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.