17 July 2008 Edition
2008 NATIONAL HUNGER STRIKE COMMEMORATION
By Ella O’Dwyer
THIS YEAR, for the first time, the National Hunger Strike Commemoration will be held in Derry – a very appropriate development given that five of the ten hunger strikers were from that county.
In advance of the event, former Hunger Striker and MLA for Foyle Raymond McCartney talked to An Phoblacht about the plans for the occasion and about the huge public interest in the event, especially amongst young people.
“THE local 1981 Committee heard that there was a suggestion that the national commemoration committee would move the Hunger Strike commemoration from location to location so we made a request that this year the event be held in Derry.
“I think it’s important for us because five of the Hunger Strikers came from Derry: Patsy O’Hara and Michael Devine from the city and then Francis Hughes, Tom McElwee and Kevin Lynch from the county. When we applied to have the commemoration in Derry we hadn’t factored in the fact that this year is also the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement but that makes it even more poignant that the Hunger Strike anniversary be held here in Derry this year.
“We’ve a very, very hard-working 1981 committee in Derry and at the 20th and 25th anniversaries we hosted very successful and well-attended events in the city. We see the upcoming national march on 17 August as an important challenge and something the local committee is looking forward to.
“The march will start at the Creggan shops and the route will take people by the two houses where Patsy and Michael were waked. In fact, the route goes directly by Michael Devine’s house. The march will go down Rosville Street to the Hunger Strike monument, where the families will lay floral tributes, and then we’re going down to the Gasyard Centre.
“Normally on that weekend (17 August) the people of Derry would do what we call ‘a tour of the plaques’, visiting the various monuments in the city dedicated to IRA Volunteers – that will happen on the Saturday.
“The Ógra will also be holding a national conference that day but the main focus is on the march on Sunday and we’re calling for a big turn-out from all over the country.
“The main speaker will either be Martin McGuinness or Gerry Adams and I will chair it on behalf of the local 1981 committee.
“One of the things we’ve been doing is bringing a focus to the ex-prisoner community, the Relatives Action Committees and the H-Block Committees and we’re asking them to come with their families as a celebration of all the work that was done in that period. There would be people who might have been in their 20s during the Hunger Strike and they can now bring their children along so it can be a family event.
“There is a huge interest in that historical period amongst young people. Laurence McKeown’s film, H-3, was shown here and it drew a lot of interest. During the Bloody Sunday anniversaries and the 20th and 25th anniversaries of the Hunger Strike there was an incredible feeling amongst young people with youths carrying massive pictures of the Hunger Strikers which they had made themselves.
“The local Sinn Féin structures and nationally will be organising buses and people here will offer billets. We’ve been travelling around the North – in Belfast, Newry, Armagh and other places – making presentations outlining the events planned around the march and we’re hoping to hold one of those meetings in Dublin in the coming weeks.
“We want this to be a truly national event. The families of the Hunger Strikers are being invited and they will lead the march.
“We’ve found here that particularly around the Hunger Strike commemorations there’s a big empathy and great turn-outs. Even the success of that new award-winning film, Hunger, shows the huge national and international empathy.
“I hope that people come along and enjoy a good day while commemorating, in a fitting manner, our ten brave comrades from the H-Blocks and Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan, who died in England.”
The 2008 National Hunger Strike Commemoration
2.30pm Sunday 17 August
Creggan Shops, Derry City
RAYMOND McCartney spent 53 days on hunger strike in 1980 before it was called off when the British Government reneged on a deal made with the prisoners’ representatives outside the jail.
TV footage taken of him in the jail at that time caused huge turmoil in his native Derry when it was broadcast on TV. As one Derry republican said:
“That image of Raymond – thin and with a long beard – will stay emblazoned in my mind forever. When the nationalist community of Derry saw it, we were so impassioned that we could have torn the city apart with our bare hands.”