"While Irishmen Wear Rusty Chains": Column: Reader's Indigestion

Posted by Brian Connor This next one, gang, is one of the most frustratingly depressing, yet important, books you will ever read.

Proved Innocent is the autobiography of Gerry Conlon, a man who spent 15 years in the brutal British prison circuit for a crime he didn't commit. He was one of the "Guilford Four," four Irish ex-pats living in England, who were wrongfully accused and convicted of having carried out I.R.A. bombings while fleeing the strife of their homeland.

The book was made into a movie titled In The Name Of The Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Following the release and success of the film, the book was republished under the same title.

Gerry Conlon's story is one of great suffering and perseverance in the face of gross injustice. For some, it might evoke anger toward the merciless British. For others, anger at the cold-blooded I.R.A. For those who read it with an open mind, however, it should be a reminder of the value of human life, and our ability as a species to lose sight of that in the midst of sorrow and rancor.

Conlon brings us to his home in the poorest area of Lower Falls, Belfast, a hotbed of sectarian violence. Natural-born misfits, too rebellious to fall in line, or even to pick a side in the fighting, Conlon and his gang were raised on the streets, taking excitement in being shot at by both Royal Constabulary forces and I.R.A men. Conlon fled twice to England, seeking a job and to clean up his life, though he proved to be just as under-achieving as he had been in Ireland.

He describes being a drifter in Guilford, scraping wages and spending them on booze. He recalls trying pot and L.S.D. for the first time and burglarizing apartments to pay for meals. Conlon eventually returns to Ireland, defeated and jobless, only to be suddenly wrested from his bed at night and shipped back to England.

Parliament had recently passed an anti-terrorism measure, which allowed police to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely and without counsel or trial (sound familiar?). Conlon finds himself in a dank prison cell, wondering aloud what crime he has committed. He soon realizes, between beatings, that his captors believe him to be responsible for a number of bombings that occurred several weeks earlier in Guilford.

Before long, Conlon finds his name and those of three others being paraded throughout the British news and legal system as those of terrorists, responsible for killing five and injuring sixty in a pub bombing. The enormous fervor generated by the bombings throughout Great Britain and the pressure on the part of the police to offer up a suspect creates a slippery slope down which Conlon slides. The court convicts not only Conlon, but also his hard-working father and aunt, though Conlon's only crime was being an Irishman in England.

The actions of the British government are remarkably similar to the atmosphere of our political environment today. The story of Conlon's unbelievable hardship in the face of socio-political antagonism is haunting. Were our nation's leaders made to read this, I am sure a sense of compassion would prevail in our nation's current policies.

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