7 September 2006 Edition
Book Review : Kevin Lynch
H-Block hero from a humble and courageous family
Kevin Lynch and the Irish Hunger Strike
By Aidan Hegarty
Nineteen Eighty One was a momentous year. In the chronicles of Irish history, it is a unique year.
It is unique because of the bravery, the courage, the commitment and determination of all those Irish political prisoners of war who faced down the British Government when they embarked on their hunger strikes.
It is said that ten of those men lost their lives. In truth, they didn't lose their lives: they sacrificed them rather than submit to British rule in Ireland.
They died rather than see Britain make "Ireland's fight 800 years of crime".
They died rather than "meekly serve our time".
Aidan Hegarty's book, Kevin Lynch and the Irish Hunger Strike, tells the story of INLA Volunteer Kevin Lynch and his family and how they survived the pressures of Kevin's 71 days on hunger strike.
Hegarty's account goes a long way towards laying bare the Lynch family's pain and in doing so gives us an insight into their suffering and the suffering of all the hunger strikers' families.
No doubt these families are still feeling the pain of those torturous days.
The author also records, in a very concise way, the step-by-step story of the period beginning in 1980 when Margaret Thatcher's British Government refused to resolve the prison protests.
Instead of seeking an honourable compromise at the end of the hunger strike that began in October 1980, the British behaved in a typically duplicitous way, thus setting the scene for 1981.
Of equal importance is the author's description of the events leading up to the death of Joe McDonnell in July when the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) tried to mediate a solution.
The British Government strung the Commission along with empty promises, hoping that the Commission's faith in the British would rub off on the prisoners and convince them to call off their hunger strikes.
Behind this ploy was a devious British Government exploiting the naïveté of the ICJP in an attempt to portray the prisoners as uncompromising.
So, rather than solve the Hunger Strike, the British used the ICJP to undermine it and condemned another six men to death.
However, the main thrust of Aidan Hegarty's book is the story of Kevin Lynch and his family.
Like so many great people over the centuries who opposed British rule in Ireland, Kevin Lynch was an ordinary person. He had the courage to stare injustice in the face and challenge it.
His stance led him to a prison cell and eventually a patriot's grave.
Yet the story of Kevin Lynch cannot be told without also telling the story of a humble and courageous family.
Bridie and Paddy Lynch, Kevin's parents, gave their word to Kevin that they would not revive him when he lapsed into a coma as a result of his fast.
They stuck to their word, knowing the price of their commitment to that promise could lead to the death of their son.
As Hegarty put it in the chapter titled 'Final Days':
"For Mrs Lynch, the moral dilemma was never more apparent. It was the hardest thing any mother would have to do - to watch her son die and not intervene.
"Less than ten weeks previously, Kevin had written in a 'comm' [smuggled prison communication], 'Mammy, I need you to be strong,' but she never imagined she would be expected to be this strong.
"Her son was so strong in his beliefs and his mother was expected to be even stronger in accepting these beliefs."
The humanity of Hegarty's account, in how he tells the Lynch story, is truly moving.
It is an account that takes the reader through the highs and lows of what must have been the worst 71 days that the Lynch family had to endure.
It is a credit to the author that he tells the story with such care.
The essence of this book also lies in how the author gives us back our ten heroes as human beings.
Their bravery is testament to the strength of republican commitment to a united and free country, but when all is said and done they were first and foremost sons, husbands, fathers, brothers and loved members of their families.
Nor should we forget that these families are still, to this day, carrying the pain of those times. It would be my hope that the commemorative events carried out this year will give some comfort to the families of the H-Block martyrs. Through his book, Aidan Hegarty has helped that process.
PEADAR Ó FAOLÁIN
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.