On 19 October 1989, Gerry Conlon stormed out of the Old Bailey in London, with his sisters Bridie and Ann, and delivered an extraordinary, impromptu speech that has become iconic in recent Irish history:
“I’ve been in prison 15 years, for something I didn’t do. Something I didn’t know anything about. I’m a totally innocent man – I watched my father die in a British prison for something he didn’t do. He is innocent, the Maguires are innocent, let’s hope the Birmingham Six are next to be freed.”
Conlon, who died in June 2014, had his wrongful 1975 conviction for the Guildford pub bombings quashed that day, along with Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong, and Carole Richardson.
Conlon’s father Giuseppe, who had been in ill health even before his wrongful conviction, died in prison in January 1980.
Paul Hill, speaking in 1994 after his wrongful conviction for the murder of a British soldier in Belfast was quashed.
The IRA bomb attacks, on 5 October 1974, killed five people, including four British soldiers.
Speaking at Conlon’s funeral, his solicitor Gareth Peirce said his words that day “set something in motion that forced us, the rest of the world, Britain, to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see precisely who we were and what we had done,” the Irish Times reported.
The Maguire Seven – including Giuseppe Conlon, five members of Conlon’s extended family, and Maguire family friend Patrick O’Neill – had their convictions quashed in 1991.
The coffin of Gerry Conlon is carried by, among others, Guildford Four member Paddy Armstrong (front right), and Birmingham Six member Paddy Hill (front left).
Conlon was, in the words of Peirce, plagued by “demons” after his release, and a Cambridge University psychologist in 1996 said he and members of the Birmingham Six were suffering from persist post-traumatic stress disorder. He became a leading activist through the Miscarriages of Justice group, however, campaigning up until his death.
Richardson, who was just 17 when convicted, lived in almost complete obscurity after being released, until her death in 2012, at the age of 55.
Hill married Courtney Kennedy, the daughter of Senator Robert Kennedy, but their marriage ended in 2006.
Armstrong now lives in Dublin with his wife Caroline.
The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven were officially exonerated by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005.