Commemorations are taking place in Derry and in the US to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Mickey Devine, the last of the H-Block prisoners to give his life after 60 days on hunger strike. The following is an account of his life by Stailc 81 (stailc.com).
Mickey Devine spent his early years on the outskirts of Derry city in the notorious Springtown Camp – a World War Two-ear US army base – alongside hundreds of other unemployed Catholic families. The sectarian housing policy of Derry corporation meant that many of these families suffered in the ‘temporary’ huts until the early 1960s. Mickey himself described Springtown as “the slum to end all slums”.
It wasn’t until 1960 that the Devine family moved into their new home in the Creggan. Mickey attended Holy Child primary school and then St Joseph’s secondary school. At the age of just 11, he suffered the heart-breaking loss of his father to leukaemia.
By October ’68, a 14-year-old Mickey had his life permanently altered by the birth of the civil rights movement in the North of Ireland: “Like every other young person in Derry, my whole way of thinking was tossed upside down by the events of October 5 1968,” he later said.
“I didn’t even know there was a civil rights march. I saw it on television. But that night I was down the town smashing shop windows and stoning the RUC. Overnight I developed a hatred of the RUC. As a child I had always known not to talk to them, or to have anything to do with them, but this was different.
“Within a month everyone was a political activist. I had never had a political thought in my life, but now we talked of nothing else. I was by no means politically aware but the speed of events gave me a quick education.”
In the course of 1969, Mickey ended up in hospital twice as a result of assaults by the RUC. After leaving school that summer, he spent the next few years working in local furniture shops. Initially, Mickey was involved with the local Labour Party, then the James Connolly Republican Club before joining the Official Irish Republican Army at the age of 17 in 1971.
Bloody Sunday proved to be another turning point for Mickey, as he and his brother-in-law witnessed British Paratroopers murder 14 unarmed protesters: “I will never forget standing in the Creggan chapel staring at the brown wooden boxes. We mourned, and Ireland mourned with us,” he recollected. “That sight more than anything convinced me that there will never be peace in Ireland while Britain remains. When I looked at those coffins I developed a commitment to the republican cause that I have never lost.”
Another tragedy hit the Devine family in 1972 when Mickey returned home to find his mother had unexpectedly died as the result of a brain tumour at the age of just 45. He married Margaret in 1973, and they lived in the Creggan with their children Michael and Louise.
In early 1975 Mickey became one of the founding members of the Irish National Liberation Army. Following a raid for weapons in 1976, Mickey was arrested and, after nine months on remand, he was given a 12-year sentence by a non-jury Diplock court.
Mickey immediately joined the Blanket protest and, after four years of daily degradation in squalid conditions, he became the third INLA volunteer to join the hunger-strike for political status. He had previously taken over as leader of the protesting INLA prisoners from the late Patsy O’Hara.
On the morning of August 20 1981, as the people of Fermanagh-South Tyrone were again showing their support for the prisoners by electing Owen Carron to replace Bobby Sands, Mickey Devine died an unbowed and unbroken Derry man.