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27 July 2006 Edition

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Remembering 1981: seventh and eight men die on the fast

Kevin Lynch and Kieran Doherty

Kevin Lynch and Kieran Doherty

Kevin Lynch laid to rest in Dungiven

The death on hunger strike of INLA Volunteer Kevin Lynch after seventy one days occurred on 1 August 1981, followed next day by the death of IRA Volunteer Kieran Doherty. They were the seventh and eight men respectively to die on the fast.

Kevin had been lapsing into frequent periods of unconsciousness in the last four days, having already lost his sight, hearing and speech. His family were at his bedside throughout the last days until the early hours of Saturday morning when he died.

His funeral took place the following Monday in his home town of Dungiven in County Derry. Between the return of his body to his home and the removal of the body for Requiem Mass on Monday afternoon, a constant stream of mourners queued outside the family home to pay their respects. The road was decorated with tricolours and black flags along with posters of Kevin lynch. The RUC and the UDR made every effort to disrupt the funeral, holding up cars and forcing buses to park so that the passengers would have to make their way on foot into the town. Ulsterbus in Belfast cancelled bookings at the last minute. Nevertheless mourners came in convoys of cars and black taxis. At midday the coffin bearing the Tricolour, Starry Plough, gloves and beret was carried to the nearby church. The procession was led by a lone piper and followed by the Lynch family, relatives of other hunger strikers and senior representatives of the IRSP and the broad Republican Movement along with the National H-Block/Armagh Committee.

Five British army helicopters flew overhead as the coffin entered the church grounds. Applause broke out momentarily as an eighteen-strong INLA guard of honour marched up to escort the coffin to the church door. The priest who celebrated the Mass, Fr John Quinn expressed outrage later when the INLA Volunteers escorting the coffin fired three volleys after the coffin had left the church. So enraged was he that he refused to wear his vestments at the graveside. This same priest had failed to refer to the suffering of the hunger strikers themselves and failed also to condemn British intransigence. He also tried to imply that the family had been opposed to the military funeral, an opinion later refuted by family members who criticised the press and those who had made unsolicited comments on their behalf. At the graveside the piper played I'll Wear No Convict's Uniform. The last post was played and wreaths were laid including ones from the both INLA and IRA Army Councils.

A uniformed INLA Volunteer then read a statement on behalf of the INLA Army Council stating regret at the death of Kevin Lynch and applauding his heroism. "Kevin Lynch has made the greatest sacrifice and he has done it in the face of the repressive machinery of British imperialism and in the wake of the greatest gesture of defiance against those who control the prisons and those who rule and ravage our country."

A short oration was given by Councillor Sean Flynn from Belfast, vice-chairperson of the IRSP:

"Kevin epitomised all that is good in a young Irishman, playing our national sports of hurling and football. He excelled at both, and in 1972 captained his native county to win an All-Ireland medal at hurling."

He went on to contrast Lynch's Gaelic spirit with the performance of the Gaelic Athletic Association leadership off the field."Yesterday the Derry county board and South Antrim County Board asked for a minute's silence before the All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Limerick and Galway. It was no surprise to me when Croke Park refused. President MacFloinn last week declared that no clubs, grounds or units were to be used for H-Block activity as it contravenes rule 7." He added that work would be done to encourage support for the five demands amongst the GAA.

On Kevin's courage and determination Sean said "It must be remembered that if Kevin had conformed to the British authority he would be a free man today; but to Kevin, Kieran Doherty, Patsy O' Hara, Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson and the continuing hunger-strikers, they knew if the political prisoners were criminalised then the British government would attempt to criminalise the struggle on the outside." He added that Kevin Lynch knew the consequences of going on hunger strike. "Deprived of every other means of defending his political integrity, he defended it with his life. Those who imply that he might have been ordered to do so, or could be ordered to cease to do so, fail to understand the depths or the personal integrity, the individual courage and the dedication to the principles he believed in, that made Kevin Lynch the person he was."

Big Doc's final journey

IRA Volunteer Kieran Doherty, TD for Cavan-Monaghan, died at 7.15pm on Sunday 2 August the day after Kevin Lynch's death. Kieran joined the hunger strike one day before Kevin Lynch and survived a day longer.

Kieran Doherty embarked on the fast on the death of Raymond McCreesh. He managed, with difficulty, to be able to speak to his family almost to the end, though his sight had almost completely gone. Surviving for 73 days, Kieran, or Big Doc as his comrades affectionately called him, had a strong spirit of survival and this kept him conscious almost to the end. Kieran's body was brought out of Long Kesh and through Andersonstown to his parents' home in Commedagh Drive at two o' clock in the morning. About a thousand accompanied the coffin and the crowds came out again on Monday morning, with thousands paying their respects. Again on Tuesday morning hundreds of stewards took position on the route of the funeral as Kieran's coffin was carried out of his parents' house, escorted by an IRA guard of honour. An IRA firing party came out of the crowd and, lining the side of the coffin, fired a volley of shots. As British army helicopters hovered overhead, the crowd cheered at the Brits' inability to prevent the firing party from honouring their dead comrade.

The cortege then moved through Andersonstown led by two pipers. It will be recalled that during the hunger strike some of the clergy had set out to undermine the prisoners' protest. In contrast to the attitude of the priest celebrating Mass at Kevin Lynch's funeral Fr Hansen's sermon demonstrated a fundamental understanding of the issues at the core of the hunger strikers' protest. While the presiding priest at the Lynch funeral refused to wear his vestments at the graveside because a firing party had been present, the priest at Kieran's funeral recalled having visited Doherty on the 13th day of his fast and remembered it to be a cheerful event. He went on to recount Kieran's words when he asked him if he would consider coming off the hunger strike. Kieran replied; "Look father I could not give up. If I did I would go back to criminal status. I am not a criminal. I never was and never will be one." Recalling those words at the funeral of Kieran Doherty, the priest said, "Basically, I had to agree with him." He finished off saying "Kieran was very much his own man. He died quietly and very determined, serene and dignified." Fr Toner, who was criticised by Bobby Sands in his diary, was in the congregation, listening but apparently unmoved by Fr Hansen's words.

It was estimated that a crowd of about 20,000 attended Kieran's funeral. Chairing the event Sinn Féin member Jimmy Drumm referred to the ongoing pursuit of the five demands. "The British government needs to be moved on the issues of work, association and segregation". He finished by saying that with the basis of a just settlement "then we and the families will be spared the anguish and suffering of such funerals as this, and the prisoners who have suffered so much will be able to live in tolerable conditions." Kieran Doherty was the eight man to die on hunger strike in 1981 and two more would follow.

The oration at Volunteer Doherty's funeral was given by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Kieran's Director of Elections during the 1981 General Election. Ó Caoláin said that the people of Cavan/Monaghan had taken the 26 year old to their hearts and that they were proud to elect him as their public representative. Ó Caoláin criticised the Irish government's handling of the Hunger Strike saying "Their gamesmanship for petty political scores has been a major factor in the continuing deaths in Long Kesh. The people of Cavan/Monaghan hold the present Coalition government directly responsible, through firstly their inactivity, and afterwards their open support for pressure to be placed on the hunger strikers and their families."

Ó Caolain recalled all the other Irish hunger strikers who died as a result of British intransigence, three of them elected representatives, Terence MacSwiney, Bobby Sands and Kieran Doherty. Again of Doherty, he added that Kieran had taken his place amongst all those who fought for the three tenets of republicanism: "Equality as embodied by James Connolly, who struggled to achieve a classless society; liberty, the liberty of Patrick Pearse and the fraternity of Wolfe Tone."

Liam McCloskey

Liam McCloskey from Dungiven, Co Derry replaced Kevin Lynch on the hunger strike and was 25 years of age in 1981. He was 16th man to join the fast. He and Kevin were neighbours, friends and cell mates. Liam McCloskey came from a staunchly republican family. He was among the civil rights marchers on Bloody Sunday when the British Army opened fire, killing fourteen people.

Liam was arrested in December 1976 and charged together with fellow INLA member Kevin Lynch. He was very severly ill-treated in Castlereagh before being taken to Crumlin Road jail where he spent a year on remand and was finally sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. He immediately joined the blanket protest. Had he conformed to the corrupt prison regime he would have been released four months after he joined the hunger strike under the 50% remission system. But Liam was not for conforming. He was severely beaten by prison warders in September 1978 during a brutal wing shift. His nose was broken and he suffered a perforated eardrum.

Liam has been described as a quiet and dedicated County Derry republican. As a youngster he was remembered as a shy person who loved animals and fishing. Another of his hallmarks was his determination, a characteristic that displayed itself in his life as a republican and particularly during the three years he spent on the blanket and no-wash protests. His family were not entirely surprised when they learnt that Liam was going on the Hunger Strike in place of his comrade Kevin Lynch.

Liam's mother decided to intervene should her son fall into a coma. On 26 September, after 55 days Liam's hunger strike came to an end. His mother issued a detailed statement outlining the reason why her son came off the hunger strike; "My son reluctantly ended his hunger strike and only did so after I convinced him that I would not let him die. I told him that I would intervene if he lapsed into a coma and it was better for him to come off hunger strike now rather than run the risk of permanent damage to his eyesight or other vital organs." She went on to state that she and her family fully supported the prisoners' five demands and that she didn't want her son and the other prisoners to live in the conditions that led to the Hunger Strike.

Pat Sheehan

On 10 August 1981 Belfast man Pat Sheehan replaced another Belfast man Kieran Doherty as the seventeenth participant on hunger strike. At the time of the hunger strike he was serving a fifteen year sentence. Arrested in January 1978 he spent thirteen months on remand in Crumlin Road jail. He was charged with taking part in an IRA bombing of a warehouse in Belfast and found guilty on the perjured evidence of one witness whose account was hotly disputed. On arrival at the Blocks, Pat immediately joined the blanket protest.

Pat grew up on Isodore Avenue in the Springfield Road area of Belfast. It was a 'mixed' area and Pat's playmates were largely Protestants. One morning in 1970 a gang of loyalist youths armed with bricks, cudgels and batons came to the door to threaten the family. Pat's mother recognised one of the boys as he had been in the house on a number of occasions. She asked him why he was among this gang. He answered "because you have turned this place into an IRA den". Pat would sometimes go to visit friends in the Clonard area. The British Army patrolled the street and Pat was regularly stopped. In 1972 he joined Fianna Eireann. According to a former comrade he was very eager and at the age of fifteen tried to pass himself off as older so that he would be accepted into the IRA. He was found out. At about the same period an assassination attempt was made on the family who decided to move and went to live on the Falls Road.

Pat was described as intelligent, politically aware and extremely calm as an operator. These characteristics were quickly noted while he was in the Fianna and when he reached the required age he joined the IRA. In 1979 Pat arrived in the Blocks, immediately joining the protest. Though he was a quiet person he, like Kieran Doherty (Big Doc) was singled out for beatings because of his self-confidence. On the twenty first day of his hunger strike Pat wrote a letter home. In it he described how he felt at that stage of the fast; "I'm still keeping okay and have no medical complaints so far, although I still have the constant craving for food."

Pat Sheehan was fifty five days on hunger strike when the 1981 Hunger Strike ended on 3 October. He was by then having trouble with his eye-sight and weighed only seven stone. Pat was moved to an outside hospital for medical treatment.

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