Thirty five years ago today, at 3pm, Pat Sheehan (at that stage the longest on hunger strike and the most critically ill), his comrades, Jackie McMullan, Hugh Carville, John Pickering, Gerard Hodgins and Jim Devine, ended the epic H-Block hunger strike which had lasted seven months. During that time ten of their comrades had died in a struggle which astonished the world and won the admiration of millions of people.
Rather than isolate and defeat the republican struggle – which was the aim of the British government’s criminalisation policy – the resistance of the prisoners, their suffering, sacrifices and the prison deaths, led to a huge increase in support for the Irish Republican Army and for Sinn Féin.
The election of Bobby Sands as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in April 1981, the elections to the North’s councils of a variety of anti-H-Block/Armagh Prison candidates in May, the election of hunger striker Kieran Doherty and Paddy Agnew to Leinster House in June, and the election of Owen Carron, again to Fermanagh and South Tyrone, after the death of Bobby Sands, in August 1981, pointed the way to the addition of an electoral strategy to the overall republican struggle.
Pat Sheehan was first imprisoned in 1978 at the age of nineteen and fought the prison system on the blanket protest and the hunger strike. After his release he was again arrested and sentenced for IRA activities and served a total of almost 18 years in jail.
Today he is a Sinn Fein MLA for West Belfast and in this short film he recalls the year of 1981, the atmosphere and what the prisoners endured because of their republican principles and commitment to resistance against British rule in Ireland.