seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Hunger Striker Michael “Mickey” Devine

michael-devineMichael James “Mickey” Devine, a founding member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and participant in the 1981 Irish hunger strike, dies in Maze Prison on August 20, 1981, the tenth and last of the hunger strikers to die.

Devine, also known as “Red Mickey” because of his red hair, is born into a family from the Springtown Camp, on the outskirts of Derry, a former United States military base from the World War II. In 1960, when he is six years of age, the Devine family, including his grandmother, sister Margaret and parents Patrick and Elizabeth, move to the then newly built Creggan estate to the north of Derry city centre. He is educated at Holy Child Primary School and St. Joseph’s Boy’s School, both in the Creggan.

After British soldiers shoot dead two unarmed civilians, Dessie Beattie and Raymond Cusack, Devine joins the James Connolly Republican Club in Derry in July 1971. Bloody Sunday has a deep impact on him. In the early 1970s, he joins the Irish Labour Party and Young Socialists.

Devine helps found the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1975. In 1976, after an arms raid in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, he is arrested in Northern Ireland. He is convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison. He joins the blanket protest before joining the hunger strike.

Devine participates in a brief hunger strike in 1980, which is called off without fatalities. On June 22, 1981, he joins Joe McDonnell, Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch, Martin Hurson, Thomas McElwee and Paddy Quinn on hunger strike at the Maze Prison. He dies on August 20, after sixty days on hunger strike.


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The Ballygawley Land Mine Attack

ballygawley-land-mine-attackThe Ballygawley land mine attack is a bomb attack carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on July 13, 1983. The IRA explodes a land mine under an Ulster Defense Regiment‘s (UDR) mobile patrol at Ballygawley Road, near Dungannon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Four UDR soldiers are killed in the incident.

After the 1981 Irish hunger strike, floods of recruits sign up to join the IRA. Republicans in County Tyrone are especially angry over the death of Martin Hurson who was from the small Tyrone village of Cappagh and was one of Cappagh’s most famous sons. Cappagh becomes a Republican stronghold in the 1980s. Many young men flock to join the East Tyrone Brigade to avenge Hurson’s death. Some of those who join after being radicalized by the Hunger Strike go onto become famous IRA Volunteers like Declan Arthurs and Martin McCaughey who were both small children when the conflict broke out in 1969.

Sinn Féin member Francie Molloy said the following on Hurson’s funeral and the effect his death had on the young people of Cappagh:

“There was people everywhere. The village was black with them. It was the first sign in Tyrone of thousands and thousands of people assembling to honor the remains of a native son coming home. Martin was young when he went to jail and young when died on hunger strike. His death just made young people more determined that they were going to replace him. They saw ten men dead as the British government taking people out of the struggle. I think the young people of Cappagh and surrounding areas decided there and then that they were going to replace every one of them and replace them tenfold. And that is what they did. The number of young people who joined up in response was massive.”

On July 13, 1983, four British Army (Ulster Defence Regiment) soldiers (Ronald Alexander, Thomas Harron, John Roxborough, and Oswald Neely), all Protestant members of the 6th Battalion UDR, are travelling in their mobile patrol along a road in Tyrone close to the small town of Ballygawley. IRA Volunteers from the East Tyrone Brigade plant a 500 lb. land mine along the road the UDR patrol is traveling. The IRA unit notices the UDR takes a similar route every so often and has spotted weakness in the patrol. The IRA Volunteers are watching the UDR patrol while being well hidden. Once the UDR patrol is close to the land mine the IRA Volunteers detonate the land mine by remote control killing the four UDR soldiers almost immediately. This is the highest casualty rate suffered by the UDR in a single incident during The Troubles and worst attack suffered by the security forces since 1981. The attack is carried out by an Active Service Unit (ASU) of the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade which is one of the most active and successful Brigade areas in the IRA during the 1980s.

Within five years the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade launches two more high-profile attacks in Ballygawley. In 1985, during the Attack on Ballygawley barracks, an IRA unit led by Patrick Joseph Kelly and Jim Lynagh attacks the Ballygawley RUC barracks, shooting dead two RUC officers who are at the front of the station. A 200 lb. bomb destroys the entire barracks and injures three more RUC officers. In 1988, the IRA kills eight British soldiers and injures twenty-eight others during the Ballygawley bus bombing. Many Republicans see this as revenge for the Loughgall ambush the year before when the Special Air Service (SAS) shot dead eight IRA Volunteers.


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Long Kesh Prison Hunger Strike Ends

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger strike is called off at Long Kesh prison – later known as HM Prison Maze –  on October 3, 1981. While the IRA does not win immediate concessions, in some ways it is a Pyrrhic victory for Margaret Thatcher’s government. It galvanises support and membership for the IRA and generates huge sympathy for the strikers in the United States where fund-raising is a major priority. The death of the first hunger striker, Bobby Sands, creates a martyr and an iconic figure.

In January 1981, prison authorities begin to supply the prisoners with officially issued civilian clothing, whereas the prisoners demand the right to wear their own clothing. On February 4, the prisoners issue a statement saying that the British government has failed to resolve the crisis and declares their intention of a hunger strike. The hunger strike begins on March 1, when Bobby Sands, the IRA’s former officer commanding (OC) in the prison, refuses food. Unlike the first hunger strike the previous year, the prisoners join one at a time and at staggered intervals, which they believe would arouse maximum public support and exert maximum pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The republican movement initially struggles to generate public support for the second hunger strike. The Sunday before Sands begins his strike, 3,500 people march through west Belfast. During the first hunger strike four months earlier the marchers had numbered 10,000. Five days into the strike, Independent Republican 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. After negotiations they agree 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 visit Sands in an attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike, 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. With Sands close to death, the government’s position remains unchanged.

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

In the two weeks following Sands’ death, hunger strikers Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara die. Following the deaths of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson, the families of some of the hunger strikers attend a meeting on July 28 with Catholic priest Father Denis Faul. The families express concern at the lack of a settlement to the priest, and a decision is made to meet with Gerry Adams later that day. 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 six men reject the settlement, believing that accepting anything less than the “Five Demands” would be a betrayal of the sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers who had died.

The hunger strike begins to break on July 31, 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.

The strike is called off at 3:15 PM on October 3, 1981. Three days later, James Prior, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announces partial concessions to the prisoners including the right to wear their own clothes at all times. The only one of the “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 of the “Five Demands” but without any formal recognition of political status from the government.

(Pictured: A Belfast mural of the Long Kesh hunger strikers)


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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.