Archive for March, 2006

Remembering 1981: From a nationalist ghetto to the battlefield of H-Block

Posted in marcella on 30 March 2006 by micheailin

An Phoblacht

The Birth of a Republican

The folllowing is a slightly edited version of a semi-autobiographical article by Bobby Sands, first published anonomously in Republican News on 16 December 1978. It was reprinted in An Phoblacht/Republican News on 4 April 1981 when Bobby was 35 days on hunger strike.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usFrom my earliest years I recall my mother speaking of the troubled times that occurred during her childhood. Often she spoke of internment on prison ships, of gun attacks and death, and of early morning raids when one lay listening with pounding heart to the heavy clattering of boots on the cobblestone streets, and as a new day broke peaked carefully out the window to see a neighbour being taken away by the Specials.

Although I never really understood what internment was, or who the Specials were, I grew to regard them as symbols of evil. Nor could I understand when my mother spoke of Connolloy and the 1916 Rising, and of how he and his comrades fought and were subsequently executed – a fate suffered by so many Irish rebels in my mother’s stories.

When the television arrived, my mother’s stories were replaced by what it had to offer. I became more confused as “the baddies” in my mother’s tales were also the heroes on the TV. The British army always fought for ‘the right side’ and the police were always the ‘good guys’. Both were to be heroised and imitated in childhood play.

At school I learned history, but it was always English History and English historical triumphs in Ireland and elsewhere . I often wondered why I was never taught the history of my own country and when my sister, a year younger than myself, began to learn the Gaelic language at school I envied her. Occasionally nearing the end of my school days I received a few scant lessons in Irish history. For this, from a republican-minded teacher who taught me, I was indeed grateful.

I recall my mother also speaking of the ‘good old days’. But of all her marvellous stories I could never remember any good times and I often thought to myself ‘thank God’ I was not a boy in those times because by then – having left school – life to me seemed enormous and wonderful.

Starting work, although frightening at first, became alright, especially with the reward at the end of the week. Dances and clothes, girls and a few shillings to spend, opened up a whole new world for me. I suppose at that time I would have worked all week, as money seemed to matter more than anything else.

Change

Then came 1968 and my life began to change. Gradually the news changed. Regularly I noticed the Specials, whom I now knew as the B Specials, attacking and baton-charging the crowds of people who all of a sudden began marching on the streets.

From the talk in the house and my mother shaking her fist at the TV screen, I knew that they were our people who were on the receiving end. My sympathies and feelings really became aroused after watching the scenes at Burntollet. That imprinted on my mind like a scar, and for the first time I took a real interest in what was going on. I became angry.

It was now 1969 and events moved faster as August hit our area like a hurricane. The whole world exploded and my own little world just crumbled around me. The TV did not have to tell the story now, for it was on my own doorstep. Belfast was in flames, as our districts, our humble homes were burnt. The Specials came at the head of the RUC and the Orange hordes, right into the heart of our streets, burning, looting, shooting and murdering.

There was no one to save us, except ‘the boys’ as my father called the men who defended our district with a handful of old guns.

As the unfamiliar sound of gunfire was still echoing there soon appeared alien figures, voices and faces, in the form of British Soldiers on our streets. But no longer did I think of them as my childhood ‘good guys’, for their presence alone was food for thought.

Before I could work out the solution it was answered for me, in the form of early morning raids, and I remembered my mother’s stories of previous troubled times. For now my heart pounded at the heavy clatter of the soldiers’ boots in the early morning stillness and I carefully peaked from behind the drawn curtains to watch the neighbours door being kicked in, and the fathers and sons being dragged out by the hair and being flung in the backs of sinister looking armoured cars. This was followed by blatant murder, the shooting dead of our people on the streets and in cold blood. The curfew came and went taking more of our peoples lives.

IRA

Every time I turned a corner I was met by the now all too familiar sight of homes being wrecked and people being lifted. The city was in uproar, bombings became more regular, as did gun battles, as ‘the boys’- the IRA, hit back at the Brits.

The TV now showed endless gun battles and bombings. The people had risen and were fighting back, and my mother, in her newly found spirit of resistance, hurled encouragement at the TV shouting, give it to them boys!

Easter 1971 came, and the name on everyone’s lips was ‘the Provos’, the peoples army, the backbone of nationalist resistance.

I was now past my 18th year, and fed up with rioting. No matter how much I tried, or how many stones I threw I could never beat them – the Brits always came back.

I had seen too many homes wrecked, fathers and sons arrested, friends murdered, gas, shootings, blood, most of it my own people’s.

At 18-and-a-half I joined the Provos. My mother wept with pride and joy as I went out to confront the imperial might of an empire with an M1 carbine and enough hate to topple the world. To my surprise, my schoolday friends and neighbours became my comrades in the war. I soon became much more aware about the whole national liberation struggle, as I came to regard what I used to term the ‘troubles’.

Things were not easy for a Volunteer in the Irish Republican Army. Already I was being harassed and twice was lifted, questioned, and brutalised but I survived both of these trials.

Then came another hurricane, internment. Many of my comrades disappeared – interned. Many of my innocent neighbours met the same fate. Others weren’t so lucky, they were just murdered.

My life now centred around sleepless nights and standby, dodging the Brits, and calming nerves to go out on operations.

But the people stood by us. The people not only opened their doors to us to lend us a helping hand, but they opened their hearts to us, and I soon learned that without the people we could not survive and I knew I owed them everything.

1972 came and went and I spent what was to be my last Christmas at home for quite some time. The Brits never let up. No mercy was shown, as testified by the atrocity of Bloody Sunday in Derry. But we continued to fight back, as did my jailed comrades who embarked on a long hunger strike to gain recognition as political prisoners.

Political status was won just before the first, but short-lived, truce of 1972. During this truce the IRA braced itself for the forthcoming massive Operation Motorman, which came and went, taking with it the barricades.

Jail

The liberation struggle forged ahead, but then came personal disaster – I was captured. It was the Autumn of ’72. I was charged and for the first time I faced jail. I was 19-and-a-half, but I had no alternative but to face up to the hardship that lay before me.

Given the stark corruptness of the judicial system, I refused to recognise the court. I ended up sentenced in a barbed wire cage where I spent three-and-a-half years as a Prisoner of War with ‘special category status’.

I did not waste my time. I did not allow the rigours of prison life to change my revolutionary determination an inch. I educated and trained myself both in political and military matters, as did my comrades.

In 1976 when I was released, I was not broken. In fact I was more determined in the fight for national liberation. I reported back to my local IRA unit and threw myself back into the struggle.

Quite a lot of things had changed. Belfast had changed. Some parts of the ghettoes had completely disappeared and others were in the process of being removed. The war was still forging ahead, although tactics and strategy had changed.

At first I found it a little bit hard to adjust, but I settled in to the run of things, and at the grand old age of 23, I got married.

Life wasn’t bad, but there were still a lot of things that had not changed, such as the presence of armed British troops on our street and the oppression of our people. The liberation struggle was now seven years old, and had braved a second and mistakenly prolonged cease-fire. The British government was now seeking to Ulsterise the war, which included criminalisation of the IRA and attempted normalisation of the situation. The struggle had to be kept going. Thus, six months after I was released, disaster fell a second time as I bombed my way back into jail!

With my wife four months pregnant, the shock of capture, seven days of hell in Castlereagh, a quick court appearance and remand, and the return to a cold damp cell, nearly destroyed me. It took every ounce of the revolutionary spirit left in me to stand up to it.

Jail, although not new to me, was really bad, worse than the first time. Things had changed enormously since the withdrawal of special status. Both republican and loyalist prisoners were housed in the same wing.

The greater part of each day was spent locked up in a cell. The screws, many of whom I knew to be cowering cowards, now went in gangs into the cells of republicans to dish out unmerciful beatings. This was to be the pattern all the way along the road to criminalisation- torture, and more torture, to break our spirit of resistance.

I was meant to change from being a revolutionary freedom fighter to a criminal at the stroke of a political pen, reinforced by inhumanities of the most brutal nature.

Already Kieran Nugent and several more republican POW’s had begun the blanket protest for the restoration of political status. They refused to wear prison garb or do prison work.

After many weekly remand court appearances the time finally arrived, 11 months after my arrest, and I was in Diplock court. In two hours I was swiftly found guilty, and my comrades and I sentenced to 15 years. Once again I had refused to recognise the farcical judicial system.

As they led us from the courthouse, my mother, defiant as ever, stood up in the gallery and shook the air with a cry of ‘they’ll never break you boys’, and my wife, from somewhere behind her, with tear-filled eyes, braved a smile of encouragement at me. At least, I thought, she has our child. Now that I was in jail, our daughter would provide her with company and maybe help ease the loneliness which she knew only to well.

The next day I became a blanket man, and there I was, sitting on the cold floor, naked, with only a blanket around me in an empty cell.

H-Blocks

The days were long and lonely. Sudden and total deprivation of such basic human necessities as exercise and fresh air, association with other people, my own clothes, and things like radio, cigarettes and a host of other things made life very hard. At first, as always, I adapted. But, as time wore on, I came face to face with an old friend, depression, which on many occasions consumed me and swallowed me into its darkest depths. From home, only the occasional letter got past the prison censor.

Gradually my appearance and psychical health began to change drastically. My eyes, shrunken, glassy, piercing and surrounded by pale, yellowish skin, were frightening. I had grown a beard, and like my comrades, resembled a living corpse. The blinding migraine headaches, which started slowly, became a daily occurrence, and owing to no exercise I became seized with muscular pains.

In the H-Blocks, beatings, long periods in punishment cells, starvation diets, torture, were commonplace.

20 March 1978 and we completed the full circle of deprivation and suffering. As an attempt to highlight our intolerable plight, we embarked upon a dirt strike, refusing to wash, shower, clean out our cells, or empty the filthy chamber pots.

The H-Blocks became battlefields in which the republican spirit of resistance met head-on all the inhumanities that Britain could perpetrate. Inevitably the lid of silence on the H-Blocks blew sky high, revealing the atrocities inside.

The battlefield became worse, our cells turning into disease-infested tombs with piles of decaying rubbish, and maggots, fleas and flies rampant. The nauseating smell of urine and the stink of our bodies and cells made our surroundings resemble a pigsty.

The screws, keeping up the incessant torture, hosed us down, sprayed us with strong disinfectant, ransacked our cells, forcibly bathed us, and tortured us to the brink of insanity. Blood and tears fell upon the battlefield – all of it ours. But we refused to yield.

The republican spirit prevailed and as I sit here in the same conditions and the continuing torture in H-Block 5, I am proud, although psychically wrecked, mentally exhausted, and scarred deep with hatred and anger.

I am proud because my comrades and I have met, fought and repelled a monster, and we will continue to do so. We will never allow ourselves to be crimialised, nor our people either. Grief stricken and oppressed, the men and women of no property have risen. A risen people, marching in thousands on the streets in defiance and rage at the imperial oppressor, the mass murderer, and torturer. The spirit of Irish freedom is in every one of them and I am really proud.

I was only a working class boy from a Nationalist ghetto, but it is repression which creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom. I shall not settle until I achieve the liberation of my country, until Ireland becomes a sovereign, independent socialist republic.

We the risen people, shall turn tragedy into triumph. We shall bear forth a nation!

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Hunger Strike History

Posted in marcella on 30 March 2006 by micheailin

CAIN


Photo from www.irishhungerstrike.com

Thursday 26 March 1981

Bobby Sands was nominated as a candidate in the by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone on 9 April 1981.

Sunday 29 March 1981

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) decided to withdraw the nomination of Austin Currie from the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone.

Monday 30 March 1981

Noel Maguire decided to withdraw his nomination in the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone. [This decision meant that voters were faced with a straight choice between Bobby Sands and Harry West, the Unionist candidate.]

Candle to remember 1981 hunger strikes

Posted in marcella on 27 March 2006 by micheailin

Daily Ireland

Initiative shows solidarity with sacrifice of men

27/03/2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRepublicans across the country yesterday lit candles to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike.
Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in the Co Antrim jail began the hunger strike in March 1981. Ten men had died by the time it was called off in October.
Candles were lit and placed in the front windows of republican homes across Ireland.
Bik McFarlane, the IRA officer commanding in Long Kesh at the time of the 1981 hunger strike, said the commemorative candle was an initiative aimed at remembering in a small way the sacrifices of the ten men.
He said it was also a way of showing continuing solidarity with their families, especially the mothers on Mother’s Sunday, 25 years after the events.
“We chose Mother’s Day as the day when we are asking people to place the candle in the window of their homes as a particular tribute to the immediate families of those who died and as a tribute to the courage they displayed throughout those long and difficult months from March to October 1981,” he said.
The first to die was Bobby Sands, who began the fast and who was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in an April by-election. His death on May 5, 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike was followed by the biggest funeral ever seen in the North. Around 100,000 people lined the route to Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast.
The hunger strike smashed British attempts to criminalise Republican prisoners and kick started Sinn Féin’s entry into electoral politics.

Remembering 1981

Posted in marcella on 24 March 2006 by micheailin

An Phoblacht

Four on Hunger Strike

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBelfast republican Bobby Sands completed his third week on hunger strike for political status in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh on Sunday 22 March 1981. His comrade Francis Hughes, from South Derry completed his first week on the strike on the same day. Also on that day Sands and Hughes were joined on their fast to the death by two other blanket men, Raymond McCreesh from South Armagh and Patsy O’Hara from Derry City.

Bobby Sands

Bobby Sands was born in Belfast on 9 March 1954. He became involved in active republicanism in his mid teens and when he was 18, was arrested in Lisburn and charged with weapons possession. He was sentenced in early 1973 to five years imprisonment which he served as a political prisoner in the cages of Long Kesh

After his release, in April 1976, Sands continued as an active republican, and was re-arrested six months later during an IRA operation.

After 11 months on remand, Bobby Sands was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. When he was moved to the H-Blocks in late September 1977, Bobby Sands refused to wear a prison uniform, and went on the blanket protest.

Later, under the pen name Marcella, he wrote articles for Republican News. In the H-Blocks Sands suffered the routine abuse from the prison administration and was forcibly bathed and scrubbed down with deck brushes on numerous occassions.

He was PRO of the Blanket men until he succeeded Brendan Hughes as OC when Hughes went on the first hunger strike in 1980.

Sands played a major part in leading republican resistance to crimialisation in the H-Blocks and conducted negotiations with the prison governor in attempting to resolve the prison crisis, which foundered when the British adopted an intransigent attitude

Francis Hughes

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usOne of the most fearless and active young Volunteers in the armed struggle against British occupation, 25-year-old Francis Hughes from Bellaghy in South Derry joined the Hunger Strike on 16 March 1981.

Described Francis Hughes as “the most wanted man in the North”, Hughes was on the run for three years and despite thousands of wanted posters all over South Derry he remained in the area, often living out in the fields and hills while British forces scoured the countryside for him.

In March 1978 two IRA Volunteers dressed in military uniform were crossing a field when confronted by five undercover SAS soldiers. In the shoot-out that ensued two British soldiers were shot and the IRA Volunteers escaped the immediate vicinity. A full-scale manhunt was mounted by hundreds of British soldiers and RUC. Thirteen hours later Francis Hughes was found lying under gorse bushes. He was badly wounded and had lost much blood. On his military uniform the word ‘Ireland’ was emblazoned across the jacket. He was trailed out of the gorse but refused to answer any questions.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHe spent ten months in the military wing of Musgrave Park hospital, and, as a result of his wounds, his thigh bone was operated on and reduced by one-and-a-half inches, leaving him with a steel pin in his leg and needing a crutch. (Click photo to view – Francis at capture)

In August 1978 he was taken from Musgrave Park to Castlereagh interrogation centre and for the next six days refused to answer any questions and refused to eat or drink in case the food or water was drugged. He was charged with organising and taking part in a number of IRA operations.

At his trial, which ended after 13 days on 18 February 1980, he was given several lengthy sentences including life imprisonment.

When brought to the H-Blocks, Hughes immediately went on the blanket.

Ray McCreesh

Raymond McCreesh was born in the village of Camlough in South Armagh, the second youngest in a family of four brothers and three sisters. After leaving school he attended Newry Technical College and served an apprenticeship as a sheet-metal worker.

At the age of 19, McCreesh was arrested after a shoot-out between the IRA and the British army near Beleek in South Armagh in June 1976. After nine months on remand he was sentenced in a non-jury court in March 1977.

By the time he embarked on the historic 1981 Hunger Strike, Raymond McCreesh had spent four years on the blanket protest, and during that time forfeited his visits rather than wear the prison uniform for the short half-hour visit per month. He only took his first visit with his parents in 1981 to inform them that he was going on the Hunger Strike.

Patsy O’Hara

Patrick O’Hara was born in Derry city on 11 February 1957. He was just 11 years old when, along with his parents, he took part in the big civil rights march in Derry, on 5 October 1968, which was viciously attacked by the RUC. A year later he again witnessed one of the milestones in the conflict when the RUC invaded, and were defeated, during the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969.

Patrick, known to everyone as Patsy, joined na Fianna Éireann in 1970 and, although under-age, he joined Sinn Féin in early 1971. A few months after the introduction of internment his eldest brother Seán was interned.

In 1974 his home was continually raided by the British army and he was frequently harrassed and beaten up by them, before being interned in October.

After his release in April 1975, O’Hara joined the Irish Republican Socialist Party, but within two months he was re-arrested and framed by the British army. He spent ten months on remand before being acquitted.

The British army and RUC continued to harass the O’Hara family in 1976, and Patsy’s brother, Tony, was arrested and charged with a political offence for which he was subsequently convicted on the basis of an alleged verbal statement.

Patsy was arrested again in September 1976 and charged with possessing arms and ammunition- this was really internment-by-remand and he was released after four months when the charges were dropped.

In June 1977 he was arrested in Dublin, interrogated for seven days, and charged with holding a Garda at gunpoint. He was released on bail six weeks later and in January 1978 he was acquitted.

Patsy was arrested once more in May 1979. He was charged with possession of a hand grenade and was convicted on the basis of accusations made by two British soldiers. He was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in January 1980 and immediately went on the blanket protest.

This week 25 years ago saw four young men, from various parts of the Six Counties, on a hunger strike to the death in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and republican leadership urging the need for mobilisations and action in support of their demands for recognition as political prisoners.

Republicans urged to light candle to remember the Hunger Strikers

Posted in marcella on 23 March 2006 by micheailin

Sinn Féin

Published: 23 March, 2006

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was today joined by former Long Kesh O/Cs Brendan McFarlane and Seando Moore for the launch of a commemorative candle to remember the 25th Anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Speaking at the launch at the Roddy McCorley Club in Belfast, Bik McFarlane urged people to place the candle in their window this Sunday, March 26th, Mothers Day.

Mr McFarlane said:

“The commemorative candle is an initiative aimed at remembering in a small way the sacrifices of the 10 men who died and also showing continuing solidarity with their families, 25 years on from the events of 1981.

“We choose Mothers Day as the day when we are asking people to place the candle in the window of their homes as a particular tribute to the immediate families of those who died and as a tribute to the courage they displayed throughout those long and difficult months from March to October 1981.” ENDS

Hunger Strike – Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara

Posted in marcella on 22 March 2006 by micheailin

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Today, 25 years ago, Patsy O’Hara and Raymond McCreesh joined Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes on hungerstrike

Please visit >>IRISH HUNGER STRIKE 1981

Biographies:

>>Raymond McCreesh

>>Patsy O’Hara

Bobby Sands’ diary – final entry

Posted in marcella on 17 March 2006 by micheailin

Larkspirit

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Tuesday 17th

Lá Pádraig inniú ‘s mar is gnách níor thárla aon rud suntasach, bhí mé ar aifreann agus mo chuid gruaige gearrtha agam níos gaire, agus é i bhfad níos fearr freisin. Sagart nach raibh ar mo aithne abhí ag rá ran aifreann.

Bhí na giollaí ag tabhairt an bhia amach do chách abhí ag teacht ar ais ón aifreann. Rinneadh iarracht chun tabhairt pláta bidh domhsa. Cuireadh ós cómhair m’aghaidh ach shiúl mé ar mo shlí mar is nach raibh aon duine ann.

Fuair mé cúpla nuachtán inniú agus mar shaghas malairt bhí an Nuacht na hEireann ann. Táim ag fáil pé an scéal atá le fáil óna buachaillí cibé ar bith.

Choniac mé ceann dona dochtúirí ar maidun agus é gan béasaí. Cuireann sé tuirse ormsa. Bhí mo chuid meachain 57.50 kgs. Ní raibh aon ghearán agam.

Bhí oifigcach isteach liom agus thug sé beagán íde béil domhsa. Arsa sé ‘tchim go bhfuil tú ag léigheadh leabhar gairid. Rudmaith nach leabhar fada é mar ní chrlochnóidh tú é’.

Sin an saghas daoine atá iontu. Ploid orthu. Is cuma liom. Lá fadálach ab ea é. Bhí mé ag smaoineamh inniú ar an chéalacán seo. Deireann daoine a lán faoin chorp ach ní chuireann muinín sa chorp ar bith. Measaim ceart go leor go bhfuil saghas troda.

An dtús ní ghlacann leis an chorp an easpaidh bidh, is fulaingíonn sé ón chathú bith, is greithe airithe eile a bhíonn ag síorchlipeadh an choirp. Troideann an corp ar ais ceart go leor, ach deireadh an lae; téann achan rud ar ais chuig an phríomhrud, is é sin an mheabhair.

Is é an mheabhair an rud is tábhachtaí. Mura bhfuil meabhair láidir agat chun cur in aghaidh le achan rud, ní mhairfidh. Ní bheadh aon sprid troda agat. Is ansin cen áit as a dtigeann an mheabhair cheart seo. B’fhéidir as an fhonn saoirse.

Ní hé cinnte gurb é an áit as a dtigeann sé. Mura bhfuil siad in inmhe an fonn saoirse a scriosadh, ní bheadh siad in inmhe tú féin a bhriseadh. Ní bhrisfidh siad mé mar tá an fonn saoirse, agus saoirse mhuintir na hEireann i mo chroí.

Tiocfaidh lá éigin nuair a bheidh an fonn saoirse seo le taispeáint ag daoine go léir na hEireann ansin tchífidh muid éirí na gealaí.

(Translated, this reads as follows:)

St Patrick’s Day today and, as usual, nothing noticeable. I was at Mass, my hair cut shorter and much better also. I didn’t know the priest who said Mass.

The orderlies were giving out food to all who were returning from Mass. They tried to give me a plate of food. It was put in front of my face but I continued on my way as though nobody was there.

I got a couple of papers today, and as a kind of change the Irish News was there. I’m getting any news from the boys anyway.

I saw one of the doctors this morning, an ill-mannered sort. It tries me. My weight was 57.70 kgs. I had no complaints.

An official was in with me and gave me some lip. He said, ‘I see you’re reading a short book. It’s a good thing it isn’t a long one for you won’t finish it.’

That’s the sort of people they are. Curse them! I don’t care. It’s been a long day.

I was thinking today about the hunger-strike. People say a lot about the body, but don’t trust it. I consider that there is a kind of fight indeed. Firstly the body doesn’t accept the lack of food, and it suffers from the temptation of food, and from other aspects which gnaw at it perpetually.

The body fights back sure enough, but at the end of the day everything returns to the primary consideration, that is, the mind. The mind is the most important.

But then where does this proper mentality stem from? Perhaps from one’s desire for freedom. It isn’t certain that that’s where it comes from.

If they aren’t able to destroy the desire for freedom, they won’t break you. They won’t break me because the desire for freedom, and the freedom of the Irish people, is in my heart. The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for freedom to show.

It is then we’ll see the rising of the moon.