After thumping me to the ground, the Prison Officer Brian Armour proceeded to give me a lecture on conformity, surrounded of course by his body guards, known to us as " the sadistic bunch".
Brian, nicknamed "the Red Rat", went on to state that he would criminalise me and promised that I would never be able to have children and would break me in the end: Seamus, I will cause so much damage to you that you won't be able to function properly again and you won't be able to have children.
After 4 years of systematic and barbaric treatment in the H Blocks of Long Kesh Prison Camp, I survived but Brian did not. He answered for his war crimes in 1988 when he was killed in a mine attack. I visited his grave many years later and informed him that I had prevailed against all odds and actually had 3 children - one girl and two boys, dismissing his earlier prediction.
He had tried to criminalise me but in the end he had only criminalised himself. When I revealed my past history to Thomas, my eldest son, he replied: "Dad, I won't be able to surpass those heights you have gained in your own life." I interjected, "Thomas, you can still achieve great things if you apply yourself, but you must have clear goals and be able to conquer your fears."
I ingrained in him a sense of history, teaching him to be aware of where we had come from, where we were in the present and where we were going into the future. Thankfully he understood.
In 2015 he set off on his epic journey of self-discovery, landing in South America and beginning his trek in Ushuaia, the southern tip of the Americas, known locally as "the end of the world." From there his adventure commenced, ending on the shores of the Arctic circle in the northern hemisphere, after enduring and conquering the jungles of Latin America, the arid desert of Atacama, the blistering heat of Central America and the freezing conditions of the Arctic.
Along the way the ghosts of Bobby Sands and Ernesto Che Guevara travelled with him, as he visited the execution site in La Higuera in Bolivia, where Che was killed in 1967. Later, in San Francisco in North America, Thomas stumbled upon a hunger strike in progress by the "Frisco Five", a group of activists protesting against police brutality. He approached the hunger strikers sitting on chairs outside police headquarters and recited a poem penned by Bobby Sands entitled "The Rhythm of Time".
Shortly afterwards, as a result of Thomas explaining the poem, a mother of one of the hunger strikers, Colombian born Maria Gutierrez, began to tell the large crowd surrounding the police station about the 1981 Irish hunger strike. His message had got through. His journey had taken him almost a year to complete and his personal achievement has been immeasurable in terms of self-advancement, self-discipline and self-awareness. I am immensely proud of my son and I hope the reader of this phenomenal travel journal will be also.
The book Thumbs Up is now on general release and is available on your country's Amazon site in both paperback and Kindle. Enjoy the journey of an Irishman, son of a Blanketman, and the 25,000 kilometers from Patagonia to the Arctic.
⏩ James Kearney is a former Blanketman.
"There is no source, no foreign force can break one man who knowsReplyDelete
That his free will no thing can kill and from this freedom grows"
Vol. Robert Sands
I think Bobby probably meant will power. Works as poetry but how applicable across life's spectrum?Delete
Will power/free will either way works for me in the sense of 'agency' ... meaning an ability to choose whether/when to respond.Delete
Of course Bobby was a young man when he wrote those lines and your interpretation is probably accurate.
Great piece James - and full credit to your son. That is a must read for me. You and Brian never saw eye to eye would be a mild way of putting it. He seemed to delight in the use of violence against naked prisoners. The beating myself and Pinta took from him and a gang of them one Friday afternoon was truly frightening. One of those involved, when he took over the wing, never laid a hand on anybody and gave us the full food allowance, rather than throwing it in the bin.ReplyDelete
A fascinating story, with a good ending, thankfully.ReplyDelete
I remember sadly reading about another blanketman who was brutalized and may have been deprived of his chance to procreate.
I will look forward to reading more stories from you, I hope, and your son's book.
The San Francisco incident reminds me of my experience there in 1982. A recently transplanted New Yorker, I had been protesting at the British Consulate in NYC the year before, while the hunger strikes were on.
A year on, I was searching for notice for any hunger strike commemoration in SF. Surely, with such a large Irish population, there would be something. I finally found a small mention of a rally a day or so on advance, to start at the SF City Hall, proceed down Market Street, and wind up at Union Square. Emma Groves was to be a guest speaker.
I was out late the night before, and "woe is me" I felt, when I arrived at City Hall a few minutes late past the advertised start time on that Saturday morning.
There was no one there, but the odd passerby. I was astounded that an Irish event would have started on time, and wished that I had gotten to bed earlier the night before.
I was about to leave, thinking that it was a beautiful day, and I should make the most of it, when I passed by a lone individual with a tricolor.
I asked him if he was with the commemoration, and he said yes, and "Hurry, we're getting ready to leave".
"Who's we?", I thought, and then I met up with about eight other Irish Americans, previously unnoticed, and forty other folks with noticeably darker features.
We quickly set off from City Hall, chanting and holding up signs, and the flag.
I couldn't believe that this was the turnout for the hunger strikers, a year later; in 1981, there had been thousands in New York.
And who were these other folks? They outnumbered the Irish types four to one.
When we finally got to Union Square, Emma Groves was there as promised, and I got to ask one of my fellow marchers who he was, and where he and his comrades were from. Iran, he said. They had come out to support the Irish because the Irish had supported them recently.
I was so impressed, that it took my mind off wondering what happened to all the Irish that reputedly populated SF. Still a mystery to me today!
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