Glossary

This glossary has been compiled from terms used by PMA participants to describe their experiences in the prisons known as Armagh Gaol and Maze and Long Kesh. This is not intended as an exhaustive list, but a guide to terms and acronyms relating to the prisons that may be unfamiliar.

A
ablutions

Area for washing, showering and disposal of overnight waste.

Armagh Gaol

Prison which held primarily women prisoners until its closure in 1986. Also known as HMP Armagh.

association room

Communal room used by prisoners.

ATO

Army Technical Officer.

B
beart

Irish word used to describe a tightly-packed parcel of tobacco.

black suit

Term used to describe body armour worn by prison staff.

blanket men

Prisoners involved in ‘blanket protest’.

blanket protest

Protest held between 1976 and 1981 at Maze and Long Kesh.

[the] boards

See “punishment block”.

Borstal

Youth detention centre at Armagh Gaol from the 1960s to 1975.

B Specials

Members of Ulster Special Constabulary.

bumper

Wooden floor polisher used manually.  

C
cage or compound

Interchangeable term used to describe older prisoner-of-war style enclosed areas of Maze and Long Kesh. See also ‘[the] cages’ and ‘[the] compounds’.

[the] cages

Area of Maze and Long Kesh which held internees from 1971 to 1975, and prisoners with special category (political) status from 1972 to 1988. Also known as HMP Maze Compounds, the compounds, Long Kesh, and Long Kesh Detention Centre.

Chief Officer

The senior uniform grade of prison staff, responsible for Principal Officers, Senior Officers, and basic grade officers.

[the] circle

Central part of H-Block.

comms / communiqués

Communications – notes smuggled in or out of prison.

[the] compounds

Area of Maze and Long Kesh which held internees from 1971 to 1975, and prisoners with special category (political) status from 1972 to 1988. Also known as HMP Maze Compounds, the cages, Long Kesh, and Long Kesh Detention Centre.

control room

H-Block’s control room, situated in the ‘circle’.

Crown Court

For serious criminal offences.

cruinniú

Irish word meaning ‘meeting’.

Cumann na mBan

Republican organisation for women.

D
detainee

An individual held without charge – similar to internee.  

Diplock court/courts

Non-jury courts, introduced for political charges only. Operated from 1973 to 2007.

doing bird

Serving time in prison. Some participants use the term to mean “experiencing difficulties while serving time”.

G
Governor

Prison staff member in charge of a prison, or specific areas of a prison.

golf

Used by prison staff for the gates around the Maze and Long Kesh site, e.g. Golf 1 was Gate 1. See also ‘tango’.

H
H-Block

Prison structures at Maze and Long Kesh built in the shape of a “H”, with a central administrative area (the ‘circle’) and four wings of cells (A, B, C & D wings). Each H-Block was identified by a number, e.g. H-Block 2 or H2.

[the] H-Blocks

Also known as Maze Cellular. Operated from 1976 until 2000. See also ‘Maze and Long Kesh’.

High Court

For complex court cases.

hooch

Alcohol.

hospital wing

Prison hospital.

I
internee

An individual who is imprisoned without trial – see ‘Detainee’.

internment

Imprisonment without trial.

IRF

Immediate Reaction Force, dedicated prison staff trained to deal with serious prison insurrection. Also known by prisoners as the ‘riot squad’.

INLA

Irish National Liberation Army.

IRSP

Irish Republican Socialist Party.

J
jail craft

Term used among prison staff to describe the knowledge and skills required to be a prison officer.

L
lifers

Prisoners serving life sentences.

Long Kesh

See ‘Maze and Long Kesh’.

loyalist prisoners

Refers to those who want Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Includes prisoners affiliated to UVF, RHC, UDA, LVF and UFF.

LVF

Loyalist Volunteer Force.

M
[the] Maze

See ‘Maze and Long Kesh’.

Maze and Long Kesh

Term used to describe a site which includes Long Kesh Detention Centre, which held internees from 1971 to 1975, and prisoners with special category (political) status from 1972 to 1988, and HMP Maze which held prisoners from 1976 until 2000. The name Maze derives from the local area or townland and Long Kesh was the name given to an RAF airfield that previously existed on the site.

MO

Medical Officer.

N
NIO

Northern Ireland Office, a British government department.

Nissen hut

A type of semi-cylindrical hut made of corrugated metal, originating in the First World War and named for its designer, Peter Nissen. The Nissen huts at the disused RAF Long Kesh airfield, which became the Long Kesh Detention Centre, held internees from 1971, and prisoners from 1972.

no wash protest

Protest held between 1978 and 1981 at Maze and Long Kesh, and from 1980 to 1981 at Armagh Gaol. Sometimes known as ‘dirty protest’.

number one diet

Term used by prisoners to describe the limited diet imposed as punishment.

O
OC

Officer Commanding: prisoner-appointed representative.  

ODCs

‘Ordinary decent criminals’.

Official IRA

Official Irish Republican Army.

P
paramilitary [political] prisoners

Term sometimes used to describe individuals imprisoned for politically motivated activities.

peace process

Term describing talks between elected politicians and armed political groupings which led to the ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) in 1998.

po

Chamber pot.

PO

Principal Officer – member of prison staff answerable to a Chief Officer.

politicals

Political prisoners.

poteen

From the Irish word poitín – alcohol.

prisoners on the ‘red book’

Political prisoners considered top risk of attempting to escape.

PUP

Progressive Unionist Party.

Provisional IRA

Provisional Irish Republican Army.

provo

Member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

punishment block / the boards

Building with isolation cells.

Q
Quaker Visitors’ Centre

A centre for visitors to Maze and Long Kesh, run by members of the Quakers and located in the car park adjacent to the prison site.

R
RHC

Red Hand Commando.

RHD

Red Hand Defenders.

remand prisoner

A prisoner awaiting trial.

republican prisoners

Refers to those who seek to end the partition of Ireland and who wish to bring about the reunification of the island of Ireland. Includes prisoners affiliated to Provisional IRA, Official IRA, and INLA.

RUC

Royal Ulster Constabulary.

S
Saracen

A six-wheeled armoured vehicle.

scairtear

Republican prisoner responsible for calling out information to fellow prisoners.

scéal

Irish word meaning ‘news’ or ‘story’.

screw

Term used by prisoners to denote a prison officer.

SDLP

Social Democratic and Labour Party.

SF

Sinn Féin.

skids

Pieces of blanket placed on feet to avoid marking floor.

slopping out

Manual emptying of human waste in the ablutions area.

special category status

Similar to prisoner of war status, granted between 1972 and 1976 – also known as political status.

star prisoners

Term used by prisoners to denote those prisoners who assisted with prison work for benefit. Also used by prison officers to denote prisoners who were in prison for the first time.

stickie/stick

Member of the Official Irish Republican Party or the Workers Party.

strides

Term used by prisoners to describe prison-issue trousers.

T
tally lodge

Security office at Maze and Long Kesh, located at the perimeter of the prison boundary.

tango

Used by prison staff for the watchtowers around the Maze and Long Kesh site, e.g. Tango 1 was Tower 1. See also ‘golf’.

teachtaireacht

Irish word meaning messages. Abbreviated to ‘teac’.

U
UDA

Ulster Defence Association.

UDR

Ulster Defence Regiment.

UFF

Ulster Freedom Fighters.

UUP

Ulster Unionist Party.

UVF

Ulster Volunteer Force.

V
[the] visits

The area where prisoners had their visits from family and / or friends.

visiting area

Can refer to original portacabin, prefab building and / or two-storey visitors’ building.

visitors’ building

Can refer to original portacabin, prefab building and / or two-storey visitors’ building.

visitors’ block

Can refer to original portacabin, prefab building and / or two-storey visitors’ building.

visitors’ centre

Can refer to original portacabin, prefab building and / or two-storey visitors’ building.

VTC

Vocational Training Centre.

W
wing

Corridor with cells. H-Blocks had four wings, each labelled by a letter: A-Wing, B-Wing, etc. Armagh Gaol had three wings with multiple levels, each denoted by a letter and number, e.g. A1-Wing, B2-Wing.

wing shifts

Moving of prisoners to another wing, also known as wing moves.

Y
YOC

Young Offenders Centre.

YOC's

Young offenders.

For further background information on the conflict more broadly, visit the CAIN website: https://cain.ulster.ac.uk