In The Footsteps Of Anne

Guest writer Simon Smith with a review of a book detailing the experiences of women republican prisoners.

In the Footsteps of Anne is a compendium of stories of recollection by Irish Republican women describing their experiences of imprisonment.  The length of the book may be daunting to some but perseverance will reward.   All the women are/were ex-prisoners and these are the stories of the young and older alike: 17 year old girls dancing to the Monster Mash during their internment; practical jokes and mischief to wile away the boredom; stories of grief from the outside being delivered, often heartlessly by the authorities. These stories are vital to any understanding of women’s roles during the conflict.  The informal, conversational-style reminiscences are accompanied by a short political narrative and although slanted, as all political narratives of “The Troubles” tend necessarily to be by any author, they are not as biased as one would expect by a book written entirely by Republican ex-prisoners.    

The stories themselves can be funny, tragic or heart-warming and they are always interesting whether you are reading about a unique reminiscence or several accounts of the same event.  The excitement felt by the capture and imprisonment of the Governor or the attempted escape from Armagh gaol is palpable and the different accounts never fail to communicate this.  The concern by the Armagh female prisoners for the male prisoners at Long Kesh during the camp burning and associated reprisals by the authorities shows how close you can be in ideology, mindset and experience yet be so far apart.

Women’s traditional roles of home-maker and primary carer for young children meant they could potentially lose more by imprisonment.  The authorities used situations and events on the outside to put political pressure on the female prisoners.  The threats and actuality of young children of prisoners being put into care occurred too frequently.  Some women actually gave birth and were allowed to keep their babies with them for a year but needless to say the standard of medical care left a lot to be desired.

Hearing that one’s relatives has died or has been killed or injured is always devastating but in prison it must have been exacerbated particularly when not allowed to go to the funeral.  If it wasn’t for their fellow prisoners’ camaraderie the women would have suffered more.  Father Murray’s kind and humane approach to delivering such bad news has to be noted.

One of the writers in the book quoted the popular saying that people tend to remember the good things that happened rather than the bad things.  In this book there are many good times but the bad times are not hidden or glossed over.  Sometimes in fact they shock.  The contemporary accounts recount more negative events and greater detail.  Although they may have had a different reason for being written the recently composed stories have a lot of heartbreak also: terror at the hands of the authorities who were often draconian, petty, vindictive and hate-filled.  However, some of the staff from the prison are remembered with fondness particularly those working before political status was lost.

There were endless campaigns and protests for rights within the prison system and this is detailed in a way which reminded me of David Beresford’s book Ten Men Dead.  A few poems and contemporary accounts are included from several women prisoners including Mairead Farrell from the time of the ‘no-wash protest’.  The reader will understand how the timeline and components of the no-work/no wash/no slop-out protests fell together and why.  First person accounts is one reason why this book can enhance everyone’s knowledge of the important, often overlooked, subject of Republican women prisoners and the conflict as a whole.  

Marian Price’s account, written in a letter home in 1974, of being force-fed during a hunger-strike to protest at being held in English prisons rather than at home reads like something otherwise unimaginable, even in a nightmare, due to its horrifying nature.  Luckily for Marian she had her sister and much support to keep her going.

There is also a chapter set aside to detail the strip-searching of women prisoners which was reintroduced on a large scale in 1982.  Degradation and humiliation were an integral part of such a practice.  There was many an instance of violence carried out on the prisoners which was particularly intense when a prisoner resisted although not protesting didn’t guarantee a violence-free search.

The prison chaplain, Father Murray, is remembered with fondness and his role in bolstering the women’s morale can’t be overestimated.  Although being one of the few non-Republican faces and also being kind would mark out anybody during those years in prison the women obviously hold him in great regard and admiration.  His book Hard Time: Armagh Gaol 1971-1986 is worth reading.

The late Eileen Hickey deserves credit as the compiler of many of the stories for her and her comrades’ book and her thoughtfulness in initiating the book is evidently indicative of her leadership during imprisonment.  The other women who worked on the book from the contributors to the compilers and the editors also deserve much respect and recognition.  (Although non-contribution doesn’t imply any fault but demonstrates without words how emotive the past can be).

In The Footsteps of Anne has an index of stories including those women who had died since release and couldn’t contribute.  It also includes a glossary and a bibliography.  A transcript of comms written at the time is another useful addition to the text.  It has a small number of interesting photographs.  I would say this is a book meant for the masses not a textbook or scholarly work, although academics could benefit greatly from the well articulated, detailed accounts.  It is essential to any reader interested in the history of the recent conflict. 

Although many other books have been written on women’s participation in the conflict this one stands out as a forceful, original, substantive work specifically on the prison issue. The different accounts within add authenticity to situations and aren’t unnecessarily similar or repetitive.  It is a valuable reminder of the frailty of the individual, the importance of allowing people respect and dignity no matter what you think they have done and why.

Hopefully In the Footsteps of Anne will be read by many more in the future.

Evelyn Brady, Eva Patterson, Kate McKinney, Rosie Hamill, Pauline Jackson, 2011: In The Footseteps of Anne. Belfast: Shannaway Press. ISBN 978-09566885-9-0


  1. Thoughtful and accurate post Simon,a book well worth reading by anyone interested in our recent past,and I am sure after your review more people will now be interested,good post a cara ..

  2. Simon,

    as Marty says a thoughtful piece. We are pleased to carry it and hopefully it helps promote what is a very valuable book made possible by those women who would not lie down. Keep writing about whatever takes your fancy. You get a message across

  3. Thanks Marty & Anthony. I really appreciate the positive comments. I can't believe how so much detail from an important aspect of our past has gone unpublished before.

    I know that women's experience of prison is a difficult subject but story-telling can be important in our understanding and learning from the past. It is disappointing that the Boston College project has been abused when it could have had so many positive results.

  4. @ Simon a good review. It is a powerful book & a must order it/must read especially for those of the Irish diaspora. Is in the league of On another man’s wound & Voices from the grave 2 mens war in ireland... Humbling to realise what our Irish sisters endured & there is this definite pride one has for them all.

  5. Simon,
    This is an excellent review.
    I know the women who put this book together will be well pleased with this.
    The women's story would never have been told the way Eileen or we ourselves wanted it told, but for the dedication of the people who worked tirelessly on this book.
    Some of the women worked and continue to work on equally important ventures through crippling and enduring ill-health which makes it all the more rewarding to read this review and the follow up comments.

    Any chance of getting a copy of the review, when you have time?

  6. Nuala,

    as soon as I have the book read it will be reviewed - that should be soon enough. It is no exaggeration to say that there are about 60 reviews to get through, many of them done. Just haven't found a slot to put them out yet as something else comes up. But this one will go out as soon as I write it.

  7. A terrific book. Highly recommended. Needs to be given more coverage, so as not to disappear underneath the radar.

  8. Mackers,
    I have lost the thread again, story of my life, well these days anyway.
    I was wondering do you have a copy of Simon's review so that I can show it to some of the women involved in this project who not have internet access.

    I think Simon did a great review and I would just like to try and ensure everyone sees it.

    BOX 55573
    WASHINGTON, D. C. 20040


    The Irish American Unity Conference calls for the immediate release of Marian Price and all political prisoners held without charges in Northern Ireland. Such charges cannot be kept secret indefinitely in a free society ruled by law. After all is not Britain the source of the right of habeas corpus so clearly disregarded in Marian Price’s case? The UK’s inexplicable actions in holding Marian Price do violence to rights supposedly guaranteed under Britain’s own Magna Carta.

    The violations of due process of law by the British authorities associated with Marian Price’s seemingly endless imprisonment is a direct attack on the principles of justice embraced by virtually all democracies in the Western world.

    Marian Price’s imprisonment amounts to latter-day internment, a practice rejected by the civilized world. We ask the U. S. Department of State to demand the false imprisonment of Marian Price be ended as violations of the Belfast, Hillsborough and Weston Park Agreements, and demand the State Department require British compliance with each of them.

    National President Thomas J. Burke on behalf of the National Board

    For further information or content please contact President Burke at 303-478-8473 or Peter Kissel Esq. at 202-408-5400

  10. Nuala,

    I have the original sent to me by Simon. it would probably be easier for you to print out a printer friendly version of the review on the blog. If for some reason that can't be done I will get you a copy one way or the other

  11. Mackers,
    I will try again but the last time I tried to print something of TPQ it printed pages and pages.
    A lot of the women have came on and read the review and are absolutely delighted.
    So I think Simon should be well pleased.

  12. Nuala,

    for now save it as a text document. Then cut out the guff you don't need and you will be left with the article. I will e mail it to you as well

  13. Nuala,

    just sent it to you

  14. Fionnuala- Thanks very much for the feedback. I tried to be as honest as I could with the review.

    As it was my first ever book review I mentioned to Anthony that I found so little wrong with the book that I actively sought something to criticise. When I read someone else's book review I have a little niggling doubt of it's worth if it is all positive comments. However, I found nothing to criticise-- It is a great book, an achievement and a valuable record.

  15. Simon,
    As I said to Mackers, any of the women who have read the review were delighted.
    It was your first review and as far as we know it was the books first review and the women are well pleased.

  16. Fionnuala, I am very glad that any of the women involved in the book looked upon the review positively. I personally got a lot out of the book and the contributors deserve all the praise they can get.

    There are hundreds of books detailing the 'history of the troubles', rehashing the same facts and chronologies, but "In the Footsteps of Anne" is unique in tone, subject-matter and detail and is a better read than many.

  17. Nuala,

    I think the book should be more widely promoted. There would be a lot of interest in it. It might be a daft question but does it feature in the Feile? Some of the Section 31 men involved in that would not want it given that it unlikely to be written with the insight of the infamous Thursday column. That would explain how big Percy smuggled himself into Armagh jail to lead the protests. We used to joke he was up in H9 where they isolated and tortured the really great minds. Simon's is a great review which will hopefully help promote it.

  18. Fionnuala – I quickly bashed these together - Contacts in Australia to promote In the footsteps of Anne’s to pass on to the women– ta. All contacts have email addresses on the home page.

    1. Gaelic Club – Sydney It has an extensive library of ancient, oldish and new publications on Ireland’s history, culture and struggles into the now. This library is very well looked after and guarded lol i kid u not. See email link on the home page. NB You could also ask them to put up a poster (make one send it to them) in the club re the book and take orders for it.

    Celtic Studies/Irish research and so forth is held at two main Sydney Universities. This book is a hugely important record of Irish republican women from the Troubles era and into the now. What they faced into, endured and is a gender specific insight. It is a unique, powerful book. Should be mandatory reading in the studies/research.

    2. Sydney University – Celtic Studies

    3. University of NSW - John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies

    4. Irish Echo – Australia’s Irish newspaper
    Can use simons review send it in maybe/promote book. Would garner much interest in Australia.

    * Melbourne contacts would be worth a lookin too but i am not au fait with em.

  19. Simon you may be interested to know that your review is now up on the website set up by the women ex pows,

  20. Thanks Marty. I am very glad the review was picked up on. Thanks Anthony for posting it!

  21. Great book. Thanks again for the signed copy Marty.

  22. where can i get a copy ?? can't locate it anywhere online ....

  23. Aine I can send you one send Anthony a mailing address and I will sort you out a cara..

  24. have just got past page 50 of this book. I am actually surprised at how good it is. I had been told it was very good but didn't appreciate just how good. I think there is a need to promote this work and have it disseminated and distributed as widely as possible. One bone to pick - Ann O'neill got it wrong about Slade singing I wish it could be Christmas Every day. That was Wizard!!!

  25. Brill ending with a Hitchcock twist Anthony.. they get released well apart from Marian,one marries me and realises Armagh wasnt that bad...

  26. SMH,
    Thanks so much for that posting I will pass it on.

  27. It is a very moving book. Just reading Eilis O'Connor today on the lift and death of Christine Beattie. It was like reading in 3 D she conveyed her thoughts so well.

  28. Where Can I get the book? I have looked up Easons & Waterstones Sein fein book shop and Shannway on line would be greatful for any help in getting the book.

  29. teresadoran

    for now all I can do is pass on your e mail details if you care to send them. Post them as a comment which I will not publish and will delete as soon as your e mail address is copied. It will then be sent to one of the people who deals with distribution and from whom I and a few others got our copies.

    It is such a good book that it should be on sale in all the outlets.

  30. Teresadoran, yip if you follow Anthonys instructions I can sort you out with a book no prob

  31. I have searched everywhere for this book as my Dad is desperate to read it, please tell me where I can get a copy

  32. lou lou if you contact either myself or Nuala through Anthony I/WE will sort you out no problem a cara ..

  33. Hi Marty thank you for getting back to me, how do I contact you. I am on the Facebook page also and still no joy on getting this book.

  34. Lou Lou,

    send your e mail address as a comment and it will not be published but sent onto Marty

  35. Lou Lou you can now order the book direct from the womens website and pay by pay pal.. go to
    nr.and follow the links.