On the Blanket: The Inside Story of the IRA Prisoners’ “Dirty” Protest

ISBN: 0312295138
ISBN 13: 9780312295134
By: Tim Pat Coogan

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About this book

The H Block protest is one of the strangest and most controversial issues in the tragic history of Northern Ireland. Republican prisoners, convicted of grave crimes through special courts and ruthless interrogation procedures, campaigned for political status by refusing to wear prison clothes and daubing their cell with excrement.Were they properly convicted criminals, or martyrs to political injustice? In a masterpiece of investigative journalism, Coogan provides us with the only first-hand account of the protest. His investigation led deep into the social, cultural, and economic maze of Northern Ireland's history to give readers an unmatched analysis of a troubled place and its sorrowful history.

Reader's Thoughts

Puck Duimdus

Historic insight into the 'troubles' by an extremely well informed contemporary investigative journalist.

Edward Gardner

The true story of the appalling conditions at Long Kesh prison in Belfast. And the Irish prisoners who died while protesting with a hunger strike in 1981. They requested 5 things:1 The right not to wear a prison uniform;2 The right not to do prison work;3 The right of free association with other prisoners, and to organize educational and recreational pursuits;4 The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;5 Full restoration of remission lost through the protest.Margaret Thatcher decided that she would let them die before granting these requests.The 10 men that died in the protest: Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Ray McCreesh, Patsy O'Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, Michael Devine.


I loved the chapter about the women's prisons. If you want to learn more about the Irish Conflict I strongly suggest you read this book. It's slightly bias in its writing but still good.


Good book. Found out about it through a song. Very in-depth portrayal of the Irish prison system in the North during the troubles. If you want to know what people are capable of doing to each other (and what they are willing to withstand) no matter what you believe, this book will open your eyes.


Tim Pat Coogan is the definitive Historian of modern Irish history and the conflict between Unionists and Nationalists. And there is no more knowledgeable expert on the Irish Republican Army. In this book on the 1981 Irish Hunger Strikers, Coogan begins with the conditions that led up to the 'dirty protest' and does a great job of describing the political battle over determining whether or not to go on hunger strike. In the end, it was the will of one man, Bobby Sands, pitted against the will of one woman, Margaret Thatcher, and I would argue that it is Sands who ultimately wins the battle. His election to British Parliament and ultimately his dignified death in Long Kesh with the resulting publicity was a watershed event in Irish nationalist politics which enabled the IRA and Sinn Fein to sustain enough popular support at the end of the 20th century to have the leverage entering in peace talks. Without Sands and the other nine hunger strikers, the IRA and Sinn Fein do not survive into the 21st century. Coogan does a great job of weaving through all sides of the conflict as the drama played out. There are other books on the hunger strikers that present the human side of this event, but none present the breadth depth of knowledge like Coogan can.

Jack Stephens

A very good investigative report by the author. While he doesn't delve into a deep sociological study of the Nationalist and Unionist populations in Northern Ireland (as this is an investigative piece) he does a decent job in interviewing the prisoners (both Nationalist and Unionist), their families, the guards, and civil servants and unobtrusively lets them deliver their views with a little bit of historical background to add context. Some of the best reporting in the book (beyond the conditions of the dirty protesters) is the lead up to the protest in where the British authorities used mechanisms that funneled Irish Catholic youths from the streets, to rigged courts, and into the prison system.

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