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Irish Political Prisoners 1848–1922: Theatres of War (Routledge 2003)


By Seán McConville

This is a comprehensive, detailed and humane account of the thousands who came into custody during the years of the Northern Ireland conflict and how they lived out the months, years and decades in Irish and English maximum security prisons.


Erupting in 1969, the Northern Ireland troubles continued with terrible intensity until 1998. The most enduring civil conflict in Western Europe since the Second World War cost almost 4,000 lives, inflicted a vast toll of injuries and wrought much destruction. Based on extensive archival research and numerous interviews, this book covers the jurisdictions of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and England, providing an account of riots, escapes, strip and dirty protests and hunger strikes. It paints a picture of coming to terms with sentences, some of which lasted for two decades and more. Republicans and loyalists, male and female prisoners, officials and staff, families, supporters, clergy and politicians all played a part – and all were changed. The narrative includes some of the most remarkable events in prison history anywhere – mass breakouts, organised cell-fouling and prolonged nakedness, and hunger striking to the death; there are also accounts of the prisoners’ very effective parallel command structure. The book shows how Anglo-Irish and intra-Irish relations were profoundly affected and how the prisoners’ involvement and consent were critical to the Good Friday Agreement that ended the long war.


The final part of a trilogy dealing with Irish political prisoners from 1848 to 2000 by renowned expert Seán McConville, this is an essential resource for students and scholars of Irish history and Irish political prisoners; it is also a major contribution to the study of imprisonment.

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