Sunday, August 17, 2008

Commemoration for hunger strikers

Sunday August 17 2008

Thousands of Republicans will gather in Co Derry today to commemorate the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Ten men died after the eight month long strike in the H Blocks of Long Kesh prison in Co Down.

Up to 50 people died in violent incidents outside the prison during the same period.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams will be the keynote speaker - around 20 bands, many from Scotland, will take part in the ceremony along with various campaign groups.

Facts on hunger strike wrong- Joe O'Neill May 18 2006
Interview with ex-Blanketman Richard O'Rawe May 15 2006
Brendan McLaughlin - Former Hunger Striker interviewed April 30 2006
IFC Participates in Hunger Strike film screening and discussion April 29, 2006
Former Hunger Striker leads Hunger Strikes March in St. Pat's Day parade March 2006
25 Years On: Irish Republicans Unite to hold Commemoration
January 2006

The Ten 1981 Hunger Strike martyrs - From left to right, clockwise: Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Ray McCreesh, Patsy O'Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, Michael Devine.

From left to right, clockwise: Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Ray McCreesh, Patsy O'Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, Michael Devine.

In 1981, ten men sacrificed their lives for the freedoms of many; in a hunger strike at the H-Blocks of Long Kesh Prison, Occupied North of Ireland. One by one, ten young men embarked on the agonizing protest of hunger strike until death to secure the basic human rights and dignity of Political Status for all Irish Republican Political Prisoners.

As young Irish men with everything to live for, these men would never have been in jail but for the presence of an invading foreign army in their country. As Irish Republican Political Prisoners, these men recognized that the pursuit of freedom and sovereignty for their native land was not a crime. They refused to be labeled as criminals, and the fight for Political Status was launched from their prison cells.

Earlier efforts at obtaining Political Status had met with unfulfilled promises from the British government. A Blanket Protest and No-Wash Protest, followed by the unimaginably difficult Dirty Protest, had galvanized the male and female Republican prisoners for five long years but had resulted in no real gains toward Political Status. A decision was made by the prisoners to Hunger Strike.

Their Five Demands were:

  • The right not to wear a prisoner uniform

  • The right to free association with Republican political prisoners

  • The right as political prisoners not to do prison work

  • The right to organize their own educational and recreational facilities

  • The right to one weekly visit, letter and parcel

On March 1, 1981, Bobby Sands refused food; five years to the day of the revoking of Special Category Status, which had ended Political Status for Irish Republican prisoners in 1976. On March 15 Francis Hughes began refusing food, followed by Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O'Hara on March 22nd. On April 9, a dying Bobby Sands was elected to Parliament for the district of Fermanagh. Joe McDonnell began refusing food on May 8; three days after Bobby Sands' death. He was followed by Kieran Doherty on May 22nd and Martin Hurson on May 28th. Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, and Michael Devine joined the Hunger Strikes in stages shortly thereafter. And one by one they died; with no reaction whatsoever from the British government. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would only say "Murder is Murder"; a hypocrisy in itself from a woman who authorized a Shoot-to-Kill policy against innocent Irish civilians and would let ten young men, including an an elected member of her own Parliament, die of starvation in her own jails.

Outrage over the deaths swept the globe. One hundred thousand mourners attended Bobby Sands funeral in Belfast, and riots were sparked across Ireland. In Dublin, protesters nearly succeeded in burning the British Embassy to the ground. Massive marches in support of the prisoners were held in Mexico, Spain, Britain and the United States. In the U.S. protests were staged in front of British embassies lasting the duration of the hunger strikes.

Facing mounting pressure and the condemnation of the world, the British government finally agreed to a series of the prisoners' demands, and on October 3rd, 1981, the Hunger Strikes were finally called off. At that time six more prisoners still remained on Hunger Strike, prepared to die if necessary. The five-years-long Blanket protests were ended a few days later.

Won with the blood of ten Irish men, Political Status was finally restored to Irish Republican political prisoners. But the victory was not to last long.

For more information