19 April 2001 Edition

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A big night in Derry

Hunger Strike exhibition launched

On Monday, 9 April, Tar Abhaile, a Derry based ex-prisoners' group, launched its exhibition commemorating the 1980/81 hunger strikes in Long Kesh and Armagh prisons.

Sean McMonagle of Tar Abhaile described the exhibition as ``the most ambitious project to date that Tar Abhaile had been involved in''. It was indeed ambitious and remarkable.

The extent of the exhibition is as thorough a collection of artifacts from that period in our history as you will ever see anywhere. It includes photos, photocopied copies of the miniature editions of An Phoblacht that were smuggled into Long Kesh and were then smuggled out again to be kept as souvenirs as well as the all-important comms.

Speaking at the launch, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness told the packed Gasyard Centre that the sacrifice of the hunger strikers in Long Kesh in 1981 had 'reverberated around the world''.

He recalled that Nelson Mandela, while incarcerated on Robben Island by the South African Apartheid regime, took a keen interest in the Irish political situation when he heard about the hunger strikes. McGuinness said that when he met a delegation from the Palestine Liberation Organisation they said, again, that they wanted to know about the hunger strikers. Likewise, Fidel Castro when making a speech to the United Nations, referred to the sacrifice and commitment of the hunger strikers.

``The hunger strikers will be remembered when Margaret Thatcher is consigned to the dustbin of history,'' said McGuinness.

The launch of the exhibition was successful in the way it brought Derry republicans together under one roof on an occasion steeped in the history of Derry republicanism.

Barney McFadden attended, in some respects the father of Derry republicanism.

There were four generations of the McCartney family, including Raymond, one of the seven H Block prisoners to go on the first hunger strike in 1980. He is also the coordinator of Tar Abhaile.

Bernie Starrs was there with her son Thomas, who spent three years on the Blanket protest. Bernie's other son John, an IRA Volunteer, was shot dead by the British Army while on active service in 1972.

Mrs Maguire, whose son Volunteer Charles 'Pop' Maguire, along with Volunteer George McBrearty, was killed by the British Army during the hunger strike year of 1981, was also there. 'Pop' was one of the Volunteers in the Honour Guard at the funeral of Francis Hughes after he died on hunger strike; within the month he was himself dead. Both made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle for national liberation.

Sisters of hunger strikers Mickey Devine and Tom McElwee were also present at the opening of the exhibition.

Among the gathering were dozens of former political prisoners, some of whom had served two and three terms of imprisonment but collectively they had probably spent upwards of a thousand years in jails from Armagh, to Long Kesh to English and American prisons.

During the evening, former women republican POWs Patricia Moore and Rose Sheerin read accounts of the prison struggle. Ciarraí Harkin, whose father Richie was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement read, as gaeilge, from the writings of Bobby Sands.

Francie Brolly was also there. His H Block Song is probably a watch word for those times and its chorus, ``I'll wear no convict's uniform nor meekly serve my time, That Britain might brand Ireland's fight 800 years of crime'', sums up a period of intense political activity and resistance.

That resistance was the resistance of a risen people, it took place across Ireland; it involved men and women, young and old.

Jimmy Carlin from Creggan, whose three children are accomplished traditional musicians, played for the gathering.

It was a good night for Tar Abhaile, it was an important night for Derry republicans.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1