The people serving time in Long Kesh Prison, Belfast enjoyed a freedom to speak the Irish language, a freedom not permitted in many British prisons during the Troubles. H-blocks, in Long Kesh, the section of the prison where Republican inmates were kept, became known as the Jailtacht (a play on Gaeltacht – an Irish speaking region). It was a cultural revival as inmates would spend most of their time learning and speaking Irish and taking part in traditional music sessions. Most inmates conducted their lives 100% through the Irish language while serving their sentences.
They consumed Irish language media in the mornings, they had tapes of Irish language lessons which inmates would listen to while walking in the yard and repeat phrases and words, and they conducted lessons through-out the day. Fluent speakers taught lessons to the advanced speakers. Advanced taught lessons to intermediates. Intermediates taught to beginners and beginners taught to the brand new learners. The system worked so well that within three months, new inmates would be at near fluency having never spoken the language before in their lives.
It was in this environment that a collaboration CD was recorded by a number of inmates.
A lot of people will be familiar with the hunger strikes that took place in Long Kesh prison in the year 1981. 23 Republican volunteers began a hunger strike to regain political status for paramilitary prisoners. Their mission didn’t go according to plan and, sadly, through-out the Summer months and into early Autumn, 10 strikers succumbed to the toll it took on their bodies.
A decade after this, a group of inmates in H-Block secretly compiled a cassette tape to commemorate the hunger strikers’ sacrifice. They used mattresses to turn one of their cells into a recording studio and, using a smuggled tape recorder and look-outs to make sure they weren’t caught, six prisoners recorded the album, “Music from the Blocks.”
The songs capture the emotion and feeling of the turbulent times that were the Troubles and there is the element of grit that comes with recording an album with the bare essential tools. The songs are in traditional Irish style for the most part and are a mix between the inmates own written works and other songs from the era.
A number of the tracks are available on Youtube if you search “Music From the Blocks” and Ebay carries a few of the CDs.