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.


Brendan Kennelly

I met you in the Joy

in the early eighties

I can still picture you sitting

beside the school window

it was a summer’s day.

Middle-aged you wore

a beige cap

receding shoulder length

black hair greying

blue eyes

warm smile

clean shaven

heavy built.

Check coat

white open neck shirt

black pants brown shoes


with a Kerry accent

recited poetry

and when you raised your foot

I could see a hole in your shoe

the light was shining through

the room was electric

with a crowd of inmates.

I heard you on the radio

many times over the years

read some of your books

was inspired by you

Rain Man don’t go away

I want you to stay.

John Doran.

(Next :’Punishment Cell’. )


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.

The paper eventually presented as the two governments’ ‘heads of agreement’ was meant to kickstart real negotiation when talks reconvened after Christmas on January 12th. As that date approached, loyalists suggested their cease-fires were precarious, and their imprisoned leaders were visited in quick succession by David Trimble and British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam. Then, journalists sympathetic to the Ulster Unionists ran predictions that the document would show Tony Blair meeting a unionist prescription for a settlement firmly bounded by the union (with Britain).

A frantic weekend of phone calls between Tony Blair, in Tokyo, and the Taoiseach produced a result less strident than the leaks but left many nationalists rattled. A northern assembly got prominence while unionists’ chief bugbears, the kernel of the framework, were omitted : the proposition of equality for nationalists and unionists inside Northern Ireland
(sic) and the potential for North-South structures to develop.

Bertie Ahern had to take responsibility for the unseemly fluster of his own dealings with Tony Blair, said one non-nationalist observer. But sooner or later a Dublin-directed disaster was inevitable : “I can say this, the Shinners and the SDLP won’t. There’s no consistency. Ray Burke looked strong, did alright, but he was distracted and he hardly got his feet under the table. David Andrews doesn’t do the work. Nobody on his own side tells him when he goofs. Dublin’s all over the place, puffing David Trimble up on the one hand, leaving Sinn Féin out of the room one minute, sucking up to them and annoying the SDLP the next. Now this.”


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.

The fact is that these prisoners are being held as political hostages, a punitive warning to others who may bring the war into England that they can expect to spend their natural lives imprisoned on foreign soil in brutal and hostile conditions, isolated from comrades, friends, family and community.

It is an indication of the courage and political strength of these prisoners that they have not only sustained themselves mentally, even in extreme isolation, but have persisted in protesting for their beliefs inside the jails, with their pens, or from the prison rooftops or barricaded in their cells.

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.”

[END of ‘Conditions in English Jails’. Next : ‘1916- What did it mean for Irish women?’ , from ‘Iris’ magazine, Easter 1991.)


On the 11th of November in 1913 in Dublin, in the then 68-year-old Wynn’s Hotel on Lower Abbey Street, a group of Irishmen and women held a meeting to discuss the formation of an ‘Irish National Volunteer Force’. Those present at that meeting and/or at five other such meetings which were held immediately afterwards in the space of a two-week period, included Sean Fitzgibbon, John Gore, Michael J Judge, James Lenehan, Michael Lonergan, Peadar Macken, Seamus O’Connor, Colm O’Loughlin, Peter O’Reilly, Robert Page, George Walsh, Peadar White and Padraig O’Riain, amongst others (all of whom were well known in Irish nationalist circles ie Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann, the Gaelic League, the IRB, the Irish Citizen Army, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Irish Parliamentary Party and the United Irish League).

Then, on the 25th November 1913 – 102 years ago on this date – the inaugural enrolment meeting for the ‘Irish Volunteers’ was held at the Rotunda Rink in Dublin, to “secure the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland”. That meeting was overseen by a Provisional Committee consisting of thirty members, all of whom had been elected at the above-mentioned meetings. A week previous to the formation of the ‘Irish Volunteers’, Jim Larkin and James Connolly had formed the ‘Irish Citizen Army’, and both groups were in competition for members, the former on a 32-county basis whereas the latter was confined to the Leinster area, although attempts were made, through trade union structures, to recruit in Cork, Belfast, Derry, Sligo, Limerick, Kilkenny, Waterford, Dundalk, Galway and Wexford, but with no success. Also, those joining the ‘Volunteers’ were supplied with a uniform and other equipment while those joining the ‘ICA’ had to purchase same themselves.
Relations between the two organisations were not the best, as the ‘Volunteers’ allowed, for instance, employers to join and this at a time when employees and other trade unionists would most likely be ‘ICA’ members or supporters and, actually, when the ‘Volunteers’ were in conference for the first time
(25th November 1913) ‘ICA’ members and supporters loudly made their presence felt and they also objected in print – their first leaflet stated that the ‘Volunteers’ were controlled by those who were opposed not only to trade unionism but also to workers rights re conditions etc.

Within a few months, however, the animosity had lessened to the extent that there was some official co-operation between both groups at the Wolfe Tone commemoration in June 1914 and again in October that year during the events held to commemorate Charles Stewart Parnell, and both groups joined forces at Easter 1916 and took part side-by-side in the Rising, the 100th anniversary of which will be marked in a national commemoration in Dublin on Saturday 23rd April next.


On the 25th November 1921 – 94 years ago on this date – Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith arrived in Dublin, from London, where they had taken part in negotiations on a ‘Peace Treaty’ with the British and one of the clauses that caused dissension in the ranks of the Irish republicans was a British demand that ‘Ireland shall recognise the British Crown for the purposes of the Association as symbol and accepted head of the combination of Associated States’. The military and political sections of the republican movement were split over what the British demanded and what they should be given and Collins, among others, sensed that an ‘in-house’ compromise was not going to be reached and, by February 1922, he was openly recruiting for a new ‘National Army’ from among those who, like himself, reluctantly (?) accepted the ‘Peace Treaty’ : he was assembling, in effect, an armed military junta in Ireland to enforce British demands re their ‘Treaty’. Collins and his people assured Westminster that they would secure the ‘Treaty’ and all it encompassed and, on the 6th December 1921, the ‘Treaty’, which partitioned Ireland, was signed. The British began to withdraw their own proper soldiers from the bases which they had been occupying and some of these bases were then taken over by Irish republicans and, in late June 1922, the new Free State Army borrowed heavy weaponry from their new allies in Westminster and proceeded to enforce the British writ in Ireland. The rest, as they say, is history but, incredibly, the lessons learned remain unheeded by some (and more so by others) but have been taken on board by republicans who continue to campaign for a full British military and political withdrawal from Ireland, despite the best efforts of the above-linked advocates of accommodation.


On the 25th November 1925 – 90 years ago on this date – the then Free State President, William Cosgrave, and his ‘Minister for Home Affairs’, Kevin O’Higgins, arrived in Downing Street in London for a meeting with British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and Stormont ‘Prime Minister’ ‘Sir’ James Craig. Within nine days (ie by the 3rd December 1925), the Free Staters had been ‘sold’ a(…nother!) ‘pup’ by the British. On the 3rd December 1925, all those present at a meeting (ie all those mentioned above) agreed that the ‘border’, as fixed 5 years earlier in the ‘1920 Government of Ireland Act’ and as stated in the 1921 Treaty of Surrender, would so remain, and an agreement was signed to that effect by those present. But the British, no doubt smelling fear and relief at the same time from the Free Staters, wanted more ‘concessions’ : they pushed for, and got , a separate agreement that the ‘Council of Ireland’ (a ‘talking-shop’ which the 1921 Treaty promised to set-up) be scrapped (even though it had not, in fact, ever been established!) and, as a final insult to the Free State ‘negotiators’, the British demanded that they repay the compensation which Westminster had paid to them for damage which the British themselves had caused in Ireland during the Black and Tan War!

And, in for a (British) penny, in for a (British) pound – no doubt by now realising the ‘calibre’ of the men they were up against, the British also insisted, and again, got, a commitment from the Free Staters that they would continue to pay land annuities to the British Exchequer! The above shambles , and many others, occurred during ‘negotiations’ between Westminster and the then newly-minted Free State administration during meetings which were held as part of the ‘Boundary Commission’ remit, a useless talking shop which the Staters shamelessly sold to their own followers as a ‘political vehicle’ which they could use to wring concessions from Westminster. For instance, On 2nd February 1922, a meeting was held between Michael Collins and the Stormont ‘Prime Minister’, ‘Sir’ James Craig. Voices were raised over the issue/structure/terms of reference of the Boundary Commission, and the meeting ended abruptly over the matter. However, ‘spin’ and ‘PR’ (media manipulation) was immediately employed by both sides – at a press conference following that failed meeting, ‘Sir’ James Craig (Stormont ‘PM’) claimed that the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, had assured him that the Boundary Commission “… would deal only with minor rectifications of the boundary …” ; in effect, that the Boundary Commission was a useless ‘talking-shop’ which had only been set-up to help the Free Staters to ‘sell’ the ‘six County idea’ to other Free Staters. However, Michael Collins claimed that he had left that same meeting with a promise, from the British, “…of almost half of Northern Ireland (sic) including the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone, large parts of Antrim and Down, Derry City, Enniskillen and Newry.” Obviously, both men could not have been right ; it is straightforward to state that the ‘Boundary Commission’ idea was a ‘sweetener’, if you like, to be used by both sides to convince their respective ‘flock’ that the British were really on their side!

We wrote about that ‘Commission’ and all its failings, in consecutive posts, beginning here (click on the ‘Newer Post’ link for part 2, and same again for part 3 etc).


10am, Saturday 21st November 2015 – Ard Fheis business beginning.

Ard Fheis graphics, Saturday 21st November 2015…

..and a few random pics from both days :

(and more here, from ‘Facebook’.)

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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