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8 May 1997 Edition

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Hunger strikers remembered

By Eoin O'Broin

The heavy rain and dark sky were a most inappropriate backdrop to the march commemorating the 16th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike. But coming as it did in the aftermath of Sinn Féin's stunning election performance the mood was anything but grey.

Moving out of Twinbrook and Poleglass, down through Lenadoon and Andersonstown, and along the Falls Road to Dunville Park, the silence was broken by the sound of marching bands, their drums, flutes and pipes. When the music stopped it was our splashing footsteps in the falling rain that marked our journey.

The black flags leading the march were a telling reminder that at this time sixteen years ago, in Long Kesh, Bobby Sands was entering his final days of life. Not far behind him were nine other republican Volunteers, bravely waiting their turn to give their lives fighting for their own rights as political prisoners, and the rights of their community.

The willingness of so many people to turn out on such a bad day was a telling reminder that the memory of the hunger strikers is still alive. And amongst the many familiar faces it was heartening to see so many young people.

In Dunville Park we listened to live music from Summerfly, the all-woman folk group from Donegal.

Over a thousand people welcomed their two new MPs, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, with joyous applause. The real message of the hunger strikes was clear to see. The MP for West Belfast reminded the crowd that both John Major and Margaret Thatcher ``have gone away, you know'' to thunderous applause. And only days after Sinn Fein's biggest electoral success since Bobby Sands was elected MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone in 1981, the republican presence hadn't gone anywhere, only grown stronger and more confident.
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