MY TIME IN GAOL by Donal Kennedy

Was very short and completely voluntary.

The first time was in Kilmainham , restored as a museum by voluntary unpaid labour as a memorial to the many heroes held there or murdered there by the Crown.

It is well they completed the work before the Decade of Remembrance. Otherwise I’m convinced those paid by the Irish State built on the shoulders of moral giants would have it knocked down and had all traces of it obliterated. And I would never have seen where Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford were married on the morning of his execution. Nor where the wounded James Connolly was left on a stretcher on the ground in the Stonebreakers’ Yard, before being despatched by a British Firing Squad. Connolly held no animosity towards the squaddies, calling them brave men who did their duty,. (The story that he was sat up in a chair to face the riflemen is not correct.)

The next time I visited a prison it was a state of the art one, Belmarsh, in Southeast London, reserved for those considered most dangerous. A friend of mine who campaigned for prisoners wrongly convicted asked me to accompany him to see Frank Johnson, convicted for the murder of his employer, a good friend of his. Both Frank and his shop-owner employer were Irish. Some bright spark in the Metropolitan Police employed a couple of  agents provocateurs to rob the shop and set it on fire, and Frank was sent down for murder. The idea was to put it about that the robbery was to raise money for the IRA so that Irish people (all of whom the smart cop believed to be zealous Provo supporters) would withdraw their support.  Trick worked on the Court and Frank Johnson was sent down for a life sentence.

The police failed to get a confession out of Frank, who would probably have been released after 10 or 15 years if at any time relented. But he was damned if he was going to lie for his freedom. He had been sentenced in 1975 at the age of 40. And by the time I saw him the Birmingham Six, who had been 

sentenced about the same time, had had their sentences overturned (after 16 years) had been released and their characters vindicated, Frank vowed that unless he could be freed in similar circumstances, raise his arms like the Birmingham Six he would not leave the prison.

I was in the Court of Appeal when his conviction was declared “unsafe” and he was released in 1991 aged 66 after spending 26 years in Jail.

Most of the visitors to prisoners in Belmarsh had gold anklets and bracelets and necklaces and diamonds, the wives, mistreses and harlots of hard-bitten East End gangsters, I wouldn’t want to meet any of them (wives, mistresses, or harlots) at High Noon or Midnight, never mind their sweethearts.

Comments are closed.