On this day forty years ago twenty-five-year old Kevin Lynch from Dungiven became the seventh prisoner to die on the 1981 H-Block hunger strike after seventy one days without sustenance. Kevin was a member of the INLA when he was arrested in December 1976, charged with a number of conspiracy offences and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in 1977.
Former blanket man Jake Mac Siacais paid tribute to Kevin in the excellent series Guthanna ’81/Voices of ’81 podcasts.
In the forthcoming book, The Comrades, Bik McFarlane, the OC of the prisoners in 1981, has written a chapter about Kevin whom he first met in H3 in 1979:
‘There was an eerie silence as we made our way to our cells in D Wing. It felt wrong – ominous. As if something bad would happen if the silence were broken. It was only when the screws went off for the afternoon ‘lock-up’ and we each introduced ourselves to the lads on the wing that the full extent of life in H3 became apparent. Regular beatings were the norm. POWs were brutalized on return from visits. Vicious attacks were common during wing shifts. It was constant—systematic. All designed to break the spirit of the blanketmen.
‘It was in this wing that I first met Kevin Lynch, a Dungiven lad in his early twenties. He was friendly and always ready to engage in discussion about the protest and what strategies we should be adopting. He had a clear understanding of the nature of Britain’s criminalisation policy and had a singular determination to play his part in ensuring that republican POWs would never accept the tag of criminal.’
Kevin’s life is also memorialized in Aidan Hegarty’s excellent book, Kevin Lynch and the Irish Hunger Strike.
As a youth one of Kevin’s proudest moments was when he captained the victorious Derry hurling team in the Under-16 All-Ireland Final in Croke Park—every GAA players dream. Also playing hurling and football while in England he made his mark, to the extent that a glowing tribute was paid to him by Irish Post journalist Frank Dolan in August 1981, a week after Kevin’s death.
‘Kevin Lynch now ranks as the most famous footballer to wear an intercounty jersey in Britain during the past sixty years. A few others, here and there, have carved themselves a footnote in Irish sporting history but his name is in the big book – it’s in the annals of our land.’
Dungiven GAA honoured Kevin by naming their club, Cumann lomanaíochta Chaoímhín Uí Loínsigh, after this great Irish patriot.
Writing in The Comrades Bik McFarlane said:
‘My last memory of Kevin was a few days before he died. His father and brother were present as the family had been keeping a bedside vigil over recent days, as were the family of Kieran Doherty. At this stage Kevin had been lapsing in and out of a coma. A medic and the prison chaplain were present. I moved closer to his bedside hoping to maybe be able to speak with him. But it wasn’t to be. I leaned over and touched his forehead, I suppose in a final farewell. I never saw him again.
‘Kevin died in the early hours of Saturday, 1 August, after enduring a gruelling seventy-one days on hunger strike.’
Below is a link to a short video about Kevin and includes photographs which have never been published before.