In the tor­ture cham­ber of his mind, there was no room for self-heal­ing or self-ab­so­lu­tion

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

In the fol­low­ing ex­tract, O’Rawe chron­i­cles a par­tic­u­larly wild pe­riod for Gerry, as he frit­tered away his com­pen­sa­tion money on hard cases and­hard­drugs:

By Fe­bru­ary 1995, Con­lon was in chronic dis­ar­ray. He had no di­rec­tion in his life, no cause to fight, no one to lobby, no fe­male friend to pam­per and no rea­son to get out of bed other than to es­cape from his night­mares. Then he met Angie in a bar in Kil­burn, Lon­don. Per­haps it was be­cause Angie was a crack ad­dict, or it might be that he saw a part of him­self in her, but he liked the con­vivial young lady who called ev­ery­one ‘Dar­lin’ and spoke in an earthy Devon ac­cent. She was down-to-earth, easy to talk to and, im­pres­sively, a good lis­tener. What Gerry did not know was that Angie had the fire of Queen Boadicea in her belly — and a tem­per to match: no one, cer­tainly not Gerry Con­lon, would in­tim­i­date her.

Be­sides his flat in Belfast, Con­lon also had a flat above a book­maker’s premises in Cam­den, and that was where the pair re­tired to af­ter leav­ing the pub. Angie re­mem­bers: “Gerry talked non-stop to me. I think it was be­cause I got a raw deal and he could re­late to that.”

Dur­ing their all-night con­ver­sa­tion, which in­evitably en­tailed Con­lon re­hash­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences at the hands of the Bri­tish Es­tab­lish­ment, Angie told him that she could not look her­self in the mir­ror. Con­lon was aghast at this. In his worldly view — a view that would even­tu­ally stand him in good stead — the high­est in so­ci­ety could fall by the way­side and of­ten did, but that did not mean that per­son could not pick them­selves up again. Angie gulped hard as she re­called Con­lon’s words: “‘What do you mean you can’t look your­self in the mir­ror?’ Then he took the mir­ror off the wall and held it in front of me. ‘Look at your­self ’. I couldn’t. I turned my face away. See, I didn’t like the per­son who’d be look­ing back at me. ‘I said, look at your­self’. Nah, I wasn’t go­ing there. ‘Fuck­ing look at your­self when you’re told!’ To shut him up, I glanced in the mir­ror. ‘What do you see?’ he said.

“I told him straight: ‘A junkie. A worth­less junkie’. “‘What else?’ “‘Noth­ing else. There’s noth­ing else there.’

“Gerry had this stare. He kinda looked right into your eyes when he’d some­thing im­por­tant to say: ‘Hey, wee girl! You’re bet­ter than most peo­ple. What the fuck’s the mat­ter with ya?’ Then he told me I wasn’t a worth­less junkie: I was a junkie but not a worth­less one. That seemed kinda funny. We laughed our heads off at that.

“He taught me a lot, he did. He took ev­ery­one at face value. It’s a qual­ity that not many peo­ple have. If he liked you, he liked you, and if he didn’t, he told you to fuck off. But... he built up my self-es­teem.”

And therein lay part of the co­nun­drum that was Gerry Con­lon: he had met a young woman whose life was in tur­moil, who was floun­der­ing in self­pity, and he stepped in with chival­rous gallantry to res­cue her, telling her that she had worth, that she had a fu­ture.

Yet he un­de­ni­ably wal­lowed in his own de­spair and self-chas­tise­ment over the ar­rest and death of his fa­ther. This man was well read, his favourite book be­ing The Ragged-Trousered Phi­lan­thropists by Robert Tres­sell (Dublin-born, Tres­sell’s real name was Robert Noo­nan. His time­less clas­sic is an ex­posé of the so­cial in­equal­ity that ex­isted in the town of ‘Mugs­bor­ough’, the fic­tional set­ting for the novel. The ‘Phi­lan­thropists’ are the work­ers, on whose backs the cap­i­tal­ists gen­er­ate per­sonal wealth). More­over, Con­lon had read the Bi­ble sev­eral times in prison and could quote whole pas­sages from it ver­ba­tim. Time and again, those who knew him spoke of Con­lon’s great sym­pa­thy for his fel­low hu­man be­ings. For the likes of Angie, he was a physi­cian and a healer. Yet he chose to ig­nore the bib­li­cal proverb ‘Physi­cian, heal thy­self ’. In the tor­ture cham­ber of his mind, there was no room for self-heal­ing or self-ab­so­lu­tion.

Im­pul­sive, given to try­ing to run be­fore he had learned to walk, Con­lon took Angie to Belfast the next day, where she stayed in his sis­ter’s house for two weeks. Dur­ing her time in Bri­die’s house, Angie met the rest of his fam­ily. Ann McKer­nan was im­pressed with Angie’s hard-boiled at­ti­tude: “She went with Gerry for years. Ev­ery one of my girls, my mum: ev­ery­body loved Angie. She and him mur­dered one another, but Angie gave him as good as she got.”

When Ann was speak­ing of Angie dur­ing an in­ter­view, there was a smile on her face; it seemed as if she was proud of Angie for stand­ing up for her­self, for wom­an­hood.

Through­out these two weeks, Angie vis­ited Gerry’s Os­borne Park flat where a few pipes of crack co­caine were smoked. It could have been worse.

North­ern Ire­land had al­ways been spared the rav­ages of hard drugs be­cause para­mil­i­tary groups, prin­ci­pally the IRA, saw the tak­ing and sup­ply­ing of drugs as de­viant be­hav­iour which must be erad­i­cated — by ex­e­cu­tion if nec­es­sary. Thus it was, when the IRA an­nounced a ces­sa­tion of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions on Au­gust 31, 1994, that the or­gan­i­sa­tion turned its at­ten­tion to drug deal­ers, and from 1995 to 2001, nine drug deal­ers were shot dead by an IRA front or­gan­i­sa­tion called Di­rect Ac­tion Against Drugs.

There would have been few peo­ple in North­ern Ire­land tak­ing crack co­caine, but Gerry was amongst them. While that would have been frowned upon by the IRA lead­er­ship, it is doubt­ful if it would have re­sulted in Gerry’s ex­e­cu­tion, given his large pub­lic pro­file and the neg­a­tive im­pli­ca­tions his mur­der would have had for the fledg­ling peace process.

With crack co­caine al­most im­pos­si­ble to buy in North­ern Ire­land, Angie took on the role of sup­ply­ing Con­lon, mak­ing fre­quent trips to Belfast from Eng­land. She also sent crack across in the post. She was a cen­tral fig­ure in what was a bizarre and some­times vi­o­lent re­la­tion­ship.

“It was a crazy time. We were tak­ing so much crack. Gerry was see­ing other women; he didn’t hide it. And I was cool with that at the time; as long as I got crack. In Lon­don, he used to give me money to stay away, and he’d have been hav­ing a party round there, loads of girls, loads of sex. I used to phone him up and say down the phone: ‘Run­ning out of money, dar­lin! Run­ning out!’ He’d say, ‘Don’t you come round here!’ and I’d say, ‘I’m on my way. Get one of the girls to put the ket­tle on, dar­lin’. Then he’d say: ‘Don’t you fuckin’ dare come round here!’ I used to ter­rorise him, I did. I was his neme­sis; I used to ter­rorise that poor man. He met his match with me. And ev­ery now and then, when he re­ally pissed me off, I used to go around and smash all his win­dows. It was a men­tal re­la­tion­ship, but it was just how it was. My mum tried to get me sec­tioned ’cause I used to turn up at his house and wreck the place and rip all his clothes up.”

The mad­ness of Angie was more than matched by Gerry’s an­ar­chy. Angie re­called: “I came back one day and no one was in the flat. So I found out from a dealer that he was in a mate’s house and I went round there, and there he was with this Chilean call girl called Beatrice. You must have heard of her: ‘Who’s next, Beatrice?’ No? Ev­ery­body knows her. I didn’t mind him be­ing with Beatrice, but I did mind that he tried to hide it from me.”

Con­lon was a fa­mil­iar fig­ure for the call-girls of Lon­don. “Some­times you’d be sit­ting in the flat over the course of the day and it was like fuck­ing Pic­cadilly Cir­cus,” Angie said, “there was that many call girls com­ing and go­ing. But he wasn’t shag­ging them.” Surely that negated the whole point of send­ing for

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