For several years on my journals devoted to Bobby, I have marked the anniversaries of all the hunger strikers as well as significant events. I would like now to refer people to the archive to look at the daily titles from past years, for example, in order to refresh their memory of the history of that time. If I find new articles or anything current to augment this journal, I will of course post it. For current events in the political situation, please refer to SAOIRSE32. I do monitor comments made here, so please feel free to post them.
Regretfully, I have had to introduce comment screening on this journal. It pains me greatly to discover a visible insult to Bobby or any of the brave hunger strikers, and I will no longer allow that to happen. I do have to approve all comments from non-friends now, but I do NOT screen your IP, and you may still comment anonymously. Your comment, if it is respectful, will appear after being seen by me. I do not have to agree with it, but I would like it to be respectful. If you are an Lj user or would like to make constructive comments without being screened, consider taking a few minutes' time to make an Lj which can be friended.
I am in the process of going over every entry to resize the font and replace any images that are down. I will also be removing the nedstats code. This will take awhile. If you notice any specific entry that needs fixing, please leave me a comment.
This is the Google site search for this particular location of BOBBY SANDS:
You may also read this journal at its alternate site on Blogspot: BOBBY SANDS or at BOBBY SANDS at the new Dreamwidth.org site or on WordPress: BOBBY SANDS
Mural photo is a smaller version of the beautiful photograph by Conánn Fitzpatrick and is used with permission
**In memoriam to the 33 years which have passed since Bobby's death, Mr Ron Lay-Sleeper has asked to post his poem which he wrote in honour of Bobby Sands during his hunger strike, and immediately after his death.
There was wet snow in the light of the headlamps
In the dark nights of February,
Freezing rain turning the road into a treacherous
Living beast, testing at every turn
The automatic clichés of driving.
On such a night, illuminated by the inward burning
Fire of patriotism, he unwinds the cord,
Lets slip the thread,
Dares the minotaur in its lair.
Up here in the hills, the valleys are narrow,
The roads, thin black arrows shot through
Swamp and ledge, the creeks cold and dark
Where they run through the forest.
He begins the juggernaught drive,
Takes Communion of salt and water—
No bread—and his flesh begins
To shrivel and waste.
The roads of the north follow the rivers
And their smaller tributaries to the height of land,
Cross the divide, follow other watercourses down:
Beaver pond, alder swamp, rivers running,
Rushing down toward Mother Ocean.
Such are the choices we make—
Committing ourselves to a course of action,
Victims of our decisions like a river
Breaking down its banks.
Where the obdurate stupidity of power
Meets the stubborn abstinence of flesh,
Beyond a certain point
Of honor, hunger, sanity
He cannot, will not,
Alter the course.
There is the road and the river
And the land between.
The road is a compromise—it replaces
Natural difficulties with fabricated
The life of the road differs
From the life of the river.
River life stays mostly to itself
But sometimes wanders
Onto the highway,
Is selected by the road,
Displayed in anatomical
Along the asphalt.
As the capillaries die
The skin blackens
The ocular fluid dries up
And in his blindness
The vision grows.
The roots are interlaced. Life flows
Up and down
The river and the road.
Paths cross, intertwine.
What drives us—what force? What
Steps do we take in false assurance.
There is the slow and steady burgeoning
Of the heart’s attraction.
In ritual passage, eyes meet
He cannot walk.
The locking of steps in the age-old dance
He cannot see parents, wife.
They place him on a waterbed
To ease the pain.
A softly-phrased question—
“Will you eat?”
A look, a smile.
He cannot see.
The gums shrink
From bloody teeth.
Assured beauty of flesh,
Supple, brown and warm.
They taped the flesh of his joints
So the bones
Would not break through.
Lock step, nose to hock,
Treading the hoof-worn path
To barn at dusk
Or dawn-wet meadow,
Yoked to the bones
And thoughts of our forebears,
Demands of our time,
We herd and pack
In endless factions:
Politics, religion, economics:
“The man’s a martyr—
“The tapes and waterbed
“His nails and cross.”
Rope Steel Plastic bombs
“Martyr? Terrorist! Murderer!
Do we not, like the river,
Follow old trails
Across the treacherous road,
Follow a natural arc,
A transcendent curve?
The new moon lies
With the old moon in its arms;
The rainbow follows the storm.
There is a dark side of the moon—
A traitor on one side’s
A martyr to the other.
We yearn for anonymity
Until we become
Flickering ghosts of our own desire,
All fat gone
Christ’s image burned on a robe,
Shadows etched on the paving stones
Voices of the night
3rd and 4th voices
The trillium blossom smells
Like putrid meat,
It attracts life only to die, to reseed itself.
Torching the flames of kindred hungers,
The final taper wavers.
What specters walk
Before the lowering curtain
Of his dimming life?
“Come, Bobby, you’ll be late for school!”
All the dogs have rubber teeth
On the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
Gone from mind the faces of youth
Murdered on the highways.
Gasoline alley, back where I belong.
The stars slip from the firmament,
In the steady flow of time.
He lost his mind and his body died.
A black orchid tossed
On a smoldering peat fire.
A shudder passed through Belfast,
Golgotha of the Emerald Isle,
Her prisons mortared
With martyrs’ blood.
In Dublin round
The Martello tower wreathes the ghost
Of Molly Bloom.
In smoky London
Old Blake weeps in his child’s heart
“The marks of weakness, marks of woe.”
What aureate soul leapt up,
What birds sang that morning
At the death of another Irish martyr?
Elephants died that their tusks might house
Saints’ bones; the whisker of a mouse
Limns the angels
Dancing on a pin.
Voices 2, 3, 4, 5
He died in the spring
On a day when shaky-legged colts
Hardened their bones
In the sun, wind, and clouds of May.
Passion born of love and anger—
Stepping off the edge of the highway
Plunging into underbrush along the river
We find soft mud banks,
Willow, elm, fern and alder,
Track of raccoon, song of warbler,
A carpet of bloodroot, green palms clasped
In supplication about the flower
Which bleeds when broken.
Oh! cold March winds your cruel laments
Are hard on prisoners’ hearts,
For you bring my mother’s pleading cries
From whom I have to part.
I hear her weeping lonely sobs
Her sorrows sweep me by,
And in the dark of prison cell
A tear has warmed my eye.
Oh! whistling winds why do you weep
When roaming free you are,
Oh! is it that your poor heart’s broke
And scattered off afar?
Or is it that you bear the cries
Of people born unfree,
Who like your way have no control
Or sovereign destiny?
Oh! lonely winds that walk the night
To haunt the sinner’s soul,
Pray pity me a wretched lad
Who never will grow old.
Pray pity those who lie in pain
The bondsman and the slave,
And whisper sweet the breath of God
Upon my humble grave.
Oh! cold March winds that pierce the dark
You cry in aged tones
For souls of folk you’ve brought to God
But still you bear the moans.
Oh! weeping wind this lonely night
My mother’s heart is sore
Oh! Lord of all breathe freedom’s breath
That she may weep no more.
By Bobby Sands
18 April 2012
THE Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) have repeated claims that the Provisional IRA leadership prolonged the 1981 hunger strike to gain political capital.
A series of public meetings were held in north Belfast last week and amongst those on the panel was Strabane IRSP spokesman, Willie Gallagher and former public relations officer for the IRA in the Maze in 1981, Richard O’Rawe-who in recent writings has claimed the British Government offered a ‘deal’ which satisfied the majority of the hunger strikers five demands.
Bobby Sands' son grew up without his father
The claims from the IRSP and Mr O’Rawe claim that the deal apparently offered by the British side would have saved the lives of five of the hunger strikers.
Willie Gallagher said the results of a seven year long IRSP investigation now conclusively reveals that a deal was on offer.
He said: “The seven year IRSP investigation into the revelations, first disclosed in 2005 in the book Blanketmen, has conclusively found that Ricky O’Rawe has been consistently telling the truth. There is now no doubt on the factual existence of a substantial deal offered by British Government negotiators that could have saved the lives of many of the hunger strikers and met most of the prisoners’ five demands. It is now a matter of fact that a substantial ‘deal’ from the British representatives did indeed go into the H-Blocks on the 5th July, 1981.
“The provisional IRA leadership in Long Kesh, during the 1981 hunger strike, accepted the offer as it met most of the H-Block prisoners’ five demands.”
But he added that the committee “known as ‘the Kitchen Cabinet’ rejected and overruled the jail leadership’s acceptance of the deal.”
“The INLA and IRSP leadership outside the jail were kept completely in the dark about the ‘Mountain Climber’ initiative, as were the INLA prisoners in the H-Blocks and the hunger strikers themselves,” he said.
At the end of the series of public meetings the IRSP restated their position that only a transparent and independent enquiry into the events surrounding the 1981 hunger strike and secret negotiations would satisfy the broad republican community.
As many of you know, the release of documents under the 30 year rule has occurred, and 1981 was the year covered. This means that many, many government documents pertaining to the hunger strike are included. I have attempted to post as many as I could find onto the three locations of SAOIRSE32 as current news.
Some of you may also know that the Blogsome location of SAOIRSE32 is going out of the blog hosting business, and I have had to transfer the files of 8 years' worth of news over to the new Wordpress location.
At this time, I do not feel able to re-post all the articles on the 1981 developments to the four locations of this journal concerning Bobby Sands. However, it is a very easy task to go to SAOIRSE32 and either use a tag search with such words as:
Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane
Margaret Thatcher etc
...or you may simply use the search box on the new Wordpress location to find what you are looking for. The old Google site search link will only return results for the old Blogsome site until it is finally deleted.
There are three locations for SAOIRSE32, but the Wordpress location is the only one I use tags with. It also has the best built-in search box. Please try there first. If you have any problems or questions, please send me an email.
Claims that the Sinn Fein president could have stopped the 1981 fast in July are vindicated by newly-released papers, says Carrie Twomey|
20 December 2011
The controversial claim that Gerry Adams and his committee controlling the 1981 hunger strike from outside the Maze prison refused a substantial offer from then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - an offer accepted by the prisoners - has been proven true.
The allegation is substantiated in the notes of Derry businessman Brendan Duddy. Duddy, the 'Mountain Climber', was the messenger between the British Government and IRA during the hunger strike.
Duddy previously confirmed he delivered an offer from Thatcher's Government to Martin McGuinness. Along with Danny Morrison and Jim Gibney, McGuinness was a member of Adams's clandestine hunger strike committee.
The content of that offer was the same as was revealed in FOI documents obtained by the Belfast Telegraph's political editor, Liam Clarke. These documents show most of the five demands prisoners were hunger striking for would be met.
In his books Blanketmen and Afterlives, Richard O'Rawe, PRO of the IRA prisoners during the hunger strikes, wrote of the acceptance of that offer by himself and Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane (in charge of the hunger strike inside the prison).
This claim was vehemently denied by Morrison and Sinn Fein. O'Rawe faced vilification, threats and intimidation for revealing this information, as it meant six of the 10 hunger strikers need not have died had the offer been accepted.
Duddy's notes of talks between Thatcher and Adams over the weekend of July 4-5, 1981 conclusively prove O'Rawe's account was true.
After a conciliatory statement from the prisoners, Thatcher sent Duddy details of an offer with the potential to end the hunger strike.
Danny Morrison went into the prison to convey this offer to McFarlane, who discussed it with O'Rawe. McFarlane then sent word out that they would accept it.
Written in code on the morning of July 6, Duddy's notes reflect this significant movement.
Adams and his committee were the 'Shop Stewards', the prisoners were the 'Union Membership' and the Government was 'Management'.
The message Adams wanted conveyed to Thatcher was: "The S.S. fully accept the posal [sic] - as stated by the Union MemBship [sic]". In other words, the prisoners had endorsed the proposal.
The rest of the message added conditions to the acceptance that gave the Adams committee, not the prisoners, a veto over the deal.
Crucially, the message added, if the British published the offer without Adams having prior sight, and agreeing to it, he would publicly 'disapprove' it.
In spite of the prisoners' acceptance of the offer negotiations continued over the next two days, with Joe McDonnell close death.
The demands the prisoners were seeking via hunger strike had effectively been granted. Before implementing the agreed proposal, the British were waiting for word from Adams that the prisoners would end their hunger strike. Once that word was given, the proposal would be read to the prisoners by the NIO and released to the Press.
It was not to be. On July 7, the Adams' committee sought to alter the 'tone' of the agreement, not the content. The substance had already been met. Adams and his team were concerned with presentation.
Negotiations continued throughout the night. At 4.50am on July 8, while Adams was in mid-discussion with the British, Joe McDonnell became the fifth hunger striker to die. Five more were to die before the hunger strike's end in October 1981.
All the proposals made by Margaret Thatcher in early July were implemented immediately after the hunger strike ended.
11 December 2011
An ex-Provo prisoner who watched his comrades die on hunger-strike has blasted the IRA leadership for their "needless deaths".
Richard O'Rawe says key IRA leaders should "hang their heads in shame" for rejecting a secret British offer which could have saved six hunger-strikers' lives in the notorious H-Blocks.
The West Belfast republican, who was the prisoners' public relations officer, claims "six men with hearts like lions were let die horrific deaths for nothing other than getting Sinn Féin votes".
Four hunger-strikers were already dead when British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, capitulated and made her dramatic offer in July 1981 effectively granting most of the prisoners' demands.
O'Rawe, who bravely lifted the lid in 2001 on the secret British proposal to end the hunger-strike, was speaking after his account was proven true by documents just lodged in an Irish university.
He's now urging republicans all over Ireland to urgently revise their understanding of what happened during the H-Block death fast that made headlines across the world.
"The evidence is there for all to see. It's the biggest cover-up in the history of Irish republicanism," he told the Sunday World.
The hunger-strike was run on the outside by a clandestine committee set up by the Army Council. Its members included the North's best known Provos who were also in Sinn Féin.
"These men should have the guts to finally come clean and tell how they let six republicans, whose boots they weren't fit to lace, needlessly die horrific deaths in a H-block hell-hole.
"Let them explain how they rejected an offer which meant Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Tom McElwee, Kieran Doherty and Mickey Devine would all have lived."
O'Rawe spoke of the threats and intimidation he and his family had suffered since he exposed the leadership's lies. "'Richard O'Rawe H-Block traitor' was written on the wall opposite my home. Well, it's now as clear as daylight who betrayed the hunger-strikers."
Papers donated to the National University of Ireland in Galway by Derry businessman, Brendan Duddy, show how the IRA prison leadership accepted a substantial British offer to end the death fast.
Known as the 'Mountain Climber', Duddy was the messenger between the British and the IRA. His notes show – as O'Rawe claimed in his best-selling book Blanketmen – that the British made an offer on 5 July 1981 effectively granting the prisoners' five demands except free association.
Joe McDonnell, the fifth hunger-striker, was hovering on the brink of death so urgent action was required. Duddy relayed the offer to Martin McGuinness who told Gerry Adams. Danny Morrison was then despatched to the H-Blocks to brief Bik McFarlane, the IRA commander in the jail.
When he returned to his cell, McFarlane told O'Rawe the good news. "We were both delighted. A few hours free movement every day wasn't worth one more life," says O'Rawe.
"The British were compromising on prison uniforms, work, visits, letters and segregation. Bik wrote to Gerry Adams, accepting the offer."
However, the Army Council committee then sent word into the jail that the offer wasn't enough. On 7 July, the IRA told the British that while the substance of the proposal was acceptable, the "tone" needed changing.
Joe McDonnell died the next day. "This fine republican died because an Army Council clique didn't like the 'tone' of a document," says O'Rawe. "Five other great men, the bravest of the brave, followed him. The hunger-strikers were Spartacuses.
"They gave everything they had to the republican movement. They believed to their death in a 32 county socialist republic. This Army Council committee between them didn't have even an ounce of one hunger-striker's courage. They were a bunch of immoral, unscrupulous b*****ds."
It was later revealed that the Army Council committee never briefed the entire Army Council itself on the details of the offer.
The hunger-strike had become "a cynical PR exercise to gain votes", O'Rawe claims. It had to continue at least until Owen Carron won the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Westminister by-election in August, holding Bobby Sands' seat.
The official Provo line has always been that a callous, uncompromising British government let 10 men die. "That lie's now exposed," says O'Rawe. "The hunger-strikers broke Margaret Thatcher. She blinked first. She gave in but the men weren't told
The ex-IRA man says he faced a campaign of vilification since he began exposing the truth about the hunger-strike: "I was told I could be shot. My children were harassed. 'Your da's a liar,' people shouted at them.
"I was ostracised. Guys I'd operated with in the IRA, some of my best friends, snubbed me as the leadership spread their lies."
O'Rawe (57) lives just across the road from Milltown Cemetery on the Falls where three hunger-strikers are buried.
He often visits the graves of Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell, and Kieran Doherty: "It's heart-breaking but I don't need to go there to remember them because they never leave my mind." On the 30th anniversary of the 10 deaths, he still breaks down in tears thinking of his comrades.
December 12, 2011
This article appeared in the December 11, 2011 edition of the Sunday World.
**I have posted this years-old tribute to Bobby by Seanna Walsh before and would like to do so again today. This day always fills me with sadness, and this is all I am going to say.
Bobby Sands - 1954 - 1981
**From 9 May 2002
Mo Chara Bobby Sands
--Last Friday, 3 May, former republican POW SEANNA WALSH delivered the annual BOBBY SANDS MEMORIAL LECTURE in the fitting surrounds of the Felon's Club in West Belfast. Seanna was a close personal friend of Bobby Sands, the first of ten Irish republican prisoners who died on hunger strike in 1981, and he shared some memories of the man he knew so well.--
"I was surprised but very honoured to come here tonight and speak at this the 20th Bobby Sands lecture. Go raibh maith agaibh don choiste chuimhneacháin as an cuireadh labhairt.
We are at a crucial juncture in the current phase of the Irish struggle for a United Ireland, on the cusp of substantial electoral gains in the Southern elections, but I've decided not to talk about all this.
I'm here to talk about Bobby Sands the man, Bobby Sands the son, the husband, the father - the poet warrior, the self taught Irish language speaker and teacher, the indomitable spirit of the republican prisoner.
I first met Bobby on remand in Cage 8 of Long Kesh before being moved to Crumlin Road Gaol in January '73. What struck me about him was the cocky self-assuredness of his Belfast dander and his spiky Rod Stewart hair cut.
I was a 16-year-old, 'thought he knew it all' child of Short Strand, East Belfast; he was from Twinbrook and before that Rathcoole and was a couple of years older.
We came through remand together but I didn't get to know him well until I doubled up with him in Cage 17 and later then in Cage 11 as we served out our sentences together.
There was a clatter of Short Strand men in Cage 17 and then after the burning of the camp, in Cage 11. We took a bit of stick about being a 'clique' but Bobby and several others would have been part of that group too.
The man behind the icon
What was he like then, this the foremost icon of the last 30 years of republican struggle, the man behind the face that's recognised and venerated by freedom loving people from New York to San Francisco, from Johannesburg to Hebron, right across Europe?
Well he was very much one of 'us', an ordinary guy who loved a bit of craic, kicked a football, had a sleg and a laugh, and lapped up the sing songs and concerts we'd organise as the guitars and mandolins were pulled out to accompany the poitín voices - we'd sing and play away into the early hours.
Bobby read and absorbed books hungrily - political and historical books about British involvement in our country and the resulting resistance to that involvement, as well as novels. He also showed an interest in the plight of 'the ordinary man' throughout the world and the struggle for social justice, fair play and freedom. This was reflected in his writings and poetry while on the blanket. In the early years he was almost like a sponge, soaking in all these different ideas, histories and theories.
As he prepared for release in early '76, he worked hard to prepare himself physically and mentally for his return to the outside and re-involvement in the republican struggle. There was no room for doubt - he was coming out to reorganise the republican base in his area, Twinbrook, and he had a picture in his head, a plan he was determined to make true.
He reorganised the army, the auxies, na Fianna and Sinn Féin, but then he took things a step further. He organised republican involvement in the tenants' associations - until then a fiefdom of the Sticks and SDLP. He pushed republicans to become involved in the everyday battles with the British Direct Rule administration and unionists on Lisburn Council. As far as he was concerned, there was so much to do and not enough time to do it.
He still found time though for his singing and playing the guitar. There was one memorable night when, in the middle of one of Bobby's cabaret sessions, an IRA foot patrol came into the local drinking club and after checking a number of peoples IDs, they approached Bobby on the stage with the intention of asking him to read out a statement from the local unit - he had written it an hour previously! Somehow the Volunteer managed to misplace the statement and had only a bru card in the pocket, Bobby took this from the Volunteer and ad libbed his way through a 15-minute speech.
After six short months, however, he was back inside and I was already there too, waiting on him coming back. The rules were different this time though, with the denial of political status after March 1976.
Bobby was at the forefront of resistance to Britain's criminalisation policies on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol and then once sentenced, in the H-Blocks. He had been involved in writing a local weekly newssheet before recapture and he decided to continue writing for it in gaol. After a while he started writing for Republican News, soon to become An Phoblacht. He was now like a man possessed; it was his job to tell the story of every brutal assault, every sadistic attack on the naked prisoners in the H-Blocks. He also opened up communication with our women comrades in Armagh Women's Gaol and those who retained political status in the Cages of Long Kesh.
The horrendous conditions in which we suffered meant nothing if the world outside of our immediate families knew nothing about them. Bobby was central to getting the word out, first of all to republicans and then to the wider community.
One effect of all this letter and article writing he was engaged in was that he developed a grá for poetry. He began to scribble bits of verse, which he would recite to the wing, interspersing it amongst his song repertoire. Nothing too heavy.
On one particular occasion, while we were in H6 in 1979, we received a collection of poems by the nationalist poet Ethna Carberry. Bobby was really taken with the maternal heartbreak of "An Páistín Fionn" and the blood-curdling tale of "Brian Boy Magee" that he set down and penned a letter. He got to the door that night after screws had left the wing and called to Brendan Hughes - 'Dorcha, get up to your door, wait till you hear this letter, it's a cracker, it's to your woman Ethna Carberry. I had to write to her after reading those poems'. The Dark replied, 'You may get your Ouija board out Bobby, she died 70 years ago!' You can imagine the slegging he got there.
Preparing for Hunger Strike
As the crisis in the H-Blocks dragged on from '79 into '80 and we went through different avenues to move the British on the Political Status issue, it became clear that we would be left with one last option - The Hunger Strike.
We had talked about the final recourse to Hunger Strike since the collapse of the Cardinal Ó Fiaich negotiations with Thatcher. It seemed to us that it didn't matter what the people of Ireland thought or said, the British had but one aim and that was to smash the republican resistance both inside and out of the gaols.
People began to prepare for Hunger Strike in the summer of 1980. We had been involved in a letter-writing campaign since the formation of the National H-Block/Armagh committee in the winter of '79. This was intensified in the run-in to the Hunger Strike in October 1980. We wrote to anyone and everyone of influence in Ireland, in Britain, throughout the world. Bobby was in his element. We were not allowed to receive replies, only personal letters - one per month - were allowed, so to be honest none of us knew what impact, if any, these letters had. We do know that hundreds and hundreds poured out of each block week after week, month after month. I later found out that these tiny letters had a massive impact throughout the world, carrying our message of the horrors of the H-Blocks.
Yet somehow or another, at the end of a frenzied day of writing, visits debates and arguments with governors and warders and whoever else, Bobby used to be able to get up to his door after lights out and relate a yarn. Usually, this would be from some obscure novel he had read but the tale he spun would be like nothing less than a movie blockbuster as prisoners sat in the darkness; mattresses propped on the cell pipes, listening to some magical tale of good overcoming evil, the righteous oppressed throwing off the shackles of the oppressor.
The hunger strike of 1980, as we all know, ended with the doublespeak and bad faith that helped the British to conquer and rule half the world. Instead of letting people's heads go down, Bobby and the rest of us on the gaol leadership bent over backwards to come to some sort of comprise with the prison governors and their allies in the NIO. They were not interested. They believed, foolishly, that republicans were beaten, that they had us on the run and it was simply a case of them holding their nerve and watching the gaol protest collapsing. How stupid were they?
It became apparent to a number of us that a second hunger strike was inevitable. With Bobby leading the charge in the face of justified concerns and worries from the army leadership outside, we pressed our case. We were successful. Bobby organised for himself to be the first man on the strike, the first then to die, the two-week gap before Francie Hughes joined him giving the British space to move, to make concessions once Thatcher had her pound of flesh.
At the end of his second week on the strike, he wrote to me telling me that he had put on a fine hopeful face to those around him on the wing, to his clann on the visits. But he told me he had no intention of trying to pretend anything with me. He was determined to do what had to be done and he knew that the British would show no mercy. Yet he was confident that by his actions his comrades coming behind, and a whole generation of young still unborn, would be so inspired as to ensure that his goal, his dream, his Aisling would become a reality. The rest is history. The story of the actual Stailc Ocrais was told and retold so often last year I'm not even going to try to revisit it here.
Tá mé chun chríochnú anseo beidh sibh sásta cluinsint ach
A chairde, we have come a long way since those sad dark days of 1981. We've still got a long way to go but we're steadily making progress. During those leanest of days in the prisons we got by "one day at a time". Out here it is a battle a day too. So:
Ar Aghaidh go bua
Ar Aghaidh don Phoblacht.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh as éisteacht liom anocht. Slán abhaile."
1 May 2011
An Orange Order parade has defied restrictions put in place by the Parades Commission on the hymns to be played during the march.
The Commission had said just one hymn, Abide With Me, should be played on part of the route around Belfast.
However, What a Friend We Have in Jesus and The World in Union were used.
The annual parade, involving Ballymacarrett District LOL No 6, goes from Townsend Street Presbyterian Church to Templemore Avenue and back.
The music restriction applied to the part of the Newtownards Road between the Bridge End flyover and the Susan Street junction.
The order had said it would protest to the NI Secretary of State and the Justice Minister about the restrictions imposed by the Commission.
Bobby Sands in the Cages of Long Kesh
4 March 2011
‘THE BIRTH of a republican: from a nationalist ghetto to the battlefield of H-Block’, by hunger-striker Bobby Sands, was first published anonymously in Republican News on December 16th 1978. It was reprinted in An Phoblacht/Republican News on April 4th 1981, after Bobby had been on hunger strike for one month.
The smuggled-out article, introduced as “A blanket man recalls how the spirit of a republican defiance grew within him”, is a semi-autobiographical account. For example, although blanket men had been denied compassionate parole for the funeral of a parent, as described in the article, Bobby Sands’s mother was very much alive and, in fact, she addressed the Belfast rally held on the first day of his hunger strike, calling for support for her son to save his life.
The birth of a republican
FROM MY earliest days I recall my mother speaking of the troubled times that occurred during her childhood.
Often she spoke of internments on prison ships, of gun attacks and death, and early morning raids when one lay listening with pounding heart to heavy clattering of boots on the cobble-stone streets, and as a new day broke, peeked carefully out the window to see a neighbour being taken away by the Specials.
Although I never really understood what internment was, or who the Specials were, I grew to regard them as symbols of evil. Nor could I understand when my mother spoke of Connolly and the 1916 Rising and of how he and his comrades fought and were subsequently executed – a fate suffered by so many Irish rebels in my mother’s stories.
When the television arrived, my mother’s stories were replaced by what it had to offer. I became more confused as ‘the baddies’ in my my mother’s tales were always my heroes on the TV. The British Army always fought for ‘the right side’ and the police were always ‘the good guys’. Both were heroised and imitated in childhood play,
At school I learnt history but it was always English history and English historical triumphs in Ireland and elsewhere.
I often wondered why I was never taught the history of my own country when my sister, a year younger than myself, began to learn the Gaelic language at her school I envied her. Occasionally, nearing the end of my schooldays, I received a few scant lessons in Irish history. For this, from the republican-minded teacher who taught me, I was indeed grateful.
I recall my mother also speaking of ‘the good old days’. But of her marvellous stories I could never remember any good times and I often thought to myself ‘Thank god I was not a boy in those times’ because then– having left school – life to me seemed enormous and wonderful.
Starting work, although frightening at first, became alright, especially with the reward at the end of the week. Dances and clothes, and girls and a few shillings to spend opened up a whole new world to me. I suppose at that time I would have worked all week as money seemed to matter more than anything else.
Then came 1968 and my life began to change. Gradually the news began to change. Regularly I began to notice the Specials (whom I now know to be the ‘B’ Specials) attacking and baton-charging the crowds of people who all of a sudden began marching on the streets.
From the talk in the house and my mother shaking her fists at the TV set, I knew that they were our people on the receiving end.
My sympathy and feelings really became aroused after watching the scenes at Burntollet. That imprinted itself in my mind like a scar, and for the first time I took a real interest in what was going on.
I became angry.
It was now 1969, and events moved faster as August hit our area like a hurricane. The whole world exploded and my whole little world crumbled around me.
The TV did not have to tell the story now for it was on my own doorstep. Belfast was in flames but it was our districts, our humble homes, which were burnt. The Specials came at the head of the RUC and Orange hordes, right into the heart of our streets, burning, looting, and murdering.
There was no one to save us except ‘the boys’, as my father called the men who were defending our district with a handful of guns. As the unfamiliar sound of gunfire was still echoing, there soon appeared alien figures, voices, and faces, in the form of British armed soldiers on our streets. But no longer did I think of them as my childhood ‘good guys’, for their presence alone caused food for thought.
Before I could work out the solution, it was answered for me in the form of early-morning raids and I remember my mother’s stories of previous troubled times. For now my heart pounded at the heavy clatter of the soldiers’ boots in the early-morning stillness and I carefully peeked from behind the drawn curtains to watch the neighbours’ doors being kicked in and the fathers and sons being dragged out by the hair and being flung into the back of sinister-looking armoured cars.
This was followed by blatant murder: the shooting dead of people in our streets in cold blood.
The curfew came and went, taking more of our people’s lives.
Every time I turned around a corner I was met with the now all-too-familiar sight of homes being wrecked and people being lifted. The city was in uproar. Bombings began to become more regular, as did gun battles as ‘the boys’, the IRA, hit back at the Brits.
The TV now showed endless gun battles and bombings. The people had risen and were fighting back and my mother, in her newly-found spirit of resistance, hurled encouragement at the TV, shouting “Give it to them, boys!”
Easter 1971 came and the name on everyone’s lips was ‘the Provos – the People’s Army’, the backbone of nationalist resistance.
I was now past my 18th year and I was fed up with rioting. No matter how much I tried or how many stones I threw, I could never beat them – the Brits always came back . . .
I had seen too many homes wrecked, fathers and sons arrested, neighbours hurt, friends murdered, and too much gas, shootings and blood – most of it my own people’s.
At eighteen-and-a-half I joined the Provos. My mother wept with pride and fear as I went out to meet and confront the imperial might of an empire with an M1 carbine and enough hate to topple the world.
To my surprise, my schoolday friends and neighbours became my comrades in war. I soon became much more aware about the whole national liberation struggle – as I came to regard what I used to term ‘the Troubles’.
Things were not easy for a Volunteer in the Irish Republican Army. Already I was being harassed and twice I was lifted, questioned, and brutalised, but I survived both of these trials.
Then came another hurricane: internment. Many of my comrades disappeared – interned.
Many of my innocent neighbours met the same fate. Others weren’t so lucky – they were just murdered.
My life now centred around sleepless nights and standbys, dodging the Brits and calming nerves to go out on operations.
But the people stood by us.
The people not only opened the doors of their homes to us to lend a hand but they opened their hearts to us, and I soon learnt that without the people we could not survive and I knew that I owed them everything.
1972 came and I spent what was to be my last Christmas at home for quite a while. The Brits never let up. No mercy was shown, as was testified by the atrocity of Bloody Sunday in Derry.
But we continued to fight back, as did my jailed comrades, who embarked upon a long hunger strike to gain recognition as political prisoners.
Political status was won just before the first but short-lived, truce of 1972. During this truce the IRA made ready and braced itself for the forthcoming massive Operation Motorman, which came and went, taking with it the barricades.
The liberation struggle forged ahead but then came personal disaste– I was captured.
It was the autumn of ‘72. I was charged and for the first time I faced jail. I was nineteen-and-a-half, but I had no alternative than to face up to all the hardship that was before me.
Given the stark corruptness of the judicial system, I refused to recognise the court. I ended up sentenced in a barbed wire cage, where I spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner-of-war with ‘special category status’.
I did not waste my time. I did not allow the rigours of prison life to change my revolutionary determination an inch. I educated and trained myself both in political and military matters, as did my comrades.
In 1976, when I was released, I was not broken. In fact I was more determined in the fight for liberation. I reported back to my local IRA unit and threw myself straight back in to the struggle.
Quite a lot of things had changed. Belfast had changed. Some parts of the ghettos had completely disappeared and others were in the process of being removed. The war was still forging ahead although tactics and strategy had changed.
At first I found it a little bit hard to adjust but I settled into the run of things and, at the grand old age of 23, I got married.
Life wasn’t bad but there were still a lot of things that had not changed, such as the presence of armed British troops on our streets and the oppression of our people.
The liberation struggle was now seven years old and had braved a second (and mistakenly-prolonged) ceasefire.
The British Government was now seeking to ‘Ulsterise’ the war, which included the attempted criminalisation of the IRA and attempted normalisation of the war situation.
The liberation struggle had to be kept going. Thus, six months after my release, disaster fell a second time as I bombed my way back into jail!
With my wife being four months pregnant, the shock of capture, the seven days of hell in Castlereagh, a quick court appearance and remand, and the return to a cold damp cell, nearly destroyed me. It took every ounce of the revolutionary spirit left in me to stand up to it.
Jail, although not new to me, was really bad, worse than the first time. Things had changed enormously since the withdrawal of political status. Both republicans and loyalist prisoners were mixed in the same wing.
The greater part of each day was spent locked up in a cell. The Screws, many of whom I knew to be cowering cowards, now went in gangs into the cells of republican prisoners to dish out unmerciful beatings. This was to be the pattern all the way along the road to criminalisation: torture and more torture to break our spirit of resistance. I was meant to change from being a revolutionary freedom fighter to a criminal at the stroke of a political pen, reinforced by inhumanities of the most brutal nature.
Already Kieran Nugent and several more republican POWs had begun the blanket protest for the restoration of political status. They refused to wear prison garb or to do prison work.
After many weekly remand court appearances the time finally arrived, 11 months after my arrest and I was in a Diplock [no-jury] court. In two hours I was swiftly found guilty and my comrades and I were sentenced to 15 years. Once again I had refused to recognise the farcical judicial system. As they led us from the courthouse, my mother, defiant as ever, stood up in the gallery and shook the air with a cry of “They’ll never break you, boys!” And my wife from somewhere behind her, with tear-filled eyes, braved a smile of encouragement towards me.
At least, I thought, she has our child. Now that I was in jail, our daughter would provide her with company and maybe help to ease the loneliness which she knew only too well.
The next day I became a blanket man and there I was, sitting on the cold floor, naked, with only a blanket around me, in an empty cell.
The days were long and lonely. The sudden and total deprivation of such basic human necessities as exercise and fresh air, association with other people, my own clothes, and things like newspapers, radio, cigarettes, books and a host of other things made life very hard.
At first, as always, I adapted. But, as time wore on, I came face to face with an old ‘friend’, depression, which on many occasion consumed me and swallowed me into its darkest depths.
From home, only the occasional letter got past the prison censor.
Gradually my appearance and physical health began to change drastically. My eyes, glassy, piercing, sunken, and surrounded by pale, yellowish skin, were frightening.
I had grown a beard and, like my comrades, I resembled a living corpse. The blinding migraine headaches, which started off slowly, became a daily occurrence, and owing to no exercise I became seized with muscular pains.
In the H-Blocks, beatings, long periods in the punishment cells, starvation diets and torture were commonplace.
March 20th 1978, and we completed the full circle of deprivation and suffering. As an attempt to highlight our intolerable plight, we embarked upon a dirt strike, refusing to wash, shower, clean out our cells or empty the filthy chamber pots in our cells.
The H-Blocks became battlefields in which the republican spirit of resistance met head-on all the inhumanities that Britain could perpetrate.
Inevitably, the lid of silence on the H-Blocks blew sky-high, revealing the atrocities inside.
The battlefield became worse: our cells turning into disease-infested tombs with piles of decaying rubbish and maggots, fleas and flies becoming rampant. The continual nauseating stench of urine and the stink of our bodies and cells made our surroundings resemble a pigsty.
The Screws, keeping up the incessant torture, hosed us down, sprayed us with strong disinfectant, ransacked our cells, forcibly bathed us, and tortured us to the brink of insanity. Blood and tears fell upon the battlefield – all of it ours. But we refused to yield.
The republican spirit prevailed and as I sit here in the same conditions and the continuing torture in H-Block 5, I am proud, although physically wrecked, mentally exhausted, and scarred deep with hatred and anger.
I am proud because my comrades and I have met, fought and repelled a monster and we will continue to do so. We will never allow ourselves to be criminalised, nor our people either.
Grief-stricken and oppressed, the men and women of no property have risen. A risen people, marching in thousands on the streets in defiance and rage at the imperial oppressor, the mass murderer, and torturer. The spirit of Irish freedom in every single one of them – and I am really proud.
Last week, I had a visit from my wife, standing by me to the end as ever. She barely recognised me in my present condition and in tears she told me of the death of my dear mother – God help her, how she suffered.
I sat in tears as my wife told me how my mother marched in her blanket, along with thousands, for her son and his comrades, and for Ireland’s freedom.
When the Screws came to tell me that I was not getting out on compassionate parole for my mother’s funeral, I sat on the floor in the corner of my cell and I thought of her in Heaven, shaking her fist in her typical defiance and rage at the merciless oppressors of her country. I thought, too, of the young ones growing up now in a war-torn situation and, like my own daughter, without a father, without peace, without a future, and under British oppression. Growing up to end up in Crumlin Road Jail, Castlereagh, barbed-wire cages, Armagh Prison and Hell-Blocks.
Having reflected on my own past, I know this will occur unless our country is rid of the perennial oppressor, Britain. And I am ready to go out and destroy those who have made my people suffer so much and so long.
I was only a working-class boy from a nationalist ghetto but it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.
I shall not settle until I achieve the liberation of my country, until Ireland becomes a sovereign, independent socialist republic.
We, the risen people, shall turn tragedy into triumph. We shall bear forth a nation!
From the old Larkspirit site|
Bobby Sands kept a secret diary of the first 17 days of his hungerstrike. This is his first entry from March 1981
I am standing on the threshold of another trembling world. May God have mercy on my soul.
My heart is very sore because I know that I have broken my poor mother's heart, and my home is struck with unbearable anxiety. But I have considered all the arguments and tried every means to avoid what has become the unavoidable: it has been forced upon me and my comrades by four-and-a-half years of stark inhumanity.
I am a political prisoner. I am a political prisoner because I am a casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and an alien, oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.
I believe and stand by the God-given right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence, and the right of any Irishman or woman to assert this right in armed revolution. That is why I am incarcerated, naked and tortured.
Foremost in my tortured mind is the thought that there can never be peace in Ireland until the foreign, oppressive British presence is removed, leaving all the Irish people as a unit to control their own affairs and determine their own destinies as a sovereign people, free in mind and body, separate and distinct physically, culturally and economically.
I believe I am but another of those wretched Irishmen born of a risen generation with a deeply rooted and unquenchable desire for freedom. I am dying not just to attempt to end the barbarity of H-Block, or to gain the rightful recognition of a political prisoner, but primarily because what is lost in here is lost for the Republic and those wretched oppressed whom I am deeply proud to know as the 'risen people'.
There is no sensation today, no novelty that October 27th brought. (The starting date of the original seven man hunger-strike) The usual Screws were not working. The slobbers and would-be despots no doubt will be back again tomorrow, bright and early.
I wrote some more notes to the girls in Armagh today. There is so much I would like to say about them, about their courage, determination and unquenchable spirit of resistance. They are to be what Countess Markievicz, Anne Devlin, Mary Ann McCracken, Marie MacSwiney, Betsy Gray, and those other Irish heroines are to us all. And, of course, I think of Ann Parker, Laura Crawford, Rosemary Bleakeley, and I'm ashamed to say I cannot remember all their sacred names.
Mass was solemn, the lads as ever brilliant. I ate the statutory weekly bit of fruit last night. As fate had it, it was an orange, and the final irony, it was bitter. The food is being left at the door. My portions, as expected, are quite larger than usual, or those which my cell-mate Malachy is getting.
Lurgan man Leo Green went without food for 53 days during the 1980 hunger strike. Currently working as part of Sinn Féin's Assembly support team at Stormont, he was arrested in 1977 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent over 17 years in prison.
“Coming up to the 30th anniversary there's a natural focus on the hunger strike but the story of the prison struggle was about much more than that,” he said. “It's a story about hundreds of prisoners in both Armagh and Long Kesh and a story of thousands of relatives and activists on the outside. That hundreds of prisoners endured such confinement, conditions and brutality over a protracted period is always worth thinking about before you come round to thinking about what happened next. It sets the context and to some degree explains the rationale behind the decision to go on hunger strike.”
Leo explained that on a personal level his biggest concern was about how his mother and father would take the news that he had volunteered to go on hunger strike.
“I knew they would be supportive but I was particularly worried about the impact my decision would have on my father who had a history of stroke-related illness,” he said.
“As it turned out, within days of hearing I would be on the hunger strike he did take another serious stroke. His health went rapidly into decline thereafter and he died a few years later.”
Leo said the decision to begin a hunger strike was only taken after almost five years of the blanket protest by prisoners in the H-Blocks and in Armagh.
“Those were five years of brutality, confinement, terrible conditions for hundreds of prisoners. Hundreds of support demonstrations took place on the outside including a significant international focus on what was happening in the prisons. And all of this had not brought sufficient pressure for a resolution,” he said.
“And while I didn't think of it like this at the time, with each passing year of protest, with each wave of brutality from the prison administration, and with each deterioration in conditions, the prospect of hunger strike was increasing all the while.
“The decision to escalate the protest to a hunger strike was made in the prison and by the prisoners and against all the advice from outside. It wasn't taken lightly. It was only taken when it was felt we had exhausted all other forms of protest and when we had witnessed a number of interventions on the outside coming to nothing.”
Seven republican prisoners went on hunger strike on October 27, 1980. The seven men were Brendan Hughes, Tom McFeeley, Sean McKenna, Leo Green, Tommy McKearney, Raymond McCartney and John Nixon. They remained on hunger strike for 53 days.
“I spent the early few days in the wing in H4,” recalled Leo. “All the hunger strikers were then moved to a wing in H3, which was converted into a sort of hospital wing. After a few weeks there we were moved to the prison hospital,” he said.
As Sean McKenna neared death the prisoners struck a deal with the authorities – only for the British government to renege on the promises made.
“When the first hunger strike ended I was relieved that no-one had died. I really thought that it meant the end of the protests and a resolution. I wasn't surprised to learn about the initial messing about by the jail administration – but I thought that was to be expected and that it would pass.
“Gradually it began to sink in that the Brits had no intention of working to a solution that they had sought only to defuse the growing support for the prisoners' demands.
“This realisation was quite depressing, particularly as I knew it might mean another hunger strike. I knew also that the prospect that someone might die on hunger strike would now be significantly higher.
“But the determination to go for a second hunger strike was high. I realised that immediately when we moved back on to the protest wings from the prison hospital.
“All the ingredients that had made the hunger strike inevitable in the first instance were still there – the intransigence of the Brits, the attitude of the screws and the determination of the prisoners not to be broken.
“Dozens had volunteered to go on hunger strike. And this remained the case even after each death during the 1981 strike.
“I thought the right decision was made to end it when it did eventually end. And although we had lost ten comrades and friends, I knew we hadn't lost. We all knew we hadn't lost.”
Leo reflected on the huge changes in the political situation that have taken place over the past decades.
“It was certainly a bit strange coming to work here in Stormont initially. And presumably it was the same for other Sinn Féin people who had experienced imprisonment,” he said.
“The situation in the North has changed enormously and it continues to change. Change never comes easy or quickly enough. But there is no doubt it is happening. The Orange State as we knew and experienced it has gone.
“This is not to say that everything is okay. Far from it – much more change is needed. But change has to be worked at, it doesn't happen of its own accord and it doesn't always come in the form we would like.
“I think teaching our history is very important. It is important that young people know about these events and it is equally important that they learn about them from republicans.”
Leo said that the key lesson learned by republicans during the period of the hunger strikes was that “to get what you want politically you have to be determined, resilient and have an ability to adapt”.
“What brings delivery is resilience, determination and hard work. On the day the second hunger strike ended we knew we hadn't lost.
“We had secured the key demand on the right to wear our own clothes. That opened up a space within the prisons to make further progress. And within a short space of time, the rest of the five demands followed.
“The price was enormous. But we hadn't just not lost – we had won.”
Thursday 19th of July 2010
The Vice-President of the European Parliament, Roberta Angelilli MEP, is to launch a book about Bobby Sands today (Thursday) at the European Parliament Offices in Rome.
Il Diario di Bobby Sands: Storia di un Ragazzo Irlandese is the translation by Italian journalist Silvia Calamati of a book first published in Ireland a few years ago by Denis O’Hearn and Laurence McKeown.
That book, I Awoke This Morning – A Biography of Bobby Sands for Younger Readers, has also been published in Irish: Déirigh Mé ar Maidin: Beathaisnéis Roibeaird Uí Sheachnasaigh do Léitheoirí Níos Óige.
Danny Morrison, Secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, is pleased the hunger strike continues to be acknowledged on the international stage.
“Once again we see international recognition of, and respect for, the struggle by Irish political prisoners, in particular the hunger strikers and that of the name Bobby Sands,” he said. “Their sacrifice has stood the test of time and what they came through in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh is an indictment of successive British governments.
“But when one looks at the tense situation in Maghaberry it is clear that the British government is slow to learn from its past mistakes. I would like to congratulate Silvia Calamati on the publication of this book and her ongoing commitment to covering events in the North of Ireland.”
Silvia Calamati will be appearing in An Chultúrlann, Falls Road, on July 31, as part of Féile an Phobail. She will be launching Scéalta Ban Ó Thuaisceart na hÉireann, an Irish language version of her book, Women’s Stories from the North of Ireland.
THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal? |
By Allison Morris
Former republican hunger striker Bernard Fox says he is deeply distressed by allegations that a deal which could have ended the strike was vetoed in order to maximise electoral support for Sinn Fein.
The west Belfast man, who spent a total of 22 years in prison, was on hunger strike for 32 days when the protest was ended.
Speaking to The Irish News Mr Fox said: “I was a close friend of Joe McDonnell. I was on active service with him on the outside, and later imprisoned with him.
“Under those circumstances you get to know a person’s character very well.
“Joe loved life and had no desire to die but he was determined and pragmatic and was not for settling for anything other than the five demands – that I can say for sure.
“I wasn’t in the hospital at that time and I don’t know what the men were told or not told but I do know that there was no deal.
“Offers, yes – there were plenty of offers.
“Sure wasn’t Kieran Nugent given an offer of a convict’s uniform in 1976, an offer he declined?”
Having been interned twice the former IRA man was returned to the Maze prison as a convicted prisoner in 1977 and immediately joined the blanket protest, before volunteering for the Hunger Strike.
He spent 32 days on hunger strike before the protest, which claimed the lives of seven IRA and three INLA prisoners, came to an end.
“It took me 20 years before I could even speak openly about my experiences,” he said.
“It’s still emotional and raw for me even now. These claims just add to that pain.
“I can only imagine what it must be like for the families of the 10 lads.
“Bik [McFarlane] was chosen to act as our OC [officer commanding]. It’s a job no-one envied – the pressure must have been unbearable.
“Regardless of what I or anyone else may think about the political direction he has taken since, at the time we knew he wasn’t going to let us down.
“To suggest that he in some way colluded with the outside leadership to let his comrades die is sickening to me and does not hold up to scrutiny.
“After the first hunger strike we, [the prisoners] were very clear we wanted our demands in writing and delivered by a representative of the British government so there could be no reneging this time.
“Look, I would never criticise any former blanketman. We all suffered equally and the comradeship we had at that time was the only thing that saw us through.
“But try as I may I cannot understand where some people are coming from or why they would wait all these years to bring this out.
“Thatcher and the British government are responsible for the deaths of our comrades – that’s where the blame lies.”
In 1998 Fox was released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
He has since parted company with Sinn Fein in disagreement over its political direction.
“I have no personal or political agenda,” he said.
“My only concern is for the families and how all this must be hurting them.
Addressing calls for a public inquiry, he said: “I have no time for inquiries. What you need is not an inquiry but the truth and it would be naive to think the British will ever tell the truth.
“If there are unanswered questions my advice would be to seek clarification.
“That way the families who have called on all this to stop can be left in peace.”
THE HUNGER STRIKE Was there a deal?|
Richard O’Rawe – former republican prisoner, PRO of the 1981 hunger strikers and author of Blanketmen – responds to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams on claims a deal was available which would have saved the lives of six hunger strikers
There is now no room for doubting that the hunger strikers, by their sacrifice and courage, melted the iron will of Margaret Thatcher.
In doing so they tore asunder the British government’s policy of criminalisation. Not only that, but the hunger strikers forced the British to make a substantial offer, which was passed to Brendan Duddy (the Mountain Climber) on 5 July 1981.
Martin McGuinness said in his September 28 Irish News article that he took the offer from Duddy and passed it on to Gerry Adams in Belfast.
I believe that, had that offer not been rejected by those republican leaders on the outside who ran the Hunger Strike, it would have spelt victory to the Blanketmen, proved to be a massive propaganda coup for the republican struggle and, most importantly of all, saved the lives of six hunger strikers.
I also believe that while other accounts of the period have crumbled under the weight of damning contemporaneous evidence, my version of events has been vindicated: there was an offer; Bik McFarlane and I did accept it; a comm from Gerry Adams came in to the prison leadership which said that ‘more was needed’.
A similar message was sent to the British government.
Besides Martin McGuinness, the former hunger striker Laurence McKeown contributed an article to The Irish News special edition.
In it Laurence made no direct reference to this offer, preferring instead to write about a conversation he had had with a BBC producer in the 1990s.
That prompts the question: had Laurence and the hunger strikers been made fully aware of the details of the Mountain Climber offer?
I do not think they were and Laurence McKeown’s own book, Nor Meekly Serve My Time, demonstrates this.
For example: on July 29 1981, at the request of the families and Mgr Denis Faul, Gerry Adams, Fermanagh and South Tyrone election candidate Owen Carron, and INLA leader Seamus Ruddy visited the hunger strikers, ostensibly to give them their assessment of the situation.
Thirteen years later, in 1994, Laurence recorded the visit in his book. On page 236 he wrote of Gerry Adams having visited hunger striker Kieran Doherty:
“On their way out of his cell Doc’s parents met and spoke with Gerry, Bik and the others. They asked what the situation was and Gerry said he had just told all the stailceoirí, including Kieran, that there was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort and if the stailc continued, Doc would most likely be dead within a few days. They just listened to this and nodded, more or less resigned to the fact that they would be watching their son die any day now.”
Kieran Doherty TD passed away four days after Adams’s visit, believing that there ‘was no deal on the table from the Brits, no movement of any sort’.
What Adams seemingly did not tell Kieran’s dignified parents, Alfie and Margaret, was that, actually, there was a deal on the table from the Brits, and it had been there from before Joe McDonnell died.
Moreover, he did not tell them that there had been movement.
Adams did not tell Mr and Mrs Doherty – or their noble son – about the Mountain Climber offer.
According to Laurence McKeown, Adams did not tell any of the hunger strikers about the Mountain Climber offer. Worse still, he told them the opposite of what he knew to be the facts of the situation.
I believe that Adams misrepresented the situation and Bik McFarlane did nothing to correct him. That is hardly surprising since before Adams even set foot in the prison McFarlane told Pat ‘Beag’ McGeown ‘Don’t make your opinions known,’ at the forthcoming meeting.
Subsequently Pat Beag said, ‘When Gerry was in I didn’t say anything to him.’
In the face of all the evidence Sinn Fein has sought to demonise anyone who criticises their version of the Hunger Strike by representing that any condemnation of them automatically means that the hunger strikers had been dupes.
The hunger strikers were never dupes. In reality, like Pat Beag, they were very astute and politically-aware individuals, people who would not be ‘easily deceived or cheated’ by anyone.
Yet, like any of us, they could only make decisions on the basis of the information they had.
If those they trusted withheld vital information from them, their judgements would obviously have been impaired.
Besides Gerry Adams not having told them of the Mountain Climber offer, when he visited them on July 29, Bik McFarlane never told them that he and I had accepted the Mountain Climber offer.
Furthermore, like McFarlane and the rest of the prison leadership, the hunger strikers were never shown a copy of the British government’s offer.
In fact, none of us prisoners in Long Kesh were told that the offer came in the form of a statement from the then secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, which the British, as documents recently disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act made clear, would have been released if and when the Hunger Strike ended.
So, why was this offer not sent in to the hunger strikers so that they could properly evaluate the attitude of the British?
Who took the decision to withhold it from them?
And the biggest question of all – why?