23 May 2002 Edition

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Hunger Strike monument unveiled

On Saturday 18 May, republicans paraded to Fisher Park in Newry to witness the unveiling of a monument dedicated to the ten republican prisoners who died on hunger strike in 1981. The large crowd was led by a colour party and three bands. The monument is a life-size statue of a Blanket Man and was unveiled by a former Armagh jail prisoner Eileen Hillen, who took part in the protest at that time.

Two members of the Newry '81 Committee, Ewan Morgan and Michael Collins, chaired the proceedings and introduced the first speaker Laurence McKeown. He told the assembled crowd of the many years spent on the blanket protest and about his own personal experience of the hunger strike. He complimented the committee for the hard work carried out throughout the previous year and congratulated them for the fitting monument that now stands in Fisher Park.

Following a rendition of "The Blanket Song" by local musician Damien Quinn, the main speaker, Davy Hyland, chairperson of Newry & Mourne District Council, was invited to address the crowd.

Councillor Hyland said:

"This monument is in memory of not just our hunger strike martyrs, but is a tribute to all the young women and men who endured the sheer horror of the blanket protest. It is a tribute to all our blanket prisoners, living and dead. Through their courage and sacrifice, our brave POWs from that historic era turned British policy on its head and breathed new life into our freedom struggle.

"Today, Irish republicans are stronger than ever. The Republic has never been closer. That is the legacy of the Blanket prisoners. Historians have recorded the wind of change following the 1916 rising. The same will be written about 1981 and how 20 years later there are Republican MPs, Assembly members, TDs and councillors elected in every part of Ireland."

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