13 July 2006 Edition
Remembering 1981: British vindictiveness towards Hurson family
Shock at death of Martin Hurson
The death of IRA Volunteer Martin Hurson on 13 July 1981, after 46 days on the Hunger Strike, was unexpected. The suddenness of his death, coming only five days after that of Joe McDonnell, came as a shock, since two previous Hunger Strikers - Kieran Doherty and Kevin Lynch had been almost a week on hunger strike ahead of Martin.
Hurson had replaced South Derry man Brendan McLaughlin who was forced to come off the Hunger Strike due to a burst stomach ulcer. His health, since being moved to the prison hospital, had been deteriorating at a far quicker rate than that of his comrades. Throughout the Hunger Strike he had difficulty keeping down the required daily five pints of water. This problem caused him to hallucinate and he suffered from a degree of incoherence in his speech. He rapidly deteriorated towards the end.
Martin Hurson was the sixth H-Block Hunger Striker to die. Coming two weeks earlier than might have been expected his death disproved the assessment that the Hunger Strikers were not in danger until around the 60-day stage. Even as the young Tyrone man was dying, the vindictiveness of the prison authorities never abated. Though the family had been sent for due to his serious condition, Hurson's brother Francie was refused entry to the prison because he arrived after 10pm. He spent the night outside the H-Block gate as his brother Martin died inside.
The following morning Martin Hurson's body was removed by the RUC to Omagh hospital without consultation with the family. This move was designed to deny mourners en route the opportunity to pay their last respects. Despite this, over a hundred cars followed the hearse from Omagh to the Hurson home in Cappagh, County Tyrone. Relatives, friends and comrades carried the coffin for the last mile home, escorted by a uniformed, guard of honour and followed by a large procession of sympathisers. Later at the Hurson home, guards of honour from the IRA, Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna Eireann stood to attention as unending lines of mourners filed past the coffin.
On Wednesday afternoon Martin Hurson's relatives carried the Tricolour-draped coffin, with gloves and beret on top, down the country lane from his home to the hearse waiting to take his remains to Galbally church. A lone piper lead the hearse which was escorted by an IRA guard of honour, followed by Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna Eireann. Wreath bearers headed the thousands of mourners as three British army helicopters flew overhead. Following the funeral Mass the guard of honour carried the remains to the burial plot. Four armed and uniformed IRA volunteers emerged fom the mourners and fired volleys from handguns in honour of their dead comrade. They then stood for a minute's silence.
Tyrone republican Francie Molloy presided over the graveside ceremonies. The 1916 Proclamation was read out and a bugler sounded the Last Post as IRA Volunteers stood to attention in salute of their former comrade. An impassioned and comprehensive oration was given by Sean Lynch who had been Hurson's election agent in the 1981 general election. Speaking of Martin Hurson's past, Lynch described the 26-year-old as "a member of a large family whose mother died when he was only a boy, a young man who played Gaelic football for the local GAA club in Galbally, a lover of all things Irish who was forced to emigrate and who returned and threw in his lot with those who dispute the claim of England to rule over one inch of Irish soil".
Lynch talked about the sacrifices of freedom fighters of the time, saying they possessed the same "virtue of patriotism, of spiritual, unselfish love of country as it was understood by Mercier, Casement, Pearse, McSwiney, Stagg, Sands, and Martin Hurson". He went on to say their sacrifices would "save the cause of Irish independence from destruction at the hands of foreign enemy and native compromiser, and carry it to victory yet". There was a certain prophetic note to Lynch's words and again when he said that the spirit of Martin Hurson shines and "calls like a voice from heaven, filling young hearts with courage and determination."
He went on to outline the origins and sources of, not only the horrendous conditions endured by prisoners in Armagh and the Blocks, but also "all our social and political evils - the British connection". He also pointed to the "pretence and skulduggery" of the Irish Government of the time who, six deaths later, still refused to support the prisoners' five demands.
Only three days separated the funerals of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson and the proximity of the deaths intensified the depth of frustration and sadness felt by supporters of the Hunger Strikers. Ireland was awash with protests but the British Government wouldn't budge.
Pat McGeown joins H-Block fast
The Blanketman who replaced the Joe McDonell on the H-Block Hunger Strike was 25-year-old Pat McGeown from West Belfast.
Born on 3 September 1956, McGeown was a veteran of the armed struggle, having joined Na Fianna Éireann in 1970 at the age of 13. He was on active service on scores of occasions in his native city.
One of a family of five, with one older sister and three younger brothers, Pat was married with a six-year-old son in 1981 when he became the 14th man to embark on the Hunger Strike.
McGeown was interned in Long Kesh in 1973 when he was just 16 years of age. He was released in 1974 and re-arrested in November 1975, charged with possession of explosives and with bombing the Europa hotel in 1975. He was on remand for seven months and in 1976 was handed down three concurrent sentences, two of 15 years, and one of five years for IRA membership. McGeown was imprisoned with political status in the cages of Long Kesh.
In March 1978 he, along with Brendan (Bik) McFarlane (O/C of the Blocks in 1981) and Larry Marley attempted to escape dressed as prison warders. They were caught before reaching the perimeter of the jail. McGeown was stripped of political status and put on the boards in the H-Block punishment block for 13 months where he immediately went on the blanket protest.
He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for the escape attempt which he served in the H-Blocks with the other blanket men. However, when the six months was up he was not transferred back to the cages but kept in the H-Blocks. By the time he replaced the late Joe McDonnell on hunger strike, McGeown had spent the previous three years and four months on the blanket.