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19 May 2022

Gerry Conlon's story after wrongful imprisonment is brought to life on stage

Playwright Martin Lynch tells of Guildford Four man's descent into drink and drugs and how actor Shaun Blaney showcases Gerry's rise from the abyss in a play to be shown at Derry's Forum later this year

Gerry Conlon's story after wrongful imprisonment is brought to life on stage

Shaun Blaney as Gerry Conlon in Martin Lynch & Richard O'Rawe's play, "In The Name Of The Son", which will be staged at Derry's Millennium Forum in July.

“You'll have never seen an acting performance like this in your life,” exclaims playwright Martin Lynch. “This man blows his audience away.”

Martin, whose plays – which include “Dockers”, “The Interrogation of Ambrose Fogerty” and “Minstrel Boys” – have received widespread acclaim throughout Ireland, Britain, Europe and America, is referring to actor Shaun Blaney who stars in his latest work, “In The Name Of The Son”.

This play will be shown at Derry's Millennium Forum on July 23 of this year. And while that might seem some time away, theatre goers are advised to get their tickets now giving the roaring success it had last Autumn at Belfast's Lyric Theatre.

Lynch co-wrote the production with Richard O'Rawe based on the latter's book, “In The Name Of The Son”, based on how life was for one of the Guildford Four, Gerry Conlon, after he was set free from his wrongful incarceration in prison.

Blaney stars in a one-man show that has garnered rave reviews and now Derry will see first-hand how this actor portrays Conlon's descent into a post-prison abyss of drug abuse, the guilt over his father Giuseppe's death and his eventual redemption as he finds a new purpose for his life.

Lynch said: “I had read Richard's book which he wrote about Gerry (also titled 'In The Name Of The Son'). Richard had been born in the same street (Peel Street near the Falls Road, Belfast) as Gerry and they were life-long childhood friends.

“Richard wrote the book looking at Gerry's life after prison. When I read that I thought, 'wow – this would make a good stage play'. It had all the ingredients you need for a strong story.

“I had known Richard from years ago. We were two former dockers who had worked at the dock back in the early seventies. We met for lunch to discuss doing his book as a stage play and he loved the idea.

“With the casting of Shaun, you'll have never seen an acting performance like this in your life. I've been going to the theatre for forty-five years in venues all over the world. This man Shaun Blaney, blows his audience away.

“Before I even met Richard, I had it in my head that this should be a one-man show. I also had Shaun Blaney's name in my head because he had been in a play we had done at the Waterfront (in Belfast) called, 'Three's A Shroud', a comedy about rival Protestant and Catholic funeral directors.

“Shaun played the Protestant funeral director. During rehearsals, he would start throwing in voices like Marlon Brando or Al Pacino and start singing and acting the acrobat.

“I used to shout at him, 'Shaun keep that in – that's good' as I was the director. I remember afterwards. 'Shaun...if I come across a good one-man show, I'm going to come looking for you'.

“So that's what happened. Richard said to me, 'you can't give us a one-man show – there's twenty or thirty people he'll have to act in the play'. I just said, 'Richard... you'll have to trust me as this will be an amazing one-man show'.

“I have had a lot of brilliant reactions to my plays over the years but I've had amazing reactions to this one – standing ovations every night. We had a run of fifteen shows (at Belfast's Lyric Theatre) – all sold out. Once word had got round, you just could not get a ticket.

“Tony Devlin has done a brilliant job as director, the music is fantastic and the writing's not bad either.”

Playwright, Martin Lynch (left) with Richard O'Rawe who co-wrote the script for "In The Name Of The Son" which portrays life for Gerry Conlon after he was released from prison after being wrongfully convicted for the 1974 Guildford pub bombing.

Much is known about Gerry Conlon and the miscarriage of justice that befell the Guildford Four.

Following a pub-bombing by the IRA in Guildford that killed five people, Gerry along with Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson were arrested and imprisoned for life.

Seven others, including Gerry's father Giuseppe, were also jailed for handling explosives connected with the bombing. They became known as the Maguire Seven.

All 11 would have their convictions quashed after more than a decade in jail – although it came too late for Giuseppe who had died in prison years earlier.

The film, “In The Name Of The Father” - starring Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon documents this miscarriage of justice. However, what happened to Gerry after his release is not well known.

Martin Lynch picks up the story. “People have no idea of this man's life after he got out of jail – it's incredible,” he said.

“He lived ten lifetimes in the one life. He got out of jail and over the period of the next three years he received £1.1million in compensation from the Government, the rights to the film, the rights to his own book and a claim he won against The Sun newspaper for defamation of character.

“He proceeded to spend that money in double-quick time and, in the process, got hooked on crack-cocaine. His life became a mad world of drink, alcoholism, crack-cocaine and women – he was adored by women. He was a good-looking fella and had the chat, the talk and the charm of ten charming men.

“He had a couple of girlfriends who were more longer-term – particularly the last one and that's featured in the story because she was a crack-cocaine addict as well.

“Some of the story charts their journey to get off it. He owed the crack-cocaine dealers in London money and they were hiding from them while still looking for more crack-cocaine.

“His whole life and ended up so bad that he was rummaging through bins of West End London restaurants looking for food. That's how low he dropped.

“At that point, he decided he wanted to do something about it. They moved to Plymouth to get away from the whole scene in London.

“In London, he was knocking about with all these famous people. He knocked about with Shane McGowan of The Pogues, Bananarama and all that Camden Town set.

“Because he was a 'cause célèbre there, they were all Irish and they loved him. So he was right in the heart of all that drugs and drink.

“Him and his girlfriend get out and move to Plymouth. When there, he went to counselling and that was the beginning of the change of his life. His counsellor spent the best part of two or three years with him and turned his life right round.

“There was absolutely zero in terms of receiving rehabilitation back into society when he got out. He got money from the Government but nothing else. Same with the Prison Service. He had to make his own way.

“He did come out of jail with a huge guilt factor in that he was the cause of his father (Giuseppe) dying. When Gerry got arrested, his father went over to get him a solicitor and then he got arrested. When in jail, his father got cancer, couldn't get treatment properly and he died.

“I believe that that single guilt factor caused that whole downward spiral. Gerry had nightmares – some of them you would not believe. One of them was that he was in the dock (at court) and all of a sudden, a hangman's noose comes down right in front of him and hangs on his head. He then hears this chanting from the gallery shouting 'Do it, do it'. Gerry looks over and his father is leading the chant.

“He had that nightmare every other night along with three or four other incredible nightmares. He had trouble sleeping unless he took drink or crack-cocaine.

“However, beneath all of this, there was a good, nice man whose heart was beating away and wanted to do good. Even during his drug addiction, he used to bring homeless people home. He'd put them up for the night and take them down to McDonald's the next day, buy them their breakfast and hand them a hundred quid.

“During the last fifteen years of his life, he had conquered his addiction to crack-cocaine. He turned his life right round and became a major campaigner against human rights violations – mostly prison rights violations – all over the world.

“One instance was when he went to Florida to speak against the death penalty where he told people that 'had the death penalty still been around in England when I was sentenced, I would be dead – instead I'm here speaking to you'.

“Remember the judge at his trial (John Donaldson) said, 'Unfortunately Mr Conlon...I can't sentence you to death, much as I would like to'.

“Gerry, along with (Birmingham Six member) Paddy Hill, ran an organisation called 'MOJO' – Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation.

“When he got back to Belfast to look after his mother, he found out that he had an 18-year-old daughter from a previous relationship that he had known nothing about.

“That just fulfilled him big time. He said 'she called me daddy' – and I've got a great scene in the play where he talks about that – 'imagine somebody calling me daddy'. He at last had the family he always wanted.”

“In The Name Of The Son” is on at the Millennium Forum on July 23, 2022. Tickets are on sale now and can be bought online at: https://www.millenniumforum.co.uk/shows/in-the-name-of-the-son/

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