Anthony McIntyre ⚱ shares his thoughts on a man he first met in prison when both were still in their teens and who died in April. 

Kevin Deehan

Friday the 13th and freezing was how I remember my first encounter with Magilligan Prison. Mid-December, it was not the warmest clime in the world to be. Fortunately, unlike the huts in the cages of Long Kesh, Magilligan had heating pipes running the length of the accommodation. Inside it was warm but in the windswept yard it was something else. Baltic, as they might say today.

Still, Friday the 13th did not herald an inauspicious start to my life in the camp situated just across a stretch of water from Moville in Donegal.

Locationally, it was a jail better suited for Derry prisoners. For Belfast men, it was anything but convenient. Visits invariably meant a long mini-bus journey for relatives, a camel ride some called it. But Long Kesh had been burned and other than a small number of people, it was closed doors for many months.

Cage F at the outermost end of the camp was well populated by Derry men. It is where I met Kevin Deehan in 1975. He had just received a seven year sentence for possession. I had not previously known him as he spent his remand in the Juvenile Detention Centre in the Crum, having been arrested when he was 16, a fate I was fortunate to escape, spending only one night in the dismal abode in the most contentious of circumstances.

Kevin was about nine months younger than me, yet intense beyond his years. Dark, tight knit hair, he even looked at you during conversation with a gaze that was penetrating, his forehead burrowed in contemplation. We were friendly from the outset, teens sort of hanging out together. His passion was planning escapes. He had no desire to serve out the remainder of his sentence under the corrugated roof of a Nissan hut. He talked about escaping endlessly, considering every possibility no matter how outlandish it may have seemed before cutting through the improbable with Occam's razor. 

In Magilligan, escaping was easier than in the Kesh. A number of successful efforts took place, including one by Danny Keenan from our own Cage F. It was Danny’s second escape, the longer hair of teenage prisoners clipped away by Teasy-Weasy, less well known as Paddy McDonald from Newry - shot dead in Dublin in 1991 - to help make up the sleeping dummy that would dupe the screws doing the following morning's head count.

After studying the form, Kevin's opportunity came. He opted to conceal himself in a large blue plastic receptacle used for transporting bed linen from the cages to the main prison laundry. Danny Keenan had gone out in a much larger skip under the noses of the screws, so Deeks, as we knew him, fancied his chances in something less obtrusive. Unfortunately, it failed. 

There were a lot of teenagers in Cage F. As well as Kevin, I was very friendly with Eamon Doc McDermott. He too had been 16 when he came into the Crum. Little did the three of us know then that a few years later we would, after our release, return to prison and experience the deprivation and brutality of the Blanket protest. 

Kevin and Willie Doc, also from Cage F, came back into jail in 1979 and were sentenced to life in 1980. They had been booked on the long haul flight without first class service, for the first year not even seats but a dirty pillowless mattress on a damp cell floor.  

I didn’t end up on too many prison wings with Kevin. That was the luck of the draw. Just over a year after the big escape of September 1983 – how he would have loved to have been trying his luck on that one, this time in a food lorry – we were on a wing and we discussed the ongoing IRA campaign. Kevin didn't whinge about things, he thought about them. His logical mind led to him concluding that plodding on relentlessly just to stand still was not the best way to go and that at some point republicans would have to reach out to the unionist working class. He had some thoughts written down which he asked me to run an eye over. 

I told him that what he was suggesting would end up being labelled as a reformist echo of the Sticks and stages theory, and as such, I felt it would end up not getting serious consideration on the wings. Little did, unless stamped with the imprimatur of the leadership. He might even be maligned for suggesting anything other than fight on to the last drop of everybody else's blood, and the fact that he was highly popular would not see him spared. But Kevin was nothing if not determined. His daughter said “one big thing about my father is that he would never back down. He was an absolute fighter and fought for what he believed in." He would have remained undaunted regardless of how others responded to his thinking. 

The ideas he was exploring reflected what Brendan Hughes had also been advocating. Both were so unlike lemmings that if they saw a cliff approach they were in no haste to leap off it just because somebody else thought it a good idea.  I suggested he revisit the matter, expand his jottings and put together a paper. But I was moved far too quickly and am unaware of it ever coming to fruition.

I don’t recall seeing him after that in prison. The next time I met him was when he arrived unannounced at my home in Springhill. He had been visiting somebody close by who told him where I lived. It was nice of him to drop in. If we discussed politics I don't recall. He told me that he was into business building at that point in his life. But he was still the same intense, contemplative Kevin. He always had a clear sense of where he wanted to go and of how to get there. That he became a successful businessman surprised me not in the slightest. I would only have been taken aback had I heard he failed. Kevin, with his sharp brain, ability, drive and the Don’t Quit perspective that success is only failure turned inside out, would always find a way to overcome adversity. 

The former blanketman, Dixie Elliot recalled his generosity: "he never forgot where he came from and was very generous to old Republicans.” So, it was only to be expected that old comrades “lined the street outside his family home as the funeral passed.” Among those paying their respects were former prisoners, some still in Sinn Fein, others with the Ex-Prisoners Outreach Programme. The one time Bogside boy-soldier was being remembered for the step he made into the gap of danger to put it up to the state that had massacred an unarmed civilian population on the streets of his city. The year he first went to prison saw a number of IRA teenage fatalities in the same city. Being in the IRA in Derry for young people was no summer stroll.

Like Peggy McCourt, shortly before him, Kevin died from Covid. He spent 50 days in Altnegelvin Hospital fighting it before it finally took him. For his family, there was a "void that can never be filled", his daughter describing her grief, “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It’s been an absolutely horrific experience.” 

All life ends in destruction. Kevin Deehan made sure he constructed quite a lot before that point was reached. That is the measure of the man.

 ⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

Kevin Deehan



Anthony McIntyre ⚱ shares his thoughts on a man he first met in prison when both were still in their teens and who died in April. 

Kevin Deehan

Friday the 13th and freezing was how I remember my first encounter with Magilligan Prison. Mid-December, it was not the warmest clime in the world to be. Fortunately, unlike the huts in the cages of Long Kesh, Magilligan had heating pipes running the length of the accommodation. Inside it was warm but in the windswept yard it was something else. Baltic, as they might say today.

Still, Friday the 13th did not herald an inauspicious start to my life in the camp situated just across a stretch of water from Moville in Donegal.

Locationally, it was a jail better suited for Derry prisoners. For Belfast men, it was anything but convenient. Visits invariably meant a long mini-bus journey for relatives, a camel ride some called it. But Long Kesh had been burned and other than a small number of people, it was closed doors for many months.

Cage F at the outermost end of the camp was well populated by Derry men. It is where I met Kevin Deehan in 1975. He had just received a seven year sentence for possession. I had not previously known him as he spent his remand in the Juvenile Detention Centre in the Crum, having been arrested when he was 16, a fate I was fortunate to escape, spending only one night in the dismal abode in the most contentious of circumstances.

Kevin was about nine months younger than me, yet intense beyond his years. Dark, tight knit hair, he even looked at you during conversation with a gaze that was penetrating, his forehead burrowed in contemplation. We were friendly from the outset, teens sort of hanging out together. His passion was planning escapes. He had no desire to serve out the remainder of his sentence under the corrugated roof of a Nissan hut. He talked about escaping endlessly, considering every possibility no matter how outlandish it may have seemed before cutting through the improbable with Occam's razor. 

In Magilligan, escaping was easier than in the Kesh. A number of successful efforts took place, including one by Danny Keenan from our own Cage F. It was Danny’s second escape, the longer hair of teenage prisoners clipped away by Teasy-Weasy, less well known as Paddy McDonald from Newry - shot dead in Dublin in 1991 - to help make up the sleeping dummy that would dupe the screws doing the following morning's head count.

After studying the form, Kevin's opportunity came. He opted to conceal himself in a large blue plastic receptacle used for transporting bed linen from the cages to the main prison laundry. Danny Keenan had gone out in a much larger skip under the noses of the screws, so Deeks, as we knew him, fancied his chances in something less obtrusive. Unfortunately, it failed. 

There were a lot of teenagers in Cage F. As well as Kevin, I was very friendly with Eamon Doc McDermott. He too had been 16 when he came into the Crum. Little did the three of us know then that a few years later we would, after our release, return to prison and experience the deprivation and brutality of the Blanket protest. 

Kevin and Willie Doc, also from Cage F, came back into jail in 1979 and were sentenced to life in 1980. They had been booked on the long haul flight without first class service, for the first year not even seats but a dirty pillowless mattress on a damp cell floor.  

I didn’t end up on too many prison wings with Kevin. That was the luck of the draw. Just over a year after the big escape of September 1983 – how he would have loved to have been trying his luck on that one, this time in a food lorry – we were on a wing and we discussed the ongoing IRA campaign. Kevin didn't whinge about things, he thought about them. His logical mind led to him concluding that plodding on relentlessly just to stand still was not the best way to go and that at some point republicans would have to reach out to the unionist working class. He had some thoughts written down which he asked me to run an eye over. 

I told him that what he was suggesting would end up being labelled as a reformist echo of the Sticks and stages theory, and as such, I felt it would end up not getting serious consideration on the wings. Little did, unless stamped with the imprimatur of the leadership. He might even be maligned for suggesting anything other than fight on to the last drop of everybody else's blood, and the fact that he was highly popular would not see him spared. But Kevin was nothing if not determined. His daughter said “one big thing about my father is that he would never back down. He was an absolute fighter and fought for what he believed in." He would have remained undaunted regardless of how others responded to his thinking. 

The ideas he was exploring reflected what Brendan Hughes had also been advocating. Both were so unlike lemmings that if they saw a cliff approach they were in no haste to leap off it just because somebody else thought it a good idea.  I suggested he revisit the matter, expand his jottings and put together a paper. But I was moved far too quickly and am unaware of it ever coming to fruition.

I don’t recall seeing him after that in prison. The next time I met him was when he arrived unannounced at my home in Springhill. He had been visiting somebody close by who told him where I lived. It was nice of him to drop in. If we discussed politics I don't recall. He told me that he was into business building at that point in his life. But he was still the same intense, contemplative Kevin. He always had a clear sense of where he wanted to go and of how to get there. That he became a successful businessman surprised me not in the slightest. I would only have been taken aback had I heard he failed. Kevin, with his sharp brain, ability, drive and the Don’t Quit perspective that success is only failure turned inside out, would always find a way to overcome adversity. 

The former blanketman, Dixie Elliot recalled his generosity: "he never forgot where he came from and was very generous to old Republicans.” So, it was only to be expected that old comrades “lined the street outside his family home as the funeral passed.” Among those paying their respects were former prisoners, some still in Sinn Fein, others with the Ex-Prisoners Outreach Programme. The one time Bogside boy-soldier was being remembered for the step he made into the gap of danger to put it up to the state that had massacred an unarmed civilian population on the streets of his city. The year he first went to prison saw a number of IRA teenage fatalities in the same city. Being in the IRA in Derry for young people was no summer stroll.

Like Peggy McCourt, shortly before him, Kevin died from Covid. He spent 50 days in Altnegelvin Hospital fighting it before it finally took him. For his family, there was a "void that can never be filled", his daughter describing her grief, “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It’s been an absolutely horrific experience.” 

All life ends in destruction. Kevin Deehan made sure he constructed quite a lot before that point was reached. That is the measure of the man.

 ⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

5 comments:

  1. The sleeping Dummy, similar to Alcatraz, who said sometimes TV films cannot provide good workable ideas.

    Caoimhin O'Muraile

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Anthony I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts this peice has moved us all we are all so grateful that you took the time to payyour respect to my father. Your words are so beautiful and kind. We know what type of father, husband, grandfather and man my father is however we are so humbled to know its not only us who sees the man he is

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Kaydie. His loss was immense.

      Delete
  3. Mackers that was unreal mo chara and what a read, gave me an insight to a man i never knew, makes me all the more proud to have known you and spend a period of my time in the blocks in the cell opposite you. Im so proud to have known you and after reading that its no wonder comrade

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tam - he was innovative and friendly. You would have enjoyed meeting Kevin - infinitely more than anything you got out of meeting me!!

      Delete