seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Patsy O’Hara, Republican Hunger Striker

patsy-o-haraPatsy O’Hara, Irish republican hunger striker and member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), is born on July 11, 1957 in Bishop Street, Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

O’Hara joins Na Fianna Éireann in 1970 and, in 1971, his brother Sean is interned in Long Kesh Prison. In late 1971, at the age of 14, he is shot and wounded by a soldier while manning a barricade. Due to his injuries, he is unable to attend the civil rights march on Bloody Sunday but watches it go by him in the Brandywell Stadium, and the events of the day have a lasting effect on him.

In October 1974, O’Hara is interned in Long Kesh Prison, and upon his release in April 1975 he joins the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and INLA. He is arrested in Derry in June 1975 and held on remand for six months. In September 1976, he is arrested again and once more held on remand for four months.

On May 10, 1978, O’Hara is arrested on O’Connell Street in Dublin under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, and is released eighteen hours later. He returns to Derry in January 1979 and is active in the INLA. On May 14, 1979, he is arrested and is convicted of possessing a hand grenade. He is sentenced to eight years in prison in January 1980.

O’Hara becomes Officer Commanding of the INLA prisoners at the beginning of the first hunger strike in 1980, and he joins the 1981 strike on March 22.

On Thursday, May 21, 1981 at 11:29 PM, Patsy O’Hara dies after 61 days on hunger strike, at the age of 23. In accordance with his wishes, his parents do not get him the medical intervention needed to save his life. His corpse is found to be mysteriously disfigured prior to its departure from prison and before the funeral, including signs of his face being beaten, a broken nose, and cigarette burns on his body.

O’Hara’s mother, Peggy O’Hara, is a candidate in the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly election in the Foyle constituency. She is not elected, but she is one of the more successful dissident republican candidates opposed to the new policy of the Sinn Féin leadership of working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and wins 1,789 votes. On the eve of the election, over 330 former republican prisoners write a letter to the Derry Journal endorsing her campaign.


Leave a comment

Death of Irish Hunger Striker Raymond McCreesh

Raymond McCreesh, volunteer in the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on hunger strike at 2:11 AM on May 21, 1981 in the H Blocks of Long Kesh Prison. McCreesh is one of ten Irish republicans who died on hunger strike in Long Kesh Prison.

Raymond Peter McCreesh, the seventh in a family of eight children, is born in St. Malachy’s Park, Camlough, on February 25, 1957. He is born into a strong Irish republican family, and is active in the republican movement from the age of sixteen. He attends the local primary school in Camlough, St. Malachy’s, and later attends St. Colman’s College, Newry.

McCreesh first joins Fianna Éireann, the IRA’s youth wing, in 1973, and later that year he progresses to join the Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade. He works for a short time as steelworker in a predominately Protestant factory in Lisburn. However, as sectarian threats and violence escalate, he switches professions to work as a milk roundsman in his local area of South Armagh, an occupation which greatly increases his knowledge of the surrounding countryside, as well as enables him to observe the movements of British Army patrols in the area.

On June 25, 1976, McCreesh and three other IRA volunteers attempt to ambush a British Army observation post in South Armagh. It lay opposite the Mountain House Inn, on the Newry–Newtonhamilton Road. As the armed, masked and uniformed IRA volunteers approached the observation post, they are spotted by British paratroopers on a hillside. The paratroopers open fire on the volunteers, who scatter. Two of them, McCreesh and Paddy Quinn, take cover in a nearby farmhouse. The paratroopers surround the house and fire a number of shots into the building. After some time, McCreesh and Quinn surrender and are taken to Bessbrook British Army base. Local Catholic priests facilitate their surrender. The third volunteer, Danny McGuinness, takes cover in a disused quarry outhouse but is captured the following day. The fourth member of the unit manages to escape despite being shot in the leg, arm and chest.

On March 2, 1977, McCreesh and Quinn are sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the attempted murder of British soldiers, possession of a rifle and ammunition, and a additional five years for IRA membership. The rifle that McCreesh has in his possession when captured is one of the rifles used in the Kingsmill massacre on January 5, 1976, when ten Protestant civilians are shot dead.

McCreesh is sent to the Maze Prison. He joins the blanket protest and takes part in the 1981 Irish hunger strike. He dies on 21 May, after 61 days on hunger strike.


Leave a comment

Bobby Sands Dies on Hunger Strike

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies on hunger strike while imprisoned at Long Kesh Prison on May 5, 1981.

Born in Belfast on March 9, 1954, 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 a large 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 Long Kesh Prison, 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.


Leave a comment

Bernadette Devlin Elected MP for Mid Ulster Constituency

Bernadette Devlin, Irish socialist and republican political activist, is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the Mid Ulster constituency on April 17, 1969, standing as the Independent Unity candidate.

Devlin is born in Cookstown, County Tyrone to a Roman Catholic family and attends St. Patrick’s Girls Academy in Dungannon. She is studying Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast in 1968 when she takes a prominent role in a student-led civil rights organisation, People’s Democracy. Devlin is subsequently excluded from the university.

She stands unsuccessfully against James Chichester-Clark in the Northern Ireland general election of 1969. When George Forrest, the MP for Mid Ulster, dies, she fights the subsequent by-election on the “Unity” ticket, defeating Forrest’s widow Anna, the Ulster Unionist Party candidate, and is elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. At age 21, she is the youngest MP at the time, and remains the youngest woman ever elected to Westminster until the May 2015 general election when 20-year-old Mhairi Black succeeds to the title.

After engaging, on the side of the residents, in the Battle of the Bogside, she is convicted of incitement to riot in December 1969, for which she serves a short jail term.

Having witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday, Devlin is infuriated that she is consistently denied the floor in the House of Commons by the Speaker Selwyn Lloyd, despite the fact that parliamentary convention decrees that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it. Devlin slaps Reginald Maudling, the Home Secretary in the Conservative government, across the face when he states in the House of Commons that the paratroopers had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.

Devlin helps to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party, a revolutionary socialist breakaway from Official Sinn Féin, with Seamus Costello in 1974. She serves on the party’s national executive in 1975, but resigns when a proposal that the Irish National Liberation Army become subordinate to the party executive is defeated. In 1977, she joins the Independent Socialist Party, but it disbands the following year.

Devlin stands as an independent candidate in support of the prisoners at Long Kesh prison in the 1979 European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland and wins 5.9% of the vote. She is a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supports the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.

On January 16, 1981, Devlin and her husband, Michael McAliskey, are shot by members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who break into their home near Coalisland, County Tyrone. Devlin is shot fourteen times in front of her children. British soldiers are watching the McAliskey home at the time, but fail to prevent the assassination attempt. The couple are taken by helicopter to a hospital in nearby Dungannon for emergency treatment and then transported to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. The attackers, all three members of the South Belfast UDA, are captured by the army patrol and subsequently jailed.

In 1982, she twice fails in an attempt to be elected to the Dublin North–Central constituency of Dáil Éireann. In 2003, she is barred from entering the United States and is deported on the grounds that the United States Department of State has declared that she “poses a serious threat to the security of the United States,” apparently referring to her conviction for incitement to riot in 1969.

On May 12, 2007, she is the guest speaker at éirígí‘s first Annual James Connolly commemoration in Arbour Hill, Dublin. She currently co-ordinates a not-for-profit community development organisation based in Dungannon, the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, and works with migrant workers to improve their treatment in Northern Ireland.


Leave a comment

The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike Begins

hunger_strike_memorialThe 1981 hunger strike begins on March 1, 1981, when Bobby Sands, a former commanding officer of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and prisoner at Long Kesh prison, refuses food. Other prisoners join the hunger strike one at a time at staggered intervals, which they believe will arouse maximum public support and exert maximum pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The movement initially struggles to generate public support for the hunger strike. The Sunday before Sands begins his strike, only 3,500 people march through the streets of west Belfast as compared to 10,000 marchers during a previous hunger strike four months earlier.

Five days into the strike, however, Independent Republican Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Frank Maguire dies, resulting in a by-election. There is debate among nationalists and republicans regarding who should contest the election but they ultimately agreed not to split the nationalist vote by contesting the election and Sands stands as an Anti H-Block candidate against Ulster Unionist Party candidate Harry West. Following a high-profile campaign the election takes place on April 9, and Sands is elected to the British House of Commons with 30,492 votes to West’s 29,046.

Sands’ election victory raises hopes that a settlement can be negotiated, but Thatcher stands firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. The world’s media descends on Belfast, and several intermediaries, including Síle de Valera, granddaughter of Éamon de Valera, Pope John Paul II‘s personal envoy John Magee, and European Commission of Human Rights officials, visit Sands in an attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike. With Sands close to death, the government’s position remains unchanged and they do not force medical treatment upon him.

On May 5, Sands dies in the prison hospital on day 66 of his hunger strike, prompting rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of his funeral, which is conducted with full IRA military honours. Margaret Thatcher showed no sympathy for his death.

In the two weeks following Sands’ death, three more hunger strikers die – Francis Hughes on May 12, and Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara on May 21. The deaths result in further rioting in Northern Ireland, particularly Derry and Belfast. Following the May 21 deaths, Primate of All Ireland Tomás Ó Fiaich criticises the British government’s handling of the hunger strike. Despite this, Thatcher still refuses to negotiate a settlement.

On July 28, following the deaths of Joe McDonnell (July 8) and Martin Hurson (July 13), the families of some of the hunger strikers attend a meeting with Catholic priest Father Denis Faul. The families express concern at the lack of a settlement and a decision is made to meet with Gerry Adams later that day. At the meeting Father Faul puts pressure on Adams to find a way of ending the strike, and Adams agrees to ask the IRA leadership to order the men to end the hunger strike. The following day Adams holds a meeting with six of the hunger strikers to outline a proposed settlement on offer from the British government should the strike be brought to an end. The strikers reject the settlement, believing that accepting anything less than their original demands will be a betrayal of the sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the other men who had died.

On July 31, the hunger strike begins to break when the mother of Paddy Quinn insists on medical intervention to save his life. The following day Kevin Lynch dies, followed by Kieran Doherty on August 2, Thomas McElwee on August 8, and Michael Devine on August 20. On September 6, the family of Laurence McKeown becomes the fourth family to intervene and asks for medical treatment to save his life, and Cahal Daly issues a statement calling on republican prisoners to end the hunger strike.

A week later James Prior replaces Humphrey Atkins as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and meets with prisoners in an attempt to end the strike. Liam McCloskey ends his strike on September 26 after his family says they will ask for medical intervention if he becomes unconscious. It also becomes clear that the families of the remaining hunger strikers will also intervene to save their lives. The strike is called off at 3:15 PM on October 3. Three days later Secretary of State Prior announces partial concessions to the prisoners including the right to wear their own clothes at all times. The only one of their original five demands still outstanding is the right not to do prison work. Following sabotage by the prisoners and the Maze Prison escape in 1983, the prison workshops are closed, effectively granting all five of the demands but without any formal recognition of political status from the government.

Over the summer of 1981, ten hunger strikers die. Thirteen others begin refusing food but are taken off hunger strike, either due to medical reasons or after intervention by their families. Many of them still suffer from the effects of the strike, with problems including digestive, visual, physical and neurological disabilities.