The Hooded Men: Belfast Boys

Guest writer Dr Lauretta Farrell with more detail on the Hooded Men, victims of British state torture in Ireland.

The selection of the 14 Hooded Men by British security forces was somewhat random, though they did fit a particular profile. The men represented a measure of geographic diversity; of the first 12 chosen, four came from Belfast, four from Counties Down and Armagh and four from Counties Derry and Tyrone. These places were hotbeds of republican activity in the North. Before being transported to RAF Ballykelly in County Derry, the men were held in three different locations – Girdwood Park Territorial Army Center in northern Belfast, Ballykinler Weekend Training Center in County Down, and Magilligan Weekend Training Center in County Derry.

They were white, male and Catholic. They ranged in age from 19 to 40; most were married with children. They were engaged in a range of professions, though most were laborers. All were nationalist in philosophy, several were involved in the growing civil rights movement. Many came from a strong republican tradition and had been detained before. Although fairly young, those who were IRA members had ascended to positions of relative import.

Like many young Catholic men in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, most had been “roughed up” by security officers at one time or another, but none had experienced interrogation on this level. Their treatment was so severe that several tried to commit suicide to end their torture. They survived, however, and provided interviews and personal statements which offered consistent accounts of the treatment to which they had been subjected. Native English speakers, they were all technically considered to be citizens of the United Kingdom, a democratic state with a long-serving, well-defined government, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and yet their government chose to torture them.

The Belfast Boys

Among the men detained on 9 August were Kevin Hannaway, Francie McGuigan, Archie Auld and Joe Clarke, all from Belfast. Following confirmation of their identities, they were taken to Girdwood Army Barracks, set on 23 acres in northern Belfast.

Kevin Hannaway was born into an active republican family in 1947. His great grandfather, Michael, had been a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood during their London dynamite campaigns of the 1860s. His father, Liam, was an active member of the IRA; his aunt, Annie, joined the women’s organization Cumann na mBan and married Gerry Adams, Sr., himself a long-time IRA volunteer. Hannaway’s cousin, Gerry Adams, Jr., would go on to become president of Sinn Fein. At the time of his arrest, Hannaway was 22 years old, working as a joiner making £30/week. Married with two children, he was arrested at 4:30 a.m. in his Belfast home. One of the soldiers shot at Hannaway’s wife when she tried to defend her husband; she was holding their 3-week old baby. His brothers Terry and Diarmuid were also swept up in the Operation.

Hannaway was taken first to Mulhouse Street Barracks, then moved to Girdwood Barracks by lorry, where he was stripped of his possessions, photographed and questioned by members of the Special Branch. Hannaway was kicked, beaten and thrown out of a helicopter, which was hovering just a few feet from the ground, though he did not know that at the time. While being transported to Crumlin Road Prison, he was hit repeatedly with batons, his teeth went through his lower lip, and his nose was broken. Upon arrival, he was placed in a cell with a bed and fell asleep. The following day, he was returned to Girdwood, where he was attacked by a guard dog.

Francie McGuigan, a 23-year-old joiner, civil rights activist and member of the IRA, came from a family of staunch republicans. Every member of his family, including his mother, had served time in jail; McGuigan’s first arrest came at the tender age of 12. On 9 August, he was asleep at home in Belfast when he was awakened by a soldier hitting him with the butt of his rifle; it was 4:30 a.m. Allowed only to put on underpants and trousers, McGuigan was taken down the stairs at gunpoint, then forced to run barefoot through the street to the back of a lorry. All the while, his father was watching. Along with 10 other men, McGuigan was forced to lie down in the back of the lorry; soldiers then piled in, sitting and standing on top of the prisoners. During the ride to Girdwood Barracks, McGuigan and his fellow prisoners were poked with rifle points and hit with batons. Upon arrival he was searched and photographed, then sent into a gymnasium where 100 other men were already in place. By the end of the day, that number had grown to 300.

Like Kevin Hannaway and Francis McGuigan, Archie Auld came from a traditional republican family. Twenty years old, apprenticing to be a dental hygienist, and living with his parents, “I was on my way home after being at a party. A number of soldiers came out of my mother's house, surrounded me and put me in the back of an army jeep,” he reported of his arrest at 3:30 a.m. His shoes and tie were taken from him and he was driven to Girdwood Barracks, where he was photographed, taken into a large hall and told to sit on the floor with his legs straight out in front of him, hands behind his back. A half-hour later, he was brought into an interrogation room, where he was asked his name, address and age, then released into another large room filled with prisoners. After sitting for an hour, he was taken from Girdwood to Crumlin Road, beaten along the way. He was placed in a cell, where he fell asleep until another prisoner was brought in. They were given a meal, and the other man was removed from the cell late that evening. At 6:00 the following morning, Auld was returned to Girdwood, again beaten during the journey. He was punched and kicked while lying down, all the while called names including “IRA Bastard” and “Catholic Fucker.”

The last of the original hooded men from Belfast was Joseph Clarke, a single 19-year-old motor mechanic who lived at home with his parents. Members of the British military, whom he believed to be paratroopers from the Springfield Road Police Station, came in and searched the home, looking for “Joseph Clarke.” Clarke identified himself, asked his father to contact a solicitor, and left with the soldiers. He was placed in an empty Army lorry, told to remove his shoes and had his hands tied behind his back. He was driven to Girdwood Barracks without incident.

At Girdwood, no one was allowed to speak or move until they were called for interrogation by members of the RUC’s Special Branch. During these interrogations, the prisoners were kicked and beaten. They were each given one cup of tea and one bowl of watery stew. That evening, they were given camp beds to put together to sleep on, along with blankets. After just a few hours’ sleep, they were roused and questioned again, after which they were told to pack up their beds and bedding and to sit on the floor.

The interrogations continued throughout the night. Come morning, the men were allowed to wash, fed breakfast and taken outside. McGuigan was told that Jamaica Street, where his home was, had been bombed and 70 people killed. He was also told that his captors had something “special” in mind for him. Joe Clarke was alternately accused of participating in nail bomb attacks and assured he would be looked after if he provided information about the IRA. Groups of prisoners were taken out of the gym, until only Clarke and McGuigan remained. They were taken to separate rooms; McGuigan was left alone, while Clarke was beaten and kicked by members of the RUC, including one who recognized him, kicking Clarke in the genitals. The following day, Hannaway, McGuigan, Auld and Clarke were separately hooded and beaten as they ran through a gauntlet of security officers.

All reported difficulty breathing through the hoods, which McGuigan described as being squares of double material, about 16 to 18 inches in size. Designed to confuse the detainees, the hoods were made of a heavy material, similar to denim, and fell to the shoulders. The effect was to completely eliminate each man’s ability to see at all, resulting in spatial and temporal disorientation, isolation, powerlessness, anxiety, and total vulnerability.

The prisoners could not discern their location (Northern Ireland or England, a jail or another building) or the identity of those around them. They did not know whether it was day or night, and therefore could not mark the passage of time, thereby adding to their disorientation. The hoods made it difficult for the men to breathe, and resulted in a feeling of claustrophobia and anxiety among some of them. They could not see their torturers, and therefore could not foretell when or where the next blow would come from. This also allowed the torturers to work with impunity, as it would be impossible for the Hooded Men to identify them.

Finally, the hoods served to dehumanize the men being tortured. They no longer had a face or a name; their identities were eradicated. It became easier for their torturers to morally disengage by no longer considering their victims to be human, thereby escalating the frequency and intensity of the torture.

The four Hooded Men were brought to a helicopter; all thought they were going to be thrown out of it mid-flight. After a ride of approximately 30 minutes, the helicopter landed and the men were place in a Saracen or other type of Army vehicle. They were driven to a new location with a chute; they were rolled down it, coming to a stop on the floor of an old building.

Later they would learn this building was Shackelton Barracks, a British Army base in Ballykelly, Co. Derry.


  1. has already commented on The Hooded Men

  2. They were white, male and Catholic. They ranged in age from 19 to 40;

    Some would say just white niggers, aged between 19-40 yrs of age. The five techniques were being phased out for the optics in the mid 70's with the ECHR rulings in 1976 and the appeal in 1978. I stand to be corrected.

    Mean while back in Bessbrook barracks..(pg 202 Ten men dead by David Beresford)

    Raymond McCreesh in his own words...

    ' I'll give you a few more details-about my stay in Bessbrook barracks after I was captured, if thats any good to you. I was held for three days from Friday night 25.6.76 until Tuesday 29.6.76 when I was charged at a special court in Newry. During my time in the barracks I was subjected to the usual interrogation techniques. I was forced to excercise including press ups, jumping up and down (they must have thought I was a kangaroo). Standing spread-eagled against a wall for long periods with my finger tips barely touching the wall. One [security]branch man spat in my face several times. Pressure was asserted at the back of my ears. I was sujected to the usual verbal abuse. I was punched about the body and head. It was mostly thumps with the flat of the hand on the top of my head. On several occassions the butt of a cigarette was held close to my chin but the made sure not to leave any marks, although I could feel the heat.

    On one occasion the light in the interrogation room was put out and the branch man told me to make a go for itand see how far I get. This was after they had shown me a loaded short arm [pistol] one of them was carrying at this time. This is the procedure they went through. I don't know if it's any use to you but I'll give it to you anyway. The lights went out. One branch mans stuck his finger into my side, another flashed a lighter with out a wick causing only a bright spark from the flint and another banged the table to produce the noise of a shot..'

    My question is simple if the British said "Fair enough we were wrong then why were the same abuses allowed to be carried out in the late 1980's-early 1990's?

  3. Frankie,

    On paper it sounds good enough “we were wrong” but that didn’t mean much else and it certainly was not a guarantee that they wouldn’t be wrong again.
    The Hooded men were victims of severely brutal selective torture and torture in one form or another was going to continue no matter what.

    Tomorrow all the Brits need say is we got it wrong again and end up smelling like roses.

  4. Dr. Farrell,

    obviously I can’t say I enjoyed reading your articles on the Hooded Men but it is good to see this hidden almost forgotten unnecessary part of the conflict surface.

    Regardless if any of these men had any connection with the republican movement doesn’t soften the fact they were selected for severe brutal torture.

    Unfortunately the Brits have great leverage in Europe and their flimsy slap on the wrist was nothing more than a formality as torture didn’t end with the Hooded Men.

    It is good to see you are highlighting this as anyone interested in human rights and torture should be aware of this case.