‘In the master’s house, Gerry is at peace with Giuseppe’
The Guildford Four's Gerry Conlon has departed victorious from a life that dealt him a poor hand, the lawyer who campaigned for his freedom told mourners at his funeral.
In a heartfelt tribute to the one of the quartet wrongly imprisoned for the 1974 IRA pub bombings in the Surrey town, Gareth Peirce referred to the image of him emerging from the Old Bailey in London 15 years later and declaring his innocence after his conviction was quashed.
"This was a victorious human being who had defeated a mighty foe," she told hundreds of mourners who gathered to pay their respects inside St Peter's Cathedral in Mr Conlon's native west Belfast.
The 60 year old died last week only three weeks after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Paddy Hill, who was one of six men wrongly convicted of IRA bombings in Birmingham, also in 1974, was among those who helped carry the coffin at yesterday morning's emotional funeral service.
Mr Conlon and the rest of the Guildford Four were handed life sentences for the attacks in Guilford which killed five people and injured 65, before their convictions were overturned in 1989.
At the time of their sentencing, the trial judge Mr Justice Donaldson told them: "If hanging were still an option, you would have been executed."
It was one of the best known cases of a miscarriage of justice in British legal history.
Mr Conlon's father Giuseppe, who was also jailed as part of a discredited investigation into a supposed bomb-making family - the Maguire Seven - died in prison. His mother Sarah, a tireless campaigner for their freedom, died in 2008, aged 82.
Mr Conlon was played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1993 film In The Name Of The Father.
Ms Peirce, who was played by Emma Thompson in the same film, told mourners of Mr Conlon's struggles with life in the years after his release, living like a recluse in England and developing a drug habit.
But she said he overcame those difficulties and returned to Belfast to be with his mother in the year before she died.
"Life dealt Gerry a pretty poor hand," she said.
"He was gambler and gambling was in his DNA but with a poor hand he made a magnificent fist of it.
"If anyone thinks that this is someone who was beaten or terrified and pushed down forever, that wasn't so."
She added: "We can say with all the adversities, in the end Gerry Conlon won - the victory was his."
In his homily, Fr Ciaran Dallat said Mr Conlon always carried a burden of guilt, feeling he was responsible for the death of his dad in prison.
"In the master's house, the place that Jesus has prepared in heaven, we trust that Giuseppe and Sarah are there and he will truly be at peace at last."