The brother of late criminal Martin “The General” Cahill has said he found “a way out” of crime through art in Portlaoise Prison.
Eddie Cahill, whose paintings show at the Origin Gallery on Upper Fitzwilliam Street, said he misses his brother Martin, who was shot dead in 1994, whom he remembers as “determined”.
Cahill’s latest exhibition was opened by Justice Robert Houghton, and he told the Ryan Tubridy Show this morning how some judges and barristers who he would have known throughout his life of crime are now his friends.
Cahill said he was 30 when he realised that he needed a way out of crime, and it took him ten years to find a way out.
“I knew, I’m giving this up. I just needed another door and a way out.”
“Slowly I’d been withdrawing from that world, from that life. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to know it wasn’t a great road. I had children… I was really searching for a route out where I could just step away and not surrender.
“Even in the prison life… I never, ever surrendered… If I was leaving, I was leaving on my own terms. A bit arrogant, maybe, but…
“It was a matter of them and us – always was. This was a life designed for us. They needed prisoners… They’ll always need unemployed people…. You’re never judged on your merits, you’re judged on where you’re from and do you fit.”
But it wasn’t until he spotted art teacher Brian Maguire, whom he describes as a magician, giving an art class at Portlaoise Prison that Cahill found his new path.
“I got moved down to Portlaoise, there were people down there and they were at an art class. I was looking at them you know – “art”. It was the fox in the hen house kind of situation,” he laughed.
“The art teacher appeared. It was Brian Maguire. He was my first point of interest. He looked like one of us. That was my first reaction. I couldn’t tell him from the prisoners because he walked down from the landing heading down to the art class, so that was enough for me.
“I used to watch them, I didn’t take part.”
Cahill then set about taking some materials from the art class up to his cell, and he started to paint at night. He says other prisoners barely saw him over the next five years.
“I used to sneak materials out of the art class… you weren’t supposed to have any of the paint in the cell in case you were disguising holes or anything like that. I used to sneak up with the paint and the paper, and I’d paint on my own in the cell, and then I absolutely just got locked on to it. I’d start at 8 o’clock in the evening and finish at eight o’clock the next morning. I’d paint all through the night.
“I disappeared. Five years in the prison, I disappeared. People hardly ever saw me. I’d be painting all night and in the day time I’d be sleeping.
“They’d come in the day time and take the paint off you because you’re not supposed to have it. Then I ended up with charcoal. The charcoal, they’d leave you with.”
Cahill described his time as a young boy in Letterfrack Industrial School in Connemara, where he was sent after he was caught skipping school, as nasty. He said from then on, he was a “marked” person because the authorities saw him as “trouble”.
But he joked: “All my friends now are High Court judges… The world has changed.
“I’m more content now… I never stop. I paint at home, on the floor, right in the sitting room when nobody is around. When they’re either in work or they’re in bed.”
On the prospect of ever apologising to victims of his crimes he said: “The way I look at that, if someone did me a harm and apologised I wouldn’t be too happy. Please don’t apologise to me. If you done it, do it, and go away, don’t come apologising to me.
“I probably would but I wouldn’t make a habit of going around and saying it to them. I think it’s an insult. Someone coming on apologising?
“How would you even find them? Who are they? I don’t know who they are.
“I would have regrets of course but would I apologise, I don’t think so.”
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