Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Former prisoners wear ‘the blanket’ again for commemorative calendar

Former political prisoners from the area who endured the Blanket Protest of the late 1970s feature prominently in a unique calendar which has been produced, depicting designer clothes made from an original H-Block blanket.

‘We Wore The Blanket’ captures portraits of former blanketmen and women who took part in the five-year protest from 1976 to 1981, wearing items of clothing incorporating remnants of a genuine blanket which was retrieved when Long Kesh prison closed in July 2000.

Former blanketman Paddy Quinn from Camlough – who was jailed in 1976 alongside his comrade hunger striker Raymond McCreesh – features in the calendar; as does Dundalk man Paddy Agnew, who was elected as a Dáil TD during the 1981 Hunger Strike, while ‘on the blanket’.

Former hunger striker turned author Laurence McKeown from Belfast came up with the idea for the calendar last year – the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the blanket protest.  The aim he says is to radically change “the usual image” of the blanket protest – of beards, long hair, prison cells and street protests – and instead show elegant images of those who are proud of their contribution, and today ‘wear the blanket’ as a mark of honour.

Professional dressmaker, Yvonne Murphy from Newry, was tasked with the distinguished assignment of creating items of clothing incorporating elements of the blanket, which include a bow tie, a waistcoat, a Crombie coat and several scarves. 

The former blanketmen and blanketwoman then donned ‘the blanket’ once more, their images captured outside in natural surroundings of trees and grass, in stark contrast to the concrete and steel doors of their former prison cell.

Mr McKeown revealed the calendar itself does not follow the traditional January-December format, but instead begins in March 2018 (the ‘criminalisation policy’ commenced March 1st 1976, the same date Bobby Sands commenced his hunger strike in 1981) and runs to 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,” he explained.

Copies of We Wore The Blanket calendar are available for sale from the Ti Chulainn Centre, Mullaghbawn and are priced at £10.