Belfast Telegraph

Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan 'inspires' at Magilligan Prison visit


Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan (centre) visited Magilligan Prison. Also included are (L-R) Andy Tosh, governor Magilligan Prison, Ronnie Armour, Fred Caulfield, and Damien O’Kane.
Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan (centre) visited Magilligan Prison. Also included are (L-R) Andy Tosh, governor Magilligan Prison, Ronnie Armour, Fred Caulfield, and Damien O’Kane.
Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan (pictured centre) visited Magilligan Prison to speak with prisoners about his experiences in the Middle East and his life since. Over 33 years ago, on April 11, 1986, the Belfast native was captured by terror group Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. He spent four-and-a-half years in a concrete cell, often in solitary confinement.
Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan (pictured centre) visited Magilligan Prison to speak with prisoners about his experiences in the Middle East and his life since. Over 33 years ago, on April 11, 1986, the Belfast native was captured by terror group Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. He spent four-and-a-half years in a concrete cell, often in solitary confinement.

Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan visited Magilligan Prison to speak with inmates about his experiences in the Middle East and how it has impacted his life.

The Belfast man was captured by terror group Islamic Jihad in Lebanon over 33 years ago, on April 11, 1986.

He spent four-and-a-half years in a concrete cell - often in solitary confinement, blind-folded, interrogated, chained half-naked and beaten by his captors.

But life today for the writer and broadcaster, living happily with his family, couldn’t be further from the kidnapping ordeal he endured.

Earlier this week Brian was guest speaker at the presentation of creative writing awards to prisoners in Magilligan."

He said he felt like he was a member of the group he addressed given his captivity and wanted to tell them about how his life was changed by his experience.

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Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan (pictured centre) visited Magilligan Prison to speak with prisoners about his experiences in the Middle East and his life since. Over 33 years ago, on April 11, 1986, the Belfast native was captured by terror group Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. He spent four-and-a-half years in a concrete cell, often in solitary confinement.

He said he lost all sense of who he was during the long periods of isolation.

"It was the worst of all possible prisons," he said.

"You didn't get any visitors, you didn't get any letters, you didn't get any TV and you didn't get any radio.

"You got out to the toilet once for 10 minutes, and you came back to the cell blindfolded and the lights turned out."

He added: "What I want these guys to take away is that you know there is a fire inside that will warm the soul and which will boil the imagination and will set you free.

"Prison bars do not a prison make... there is prisons we make for ourselves and we have got to get out of those."

Ronnie Armour, director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, said Mr Keenan's philosophical outlook on life was "truly inspiring" .

"Especially so after an inconceivable four-and-a-half year kidnapping ordeal," he said.

"He spoke about surviving the odds and finding peace of mind in surprising places, and his words will have given great hope and encouragement to the men in our care.

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Former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan (pictured centre) visited Magilligan Prison to speak with prisoners about his experiences in the Middle East and his life since. Over 33 years ago, on April 11, 1986, the Belfast native was captured by terror group Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. He spent four-and-a-half years in a concrete cell, often in solitary confinement.

"This is all about building self-esteem in prisoners, supporting and challenging them to change which in turn will help reduce re-offending and ultimately make our community a safer place to live.”

Dr Damian O’Kane, head of education at the Magilligan campus of the North West Regional College said it was "fitting" Mr Keenan visited.

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September 1990. Brian Keenan gets a warm welcome from well wishers outside Belfast City Hall after his release from Beirut

“We are delighted that students in Magilligan have been awarded an unprecedented number of Koestler Awards in creative writing, art and barbering," he said.

"It is fitting that Brian Keenan, who is a truly inspirational figure and a strong advocate of the power of education to transform lives, has shared his life experiences with our students and thereby encouraging them to continue on their educational journey."

Fred Caulfield, Executive Director of the Prison Arts Foundation, said creative arts played an important role in the rehabilitation of inmates.

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Brian Keenan, who was held by Shia Muslims in Lebanon for 54 months

"Many offenders – and ex-offenders – who participate in the Koestler Awards find it a rewarding experience and the written feedback they receive from judges boosts self-esteem and confidence," he said.

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