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5 September 2016 Edition

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Thousands honour Ireland’s Hunger Strikers

• Sinn Féin youth activist Ewan Porter (who headed the parade) leads young people in a salute to the H-Block and Armagh ex-POWs

IN what can only be described as an emotionally-charged day, thousands of republicans from across the country, from Britain, mainland Europe and the United States marched along the Falls Road on Sunday 14 August to remember and honour Ireland’s hunger strikers, in particular the ten H-Block martyrs of 1981 and Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg in England, who all gave their lives in one of the most epic battles against British rule in Ireland.

Pitted against the intransigent Margaret Thatcher, the H-Block prisoners and the women in Armagh Women’s Prison went toe to toe with the might of the British Government as they defied brutal prison regimes and fought to be recognised once again as political prisoners.

While the 35th anniversary of the Long Kesh fast was the main focus of the day, the sacrifice of the many republican hunger strikers who died in Irish or British gaols, particularly Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg who died in this phase of struggle in England, was marked as young republicans carried their portraits.

This year’s parade saw the marchers assemble under the shadow of Divis Tower which casts its shadow over the last 40 years and where the intensity of the conflict was writ large.

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• Ex-POWs march along the Falls Road in Belfast

The parade was led by former Blanketmen (clad in blankets once again) and dozens of republican women who took part in the prison protest in Armagh.

Thousands of people lined the streets and joined in as the parade, consisting of dozens of bands and delegations from across the 32 counties, made its way to the Falls Park.

In a gesture of respect, the Blanketmen stopped at Conway Street where the families of the Hunger Strikers gathered. Solemnly, the Blanketmen turned towards them and performed the clenched fist salute in respect of the families and in honour of our patriot dead.

At the rallying point in the Falls Park it was again young people who were centre-stage with the speakers including the former Mayor of Derry & Strabane, Councillor Elisha McCallion, Assembly Junior Minister Megan Fearon, and Oireachtas Senators Niall Ó Donnghaile and Fintan Warfield.

Members of the party’s youth organisations read obituaries of the Hunger Strikers.

As the rally drew to a close, Niall Ó Donnghaile, the youngest Mayor of Belfast before being elected to the Seanad, called on the young people present to join in a salute to the H-Block and Armagh prisoners as they raised their clenched fists aloft in remembrance and solidarity.

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