Hunger Strikers’ Families Speak Out

Families of those IRA and INLA Volunteers who died during the 1981 hunger strike have issued a statement condemning those who have relentlessly hurt them by making false allegations that their loved ones died needlessly.

The families privately met with Sinn Fein and a representative of the Bobby Sands Trust last Wednesday, 17th June, at the invitation of the party’s president Gerry Adams. Those present included relatives of Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee and Mickey Devine (his nieces and his son Mickey óg). Bridie Lynch, sister of Kevin Lynch, was unable to attend but sent Gerry Adams a note expressing her support. The Hughes’ family were represented by two nephews of Francis. Francis’s brother, Oliver, who was unable to attend, sent a letter to be read out. The meeting took place in Gulladuff, South Derry.

Representatives of all the families, including two nieces of Mickey Devine, participated in the discussion, as did Gerry Adams, Brendan McFarlane and Danny Morrison. All family members who spoke, except for Tony O’Hara, were united in their anger at the relentless campaign alleging that the hunger strikers died needlessly. The families were clear that the British had made no deal with the hunger strikers or their representatives in 1981. Some suggested that a statement should go out appealing to people such as Richard O’Rawe, who instigated the campaign with the serialising of his book in the ‘Sunday Times’, to stop hurting them, but other family members doubted if he would listen.

After the meeting, an offensive and false account of what was said was issued by Willie Gallagher of the IRSP, who was not present. One of the more outrageous things he claimed was that “Mickey Og walked out of the meeting after being shouted down, said he felt he was being bullied”. This angered the families so much that the following day they then decided to go ahead and put out a statement. Whilst Tony O’Hara agreed that Gallagher’s report was false he declined to join with the other families. In their statement the families repudiated the Gallagher version of the meeting and rejected any suggestion that Michael óg Devine, who remained silent throughout, was ‘shouted down’ or ‘bullied’. Michael óg Devine did not in fact speak during the meeting.

The families said: “Wednesday evening’s meeting was a very emotional and difficult occasion for all of us, particularly in light of the allegations coming from Richard O’Rawe and the IRSP. All of the family members, who spoke, with the exception of Tony O’Hara, expressed deep anger and frustration at the ongoing allegations created by O’Rawe.

“Tony O’Hara’s suggestion that we should meet with Richard O’Rawe and Willie Gallagher got no support and we asked Tony to express to Richard O’Rawe and Willie Gallagher our wish for them to stop what they are doing and to give us peace of mind.

“The account of the meeting published by Willie Gallagher is inaccurate and offensive.

“Our loved ones made the supreme sacrifice on hunger strike for their comrades. They were not dupes. They were dedicated and committed republicans. We are clear that it was the British government which refused to negotiate and refused to concede their just demands.”

The letter read from Oliver Hughes to Wednesday night’s meeting was met with widespread applause. It said: “I would like to thank Gerry Adams for the invitation to this meeting but unfortunately I cannot make it as I have a prior engagement. However, the Hughes family will be represented.

“I don’t believe there is a need for such a meeting and I find it scandalous what people have been saying about the hunger strike. They have no consideration for what it is doing to families like ours. It was twenty-eight years ago and we thought we could have some closure, some rest, even though we will never forget what our Francis and his comrades went through, not just in 1981 but from the time the British withdrew political status. I am referring to the blanket protest, the beatings, the dirty protest, the solitary confinement, all that.

“Margaret Thatcher and her government killed those men, it is as simple as that.

“Our Francis was a soldier and he went on hunger strike for five just demands. That decision was his and we admire his courage and are proud of him and stand by his memory and will not let it and the hunger strike period be sullied by the likes of Liam Clarke and the Sunday Times and others.

“Those who are now trying to say that Mrs Thatcher was interested in giving in to the prisoners demands are talking rubbish. The British pretended they were going to do a deal in Christmas 1980 and we all know what happened there.

“From all that I witnessed and heard the prisoners comrades on the outside always followed the men’s wishes and worked day and night to defend them and help them win their demands.

“It is disgraceful what is going on from people none of whom I ever met or heard of before, people like Richard O’Rawe who publishes a book which the Sunday Times serialises. The Sunday Times which called Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee and the other hunger strikers ‘criminals’ and ‘terrorists’.

“I’ll not be listening to their propaganda. Signed, Oliver Hughes.”

 

“I die proudly for my country”

June 3rd was the 35th anniversary of the death on hunger strike of Michael Gaughan from Ballina, County Mayo. Michael Gaughan, was the eldest of six children. After finishing his schooling, he left Ireland for England, in search of work. Whilst in England, he joined the IRA and became an active Volunteer in a London-based Active Service Unit. During a mission to gather funds for the IRA campaign, he was captured and ultimately convicted of arms possession and conspiracy to rob a London bank. Gaughan was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in the Old Bailey in December 1971.

His first two years of imprisonment were in Wormwood Scrubs in London. He was then moved to Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight where his request for political status was refused and he was punished with solitary confinement for even daring to claim it. He was later moved to Parkhurst Prison.

In November 1973, the trial of 10 Irish people for bomb explosions in London saw four begin a hunger-strike immediately for political status and repatriation. Their demands were simple: a guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement; the right to educational facilities and not to do prison work; the setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison. Within days, the prison authorities began force-feeding Dolores and Marion Price, Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly. They were brutally force-fed for 206 days. On 31st March 1974, Frank Stagg, Paul Holmes, Hugh Feeney and Michael Gaughan joined the strike. Twenty-three days into his strike, Michael was force-fed for the first time. The method of force-feeding hadn’t changed from the days when Thomas Ashe died due to the brutality of it in 1917. The brutality of the force-feeding and resisting the doctors and the warders took its toll on the hunger-strikers. It left them battered and bruised, drained physically and mentally. The physiological torture of this barbaric assault on a person also had an effect as one of the hunger-strikers recounted to a relative at the time:

“The mental agony of waiting to be force-fed is getting to the stage where it now outweighs the physical discomfort of having to go through with it.”

During his hunger-strike Michael was force-fed 17 times, the last time on the evening of June 2.

The physical toll on the hunger-strikers is borne out by Gaughan’s brother John’s statement of his condition when he last saw him. His throat had been badly cut by force feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about six stone.

Visitors to the hunger strikers were only allowed to see them through a glass screen, supervised by prison warders. In what must have been a very emotional visit Gaughan’s mother Delia saw him alive for the last time through this screen three days before his death.

On 3rd June 1974, sixty-four days into his hunger strike, the prison authorities announced that Michael Gaughan had died. They later explained that he died from pneumonia, a result of the force-feeding tube having pierced his lung and food lodging in his lung. He was 24-years-old.

The manner of his death caused controversy in medical circles and the method of force-feeding was later abandoned by the British state.

Following Gaughan’s death, the remaining hunger strikers ended their fast after assurances from the prison authorities that they would be transferred to a prison in Ireland. The British, however, pursued a policy of seeming to concede to prisoners’ demands when they were on hunger strike only to renege once the prisoner came off protest.

From the Isle of Wight, Michael’s remains were brought to London. On 7th and 8th June, thousands lined the streets of Kilburn and marched behind the coffin, which was flanked by an IRA guard of honour.

On Saturday, 8th June, Gaughan’s remains reached Dublin where they were met by tens of thousands of mourners. Under another IRA guard of honour, Gaughan’s body was brought to the Adam and Eve’s Franciscan church on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands more filed past as it lay in state.

The following morning, Michael Gaughan began his final journey home. From Dublin to Ballina, his cortege was met by thousands paying their last respects in every town and village en route.

After Mass in Ballina Cathedral, the IRA paid its respects to a loyal soldier of Ireland, firing a volley above his coffin before it was taken to Leigue Cemetery to be buried in the Republican Plot.

In his last message to his republican comrades, Michael Gaughan had said:

“I die proudly for my country and in the hope that my death will be sufficient to obtain the demands of my comrades. Let there be no bitterness on my behalf but a determination to achieve the new Ireland for which I gladly die. My loyalty and confidence is to the IRA and let those of you who are left carry on the work and finish the fight.”

 

Attempting To Wreck The IRA

The IRA Officer Commanding in the H-Blocks during the 1981 hunger strike has been interviewed in today’s Belfast Telegraph. Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane was speaking to journalist Brian Rowan and said that the British Government never had any intention of resolving the hunger strike and accused Margaret Thatcher’s government of trying to resolve the prison protest “on their terms” while attempting to “wreck” the IRA in the process.