The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

An Honour To Have Been Part Of The Blanket Protest

Anthony McIntyre • Irish News, 11 July 2006

The 11th of July, 28 years ago was to be my last full day spent as a special category prisoner. Two weeks earlier my escape bid collapsed; aborted in the jail reception area where I was apprehended with an imitation firearm made by the late Larry Marley. 'What's in your shoe?' asked the screw who searched me. 'The same as is in the other one', my nonchalant reply as I tried to bluff my way and reach Belfast Appeal Court where security would be more lax and an escape bid doable.

The retort was ill-appreciated. He soon discovered that the realistic looking weapon, equipped with cocking mechanism, was broken down and spread between the two shoes. 'Funny fornicator' would be a polite way of describing what he called me. He felt he had the last laugh. I would now make the transformation from political prisoner to common criminal at the stroke of some NIO bureaucrat's pen. That's how simple it was. Due process was a foreign language in the NIO in those days. A prison uniform was more foreign to me. I would never wear one.

On the 12th of July the door in the punishment block opened and a screw said 'know where you are going?' Trying to sound indifferent and eager to deflate his joyous role as the bearer of bad news, I merely replied 'the blocks.' The thought that I was keeping him away from an Orange march was small consolation as I made the short journey to H4 and a new life, vastly different from the laid back existence of Cage 11. Small wonder early internees would term Long Kesh the 'Lazy K.'

The no wash protest had already begun and my fear was that I would retch and vomit once placed in a 'leaping' cell, embarrassing myself in front of any new cell mate and screws alike. The anticipated stench failed to materialise. Covering the walls with human waste would not become part of the protest for a further two months. Wearing the blanket was strange at first. Wrapped around the waist like a woman's maxi skirt, it would become the potent symbol of one of the most determined protests ever to confront the penal systems of Western Europe. By the time I discarded it over three years later, I felt uncomfortable in my own clothes.

Apart from some screw flexing his muscles as I entered the block I reached my new abode without any hassle. The dreaded beating didn't occur. The screws on the wing were laid back, even polite. A further two months would elapse before I would experience the violence of the NIO's enlightened and humane regime.

Within minutes of my arrival in Cell 15, C Wing, H Block 4, a prison governor arrived to 'award' a punishment for my refusal to wear prison uniform. My cellmate hooted and tooted, all the time banging his chamber pot on the wall to drown out the governor's voice, urging me to do likewise. It was part of life in a Brave New World that I wasn't prepared for just yet. My reticence to scream and scowl gave the governor his opportunity. He put his mouth to my ear and shouted, 'if you stay here you'll be as mad as him.' I feared he might be right. By the time a week had passed I knew he was. It was the madness of the defiant dammed. And we would be dammed in hell before the governor or his brutal minions would get us into that prison uniform and concede that republicanism was a criminal enterprise.

Kieran Nugent, the first blanket man, was on that wing, as was Tom McElwee who would later die on hunger strike. Their names became immortalised because of the roles they played in the protest. But there were others on the same wing who wore the blanket for years on end and who also died prematurely. Men like Jimmy Conway and Harry McKavanagh from Ardoyne, Sam Marshall from Lurgan; men who suffered the vicious truth that lay behind Britain's PR facade.

Looking back, it was arduous and brutal. Apart from each other our only companions were the omnipresent trepidation and tedium. Yet I don't regret a day of it. It was an honour to drink at the well of integrity and human decency that spouted from the pale bodies of those republicans who fought the malign might of Britain with nothing but a blanket. Tom, Kieran, Sam, Jimmy, Harry, the valiant spirits of 'our wing' in H-Block 4.






































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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

25 July 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Religious Rednecks of Doom
Dr John Coulter

Cut-Throat Politics
John Kennedy

A Poem About Our Children
Mary La Rosa

Israeli Blitzkrieg
Anthony McIntyre

When Leaders Serve Foreign Interests, Everyone Loses
Mazin Qumsiyeh

By Their Friends You Shall Know Them
Mick Hall

Mission Impossible
Anthony McIntyre

Lit Crit Well Writ
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Revisiting A Literary Genius
David Adams

'The Film That Shakes A Lot More Than the Barley'
Eamon Sweeney

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Conclusion
Marcella Sands

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Additional Information
Marcella Sands

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Letter of Thanks
Michael McKevitt

Pull the Other One
John Kennedy

Ex-Noraid Boss Still Gloomy on Peace Process
Jim Dee

An Honour to Have Been Part of the Blanket Protest
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters page has been updated.

19 July 2006

Dupe Process
Anthony McIntyre

Heatwave Won't Affect Cold Storage
Dr John Coulter

Hanson's Handouts
John Kennedy

Israeli State Terror
Anthony McIntyre

Judgement Day
John Kennedy

Israel, US and the New Orientalism
M. Shahid Alam

The Right, the Need to Resist
Mick Hall

An Invitation to My Neighborhood
Fred A Wilcox

Prison Fast

Death Brings Fr Faul
Anthony McIntyre

Risking the Death of Volunteers is Not the IRA Way
Brendan Hughes

Principles and Tactics
Liam O Ruairc

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Preliminary Hearings Cont'd.
Marcella Sands

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Rupert's Reward
Marcella Sands

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Rupert's Inconsistencies
Marcella Sands

Blast from the Past
John Kennedy

An Elegant End
Seaghán Ó Murchú

West Belfast - The Past, the Present and the Future
Davy Carlin



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