The Bobby Sands Trust extends sympathy to the family and large family circle of Mrs Alice McElwee following her death in Bellaghy just short of her ninety-sixth birthday. Alice was the mother of IRA Volunteer Thomas McElwee who died on 8 August, 1981, after sixty-two days on hunger strike.
Mrs McElwee is the last of the parents of the ten H-Block hunger strikers to die and remained throughout her life a dedicated republican. Last year she was the subject of a powerful and poignant TG4 documentary, Máthair, in which she told the story of Thomas’ hunger strike and what the family experienced.
Alice was born in Philadelphia to Derry parents but when she was seven years old the family returned to Ireland and she lived in Bellaghy for most of her life. She married Jim McElwee in 1950 and they had twelve children. Her sons Thomas and Benedict were both active republicans, along with their cousin Frank Hughes. Thomas and Benedict were part of an active service unit which was arrested in October 1976 after they received injuries in a premature explosion. Thomas was sentenced to twenty years. Both of Alice’s sons went on the blanket protest.
When Frank Hughes died on hunger strike on 12 May 1981, he was replaced by his cousin Thomas.
Condolences have been expressed across Ireland and further afield to the McElwee family. Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Mrs McElwee was an inspiration. “I was very sorry to learn of the death today of Alice McElwee, mother of hunger striker Thomas McElwee. During the hunger strike and since then, Mrs McElwee and all of the mothers of the hunger strikers showed great courage, dignity and determination in the face of heart-breaking loss and suffering. She was an inspiration to so many and will be sadly missed by all who knew her in Tamlaghtduff and beyond.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the family circle at this very sad time.”
I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow – And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.
- Padraig Pearse