Fair City actor recounts prison experience in new national exhibition at Spike Island

A new national touring exhibition called The Trial which examines health care and human rights with the Irish prison system is launching at Spike Island in Cork this Friday.

Fair City actor recounts prison experience in new national exhibition at Spike Island

A new national touring exhibition called The Trial which examines health care and human rights with the Irish prison system is launching at Spike Island in Cork this Friday.

The multi-screen art installation sees actors' voice extracts from real prisoner experiences with some of the content relating to prisoner accounts dating as far back as the 1850s, right through to modern times.

Over the course of 22 minutes, their stories are brought to life through a series of engaging and provocative monologues by well-known actors from stage and screen, Tommy O’Neill and Neil Conroy, both of whom currently star in RTÉ's Fair City, and up-and-coming actor Charlie Hughes Farrell.

Actor Tommy O’Neill, who spent three years in Mountjoy prison in the 1980s, has powerful and vivid recollections of his time in prison.

He has since turned his life around to become a successful actor.

Visual artist Sinead McCann led the project in collaboration with UCD historians Catherine Cox and Fiachra Byrne, ex-prisoners from The Bridge Project in Francis Street, Dublin.

They shared their stories with writer Sarah Meaney and actor Tommy who brought their stories to life.

Archival material used in the film is based on research gathered by UCD historians Catherine Cox and Fiachra Byrne.

Speaking about the new exhibition, Tommy O'Neill said: “Some of these men were more than 30 years in prison. To be honest with you I had no idea what they did. I never asked them. They were just a group of men.

[These children] were taken off their mothers and fathers, some were as young as seven or eight, and they were brutalised in the most horrendous ways, sexually and physically.

Spike Island manager John Crotty said the island was the perfect place to hold the immersive exhibition, which is being shown within the former children’s prison.

“The accounts of prisoners from both modern and Victorian times are very appropriate for an island that held a prison from 1847 to 1883 and also from 1985 to 2004.

“It is so important that we hear both sides of the story as all too often men labeled as criminals were at one time victims of crime themselves that has led them to this point”.

The Trial runs from July 26 to August 26 at Spike Island off the coast of Cork before moving to the Old County Courthouse in Lifford, Co Donegal from August 29 to September 12 and on to Dublin Castle from September 26 to November 3.

Boats to Spike Island depart daily from Kennedy pier, Cobh and the exhibition is included in the standard entry ticket.

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