What took place behind the official name and the walls it was emblazoned on never seemed to invite a great deal of probing or interest. Who other than those in the camp at the time now remembers the burning of Magilligan in October 1974? The contrast with Long Kesh being torched is pronounced. Few from the same era are likely to forget it going up in flames.
Within a few days of being sentenced to two years imprisonment in December 1974, I found myself in the back of a ‘tin can’ making the longish journey from Crumlin Road Prison to Magilligan Jail. It was a cold Friday afternoon and the temperature seemed to drop degree by degree, probably dipping more sharply along the Glenshane Pass which I figured was the route we took although I had no way of visually confirming that. I would remain confined within the prison camp for the following year, watching its wire perimeter yield to the new heavy duty wall being erected. I can’t say I loved the place but as a 17 year old I found it - just like the many books I read while there - not short of interest.
Unlike Long Kesh accomodation, Magilligan was fitted out with heating pipes so once ensconced inside the huts the place was warm.Yet my memory of the first few days resonates with the chill factor that descended on us as we ‘bouled’ the yard, the wind biting through our clothing as it made its way across from some place we only ever knew as Moville
I took this book on a train with me just before Christmas and despite having two children with me not disposed towards peaceful journeys, I managed to get the most of it read before I reached Belfast Central Station. The reason I never got to finish it on the way back was the demon drink. A bellyful of it prior to making the train and ...
Less than a hundred pages in length Magilligan POW Memories is made up of 9 chapters. Playing the Ouija board or poteeen brewing, making handicrafts or slogging it out on the two sports fields, it is all here. The chapter on discipline will prove useful to future researchers. The IRA regime within the camp, with its grades of punishments for those volunteers up ‘on a charge’ for some usually minor infraction of the republican code, might seem quaint today but it worked then.
The most poignant chapter is the fourth which tells the tale of the republican prisoner, Jim Gallagher, who was shot dead by the British Army within a week of his release. He was travelling unarmed on a bus when he was ambushed, returning from a visit to the cinema with his girlfriend. He was targeted by his British military slayer with one thought in mind - Shoot To Kill. His death so angered the prisoners that they used the language ‘war crime’ to describe it.
There are lots of great photos here conveying the republican set up within the prison regime: IRA drilling in the yard, Easter parades, concerts, lectures and more. The sketched map of the camp depicted it as I recalled it apart from one minor detail: the gym that was situated between Cages H and G was not included. I remember it so well due to frequenting it regularly, never to train but to yarn with a Short Strand republican being held in Cage G at the time. The channel separating us was a mere few feet, making conversation easy.
The author claims it is not a definitive history. True, but as it stands there is no better history. It demonstrates the value of oral history because the spoken word is a key way in which the memories of this prison from the 1970s and 1980s could be recorded for posterity. Frankie McCarron served the discipline of history well by his retrieval endeavours.
I was pleased to have played a cameo role her, subscribing my account of participation in one attempted escape and an actual escape that did come off. The history of break outs and unsuccessful attempts are well covered and the accounts are exciting enough to interest the reader with no overall political interest. The story telling in itself lends to enjoyable reading. The elaborate process of tunnel construction coupled with the degree of organisation that went into making escape possible should also endear themselves to the historian. Some of those who escaped but were quickly recaptured later became stalwarts of the blanket protest, having been deprived of their political status for their efforts.
This book despite its brevity is a treasure trove in which researchers and students of the prisons will find many gems.
Frankie McCarron, 2013. Magilligan POW Memories.
The book is available at the following locations:
Museum of Free Derry (Bloody Sunday Museum) Glenfada Park Bogside
Pennywise Shop in the Rathmor Centre, Creggan
Little Acorns in Pump Street Derry
It is also available online with the following options:
(a) £8.95 delivery by post to UK and Ireland for one book
(b) £40.00 delivery by post to UK or within Ireland for 5 books
(c) £11.40 delivery to Europe excluding U.K. and Ireland for one book
(d) £12.95 delivery to U.S.A. Australia etc for one book