ACIS Logo Learning behind Bars: How IRA Prisoners Shaped the Peace Process in Ireland

Learning behind Bars is an oral history of former Irish republican prisoners in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland between 1971, the year internment was introduced, and 2000, when the high-security Long Kesh Detention Centre/HM Prison Maze closed. Dieter Reinisch outlines the role of politically motivated prisoners in ending armed conflicts as well as the personal and political development of these radical activists during their imprisonment.

Based on extensive life-story interviews with Irish Republican Army (IRA) ex-prisoners, the book examines how political prisoners developed their intellectual positions through the interplay of political education and resistance. It sheds light on how prisoners used this experience to initiate the debates that eventually led to acceptance of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Politically relevant and instructive, Learning behind Bars illuminates the value of education, politics, and resistance in the harshest of social environments.

“The rich and vivid interview material in Dieter Reinisch’s book will be of great interest and value to all those wanting to understand this complex, important phenomenon.”

Richard English, author of Does Terrorism Work? A History

“Methodologically thoughtful, historically rigorous -– combining memories of Irish prisoners with British official documents, letters, and journalistic accounts –- and deeply humane, this book brings us a unique understanding of the history of Ireland: a testimony of the daily life of incarcerated people as embodied subjects who in spite of reclusion influenced a political process of struggle and finally peace.”

Luisa Passerini, Professor Emerita of History, European University Institute, Florence

Learning behind Bars offers a thoughtful historical reconstruction of how, on both sides of the Irish border, republican prisoners’ processes of political self-education shaped first the republican movement and then brought to an end the conflict in the North. An essential read for those seeking to better understand recent Irish history and how republican militants behind bars lived and became political subjects inside and outside the prisons.”

Lorenzo Bosi, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social and Political Science, Scuola Normale Superiore

Published on: November 17, 2022