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Martin Galvin speaks to Paul McGlinchey via telephone from Bellaghy, Co. Doire, about Paul’s new book, Truth Will Out, a memoir of his life and times as an Irish Republican political prisoner. (begins time stamp ~ 18:32)
Martin: Yes, and with us on the line we finally have Paul McGlinchey in Bellaghy. Paul, welcome to Radio Free Éireann.
Martin: Yeah, Paul?
Paul: Yes. Hello, Martin!
Martin: Yes, we were having some trouble getting through to you – we got your voice mail and I have an old tape – they actually played The Wild Colonial Boy – which was not a song that I had intended to play during this programme. Alright, we finally got you. We’re on the line with Paul McGlinchey. Paul, we had spoken on the commemoration for George McBrearty last month. You told me about the new book that you’ve written. I’ve read it. I told you we’d have you on at our earliest possible convenience so that people in the United States could hear about it. Welcome to Radio Free Éireann. And to start off I should say that you’re from one of the most prominent Republican families in the area, Bellaghy – it’s a very well-known Republican area – your brother, Dominic, from there – Francis Hughes, other great Republicans came from that area including – I happened to run into one of the people who was an Irish political deportee, Robbie McErlean, who I see around my neighbourhood all the time – I asked him if he knew you and he mentioned well he got to know you when you were up on charges in jail in the court together. But how did you happen to write this book, Truth Will Out. How did you come about to write it?
Paul: Well I had this idea – how the book came about it actually started out – my brother, Dominic, had just been shot dead and after a few weeks I started thinking of my own mortality and I thought to myself if I should die as a young man I would like my wans to know where their father came from and how he made made the choices in life that he did – that made him join the IRA and end up in prison. So I wrote it for my children that if I should die a young man, in action or in jail, that when they grew up they would have a record of my life story and how I made the decisions I did in life and how I come about to join the IRA and end up in prison and whatnot.
Martin: And how does it come about that you took these notes which you had prepared and decided now that you would publish it in a book form?
Paul: Well I wrote it down on A4 sheets in Portlaoise Prison.
And there was a writers group come into the prison, to the Republican prisoners, to do an educational course with them and I happened to get talking to one of the women that was giving one of the courses and she asked me did I ever think about writing a book and I told her I wrote this manuscript for my children and she asked me: Could she read it? And I told her she could so I photocopied it for her and I gave her a copy and then she asked me could she edit and and do the corrections and all in it and I told her she could. And then she encouraged me to publish it back then. And I didn’t want to publish it back then and it lay gathering dust for over twenty-two years and then a letter arrived to Bellaghy addressed to ‘Paul McGlinchey – Bellaghy’ and my brother got it and gave it to me and she told me that she felt that my story should be told, that it was part of history and it would be a sin to lose it so I gave her the okay to go ahead and publish it especially when I’d been diagnosed with cancer. And my wans encouraged me to publish it as well…
Martin: …Alright, Paul…
Paul: …they thought it would be a sin for that to be lost.
Martin: Paul, alright – you published the book. It’s entitled Truth Will Out. And I happen to read it very quickly and there are a number of things that I just want to go over very briefly: First all of you mention you were fighting, what you were fighting for, when you decided to join the IRA. People now say that this was a war for equality or for equal citizenship or something of that nature. When you joined the IRA in the early ’70’s what was it that you were fighting for? What was it that you and other IRA Volunteers were told the war was about?
Paul: Well as I understood it, as I understood it then – Yes, we were fighting for equality for every citizen as envisioned in the Irish Proclamation delivered by Padraig Pearse on Easter Monday a hundred and one years ago on the steps of the GPO – not the equality envisioned by successive Tory governments and Arlene Foster’s DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and the various British governments and Unionist party leaders before them who still want to treat us as second-class citizens. People volunteered their lives for three generations and wanted to help us to achieve Padraig Pearse’s Ireland of Equals – free from British and Unionist control – not to administer British rule in the British Occupied Six Counties of Ireland as was negotiated by Ian Paisley’s DUP in the form of the St. Andrews Agreement.
Martin: Alright. Paul, just one of the things that struck me in the book you talk about your brother. Now, he was called ‘Mad Dog’ by the British – he was given a nickname – to talk about that he was only a militarist but in the book you talk about how he started off by going simply to civil rights demonstrations and trying to get equality that way. And you talk about how the turning point in your life in making you decide to take up armed struggle – you thought that one of the turning points was what happened in internment – and you talked about all of the discrimination. What was it like growing up in The North of Ireland – what was some of the reasons why people decided you couldn’t get civil rights out of a British government that you would have to fight to remove the British government in order to get justice and equality?
Paul: Well when I was young – when I was a young fella growing up I wasn’t politicised at all and I didn’t see any difference really between me and my Protestant neighbours.
It was only when I witnessed the civil rights march that was re-routed around Bellaghy that I started seeing that there was a difference and I seen the way my Protestant neighbours from the town of Bellaghy and the outskirts of Bellaghy was treating the civil rights marchers that I realised there was a difference. And then I started following the news and all after that. And then I woke up early one Monday morning to our door, found our door been (inaudible) and having torches shone into our faces in bed and guns pointed at us by blackened faces of British Army soldiers and basically from then onwards I had a deep-seated hatred for the British Army – not the British people – the British Army and the British government and I couldn’t wait to join the IRA to drive them out of my country.
Martin: Okay. When you were eighteen you were sentenced in a Diplock court. Now what this meant was – in March 1st 1976 Irish Republicans had special category – or the British words for political status – and they were allowed to wear their own clothes, they were allowed to – they were treated as prisoners of war – like from a prisoner of war camp. They said from March 1st 1976, the British government then said, everybody, from now on, we’re going to say that ‘you’re all criminals’ so that we can go to America and places like that and say we don’t have any political prisoners, special category prisoners, people interned without trial, people arrested, held as political prisoners – these are all criminals. Kieran Nugent was the first Republican who said if you want me to wear a criminal uniform you’re going to have to nail it to me. I think you were second or you were one of the first Irish Republican prisoners – what was it that made you and Kieran Nugent and Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes and so many others so determined never to wear a criminal uniform no matter what the British did to force you to accept it?
Paul: Well from my own perspective, the way I looked at it was that I was an Irish freedom fighter, I wasn’t a criminal, and there was no way that I was going to allowed the British government to treat me as a criminal. So when I was sentenced and was taken down to Long Kesh and handed a uniform and asked what size boots I wore I told them I wasn’t wearing a uniform. So I was then threw into the back of a van and marched up onto the H-Blocks and threw into a cell and all I had was a blanket – I didn’t know at that time that there was even a blanket protest – it was just something deep within myself that told me that I was not going to wear a prison uniform. I wasn’t a criminal. I was a political prisoner. And I wrapped myself in the blanket and then I hear them rapping the wall to discover that there was a another POW in the next cell to me – who was Kieran Nugent.
Martin: Alright. And Kieran was one of the first people who came out to the United States after his release to try and build support – support that would grow into rallies and demonstrations, protests all across the United States, as they did all around the world, in response, to support you and the other political prisoners particularly during the first and second hunger strike. Now you talk in the book about being in prison near Francis Hughes, who was a great singer, near some other prisoners who would go on hunger strike – what actually, what was some of the things that the British did to force you and other prisoners to wear a criminal uniform, to dress up the Irish struggle as just a criminal enterprise and which ultimately resulted in two hunger strikes by Irish Republican prisoners against that brutal treatment?
Paul: At the very start when there was only a very few of us in number, like at the very start on the protest like, we were in wings where other prisoners were wearing the uniform and it was only much later as the numbers built up that there was enough blanketmen to fill a full wing. But at the start what they used to try and break us was just, you know, beatings – on a constant and daily basis and they used to try and find excuses to make you – to find excuses to beat you and in my case they used to try and get me to call them ‘sir’. And I never called my father sir in my life. And I refused to call them sir. So every time I refused to call them sir they got stuck into me and beating me black and blue basically – on a daily basis two or three times and mainly, the main reason, why I believe they picked on me at that time – my brother Dominic’s name was never off the radio – he was getting blamed for everything that was happening in The North at that time.
Martin: Okay, now…
Paul: …That was just you know at the very start and then later on the prison protest progressed – they brought in the mirror searches and the wing shifts you know and they used to beat us down over the top of the mirrors and do all sorts of degrading acts on us and they used to beat us during the wing shifts where we had to run a gauntlet of screws standing there with their batons – you know, beating us as hard as they could. You know, it was horrendous! You were living in fear all the time – so you were.
Martin: Now, how important – or did you know about all the support that was there, not only across Ireland, but particularly in the United States where there were demonstrations each and every day during the first and second hunger strikes, where there were large numbers of people who came out. (When Prince Charles, for example, was here thirty thousand people protested at Lincoln Center.) Would you and the other political prisoners know of what was happening in support of you and the other blanketmen and the other hunger strikers? And how important was this support to you?
Paul: Yeah well what people will have to understand is that for the first three and a half years while I was on the protest I had absolutely no contact whatsoever with the outside world – all I had was one letter a month which was heavily censored. And it was only later when we made the decision to wear the uniform only for visitation purposes that we started to get word to the outside what was happening and started getting word back in – you know, about the support that was gathering on the outside for us – that we realised how much support that we did have on the outside and it was great for morale to know what was going on in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world and at home.
Martin: Okay. Now, this week you were also in the news because you’ve mentioned you have cancer and you have a law suit based on the fact that cancer – you believe it was caused by some of the substances that the British used on the prisoners during the time that you were imprisoned – and that that’s what caused this cancer. I know Aiden Carlin; he’s brought the suit. What is that case about? What is that case all about?
Paul: Well basically how it all came about: When I was first diagnosed with cancer I started finding out about a large number of blanketmen that had died from cancer in their early fifties and others that were getting diagnosed with it. And as far as I’m aware, now from what I’ve been told there’s over a third of us has either died or been diagnosed with cancer in their early fifties, and during the protest on two occasions at night the screws just opened the cell doors and threw buckets of pure chemicals into our cells on top of us and we had to smash the windows to get breathing because we were spitting and choking and our eyes were burning and everything else. Then the chemicals that was used on the walls, to clean the walls – the screws had to wear protective suits and masks and whatnot while they were cleaning those cells – so we want to know: What was in those chemicals? We want to know: Were we used as guinea pigs? Did the screws put stuff in our food? And who authorised all this? For it didn’t come from the prison governor it had to come from the government. So we want answers. We deserve answers. We need to know.
Martin: Okay. How – is there a website or some other way to contact you about getting the book, Truth Will Out?
Paul: Yes, you can contact me on my website, Paul McGlinchey. Or you can contact me by email at pmcglinchey123 at outlook dot com. (That’s all in small letters.)
Martin: Alright. That’s (Martin spells out the email address.) And what is that ‘at’?
Paul: 123 at outlook dot com.
Martin: Okay, that’s pmcglinchey123 at outlook dot com.
Paul: Yes, that’s right.
Martin: Contact Paul if you want – we’ve only just scratched the surface but he talks about what was happening as hunger strikers were dying, what happened at the end of the first hunger strike, what happened as hunger strikers died, what it was like to go through that and what sustained – all the beatings, all the brutality – and what sustained you and other Irish Republican prisoners to withstand that, to win the hunger strike because at the end of it the world – Margaret Thatcher wanted to make you a criminal. She wanted to criminalise the struggle against British rule and in the end, in the United States, across Ireland and around the world people recognised that you and Bobby Sands and all of the blanketmen were political prisoners, that you were not criminals. Alright, Paul, good luck to you with the lawsuit. We hopefully will get some updates from you. The book is Truth Will Out. It’s pmcglinchey123 at outlook dot com. Get the information. He also has a Facebook page. And this is just one of a number of books that have come out recently that we want to profile and just – this is a period that should not be forgotten – the importance of the hunger strike, the importance of people like Paul McGlinchey who were on the blanket protest – what they had to go through to stop the British from branding them as criminals. Thank you, Paul, and thank you. We’re going to have you again at Radio Free Éireann and good luck with the book.
Paul: Thank you very much, Martin, and I wish like to thank the people of America for the support that they’ve given us in the past. (ends time stamp ~ 34:52)