05 February 2006

The IRA prisoners under lough and key

Sunday Life

**Just a reminder that you can read John McGuffin's book >>INTERNMENT entirely online. The following introductory passage to today's Sunday Life article is from that book and is also found on the >>Burns and Moley Sinn Féin Cumann - South Armagh website. It describes the Al Rawdah.

'The hulk, which was used only for five months, was moored off Killyleagh in Strangford Lough. Exercise conditions were terrible and there was so much barbed wire that there "was no use wearing any decent clothes", as Frank McGlade put it. Visitors had to come out in boats after braving the hostility of the local people who resented having the Al Rawdah anywhere near their village. Food was described as 'abominable' by survivors. McGlade still remembers braised gosling and dry biscuits being given as a special treat. Even the sea-gulls would not eat it! Conditions got so cramped that the prisoners were eventually moved to either Derry or Crumlin. Before leaving, they literally stripped the boat to make souvenirs. The 'skipper', in a farewell speech, told them that it was well that they were leaving, since another month and he would not have any boat left, Jimmie Drumm recalled.

There was one abortive escape attempt from the hulk. Five internees managed to get onto the water-ship but were spotted by a guard who at first mistook them for Germans. Forced to retreat, they knocked out one guard and four of the five returned undetected to their cells. The one who was caught was released on orders of the captain when the internees threatened to set fire to the hulk. No one was sorry when the Al Rawdah experiment was ended. One internee, Jack Gaffney, died while on the boat.'
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05 February 2006

An intriguing reminder of a virtually forgotten episode in Ulster history has been uncovered.

An autograph book from the period when IRA suspects and republican sympathisers were interned on a prison ship in the middle of Strangford Lough has been found and is now one of the central features of a new exhibition at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

The artefact is from the Al Rawdah prison ship, which was anchored in the lough, between Killyleagh and Portaferry, at the beginning of the Second World War.

While the Argenta from the 1920s and the Maidstone from the 1970s are better-remembered as prison ships, the Al Rawdah is less well-known.

The ship was used in the autumn of 1940 to house between 140 and 200 republican detainees, rounded up on the orders of Stormont's first Home Affairs Minister, Sir Dawson Bates.

Nationalist senators complained at the conditions the men were held in and claimed the ship would be an easy target for German bombers.

The detainees were eventually moved to Belfast's Crumlin Road jail.

The autograph book is one of the features of Conflict: Irish at War, an exhibition at the museum, where it is placed beside an original Mauser rifle - one of 25,000 smuggled into Ulster by the UVF on board the SS Clyde Valley.

slnews@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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