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Interview with Willie Corduff of Rossport Five

Willie Corduff at home in Rossport.

Interview by Padraic Burns
SOMETHING happened last February that should have had the alarm bells ringing inside Willie Corduff’s head and provided him with an insight into the mindset of the people he was dealing with. His father had died and his remains were being removed to the church. However, as the funeral cortege was making its way there neighbours of the Corduffs had gathered to prevent people representing Shell from entering his lands. It was a stark and harsh reminder to Willie that a battle that had started five years ago when men representing Enterprise Ireland had first called to his door was not going to go away.
Last Friday afternoon Willie was released from Cloverhill Prison in Dublin after spending 94 days there. On Sunday morning last at 10am, just five hours after getting home for the first time in over three months, Willie welcomed The Mayo News into his kitchen. It didn’t take long to realise that the genial, good-natured man sitting across the table is much more comfortable with the ordinary every day things in life than he is with the extraordinary route that his life has followed these past few months.
Cloverhill Prison changed him for good though. He is bitter and he feels let down by the State that he always thought would protect people like him and his family, and he still finds it hard to comprehend that he spent an entire summer of his life in prison. Before this, his dealings with the justice system consisted of stopping to talk to a garda along the road. He had never even stood inside a courthouse.
‘’I was used to a normal family life. We did everything together as a family, the type of ordinary things that all families do and take for granted, but for the past three months I was denied all of that. That’s what hurts most, not doing the normal things that I used to,’’ he said. Normal things like watching little Jamie grow up.
Jamie, his grandson, is six months old and for the past three months of his life, his grandfather has only been able to look at him through a glass panel. “That was terrible, having to wave to him through the glass and not being able to hold him.”
Then two weeks ago, his neighbour and good friend, Mary Noone, passed away. ‘’Mary was sick for the past two years and when she died I wasn’t able to go to her funeral or be of any support to Mikey Joe [her husband]. That was really upsetting as she was such a good friend and neighbour. I’d have loved to have been there for Mikey Joe,’’ he said.
There were other things he missed too, but nothing hurt like not being able to see his family. “Night time was the hardest because you had an awful long time to think about what was happening at home. I didn’t get really depressed because I don’t get down easily, but it was a very lonely place at night time,’’ he said.
Up in Cloverhill, their fellow prisoners were intrigued by the presence of the five Mayo men. They had huge support in there and at one stage there was talk of a sit-down protest by the prison inmates to draw attention to their plight. “They could not believe what we were in prison for. Initially, they kept saying that we must have assaulted the Shell officials or something but when we told them exactly what happened and when they read up on it they were amazed.”
All human life passes through Cloverhill.
“It’s frightening what you see there and especially when you see what drugs have done to people. I saw men there and they were just destroyed by drugs but they were good men and prison was no place for them. No more than us, the system has let them down. They were not going to get off the drugs in prison and there was very little rehab for them in there. I couldn’t understand why there was not some programme to help them, even something for them to do to pass the time, but there was nothing at all. When you think of how we have just handed away our resources to a private company and you look at what’s going on in our prisons, it does make you wonder,’’ he said.
Then there was the daily programme. Breakfast, exercise, lunch, exercise, tea and bed. Every day was the same and after a while the problem was knowing what day it was. ‘’You had to make an effort to know what day of the week it was because you weren’t allowed to wear a watch. It’s easy understood how people get institutionalised in prison. Like, no one opens a door by himself in prison; you just stand there and wait for a warden to open it for you. I got used to certain things in prison but I never got comfortable there. How could I when I had a family at home that I knew I should have been with all the time?’’ he said.

Willie is home now and he’d love nothing more than for everything to return to normal. He loves the place he calls his home. His father, Francis, lived there since 1947 along with his wife, Lena, and Willie knows how hard they both worked to give their children a foothold in life. “I often think about how hard they had it and how hard they worked and really we do nothing compared to them. We didn’t have much but we were happy and we were never in want of anything.”
The last thing he wanted to do last Sunday morning was talk to The Mayo News but he knew that he just couldn’t come home and pretend it never happened. He’s aware that normality won’t return for some time yet. And maybe it never will and life will never return to how it used to be.
Yet, he knows it could all have been so different had Shell listened to people like him. ‘’It has left a very bad mark around here, but if Shell had handled it differently it would not have come to this. We tried to tell them from day one and they can’t say we led them astray. From the first day that a man from Enterprise Ireland called to my front door, I said no, that I wasn’t interested. It wasn’t about money with me, never was, not even if they gave me a million. I need the money the same as every person but it won’t buy you clean air and safety. What has happened is disgraceful. We could have a great country but they gave away our natural resources. Why did they give it away? No one does that, it’s a shame.’’
The men and their supporters will return to the High Court later this month and there is a chance that they will also be returning to Cloverhill Prison. ‘’I haven’t a clue what will happen but if we’re sent back then we’ll have no choice but to go there. I got no kick from being in jail, none at all; and I don’t want to have to go back there but if it comes to it, I will.’’
He’ll do that because he believes passionately in what he is standing for. He’ll do it because he doesn’t want to see Jamie and the rest of his family grow up ‘with the pipe on his left and the terminal on his right’. “If I thought that my family would benefit from this I wouldn’t be objecting to it but it’s of no good to anyone around here. It won’t bring the employment that we need for the people here. When this whole thing started we were painted as bad people.
“Look, I never objected to anything in my entire life but this was different. Two weeks ago, a man visited me in prison from Nigeria and he frightened the life out of me and in many ways I wish I had never met him. He lives beside a pipe in Nigeria and he lives in fear every day of his life.
“He told me that the only good thing we had going for us was that the pipe wasn’t built yet. That’s what I was put in jail for. I was there for trying to protect my family and I’m not in the least bit ashamed of what I did. If I have to do it again, then I will.”
One thing will change, though, if he goes to jail again. The beard will be no more. “They were telling me I looked like Gerry Adams. But it will have to go and the only reason it hasn’t gone yet is that I’m waiting for my godchild, Siobhan Lavelle, to see it. After that it’s gone.”

Posted Date: 
21 August 2006 - 1:09am