Thousands defied wet conditions at the weekend to attend hunger-strike commemorations for South Armagh IRA man Raymond McCreesh and the Derry Irish National Liberation Army hunger striker Patsy O’Hara.
Both men died after 61 days on hunger strike on May 21, 1981. McCreesh was 24 and O’Hara was 23.
The crowds at the commemorations included former hunger strikers, members of the McCreesh and O’Hara families and elected representatives.
There was a march from Newry to St Malachy’s church in Camlough, County Armagh, where McCreesh is buried. Fr Brian McCreesh, Raymond’s brother, celebrated a Mass in Camlough.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams gave the graveside oration.
He paid tribute to the family of Raymond McCreesh for their dignity and integrity as they carried the very personal pain of losing a son.
Speaking at a separate commemoration, the President of Republican Sinn Féin, Ruairi O Bradaigh attacked Sinn Féin for what he said was their denial of the cause of the hunger strikers.
“The bogus claim made by the Provos that the Stormont Agreement of 1998 was a logical succession to the hunger-strike deaths of 1981 was equivalent to the Free Staters’ assertion that the 26-County State arose out of the Easter Rising of 1916,” he said.
“Both claims are fraudulent.
“The partitionist and collaborationist 26-County State came from England’s alternative to the All-Ireland Dáil of 1919-22, ie the Westminster parliament’s Government of Ireland Act of 1920. That state arose out of the defeat of the independence movement of 1916-23.
“Likewise, the present Six-County Statelet, with or without Stormont, was an instrument of continued British rule in Ireland and a denial of all Raymond McCreesh, Bobby Sands and their comrades suffered and died for.
“To accept partition and administer British rule here was a base betrayal of the hunger-strikers’ sacrifices and agonising deaths. Those who denied by their actions the noble ideals sought in the H- Blocks of Long Kesh in 1981 should have the honesty and decency to stay away from the hunger-strikers’ graves.”
PSNI police claims that they were attacked by stone throwers aduring the day’s events were dismissed as ‘false propaganda’ by Sinn Féin MP for the area, Conor Murphy, later dismissed
Mr Murphy said the commemoration was “a well stewarded and dignified affair”.
“The PSNI have attempted to besmirch the memory of Ray, his comrades and the republican community by claiming that missiles were thrown at them from the parade. There were no stones thrown at the PSNI. There was no need for the PSNI to be anywhere near the march, yet they have engineered a story which is grounded in fiction and has no basis in fact.”
* In Derry city, thousands of republicans remembered Patsy O’Hara. His family watched as a monument and mural dedicated to the Derry man were unveiled near the original family home in the city’s Bishop Street.