17 August 2006 Edition

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Women's football match to mark Hunger Strike anniversary

On Saturday 19 August, women from across Ireland will converge on Loughmacrory GAA grounds in County Tyrone to take part in an all-female Gaelic football match to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike.

The game is part of a programme of events organised in partnership with the local Sinn Féin cumann, named in memory of IRA volunteers Gerard and Martin Harte and republican Alice Milligan.

In action will be a team made up of former republican POWs who were imprisoned in jails throughout the world. Competing against the former POWs will be a local team of footballers from past and present. Antrim manager and former POW Mickey Culbert has taken on the role of manager of the POW side. Mickey served 16 years as a political prisoner, several of which were on the blanket and no-wash protest. In addition to training Antrim, Mickey also works with the ex-Prisoner support group Coiste na n-Iarchimí.

Speaking ahead of the game, Culbert said: "This will be a very special occasion to not only honour our 10 comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice in 1981 but also to acknowledge the important role that women played and continue to play in all aspects of the struggle. Sometimes the contribution of women to the struggle has been understated, but it should be borne in mind that during the protests against criminalisation in the 1970s and 1980s, women prisoners in Armagh played their part in the no-wash protest which preceded the Hunger Strike and three women took part in the first Hunger Strike in 1980.

"During the course of the conflict many women and their families suffered incredibly for their republican beliefs. Mairéad Farrell, who took part in the no-wash protest and the 1980 fast, was murdered by the SAS on the streets of Gibraltar in 1988 and Máire Drumm was murdered by British-sponsored gunmen in her hospital bed. Locally, the people of Mid Tyrone will never forget the murder of Kathleen O'Hagan in front of her five young children. Kathleen's husband Paddy, who was a blanketman, passed away in recent years. No doubt Paddy will also be close to everyone's thoughts as they take to the field on Saturday," said Culbert.

Match organiser and former republican prisoner Geraldine Ward (née Ferrity) said, "Events such as these are excellent opportunities for former POWs to meet and catch up with each other. It is also a practical and fitting way to pay tribute to the Hunger Strikers and mark the huge contribution and sacrifices that Republicans have made throughout the conflict. The game itself will not be too physically challenging and I encourage all female Republicans who spent time in the jails to come along and take part."

The throw-in will be at 3.30 pm and the game will be refereed by Tyrone Republican Vincent Donnelly, who was incarcerated in British prisons for over twenty years for his political beliefs. The event will be followed by an evening of entertainment featuring the Irish Brigade in Hughie Ruadh's, Mountfield.

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