This morning I received the bad news that my old friend and comrade, Paul McGlinchey, has died.
Paul was diagnosed with cancer about 4 years ago and up until recent months Gerry 'Blute' McDonnell and I would visit him in his home on the shores of Loch Beag close to Moneyglass. He was in and out of hospital and we would also visit him there.
Despite his illness he was always in great form and whenever we visited him at home his wife, Cindy, was insistent we never went home with an empty belly. Paul also got us the odd bottle of poitín which was distilled in some far away place that will remain a secret!
I remember the first time I saw Paul and it was January 1977 when I went on the blanket protest in H2. He was on a different wing and when we went to mass in one of the canteens we didn't get to speak because the scumbag screws would've beaten us.
In April of that year with the numbers on protest growing the beatings had stopped (for a short while) and we moved to H5 and we could speak at mass. Paul was from Bellaghy South Derry, and with me being from Lenadoon we would go to lads from our areas because the mass didn't last too long so we tried to find out as much from each other about what was happening at home. We weren't taking visits so we had to rely on monthly letters or new men joining the protest.
In July 77 I was moved on to another wing and I ended up in the cell with him and would remain there until my release in July 1979. I'm not only saying it but during those two years we never had a bad fallout and we never came to blows. It's hard to believe we were locked in a small concrete cell 24 hours a day. We didn't have any reading material except religious magazines and one of the few things we would argue over was religion. We were two young lads aged 19 and being from catholic backgrounds we never questioned the existence of a god but I soon became an atheist although at that time I didn't fully understand it.
We were opposites in other ways in that Paul was from the country (a Culchie) and me a city boy (a city slicker) and he was more of an extrovert than me. I was shy but as time wore on I started to come out of my shell. Most of the 44 lads lads on our wing were under 21 and being so young we got on like kids at times with the slegging. The characters on the wing would give us all nicknames and Paul had a few such as Chewing Gum Face. He wrote in his book that I was called Chopper because I had white teeth! (not true because I had the nickname from I was about 12).
As time wore on the screws became more brutal and in March 78 we embarked on a no-wash protest. That was a very hard time and when we started to spread the shit on the walls and ceilings we didn't know how long this phase would last. Every couple of weeks we were moved on to a wing that had been cleaned and this was when the screws were at their most sadistic. We were beaten and forced over a table where the scum would grab us by the balls and spread our cheeks apart. It was a relief when we were back in a cell but we knew the same thing would happen in another fortnight. We rarely talked about what went on but Paul wrote in his book about being sexually assaulted.
Despite those terrible times we got through it. The last night I spent in the cell with Paul was 25th July and I promised him I would visit his mother. A few weeks later a friend drove me up to Bellaghy and it was there I met Paul's mother and some of his siblings. They couldn't make us more welcome and when I spoke about the blanket protest I didn't go into too much detail. Paul was one of the longest men on the protest joining it September 1976 until it ended in October 1981. He was next cell to Francis Hughes when he went on hunger strike and he confided in me some of the things Francie told him. ( I was out when he was sentenced to life so never met him).
The next time I met Paul was about ten years ago at a rally in East Tyrone. He told me a few years after that he didn't know how I'd be with him because of our politics but was very pleased we dandered along the country roads yarning away. About four years ago he published his book, Truth Will Out. and he asked me to speak at the launch here in Béal Feirste which I did. It was great to see some lads we were on the blanket with and we had a laugh at how old we were getting!
Since then I'd see Paul every couple of months and on one occasion he picked me up from a bus stop and drove me around parts of South Derry I hadn't been to such as the place where Rodaí MacCorlaí is said to be buried at Duneane. We also went to places where IRA volunteers were killed and of course the graves of two of the ten hunger strikers, Francis Hughes and Tom McElwee. Whilst standing in the cemetery we spoke about them and also Paul's older brother, Dominic, who was on many operations with Francis Hughes. I met Dominic when we were on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol in 1984. He knew I had been a cellmate of Paul's and we would have many yarns in the canteen on the 3s in A Wing.
I could write a lot more about Paul but I'll finish here by sending condolences to his wife Cindy, his children, grandchildren and wider family circle.