Through interviews with republican and loyalist ex-prisoners, prison chaplain Father Raymond Murray and the journalist Nell McCafferty, filmmakers Michele Devlin and Claire Hackett pull the common focus of the troubles and make visible women’s narratives during this phase of the conflict.
Aspects of the film are shocking. The youth of the women who were imprisoned, the horrifying deprivations of the no wash protest and the fact that some women had babies while they were in jail. They tell us of the impact of their incarceration on their families as well as themselves, and the deep and enduring bonds formed. Though this sisterhood was not a magnanimous embrace, the contrast of the republican women’s sorority with the loyalist prisoner’s account of isolation is stark, but there is a kind of sisterhood in the absence of their stories from the established narrative of the conflict.
The film shows the ongoing struggle of women with the prison authorities, from the attempted prison escape of 1973 to the hungerstrike of 1980, and also the story of the killing of a female prison officer outside Armagh Gaol. We learn of these women’s resistance to criminalisation and the world they created within the prison, how they organised themselves in jail and the importance of their own internal structures, Structures that meant the women operated as a unit even under the dire regime of the no-wash protest, strip searches and solitary confinement, and that they continued to assert their political status which carried through to the women’s transfer to Maghaberry after the closure of Armagh Gaol.
Featured Interviews include not only prisoners but also Nell McCafferty, the first journalist in Ireland to break the story of the conditions in the prison, the chaplain of the prison Fr. Raymond Murray, as well as archive footage.
A Kind of Sisterhood unearths a buried aspect of the conflict in Northern Ireland, brought to the surface by the women who lived it and in their own words.