Gerry Conlon has been laid to rest in his native Belfast – after his funeral service heard that in the end the victory was his.
The victim of the Guildford Four miscarriage of justice died after just a three week battle with cancer.
Speaking at mass in St Peter’s Cathedral in West Belfast, lawyer Gareth Peirce told mourners that Conlon was a ‘victorious human being who defeated a mighty foe.’
She told hundreds of mourners of the ‘demons’ that possessed Conlon after he was wrongfully convicted and jailed for the 1974 IRA bombings at Guildford which killed five people.
Peirce recalled the powerful impression he made when he stormed out of the Old Bailey as a free man after his sentence was overturned in 1989, a moment captured in the movie ‘In the Name of the Father.’
She said: “When he angrily, angrily stated the truth it had an extraordinary effect and made the world understand that innocent men and women had been buried alive in English prisons year after year and it had been allowed.
Indeed it had been organized to happen. It was no accident.
“So when he shouted out ‘I am an innocent man, my father was innocent, the Maguires are innocent and the Birmingham Six’, he set something in motion that forced the rest of 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 report adds that the Guildford Four lawyer also recalled how Conlon spoke passionately about the need for action on other miscarriages of justice as he waited to die.
She said: “Life dealt Gerry a pretty poor hand. He was a gambler and gambling was in his DNA but with a poor hand he made a magnificent fist of it. If anyone thinks that this is someone who was beaten or terrified and pushed down forever, that wasn’t so.
“We can say, with all the adversities, in the end Gerry Conlon won - the victory was his.”
The Irish Times reports that the crowd had clapped and sang earlier as one of the members of the English group Alabama Three sang a powerful version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Fr Ciaran Dallat told the congregation: “Gerry Conlon lived a life filled with great pain but in the last 10 years he found some peace for himself”.
“I was amazed at his readiness for death. He told me on his death bed ‘I am just waiting for my master to come and take me home’.
“Gerry died just three weeks after his diagnosis. He had done an awful lot of suffering in his early life, he didn’t need to suffer any more. He was ready to go.”
Speaking of how Gerry Conlon blamed himself for the death of his father Guiseppe who died in prison in 1980 after he was arrested and wrongly imprisoned on bomb-making charges, Fr Dallat added: “And in the Master’s house, the place that Jesus has prepared in heaven, we trust that Guiseppe and Sara are there.
“And he will truly be at peace at last because Guiseppe will reassure him, as his mother tried so often, that it wasn’t his fault - it wasn’t his fault, other people got it wrong.”
The funeral was attended by Paddy Armstrong of the Guildford Four while Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six helped carry the coffin.