Belfast Telegraph

Blanket protest given change of image as former hunger striker produces calendar

By Staff Reporter

Former IRA hunger striker turned author Laurence McKeown has produced a calendar featuring portraits of former Blanketmen and Blanketwomen wearing designer clothes made from a genuine H-Block blanket.

His We Wore The Blanket project began in 2016 - the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the prisoners' campaign.

The author, who was sentenced in the mid-70s to life imprisonment for the attempted murder of an RUC officer, took part in the protest while serving his sentence.

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr McKeown explained he wanted to radically change "the usual image of the blanket protest".

"I 'obtained' an original blanket from the H-Blocks when they closed in July 2000 and asked a professional dressmaker to make several items of clothing; a bow tie, a tie, a waistcoat, a Crombie coat, and several scarves," he said.

"I also requested she alter a dress jacket to include elements of the blanket. The idea was to subvert the usual image of the blanket protest - of beards, long hair, prison cells, street protests - by photographing a number of those involved in the blanket protest wearing these items of clothing

"They would be elegant photos; photographs of people who were proud of the contribution they had made and who today 'wear the blanket' as a mark of honour. The photos were taken outdoors, amidst nature - grass, flowers, trees - in stark contrast to the grey concrete and steel doors of a prison cell."

The calendar itself does not follow the traditional January-December format, but instead begins in March 2018 and runs to September 2019.

Explaining the unusual format, Mr McKeown wrote: "Being an Irish Republican the traditional calendar format had to be subverted, of course! The Blanket Calendar does not follow the usual pattern of 12 months commencing with January and ending December, but instead begins in March (the 'criminalisation policy' commenced March 1, 1976 and Bobby Sands began his hunger strike on March 1, 1981) and ends 19 months later in September 2019.

"I chose this time period as it encompasses the hunger strike, the changes in the prisoners' strategy and their modus operandi post-hunger strike, and concludes with the 'Great Escape' of September 1983.

"Many who had been on the blanket protest took an active part in the escape - either as escapees or providing the vital backup support - and whilst the hunger strike smashed 'criminalisation' the escape buried it."

The clothes featured in We Wore The Blanket were made by Newry dressmaker Yvonne Murphy.

The We Wore The Blanket calendar 2018/2019 is on sale for £10.

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