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Thursday 17 December 2020, 6.30 pm

Our third lecture as part of the Hidden Histories of the Irish Abroad Series will explore the experiences of Irish people incarcerated in foreign penitentiaries and penal colonies.

Moving beyond the standard tale of Brendan Behan’s “Borstal Boy”, this lecture discusses lesser known stories of imprisoned Irish emigrants. Although it may initially seem counterintuitive, perhaps one of the most historically consequential Irish diaspora experiences was that of Irish people incarcerated in foreign prisons. The Irish abroad not only proved skilled at springing themselves and others out from behind bars, Irish prisoners were also adept at making use of their time ‘inside’.

Padraic Kenney has traced the historical origins of the modern concept of the political prisoner, demonstrating how the very idea of politicising imprisonment was generated by three movements: Irish nationalists, the suffragettes and Russian revolutionaries. Occasionally these prisoner categories blended together: several Irish women found themselves in Britain’s Holloway Prison as a result of their involvement in nationalist and feminist movements in the early twentieth century. One of the most dramatic yet little-known stories of political imprisonment is the case of Tom Mooney, an Irish-American radical who spent the 1920s and the 1930s in California’s San Quentin prison. His conviction, which was based on perjured evidence, became an international cause celebre, bringing Irish socialists, black civil rights activists and Mooney’s elderly Mayo-born mother together in a global campaign for his release.

This talk will explore these Irish examples and more from the penitentiaries and penal colonies of modern history to show how time inside could result in the transformation of the world outside.

A donation of €5 to MASI per lecture would be welcomed.