In 1972 Kevin Carson was remanded to Armagh before being moved to C-wing in Crumlin Road jail – the same wing where Tom Williams had previously been held. However, it wasn’t long before Kevin found himself moved to the camp at Long Kesh.

Along with the Andersonstown News Kevin returned to the cage where he had spent his youth, imprisoned at the age of 21. The emotional trip back behind the wire where Kevin had once been incarcerated brought the memories of his life in the Long Kesh Camp flooding back.

The debate is ongoing about what to do with the former Long Kesh site, with the idea of a multi-purpose sports stadium being flighted, while republicans are eager for at least part of the site to be kept as a museum. However, moving through the old camp has convinced Kevin that at least part of the former prison should be kept for future generations.

“At first I was moved to Cage 6, that was an internee hut and I was sentenced, but it was also used as a reception cage for new prisoners coming in,” recalls Kevin.

“After that I spent time in Cage 11, it was where the political minds were housed, people like Gerry Adams and Bobby Sands.

“There were a lot of very educated people in there and they were keen to pass down their knowledge to the younger men.

“There were a lot of younger prisoners who were involved in the struggle but didn’t know what the history of the conflict was, here we learnt about Irish history and politics, world politics and the Irish language.”

Most of the internment camp is now gone; what is left is fast succumbing to the ravages of time. Weeds and young trees sprout through the tarmac and the crumbling Nissen huts are also feeling the effects of years of battling with the elements.

To Kevin’s amazement and delight, Cage 17, where he spent the majority of his sentence, is still standing and in salvageable condition. To see it again brought vivid memories flooding back of the time a young Kevin Carson spent here in the mid-70s.

“When I moved to Cage 17 things improved dramatically, we had political status and as such set up an infrastructure with education and cleaning duties assigned on a rota.

“We also had a home industry making wallets, belts, bible covers and other leather goods.”

Kevin recalls seeing the new H-blocks going up.

“We knew that they were building a new prison and suspected they wanted to move us to a new and more rigid regime, but no one could ever have predicted what the building of the blocks would mean.”

As prisoners-of-war held in a camp, republicans saw it as their duty to try and escape, exploiting every opportunity.

There were numerous escape attempts all over the camp, and Cage 17 was no different.

“The tunnelling process was a complicated one,” recalls Kevin.

“I was never involved in the actual digging as I was too big. It was always the smaller men who did that, and for them it was perilous.

“The rest of us would have taken other duties, like disposing of the soil and creating diversions so the screws wouldn’t hear the noise from the digging.
“The soil underneath Long Kesh was a reddish sand and getting rid of it was a real challenge in a grey camp.

“In the end we put it into sandbags and filled the gap between the inner and outer wall of the huts.

“The ground was also very wet and in the morning when the tunnel was opened it had almost always filled with water This would be scooped out in buckets and then strained through cloth to get rid of the red soil before we flushed it down the toilet.”

Morale in the camps was high, and Kevin remembers there being a lot of humour as the men tried to make the best of the situation they found themselves in.

“When new prisoners came in we would always have a bit of banter with them, we would tell them to get their towels for the swimmers, or tell them the screws would go out and put bets on for them if they asked.

“I remember once during the World Cup and all the men were in the end hut. It served as a canteen and was the only hut with a TV.

“We had caught two seagulls using bread and string and in the middle of the match we knocked off the power and let the birds go in the cage.

“It was utter pandemonium as every one tried to get out with these huge birds flying about their heads. I can tell you I was on cleaning duty for a long time after that.”

With the consultation process on the future of the entire 360-acre Long Kesh site underway, Kevin – who’s also curator of the Roddy’s Museum – has very strong feelings about what the future of at least a portion of the site should be.

“Long Kesh is an extremely important part of our modern Irish history, there are children today who have no idea about the Kesh, the H-Blocks or the protests that went on there. In other parts of the world where there have been conflict situations places have been kept as world heritage sites to help promote reconciliation, it is only right that something similar happen here. I have heard the anti-voices, in particular those who say the place should be completely flattened.

“Of course, the Nazis said that about Auschwitz, but remembering the past – the good and the bad – is an important part of building our future.”

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