Sunday, October 17, 2010

Remember the 1980 Hunger Strike

The 1981 Hunger Strike and the terrible sacrifice made by ten noble republican hunger strikers has etched itself into the collective memory of Irish Republicans and those who strive for freedom everywhere. However, due to its profile perhaps, some have regrettably failed to remember the gallant protest made other republican hunger strikers only a few months earlier, in late 1980.
In late October 1980, seven prisoners in the H/Blocks, led by Brendan Hughes, who was succeeded as O/C by Bobby Sands, began a hunger-strike for political status. Hughes was joined on the on the fast by five other IRA Volunteers; Tom McFeeley; Sean McKenna, Leo Green, Tommy McKearney and Raymond McCartney and an INLA Volunteer, John Nixon.

In early December, as the hunger strike entered its sixth week, they were joined on the fast by three women in Armagh jail who had, along with their comrades, been on the no-wash protest since the previous February; Mairead Farrell, OC of the prisoners, Mairead Nugent and Mary Doyle.
The British Government refused to listen to the mass protests that broke out across Ireland and England during late 1980, and rejected any notion of giving the prisoners back political status. In mid-December, as Sean McKenna neared death and as the prisoners prepared to escalate the hunger-strike, the British announced that they were prepared to concede the Prisoners' demands, on a phased basis, once the fast had ended.
Trusting that Humphrey Atkins, the then British Secretary of State, would not renege on this promise, Sands, having consulted his staff, the prisoners and those on the fast, reluctantly decided to end the hunger strike on Thursday, 18 December. After weeks of delays by the British in implementing the promised changes, and confusion among the prisoners and their supporters, it became apparent in January 1981 that political status was not to be granted. The prisoners, faced with no alternative, would be forced to embark on a new fast that would have widespread repercussions in Ireland and abroad.

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