Gerry Conlon: just another unlucky paddy


I enjoyed the movie In the Name of the Father, if ‘enjoyed’ is the word for such a sad, brutal story. But one bit I felt cheated by – the emergence of the Guildford Four from prison and Gerry Conlon’s impassioned speech to the waiting microphones and cameras. Not because his impassioned speech about the death of his father in prison and the innocence of the Birmingham Six and so many others  – not because it wasn’t well-acted; because I’d seen the real thing so often on TV and nothing, nothing could compare with the raw anger and eloquence of the real Gerry Conlon on that day.

Since his death yesterday a number of interviews with him have been resurrected. In one, he talks about what they faced in prison. Their food came to them having been pissed on, defecated on,  sometimes with glass sprinkled in it. Their cell door was left deliberately unlocked, so that those who wanted to were able to enter with socks full of batteries and beat them again and again. All this physical abuse against the background of the death of Conlon’s father and the aching, raging awareness that they had done nothing whatsoever to deserve this. Well no, let’s correct that. They had done something. They’d been Irish. The police had needed convictions for those pub bombings and it was easy, in the wave of hatred which engulfed England at the time, to stitch up the Irish group that included Conlon.

I’ve always wondered how innocent people like that keep their sanity. Sitting in a prison cell as days become weeks and weeks months and years, with the prospect of freedom at best a vague, distant hope. Lesser men would have gone mad. I would have gone mad, I’m sure. Conlon survived it but only just. Outside prison, he found life even harder to deal with and sought a dulling of the pain in drink and drugs. But even these he overcame, to campaign tirelessly for people like himself who had been imprisoned, not because they were guilty but because it suited the authorities to lock them up.

People talk about supporting the police and the judiciary system. Gerry Conlon and those like him prove that, when it suits them, the police and the judiciary are capable of the most contrived, heartless injustice imaginable. We should always be suspicious of those who tell us to always support the legal authorities. No we shouldn’t. What we should do is be always watchful, ready to call them to account. Of course a police service and legal system are necessary. But given sufficient public hysteria,they are capable of lying and lying and lying again. Gerry Conlon knew that. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam – May he rest in peace.

28 Responses to Gerry Conlon: just another unlucky paddy

  1. paddykool June 22, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    Jude : Bob Dylan always put it best in his acidly cynical throwaway line …”Don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters” ….

    As you already know and as i’ve described in the story elsewhere on your site “Early Morning Knock up”, that what happened to Gerry Conlon could happen to anyone. Mr Conlon was two years younger than me at the time and maybe, just maybe , a little more naive and unworldly.In the end , he was basically a young scallywag from Belfast , getting away from the madness.
    .Lots of young Irishmen were getting out of Northern Ireland back then, if only for short, periods , to maybe go to college or scrape up a few pounds working in summer jobs in London or other English cities.I met lots like him , crammed into houses and squats in casual groups , much as you’d see young people anywhere..He was an unfortunate man in that the Establishment needed a few scalps to hang up for the likes of the “Daily Mail” readers to tut tut about. ..

    The film was excellent, of course Peter Postlewaite and Daniel Day Lewis , both fine actors , gave some weight to the project, but nobody, no actor, could put you into the damaged lost years of any poor man..Gerry Conlon had been given a poor hand of cards to play.

  2. Francis D June 22, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    The Pogues in a Song called Streets of Sorrow, summed up the Rawness, anger and terrible, terrible Sadness of theirs and the plighy of the Birmingham 6.

    “There’s 6 men in Birmingham
    In Guilford there’s 4
    They were picked up and Tortured
    Then Framed by the Law
    And the Filth get promotion
    While their still doing time
    For being Irish in the wrong place
    And at the wrong time…..

    ‘You’d be counting Years
    First 5 then 10
    Growing old in a lonely Cell
    Round the yard in a freezing Hell
    From Wall to Wall then back again

    The poignancy of their ecperience and its ferocious tragedy cannot be discounted. As a teenager I was told by a peer in discussion that the above Song/Lyrics were just Propaganda. Others tuned in to this heated debate in the School yard knowing my passionate disposition and my detractors Virulent Castle Catholic Advocacy and antipathy to anything percieved as ‘Radical’……..”Which part of this fucking Travesty of Justice by the Hallowed British Establishment do you not understand? Tell me, and we will look at the veracity of the situation together”,-Even teenagers going to a Catholic School, from a nationalist background were suseptible to the mass produced bloody lies and closing of ranks the Media, Executive, Legislative and Judicial strands of Government all, in synchronicity sustained in cementing the living horror of these men and womens expedient and Tragic plight. Birmingham 6, Guilford 4 Mcguire 7 and the many others not highlighted, all incarcerated in dungeons care of HRM Government……..Breakdowns, Suicide Attempts……..Gerry Conlon, Rest in Peace, your campaigns for others at home and Far showed you for the true and just man you really were.

  3. neill June 22, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Shocking miscarriage of justice failed by everybody the police the law courts and finally the IRA rest in peace

  4. fra hughes June 22, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    Perhaps as a legacy and lasting testimony to Gerry Conlons fight against miscarriages of justice . Jude Collins and other established establishment media figures could choose in a small way to honour Mr Conlons memory by advocating on his behalf the cases and groups he was so heavily involved with.? Justice Watch Ireland and the Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign? In loving Memory and Tribute to Gerry Conlon

    • Jude Collins June 22, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Fra – thanks for your thoughts. However, to describe as an “established establishment media figure” is stretching things a bit. I don’t think I belong to any establishment. As for being ‘established’…It sounds much more comfortable than I’ve ever felt. I’m so established I’ve a column in the Andytown News – sin é. Oh that I were more established…

  5. Endgame June 22, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    I’m a bit too young to remember but did the IRA ever make a statement saying the four men in prison were not their members and had noting to do with the bombing?

    • Jude Collins June 22, 2014 at 11:22 am #

      Endgame – I’m afraid I don’t remember/know if they did or not. But I do recall an appeal, I think it was, being dismissed by a judge because it would open up ‘an appalling vista’ – that is, that innocent people had been convicted.

      • neill June 22, 2014 at 11:43 am #

        No Jude that was not what the Judge implied you cant have a paramilitary group who in fairness was not terribly reliable come out and say they were innocent without actually coughing up the real names of the bombers can you?

        • Jude June 22, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

          Neill – what then does ‘appalling vista’ imply?

      • ben madigan June 22, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

        Have just published a post on the admissionin the Old bailey Dock by Joe O Connell, leader of the Balcombe St group of 4 which he made during his 1977 trial

  6. Brian Mac Domhnaill June 22, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Yes neill, the balcombe street IRA unit arrested a year after Guildford accepted full responsibility for what had occurred and said in court that Conlon and the Maguires had nothing to do with those events and nothing to do with the IRA.

  7. paddykool June 22, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    Wasn’t there something in the book or film about that?…Like everyone else we’d all need a refresher course .Didn’t Gerry meet one of those IRA bombers in prison in any case? That may have been a “filmic construct” of course , to put across the idea that the actual perps apologised for getting him inadvertently involved in their deep hard-man water?

    Outside of that….. out side of the radical flank{ who are always on the ball and are reading and listening to the right people in the underground, , I think no one wanted to think the unthinkable …..and they needed to assure the public that the cops and the judiciary {and the Government} were really on the ball…Anything else was going to cause so much hassle and really let out a stink …which it eventually did , of course.

    In that respect, Neil, it takes a lot of convolution of thought to blame the IRA for something that , in this respect , was not in their remit. That doesn’t excuse the IRA killing people, but . they’re not responsible for the “actual” political and social machinations of the British Government or the police force.In the past, I’ve had that same Morning knock- up that Gerry had , and believe me, if a fairy story can be woven around any one of us, they can make anything stick to anybody.

    I’m currently getting through the series “Homeland”…very addictive …and very instructive..{Well…for anyone who believes they know who the “good guys and the “bad guys” really are !! It’s never been so simple in Irish/British relations.

  8. ben madigan June 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    Came to the conclusion it’s a prime example of the difference between the British and the Irish .

    The British – we’ve already convicted people of the Guildford bombing -we’ve had people killed, property damaged and secured convictions. It ‘s up to the convicted to appeal and prove their innocence.

    Irish Republicans – we’ve confessed to the Guildford bombing – it’s up to the Brits to charge us and set those others free

    For the series “never the twain shall meet”

  9. Micheal June 22, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    Is this working yet?

  10. paul June 23, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    “Being Irish in the wrong place and in the wrong time” Sums it up perfectly. Blame lies squarely on the British police, the legal system and on those media who went along for the ride. No one else.There are still people ‘interned’ with out trial in the north today, remember Gerry Conlon before one assumes their guilt. This truly could happen to anyone.

    Mr conlon , you fought the good fight right up to the end. , God bless and rest in peace

  11. giordanobruno June 23, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    It was indeed a terrible injustice. So many years stolen from Gerry Conlon. Not just in prison but the years he struggled after his release.
    I hope the work he did campaigning for other victims of injustice gave him some measure of fulfillment in the end.
    An interesting point made by Michael Mansfield QC this morning that Muslims are now being subject to the same suspicion and mistreatment that Irish people such as the Guildford Four received in the past.

  12. Wolfe tone June 23, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    Unsurprisingly Seamus Mallon displays his bitterness again towards republicanism by putting much of the blame for Gerry Conlons ordeal at the door of the IRA.
    This is typical of Mallon and other nationalist politicians who can’t resist putting the boot into the shinners at any opportunity due to their obvious bitterness at how Sinn Fein has surpassed them electorally.
    Selfishly these mouthpieces ignored collusion claims by republicans years ago and only really expressed concerns when irish America etc started to look into the allegations, just like they did with the miscarriages of justice cases.
    Only recently, new evidence emerged of Gerry Fitt ignoring the truth about the Mc Gurks bar atrocity so as to blacken republicanism. Typical so called nationalists politicians who have often been heard accusing adams and co of speaking out of both sides of their mouths when they are masters of it themselves.
    If Mallon and the so called do gooders had been honest then and even now they would be stating clearly that the Guildford and Birmingham frame ups were a systematic policy by the British to again intimidate and scare the entire irish community in Britain and Ireland into rejecting irish republicanism. Just like the open secret of systematic collusion, Mallon and co chose to speak out of both sides of their mouths: on one side they expressed concern that there might be collusion but on the other they kept most of their vitriol and blame for republicanism for that same collusion. And strangely or deliberately, they sounded very much like the mouthpieces of British militia when they claimed responsibility for a murder of an innocent catholic I.e they too would claim that it was the IRA’s fault that they killed a taig.
    The bitter dinosaurs of the SDLP seldom told the irish people how the British carried out terror in other countries to break the will of the natives and perhaps the British were up to their necks in continuing this policy in Ireland? Rather the easy,cowardly thing to do was to lump all the blame on the IRA, after all why bite the hand that feeds you?
    Credit to Mallon he played a fly game during the troubles. For such a so called outspoken critic of British terrorism and injustice he managed to live in the heartland were the glennane gang and other British state militia dwelled. These gangs targeted numerous people in the murder triangle but never seemed to have viewed infamous Seamus for any of their treatment. Charmed life indeed. But why would they target a person who was doing exactly what they wanted taigs to do, ie blame the IRA for everything.
    Famously Jim molyneaux is alleged to have stated that the IRA ceasefire in1994 was ‘bad news for Northern Ireland’, perhaps Mallon felt the same as it was widely reported that him an mcgrady were regularly having words with John Hume when he was selflessly coaxing republicanism into the political arena? Did they feel the political careers they held and perhaps were lining up for other family members were going to be threatened if the IRA came in from the cold? Hume to his credit really did sacrifice everything for peace. Mallon and his clique mirrored loyalism it seemed, by not wanting ‘peace at any price’.

    • paul June 24, 2014 at 11:27 am #

      Wolfetone…GRMA for your thoughtful post. I have always held deep suspicsion over the SDLP’s motives, Fitt, Mallon, Attwood all reserve most if not all of their vitriol for republicans, a very sad state of affairs. The recent allegations about “Lord Unfitt” do not surprise me in the least

      • Wolfe tone June 24, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

        The SDLP at best sat on the fence when the British war machine and the IRA were going toe to toe. But I always noticed that when a controversy such as a shoot to kill occurred the SDLP would tend to plead to the Brit government to sort out the ‘bad apples’ that were in the RUC etc. For such well read people they never seemed to countenance the notion that the activities of the so called security forces were being directed by the British govt, despite evidence from other places around the world, that terrorising the entire population is their tried and tested formula when they encounter uprisings etc.
        Personally In my town there was always a whiff of snobbery from the SDLP and Mallon in particular. They tended to ignore working class areas and focused on well to do areas and obviously the working class areas were home to lots of republicans so it was par for the course they wouldn’t be too bothered what happened to the people in those areas. It’s a bit like the DUP who use working class Protestants to score political points but in reality couldn’t give a toss about their areas. I suppose these politicians have a view of ‘let them(working class) do the fighting and we will do the ruling’. There are numerous clergy and middle class taigs who would have that view. I suppose what I am trying to say is that for the SDLP etc it was never about the national question and only about the class question. For Mallon and co the threat to them was and always will be republicanism, and just like those other selfish individual cabals in the free state, FF,FG etc they will find common ground between them to knock the shinners, to prevent their wee lucrative lifestyle/business in politics from being scuppered by republican upstarts. Hence the vitriol these last few months for adams and co.

        • paul June 24, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

          WT, agree wholeheartedly. I did get to meet some working class supporters of the SDLP many years ago. They held moderate views politically, but they made it clear that the security forces were a huge part of the problem. An inherent distrust of the police and army were a large part of discussions. I personally never felt Mallon and co. ever cared too deeply about the average person. I feel the SDLP lost touch with whatever grassroots support it had many years ago. The Fitt relevations come to me as no surprise at all. This is all another example of people throwing all blame on one group only, including ignoring the many transgressions of current Unionist politicians etc.

  13. Argenta June 23, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Wolfe Tone
    Remind me;who actually carried out the Guildford bombing?I had the impression that it was the I R A.You clearly can’t abide the S D L P being one of the various groupings who actually helped Gerry Conlon.

  14. Wolfe tone June 23, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    You have just confirmed my point ie Gerry conlon’s ordeal was all the Republicanisms fault even though the British arrested him and framed him. Don’t be too hard on yourself as plenty have conformed to that notion, carefully fostered by the British establishment.
    I can’t abide most career politicians never mind the SDLP as they habitually lie and deceive to further their selfish individual aims.
    Mallon stated today a top police officer told him shortly after the Guildford 4 were convicted that the police knew they were innocent. And yet that’s the first time I have ever heard him claim that. Why did Seamus keep that quiet? Who was he protecting?
    If Mallon and all the other do gooders clambering over themselves to claim ownership of Gerry conlon at the minute really want to honour his life then why don’t they pick up the cause he was championing of getting justice for the craigavon 2? Any takers? i thought not.
    When he was highlighting this case infamous Seamus etc were very quiet. Typical. These champions of human rights won’t raise their voices unless the church,free state and irish America raise theirs first. Gerry Conlon had more courage and integrity in his little finger than some of his ‘friends’ will ever have.

  15. Argenta June 23, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    Wolfe tone
    You still haven’t answered my question. Who carried out the Guilford bombing? No evasive sidetracking please .A straight answer will suffice.

    • Wolfe tone June 24, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      I have no idea. But the state that framed the Guildford 4 had a fair idea. Ask them. Better still ask Seamus Mallon to ask his police officer friend.

      • Argenta June 24, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

        Strangely aggressive defensive tone from all the Sinn Fein posters above !Maybe they’re ashamed about the I R A s involvement in the Guilford bombing!

        • Wolfe tone June 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

          I don’t know what drove the people that planted those bombs in Guildford and Birmingham. I don’t know the thinking behind it. I wasn’t even born. No republican can be proud of the deliberate targeting of civilians. But as I have alluded to before perhaps the bombers were adopting a tactic the British had used earlier that year in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings when they wanted to send a clear message to the entire community in the free state ie stay out of the northern problem or this is what you will get….?
          People need to realise that in all conflicts terrible deeds are done by both sides to assault the minds of their opponents and more importantly, their opponents potential followers. It isn’t nice but military people will justify it.
          Well educated people would know all this anyway but it isn’t about what’s true with these people, all that matters is to stop republicanism even if that means slowing irish unification.
          Argenta, Paul hill has stated that it was only after they had spent 10 years in prison that the do gooders started to campaign for them. I wonder why? Oh wait, that’s right, the Kennedy clan and other irish Americans started taking and interest and just like a teenage groupie the do gooders just had to be seen with such esteemed bedfellows as ted Kennedy.
          As I have said before the stench of snobbery makes me wanna gag, and its origins weigh heavily around the markethill area of Armagh; )

  16. paul June 24, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    What is especially galling in the reaction to Gerry Conlons passing is all the righteous indignation currently spewed by politcians north and south, when not a peep was heard from them when he was imprisioned.

  17. Perkin Warbeck June 24, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    Seamus Mallon: Conor Cruise O Brien for slow learners.