seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell

joe-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on July 8, 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951 as one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

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Birth of Ray MacSharry, Fianna Fáil Politician

raymond-mcsharryRaymond MacSharry, Fianna Fáil politician who serves in a range of cabinet positions, most notably as Tánaiste, Minister for Finance, and European Commissioner, is born on April 29, 1938 in Sligo, County Sligo.

MacSharry is educated at the local national school before later briefly attending Summerhill College. After leaving school he works as a livestock dealer throughout Sligo and Mayo before becoming involved in the Meat Exporters Factory in his native town. MacSharry also owns his own haulage firm.

Although MacSharry comes from a non-political family, he himself becomes an active member of Fianna Fáil in Sligo. In 1967 he makes his first move into politics when he secures election to both Sligo Borough Council and Sligo County Council. It was from this local base that he launches his national election campaign.

MacSharry is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for the Sligo–Leitrim constituency at the 1969 general election. He is re-elected to the Dáil at the 1973 general election, however, Fianna Fáil are out of power as a Fine GaelLabour Party government comes to power. In Jack Lynch‘s subsequent front bench reshuffle, MacSharry is appointed opposition spokesperson on the Office of Public Works.

Following the 1977 general election, Fianna Fáil returns to government with a massive twenty-seat Dáil majority. With the introduction of the new Minister of State positions in 1978, MacSharry finally secures a junior ministerial post, as Minister of State at the Department of the Public Service.

Charles Haughey succeeds in becoming party leader after Jack Lynch’s resignation in 1979, albeit by a narrow margin of just six votes, and is later elected Taoiseach by the Dáil. MacSharry’s loyalty is subsequently rewarded when he is appointed Minister for Agriculture in the new government.

Fianna Fáil falls out of power in 1981 but returns to power following the February 1982 general election. MacSharry is promoted to the positions of Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, however, the government falls after just nine months in office and a new coalition government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party take office.

In 1983 MacSharry resigns from the Fianna Fáil front bench due to a telephone tapping controversy, when it is revealed that as Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, he had borrowed police tape recorders to secretly record conversations with a cabinet colleague. He spends a number of years in the political wilderness following the phone-tapping scandal. He is elected to the European Parliament as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Connacht–Ulster in 1984.

Following the 1987 general election MacSharry is returned to the Dáil once again. He resigns his European Parliament seat when he is appointed Minister for Finance in Haughey’s new government. In 1988 his loyalty to Haughey is rewarded when he is appointed European Commissioner. As a result of this he resigns his Dáil seat and ends his domestic political career.

Following the completion of his term as Commissioner, MacSharry retires from politics to pursue business interests. He is currently a director on the boards of a variety of companies including Bank of Ireland and Ryanair Holdings. In 1999 he is appointed chairman of Eircom plc. He is also a member of the Comite d’Honneur of the Institute of International and European Affairs.