Patrick McClean recalls the brutality of internment (1971)

Patrick McClean was a 39-year-old civil rights activist who was arrested, interned and questioned by British soldiers in August 1971. Here McClean recalls his experiences of internment:

“I spent the first 48 hours period with the other detainees at Magilligan Camp. At the end of these initial 48 hours a hood was pulled over my head and I was handcuffed and subjected to verbal and personal abuse, which included the threat of being dropped from a helicopter while it was in the air. I was then dragged out to the helicopter, being kicked and struck about the body with batons on the way. After what seemed about one hour in the helicopter I was thrown from it and kicked and batoned into what I took to be a lorry. The lorry was driven only a couple of hundred yards to a building.

On arriving there I was given a thorough examination by a doctor. After this, all my clothes were taken from me and I was given a boiler suit to wear which had no buttons and which was several sizes too big for me. During this time the hood was still over my head and the handcuffs were removed only at the time of the ‘medical examination’. I was then taken into what I can only guess was another room and made to stand with my feet wide apart with my hands pressed against a wall. During all this time I could hear a low droning noise, which sounded to me like an electric saw or something of that nature. This continued for what I can only describe as an indefinite period of time.

I stood there, arms against the wall, feet wide apart. My arms, legs, back and head began to ache. I perspired freely, the noise and heat were terrible. My brain was ready to burst. What was going to happen to me? Was I alone? Are they coming to kill me? I wished to God they would, to end it. My circulation had stopped. I flexed my arms to start the blood flowing again. They struck me several times on the hands, ribs, kidneys and my kneecaps were kicked. My hood covered head was banged against the wall. As I have said this particular method of torture lasted for an indefinite period, but having consulted other men who suffered the same experience I believe this period to have been about two days and nights.

During this time certain periods are blank… fatigue, mental and physical, overwhelmed me; I collapsed several times only to be beaten and pulled to my feet again and once more pushed spread-eagle against the wall. Food, water and the opportunity to relieve my bowels were denied me. I had to urinate and defecate in my suit. I collapsed again. I came to in what I believe to be Crumlin Road jail, having been pushed into a chair. The hood was removed and I was handed what I was told was a detention form. I was told to read it. My eyes burnt and were filled with pain; they would not focus and I couldn’t read the form…

The hood was pulled over my bursting head. I was roughly jerked to my feet and half pulled, half kicked and beaten for about 400 yards. This was the worst and most sustained beating to date. Fists, boots and batons crashed into my numbed body, someone else’s not mine. Hands behind my back, handcuffs biting into my wrists. Pain! Someone was pulling and jerking my arms. Thrown headline into a vehicle—soft seats, beating continued, boots, batons, fists. Then the noise, that dreaded helicopter again. Dragged out of the vehicle by the hair, thrown onto the floor of the helicopter. Blacked out! Conscious again. Hands manacled in front of me. Pushed against a wall, legs wide apart. I dug my fingernails into the wall, pain all over me.

Now that I can relax and think about it I can’t find words to describe the pain. Without attempting to be melodramatic, I think I can best describe it by saying I was enveloped in stretching, cramping pain. My mind began to drift. I tried to sing to myself. I was going mad. I must already be mad to stick this. Still standing rigid against the wall someone takes my pulse, sounds my bruised chest over my heart. Must be a doctor. Dragged along. Pushed into a chair, hood pulled off. Screaming, blind-ing light, questions fast and hard, couldn’t speak. “Spell your name.” Tried to find the letters, swimming in my brain—couldn’t spell my name. I must be insane. More questions—blows, hair pulled. Still can’t see well. A table – three men at it – all writing, blinding light. I was told I would be given half an hour to rest and think. Then I would be asked more questions and if I didn’t answer them I would be taken back to the “music room”, the room with the noise—pain. Sleep, deep, black sleep. Pulled to my feet. Back to the questions again, would not give answers. Back to the ‘music room’.”