Republicans marked the 40th anniversary of the end of the 1981 hunger strike last weekend at events across the North and elsewhere.
In a weekend of remembrance and in honour of the ten brave men of 1981, Sinn Féin Assembly member Pat Sheehan, reflected on his own 55-day hunger strike.
Speaking at a vigil in Derry last weekend (pictured, right), he recalled the sacrifices of those who died during the protest, which ended when relatives intervened to end the protests.
“On that Saturday afternoon, I was lying on my prison bed in the H-Block hospital having entered my 55th day on hunger strike after replacing my comrade, Kieran Doherty TD,” said Mr Sheehan.
“By this stage I was almost totally blind, weighing but seven-and-a-half-stone and constantly vomiting green bile.
“Four days prior to the end of the hunger strike, I was examined by an external doctor,”he recalled. “He asked me to lay back flat on the bed, before pressing his fingers gently under my ribcage on the right hand side. I almost leapt out of the bed in agony as the pain radiated throughout my entire body.
“My condition was severe and life threatening. My liver had become enlarged and began to shut down. The doctor told me that even if I ended my hunger strike there and then he couldn’t guarantee my survival.
“As blunt as this news was I didn’t let it cloud my vision or commitment in seeing the hunger strike through to the end. I had created a psychological and emotional shield around myself – it didn’t matter if I got good news or bad news. It didn’t matter what rumours were circulating about a resolution being found to the hunger strike.
“Myself and the other hunger strikers were under no illusion of what it meant to volunteer for the hunger strike. We were told quite clearly that when commencing the hunger strike, you would be dead in two months. the reality was really that stark, there was no dressing it up – not you might be dead or you could be dead, but that you will be dead.”
Mr Sheehan told how he was advised of the republican leadership’s intention to end the hunger strike, and was advised that halting his fast would increase his “chances of survival”. However, he would see out the hunger strike until it was officially ended.
“At 3pm on the 3rd of October, all those who were left on the hunger strike gathered in my cell in the prison hospital,” he recalled.
“I called in the Chief Medical Officer and told him that we were terminating the hunger strike. We were gathered in my cell, defiant, unbowed and unbroken. Thatcher tried to label our struggle for national liberation as criminal. The screws tried to break us with beatings, strip searches and torture tactics, but what they failed to grasp or understand, is that there is nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn’t want to be broken.
“The aim of criminalisation was to isolate, marginalise and ultimately defeat our struggle. The sacrifice of our comrades ensured that the outcome was actually the opposite of what the British intended. Our struggle has gone from strength to strength, and we are now within touching distance of a united Ireland, the objective for which our ten comrades sacrificed their lives.
“The sacrifices of Bobby and Frank, Raymond and Patsy, Joe and Martin, Kevin and Kieran, Thomas and Micky, will continue to inspire us as we build a new republic.”
Saoradh organised one of the largest remembrance events of the weekend (pictured, left) in Bellaghy, County Tyrone, a village from which two of the ten hunger strikers hailed. Despite heavy surveillance, the event took place without a direct Crown Force assault, and with music and speeches.
A statement was read on behalf of current republican prisoners being held in Maghaberry, Hydebank and Portlaoise jails, and a minute’s silence was held in remembrance of the ten hunger strikers and all those who gave their lives for Ireland.
Saoradh National Chair, Brian Kenna, pointed to the ongoing targeting of party members in Derry by MI5 and Crown Forces.
“The arrest and charging of over a dozen Republican activists in Derry in recent weeks is the outworking of a deliberate strategy by the British Forces of occupation and MI5 in order to attempt to destroy revolutionary Republicanism,” he said.
“Numerous Saoradh members have been seized and homes raided in a huge PR stunt with raiding parties even being accompanied by TV media crews.
“Each of those arrested have been held in an interrogation centre for days during which they have been intensely questioned.
“In almost all instances the republicans targeted have had sinister trumped up charges laid against them. These charges range from ‘murder’ to rioting and everything in between.
“All of those arrested have been granted bail in a British Magistrates Court, an action which is practically unheard of and proves from the outset that these cases are built on sand.
“However the conditions attached to bail are highly restrictive. Curfews, tags, banned from certain parts of Derry and no contact or association with others charged.
“The draconian bail conditions are designed to severely limit and it some cases completely stop the political activism of the particular Saoradh members. If this type of treatment were to be dished out on anyone other than the Irish Republican working class then there would be uproar from the great and the good who no doubt would be clambering over each other to condemn such Totalitarian practices.
“Then we have those who snipe from the sidelines. They won’t condemn or speak out at such Orwellian attacks on an entire community but instead remain silent and ignore what is happening. They have short memories and are complicit in their silence.
“There are spineless, mealy mouthed politicians who pretend to have the interests of working class communities at heart. These individuals are cowardly, self serving charlatans and should be ostracised by those they claim to represent.
“Comrades it’s at times like this that every one of us have to put our shoulders to the wheel. The British state and its apparatus are using everything at their disposal to destroy us, they will ultimately fail.
“With a solid strategy in place and a sound ideological stance we will push through to victory but only with the strength and determination of each and every one of you here today.”