seamus dubhghaill

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


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Jack Lynch Resigns as Taoiseach of Ireland

Jack Lynch, Irish politician and Taoiseach of Ireland from 1966 to 1973 and from 1977 to 1979, resigns as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil on December 5, 1979.

In 1946, Lynch has his first involvement in politics when he is asked by his local Fianna Fáil cumann to stand for Dáil Éireann in a by-election. Over the next 35 years he serves as Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (1951-54), Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands (1951-54), Minister for the Gaeltacht (March 1957-June 1957), Minister for Education (1957-59), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1959-65), Minister for Finance (1965-66), Leader of Fianna Fáil (1966-79), Leader of the Opposition (1973-77), and 5th Taoiseach of Ireland (1977-79).

The year 1979 proves to be the year in which Lynch finally realises that his grip on power has slipped. The first direct elections to the European Parliament take place in June and see the electorate severely punishing the ruling Fianna Fáil party. A five-month postal strike also led to deep anger amongst people all over the country. On 27 August 1979, the Provisional Irish Republican Army assassinates Earl Mountbatten of Burma in County Sligo. On the same day the IRA kills 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint in County Down.

A radical security review and greater cross-border co-operation are discussed with the new British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. These discussions lead Síle de Valera, a backbench TD, to directly challenge the leadership in a speech at the Liam Lynch commemoration at Fermoy, County Cork, on September 9. Although Lynch quickly tries to impose party discipline, attempting to discipline her for opposing party policy at a parliamentary party meeting held at September 28, de Valera correctly points out that she had not opposed the party policy regarding the North which called for the declaration of the British intent to withdraw from the north. The result is embarrassing for Lynch.

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in September proves to be a welcome break for Lynch from the day-to-day running of the country. In November, just before he departs on a visit to the United States he decides that he will resign at the end of the year. This would allow him to complete his term as President of the European Community. The defining event which makes up his mind is the news that Fianna Fáil had lost two by-elections on November 7 in his native Cork (Cork City and Cork North-East).

In addition during the trip Lynch claims in an interview with The Washington Post that a five-kilometre air corridor between the border had been agreed upon during the meeting with Thatcher to enhance security co-operation. This is something highly unsavory to many in Fianna Fáil. When Lynch returns he is confronted openly by Síle de Valera, Dr. Bill Loughnane, a noted hardline Republican backbencher, along with Tom McEllistrim, a member of Charles Haughey‘s gang of five, at a parliamentary party meeting. Lynch stated that the British do not have permission to overfly the border. Afterwards Loughnane goes public with the details of the meeting and accuses Lynch of deliberately misleading the party. An attempt to remove the whip from Loughnane fails.

At this stage Lynch’s position has become untenable, with supporters of Haughey caucusing opinion within the party. George Colley, the man whom Lynch sees as his successor, comes to him and encourages him to resign sooner. Colley is convinced that he has enough support to defeat the other likely candidate, Charles Haughey, and that Lynch should resign early to catch his opponents on the hop. Lynch agreed to this and resigns as leader of Fianna Fáil on December 5, 1979, assured that Colley has the votes necessary to win. However, Haughey and his supporters have been preparing for months to take over the leadership and Lynch’s resignation comes as no surprise. He narrowly defeats Colley in the leadership contest and succeeds Lynch as Taoiseach.

Lynch remained on in Dáil Éireann as a TD until his retirement from politics at the 1981 Irish general election.


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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.