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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Death of IRA Volunteer Seán South

sean-southSeán South, a member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) military column led by Sean Garland on a raid against a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, on January 1, 1957, dies of wounds sustained during the raid along with another IRA volunteer, Fergal O’Hanlon.

South is born in 1928 in Limerick where he is educated at Sexton Street Christian Brothers School, later working as a clerk in a local wood-importing company called McMahon’s. South is a member of a number of organisations including the Gaelic League, Legion of Mary, Clann na Poblachta, and Sinn Féin. In Limerick he founds the local branch of Maria Duce, a social Catholic organisation, where he also edits both An Gath and An Giolla. He receives military training as a lieutenant of the Irish army reserve, the LDF which later becomes the FCA (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil or Local Defence Force), before he becomes a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.

South is a devout Catholic, being a member of An Réalt, the Irish-speaking chapter of the Legion of Mary, and a conservative, even by the standards of the day. He is also a member of the Knights of Columbanus.

On New Year’s Day 1957, fourteen IRA volunteers cross the border into County Fermanagh to launch an attack on a joint RUC/B Specials barracks in Brookeborough. During the attack a number of volunteers are injured, two fatally. South and Fergal O’Hanlon die of their wounds as they are making their escape. They are carried into an old sandstone barn by their comrades which is later demolished by a British army jeep. Stone from the barn is used to build a memorial at the site.

The attack on the barracks inspires two popular rebel songs: “Seán South of Garryowen” and “The Patriot Game.” “Seán South of Garryowen,” is written by Sean Costelloe from County Limerick to the tune of another republican ballad “Roddy McCorley” and is made famous by The Wolfe Tones. The popularity of this song leads to the misconception that South is from Garryowen, a suburb in Limerick city. In fact, South is actually from 47 Henry Street in Limerick.

South is also mentioned in The Rubberbandits song “Up Da Ra”, which pokes fun at the concept of armchair republicanism using the literary device of the unreliable narrator.

There is a plaque dedicated to Seán South outside his birthplace on Henry Street, Limerick.