Faoi Ghlas

Anthony McIntyre reviews a book on life in Crumlin Road Prison and Long Kesh in the 1980s.

If there is one criticism to be levelled at Dominic Adams for his book Faoi Ghlas, it is that he did not print enough copies. A work as readable as this should reach beyond the close circle of guaranteed readers so that others can gain a better understanding of what it means to have been imprisoned during the Northern conflict. There is nothing objectionable in the view of Paul Maskey that “it’s a great read, everyone should get a copy.”

What makes it a great read is the simplicity of the narrative. The author’s ability to tell a story and capture the imagination prompts memories of the skill he brought to H Block soccer matches, a sport with which he had a love affair. Dominic Adams acquired a reputation in prison not for penmanship but for his soccer ability.

In the prison alongside some of the people he mentions in the book - Leonard Ferrin, Brendy Meade, Brian Campbell and Eddie Harkin - he was an outstanding player. All these guys were a joy to watch but not to play against. Their acumen, pace, vision and control made the rest of us aware of our shortcomings.

Upon learning that Dominic Adams had written a book I withheld my judgement in the expectation of reading it at some point. I suspected it would be a party line we all went to jail to further the peace process folksy type thing. I got that wrong. This is one of those good stories that the reader can move through effortlessly. It doesn’t score points or settle scores. The author talks of the people he came across rather than the political perspectives they came to hold. He takes the extra step of apologising to those he felt he was harsh to on the wings because they had pleaded guilty in the courts. That humble attitude comes through in the book. It is refreshingly lacking in hubris.

The path of Dominic Adams was never one that was going to avoid a detour into prison. The community he hailed from, not to mention the family, the brutality of the state all aggregated to carve out a track that conjures up an image of the one that leads into Auschwitz: it is only ever going to one place and there is only ever one destination for those who travel that line. He followed his brothers to prison and another brother followed him. The reader will not be surprised to find the book starting off with the author’s arrest.

There is a wide range of topics broached: his experiences with loyalists including the likeable but late Frankie Curry bring out the multi-coloured tapestry that is prison life; having to witness INLA prisoners knock lumps out of each other during one of the organisation’s incessant rounds of feuding; the animosity that the issue of pleading guilty in courts caused; the dress sense of the inimitable “Basil” Hardy who to Dominic Adams must have looked like something from the land that time forgot; his reading habits which included not only the heavy political but also the omnipresent and almost obligatory Stephen King; the forced moves under cover of darkness of the Red Book prisoners; the post-Blanket prison protests aimed at securing better conditions for the political prisoners who had already established their status as a result of the hunger strikes; prisoner tactics for dealing with governors; the sleepless night of the Gibraltar executions ... and more. All these strands of prison experience might easily resonate with the reader who was in Long Kesh in real time but they can as readily rouse the curiosity of the casual browser.

The author wittily writes of an exchange between two republican prisoners over the teaching of German. For those who knew the men involved it is cause for a real laugh out loud moment rather than one of those shorthand LOL texts. It is worthy of a television comedy sketch.

Dominic Adams’ advice that “every ex-prisoner should record their memoirs, either written or orally” is something that should be heeded by all who journeyed through the cages of Long Kesh. Arguably, Southside Provisional by Ciaran Conway, is most notable for the window it provides on prison life. That great natural story tellers like “Big Harry” McCavanagh or “Wee Larry" Marley" should have gone to their graves without having marked the literary spot has left us gazing at a blank space on the map of first person history that can now never be pencilled in.

Danny Morrison in the blurb has suggested that Faoi Ghlas fits in with the established canon of republican prison literature. But there is more to it than that. It could easily slot into a much wider canon of prison literature and inspire prisoners in jails anywhere to maintain diaries as they serve their time. There is a story in each of us. The author of Faoi Ghlas has shown the merit in bringing it out.

Proud of his mother, devoted to his kids, Dominic Adams wrote the book with his children (and her grandchildren) specifically in mind. There is a photo of him walking around the yard with his daughter. I found that deeply poignant and it brought back memories of when I took my own son into the very cell where I had been on protest during the years of the Blanket. There is something hugely rewarding about that.

Now that I have finished it Faoi Ghlas and before it takes its place on the bookshelf, the person next in line to receive it is my own daughter.

Dominic Adams, 2016, Faoi Ghlas. Publisher ISBN-13: 978-1365538360

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

3 comments to ''Faoi Ghlas"

  1. Do you think you'll ever pen a memoir Anthony?

  2. Just finished Faoi Ghlas tonight. Thanks for bringing my attention to it with the review.

    Dominic paints a consise and understated picture of life in Long Kesh but you could almost feel the cold concrete, understand the comradeship and taste the atmosphere with his story-telling.

    The book doesn't use a sophisticated style and the overall story is conveyed succinctly and skillfully. The effectiveness of the story-telling is perhaps because of its bare bones approach.

    The section dealing with the soccer matches was explained clearly when it was a complicated, multi-faceted concept.

    Dominic and yourself are correct when you say more prison memoirs are needed. The wealth of history being lost to posterity due to a reluctance to write is heartbreaking. So many men and women were locked up and we only have a shadow of an understanding of their experiences.

    I really enjoyed it but would look forward to the day when a deluge of memoirs are penned. The importance cannot be overstated. The more perspectives the better.


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