Recently I received a handwritten account on the burning of Long Kesh in 1974. I made a few attempts at writing an article based on the recollections but they lacked the simple finesse of the original.
Rather than do the author any injustice, his original version is carried here. The account is subtly deceptive with a calmness that makes it easy to forget he is speaking of chaos in a confined space, squaring off against the arsenal of the Brits with nothing more than makeshift weapons and a will to be treated with the respect due to POWs.
In transcribing his handwriting, I did not alter any of the language used; although typed out, it does not convey the same strength in print. It falls short of the handwritten version in which the author almost makes it sound like just another day in the prison struggle. The prisoners won the battle that day though for the obvious reasons knew they would lose the war. Brit revenge would be implemented a short time later in 1976 where political prisoners would no longer have that status, and would be viewed as ordinary criminals by the Brits diplock system. This would prove disastrous for the Brit government who highly underestimated the resolve of Irish Republican Prisoners.
They endured five long years of brutal and inhuman conditions in the H BLOCKS. Their tenacity through great sacrifice would eventually force the Brits to acknowledge this is one war, they would have to tactically retreat from; in 1981 Thatcher knew she was defeated. Ten young men had paid the ultimate price.
There are still Irish Republican Prisoners in English jails, and reports of mistreatment trickle out similar to the early days of the Blanket Protest. Is another powder keg waiting to explode?
The account begins:
Long Kesh Concentration Camp 15th Oct 1974
D. Morley Camp O/C
Father Tom Toner Chaplin
6 Provisional Cages 10, 13, 16, 17, 18, 20.
1 Officials “21.
5 Loyalists “9, 11, 12, 14, 19.
Internees(80 Prisoners per cage)
The Burning of Long Kesh Concentration Camp.
Tue 15th+ Wed 16th Oct 1974
D. Morley Camp O/C 4th Batt
This is my account of what happened during the burning of Long Kesh.
The trouble started in Cage 13 where Malachy Cullen was cage O/C.
Words were exchanged between Malachy and the screw while he was on a visit. It had been agreed beforehand that if there was a problem with a screw then that screw wasn’t permitted to enter the cage until the problem was resolved.
Later that evening this screw entered the cage and trouble broke out. After this, a large number of screws arrived and with their batons drawn entered cage 13 but were overpowered and had to leave.
The prisoners were then threatened that the army would be sent in to get the boys involved and bring them to the punishment cells.
At this stage, word was passed along the cages to the camp O/C, D. Morley. He asked to be allowed to go up to cage 13 to sort the problem out but was refused; this was another agreement that was broken.
D. Morley gave the order to burn the camp. The whole operation was directed from cage 16 as this was the cage the camp O/C was in. We were ordered to line up outside the huts and each section of men had different jobs to do. First we got ourselves equipped with (bin lids as shields) (iron bed legs) large (pieces of wood) and anything else we could get.
Tables were put against the wire fence like steps and then mattresses and blankets were put over the rolls of razor wire.
Three of us were ordered to get over the fence Willie Mc Guigan to break the locks on the gates to let the other prisoners out Martin Divine and myself were to take over the watchtower. While Martin Divine and myself were in the watchtower reporting back to D. Morley as to what was happening over the camp. The phone in the watchtower rang and martin answered it, the voice on the other end asked who was speaking and Martin said its Dave Morley O/C Provisional’s, and the voice said hope you enjoy your stay and rang off.
Prisoners from the other cages had set fire to them and we all joined up and marched through the camp burning everything except the hospital from which we got medical supplies. On our way up the camp, we met the loyalists who were in cages 9, 11, 12 they were moving out and we went in and burned their cages too. They took shelter down the camp at cages 14 + 19, which were left (loyalists).
The whole camp was a mess of flames and smoke with all sorts of noises like gas cylinders exploding and watch towers and huts falling to the ground. Helicopters were hovering overhead with searchlights, the camps lights were all out. By this time, the internees had met up with us from their end of the camp.
During the night, we erected barricades and had gathered bricks and bits of rubble to have ready for the Brits coming in. We took it in turns to rest for awhile and got some tins of soup from the burnt out tuck shop which was already cooked to get the soup out we punched some holes in the tins. When daylight came the helicopters, spotter plane kept circulating over the camp, and the C.R. gas was pouring down along with the rubber bullets. Once they had found our position, they came into the camp with full riot gear, and Alsatian dogs.
By most of the men were exhausted, injured or gassed and the Brits surrounded us and kicked and battoned us and trailed by the Hair. By this time, it was about 11 AM and we were put into the burned out cages.
We were searched and the Brits took anything that we had in our pockets, lighters, photos, Rosary Beads and they were trampled into the ground. We had to stand against the wire in the spread-eagled position, while in this position the Brits kept kicking and spitting on us and putting the dogs on us. If you moved, you were hit with a baton.
Some of the boys were made to take of their + socks and stand in their bare feet and had their toes tramped on. Some of the boys were sick and just fell to the ground and lay in the dirt. I think it was about 9 PM when the Brits finally left the cages and we got sitting down.
It was about 8 hours standing.
We were locked in the cages and the huts were still smoldering so we lit another fire to sit around. It was soon dark and the rain came on so we got some of the burned tin and made some makeshift shelters, it was a long night. Glad to see the daylight, as we were wet, dirty, and exhausted.
It was late in the day when we first got something to eat. The army did the cooking we got some stew. That evening we got some tea and a round of dry bread. Next day we found a burst water pipe and used it for washing and drinking. The screws were back at work but went on strike about poor working conditions.
Next thing arrived these luxury caravans, which were parked outside the cages.
Eventually we got a Portacabin (mobile hut) which was great but it only held about 30 or 40 packed like sardines. Next we got ex=army mattresses and 2 blankets each, then we got dry toilets and plastic sheeting to put over the makeshift huts. Then we got one razor between us all and a packet of 7, 0’ Clock blades, 6 bars of soap, 6 toothbrushes, 6 toothpaste’ and a new towel each.
The food started to come at regular times.
Mornings ---- Porridge
Dinner ---- Stew + round of dry bread
Teatime ---- Tea + round of dry bread
The army patrolled round the cages and kept turning the gas off or cutting the hose. One day we had had enough and when they came round again to cut the hose we threw the gas ring and bin over the fence on top of them. After that, we were allowed the gas cylinder + ring inside the cage. During the day, we would hang our blankets on the fence and the army would come along and urinate on them. At night, they would keep beating the old tin that was lying about, shouting remarks, shinning their torches into the cage, and throwing stones in at us.
People on the outside started to send us in clothes + boots + cigarettes and some of this stuff was held back for days before we got them.
At night, the whole place was in darkness so we were supplied with candles.
After this, we got some writing paper + 4 pens between us all.
Parcels of food started coming in on (4th Nov’ 74). We were counted twice a day and had a search they said they were looking for tunnels. Some of the other cages had been partly built again by the army and we had been moved to cage 10.
The floors were still black from the burning roofs were leaking in, no door on the toilet which were not working.
This is my recollection of what happened.
Jim Mc Crystal Hut 110 Cage 16 Long Kesh