Several hundred republicans gathered in McCreesh park in Newry last weekend to honour local hunger striker Raymond McCreesh in separate events organised by Saoradh and Sinn Fein. The following tribute is from the oration delivered by Saoradh’s Nuala Perry.
Tomorrow it will be thirty seven years since Raymond McCreesh lost his life in the H Blocks of Long Kesh after 61 days of hunger-strike, and on that same tragic day when Republicans tried to absorb the sheer ruthlessness of Thatcher’s government’s indifference to the loss of another young Republican life, Patsy O’Hara another young volunteer would succumb to the horrors of the strike that night.
Ray McCreesh was nineteen when he was arrested after an ambush on British soldiers near Beleek in South Armagh in 1976.
After nine months on remand he was sentenced in a non-jury Diplock court in March 1977. Ray spent four years on the blanket after refusing to wear the prison uniform. The one and only prison visit he would take during that time was to inform his parents he was going on hunger strike.
When Ray McCreesh was arrested in June 1976 Gardiner’s recommendations to phase out the overt policy of internment and special category status were well under way.
Under this new policy a situation which was recognised as political prior to March 1st 1976 effectively became criminal through legislation, this would mean that despite the fact that the individual and the collective characteristics of the prisoner remained the same the idea that a political motivation existed was being reframed.
In many ways there was surreal feeling about the events as they unfolded around us 37 years ago, few of us, whether it was in the prisons, in call houses or protesting on the streets could ever have realised the extent or the gravity of the sacrifice that was about to unfold.
In the prisons our days and nights seemed to be defined by the next hourly news bulletin, yet usually even when the slightest glimmer of hope came it would be overshadowed quickly by despair and that feeling of helplessness.
On the streets the Republican movement and people from various shades waged a campaign to highlight the horror of the Brits pursuit to criminalise the campaign in the North, the latter sometimes barefooted and wrapped in blankets, the former by any given means.
Criminalisation was the process that would replace militarisation and when Republicans were suitably tarnished we would then reach the ultimate goal of normalisation.
The only problem with that was and is, that irrespective through which mouth the policy of Gardiner is being spouted or regurgitated the Republican psyche is always conditioned to resist it.
When Ray McCreesh lost his life after 61 days on hunger strike he joined the ranks of IRA volunteers who were determined that their people would be free from the shackles of British occupation and that Irish Republicans would never again be stigmatised or criminalised, and for that we owe him a debt of honour.
Beir Bua Ray McCreesh. Go Raibh Maith agaibh.