James Kearney ✒ When I arrived into H1 from Crumlin Road Prison, I was introduced to the Wing OC, Bobby Sands, who gave me a run- down on the situation prevailing at that time. 

I also met for the first time, Tom McElwee from South Derry and Kevin Lynch from Dungiven in North Derry. All three men would later die on hunger strike four years later in the Prison hospital.
 
The wing we were in also contained Loyalist remand prisoners like ourselves, a mixture of UDA and UVF men. But one Loyalist stood out among the rest,  a ruggedly handsome fellow called Lenny Murphy, who was in charge of the UVF prisoners. He was quite the charmer and wouldn't allow any of us Republicans to walk by him without saying hello.

At the dinner table in the wing canteen I sat facing Bobby Sands and Gerard Hanratty, while to my right sat Sean McClenaghan (Sam Foot). During our meals Bobby would be talkative, asking about who was coming up to see me on the visits, enquiring about whether my mother was going to send up more of her delicious pork and onion roll etc. He was always rather cautious about discussing politics because of the Loyalists in the canteen with us and was more inclined to talk about football results, or continue the search for the lyrics of a song he had heard on the radio.

I remember vividly one afternoon in the canteen, after Bobby returned from a visit with his wife Geraldine, the look of sadness on his strained face as he sat down facing me. When Sean McClenaghan -  who was Bobby's cell mate at the time, inquired about the visit, Bobby replied: "She said she is not coming back and that the marriage is over! " There was an immediate silence from around the table. As I looked into Bobby's eyes and saw the look of despair in them, I felt an incredible sense of sadness for him and thanked the Gods that I was single and unattached.

One afternoon while Bobby, Sean and myself walked in circles around the exercise yard we were joined by Lenny Murphy, who greeted Bobby in a friendly manner and began complaining about the lack of discipline among his own men. He went on:

I can't knock this rabble of mine into shape, these so called Loyalists of mine are a disgrace and an embarrassment, unlike the Republicans under your command Bobby. Now, they are soldiers who respond to discipline.

When I glanced at Bobby I was surprised to see him empathise with Lenny and nod his head in agreement.

The discussion then turned to the subject of the Shankill Butchers and the identity of "Mister X ", the mastermind behind the gruesome operation. However, Lenny went on to castigate those responsible and described the Butchers as pure animals and psychopaths, and we all agreed. It was only years later that the identity of "Mister X " was revealed, leading to the execution of the Master Butcher, Lenny Murphy, by the Provisional IRA in November 1982.


As the summer of 1977 wore on, the days became warmer and the nights even more so. In August the
"King of Rock and Roll", Elvis Presley, died of a heart attack and left all of us music lovers, including Bobby Sands, devastated. 

As we contemplated the death of Elvis, little did we know the death and horror which awaited us on the road ahead. As we lay on our backs listening to Bobby strumming his guitar, I for one thought of home and the loved ones I had left behind. I am certain Bobby felt the same.


⏩ James Kearney is a former Blanketman.

Strange Encounters ➖ H Block 1 ➖ Long Kesh Prison Camp ➖ June / July 1977

James Kearney ✒ When I arrived into H1 from Crumlin Road Prison, I was introduced to the Wing OC, Bobby Sands, who gave me a run- down on the situation prevailing at that time. 

I also met for the first time, Tom McElwee from South Derry and Kevin Lynch from Dungiven in North Derry. All three men would later die on hunger strike four years later in the Prison hospital.
 
The wing we were in also contained Loyalist remand prisoners like ourselves, a mixture of UDA and UVF men. But one Loyalist stood out among the rest,  a ruggedly handsome fellow called Lenny Murphy, who was in charge of the UVF prisoners. He was quite the charmer and wouldn't allow any of us Republicans to walk by him without saying hello.

At the dinner table in the wing canteen I sat facing Bobby Sands and Gerard Hanratty, while to my right sat Sean McClenaghan (Sam Foot). During our meals Bobby would be talkative, asking about who was coming up to see me on the visits, enquiring about whether my mother was going to send up more of her delicious pork and onion roll etc. He was always rather cautious about discussing politics because of the Loyalists in the canteen with us and was more inclined to talk about football results, or continue the search for the lyrics of a song he had heard on the radio.

I remember vividly one afternoon in the canteen, after Bobby returned from a visit with his wife Geraldine, the look of sadness on his strained face as he sat down facing me. When Sean McClenaghan -  who was Bobby's cell mate at the time, inquired about the visit, Bobby replied: "She said she is not coming back and that the marriage is over! " There was an immediate silence from around the table. As I looked into Bobby's eyes and saw the look of despair in them, I felt an incredible sense of sadness for him and thanked the Gods that I was single and unattached.

One afternoon while Bobby, Sean and myself walked in circles around the exercise yard we were joined by Lenny Murphy, who greeted Bobby in a friendly manner and began complaining about the lack of discipline among his own men. He went on:

I can't knock this rabble of mine into shape, these so called Loyalists of mine are a disgrace and an embarrassment, unlike the Republicans under your command Bobby. Now, they are soldiers who respond to discipline.

When I glanced at Bobby I was surprised to see him empathise with Lenny and nod his head in agreement.

The discussion then turned to the subject of the Shankill Butchers and the identity of "Mister X ", the mastermind behind the gruesome operation. However, Lenny went on to castigate those responsible and described the Butchers as pure animals and psychopaths, and we all agreed. It was only years later that the identity of "Mister X " was revealed, leading to the execution of the Master Butcher, Lenny Murphy, by the Provisional IRA in November 1982.


As the summer of 1977 wore on, the days became warmer and the nights even more so. In August the
"King of Rock and Roll", Elvis Presley, died of a heart attack and left all of us music lovers, including Bobby Sands, devastated. 

As we contemplated the death of Elvis, little did we know the death and horror which awaited us on the road ahead. As we lay on our backs listening to Bobby strumming his guitar, I for one thought of home and the loved ones I had left behind. I am certain Bobby felt the same.


⏩ James Kearney is a former Blanketman.

3 comments:

  1. some good historical gems here James - Bobby walking the yard with Lenny Murphy is a great nugget you have retrieved.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That is pure gold. Great article.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Not that odd, Basher Bates apparently thought highly of The Dark.

    ReplyDelete