGuffin (1973)

Chapter 8

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."[1] 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[1] 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").[2]
     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.[3]
     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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]
     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."[7]
     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.[8] 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.[9]
     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

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.[1]
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.[2] 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.[3]


MAGILLIGAN camp is situated by the beach in the wind-wept reaches of Co. Derry, 24 miles from Derry 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.[1]
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.

Footnotes Chapter 8:

  1. Council minutes, 2 March 1972.


  1. 22 September 1972. Long Kesh means 'the long bog crossing'.
  2. Mitchell also had his own ideas on how to deal with the situation. He told a Guardian, Manchester, reporter, Terry Coleman: "I would send round a list of 100 suspects and then just start shooting them; by the time you've knocked off ten of them the rest will be in Killarney. They can't stand up to it." He added: "I'd like to have a machine-gun built into every TV camera and then say to the IRA, 'Come out and let's talk...' and then shoot the lot."
     "After a trial?"
     "That would be a complete waste of time," Mitchell replied.
     That Mitchell did not earn his soubriquet 'mad' for nothing few could doubt, but the frightening thing is that although patently 'unstable' he was a lieutenant-colonel in the army for years and is now a Tory MP. Coupled with this are his close links with the UDA. His namesake, Captain Robert Mitchell MP, announced that he wanted to see a camp for internees set up in "a remote area of Canada". But then, he also said that he wanted the army to use flame-throwers against demonstrating crowds.
  3. In fact, according to Unionist hardliner John Taylor, the plans for Long Kesh were drawn up in London.
  4. For example, the four McKay brothers, Sean McKenna senior and junior, and Frank Hughes and his son Cathal.
  5. Paisley, nonetheless, was one of the very few MPs prepared to visit his constituents there.
  6. It was not the only occasion on which belongings were stolen or destroyed. Men of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) pioneer corps, and 13/18 Hussars were all guilty of this.
  7. One of the most unfortunate internees was Cathal 'Yoho' Lenaghan. He was not involved in any way with the IRA or even with the Socialist movement and was completely bewildered to find himself in Long Kesh. When he heard there would be trouble he hid himself in a locker. After the noise of the beatings had died down and all was quiet Cathal heard men coming into the hut. Thinking they were returning internees he opened the locker door and jumped out, shouting: "Yoho, here I am." Confronting him were five soldiers who cried: "There you are, you bastard," and beat him mercilessly. He was hospitalized and, on release, was nicknamed 'Yoho'.
  8. During previous periods of internment neither Catholic nor Protestant Churches had made any protest about the detention of men without charge or trial. 1971 was to see a change when the Catholic Church in the form of Cardinal Conway spoke out for the first time. The major Protestant Churches also issued a statement. On 10 August, the day after Faulkner reintroduced internment, a joint statement from Rev. Charles Bain (Methodist), the Right Rev. Rupert Gibson (Presbyterian), and the Most Rev. George Simms (Church of Ireland) recognised that "because of the continuing violence and bloodshed for which there can be no Christian justification, the Government in its duty to all citizens had no option but to introduce strong measures which may be distasteful to many". Brian Faulkner was photographed smiling as he left his place of worship that Sunday.
  9. Alcohol was manufactured mainly from potatoes. The older screws turned a blind eye; the younger and more naive prison officers couldn't understand why so many spuds were being ordered.

THE Maidstone

  1. The Irish Times, Dublin, 18 August 1972.
  2. The one on Christmas Day was an occasion for the screws to sadistically tempt the hunger strikers with brandy pudding, roast chicken and other choice foods.
  3. There was an attempt by Ritchie Ryan, Fine Gael spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs, to claim that the ship was out of the jurisdiction of Stormont, since mention of territorial waters had been omitted from the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. Nothing came of this quaint piece of legalism.


  1. Things would have been worse had it not been for the tireless efforts of the eccentric Father Shields – a priest, zoo-keeper, mushroom-factory owner and cafe organiser, who raised money for provisions and who was always on hand with advice.

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