Past Belfast Exchange Gallery Exhibition

Unseen Women: Stories from Armagh Goal

14 June to 18 June 2011

Back inside Armagh Gaol, the Victorian prison for women during the Troubles, staff and prisoners tell their stories for the first time. Artist Jolene Mairs has edited material from the Prisons Memory Archive to bring some of these stories to the public.

In 2006, the Prisons Memory Archive filmed former prisoners, prison officers, teachers, chaplains, visitors, welfare workers and solicitors as they walked and talked their way around the derelict prison site. Armagh served as the only female prison in Northern Ireland until its closure in 1986 when all prisoners were transferred to Maghaberry Prison.  At the height of the conflict, the number of female prisoners grew from 2 in 1971 to more than 100 by 1976.  Despite their significance, the story of this period has remained relatively unheard and unseen.

This exhibition showcases the stories of seven women: one prison officer, one loyalist prisoner, two teachers and three republican prisoners.A 30min documentary containing six 5 minute extracts from each woman’s story will run alongside their unedited recordings. 

The exhibition allows us to (re)view competing interpretations of seven women’s relationship with the same space.  Willingness to hear competing narratives is perhaps indicative of our society’s ability to navigate its way through our contested past.