‘In the end Gerry Conlon won’

Yesterday the funeral of Gerry Conlon was held in Belfast. He was a great inspiration to me as I have said before here: https://lightandthunder.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/gerry-conlon-r-i-p/

A fantastic article on the service and his life was posted in the Irish Times. Once again, I am reminded of how far away from Ireland I am – and of where I’d be if I were not.   Suaimhneas síoraí

‘In the end Gerry Conlon won – the victory was his’.

Roger Casement

On this day in 1916, Roger Casement (once Sir Roger Casement) was convicted by the British crown for high treason. Roger Casement was an anomaly. He was a foreign office diplomat who could never quite get what he was after. He was knighted for his humanitarianism but was trying to broker arms deals. He believed in Irish Republicanism but some of his comrades believed he was too moderate while others believed he was too extreme. He was a rumored sex tourist who traveled to hide and indulge in his homosexuality. And despite having no foreknowledge of the upcoming Easter Rising – being that he was NOT a member of the IRB and they did not fully trust him – he was still convicted of high treason and some of the charges that led to his death were that he helped to plan the rebellion.

It was surprising that he heard of it at all. Casement had been out of the country and then was in the north and kept in the dark by the Republican Brotherhood. He was arrested 3 days before the Rising began – after failing to get Germany to agree to send reinforcements into Ireland to fight the British – and after a whole shipment of German arms heading into Ireland was intercepted. His case was difficult because he was in Germany when such ‘crimes’ happened, but they were relentless in his prosecution.

His supporters at trial were the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W.B.Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps the revolutionaries weren’t sure about him, but the popular writers of the day sure seemed to be. On June 29th, 1916, he was stripped of knighthood upon his conviction and sentenced to a death by hanging.

His appeals failed. By the time he was hanged, he had converted from Protestant to Catholic and his priest thought he should be considered a saint. He was buried in quicklime at the prison after his death. In 1965, he was repatriated to Ireland and laid to rest with full honors and a state funeral in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery. However, Casement’s last wish was to be buried at Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast and it has yet to be fulfilled. The government released his remains only on condition that they not be brought into Northern Ireland. Oddly enough, the 1965 British Cabinet record of the decision still refers to him as Sir Roger Casement.

Perhaps someday he will get his wish.

 

 

Irish Studies Programs – Updated

Yesterday’s post about the best schools to get your Irish Studies programs needs an update. I went straight for the online program – the only in the world – based in Galway because I’m a non-traditional student who can’t quit any of her 3 jobs for class time. The list I posted yesterday shows a partnership for that program with a U.S. school in Colorado but the links didn’t work when I tried them. I contacted the school in Ireland and while there used to be a partnership, it no longer exists, and you have to sign up for the program through Galway directly.

No problem – I’m still totally excited. Except for one thing – a whopping 12,750.00 per year international student fee….which applies since the partnership isn’t valid anymore. That is on top of the class fees and things that are needed to complete the course – which I thought was definitely update worthy, since U.S. students can’t get federal aid for those courses either. Alas.

It makes me sad, as the idea of an online program really opened some doors in my brain – but I will have to just table that again. I will continue to study as I have for the last 20+ years and be satisfied without a paper that tells other people that I’ve done so. For those of you that can take traditional classes – or afford nearly 13,000 euros, still check out that list since there are options. The Galway link was so enticing – and if you could manage that – the class looks as if it’s extensive and lovely.

On the off chance

that there are any  of you in the USA looking to further your Irish studies as I am, here’s a great resource. I find it incomprehensible that there are no studies programs here in San Francisco and unfortunately, you must be far richer than I to go to Berkeley or any of the other main schools that this lists, but it’s still a great chance to explore the options. Thanks Irish Central!

http://www.irishcentral.com/news/education/The-definitive-list-of-Irish-Studies-programs–United-States-and-Canada-.html

Paul Hill remembers Gerry Conlon…

Here, Paul Hill, a fellow Guildford Four member and a leading human rights campaigner based in the US, remembers his friend Gerry Conlon.

I was awoken this grey morning (rather fitting) by the constant ringing of my phone to be informed of the death of Gerry Conlon my fellow member of the Guildford Four.

Doors I had hoped would remain closed began to open in my memory.

It’s incredibly difficult to try to explain to someone exactly what the loss of 15 years of one’s life is like.

Or indeed to ask someone to comprehend having to endure those years as an innocent person, in the hostile environment that was the English prison system.

The simplest way is to think of everything one has achieved in the years between 20 and 35. A career, a home, a marriage, children. We had none of those.

Gerry was a young man who loved life ,music, football. He would have been the first to tell you he had no interest whatsoever in politics.

The background of what he went to prison for is well documented, as is the injustice he suffered,

But the baggage he carried from that is often overlooked, baggage that one can never check.

The mental scars, not visible, remained unhealed. They eat away at one’s being and reopen constantly.

Gerry fought the demons that an injustice unleashes, but I know that he mostly fought those alone and in the dead of night.

People have expressed the opinion that Gerry must have been an incredible man. No, he was not. He was an ordinary man who suffered an incredible injustice.

No doubt we shall have those who (just like after his release) will extol his virtues, whilst having done nothing themselves whilst he was incarcerated,

If I could be so bold, and on behalf of Gerry, I would like to thank all those very ordinary people who believed in him when (unlike today) it was not politically hip to do so. Irish America always stood with us — thank you. Irish governments and Irish embassies did not.

I want to thank the folks who stood in the rain outside the British Embassy, who were accused of being the fellow travelers of terrorists,

The ordinary folk in Ireland who were harassed and photographed by the special branch for having the courage to attempt to right a grievous injustice.

We have come a long way along a harsh, painful road.

Gerry helped us all along that journey.

He was a man of immense humor and a big football fan, no doubt glued to the World Cup.

I know he would give a wry smile knowing England went out before him.

Here is his family’s statement. It captures far more eloquently that I can what Gerry represented.

“He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours. He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive. We recognise that what he achieved by fighting for justice for us had a far, far greater importance – it forced the world’s closed eyes to be opened to injustice; it forced unimaginable wickedness to be acknowledged; we believe it changed the course of history.

-Paul Hill

http://www.irishcentral.com

Gerry Conlon R.I.P.

Gerry Conlon may be the single most influential person when it comes to who got me into studying Irish politics. The Guildford Four case was riveting for me and it showed just how cruel and scared absolutely everyone was in the heart of the Troubles. That case was a close second to the Easter Rising of 1916 in my favorite stories of tragic Irish triumph.

This morning at 4AM California time, I found out that Gerry Conlon had passed away and I actually shed a tear. This marks the first time I have cried over a celebrity passing away since Johnny Cash, and I am pretty sure that it has only happened those two times. I was heartbroken and I almost got up then to write about it but I wasn’t awake enough  to articulate the utter sadness of this news.

For those that may not know his story, early in 1975, he and 3 other young kids were arrested in connection to the IRA bombing of the Guildford Pub. Despite having nothing to do with the IRA or the bombings, they were convicted and sentenced to life in prison…thankfully, since if they’d been sentenced to death, they all would have been dead before their convictions were quashed. Before they were, another 7 people were convicted of bomb-making  and explosives handling – including Gerry Conlon’s family members and father, Giuseppe Conlon. Guiseppe never strayed from wanting out of prison and remained hopeful that the miscarriage of justice would be overturned, but Gerry did not. He had a very early lesson on how terrible and confusing the world was and did not have the fortitude of belief of his father.

Guiseppe Conlon died in prison, as an innocent man. Years and years later, his son – who had found the fighter in himself after the tragic death of his dad, walked out of the courthouse through the front door, proving to the world that the Guildford Four and the Maguire  Seven had been wrongly convicted over 15 years before. The movie, “In the Name of the Father” was based on these real life events and is an amazing film. If you haven’t seen it, go find it now. Seriously. It took 15 years for the Crown to admit they made mistakes and purposefully suppressed evidence in order to convict these men and women…none of whom fit any profile or had any Provo or political ties and it had a large effect on my psyche.

I was 16 when they released Gerry Conlon. I remember seeing the footage and wondering what it was all about. It was probably my first foray into Irish history – and it was a story that led to another, to another, to another. Since it’s release, I’ve probably seen In the Name of the Father at least 25 times too – and obviously, my studies have just continued and blossomed in the 25+ years since my first glimpse at this case..

Gerry Conlon did not have the Hollywood ending that he so deserved. He struggled with depression, suicide, and addiction since the day he was finally released – and really, who wouldn’t? I cannot find fault in the need to try to erase what has happened to you and your family in whatever way you can. Still, he made it to 60 and was a published author and an activist in other cases that he felt were rigged or unfair. He died today in his home in Belfast and I am still a little teary as I write those words. I wish I had met him – it actually was a thing I had hoped to do someday – just to tell him what a profound impact his story had on shaping who I am and what my interests are. 60 is too young for many, for Gerry it was a pretty amazing feat, given that he spent over 15 of them wrongly convicted in the harshest prisons.

His family says it better than anyone else could. In a statement issued through his lawyer Gareth Peirce, they said: “He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours. He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive. We thank him for his life and we thank all his many friends for their love.”

Rest in Peace Mr. Conlon. Your story and your fight will forever be inspiring and triumphant. I am sorry you lived it and I am thankful for the impact it had on me.  I hope you see your father again.

John Sands, father of Bobby Sands

On this Father’s Day I am very saddened to hear the news that John Sands, the father of famed hunger striker and Irish martyr Bobby Sands, has passed away. I cannot imagine the pain of a father losing a child and I hope that how Bobby has been remembered and the love of the rest  of his family made his life easier after the loss of his son.  I also hope that son’s beautiful smile was the first he saw in his afterlife for that would be a happy Father’s day indeed.

Rest in Peace sir.

His memorial service will be held  Tuesday, 17th June, at St Agnes’ Chapel, Andersonstown Road, in Belfast.