Look to the Skies

Guest writer Thomas Dixie Elliot with some reflections on prison life

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.

Oscar Wilde

I was asked recently by Ross Kemp, after an interview I had with him for his forthcoming documentary, how we got through the Blanket Protest and I answered by quoting the above verse from Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol. One of his crew a lady called Lena Ferguson from Fermanagh joined with me in quoting it.

I told him that our imagination took us beyond the walls of the H-Blocks and back to better times. The sky has a way of reminding us of the past whether it is as blue as Wilde described it, or laden with rain or snow. It holds a beauty that not even the harshest prison can lock out. It kept our souls intact while they tried to break our bodies. We often looked to it for comfort after beatings.

There was also the imagination of fellow comrades like Bobby Sands who remembered books they had read and retold out the cell door. The likes of Trinity or JET, a book myself and others searched for upon release but could never find. A book not even the guy who wrote Bobby's biography, Denis O'Hearn could find. Denis and I concluded that the reason we couldn't find the book was because Bobby had made it up himself. That's how good it was.

I didn't say this then because you haven't time to fully reflect on a question thrown at you, but I often look at the sky and remember not the bad times but those who never got beyond the prison walls again to freedom.

I'm certain also that the Republicans in Maghaberry look to the skies as we did and find a means of escape from the brutal world of prison.


  1. Having just though about it, I realize just how difficult it must be to retell a novel via spoken word, with no prior practice. A folk tale, short story or play perhaps, but a novel? that's a different prospect altogether. I can see why bobby made his own story up - in many ways it seems easier. correct me if I am wrong ?

  2. Mackers, JET a great book lost to the world? Was it Bobby's imagination or is it out there written by another but not yet discovered again?

    If it was Bobbys imagination mores the pity we've become so divided because a good bit of research in the form of jogged memories might give a good ghost writer enough to recreate it for his family. And of course the world.

  3. “It was an absolutely terrific story,” recalls Richard O’Rawe.
    Someone should write the book. From the little that I've read about it, it would be a blockbuster. The plot is already done.

    I've often wondered if Johhny Cash had done a concert at Long Kesh would he have sang San Quentin with these words.

    Long Kesh, you've been livin' hell to me
    You've blistered me since nineteen seventy three
    I've seen 'em come and go and I've seen them die
    And long ago I stopped askin' why

    Long kesh, I hate every inch of you.
    You've cut me and have scarred me thru an' thru.
    And I'll walk out a wiser weaker man;
    Maggie Thatcher you can't understand.

    Long Kesh, what good do you think you do?
    Do you think I'll be different when you're through?
    You bent my heart and mind and you warped my soul,
    And your stone walls turn my blood a little cold.

    Long kesh, may you rot and burn in hell.
    May your walls fall and may I live to tell.
    May all the world forget you ever stood.
    And may all the world regret you did no good.

    Long kesh, you've been livin' hell to me.

  4. Nice touch Dixie, very enjoyable read. Can only hope that those who didn't make it through H-Block, and all those that dwelt there at a time only to have passed to their eternal reward, now know the everlasting peace to be found in the rustling light summer breeze as it shakes the bushes, in the flowing waters of the rivers as they tumble flow and cascade down through the countryside, in the great big sky you referred to where their spirit was still free despite the barbaric conditions their bodies were forced to endure. We'll never forget them. Again, lovely words a chara

  5. I never heard JET but by all accounts it was brilliant. It was Bobby's own creation. I think it was easier to tell a book or a film than to make one up. That is probably why so many got told. The only other two that I knew to be made up was 'America' by Eamon O'Donnell from Derry. It was about the war in Vietnam and it was absolutely brilliant. It rates as probably the best story I heard on the blanket. Took him seven days to do it. Bamber Nash then made one up about a plane hijack. It too was brilliant. Those two guys had a serious novel in each of them

  6. according to Tim Pat Coogan bobby sang jet to paul McCartney once and macca said "I don't mind if I do"

    afterwards macca felt so guilty for not revealing his source he put fifty quid into the green cross box in NYC :( beat that story mackers!!

  7. Close your eyes and look up into the great blue sky.

    The link below is the first time I have heard of "Jet". Scroll down to "Bobby sands on Hunger strike.

    Tell me a name of any person who has never fantasised , dreams take away brutality being bestowed upon you by those who don't understand your goals.

    Jet By the late Bobby Sands MP

  8. From Itsjustmacker:

    Where is all the Sinn Fein money going?

    Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams stated that all income goes into a central pool and is distributed equally.

    Everyone receives £300 per week!.

    If that were the case, they should be the riches party in the British run Stormont.

    Seems that, that pool he stated, the plug must have a severe leak. They have made a loss of £63,000 year ending 2012.

    Sinn Féin pay £160,000 in legal fees

    Gormley awarded £80,000 damages
    Sinn Féin paid out more than £160,000 last year in legal fees, according to figures just published by the Electoral Commission.

    It follows the party's loss of a libel action taken by a former director of Northern Ireland Water.

    Declan Gormley was awarded damages of £80,000 against the party.

    Overall, Sinn Féin lost just over £63,000 over the year - even though it had the largest income.

    The DUP and Ulster Unionists recorded a surplus. The SDLP recorded a loss.

    Mr Gormley sued Sinn Féin over the contents of two press releases that it issued in 2011.

    The party denied the press releases were defamatory but lost, and was ordered to pay Mr Gormley damages of £80,000. It was also ordered to pay full costs.

    These have never been disclosed, but the party's annual accounts for last year show its legal costs were £161,680. These were not broken down. But its legal bill for the previous year was a mere £7,630.

    Overall, Sinn Féin recorded a loss of just over £63,000 for 2012. Its income, at well over £1m, was more than double anyone else's.

    The DUP showed the biggest surplus at £185,000; the Ulster Unionists made over £15,000.

  9. Fuck me Gerry,s arse job must have cost more than expected..imagine that the party was bankrupted by an arsehole..

  10. Marty:

    Forgot about the Shite's, Shit Op.

    Maybe that's were all the Pool money is being siphoned through.
    FFS, they had the largest income of any party, It doesn't take rocket science to see the difference in income and expenditure, They had double the Income of any other party?. The DUP had the biggest surplus of £185,000. Me thinks the siphon is through legal costs, because they do not have to be broken down.

    We are off to Barcelona at 6am monday 29th July for five days, will still be able to log on, Hopefully with the Tablet and free wi-fi from the apartment.
    Gerry shit's £.Euros,$, ffs SF have a magician as an account.