| 2°C Belfast

Students get 'reel' education into life behind bars during Northern Ireland Troubles

Close

Students from Glenlola Collegiate at a special screening of the Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) at the Public Record Office. Taking part in the event were speakers Angela Nelson, Joanna McMinn and Billy Hutchinson with Conor McCafferty (PMA project manager) and Sean Kelly of Into Film

Students from Glenlola Collegiate at a special screening of the Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) at the Public Record Office. Taking part in the event were speakers Angela Nelson, Joanna McMinn and Billy Hutchinson with Conor McCafferty (PMA project manager) and Sean Kelly of Into Film

Students from Glenlola Collegiate at a special screening of the Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) at the Public Record Office. Taking part in the event were speakers Angela Nelson, Joanna McMinn and Billy Hutchinson with Conor McCafferty (PMA project manager) and Sean Kelly of Into Film

Seventy GCSE students from Glenlola Collegiate in Bangor have joined ex-prisoners from opposing sides during the Troubles as part of a special film screening about life behind bars.

Joining former UVF prisoner Billy Hutchinson and republican ex-inmate Angela Nelson at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) at Titanic Belfast, the students viewed a collection of recordings detailing life inside Armagh Gaol and the Maze Prison during the conflict.

They also heard experiences of life inside from both the former prisoners.

Hutchinson, now leader of the PUP, served 16 years in the Maze between 1974-90 for two murders, while former Sinn Fein politician and ex-IRA prisoner Nelson was held on remand at Armagh Gaol in the 1970s.

Importantly, the 175 recordings in the collection feature stories and contributions from all sections of prison life, from inmates to staff and teachers.

Conor McCafferty, project manager for the outreach programme organisers the Prisons Memory Archive (PMA), said there is "huge curiosity" among young people about this period of time and hoped the permanent database at PRONI will continue to interest future generations.

"A lot of young people today, thankfully who have not been directly touched by what has happened, are also quite curious about what happened," he said.

"They are definitely keen to understand more so they don't make the mistakes of the past."

This sentiment is echoed by the anonymous feedback forms filled out by the Glenlola pupils after the screening.

One student said "the range of perspectives was fascinating", while another admitted that the film "humanised people involved in the Troubles".

Sean Kelly from educational charity Into Film said the event illustrated the power of the medium to educate young people about their history and culture.

"These young people have no direct experience of growing up during the Troubles so this screening and talk is a powerful living memory of what it was like during those difficult times," he said.

Mr McCafferty added that the project is an important way to preserve a period of time that has thankfully passed.

"I think it documents these structures, both the physical structure and an almost psychological mindset that no longer exists here," he said.

"Those different voices and their experiences, it was kind of a microcosm of the politics on the outside, within the prison."

Belfast Telegraph