1981 HUNGER STRIKES - LONG KESH PRISON
on hunger strike wrong- Joe O'Neill May 18 2006
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:
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.
2006 - 25 Years On -- Nothing Changes!!!
In 1998 a disastrous Treaty with Britain signed away the hard-won right to Political Status, setting Irish history back decades. Once again, anyone who would resist Britain's claim to Ireland would be labeled as a criminal.
Today, there are nearly 100 Irish Republican prisoners of conscience held in prisons in England, Ireland, and the Occupied Six Counties of Ireland. They are arrested by Special police using Special laws; charged under Special, "anti-terror" legislation; and sentenced in Special, jury-less, military style courtrooms. Yet they are not granted Special Category Political Status.
Most of these men and women were arrested under draconian “Anti-Terror” laws that have been cited by human rights groups around the world, including by Amnesty International and the European Court of Human Rights, for their questionable legality and potential for abuse. These men and women refuse to be labeled as criminals, and the fight for Political Status inside the prisons continues.
Don't let these men and women be forgotten!
Support the prisoners--
NO MORE HUNGER STRIKES!!
|Vol. Bobby Sands, IRA|
|Vol. Francis Hughes, IRA|
|Vol. Patsy O'Hara, INLA|
|Vol. Raymond McCreesh, IRA|
|Vol. Joe McDonnell, IRA|
|Vol. Martin Hurson, IRA|
|Vol. Kevin Lynch, INLA|
|Vol. Kieran Doherty, IRA|
|Vol. Thomas McElwee, IRA|
|Vol. Michael Devine, INLA|
>>click pic for video.
The 1981 Hunger Strikes were preceded by five years on the Blanket and Dirty Protest. Irish Republican prisoners refused to be criminalized by wearing a prison uniform, beginning with prisoner Kieran Nugent declaring in 1976 that prison guards would have to "Nail it to my back". For the next five years, hundreds of Irish Republican prisoners, male and female, wore only a dirty blanket in their freezing cells. The Republican prisoners then refused to slop-out when prison guards intensified harassment when the prisoners were allowed out of their cells to empty their bucket toilets.
Maghaberry Prison - From Bad to Worse - ACTION REQUEST IFC NewsList March 12, 2004
Prisoners to continue dirty protest until separated - IFC NewsList, Sept. 14 2003
Maghaberry prisoners - "WE WILL NOT BE CRIMINALIZED!!" - IFC NewsList, April 13, 2003
"Some Mothers Son" - Directed by Terry George, 1996
"Silent Grace" - Directed by Maeve Murphy, 2001
"H3" - Directed by Les Blair, 2001
Ten Men Dead: The story of the 1981 Irish Hunger
Strike, David Beresford, 1987.
On the Blanket: The Inside Story of the IRA Prisoners' "Dirty" Protest, Tim Pat Coogan, 1997.
Bobby Sands and the Tragedy of Northern Ireland, John Feehan, 1987.
Biting at the Grave: the Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair
Padraig O'Malley, 1990.
Text copyright The Irish Freedom Committee®