20 August 2023
The death of Michael Devine
On the death of INLA Volunteer Michael Devine at 12 minutes to eight on Thursday, 20 August 1981, his brother-in-law Frankie McCauley said: “One thinks, ‘Ten men, how many more have to die? We have ours now over us. Next week it will be big Laurence’s people waiting for the same thing. Then the Devlins after that and another boy will go on hunger strike and another. They’ll never break them.’”
Michael Devine was the last of the Hunger Strikers to die in 1981. His funeral took place on Saturday, 22 August in his native Derry city, in a grave next to his friend and comrade Patsy O’Hara, who died the previous May. The funeral went from Devine’s sister’s home in Rathkeele Way directly to the cemetery after Requiem Mass in St Mary’s chapel. People came from many parts of Ireland to attend and a long queue of mourners lined up outside the house to pay their respects. Thousands gathered in the street as the coffin was removed from the house, flanked by an INLA guard of honour, followed by relatives and then representatives of the families of the other Hunger Strikers.
Conversation on the day revolved around the courage and determination of the Hunger Strikers and the wavering attitude of the Irish Government, the SDLP and the Catholic hierarchy. Another topic of conversation was the election in Fermanagh/South Tyrone of Owen Carron, who attended the funeral. He was repeatedly mobbed by well-wishers. Three British military helicopters flew overhead. The cortege made its way to the top of the cemetery and to the plot where Michael Devine’s comrade Patsy O’Hara was buried three months previously. A piper playing laments was followed by a guard of honour of eight men in uniform. The two leading Volunteers carried the Starry Plough and Tricolour, followed by six more carrying semi-automatic shortarms in their belts. Three drummers then marched silently forward. A second guard of honour of 16 men flanked the coffin on the last few yards of its journey.
Margaret McCauley walked behind the coffin with Michael Devine’s two children, Michael (jnr) aged seven and Louise aged five, and Michael’s aunt Theresa Moore. The coffin was laid on trestles and the firing party stepped forward and delivered three volleys of shots over the remains of their comrade. This salute was greeted with loud applause. Terry Robson chaired the ceremony and praised the deceased Hunger Striker who was the for-mer O/C of the INLA prisoners in the H-Blocks. Wreaths were laid on behalf of all the Hunger Strikers’ families, the INLA, the IRSP, the National H-Block/Armagh Committee, the IRA and many others. A girl piper played the H-Block song and a bugler played the Last Post.
· Frank McAuley, Michael Devine’s brother-in-law holds the hand of Michael’s seven-year-old son, also Michael, at the funeral; (left) INLA Volunteers carry the coffin of Michael Devine
The flags were then removed from the coffin for presentation to Margaret McCauley. “The colours,” Terry Robson said, “include the Starry Plough and the national flag, the Tricolour. It will also include his beret, his gloves and his belt – denoting his rank as an officer in the Irish National Liberation Army.” A statement from the Army Council of the INLA was read out. It said: “The Army Council and Volunteers of the Irish National Liberation Army deeply regret the death of Volunteer and Hunger Striker Michael Devine. The Irish National Liberation Army applauds his heroism in the face of the most extreme deprivation and horror.
“As Officer Commanding our Prisoners of War in the concentration camp at Long Kesh, Michael relentlessly pursued an honourable settlement for the protesting prisoners, not in any elitist disregard for the rights of others, but in the full knowledge that his struggle was merely an extension of the same struggle for which he was incarcerated.” The INLA statement went on to say, “The creation of the H-Blocks, a development unseen in the history of the sophisticated torture machinery of British imperialism, brought a new unity amongst anti-imperialist organisations and saw a degree of co-operation between people as our nation reacted in horror at what really was going on inside the corrugated and barbed enclosures of Long Kesh.”
The main oration was delivered by Naomi Brennan, the Chairperson of the IRSP. She described Michael Devine as “a revolutionary, a soldier, but above all a socialist”. She went on to say that Devine saw from the “reality of everyday life in his native Derry what British imperialism means in Ireland. He saw the long years without hope on the dole. He saw the discrimination and gerrymandering from the fat cats behind the Derry walls, and he liked none of it.”
Brennan said that Michael Devine was only a youngster when the RUC batoned the civil rights protestors in 1969, adding that the lessons of the period were not lost on him. She said that 1969 was a time when people had at long last found their voice, learned to stand and demand their rights and that “to stand and fight was far better than 50 years of bending the knee”.
On Michael Devine’s socialist politics she said that Michael “realised that to have national freedom, we must have socialism, and that, also, to have any chance of social-ism, we must have national freedom”. Again on Michael’s ideological beliefs she said that his “dedication to the socialist cause was a well thought-out one and one which he put into practice. He realised that you had to organise the people to struggle for themselves; that you had to organise a revolutionary party to guide and direct that struggle; and that you had to organise military resistance to give backbone to that struggle, because that was the only thing that the British had ever really listened to.”
She said the prisoners’ 5 just demands could, and must, be won. On hopes for the future she remarked, “The hope we have is not in the droppings from this or that British Government, much less from the well-oiled phrases of the SDLP politicians and their likes. No, the hope we have is in the spirit of Michael Devine, unquenchable even in the jaws of death itself.
“While Ireland brings forth young men and women such as him there is hope now and for the future - a certainty that the cause for which Michael Devine gave his young life is just, and is necessary, and we must see it through to the end. And we will.”