By prisoners from E1 Landing, Portlaoise Prison, 1999.


Grateful thanks to the following for their help, support, assistance and encouragement, and all those who helped with the typing and word processing over the past few months. Many thanks to Cian Sharkhin, the editor of the book, Mr Bill Donoghue, Governor, Portlaoise, Mr Seán Wynne, supervising teacher, the education unit in Portlaoise Prison and the education staff, especially Zack, Helena and Jane. Education officers Bill Carroll and Dave McDonald, Rita Kelly, writer, print unit, Arbour Hill.

First Print : November 1999, reprinted March 2000, illustrations by D O’Hare, Zack and Natasha. Photograph selection : Eamonn Kelly and Harry Melia.


Torturous thoughts travel through my dungeon

cobwebs cling to each and every wall

spiders climb each web slowly.

Torturing the nerve channels superbly.

Bitter thoughts engrave my dungeon

leaving a mark for potential torture.

I fight to control my cells

most of the time I succeed

though the odd spider conquers my brain,

to the delight of the demons.

I hear their laughter and contemplate revenge

knowing it is I who will prevail.

Paul Dillon. (Next : ‘I Should Have Known Better’, by Paul Dillon.)


Where politics once stagnated, events in Northern Ireland now chase each other helter-skelter. As ‘Magill’ went to press, a new joint government document turned recent perceptions head over heels. Fionnuala O’Connor charts the doubts behind the instant reactions. From ‘Magill’ magazine, February 1998.

Republicans fear that the central premise on which they came to the table has been torn up, unionists are torn between hoping that that is so and fears that the governments are once more dithering. Their decision to oust the UDP may have come too late to re-establish authority and the document of Tuesday January 27th last might have redressed the balance and eased nationalist discontent but there is a real and general concern that Dublin and London have been blown this way and that, showing dangerous weakness.

The first IRA cease-fire broke down when Sinn Féin’s admission to talks was repeatedly postponed, and those talks themselves got bogged down as unionists stalled on format and rules. Dublin’s input has been vital at several points, fundamentally in drawing up the joint framework document of February 1995. John Bruton as taoiseach caused frequent anxious moments to those most involved in creating and maintaining movement towards negotiation, principally SDLP leader John Hume and the Sinn Féin leadership under Gerry Adams. In their eyes, Bruton’s mistaken conviction that he could bring unionists on board and his distaste for Sinn Féin distracted him from what all concerned saw as the Irish government’s chief role – to speak for the limited but defined nationalist consensus in dealings with the British government.

Irish officials were largely responsible for the framework document’s scope and nuance – theirs , not John Bruton’s, was the passion for the underlying principles and, in detailing how ‘Northern Ireland’ could be reconstructed along lines of equality for two competing political identities and in describing the possible reach of North-South bodies, the framework gave republicans hope, and a fig-leaf – a chance to argue that they could achieve arrangements that at least allowed for gradual transition to a united Ireland. They decided it could be a basis for negotiation…


Like their comrades in the H-Blocks and Armagh, the Irish POW’s in England have resisted criminalisation against all the odds, with the same conviction articulated by Joe O’Connell, speaking from the dock at the Old Bailey during the 1977 ‘Balcombe Street’ trial – “We admit to no crimes. The real crimes and guilt are those British imperialism has committed against our people.” From ‘Iris’ magazine, July/August 1982.

There are currently 67 Irish political prisoners in jail in England, 53 of them republicans and at least 14 of them totally innocent victims of political trials. Five of the POW’s are women, held in Durham Jail, and there is one remand prisoner, John McComb from Belfast (the “terrorist” mentioned here) , who has been in Brixton for several months now.

Over half the prisoners are from the North, the rest are from the twenty-six counties ; thirty-two of them are originally from Belfast. There are supposed to be no political prisoners in England, no political trials, but in reality the arrests, trials and prison conditions of the POW’s are all highly political. Most of the trials took place in an anti-Irish, highly prejudicial atmosphere, the circumstances of the arrests were often indiscriminate, and many cases involved paid
agent provocateurs and police set-ups.

The nature of the evidence was usually flimsy, and 80% of cases have been under the notorious catch-all conspiracy laws, where the onus of proving innocence is on the defendant. The length of sentence has invariably been savage, as in the North. The vast majority of the POW’s are classified as top-security category ‘A’…


“We must take no steps backward, our steps must be onward, for if we don’t, the martyrs that died for you, for me, for this country, will haunt us forever” – Máire Drumm, pictured, left.

On the 28th October 1976, the then Sinn Féin Vice President, Máire Drumm, was shot dead in her hospital bed by a pro-British loyalist death squad. She was born in the townland of Killeen, South Armagh, on the 22nd October 1919 to a staunchly republican family (the McAteer’s) and her mother had been active in the Tan War and the Civil War.

In 1940, Máire joined Sinn Féin in Dublin but, in 1942, she moved to Belfast, which became her adopted city, and she continued her republican activities. Every weekend, she would carry food parcels to the republican prisoners in Crumlin Road Jail and it was here that she met Jimmy Drumm, who she married in 1946. When the IRA renewed the armed struggle in the late 1950s, Jimmy was again interned without trial from 1957 to 1961, and Máire became more actively involved in the civil rights movements of the 1960s. She worked tirelessly to rehouse the thousands of nationalists forced from their homes by unionist/loyalist pogroms.

During her work as a civil rights activist, Máire emerged as one of the republican movement’s most gifted leaders and organisers and was the first to warn that the British troops sent in as ‘peace keepers’ were a force of occupation. Máire was a dynamic and inspirational speaker – once, when addressing a rally in Derry after the shooting of two men from the city, Máire said – “The people of Derry are up off their bended knees. For Christ sake stay up. People should not shout up the IRA, they should join the IRA…” In 1972, she became Vice President of the then Sinn Féin organisation and, due to her dedication and the dedication of her family to the republican struggle, they were continuously harassed by the RUC, British Army and by loyalist paramilitaries.

The British Army even constructed an observation post facing their home in Andersonstown and, at one point, her husband and son were interned at the same time. Her husband, Jimmy, became known as the most jailed republican in the Six Counties and Máire herself was also jailed twice for ‘seditious’ speeches, once along with her daughter.

In 1976, at only 57 years of age, her eyesight began to fail and she was admitted for a cataract operation to the Mater Hospital, Belfast. On the 28th October 1976, as Máire lay in her hospital bed, loyalist killers wearing doctors white coats walked into her room and shot her dead. Máire Drumm, freedom fighter and voice of the people, was buried in Milltown Cemetery.


It’s practically impossible to write about William Keogh (pictured, left) without mentioning his pledge-breaking colleague and fellow charlatan, John Sadleir. Both men were born into difficult times, but so were many others and not all of them resorted to being ‘snake oil’ sales people, the path chosen by Keogh and Sadleir. Their 19th century Ireland was one in which approximately six-and-a-half million people ‘lived’ in, which was a rise in population of about three-and-a-quarter million since the introduction of the potato into the country in the middle of the 18th Century (ie 1760, population of approximately three-and-a-quarter million ; 1815 – population of approximately six-and-a-half million).

With the potato being in itself highly nutritional and a good basis for an adequate diet, as well as being a prolific crop, the poor were able to get better use from what little land they had and use their land to support more people, which led to an increase in the population. Also, the potato needed less land than, for instance, grain, and allowed the farmer to grow other crop elsewhere which he could then sell. Unfortunately for the Irish ‘peasant’ farmer (as the British described us) , this ‘good fortune’ was noticed by the British ‘landlords’ and rents were increased at the same period that land was scarce (due to the population increase) – the ‘rent’ for a ‘holding’ quadrupled between 1760 and 1815, so the ‘holding’ (ie small farm) was sub-let, usually to the farmers sons, so that the ‘rent owed’ for that patch of soil could be shared by the family.

However, the Irish spirit was strong, and the British ‘landlords’ and their agents did not have it all their own way. The so-called ‘lower-ranks’, the ‘wretched people’, those who wore ‘the mark of slavery’, had organised themselves as best they could ; secret, underground oath-bound societies fought back – the Whiteboys, Oakboys, Moonlighters, the Defenders and the Steelboys : fences belonging to British ‘landlords’ were ripped-up, the ‘masters’ cattle were taken, his haystacks and crop removed, his ‘Big House’ attacked and, when possible, levelled and burnt, and he himself, and his minions, put to death when the opportunity presented itself to do so. It was into this ‘melting-pot of madness’ that a child was born in County Tipperary in 1815 – John Sadleir.

At the time that John Sadleir was growing-up, a man named George Henry Moore (who was connected to, and supported by, the Catholic Church Hierarchy) was organising a ‘pressure-group’ which was to be called the ‘Irish Brigade’ to lobby Westminster on behalf of the Catholic Church, its members, and its ‘flock’ – John Sadleir joined the ‘Irish Brigade’ lobby-group and became a prominent member of it, as did about twenty liberal-minded British MP’s, including William Keogh. When John Sadleir was 36 years of age (in 1851) the British administration introduced the ‘Ecclesiastical Titles Bill’ (on 6th February 1851) making it ‘illegal’ for any Catholic prelate (ie priest, arch-bishop, bishop etc) to be that which the Vatican claimed him to be – that is, under the ‘Ecclesiastical Titles Bill’, it was deemed to be ‘a crime’ to be described as the ‘parish priest of XXX’, ‘arch-bishop of XXX’, ‘bishop of XXX’ etc – in short, the assumption of titles by Roman catholic priests was outlawed by Westminster : the British wanted to curb the activities and influence of the catholic church, but this ‘law’ was not always followed-up (ie enforced) on the ground (what we in Ireland would call ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem’).

However, enforced or not, the ‘Titles Bill’ was vehemently opposed by John Sadleir and William Keogh and ‘The Irish Brigade’ (who were by now known by the nick-name of ‘The Popes Brass Band’, such was their support for the catholic hierarchy) and others, too, were opposed to the ‘Bill’ – a group known as the ‘Tenant Right League’, which had been founded in 1850 by ‘Young Ireland’ Movement leaders Charles Gavan Duffy and Frederick Lucas (to secure better conditions for those that worked the land) also campaigned against ‘The Ecclesiastical Titles Bill’ : the ‘Tenant Right League’ was formed in City Assembly House in William Street in Dublin in August 1850, after a four-day conference which was attended by a right mix of people – magistrates, ‘landlords’, tenants themselves, priests (of both Catholic and Presbyterian persuasion) and newspaper journalists and editors. In his own constituency, where he was entertained to a public banquet on the 28th October, 1851 – 164 years ago on this date – William Keogh declared, in the presence of Archbishop McHale : “I will not support any party which does not make it the first ingredient of their political existence to repeal the Ecclesiastical Titles Act…” and again, in Cork, on the 8th March, 1852, he declared : “So help me God, no matter who the Minister may be, no matter who the party in power may be, I will support neither that minister nor that party unless he comes into power prepared to carry the measures which universal popular Ireland demands…” As the British themselves are fond of saying – ‘Fine words butter no parsnips’.

In 1852, ‘The Irish Brigade’ and ‘The Tenant Right League’ joined forces to get the ‘Ecclesiastical Titles Bill’ revoked and, in July that year (1852) the new grouping came together as ‘The Independent Irish Party’, which declared that “legislative independence is the clear, eternal and inalienable right of this country, and that no settlement of the affairs of Ireland can be permanent until that right is recognised and established…(we will) take the most prompt and effective measures for the protection of the lives and interests of the Irish people, and the attainment of their natural rights…” John Sadleir and William Keogh, two of the more prominent MP’s in ‘The Independent Irish Party’ (of which there were about forty, as the new ‘IIP’ was joined by Irish MP’s in Westminster) , like all the other ‘IIP’ representatives, took a pledge not to accept any Office in a Westminster administration or to co-operate with same until, among other things, the ‘Ecclesiastical Titles Bill’ was done away with ; however, the British had seen developments like this elsewhere in their ’empire’ and were preparing to manoeuvre things in their own favour.

The new ‘Independent Irish Party’ was flexing its muscle ; as William Keogh (a barrister and MP for Athlone) put it – “I will not support any party which does not make it the first ingredient of their political existence to repeal the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. So help me God …” By this stage, Charles Gavan Duffy had been elected as an ‘Independent Irish Party’ MP to Westminster, representing the New Ross area of Wexford. The ‘IIP’, with forty members elected to Westminster, did actually hold the balance of power in ‘Lord’ Derby’s Tory-led government in Westminster and so pressed their claims with that administration regarding the ‘Titles Bill’ and other matters pertaining to Ireland – but they got no satisfaction from ‘Lord’ Derby or any of his Ministers, so the ‘IIP’ ‘pulled the plug’ and the British government of the day collapsed. The main opposition party in Westminster, the ‘Whigs’, led by ‘Lord’ Aberdeen, apparently promised John Sadleir IIP MP and William Keogh IIP MP that the ‘Whigs’ would be sympathetic to the interests of the ‘Independent Irish Party’ and the two Irish MP’s, in turn, passed this information on to the ruling body of their own party and it was agreed to support the ‘Whigs’ in their bid for power which, with ‘IIP’ support, they got. But no sooner had ‘Lord’ Aberdeen climbed into the prime ministerial chair when his political promises to Sadleir and Keogh were cast aside ; he was, it seems, prepared to ‘honour’ part of the agreement he made with the ‘Independent Irish Party’ representatives and party, but not enough to satisfy them, and certainly not enough when compared with what he said he would do. This led to rows and bickering within the ‘IIP’, a signal which ‘Lord’ Aberdeen picked-up on and used to his own advantage , in true British ‘divide-and-conquer’-style.

‘Lord’ Aberdeen offered John Sadleir IIP MP the position of ‘Lord of The Treasury’ in the new British administration, and also ‘threw a bone’ to the other dog, William Keogh IIP MP – that of the Office of British Solicitor-General for Ireland and, despite already having their parsnips well buttered, both men took the offer, and the Catholic Church, subservient as ever to the British, when push came to shove, supported them for doing so! This tore not only the ‘Independent Irish Party’ asunder (although it did manage to ‘hobble’ on for another few years, disintegrating along the way) until finally it disbanded in 1858, but it also disappointed Charles Gavan Duffy IIP MP, one of the more prominent members of the party, so much so that, in October 1855, he emigrated to Australia in despair. As ‘Lord of The (British) Treasury’, John Sadleir aspired to a lifestyle which he no doubt considered to be his of right – he was, after all, a British Minister and he also owned, by now, a community-type bank/financial house, in Ireland – the ‘Tipperary Joint-Stock Bank’ : however, such was his taste for the fine life and his desire to ‘keep in’ with his new ‘friends’, when his bank was found to be shy by over one million pounds the shame was too much and he killed himself in 1856. However, his old buddy, the British Solicitor-General for Ireland, William Keogh, somehow managed to ‘soldier-on’ and was asked to perform another task for his British pay-masters and he became a British Judge, in Ireland, during the infamous Fenian Trials of 1865-1867, where he verbally cracked many an Irish rebel skull, saving his employers from getting their hands even more bloodier. His conscience must have eventually got the better of him because, in 1878, he, too, killed himself. It could only make you wonder that, had he a bank to embezzle, would he have lived longer?

Despite success at the polls, and having the ‘ear’ of the political bosses and the ‘respect’ of the British ‘establishment’ and good, favourable media coverage, being well-dressed, well-spoken and well-paid, if you lose your political principles, you’re finished – draw your own conclusions….

Thanks for reading, Sharon.

About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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