Tag Archives: Joe McDonnell

8th July – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

8th July

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Thursday 8 July 1971

Two Men Killed by British Soldiers

        

Seamus Cusack  & Desmond Beattie

Seamus Cusack (28), a Catholic civilian, was shot and mortally wounded by a British soldier during street disturbances at Abbey Park, in the Bogside area of Derry.

The shooting happened at approximately 1.00am and Cusack died in Letterkenny Hospital at approximately 1.40am.

[The British Army later claimed that Cusack had been armed with a rifle but local witnesses denied this.]

The death of Cusack led to further disturbances in the Bogside and at approximately 3.15pm Desmond Beattie (19), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by British soldiers at Lecky Road.

Again the circumstances of the shooting were disputed.

[The British Army later claimed that Beattie was about to throw a nail bomb when he was shot; local people insisted he was unarmed at the time of his killing.]

The rioting in Derry intensified following the two deaths.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) withdrew from Stormont on 16 July 1971 because no official inquiry was announced into the killings.

An unofficial Inquiry was chaired by Lord Gifford (QC), an English barrister, and assisted by Paul O’Dwyer, an American lawyer, and Albie Sachs, a South African lawyer.

The Inquiry was held at the Guildhall, Derry, but the British Army (BA) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) refused to participate. The Report of the Inquiry was published in August 1971.

Thursday 8 July 1976

A Catholic civilian died one day after being shot by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a covername for the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Wednesday 8 July 1981

Fifth Hunger Striker Died

Joe McDonnell (30) died after 61 days on hunger strike. McDonnell had gone on strike to replace Bobby Sands.

The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which had been established by the Catholics Bishops Conference, accused the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) of retreating from earlier offers made to the ICJP on the hunger strikers five demands.

See Hungry Strikes

John Dempsey

A member of the youth section of the IRA was shot dead by the British Army in Belfast.

Friday 8 July 1983

The Northern Ireland Assembly voted by 35 to 11 for the introduction of the death penalty for terrorist murders

Wednesday 8 July 1987

James Molyneaux, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said they would use the Unionist Task Force report in talks with the British government.

Wednesday 8 July 1992

There were heated exchanges between local residents and Orange Order members taking part in a parade through the mainly Catholic lower Ormeau Road area of Belfast.

Orange Order members shouted “Up the UFF” and held up one of their hands showing five fingers – a reference to the shooting dead of five Catholic civilians in a Bookmaker’s shop on the lower Ormeau Road.

The parade went right past the site of the shooting.

[Later Patrick Mayhew, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that the actions of the marchers “would have disgraced a tribe of cannibals”.]

Thursday 8 July 1993

The Guardian (a British newspaper) published an interview with Dick Spring, then Tánaiste (deputy Irish Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs).

In the interview Spring suggested that the two governments draw up a framework settlement and then put the proposal directly to the public by means of a referendum.

There was a meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (AIIC).

Monday 8 July 1996

Many aspects of life in Northern Ireland were disrupted as protests were mounted across the region in support of the Drumcree Orangemen.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) fired plastic bullets to control protesting crowds in Drumcree (Portadown), Sandy Row (Belfast) and Ballymena.

At the multi-party talks in Stormont, Belfast, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the United Kingdom Unionists (UKU) all pulled out of the talks in protest at the decision of the RUC to prevent the march at Drumcree.

“Fire and brimstone” speeches by unionist politicians were claimed by the McGoldrick family to be partly to blame for their son’s death on 7 July 1996.

Tuesday 8 July 1997

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) threatened to attack Orangemen whom it viewed as responsible for forcing parades through Nationalist areas.

The Dublin to Belfast train was stopped at Newry and damaged by petrol bombs.

The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) joined together to stage an armed paramilitary display which was recorded and broadcast by Ulster Television (UTV).

The UDA and UVF claimed that the display was intended to “reassure and calm Protestants”.

A Northern Ireland Office (NIO) document was leaked to the media. The document suggested that the decision to allow the Drumcree parade to proceed down the Garvaghy Road on 6 July 1997 had been taken by Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in conjunction with security leaders as early as 21 June 1997.

This in spite of Mowlam’s assertion that the decision was not made until the eve of the march.

Mowlam subsequently launched an inquiry into who leaked the document.

Nationalists, who were still protesting against the events at the Garvaghy Road, announced that they would block Orange Order parades planned for 12 July 1997 from passing through Nationalist areas in Armagh, Bellaghy, Belfast (lower Ormeau Road), Derry, Newry, and Strabane.

People in these areas called for Nationalist to travel to the parade routes to add their support for rerouting of the planned parades.

Wednesday 8 July 1998

drumcree church at night

The situation at Drumcree deteriorated considerably with sustained violent attacks on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army barricades by protesting Orange men.

See Drumcree

An estimated 5,000 Orangemen from county lodges in Derry and Tyrone joined the protest at Drumcree.

Attacks against Catholic homes, businesses, schools, and churches continued to be a feature of Loyalist violence.

Eight blast bombs were thrown at Catholic homes in the Collingwood area of Lurgan in the early hours of the morning. Seamus Mallon, then deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), went to the Garvaghy Road to speak to the local Residents Group.

[Mallon was heckled by local residents as he left the meeting and looked to be shaken by the experience.]

In a show of support Catholics from other areas of Northern Ireland sent food supplies to the residents of the Garvaghy Road.

Thursday 8 July 1999

Loyalists left a pipe-bomb outside the house of a Sinn Féin (SF) member in Ballycastle, County Antrim.

There were two arson attacks on houses in north Belfast which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) described as sectarian.

Barry Morgan (24) was found guilty of the murder of Cyril Stewart, at the time a retired Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) reservist, in Armagh on March 1998.

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) was responsible for the attack.

A disagreement arose between Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, and Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), over whether or not Sinn Féin (SF) was now a separate organisation from the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Ahern said on BBC Radio Ulster that they were two separate organisations but senior police sources on both sides of the Border supported Blair’s stated view that the two organisations were “inextricably linked”.

Orangemen from Portadown, County Armagh, held talks about the Drumcree issue with Tony Blair at Downing Street, London

Sunday 8 July 2001

The annual Orange Order parade at Drumcree, County Armagh, which had been the setting for violent confrontation for several years, passed off peacefully under a heavy security presence.

[However, in the following days there were violent clashes in north Belfast.]

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Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

11 People lost their lives on the 8th July between 1971 – 1996

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08 July 1971


Seamus Cusack  (27)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot during street disturbances, Abbey Park, Bogside, Derry

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08 July 1971
Desmond Beattie  (19)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot during street disturbances, Lecky Road, Bogside, Derry.

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08 July 1972
Laurence McKenna   (22)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Died three days after being shot at the junction of Falls Road and Waterford Street, Lower Falls, Belfast

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08 July 1976
James Rooney  (43)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
Died one day after being shot at his greengrocer’s shop, Upper Newtownards Road, Ballyhackamore, Belfast.

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08 July 1979
Alan MacMillan   (18)

nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by remote controlled bomb while on British Army (BA) foot patrol, Crossmaglen, County Armagh.

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08 July 1981


Joe McDonnell   (30)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: not known (nk)
Died on the 61st day of hunger strike, Long Kesh / Maze Prison, County Down.

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08 July 1981


John Dempsey   (16)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army Youth Section (IRAF),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by British Army (BA) sniper during arson attack on bus depot, Falls Road, Belfast

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08 July 1986


John McVitty   (46)

Protestant
Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty. Shot at his farm, Drumady, near Rosslea, County Fermanagh.

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08 July 1988


John Howard   (29)

nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by booby trap bomb when British Army (BA) patrol arrived at the scene of earlier explosion, outside Falls Baths, Falls Road, Belfast.

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08 July 1992


Cyril Murray   (51)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)
Shot at his home, Kerrsland Drive, Bloomfield, Belfast.

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08 July 1996


Michael McGoldrick  (31)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Taxi driver. Found shot in his car, Montiaghs Road, Aghagallon, near Lurgan, County Antrim.

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Republican Hunger Strike 1981

Sunday 1 March 1981 1981

Hunger Strike Began

Bobby Sands, then leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison, refused food and so began a new hungry strike . The choice of the start date was significant because it marked the fifth anniversary of the ending of special category status (1 March 1976).

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Bobby Sands and the 1981 Hunger Strike Documentary

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The main aim of the new strike was to achieve the reintroduction of political status for Republican prisoners. Edward Daly, then Catholic Bishop of Derry, criticised the decision to begin another hunger strike.

Brendan McFarlane

 

 

Sands was to lead the hunger strike but it was decided that Brendan McFarlane would take over Sands’ role as leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison. It later became clear that the IRA leadership outside the prison was not in favour of a new hunger strike following the outcome of the 1980 strike. The main impetus came from the prisoners themselves.

The strike was to last until 3 October 1981 and was to see 10 Republican prisoners starve themselves to death in support of their protest. The strike led to a heightening of political tensions in the region. It was also to pave the way for the emergence of Sinn Féin (SF) as a major political force in Northern Ireland.

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Margaret Thatcher’s letters to families of hunger strikers released

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, later Baroness Thatcher, was implacably opposed to the hunger strikers

Secret Government documents also reveal Thatcher’s fears after 1984 Brighton bombing

Margaret Thatcher privately expressed regret over the 1981 Irish hunger strike, newly released letters to the families of prisoners show.

In the notes the prime minister said she cared “deeply” about those affected by the protest. But she turned down a request for a meeting from two mothers, stating: “I really do not see how such a meeting could help”.

The letters are contained within files released today by the National Archives in Kew, south-west London.

The files also reveal Thatcher’s fear that she would be targeted again by the IRA after narrowly avoiding assassination in the Brighton bombing of October 12, 1984, and how the attack nearly derailed secret Northern Ireland peace negotiations.

 

Mrs Thatcher and her cabinet were staying at the Grand Hotel in the city for the Conservative Party conference when they were targeted. The long-delay time bomb, which had been planted four weeks earlier, killed five and injured 31.

Afterwards, in a handwritten note to Charles Powell, one of her closest advisors, Mrs Thatcher said: “The bomb has slowed things down and may in the end kill any new initiative because I suspect it will be the first in a series”.

Four months earlier, Mrs Thatcher had sought Cabinet approval for a series of secret liaisons with the Republic of Ireland.

The negotiations helped lay the ground for the subsequent 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement but the documents show Mrs Thatcher was reluctant to allow them to continue after the bomb, commenting that she was “very pessimistic” about their outcome in November 1984.

She added Britain must avoid the impression of “being bombed into making concession to the Republic”.

On the hunger strikes, the files show that Mrs Thatcher urged the sister of one of the prisoners to convince her brother his protest was pointless.

Outwardly, Mrs Thatcher was typically unyielding during the crisis, stating there would be no concessions or reform of the prison system until the hunger strike had ended.

But in the letter to Sharon McCloskey, Mrs Thatcher said: “I want you to know that despite what is said and written by some people about my attitude to the hunger strike, I very much regret that young men have been prepared to throw away their lives for an objective which – as I have said on many occasions – no responsible Government anywhere could grant, since it could only aid and abet those who advocate and use violence to political ends.”

She added: “I can only urge you all to impress on him that the five demands of the prisoners amount to a prison regime which no Government could concede, for the reason I have given. It may be that if this is put to him by people he knows and trusts, he will decide to stop his fast and so save his life.”

Liam McCloskey’s mother Philomena also wrote to the prime minister requesting a meeting.

“I hope that you will receive this letter personally as I want you to know of my despair and desperation,” she wrote to Thatcher.

“I am the widowed mother of Liam McCloskey who, today completes thirty days on hunger strike in the prison hospital of Long Kesh [later known as HMP Maze]. I would like to meet you and believe that such a meeting would perhaps give you a better understanding of my position.”

In her response, Mrs Thatcher said: “I do care very deeply about those to whom the hunger strike has brought pain and bereavement, as I do for all those in Northern Ireland who have suffered from violence in whatever form that has taken.

“I hope you will understand that I really do not see how such a meeting could help. I believe myself that the Government’s position has already been set out very clearly.”

Liam McCloskey ended his strike after 55 days when his family intervened.

He was one of a number of republican prisoners at HMP Maze in Belfast who stopped eating in protest at the removal of so-called “special category status” for inmates who considered themselves political prisoners.

They were demanding that members of paramilitary groups should be treated differently from other prisoners including the right wear civilian clothes and to refrain from prison work.

In total 10 men died, including Bobby Sands, who became the best known of the protestors after he was elected as an MP during his time on strike. He died after 66 days.

The hunger strike ended on October 3, 1981, when James Prior, the Northern Ireland secretary, announced prisoners could wear their own clothes and remission lost would be restored.

 

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Background & History

of

1981 Hungry Strike

The 1981 Irish hunger strike was the culmination of a five-year protest during “the Troubles” by Irish republican prisoners in Northern Ireland. The protest began as the blanket protest in 1976, when the British government withdrew Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners. In 1978, after a number of attacks on prisoners leaving their cells to “slop out“, the dispute escalated into the dirty protest, where prisoners refused to leave their cells to wash and covered the walls of their cells with excrement. In 1980, seven prisoners participated in the first hunger strike, which ended after 53 days.[1]

The second hunger strike took place in 1981 and was a showdown between the prisoners and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. One hunger striker, Bobby Sands, was elected as a Member of Parliament during the strike, prompting media interest from around the world.[2] The strike was called off after ten prisoners had starved themselves to death—including Sands, whose funeral was attended by 100,000 people.[1] The strike radicalised Irish nationalist politics, and was the driving force that enabled Sinn Féin to become a mainstream political party.

Background

There had been hunger strikes by Irish republican prisoners since 1917, and twelve had previously died on hunger strike, including Thomas Ashe, Terence MacSwiney, Seán McCaughey, Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg.[4] After the introduction of internment in 1971, Long Kesh—later known as HM Prison Maze—was run like a prisoner of war camp. Internees lived in dormitories and disciplined themselves with military-style command structures, drilled with dummy guns made from wood, and held lectures on guerrilla warfare and politics.[5] Convicted prisoners were refused the same rights as internees until July 1972, when Special Category Status was introduced following a hunger strike by 40 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners led by the veteran republican Billy McKee. Special Category, or political, status meant prisoners were treated similarly to prisoners of war; for example, not having to wear prison uniforms or do prison work.[5] In 1976, as part of its policy of “criminalisation”, the British government brought an end to Special Category Status for newly convicted paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland. The policy was not introduced for existing prisoners, but for those convicted of offences after 1 March 1976.[6] The end to Special Category Status was a serious threat to the authority which the paramilitary leaderships inside prison had been able to exercise over their own men, as well as being a propaganda blow.[5]

Blanket and dirty protests

Main articles: Blanket protest and dirty protest

On 14 September 1976, newly convicted prisoner Kieran Nugent began the blanket protest, in which IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners refused to wear prison uniform and either went naked or fashioned garments from prison blankets.[6] In 1978, after a number of attacks on prisoners leaving their cells to “slop out” (i.e., empty their chamber pots), this escalated into the dirty protest, where prisoners refused to leave their cells to wash or slop out. To mitigate the build-up of flies, they smeared their excrement on the walls of their cells.[7] These protests aimed to re-establish their political status by securing what were known as the “Five Demands”:

  1. the right not to wear a prison uniform;
  2. the right not to do prison work;
  3. the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
  4. the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
  5. full restoration of remission lost through the protest.[8]

Initially, this protest did not attract a great deal of attention, and even the IRA regarded it as a side-issue compared to their armed campaign.[9][10] It began to attract attention when Tomás Ó Fiaich, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, visited the prison and condemned the conditions there.[11] In 1979, former MP Bernadette McAliskey stood in the election for the European Parliament on a platform of support for the protesting prisoners, and won 5.9% of the vote across Northern Ireland, even though Sinn Féin had called for a boycott of the election.[12][13] Shortly after this, the broad-based National H-Block/Armagh Committee was formed, on a platform of support for the “Five Demands”, with McAliskey as its main spokesperson.[14][15] The period leading up to the hunger strike saw assassinations by both republicans and loyalists. The IRA shot and killed a number of prison officers;[9][16] while loyalist paramilitaries shot and killed a number of activists in the National H-Block/Armagh Committee and badly injured McAliskey and her husband in an attempt on their lives.[17][18]

First hunger strike

On 27 October 1980, republican prisoners in HM Prison Maze began a hunger strike. Many prisoners volunteered to be part of the strike, but a total of seven were selected to match the number of men who signed the Easter 1916 Proclamation of the Republic. The group consisted of IRA members Brendan Hughes, Tommy McKearney, Raymond McCartney, Tom McFeeley, Sean McKenna, Leo Green, and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) member John Nixon.[19] On 1 December three prisoners in Armagh Women’s Prison joined the strike, including Mairéad Farrell, followed by a short-lived hunger strike by several dozen more prisoners in HM Prison Maze. In a war of nerves between the IRA leadership and the British government, with McKenna lapsing in and out of a coma and on the brink of death, the government appeared to concede the essence of the prisoners’ five demands with a thirty-page document detailing a proposed settlement. With the document in transit to Belfast, Hughes took the decision to save McKenna’s life and end the strike after 53 days on 18 December.[8]

Second hunger strike

A hunger strike memorial in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast

In January 1981 it became clear that the prisoners’ demands had not been conceded. Prison authorities began to supply the prisoners with officially issued civilian clothing, whereas the prisoners demanded the right to wear their own clothing. On 4 February the prisoners issued a statement saying that the British government had failed to resolve the crisis and declared their intention of “hunger striking once more”.[20] The second hunger strike began on 1 March, when Bobby Sands, the IRA’s former commanding officer (CO) in the prison, refused food. Unlike the first strike, the prisoners joined one at a time and at staggered intervals, which they believed would arouse maximum public support and exert maximum pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.[21]

The republican movement initially struggled to generate public support for the second hunger strike. The Sunday before Sands began his strike, 3,500 people marched through west Belfast; during the first hunger strike four months earlier the marchers had numbered 10,000.[22] Five days into the strike, however, Independent Republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Frank Maguire died, resulting in a by-election. There was debate among nationalists and republicans regarding who should contest the election: Austin Currie of the Social Democratic and Labour Party expressed an interest, as did Bernadette McAliskey and Maguire’s brother Noel.[1] After negotiations, and implied threats to Noel Maguire, they agreed not to split the nationalist vote by contesting the election and Sands stood as an Anti H-Block candidate against Ulster Unionist Party candidate Harry West.[22][23] Following a high-profile campaign the election took place on 9 April, and Sands was elected to the British House of Commons with 30,492 votes to West’s 29,046.[24]

Sands’ election victory raised hopes that a settlement could be negotiated, but Thatcher stood firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. She stated “We are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime, it is not political”.[25] The world’s media descended on Belfast, and several intermediaries visited 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.[2][26] With Sands close to death, the government’s position remained unchanged, with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Humphrey Atkins stating “If Mr. Sands persisted in his wish to commit suicide, that was his choice. The Government would not force medical treatment upon him”.[26]

Deaths and end of strike

Bobby Sands Wandmalerei in Belfast
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Reaction to the death of Bobby Sands M.P (1981)
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On 5 May, Sands died in the prison hospital on the sixty-sixth day of his hunger strike, prompting rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.[1] Humphrey Atkins issued a statement saying that Sands had committed suicide “under the instructions of those who felt it useful to their cause that he should die”.[27] Over 100,000 people lined the route of his funeral, which was conducted with full IRA military honours. Margaret Thatcher showed no sympathy for his death, telling the House of Commons that “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims”.[26]

In the two weeks following Sands’ death, three more hunger strikers died. Francis Hughes died on 12 May, resulting in further rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, in particular Derry and Belfast. Following the deaths of Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara on 21 May, Tomás Ó Fiaich, by then Primate of All Ireland, criticised the British government’s handling of the hunger strike.[1] Despite this, Thatcher still refused to negotiate a settlement, stating “Faced with the failure of their discredited cause, the men of violence have chosen in recent months to play what may well be their last card”, during a visit to Belfast in late May.[27]

Nine protesting prisoners contested the general election in the Republic of Ireland in June. Kieran Doherty and Paddy Agnew (who was not on hunger strike) were elected in Cavan–Monaghan and Louth respectively, and Joe McDonnell narrowly missed election in Sligo–Leitrim.[28][29] There were also local elections in Northern Ireland around that time and although Sinn Féin did not contest them, some smaller groups and independents who supported the hunger strikers won seats, e.g. the Irish Independence Party won 21 seats, while the Irish Republican Socialist Party (the INLA’s political wing) and People’s Democracy (a Trotskyist group) won two seats each, and a number of pro-hunger strike independent candidates also won seats.[30][31] The British government rushed through the Representation of the People Act 1981 to prevent another prisoner contesting the second by-election in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, which was due to take place following the death of Sands.[1]

A memorial to hunger striker Kieran Doherty

Following the deaths of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson the families of some of the hunger strikers attended a meeting on 28 July with Catholic priest Father Denis Faul. The families expressed concern at the lack of a settlement to the priest, and a decision was made to meet with Gerry Adams later that day. At the meeting Father Faul put pressure on Adams to find a way of ending the strike, and Adams agreed to ask the IRA leadership to order the men to end the hunger strike.[32] The following day Adams held 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.[33] The strikers rejected 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 men who had died.[34]

On 31 July the hunger strike began to break, when the mother of Paddy Quinn insisted on medical intervention to save his life. The following day Kevin Lynch died, followed by Kieran Doherty on 2 August, Thomas McElwee on 8 August and Michael Devine on 20 August.[35] On the day Devine died, Sands’ election agent Owen Carron won the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election with an increased number of votes.[36] On 6 September the family of Laurence McKeown became the fourth family to intervene and asked for medical treatment to save his life, and Cahal Daly issued a statement calling on republican prisoners to end the hunger strike. A week later James Prior replaced Humphrey Atkins as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and met with prisoners in an attempt to end the strike.[1] Liam McCloskey ended his strike on 26 September after his family said they would ask for medical intervention if he became unconscious, and it became clear that the families of the remaining hunger strikers would also intervene to save their lives. The strike was called off at 3:15 pm on 3 October,[37] and three days later Prior announced partial concessions to the prisoners including the right to wear their own clothes at all times.[3] The only one of the “Five Demands” still outstanding was the right not to do prison work. Following sabotage by the prisoners and the Maze Prison escape in 1983 the prison workshops were closed, effectively granting all of the “Five Demands” but without any formal recognition of political status from the government.[38]

Participants who died on hunger strike

 

Over the summer of 1981, ten hunger strikers had died. Their names, paramilitary affiliation, dates of death, and length of hunger strike are as follows:

Name Paramilitary affiliation Strike started Date of death Length of strike
Bobby Sands IRA 1 March 5 May 66 days
Francis Hughes IRA 15 March 12 May 59 days
Raymond McCreesh IRA 22 March 21 May 61 days
Patsy O’Hara INLA 22 March 21 May 61 days
Joe McDonnell IRA 8 May 8 July 61 days
Martin Hurson IRA 28 May 13 July 46 days
Kevin Lynch INLA 23 May 1 August 71 days
Kieran Doherty IRA 22 May 2 August 73 days
Thomas McElwee IRA 8 June 8 August 62 days
Michael Devine INLA 22 June 20 August 60 days

The original pathologist‘s report recorded the hunger strikers’ cause of death as “self-imposed starvation“. This was later amended to simply “starvation”, after protests from the dead strikers’ families. The coroner recorded verdicts of “starvation, self-imposed”.[39]

Other participants in the hunger strike

Although ten men died during the course of the hunger strike, thirteen others began refusing food but were 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.[40][41]

Name Paramilitary affiliation Strike started Strike ended Length of strike Reason for ending strike
Brendan McLaughlin IRA 14 May 26 May 13 days Suffering from a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding
Paddy Quinn IRA 15 June 31 July 47 days Taken off by his family
Laurence McKeown IRA 29 June 6 September 70 days Taken off by his family
Pat McGeown IRA 9 July 20 August 42 days Taken off by his family
Matt Devlin IRA 14 July 4 September 52 days Taken off by his family
Liam McCloskey INLA 3 August 26 September 55 days His family said they would intervene if he became unconscious
Patrick Sheehan IRA 10 August 3 October 55 days End of hunger strike
Jackie McMullan IRA 17 August 3 October 48 days End of hunger strike
Bernard Fox IRA 24 August 24 September 32 days Suffering from an obstructed kidney
Hugh Carville IRA 31 August 3 October 34 days End of hunger strike
John Pickering IRA 7 September 3 October 27 days End of hunger strike
Gerard Hodgins IRA 14 September 3 October 20 days End of hunger strike
James Devine IRA 21 September 3 October 13 days End of hunger strike

Consequences

A hunger strike memorial in Derry’s Bogside on Free Derry Corner

The British press hailed the hunger strike as a triumph for Thatcher, with The Guardian newspaper stating “The Government had overcome the hunger strikes by a show of resolute determination not to be bullied”.[42] However, the hunger strike was a Pyrrhic victory for Thatcher and the British government.[43] Thatcher became a republican hate figure of Cromwellian proportions, with Danny Morrison describing her as “the biggest bastard we have ever known”.[43] At the time most thought the hunger strike a crushing defeat for the republicans, a view shared by many within the IRA and Sinn Féin, but Sands’ by-election win was a propaganda victory.[2] As with internment in 1971 and Bloody Sunday in 1972, IRA recruitment was boosted, resulting in a new surge of paramilitary activity.[43] There was an upsurge of violence after the comparatively quiet years of the late 1970s, with widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and rioting outside the British Embassy in Dublin.[1] Security forces fired 29,695 plastic bullets in 1981, causing seven deaths, compared to a total of around 16,000 bullets and four deaths in the eight years following the hunger strikes.[44] The IRA continued its armed campaign during the seven months of the strike, killing 13 policemen, 13 soldiers, including five members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and five civilians. The seven months were one of the bloodiest periods of the Troubles with a total of 61 people killed, 34 of them civilians.[45] Three years later the IRA perpetrated the Brighton hotel bombing, an attack on the Conservative party conference that killed five people and in which Thatcher herself only narrowly escaped death.[2]

The hunger strike prompted Sinn Féin to move towards electoral politics. Sands’ election victory, combined with that of pro-hunger strike candidates in the Northern Ireland local elections and Dáil elections in the Republic of Ireland, gave birth to the armalite and ballot box strategy. Gerry Adams remarked that Sands’ victory “exposed the lie that the hunger strikers—and by extension the IRA and the whole republican movement—had no popular support”.[46] The election victories of Doherty and Agnew also had political impact in the Republic of Ireland, as they denied power to Charles Haughey’s outgoing Fianna Fáil government.[28] In 1982 Sinn Féin won five seats in the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in 1983 Gerry Adams won a seat in the UK general election.[47] As a result of the political base built during the hunger strike, Sinn Féin continued to grow in the following two decades. After the United Kingdom general election, 2001, it became the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland[3] and after the 2014 local and European elections held on both sides of the border, asserted it was now the largest party in Ireland.[48]

In 2005, the role of Gerry Adams was questioned by former prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who was the public relations officer inside the prison during the strike. O’Rawe states in his book Blanketmen that Adams prolonged the strike as it was of great political benefit to Sinn Féin and allowed Owen Carron to win Sands’ seat.[49][50] This claim is denied by several hunger strikers and Brendan McFarlane, who was O/C inside the prison during the hunger strike.[51] McFarlane claims O’Rawe’s version of events is confused and fragmentary, and states “We were desperate for a solution. Any deal that went some way to meeting the five demands would have been taken. If it was confirmed in writing, we’d have grabbed it . . . There was never a deal, there was never a “take it or leave it” option at all”.[52]

Commemorations

A hunger strike memorial near Crossmaglen, County Armagh

There are memorials and murals in memory of the hunger strikers in towns and cities across Ireland, including Belfast, Dublin, Derry, Crossmaglen and Camlough.[53] Annual commemorations take place across Ireland for each man who died on the hunger strike, and an annual hunger strike commemoration march is held in Belfast each year, which includes a Bobby Sands memorial lecture.[54][55] Several towns and cities in France have named streets after Bobby Sands, including Paris and Le Mans.[2][56] The Iranian government also named a street running alongside the British embassy in Tehran after Bobby Sands, which was formerly called Winston Churchill Street.[57]

A memorial to the men who died in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Easter Rising and the hunger strike stands in Waverley Cemetery, Sydney, Australia, which is also the burial place of Michael Dwyer of the Society of United Irishmen.[58][59] In 1997 NORAID‘s Hartford Unit in the United States dedicated a monument to Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers.[60] The monument stands in a traffic circle known as “Bobby Sands Circle”, at the bottom of Maple Avenue near Goodwin Park.[61] On 20 March 2001 Sinn Féin’s national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin opened the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee’s exhibition at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, which included three original works of art from Belfast-based artists.[62] A separate exhibition was also launched in Derry the following month.[63] Three films have been made based on the events of the hunger strike, Some Mother’s Son starring Helen Mirren, H3 (which was co-written by former hunger striker Laurence McKeown), and Steve McQueen‘s Hunger.