Few people who then travelled on the main Dublin/Limerick road could be unaware of the forbidding, grey stone block, with its rows of tiny, barred windows, that is Portlaoise Prison. One mile from the town centre it loomed out of the countryside and declared a callous indifference to the season's vagaries as it steadfastly remained, to the passing eye, a foreboding mausoleum of silence.
O'Donnell and Savage left Mountjoy Prison in a Special Branch motor convoy with the words of Macker the Chief ringing in their ears: "They'll put manners on yis down there in the bog."
The two heard the gates slam behind them as they were watched, a little warily, by Harbinger, the Chief Warden. He led a small delegation of officers towards the two. "If it was my decision," he told them, "I wouldn't have youse here."
The interior of the main building then had a red and white tiled floor and the eye, looking upwards, could see three narrow landings, one above the other, run along each side of the solid structure. A row of thirty identical cell doors stood back from the tall wire fence on each landing.
Outside the main prison block numerous stone administration buildings skirted the two storey Governor's house. Grey was the dominant colour: the small exercise yard was grey: the handball alley was grey and, prior to the arrival of the 'political prisoners', the whole area, which resembled a tiny country village, was inhabited by people wearing grey prison clothes.
Only the blue-black colour of the prison officer's uniforms disturbed the general greyness. In summer, each immobile black figure appeared to be accompanied by an identical twin which slowly crept away and lengthened grotesquely along the grey wall as the sun moved across the sky. In winter, the blackness of the sentinels glistened in the gloom.
O'Donnell and Savage joined the top landing about twenty feet above the ground floor. The landing inmates included about ten members of Saor Eire and associates. The landing was also shared by a small number of Provisional and Official IRA prisoners. The atmosphere among the groups was good humoured and relaxed.
The IRA prisoners, as was normal procedure, refused to do prison work. The other prisoners decided to work in the tailor's shop which was housed at the end of the top landing. By doing so they would be entitled to one quarter remission of their sentences.
The workplace contained about fifteen sewing machines and at these machines the prisoners sat. They made, with no great attention to measurements or detail, uniforms for prison officers: "the screw who wears this jacket will need legs coming out of his oxters."
Like most male workplaces, there was continuous good humoured banter and slagging. Not all the 'tailors' were members of the group: some were non-political. These referred to themselves as ordinary decent criminals, or O.D.C.s; but most people simply referred to them as 'common criminals.' One of them had doubts about his wife's fidelity while he was on the inside. He was given a hearty slap on the back.
"Cheer fucking up. Remember the old saying. One man's wife is another man's bike."
As the Provisional IRA military campaign in the North intensified, and the Lynch Government in the South increased its garda activity, the top landing began to fill. After some weeks the Provisionals began a hunger strike demanding political status. Not all the Provisional prisoners were on hunger strike. O'Donnell collared one who was eating normally. He was an IRA man from the sixties and a friend.
"If someone was to die on hunger strike, the Government might declare an amnesty and release us," O'Donnell postulated.
"That could happen, I suppose."
"Well would you not take that big fat fellow in cell 24 off the strike and replace him with the real skinny fellow from Dundalk?"
One of the older Republican prisoners had been incarcerated in the same prison as an IRA rebel in the forties. He was then a young religious subversive. In fact, his rebelliousness was only matched by his religiosity and as well as being a member of the IRA he was a member of the Archconfraternity of the Most Precious Blood, the Legion of Mary, the Catholic Police Guild, the Knights of Saint Mulumba, the Association of the Living Rosary and some other lay societies.
It was said that when the notorious Branchman of that era, Dinny Blackwell, wired into him in the Bridewell Garda Station with the newly invented rubber hose, he viewed himself as a religious flagellant, and offering up the excruciating pain to Jesus Christ, screamed, "Harder Dinny. For Jesus sake man, Harder." The beating only ceased when the exhausted Branchman, frothing from the mouth and gasping for breath, was forcibly dragged away by a concerned station sergeant and two women cleaners and placed in an empty cell to be revived by a doctor. The doctor who performed this corporal act of mercy happened to be passing the Bridewell and had become alarmed on hearing the egging on bawls of the religious IRA prisoner combined with the vengeful roars of the sadistic Branchman.
A small white card about the size of an invitation card was displayed on the outside of the cell doors of all inmates, political and non-political alike. This card contained the name of the cell occupant, the earliest possible release date of the prisoner and the offence the person was imprisoned for.
One day a Cork IRA prisoner with a fertile sense of humour removed the religious IRA man's card from his cell door. He brought the card into his own cell and soon he had altered the offence 'Membership of an Illegal Organization' into a charge of 'Rape'. In the Ireland of the forties this was considered a very rare and heinous crime. This is not, of course, to imply that it is not a dastardly crime nowadays.
The prison chaplain was doing his rounds some hours later. He walked briskly down the red and white tiled ground floor and past cell number 23. At cell number 27 something made him abruptly halt. Outside the day was dreary. The prison and its environs appeared to be covered in a thin gauze. Nothing moved beneath the veil of grey stillness and inside the stiff austere figure of the priest gave the impression that it too had succumbed to the all pervasive shroud of gloom. His motionless exterior was, however, in complete contradiction to the turmoil within his brain. In his narrow face his dark eyes resembled small black holes which smoldered as he tried to grasp the enormity of the dreadfulness of what he had seen.
His first movement was to place a white knuckle between his teeth. Then he turned on his heel and took a few smart steps. He stared at the card on the cell door. He had not misled himself and the four letters made the hairs bristle on his neck. He motioned, with a haughty wave of his hand, to Mullocks senior, the prison officer who was standing statue-like, on the compound circle.
"This door Mister Mullocks please," he called out in a voice trembling with rage.
After an orchestral jangling of keys, the door was opened and the angry priest entered the cell. He was finding it hard to catch his breath and he did not notice a volume of Butler's 'Lives of the Saints' resting on the prisoner's locker.
"Are you going to pray to Almighty God for forgiveness for the evil you've done, yuh, yuh, yuh, evil cur, yuh dirty bastard. Have you no shame, have you "
The IRA prisoner gulped. He was astonished by the ferocity of the verbal assault. Here he was, a daily communicant, who had sacrificed a great deal to help to establish a thirty two county Catholic Republic. Indeed he had lost his pensionable, cushy job as a clerk in a semi-state body because he had answered his country's call. He was proud and eager to join the valiant men who over generations, stood against those who had beheaded Blessed Oliver Plunkett, who had forced the priests of Ireland to say secret Masses in wild and remote places in the hills and valleys of Ireland: priests, who faced the pitch cap and the gallows, if captured. He thought of those brave men as he stared at the thing in front of him disguised as a priest.
He also thought of Brother Sebastian in school who had told him how, in their attempt to wipe out the Catholic religion, the pagan English had prevented the importation of large quantities of food to Ireland when the potato crop failed and how when starvation had taken hold the amount of food exported from Ireland to England increased. He recalled how Brother Sebastian had forbidden the use of the word 'famine' and instructed his hushed class that what had happened in Ireland in the 1840's was genocide. Genocide, organized by the British Empire, and now standing in front of him was an arrogant priest taking the part of the genocide deniers.
He remembered the words of Pearse at the graveside of the Fenian O'Donovan Rossa ." They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have forseen everything, think that they have provided against everything ." He felt his blood racing through his veins and he saw the lithe figure of the priest blur and dance in front of him as tears gathered in his eyes .
"How dare you," he roared, "question my motives when I have stood tall and stiff for my principles all over Ireland. I will certainly not stop what I have been doing and when I am released I promise you I will go at it again hammer and tongs, have you got that, fucking hammer and tongs." He was surprised to hear himself swear, as he rarely did, and never in front of a man of the cloth.
The priest stepped back. His lower jaw was gaping in his razor like face. His fury had now been contaminated by confusion. He was about to yell something but he was interrupted by the outraged prisoner.
"Don't think that I am alone," the prisoner hissed. "You will find us in every town and village and field in Ireland. We are growing you know, getting bigger and bigger. Our members are swelling and I'll tell you something now for nothing, if I ever run into you on the outside with your twisted idea of what is right and wrong I will open your fucking hole, have you got that, open your "
The priest fled from the cell and passing out through the gate he whispered to Mullocks senior, "That pervert should get the cat of nine tails."
Just after O'Donnell and Savage were moved to Portlaoise a riot in Mountjoy Prison caused extensive damage. While this was led by the Provisionals the non-political prisoners also took part. Because of the internal damage to the prison the Government opened the Curragh Military Detention Centre run by the Irish Army. They moved the Provisionals, in Mountjoy and Portlaoise, to the Curragh and the hunger strike was called off. Later a protest campaign on the outside was launched on the issue of military custody.
The top landing now held O'Donnell and Savage, those presumed to be members of Saor Eire and the two Official IRA men from Derry. At this time O'Donnell was a member of the Irish Communist Organization. Now, he and the other three agitators were doing a lot of talking to the O.D.C.s. They were talking about how to get improvements in the visiting facilities and the diet and provision of educational programmes.
At this time when a prisoner had a visit, a prison officer sat at each end of a small table listening, under the guise of security, to every word that was exchanged. Sometimes one of the listeners took notes. As far as the agitators were concerned, no marriage could survive a number of years in which the partners could say nothing of an intimate nature to each other for fear of embarrassment. Yet the Constitution promulgated the sanctity of the family.
Paddy Woods, an inmate who had been in Portlaoise in the forties, said that the prison diet was deliberately lacking in nutrition. The prison authorities did not want to have fit strong inmates about the premises. Woods said that the average prison fight between prisoners lasted about fifteen seconds. After that length of time neither contestant would have the energy to continue.
The prison staff was aware that the four were encouraging the O.D.C.s to seek improved conditions and reported back to the justice department that communism was spreading among the prisoners. They believed that the four were a bad influence and could become a disruptive element within the prison. They recommended that they should be moved to the Curragh Military Detention Centre.
The four counteracted this by stating that they were no longer members of any proscribed organization. They also renounced political or special status, holding that all prisoners were the same.
In November 1972 the prisoners set up a prison committee. This was run by Danny Redmond, Christy Bollard and Tommy Holden.
On Tuesday, January 2nd 1973, those on the top landing were moved further down the landing to different cells. They were told their original cells were being searched for firearms. The searches lasted two days and the group alleged that some of their personal property had been maliciously damaged. On the following Friday the malcontents were told that free access to each other's cells was to end. No reason for the decision was given. The group held a meeting.
The Saor Eire prisoners decided that they would refuse to wear clothes and go on the blanket. O'Donnell, Savage and the other two argued that such a tactic would only allow people, including themselves, to make personal remarks about the physique of some of those who were going to walk around with no clothes.
O'Donnell opted to forget about the prison review: Savage decided likewise. They would, if necessary, serve the extra time rather than allow the prison authorities to treat them like dirt. They, along with Meenan and Deehan, were going to join the men behind the wire.
As the Saor Eire prisoners re-emerged from their cells in blankets, the four climbed out through the protective landing wire and clung to the outside over twenty feet above the ground floor.
Mullocks was the warder on duty on the ground floor. He was standing about ten feet from the compound gate leading to the punishment cells near the kitchen. To be exact he was standing on the fifth white tile in the centre line of alternate red and white tiles. He was staring down at a flat piece of wood which resembled an ice hockey puck beside his well polished black shoe. He was about to break his own record.
He had tapped or lightly kicked the wooden object with his right foot, as he always did at the start of a game, from a white tile about ten feet from the compound gate. From there he aimed the puck to land on the white tile four tiles down. Then he gently kicked the puck diagonally to the right, staying on the white line. Then straight down again to slide red, white, red and white. From there the puck would go diagonally to the left where it would end on a white tile on the centre row but further down the compound. It was as far as he had ever got without the puck ending on a red tile. Now, he needed to tap the puck along the white diagonal to the left four tiles down, to break his own record. His only regret was that Blossom, so called because of his peachy cheeks, was not on duty to witness .
He heard an unusual noise above his head and craned his neck upwards for a second and then, without a word, for what he saw left him speechless, he made a headlong dash for the compound gate. Within a short time there were a number of officers on the compound all looking upwards. After an hour some of the officers made their way to the top landing. They walked past the blanket wearers who looked like destitute figures from a Clint Eastwood Western. They grabbed at O'Donnell and tried to pull him in through the wires which ran horizontally along the landing. The other three, who had spaced themselves well apart, now, like large spiders, scrambled along the pulsating wire-guard. They began to throw punches with one free hand and kicked out at the warders dragging at O'Donnell.
On the ground floor below a large number of prison officers watched in horror as the wire swayed in and out. It looked as if the whole structure was going to come away and crash down on top of them. They roared at their fellow workers above to desist and flapped about the compound floor like large wounded crows. Those above who were now struggling with the blanket wearers as well as those on the wire thought that the shouts below were yells of encouragement and the struggling became hectic. Meenan misjudged one punch and landed a straight left into the face of the blanket swirling and muscular Finbar Walsh. Walsh responded by sending a number of warders sprawling on the landing floor.
The O.D.C.s were locked in their cells. Because they couldn't figure out what the hullabaloo was about they began to hammer on their doors. Eventually some of the warders down on the compound rushed up the steel stairs and the fighting ceased.
Later the Governor arrived on the landing. He told the four that they would be given no food or water until they climbed in. The prison authorities knew that the men would not give in that easily. They also knew that eventually those on the wire would have to fall from fatigue. That evening they began to erect a wire screen joining the two bottom landings which, later that night, the four prisoners used as a giant hammock.
On Saturday, seven prisoners were deprived of recreation for throwing food parcels to the four. Prisoners coming in from exercise, led by Redmond, began applauding and cheering and calling for a public inquiry. The four, in turn, were shouting for a Prisoners' Union.
"A fucking union."
It reminded Deehan of the joke about the line of screwing homosexuals. The last in the line was screeching out, "Somebody form a circle. For fuck sake's, form a circle."
The warders were running around, largely ignored, shouting at prisoners to get into their cells. Everybody seemed to be yelling. The cheering, clapping and shouting continued all through Sunday when the newspapers reported, curiously, that they had received reports of "four men hanging from a wire in Portlaoise Prison."
Redmond, Ronan and Holden were moved to punishment cells. On hearing this, the rest of the prisoners began banging on their doors, using precisely the right implement to make the most noise.
The Chief, Harbinger, well built, good looking and with deep set brown eyes in a chiselled face shook his head from side to side. He shivered slightly as the din swept over him. What had happened, he wondered.
The prison belonged to him and he belonged nowhere else. He was part of the place and the place was as much part of him as was his bunion. He could not imagine a world outside its once soothing greyness. A single tear rolled slowly down his cheek. But still he was able to thrust his square chin forward in a gesture of defiance as he prepared to walk through the compound gate. He squared up his shoulders and puffed out his chest: "Lets go then," he rasped out to Mullocks.
Sometimes the noise was almost melodic, like an orchestra conducted by a deranged composer. The density of the musical line, for that is what it was to the four on the giant wire mesh hammock, filled the great stone block. It moved in waves, forwards and backwards, downwards and across: it crashed in upon itself as if it was collapsing under its own weight: it clattered out thin psychotic riffs, ritards and mixed interval chords interspersed with deviant harmonic digressions and startling juxtaposition with heavy percussion. It was rhythmically propulsive, and atonal, all at the same time. The recital's variations and configurations grew successively more complex and dramatic as it weaved and looped up and down and around itself with breathtaking continuity before ascending and then crashing downwards through chordal progressions as it pulverized its way through the musical scales in every possible key. And when at last, through exhaustion, the noise became monochromatically somber and lugubrious, the four on the wire hammock, like the survivors on the Raft of the Medusa, roared out in polyphonic voices: "Louder. We can't fucking hear yis."
In answer to the shouts, new bursts of energy were discovered and the hammering and banging, for that is what it was to Harbinger, welled up again into a deafening cacophony which could be heard like distant thunder in the town centre as it continued in waves all through the night.
Paddy Woods, the former forties inmate, stretched out on his bed with a pillow over his head. It was not that long ago, he recalled, when the name of Portlaoise sent shivers through the underworld. It was known as a harsh silent tomb where convicts contemplated their sentences with miserable foreboding. They sat in their cells during working hours stitching mail bags in dim light. For recreation, they walked in circles around a small yard, whispering inane scraps of conversation to each other from the corners of their mouths. Only the completely insane broke the rules, and these were promptly removed to Dundrum Criminal Asylum after a vigorous beating had been administered.
Now, somehow, something formerly impossible had happened. The monastery-like atmosphere had totally changed, and the place had become a throbbing madhouse where bedlam held sway. That was the view of the prison authorities: the prisoners considered the upheaval to be a step towards a civilized correctional system in which nobody cared about the old rules. Woods smiled beneath his pillow and considered himself lucky to have lived to witness such a momentous time in penal history.
On Monday morning it was learned that Redmond, Ronan and Holden were to be charged with disrupting the prison. Two prisoners, Mick Folan and Larry Murphy, clad only in shoes and trousers, climbed on to an outside roof in protest.
The warders brought out water hoses and were met with a barrage of flying slates. They then went to the turf pile and began filling dustbins with sods of turf. They carried these to the main roof of the prison and from there they pitched large sods of turf at the two on the lower roof beneath them. For an hour sods of turf and slates flew past each other in mid air. The missiles were urged on their way with shouts of: "Take that yah fucking knacker scumbag," and, "How about that, yah big bogtrotten heap of cow shite," and other, somewhat less salubrious, imprecations.
On Monday evening a force of about fifty gardai entered the prison. The four on the net scampered back up to their wire perches and gave a running commentary on developments to the prisoners in their cells. The gardai hung about on the ground floor for about an hour. They gawked at the four on the wire and then filed back out of the prison.
The intrusion had eaten into the prisoners' evening recreation period. This was now cancelled. The prisoners retaliated by smashing up the prison furniture in their cells. Attempts were made by the warders to remove the sparse furniture. After two cells were opened for the purpose their occupants, fearing assault, attacked the intruders. Paddy Lyons was overpowered and had his hands handcuffed behind his back. Brendan Carroll was handcuffed to his single iron bed. On hearing this the rest of the inmates began barricading their doors and were left to complete the destruction of their furniture. The noise rolled on through a second night.
On Tuesday morning the cell doors were opened to allow the prisoners to slop out. Many remained behind their barricades. Others walked down the various landings naked, with the words 'public inquiry' painted on their chests. One chest read 'pubic inquiry.'
That evening a large force of gardai entered the prison. The four, now entering their sixth day, were told by the Governor that if they refused to come down, he had no option but to request the gardai to bring them down. The men said that in order to avoid loss of life, their lives, they would end the hang-in under protest. They were now bored with the whole thing and had spent hours discussing how a prison union could be organized. They were led down to the punishment cells chanting, like Maoists: "Long live the Prisoners' Union."
On Wednesday they were brought before the prison Visiting Committee and charged with disrupting the prison. As punishment they were given fourteen days bread and water diet and refused all privileges, i.e. visits and letters for one month.
At the end of the fourteen days they were released from the punishment cells. They prepared to initiate High Court proceedings on the issue of cruel and unusual punishment. The prison authorities, anticipating such action, abolished the bread and water diet.
The Prisoners' Union was officially formed on the last Sunday of January 1973. It included the vast majority of the non-political prisoners then in Portlaoise, and sought to affiliate to the Trade Union movement. Noel Lynch was elected President, with O'Donnell and Meenan joint Secretaries.
On the outside, in response, a Committee for Prison Reform was formed. Its acting Chairman was John Kearns and it was joined and supported by Mrs Gaj, Tom Bates, Maire Bates, Eamon Dyas, Doc Quinn and many others.
The prison authorities refused to recognize the Prisoners' Union as a body representing prisoners, or its officers as spokespersons. Great play was made by the reform committee of the fact that the prison authorities recognized spokespersons on behalf of the 'subversive' or Provisional IRA prisoners.
The union countered with campaigns of organized disruption. For five days running everybody would put their name down to see the prison doctor. He normally had a small queue of prisoners with minor ailments that required a tablet or two and he was in and out of the prison in twenty minutes. On a Sunday he usually entered in horseriding attire, as he hunted with the local hounds. For this reason the Union decided that they would launch their 'get sick' campaign on a Sunday. As the sick parade consisted of the whole prison, the doctor, wearing long riding boots, was brought to visit each prisoner in his cell.
The complaints were varied. Bald prisoners sought tonics for galloping dandruff. Balding prisoners blamed the diet on their thinning hair, and threatened the doctor with law suits if he did not get it growing again. Prisoners demanded tests for fluttering heartbeats, although they were still in their twenties. An inmate with long hair sought a sex change. Joey Kervic, who was accused of firing six shots at a rival from ten feet in a Waterford quarry and missing, demanded eye surgery. Others pestered the weary doctor about severe pains in their back passage, and when he asked to have a look, they called him a pervert.
Governor's parades also became all day affairs. Prisoners queued up to demand the right to vote, now that Jack Lynch had announced the date for a general election. Others demanded conjugal visits and even more sought courses in bookkeeping so that when they were released, and went into business, they would be able to deceive the taxman.
It became clear that if the Fianna Fail Government lost the coming election, a Fine Gael/Labour coalition would become the next Government. The prisoners wanted Fianna Fail and Justice Minister Desmond O'Malley out. At visits, prisoners shouted to their perplexed visitors: "Vote for the coalition in the election, tell everyone in the flats to vote for them."
"What does he know about elections, sure, and him never voted even once in his life?"
"I hope he doesn't end up in the IRA and on hunger strike."
"He's too fat to go on hunger strike."
By coincidence, a week before the election was due, new bedding and furniture arrived in the prison. The prison diet suddenly changed out of all recognition; it was like a grade A hotel. Nobody took much notice on the first day, because the prisoners presumed that some big shot spoofer from the Government might be paying a quick visit. Day after day, to the prisoners' surprise, the diet remained the same and nobody in a pin stripe suit arrived. Paddy Woods hoped the prisoners would not fight with one another. With this diet: "They'll be able to box each other fucking stupid."
At the end of February the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition won a two seat victory over Fianna Fail. Paddy Cooney became the new Justice Minister.
Outside, the Law Students Union for Action expressed regret that Cooney had decided not to give recognition of any kind to the Portlaoise Prisoners' Union. Released in the same week, Tommy 'metamorphosis' Burke, appeared at a news conference with John Kerns, Pat McCartan and Matt Merrigan and defied Cooney to find a subversive in the union.
As a non-violent campaign of disruption continued within the prison, Fitzgerald, Denis Dennehy, Tommy Byrne and Alfie Jones took to the roads.
Jones was very uneasy about the non-violent aspect of the harassment. Most of his prison time related to assaults. He was lean and pale-faced and came from O'Deveney Gardens near the Phoenix Park. Alfie rarely crossed the Liffey to go to the South side. Once he did and walked into a pub on Baggot Street. The introspective barman studied Jones up and down. "Sorry," he said, "but we don't serve strangers here." Jones blinked. Then he vaulted the counter and gave the snobbish barman a few clatters about the head and face. As he left he shouted, "Now we're not strangers anymore."
The red Volkswagen parked just yards from the main entrance to Saint Peter and Paul's Church in Portlaoise. It was a bright March Sunday morning. The four in the car were watching people leaving the church after 10 'o clock Mass.
"See the fellow in the brown mac with the grayish cropped hair coming out.?"
"That's him," confirmed Alfie.
He pointed out the solid six foot figure of Harbinger. Fitzgerald, Dennehy and Byrne jumped out of the car. They walked briskly in to the church grounds. Harbinger stiffened as he saw the three approaching him. Fitzgerald halted right in front of the prison chief. He pointed directly at him and shouted: "You there."
A quizzical expression came over his face. He stared at Fitzgerald who was of similar height and build.
"This man," announced Fitzgerald in a loud voice, "is riding the young generation of Irish patriots he has locked in that .. in that slaughter house over there," he gestured in the general direction of the prison with a sweep of his arm. A number of people gathered around and looked at the two figures confronting one another. Harbinger was now standing very erect as he bristled with indignation. He tilted his head back slightly so that his aquiline features became pronounced, and his chest seemed to expand.
"How dare you call me a queer in the grounds of me own parish church," he snarled.
"I'll have you, I'll fucking "
"You're an institutional pervert," Fitzgerald interjected.
"A droit de seigneur," said Byrne.
"I'll have you for slander, you fucking scandalizer. I'll have the shirt off your back when I find out where you were spawned," Harbinger promised, as his face reddened with rage.
"You might have me shirt but you'll never get me arse," said Fitzgerald. "He'll not have me arse," he shouted, addressing some of those who were now fixated in curious groups nearby. "Who am I," he continued, "I am Dan Pious Malone Fitzgerald."
"Defender of the underprivileged," quipped Dennehy.
"You'll be hearing from me you scumbag," hissed Harbinger.
"I can be contacted anytime care of Mister James Clarke, the Peacock, Marlborough Street," said Fitzgerald as they headed for the Volkswagen. They still had to picket two shops in the town.
A number of people gathered around Harbinger to sympathize. Because of his position he was one of the town's most respectable citizens.
"Who were those three lactchicos?" asked one.
"Slurry from Dublin," explained Harbinger. "I'll tell you something. If that wise guy ever enters my prison I'll put me boot so far up his arse that he'll think Sunday morning is Monday night."
"Now you're sucking diesel Harbo," they cheered.
Some days later Harbinger confronted O'Donnell.
"D'yeh know a fella called Fitzer Malone or something?"
"The only Malone I know Harbo, is Samuel Beckett's Malone. He's a kind of fucked-up cripple."
Harbinger laughed. "Oh, there's another one out there. A big fella in the full of his health, who's handy with a smart remark off the cuff, if you know what I mean."
"He's definitely not the Beckett Malone."
"No he's not. However, just in case you run into someone who might know him, will you tell them that when I lay me fucking hands on him everybody will think that he is the Beckett Malone."
Despite the threats from Harbinger the flying pickets extended their action to the posh Dublin suburbs. They would suddenly appear outside the semi-detached and detached period-homes of previously faceless senior civil servants in the Department of Justice.
At other times harried pin-stripe suited figures, would duck and dodge around the grounds of churches on Sunday mornings as the picketers chased after them with shouts of: "Have youse stopped beating them up yet?" or "Have yis tried yer wives and kids on bread and water?"
Soon after Saint Patrick's Day a grinning Harbinger unlocked O'Donnell's and Meenan's cells. It was after lock up time.
"Jaysus Harbo you're grinning like a Cheshire cat, did the Governor drop dead?"
"It's better than that yous are for the firing squad."
Other officers emptied the two cells of their property. They mostly contained books and pamphlets. These were bundled into plastic bags. The two followed after the erect Chief. He opened the compound gate. They could see a group of soldiers standing in the prison yard. A grave look came over their faces.
"Ha Hah," whooped Harbinger, as he gave his thigh a hearty slap with the palm of his hand. "I was just playing a little trick on yous lads. Actually yous are expelled 'cause yous are a bad influence on the decent criminals here, if yous get me, and I must be honest and say that I can't wait to see the backs of yous. Good riddance."
O'Donnell and Meenan presumed that they were being brought to the base in Mountjoy which was then the abode of the Littlejohn Brothers who were from England and who were convicted of a bank robbery in Dublin. They were surprised when the army escort pulled in to the Curragh Military Detention Centre. It was slightly ironic that the two, who were to the foreground in a campaign for prison reform for all prisoners, now found themselves among the Provisionals who were in the middle of a campaign to have their prisoners recognized as special status or political prisoners.
On March 24th, the 'Communist Comment' wrote: "We have just learned that Simon O'Donnell and Hugo Meenan, joint Secs. of the Portlaoise Prisoners' Union have been transferred to the Curragh Military Camp, under military guard. This is obviously intended to either smash or weaken the Prisoners' Union, which has been agitating for decent conditions for all prisoners in Southern Irish jails. O'Donnell, in particular, has not demanded political prisoner status; instead he wanted all prisoners to be treated as human beings. The state's answer to his humanitarian concern is to throw him in among the political aristocracy at the Curragh in order to deprive the Prisoners' Union of leadership. This is one bourgeois method of dealing with a nuisance in their jails. But it won't smash the Prisoners' Union, nor will it lessen the growing concern amongst outside workers about the rotten conditions their less fortunate comrades have to endure in our jails."
The Prisoners' Union in Portlaoise was now too well organized, and the removal of the two had no effect on its campaign, which rolled on. The Government, like all governments, continued to lie about the situation and to drag its feet on the introduction of any worthwhile reforms. Indeed, one of the leading union strategists, Noel Lynch, was asked jocosely by one warder to give them classes on how to plan a campaign for better prison conditions for themselves.
The prison authorities continued their attempts to provoke a riot with a counter campaign of petty discrimination and harassment directed, in particular, at those whom they considered to be the leaders of the P.P.U. However, the peaceful protests and sit-ins continued unabated, supported by the overwhelming majority of the prisoners. Eventually, the Government washed its hands of the matter, and, in late summer they moved the prisoners into military custody in the Curragh to join O'Donnell and Meenan. The Provisional prisoners were moved to Portlaoise Prison.