Times Past

Portlaoise brothers Sean and Noel Conroy have returned to Portlaoise following their harrowing five months imprisonment in Saudi Arabia.

Portlaoise brothers Sean and Noel Conroy have returned to Portlaoise following their harrowing five months imprisonment in Saudi Arabia.

Both men are in good spirits after being released from their “living hell” and being deported from the Arab kingdom in late July.

Their deportation brought to a conclusion a gruelling five month ordeal which began last March 5, when they were both apprehended with cases of alcohol in the port city of Jeddah. At the time both men were making preparations for St Patrick’s Day celebrations in a Western compound.

Although never charged with any wrongdoing, they were detained in the notorious Briman Prison on the outskirts of the city.

Conditions in the prison were tough. “One of the first things we did was to douse ourselves with Dettol to guard against infection. We trained ourselves to go to the toilet once every three days. You did not want to go unless you absolutely had to,” said Noel Conroy. “It was absolutely disgusting,” he added.

“We endured a whole series of anti-climaxes as to when we would be released,” said Sean. “I had become ill and had lost four litres of blood through internal bleeding. I had problems with an ulcer and varicose veins. After kicking up with officials I was eventually transferred to King Fahd Hospital where I spent six weeks.”

Both men survived the experience with the help of outside contacts, and the work of the Irish and British consulates. They received 200 riyals (the Saudi currency) a week from outside contacts with which they could buy basic provisions, and curry favour with inmates and guards for preferential treatment.

As their release loomed in late summer they were moved to a deportation centre. “That was the nadir of our while experience,” said Sean Conroy. “It was a place which housed 1,000 people on an earthen floor. There was no air conditioning and it was 40 degrees Celsius, with 100 per cent humidity. We drank four to five litres of water a day.”

In a bizarre twist, their release was further delayed due to the fact that the name of Sean’s wife was on his exit and re-entry visa. Sean had to ‘divorce’ her, Saudi style, before he could be released.

“This entailed looking to Mecca and saying ‘I divorce you’ three times. I had to do it in Arabic. It was the fastest divorce in the world,” he observed.

Both men were deported on July 27/28 and flew to London where they enjoyed their first pint at King’s Cross.

Ironically, Noel befriended an Arab family on the train to his sister’s and Sean left duty free drink in a taxi. The drink was later returned by the taxi driver.

Sean (64) spent 20 years in Saudi Arabia, while Noel (53) spent eight. Despite their ordeal both men hope to return to the Middle East.