Scairt Amach/Shout Out

Scairt Amach

When I was an undergraduate exchange student in the 1990s, I attended the University of Ulster, Jordanstown, for a year and lived in Belfast. The city at the time was buzzing with energy and creativity and political turmoil. The period from the mid-1960s to the 1998 Anglo-Irish Agreement, brokered by US statesman George Mitchell, came to be known as The Troubles. While the British government sought to strengthen its hold on the six counties of the Irish province of Ulster, the nationalist/republican/Catholic population questioned the legitimacy of that hold in the first place. The political conversation was often punctuated by shootings, internment, explosions, arrests, juryless trials, and the erosion of basic civil liberties.

In Belfast, I came to know the people around me, to make friends, and to spend time in my friends' homes. There, I saw artifacts from the prison of Long Kesh, where political prisoners did their time. In the early days of the Trouble, prisoners with political status had access to woodworking equipment and other resources, and these prisoners used their time to generate handicrafts for their families.

As the conflict intensified and the British eliminated political status to criminalize the conflict, prisoners lost access to their workshops, so they turned to other forms of creative output.

The quality of the work and the evolving cultural nature of it impressed me, and I created Scairt Amach/Shout Out, a photo exhibit tracing the story of prison art among imprisoned Irish republicans. I had the help of prisoners and their families in identifying representative works, photographing them, and then telling the story. The show formed my senior dissertation when I was an undergraduate at Western Connecticut State Univeristy in Danbury, Connecticut.

The exhibit is now part of the political collection of the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. The slideshow embedded here is essentially the proof book for that project. This is the story of how people define, refine, and redefine themselves when they are under pressure and they are driven by purpose.

Order the Linen Hall Library publication that includes some of my work.