16 March 2021
From 14 March 1981 – Fearless fighter Francis Hughes joins Hunger Strike
ONE of the most fearless and active young republicans to emerge from the armed struggle against British occupation forces in Ireland this decade, 25-year-old Francis Hughes from Bellaghy, County Derry, is to join the H-Block Hunger Strike this Sunday, 16 March.
After a fierce gun battle between an IRA Active Service Unit and the RUC in south Derry on Good Friday 1977, the then RUC Chief Constable Kenneth Newman described Frankie Hughes as “the most wanted man in the North”.
At this stage, Frankie has been three years on the run and, despite thousands of wanted posters being pasted up by the RUC all over south Derry, he remained in the area, often living out in the fields and hills while British forces scoured the countryside, searching for him.
The incident which led to his capture occurred in an area at the bottom of the Glenshane pass in south Derry, about a mile from Maghera, on 16 March 1978.
Two IRA Volunteers dressed in military uniform were crossing a field when they were suddenly confronted by five SAS undercover soldiers who, to their cost, mistook them for Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers. The IRA Volunteers, who did not mistake the SAS men, quickly opened fire and a gun battle ensued.
In the shoot-out, two British soldiers were shot: a lance corporal in the Parachute Regiment (who was on special duty with the Gloucesters) was shot dead. The two IRA Volunteers then escaped the immediate vicinity but a full-scale manhunt was mounted by hundreds of Brits and RUC men.
Thirteen hours later, Frankie Hughes was found under gorse bushes in a ditch about 200 yards off the main Belfast to Derry Road. He was badly wounded and had lost a lot of blood. On his military uniform the word “Ireland” was emblazoned across his combat jacket and his hair had been dyed ginger.
He was trailed out of the gorse but refused to answer any questions and was described as “totally unco-operative” by his captors.
He spent ten months in the military wing of Musgrave Park Hospital and as a result of his gunshot wound his thigh bone was operated on and reduced by one-and-a-half inches, leaving him with a steel pin in his leg and needing a crutch to move around.
In August 1978 he was taken from Musgrave Park to Castlereagh RUC Interrogation Centre and charged with organising and taking part in a number of IRA operations. At his trial, which ended after 13 days on 18 February 1979, he was given a number of long sentences.
When brought to the H-Blocks, Frankie immediately went on the blanket and was in H5 until being transferred to H6 two weeks ago.
Frankie Hughes joining Bobby Sands on Hunger Strike will doubtless inject even more urgency into the long and arduous campaign, which in its output needs to match the courageous self-sacrifice of the republican political prisoners on Hunger Strike.