For nearly 30 years, the Maze prison, ten miles outside Belfast, played a unique role in the Northern Ireland troubles. Built in 1976 to house terrorist prisoners, it became a microcosm of the struggle between loyalists and republicans, with prisoners segregated according to their political beliefs and membership of paramilitary organizations.
It was the scene of violent protests, hunger strikes, mass escapes and deaths of both prisoners and prison staff. At its peak capacity in the 1980s the Maze housed more than 1700 prisoners, but in September 2000, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the prison was closed and the last four prisoners were transferred to other prisons in Northern Ireland.
Now, a small number of prison officers man the empty complex while the future of the site is debated. The prison’s current state of limbo and the unanswered questions regarding its fate seem to reflect Northern Ireland’s unsteady progress in grappling with its recent history. Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Prison Service gave Donovan Wylie exclusive permission to photograph throughout the entire prison complex without supervision.
The result is a book which aims to document the physical structure of the place and, at the same time, through the quantity and style of the photographs, to give the viewer some experience of the psychological impact of being inside the Maze. With text by Louise Purbrick, Senior Lecturer in History and Design at Brighton University, and a timeline history of the prison and its prisoners as they relate to the history of the Troubles, this book records and preserves a unique physical structure that has played an important role in our recent history.