Life After Life by Paddy Armstrong- a discussion with Mary-Elaine Tynan
8 December 2017
On 21 October 2017, Dr Hannah Quirk chaired a Q&A session with Paddy Armstrong and Mary-Elaine Tynan, authors of Life after Life: A Guilford Four Memoir at Manchester Literature Festival. First year law student Gabby Healey reviewed the event for us.
‘The Guilford Four’ were three men and one woman wrongly convicted of the 1974 Guilford pub bombings carried out by the IRA. This was one of the worst miscarriages of justice this country has ever seen,. Fifteen years later, their convictions were overturned and they were released. For many, this is as far as their knowledge of these events goes. ‘Life after Life: A Guilford Four Memoir’ is written by Paddy Armstrong, one of the Guilford Four, and Mary-Elaine Tynan, a freelance journalist and author. It lays bare his experiences in a way that has never been captured before, and we were fortunate enough to hear the pair talk about both Paddy’s life and the process of writing the memoir at the Manchester Irish World Heritage Centre.
Prior to attending Paddy Armstrong and Mary-Elaine Tynan’s discussion on their Guilford Four Memoir 'Life after Life’, I admittedly had pre-conceived ideas about what to expect; this was one of the first events of this kind I have attended and have been somewhat influenced by miscarriages of justice as they are reported in the media.
I envisaged that the audience would be greeted by an angry man who was filled with fury about the abhorrent injustice and the deplorable treatment he had suffered, and wanted to ensure that he could tell everyone about how severely he had been wronged. These misconceptions could not have been further from the truth. Instead, Paddy was calm and collected, and to my surprise he seemed ‘normal’. I am sure that on the inside he felt broken and full of contempt for those responsible. However, it soon became apparent to me that Paddy had not only written his book and come to the Manchester Irish World Heritage Centre just to share his rage with us, he simply wanted to share his story. Anger clearly wasn’t the only emotion that defined him: He appeared full of compassion for the life he was now able to share with his wife and children, and that he had not let his past defeat him.
Mary-Elaine Tynan was also instrumental to the discussion. She talked of the painstaking struggle she had faced to get Paddy to open up; conscious of not wanting to cause him any more trauma, but knowing that to write something which could truly capture his experience and be full of raw emo-tion could only be achieved through forcing Paddy to delve into the most vulnerable parts of him-self that he never thought he would share. It was particularly amusing when Mary-Elaine described a moment they shared in a windy hut in Ireland, where the pair were screaming at each other as Mary-Elaine knew there was so much more to a certain story than Paddy was disclosing. Of course, Paddy realised that this was necessary if he wanted to reflect his life though his memoir. Through-out the talk, she was often able to find the right words when Paddy struggled to articulate what he was trying to say, but this was never done in a way that detracted from Paddy.
Equally, with so much to discuss about Paddy’s upbringing, imprisonment, and his life thereafter in such a short amount of time, Dr Hannah Quirk, from the School of Law, clearly had a genuine in-terest which was reflected in the eloquent presentation of the questions she asked. Dr Quirk also ensured the discussion remained controlled and focused without overly-restricting Paddy, who ob-viously had endless amounts to share.
One part of the discussion that deeply resonated with me was when Paddy talked about his reluc-tance to visit the memorial for the victims of the bombings in Guildford, unsure if he would be wel-come. “People still think I’m guilty” he said, as though this was something Paddy had just come to accept. I also found it particularly poignant when Paddy told the audience that during his time in prison, an inmate discovered his file and told him that the Governor knew of his innocence. I was unable to comprehend how someone could be sitting in prison when their innocence was common knowledge. To me, this demonstrated that these people really are powerless and perhaps we are all just pawns, capable of being swallowed up by a system that does not give a second thought as to the devastation it causes in its tracks. In Paddy’s case, the injustice within this system went right the way to the top.
Needless to say, I left on that Saturday afternoon with a copy of ‘Life After Life’ under my arm, feeling incredibly humbled.
Law, UG Year One.