I first heard from Gerry a few weeks after he got out of prison in October 1989. The phone rang and he said that he was Gerry Conlon and he was in America to try to free the Birmingham 6. He told me that his lawyer, Gareth Peirce, said he should call me.
Gerry and I got together that afternoon to try to see what we could do. He told me that he had promised the Birmingham 6, and especially Paddy Joe Hill, that he would do everything he could to get them out.
We began to plot a campaign – trying to figure out who knew who and who they might be able to reach. It all depended on Gerry and the credibility he brought because he’d just been exonerated.
We wound up with a Congressional hearing chaired by Joe Kennedy. Gerry was the star witness all the Congressmen came to hear and meet. But he was also the one who made the connections and wouldn’t let it rest until they actually held the hearing.
I didn’t see Gerry again until October last year when he came to New York to accept the Sr. Sarah Clarke Award from the National Irish Freedom Committee. An award named after Sr. Sarah was special to him because she was with his father, Giuseppe, when he died in a British prison.
I got to spend time with Gerry every day for about two weeks as he went everywhere and talked to everyone about political prisoners. He asked them to support Martin Corey who was imprisoned in Maghaberry and the Craigavon 2 who are still there. Gerry insisted on speaking up for Mumia Abu Jamal and the Guantanamo prisoners even when he was told not to.
I never met Gerry again but we talked on the phone from time to time. Looking back, I’m sorry that I only called about something “important” instead of just calling to talk.
Because I think Gerry always really enjoyed talking to people. His childhood friend Richard O’Rawe reminded me that he was great craic.
He was one of the great storytellers. It was always great to sit and just listen as Gerry unfolded one fascinating tale after another over a pint or a cup of coffee.
What set Gerry apart from other great talkers was that he was also a great listener. He genuinely cared about what you thought and what you’d done.
Now that Gerry’s gone, it’s time for us to focus on his last great crusade – freeing the Craigavon 2 who’ve been framed for killing a policeman. Gerry used to compare their case to his. Something bad happened, and the police were under intense public pressure. Someone, anyone, had to be arrested and convicted.
We can all honor Gerry just by signing their petition at change.org Justice for the Craigavon 2 and by standing by the Craigavon 2 until they’re free.
Finally I want to thank Gerry’s partner and his daughter. Between them they made his last few years the best.
We’ll be grateful to them as long as we remember Gerry.
GERRY INSISTED ON SPEAKING UP
MONDAY, JUNE 23, 2014
Guest writer Sandy Boyer shares his memories of Gerry Conlon.