Gagarin's Room
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Gagarin's Room
1985, 32 x 18 cm

I was tempted to re-title this picture on been told Gagarin's last words as he boarded Vostok 1: "I Am Cosmonaut"

I was visiting my folks in Newry in the early '80's, (all my close family live there) and getting a lift with my sister and her husband, both of whom are teachers, when they stopped the car, recognising a teenager in the street being questioned by the RUC, who was a pupil of one of theirs.

Not least given the historical hostility between the 90-something percent Catholic/Nationalist community in Newry and the 90-something percent Protestant RUC, it presumably seemed appropriate to act as a witness to events, which were becoming more tense by the second. Having been questioning him for quite a while, (they by now had his shoes and belt off, which they'd call searching and he'd call harassment) one of the two began to lead him away by his sleeve, when he tried to get out of it, so one policeman handed his carbine to the other (they would have had handguns as well, the other probably a Sten gun too), grabbed the boy by the hair, put his head under his arm and started to drag him away. Hot-headed by now, I tried to get out of the car, but luckily the child-locks were on (I would just have got arrested too), so I grabbed two frames through the windscreen, one of which is what you see through the window here.

Here's a link to the original photo.

The room is from a book called "Our Gagarin", and is a room in the 'Gagarin House-Museum', in the then renamed town of 'Gagarin'.

Years later I noticed black blobs on the newspaper on the table, where a Russian censor didn't like some words and took a big black pen to them. Later also I heard that the boy's brother was being held at the time, as a suspected lookout for an IRA mortar bomb attack on the nearby Police Station that had killed 9 RUC men., which explains why they had it in for him, on the basis that his brother was involved... I suppose that's the nature of a dirty war in a small divided society.

picture courtesy De Paor

© Sean Hillen 2002


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