Irish Prisons: Bodies in Resistance

Contributors:

Published

It is I think no exaggeration to say that the prisons of Long Kesh / H Blocks, Crumlin Road Gaol and Armagh Gaol were the places in which the most spectacular, the most violent, the most heartrending, the most degrading and the most uplifting actions took place during the Troubles in the North of Ireland, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. These prisons are physical reminders of the recent turbulent past in this part of Ireland and they remain touchy subjects because of the current inability to address the past in any meaningful way. Although all three started out as regular prisons, they became, in the 1970s, more and more overpopulated as the British government became increasingly interventionist in the conflict. Neither Armagh Gaol, built in 1780, nor Crumlin Road Gaol, built in 1843-45, nor Long Kesh, originally a government site used during World War II and made up of Nissan huts, had the necessary infrastructure to deal with the influx of prisoners triggered by new British government policy to curb the growing conflict. In August 1971 “Operation Demetrius” was launched and the extremely controversial internment without trial came into being. On the first night alone, 342 men living in Nationalist areas were lifted and held, and as internment continued, the compounds in Long Kesh could no longer contain all the prisoners, and Crumlin Road and Armagh Gaols, as well as the prison ship HMS Maidstone, also began to be grossly overpopulated. Many prisoners were imprisoned for months on end before being released without even being charged. Many more were charged, found guilty, and sentenced, although not before being tortured and subjected to “inhuman treatment,” as the European Convention of Human Rights qualified the recourse to the notorious five techniques: hooding, wall standing, deprivation of sleep, deprivation of food, and drink and subjection to noise, all of which are depressingly familiar in our post 9/11 world.