Irish political prisoners confined in the infamous H-Blocks of Long Kesh commenced a hunger strike on October 27, 1980, 40 years ago this week.
The hunger strike was to continue until their demands for political status and for an end to British torture were met, or until death.
It began with seven republican volunteers: Brendan Hughes, the IRA commanding officer in the prison led the other six strikers: Sean McKenna, Tommy McKearney, Tommy McFeely, Leo Green, and Raymond McCartney, all of the IRA, and John Nixon of the INLA.
On December 1st, three female prisoners join the strike in Armagh prison: Mary Doyle, Mairéad Farrell and Mairéad Nugent. 30 more republican prisoners would join later.
Despite being deceived into ending prematurely after 53 days, it set the scene for a second hunger strike the following March, led by Bobby Sands. The first hunger strike announcement was made in a statement which is reprinted in full below.
We the Republican POWs in the H-Blocks, Long Kesh, demand the right of political recognition and that we be accorded the status of political prisoners. We claim this right as captured combatants in the continuing struggle for national liberation and self determination. We refute most strongly the tag of criminal with which the British have attempted to label us and our struggle, and we point to the devisive, partitionist institution of the six county state as the sole criminal aspect of the present conflict.
All of us were arrested under repressive laws, interrogated and often tortured in RUC barracks, and processed through special non-jury courts, where we were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. After this we were put in the H-Blocks and were expected to bow the knee before the British administration and wear their criminal uniform. Attempts to criminalise us were designed to depoliticise the Irish national struggle.
We don’t have to recite again the widespread, almost total forms of punishment, degradations and deprivations we have been subjected to. All have failed to break our resistance.
For the past four years we have endured this brutality in deplorable conditions. We have been stripped naked and robbed of our individuality, yet we refuse to be broken. Further repression only serves to strengthen our resolve and that of our gallant female comrades’ enduring the same hardships in Armagh jail.
During this period many individuals, religious figures and political organisations and sections of the media have condemned the way we have been treated. Yet despite appeals for a resolution of the H-Block protest, the British government has remained intransigent and has displayed vindictive arrogance in dealing with the problem. They refuse to treat this issue in a realistic manner which is just another reflection of their attitude to the entire Irish question.
Bearing in mind the serious implications of our final step, not only for us but for our people, we wish to make it clear that every channel has now been exhausted, and not wishing to break faith with those from whom we have inherited our principles, we now commit ourselves to a hunger strike.
We call on the Irish people to lend us their support for our just demands and we are confident that this support will be very much in evidence in the coming days.
We call on all solidarity and support groups to intensify their efforts and we also look forward with full confidence to the support of our exiled countrymen in America and Australia.
We declare that political status is ours of right and we declare that from Monday, October 27th, 1980, a hunger strike by a number of men representing H- Blocks 3, 4, and 5 will commence.
Our widely recognised resistance has carried us through four years of immense suffering and it shall carry us through to the bitter climax of death, if necessary.
Signed: PRO, H-Block blanket men, Long Kesh camp