seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Beginning of the 1980 Hunger Strike

Irish political prisoners confined in the infamous H-Blocks of Long Kesh Detention Centre commence a hunger strike on October 27, 1980. The hunger strike is to continue until their demands for political status and for an end to British torture are met, or until death.

It begins with seven republican volunteers: Brendan Hughes, the IRA commanding officer in the prison, Sean McKenna, Tommy McKearney, Tommy McFeely, Leo Green, and Raymond McCartney, all of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and John Nixon of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

On December 1, three female prisoners, Mary Doyle, Mairéad Farrell and Mairéad Nugent, join the strike in Armagh Prison. Thirty more republican prisoners join later.

Despite being deceived into ending prematurely after 53 days, it sets the scene for a second hunger strike the following March, led by Bobby Sands. The first hunger strike announcement is made in a statement which is reprinted in full below.

“We the Republican POWs in the H-Blocks, Long Kesh, demand the right of political recognition and that we be accorded the status of political prisoners. We claim this right as captured combatants in the continuing struggle for national liberation and self determination. We refute most strongly the tag of criminal with which the British have attempted to label us and our struggle, and we point to the devisive, partitionist institution of the six county state as the sole criminal aspect of the present conflict.

“All of us were arrested under repressive laws, interrogated and often tortured in RUC barracks, and processed through special non-jury courts, where we were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. After this we were put in the H-Blocks and were expected to bow the knee before the British administration and wear their criminal uniform. Attempts to criminalise us were designed to depoliticise the Irish national struggle.

“We don’t have to recite again the widespread, almost total forms of punishment, degradations and deprivations we have been subjected to. All have failed to break our resistance.

“For the past four years we have endured this brutality in deplorable conditions. We have been stripped naked and robbed of our individuality, yet we refuse to be broken. Further repression only serves to strengthen our resolve and that of our gallant female comrades’ enduring the same hardships in Armagh jail.

“During this period many individuals, religious figures and political organisations and sections of the media have condemned the way we have been treated. Yet despite appeals for a resolution of the H-Block protest, the British government has remained intransigent and has displayed vindictive arrogance in dealing with the problem. They refuse to treat this issue in a realistic manner which is just another reflection of their attitude to the entire Irish question.

“Bearing in mind the serious implications of our final step, not only for us but for our people, we wish to make it clear that every channel has now been exhausted, and not wishing to break faith with those from whom we have inherited our principles, we now commit ourselves to a hunger strike.

“We call on the Irish people to lend us their support for our just demands and we are confident that this support will be very much in evidence in the coming days.

“We call on all solidarity and support groups to intensify their efforts and we also look forward with full confidence to the support of our exiled countrymen in America and Australia.

“We declare that political status is ours of right and we declare that from Monday, October 27th, 1980, a hunger strike by a number of men representing H- Blocks 3, 4, and 5 will commence.

“Our widely recognised resistance has carried us through four years of immense suffering and it shall carry us through to the bitter climax of death, if necessary.”

Signed: PRO, H-Block blanket men, Long Kesh camp

(From: “The 1980 H-Block hunger strike,” Irish Republican News, http://www.republican-news.org, October 31, 2020)


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


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Birth of Irish Folk Singer Christy Moore

Christopher Andrew “Christy” Moore, Irish folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist, is born in Newbridge, County Kildare, on May 7, 1945.

After attending Newbridge College, Moore works as a bank employee and has a desire to express himself using traditional music. During a twelve-week bank strike in 1966, he goes to England, as do many striking officials, but he does not return when the strike is settled. Doing general labouring work, he frequents the folk clubs and the Irish music pubs where he meets Séamus Ennis, Margaret Barry, Luke Kelly, Martin Byrnes, and many other traditional musicians.

Moore’s first album, Paddy On The Road, a minor release of 500 copies, is recorded with Dominic Behan in 1969. In 1972, his first major release, Prosperous, brings him together with three musicians, Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, and Dónal Lunny, who shortly thereafter form the Irish folk music band Planxty. For a short time they called themselves “CLAD,” an acronym of their names, but soon decide on Planxty.

After leaving Planxty in 1975, Moore continues his solo career, reforming his old band on occasion. He also forms the band Moving Hearts with Lunny and five other musicians in 1980. In 1987, he appears on Gay Byrne‘s The Late Late Show performing with The Dubliners for their 25th anniversary. In 2000, he publishes his autobiography, One Voice.

Moore’s earlier years of heavy drinking, sleeping dysfunctional hours, continual traveling, and often eating takeout foods results in a decline in health and several operations. Moore’s battle with alcohol and subsequent heart operations take their toll. At the end of the 1990s, Moore reduces his workload for medical reasons.

Moore releases his first new studio album in four years on April 17, 2009, entitled Listen, and promotes it through a series of live gigs. In December 2011, he releases the album Folk Tale. His most recent album, Where I Come From, is released in November 2013 and features a new protest song called Arthur’s Day. The album peaks at No. 3 on the Irish album charts.

Moore is best known for his political and social commentary which reflects a left-wing, Irish republican perspective, despite the fact that his mother was a Fine Gael county councillor and parliamentary candidate in Kildare. He supports the republican H-Block protestors with the albums H-Block in 1978, the launch of which is raided by the police, and The Spirit of Freedom. He also records songs by hunger striker Bobby Sands, including Back Home in Derry. Moore ceases support of the military activities of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1987 as a result of the Enniskillen bombing.

Political songs Moore has performed throughout his career include Mick Hanly’s On the Blanket about the protests of republican prisoners, Viva la Quinta Brigada about Irish volunteers who fought against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and Minds Locked Shut about Bloody Sunday in Derry.

In 2007, Moore is named Ireland’s greatest living musician in RTÉ‘s People of the Year Awards.