Hugh Callaghan, one of the Birmingham Six wrongly jailed for IRA bombings in 1974, has died aged 93.
Mr Callaghan died on May 27th after being admitted to Homerton Hospital in London with chest pains, according to close friends. A passionate singer, he serenaded hospital staff almost until the end.
The Birmingham Six were Irish men living in England who were rounded up after the IRA blew up the Mulberry Bush and Tavern pubs in the centre of Birmingham on November 21st, 1974, killing 21 people and injuring 182, in one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.
Police beat and brutalised the men – they put alsatians in Mr Callaghan’s cell – and obtained false confessions that led to life sentences. When the men later tried to prove their innocence, judges sided with police. A campaign led by the Labour MP Chris Mullin paved the way to eventual exoneration and freedom in 1991 after 16 years in jail.
The other five members of the Birmingham Six were Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker.
Music sustained Mr Callaghan during his incarceration, he told the Guardian last year. There “was nothing to sing about in prison but I couldn’t help it”, he said. He joined the choir and sang Danny Boy for the governor, bringing tears to her eyes.
After his release Mr Callaghan, originally from Belfast, became involved in Irish community organisations in England and lived his last years in Hackney, east London, with his partner Adeline Masterson.
“Hugh’s passing feels like the end of an era. We loved and admired him very much, and all of us are so proud that he was a part of our lives,” said a statement from the Mulready family, who became friends with Mr Callaghan after Sally Mulready joined the campaign for his release and co-wrote his 1994 autobiography, Cruel Fate.
“He was a man with astonishing strength of character. Despite the profound injustice he endured, he was not bitter or angry, but joyful and always ready to sing. His party piece was Danny Boy, and his voice was magnificent and strong right to end, with the last day of his life spent with his beloved Adeline, singing to the nurses in hospital.”
The statement expressed profound sadness at his death. “But we know the last years of his life were full of love, singing, dancing and Irish music. We will continue to try and live the values of forgiveness and gentle optimism that Hugh taught us.”
In May Mr Callaghan recorded an album, Songs of Love and Emigration, with the Irish Pensioners Choir. It was directed by Nora Mulready, produced by Gerry Diver, and is to be released this summer.
Mr Callaghan is survived by his daughter Geraldine. He is the second of the Birmingham Six to die. Mr McIlkenny died in 2006. – Guardian