Written With Brutal Honesty

Reviewed by Mick Hall in Organized Rage, the latest book about the harshness of life on the Blanket protest.

Book Review: Truth Will Out, by Paul McGlinchey and Philomena Gallagher. Paul's story from childhood to freedom fighter and political prisoner.

This little book is a very fine piece of work, I write little not because it's small in stature, it's far from that. It's because it is only 148 pages long, yet is one of the most informative books you're likely to read about the war in the north of Ireland and why young working class men and women from town and country joined Óglaigh na hÉireann, (PIRA) and why they were prepared to inflict and endure so much hardship and pain.

Paul begins with his childhood which in many ways was idyllic. He was born in Bellaghy, County Derry. Like all country boys he admits he did his share of mitching off school mostly in the potato planting and gathering season when they went out gleaning. His childhood was much the same as most working class children who lived in a village in the UK at that time. He played in the streets and surrounding fields. When his parents could afford a TV, he enjoyed watching the Lone Ranger, Circus Boy, Crackajack and Rin Tin Tin.

The coupling of the undemocratic and sectarian six county statelet which had resulted from the Partition of Ireland in 1922 and the rise of civil rights and liberation movements across the world tumbled many of Paul's generation into a maelstrom of bloody war.

The Northern Irish Civil Rights Association formed in the 1960's gained traction amongst the North's Catholic population during Paul's childhood. Rather than dealing with its just demands, the Unionist state believed they could cut it down. Once the British government in London decided to back the Unionist sectarian statelet against the minority population, the die was cast and set in stone for the next 30 years.

When the images of the violence inflicted on members of the NICRM by the B-Specials were broadcast across the rest of the UK they caused hardly a ripple. In Northern Ireland it was different and the Catholic and nationalist population were horrified. Many had seen the same sort of brutality inflicted on the US civil right marchers and now they saw much the same being inflicted on their young people on their streets.

Rather than dealing with the lack of civil rights which brought the protesters onto the streets, a Labour government in London sent the troops into the north in support of the status quo. They acted alongside the RUC to quell the rising tide of protest against inequality and sectarianism.

The Army wasn't sent into be independent arbiters as the Westminster government claimed, but to defend the sectarian state from imploding. In it's first months on the streets it worked alongside the hated B-Specials, who less than a year earlier had viciously attacked civil rights protesters in Derry.

Understandably this didn't go unnoticed by the minority population. The British army accompanied by the RUC seemed determined to act as a recruiting sergeant for the Provisionals. I will let Paul take up this pitiful tale as it typifies why young men and women of his and subsequent generations joined the PIRA and INLA:

The turning point in my life came in August 1972. Day was breaking when the British army with blackened faces smashed down our front door raced up the stairs and rushed into our bedrooms with guns and strong flashlights forced into our faces. They were shouting and swearing at us my younger brothers and sisters were squealing with fright. My Mum and sister Ann were crying, she begged the army to tell her what we had done. They cursed her and pushed her aside. Me, I could only stand and stare at them. I was standing there in my underwear trembling not from cold but with pure anger and frustration at not being able to help my family. One of the soldiers threw me against the bedroom wall and put the butt of his rifle within inches of my face. I do believe he would have smashed it into my face, it was only my mothers piercing scream No' No! Please, he's only a child which prevented him.

Paul, like countless young people in the North, who had similar experiences reached out for the nearest vehicle to fight back with. It was almost inevitable he turned to the PIRA. While it had been almost dormant outside of Belfast and Derry since its 1950s campaign, there is absolutely no doubt the British State's failure to respond to the genuine grievances of the NICRM put wind in it sails.

On his 17th birthday, when other young boys across the rest of the UK were going to dances, clubs, chasing girls and enjoying some dope or beer, he joined the IRA. His other brothers who were all there on the morning when the British army crashed through the door of what had been until then a happy home also went on to join the Provos.

Dominic, Paul's elder brother gained a fearsome reputation as a soldier. Another brother Sean, at 17 became the youngest volunteer to get a life sentence.

When the boot of a British squaddie kicked the McGlinchey door in on that fateful morning the life of this family changed irreparably

In 1976 Paul was arrested and sentenced by a Diplock no jury court to serve 14 years in prison.

Paul describes this in his book:

I was sent from the court to Long Kesh and handed prison clothes after being stripped of my own clothes. I insisted I was a political prisoner, not a criminal and I refused to wear the prison uniform. I was then transported naked to the H-Blocks where I joined the other protesting republican. Next morning I was sent to H5, again naked. With me it was a personal judgement. I was not a criminal, never stole or done a wrong thing in my life.

On the second day after his arrival he had his first introduction to the brutal and sadistic prison regime. When he refused to call prison officers Sir, he was beaten unconscious.

He writes:

I lived in constant fear, especially from two screws, one nicknamed Rhinestone cowboy because of the way he walked. I was convinced they were both mad, completely insane with hatred. They frothed at the mouth when beating me. They could not beat me viciously enough. They took pure joy in it. Wing shifts were really terrifying. Every prisoner was terrified of the brutal beatings to come. Many of the prisoners took diarrhoea with nerves at the prospect of what was in store for them. The further your cell was up the wing the more nerve racking the waiting was. The sound of cell doors being opened and roars of run you fucking Provo, you Fenian bastard, mixed with the yells and cries of pain. Counting each cell door, knowing that your door was the next was unbearable fear and pain.

He writes with brutally honesty about the fear he and other republican prisoners experienced when prison officers came to give them yet another beating​. Paul, a Roman Catholic, describes his religion as a rock which helped him deal with the brutal treatment he and his comrades received. Although he is less generous about the Catholic priests who acted as prison chaplains in the jail.

He and his comrades were no saints. Like all soldiers in time of war, they inflicted pain and suffering on others. But they were soldiers, thus entitled to prisoner of war status. The British government had recognised this in 1972, when William Whitelaw introduced Special Category status for Republican volunteers who had been interned or imprisoned by the courts in Long Kesh. This meant Republican prisoners were allowed free association, extra visits, food parcels and could wear their own clothes. It also meant the prison staff recognised their command structure.

As Paul writes:

With a swipe of a pen you were no longer political prisoners but a common criminal. The British government single biggest blunder throughout the years of war was to remove political prisoner status and it's mishandling of the blanket protest. The failed to understand the determination and resolve of Irish republican people and prisoners of war past and present.

Indeed, the British government all but admitted this when after the 1981 hunger strikes ended they eventually conceded the Republican prisoners demands.

1. The Right not to wear a prison uniform;
2. The Right not to do prison work;
3. The Right of free association with other prisoners;
4. The Right to organize their own educational and recreational facilities;
5. The Right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

The latter part of the book deals with the 1981 hunger strike, the role the outside leadership played in calling it; they were against it according to Paul. How Catholic priests undermined the Hunger Strike and how it came to an end.

He writes:

With the hunger strike ending as it did, a sense of relief and despair set in. Relief that no more comrades would die and despair that ten had died. Yet, everyone throughout the world now knew of Bobby Sands and the H-Blocks and recognised us as political prisoners. Thatcher the 'iron lady' had failed to reach a compromise with ten working class determined republicans! Streets were named after the hunger strikers throughout the world. Britain had failed miserably again in defeating republicanism.

Paul McGlinchey was on the blanket for five years, for three of these years he lived in appalling conditions. Released in 1985 he reported back, and was sentenced in 1993 to five years which he served in Portlaoise jail.

Today he remains an unrepentant Irish republican. He lives a quiet life with his wife and family. He hopes and prays the gun will never be taken up in Ireland's struggle to be a nation once again.

Read this book and weep, read it and rage, and in the process tip your hat to the men and women who said enough! They weren't going to tolerate the humiliation and discrimination which had been endemic in the NI statelet since it was formed in 1922.

When democratic avenues of struggle are closed off oppressed people look elsewhere for respite, there is a lesson for us all here, surely?

The launch in Derry of the book Truth Will Out.

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Anthony McIntyre

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

1 comment to ''Written With Brutal Honesty"

  1. There are many things I can empathise with, that I could see myself doing given a certain starting point and additional stimuli , but I could not imagine enduring what the Blanketmen endured. The smells, the trauma of helplessly awaiting extreme violence etc.

    Just as an aside, was it a mistake to title them the 'Five Demands'? Would the 'Five Comprimises' have offered the British a more acceptable path to navigate towards with less ego involved?


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