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Gerry Conlon's Unknown Triumph

(Martin Galvin, Irish Echo)

There were six men in Birmingham
In Guildford there's four
That were picked up and tortured
And framed by the law
And the filth got promotion
But they're still doing time
For being Irish in the wrong place
And at the wrong time
(The Pogues, "Streets of Sorrow")

Once we thought of Gerry Conlon, the 'Guildford Four' and the 'Birmingham Six', as Irish pawns imprisoned by merciless British officials, who knew they were innocent. Later we thought of Gerry Conlon as Daniel Day-Lewis, fist raised in triumph outside the Old Bailey ,as portrayed "In the Name of the Father."

Now Richard O'Rawe's book "In the Name of the Son: The Gerry Conlon Story" reveals that the Belfast man fought a heretofore unknown battle. Walking free from a British prison did not free him from traumatic terrors and nightmares brought about by the terrible injustice he suffered. Money, celebrity and

Hollywood fueled his demons. Eventually they drove him to depression, drugs and homelessness.

Gerry Conlon's battle and eventual triumph over these psychological wounds, seem as heroic and dramatic as his battle against imprisonment on a British frame-up. How he came to fight that battle, by fighting for others he identified as victims of injustice, is an uplifting tale of an indomitable Irish spirit.

Richard O'Rawe is uniquely positioned to tell this story. Growing up alongside Gerry Conlon in Belfast, the two were lifelong friends. He also knows British prison brutality firsthand, as a former H-Block Blanketman and important figure in the 1981 Hunger Strike.

His book begins with a foreword by actor Johnny Depp ("Pirates of the Caribbean," "Donnie Brasco" et al). Depp carries a wallet with the word 'Saoirse' gifted to him by Gerry Conlon, who he describes as "a man I would have taken a bullet for".

O'Rawe recounts how Gerry Conlon, a hippie who left Belfast to get away from the war that O'Rawe and others were fighting, became a symbol of the injustice Conlon thought he left behind.

In 1974, IRA Volunteers strike in Guildford and Woolwich. The British cannot find who did it. Conlon's friend Paul Hill, is picked up, beaten, and names his friends Gerry Conlon, Patrick Armstrong, Carol Richardson and Conlon's relations the Maguires. Conlon is picked up and tortured until he makes a false confession. The British arrest his aunt, uncle, young cousins and Conlon's father Giuseppe, who came to England to help his son. All get convicted and sentenced to the cheers of English tabloid headlines.

In December 1975 after more attacks, the IRA unit members are captured. They immediately proclaim the total innocence of the "Guilford Four" and "Maguire Seven". They use their own trial to demand release of those wrongly imprisoned. The British decide not to admit an embarrassing mistake. Conlon is not released until 1989.His father has died in prison. His aunt's family have served lengthy sentences.

These events are familiar to readers, although O'Rawe has uncovered shocking details about how the British doctored their own forensic expert reports to drop sections which conclusively proved the "Guildford Four"innocent.

However "In the Name of the Son" O'Rawe weaves together the story of Conlon's journey through Washington, Hollywood, fame and celebrities, then downwards into drugs and living rough on the street. It is the story of Conlon's eventual rise and triumph by fighting for other victims of injustice.

This book holds special interest for Irish activists, especially in America. One of the heroes of Conlon's story is the late Sandy Boyer, who along with John McDonagh hosted the weekly Radio Free Eireann program. Sandy's recurring role as a strategist, and adviser is deservedly heralded. Conlon recognized that American pressure was Britain's most vulnerable point, and came to America to fight for the "Birmingham Six" "Craigavon Two" and an array of others.

I happened to see Gerry Conlon in one of his many battles against injustice. During the Irish political deportee cases of the 1990s, Gerry Conlon came to New York as a witness for Gabriel Megahey. Testifying that constables wanted him to link Mr. Megahey to the charges, Conlon said "if I had even met Mr. Megahey, they would have made it the Guildford Five." While not included in the book, it was enough for me to recognize how truly Richard O'Rawe captured Gerry Conlon's ability to overcome what had been done to him by standing between others and the sort of injustice he suffered.

November 6, 2017

Martin Galvin is Freedom-for-all-Ireland Chair for the Ancient Order of Hibernians in New York State.

This article appeared in the November 1, 2017 edition of the Irish Echo.

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