July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Book Review: The Conflict Encapsulated

blanketmen

The Conflict Encapsulated

Blanketmen – An untold story of the H-Block hunger strike
By Richard O’Rawe

Book Review

David Adams • The Other View, August 2005

In Blanketmen, Richard O’Rawe claims the IRA leadership in the Maze Prison was prepared to accept a substantive offer from the British Government that would have brought an early end to the 1981 hunger strike.

Supposedly, that offer was made before a fifth hunger-striker died – Joe McDonnell – but the IRA Army Council overruled the prison leadership and the strike continued.
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Dolours Price: A Salute to Comrades

blanketmen

A Salute to Comrades

Book Review

Dolours Price, The Blanket • 18 May 2005

After reading ‘Ten Men Dead’ I swore that I would never again read about the Hunger Strike of 1981. I cried at every page and my husband eventually hid the book. I bought another.

My levels of sadness rose at the same rate as my levels of anger. The targets for my anger were the usual ones: those identified by the Republican Leadership as responsible for the death of Bobby Sands and his comrades. Top of the list was Margaret Thatcher, then came busybody priests, political opponents, an uncaring Free-State Government and more and more.

Hunger-striking, the last resort of the brutalised political prisoner. The ultimate weapon, one’s own body. As a Republican I have always maintained that just as I could not be ordered to undertake a Hunger-Strike, then the control and ultimate decision as to where that hunger-strike might lead was also a matter for myself, the individual prisoner. That is not to say that guidance from comrades and particularly the leadership of my movement would at all times be of paramount importance in where that Strike would end for me, be that living or dying.
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Dramas out of crises

Dramas out of crises
Two new books offer compelling material to potential dramatists
Henry McDonald
The Observer, Sunday 1 May 2005 02.33 BST

Two hundred and ninety-two years separate the Siege of Derry from the second hunger strike in the Maze. Books out this year concerning these two key events not only shed new light on our history but also provide a challenge for screenwriters and television producers.

Carlo Gebler’s The Siege of Derry is a masterful and meticulously structured account of the 105-day struggle against the besieging Jacobite armies in 1689, while Richard O’Rawe’s Blanketmen gives a painfully honest insider’s view of the 1981 death fast. The one thing the two works have in common is the dramatic tension contained in the narratives, which are full of tragedy, sacrifice, endurance and political opportunism.
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Anthony McIntyre: A Spartan’s Story

A Spartan’s Story

Anthony McIntyre • Fourthwrite

blanketman

Richard O’Rawe has come out from under a blanket of political and literary obscurity to pen arguably the finest book crafted by any living former republican prisoner. With no shortage of good authors, the competition has been formidable; Pat Magee, Laurence McKeown and Ronan Bennett to name but three. Blanketmen is the end product of three years writing. It is also the only logical terminus for its author to arrive at after two decades of internal turmoil resulting from the H-Block blanket protest and subsequent hunger strikes. Either he brought his journey to an end or he could circle endlessly around the totem of established wisdom, shouldering with him the baggage others, in his view, had expected him to carry in order to spare themselves unnecessary burden.

To write this book O’Rawe must have drawn on the depths of reserve that made him one of the H-Blocks’ 300 Spartans. He is aware of the history of threats and violence against those not of the dominant party persuasion in West Belfast where he lives. For all the put-downs that he sprang this book on an unsuspecting republican community, O’Rawe has revealed to Fourthwrite that over a year ago a senior figure in the republican hierarchy paid a brace of visits to his home making inquiries about it. Despite current allegations from that hierarchy that O’Rawe did not inform the families of dead hunger strikers of his decision to commit his reflections to paper, the senior republican was concerned only about the potential discomfort that Gerry Adams might face. The families were never mentioned.
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A bizarre tale with a ring of authenticity

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A bizarre tale with a ring of authenticity

blanketmenBlanketmen
By Richard O’Rawe
New Island Books • £Sterling 9.99

Reviewed by John Cooney
Western People

During the 1981 hunger strikes in the H-Block of the Maze Prison a regular visitor was the Dungannon priest, Father Denis Faul, whom the prisoners nick-named “Denis the Menace” because of his campaign with the prisoners’ families to end their fast.

Recalling their ordeal in one of the most gruesome episodes of the Troubles some 24 years later, Fr Faul, then chaplain to the prisoners, says that he felt at the time that there was “a political dimension” that made his humanitarian campaign more difficult.
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Dead Men Talking …

Dead Men Talking …

blanketmenBlanketmen
By Richard O’Rawe
New Island, stg£9.99

Book Review

Maurice Hayes

This is a really gripping book, and an important one too for an understanding of the dynamics both of the 1981 Hunger Strikes and of the rise of Sinn Fein as a political force. It is the first account written by an insider, and it is as near as you will get to hearing dead men talking about their concerns, their dreams and the relentless loyalty to a cause that drives them to their deaths.

Ricky O Rawe was the Communications Officer in the H-Block, and one of only two people in the prison to be fully in the loop between the IRA command and the hunger strikers as they faced death, one after another. The story is told with a stark honesty, which discloses the author’s mental agony at the moral dilemmas he faced then and which have clearly stayed with him since.
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Hunger strike revisited

Hunger strike revisited

Book Review

Daily Ireland

Think you know the story of the 1981 hunger strikes? Think again. We’ve all seen Bobby Sands’ emaciated body, the footage of people honking car horns in glee at his election, that priest comparing conditions to an open sewer in Calcutta. You might even say that Richard O’Rawe’s Blanketmen (New Island), is – whisper it – old news.

All this is playing in the shallow end of a powerful tale. O’Rawe pulls the reader into the deep water till they’re gulping for air.

Rather than the ‘skin and bones’ Bobby Sands, the 2-D icon for a thousand murals, you meet a “man for all seasons”; softly spoken with a flair for sing-songs.
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‘Raw truth’ of Hunger Strike

‘Raw truth’ of Hunger Strike
Sunday Times Online

Comment: Liam Clarke: Raw truth of hunger strike fights its way past myths
March 20, 2005

Anybody who wants to understand the history of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein should read Blanketmen, Richard O’Rawe’s searingly honest account of the events surrounding the 1981 hunger strike.

O’Rawe gives us something new in modern republican history: a participant’s account that attempts to face the facts without romanticising them.

Up to now we have had mostly anodyne accounts, in which every dead IRA man was good at Gaelic games, fearless on active service and loved his mother. Every decision taken by Gerry Adams, the infallible helmsman of the movement and founder of the peace process, was not only correct but also designed to save lives and bring about a ceasefire.

We have also been treated to cod biographies in which Adams never joined the IRA, and a book of lives of IRA volunteers in which well-known informers are revered for their dedication. In this alternative universe, the IRA never committed a crime and even when it made mistakes it was forced into them by the Brits. As Goethe noted, “patriotism ruins history”.

O’Rawe was a public relations officer for IRA prisoners and later for Sinn Fein, so it should not surprise him that the full weight of the republican propaganda machine was deployed to drown the simple truth that many of the later hunger strikers wanted to end the protest around the time when Joe McDonnell, the fifth of the 10 prisoners to die, reached the critical stage.

I know the feeling. I still remember the call from Danny Morrison to my home in North Belfast nearly 10 years ago. He was appealing to me not to write a book about the hunger strikes. He implored me not to slander the memory of the dead or bring distress to their families.

I had just conducted an interview with Geraldine Scheiss, the girlfriend of Kieran Doherty, the eighth hunger striker to die. She told me that he wanted to call off the strike and that, in his final two hours of life, asked her to get tablets to save him from death. Tom Toner, the prison chaplain, confirmed that shortly before Doherty died Scheiss had come out of his room to say he was asking for tablets “for his body”. Doherty’s mother wouldn’t agree until her husband Alfie got back to the jail. Scheiss tried unsuccessfully to get the tablets herself. By the time Doherty’s father returned to the prison, his son had died.

It was clear to me that Kieran Doherty was unhappy about the hunger strike and had expressed his doubts about continuing. He had told Mary McDermott, the mother of Sean McDermott, a close IRA comrade, that “there was a lot more to it than the five demands”. It was clear from her and from other prisoners that Paddy Quinn, another hunger striker who was taken off by his mother when he became unconscious, had spoken in favour of ending the strike.

I sent a copy of my taped interview with Scheiss to her for comment, mentioning in a covering letter that one or two passages were not clear. I got a solicitor’s letter back denying she had said any of it and saying the tape must all have been faulty. As a result I put in only what was independently confirmed.

Sinn Fein had stymied me at every turn in writing the book. I was invited for interviews and kept sitting for hours in a room with prisoners’ wives and relatives waiting for the Long Kesh minibus, only to be told that nobody was available to speak to me. Eventually two liaison people were appointed — Morrison later told me that the only purpose was to see what I was up to — but they proved quite helpful.

One was the former hunger striker Pat “Beag” McGeown, a republican of tremendous dedication, haunted by survivor’s guilt because his wife had taken him off the hunger strike when so many others had died. “You can’t really be sorry to be alive, but yes it does trouble me,” he said.

He hinted at things that would be confirmed and fleshed out in O’Rawe’s account. McGeown told me he had wanted the strike to end and that “a certain number of hunger strikers had arrived at the same conclusion and were saying, ‘Look, possibly the whole thing should be reviewed’.”

It was also clear to me that, although the IRA leadership had not wanted the hunger strike to start in the first place, once Bobby Sands was elected to Westminster things had changed. They wanted it to continue until Owen Carron, a Sinn Fein member who stood as “proxy prisoner” could be elected to the seat left vacant by Sands’s death. At the time there was a republican policy of not contesting Westminster or Dail elections and this was the leadership’s way round it. As Adams said in a 1985 Bobby Sands memorial lecture: “The hunger strikes, at great cost to our H-Block martyrs and their families, smashed criminalisation and led to the electoral strategy, plus the revamping of the IRA.”

O’Rawe puts it more bluntly. The hunger strikers, he said, may have been “cannon fodder” and six of them may have died just to get Sinn Fein’s political project under way.

The hunger strike was prolonged despite an offer to the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which would have been guaranteed by the Catholic church’s hierarchy, that met many of the prisoners’ demands. Substantially the same offer was repeated through an MI6 officer with whom Adams was liaising, and was accepted by the prison leadership as the best deal available. When the hunger strike did eventually end, the same offer was at length implemented and greeted as a victory by republicans.

O’Rawe reveals that McGeown had been warned to keep quiet about his doubts when Adams visited the hunger strikers after many of their families asked him to end the strike. Adams made it clear the visit was a formality, saying that he had come because he “felt duty-bound to satisfy the clergymen and all those who were pressurising their families”.

Most tellingly of all he was accompanied by Carron, who was dressed in what the prisoners referred to as his “election suit”. The implied message was that they would be letting the movement down if they did not hold out until polling was over. Doherty did not attend because he was judged too ill. Instead Adams visited him in a private room and came out saying that “Big Doc” was determined to continue.

The price was deaths in the prison and on the streets, as hunger strike rioting continued. An honest debate on Sinn Fein’s entry to politics was avoided, and Adams’ strategy was advanced.

Some may say it was worth it. Ending the hunger strike after three or four deaths on the basis of the offer to the ICJP, and the parallel offer through MI6, would have set the Sinn Fein political project back. The Catholic church and the SDLP, who were to the fore in the ICJP, would have shared the credit, with little going the way of Sinn Fein.

Adams would then have had to argue openly for a political strategy. He might have faced a split.

Of course it is the duty of military leaders to take such decisions. Generals send men to their deaths after weighing the lives of soldiers against their overall strategic objectives.

It can be argued that Adams and the republican leadership made the right choice but it is an argument that they never had the courage to make. Certainly not to the families of the hunger strikers.

Sourced from Bobby Sands Net Resources

Hugh Logue: For the cause or caucus (2005 Book Review)

For the cause or caucus
Village
Saturday, 19 March 2005

blanketmenRichard O’Rawe’s book which claims that the six H-Block hunger strikers were allowed to die purely for political expediency is reviewed by Hugh Logue who was part of the team that negotiated to end the hunger strikes
Blanketmen

by Richard O’Rawe
New Island, €13.99

The old adage that troubles come in three will have credence in Sinn Féin. Just when they had hoped that they were emerging from the Robert Mc Cartney murder and the Northern Bank raid, along comes Richard O’Rawe’s Blanketmen to unsettle that holy of holies, the 1981 H-Block hunger strike, during which 10 hunger strikers died. For republicans that is the shrine from which all popular support has flowed in the last twenty years. Prior to it, Sinn Féin was a political fig leaf on a military movement, extremely cynical of electoral participation. O’Rawe’s assertion that six of the hunger strikers were allowed to die to secure the electoral success of Owen Carron in Fermanagh South Tyrone is as unwelcome to Sinn Féin as it will be unsettling for the families of the hunger strikers.

Blanketmen is an important, interesting yet intriguing book. Intriguing, in that in this well written and readable book, there is no acknowledgement of assistance in editing, researching or proofing of the text.
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Book Review: A Must Read

blanketmen

A Must Read

To fully appreciate the controversary surrounding the book, it must be read

BLANKETMEN
An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike
RICHARD O’RAWE, New Island Press

Book Review

Mick Hall, The Blanket • 18 March 2005

I once asked a former member of the British Army Intelligence Corp if there was any substance in the British Government’s fears if they announced their withdrawal from the Six Counties the Loyalist Paramilitary’s would conduct an OAS* type campaign in England. He replied he could not see this happening, as the Loyalist terror groups, the UDA, LVF and the UVF, unlike the Provisional Irish Republican Army, simply did not have the stamina necessary to conduct a bombing campaign on the British mainland. The book Blanketmen, An Untold Story of the H-block Hunger Strike written by former Blanketman Richard O’Rawe, more than adequately answers the question what gave the Provos such tenacious stamina to fight a thirty odd year war against not only one of the world’s major military powers, but also the most experienced army in combating insurgencies.

I would appeal to all those who have been warned off reading this book by the heavy handed attempt by the Provisional Republican Movement apparatchiks to discredit Richard O’Rawe to place any doubts that may have been raised in their minds about him to one side and make their own mind upon reading the book. By so doing I guarantee they will come away with the belief that the aforementioned attack on O’Rawe was sadly yet another example of the PRM leadership over-reacting and scoring, not for the first time of late, an own goal. After all, if Irish Republicanism means anything, it is an ability to think for ourselves and thus make our own decisions; it is not an accident that soldiers of O’glaigh na hEireann are called Volunteers.
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Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane: “It did not happen” (2005)

Former comrades’ war of words over hunger strike

(Steven McCaffrey, Irish News)

The man who led IRA prisoners inside the Maze jail during the 1981 hunger strike has dismissed a controversial new book on the period as fictitious.

Brendan McFarlane speaks to Steven McCaffrey about a period that still stirs deeply held emotions among republicans.

In his book, Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, Richard O’Rawe fondly re-calls his former republican comrade Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane.

Describing him as “six feet tall and full of bonhomie”, a “striking character” and a “great singer”, the author writes that both men were avid fans of Gaelic football and that they “whiled away the time dreaming of the day when the Antrim football team would grace Croke Park in an all-Ireland final”.
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H-Block Hypocrisy (2005)

H-Block hypocrisy
Village
Saturday, 12 March 2005

Richard O’Rawe saw ten of his fellow hunger strikers die in the H-Blocks in 1981. In a new book, he claims that the IRA leadership rejected a British offer that could have ended the hunger strikes. Suzanne Breen reports

West Belfast is a small world packed with big emotions. Richard O’Rawe lives just across the road from Milltown Cemetery where three of the hunger strikers are buried.

Most mornings, he visits the republican plot where Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty lie. “It’s desperate, just desperate,” he says. “I don’t need to go there to remember them because they never go away.”

Gerry Adams lives in the next street from O’Rawe, Danny Morrison is just around the corner. Three men, all living in the shadow of Milltown and the hunger strike.

Until recently, republicans were united on the 1981 fast. The official – and unanimously accepted – line was that a callous British government allowed ten men to die and nothing, apart from calling-off the protest in humiliation, could have saved them.
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Laurence McKeown: Answering back on the Hunger Strike

Answering back on the Hunger Strike
Laurence McKeown
10 March, 2005, An Phoblacht

Laurence McKeown writes:

Dear Richard,

There are individuals in history who we regard as great people; moments in history we look back at in wonder.

In our own lives too, there are times that we like to relive and feel once more that sense of achievement, of success, of joy, comradeship or love.

There is a danger, though, that as the years pass, as the hair thins and the wrinkles appear, that we look back through rose-tinted glasses. We start to see things a little differently. Our role in events becomes somehow inflated.

We realise, for the first time, the significance of our own input into events. We recall the profound comments we made at critical moments of debate; the input we had into crucial decisions; even the dazzling pass on the football field, without which the star striker could not have scored and thereby won the day. And we wonder why history has not recorded our part in all of this.

The Sunday Times, that organ of Irish republicanism, revealed to me last week your historic role in events, Richard. Strangely, there was nothing new to me regarding what was on offer from the Brits back in 1981. Whether it was the ‘Mountain Climber’ or the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, we wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’. We had all of that in December 1980.

What was news to me was that you were going to call off the Hunger Strike. Strange that. You see I don’t recall you ever being on the Hunger Strike. Were you in the cell at the bottom of the ward? And when were you going to tell the rest of us about your decision?

The death of our ten comrades did not get us our demands. It took many more years, much more suffering and even death to achieve them. But we did it.

You weren’t with us Richard. In fact, if I recall, you left us shortly after writing your last press release about their sacrifice.

I didn’t see you leave Richard. I was blind at the time. But I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.

Maybe you left us to carry out courageous feats elsewhere? Maybe you’ll tell us more about those in future publications. Because for me, actions speak louder than words. Always.

There are some great individuals in history, Richard. And then there are those who would love to be great. What is precious is knowing the difference.

• Laurence McKeown was on hunger strike in 1981 for 70 days.

First published in An Phoblacht

Danny Morrison: O’Rawe’s Attacks Untrue

O’Rawe’s Attacks Untrue
Danny Morrison
From Daily Ireland, 9 March 2005
Also An Phoblacht

Having quickly run out of argument, having found his account rebuffed by former hunger strikers and blanket men, Richard O’Rawe has resorted to personal, untrue and hurtful attacks. His claim that in 1981 the army council of the IRA turned down a deal from ‘Mountain Climber’ (a British representative) which could have saved six hunger strikers lives in order to gain a sympathy vote for Owen Carron in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election has been demolished.

Few believe his plea that he wrote the book for the families of the hunger strikers (but forgot to tell them). Instead of conceding that his memory might be false, or that being only partly privy to the talks in 1981 led him to misinterpret events, he persists with his myths because his book and its sales are his primary concern.

The fact that during all the propaganda wars successive British governments have never in the intervening 24 years claimed the IRA squandered a deal in 1981 speaks for itself. It would certainly have been in British interests to level such a charge – after all, the allegation is of such a magnitude that were it true it had the potential for stopping the struggle in its tracks.

In this paper last Saturday Richard wrote: “Danny [Morrison] has accused me of being oblivious to the feelings of the families. Let me say that’s rich.

“This man went into a meeting with the families on July 28th with the Mountain Climber offer in his back pocket and yet he didn’t think the families should be made aware of the offer. Why did he do that?”

On July 10th at Joe McDonnell’s funeral I collapsed in Milltown Cemetery. I was taken into hospital in Dublin with hepatitis, which is an infectious disease, and kept in an isolation ward at Cherry Orchard hospital in Ballyfermott. That’s where I was on July 28th. In hospital I was humbled to receive a message from the hunger strikers asking about my condition. A month after Joe McDonnell’s death I returned to the North to speak at the funeral of IRA hunger striker Tom McElwee in Bellaghy. My point is that Richard’s memory isn’t as sharp as he claims.

Interestingly, in his ‘Daily Ireland’ right of reply Richard also had the opportunity to rebut criticism of him the day before from Laurence McKeown but chose not to. Laurence was one of those on hunger strike at the time in 1981 when Richard alleges that the IRA refused ‘a deal’ to end the fast. Richard seems incapable of grasping the distinction between an offer and a confirmed deal. Yes, offers were made and discussed and clarified but when we tried to tie the British government down on a mechanism for ensuring they could not renege (as they had at the end of the first hunger strike) they procrastinated. The hunger strikers – as Laurence McKeown made clear the other day – “wanted definite confirmation, not vague promises of ‘regime change’.”

Richard was a blanket man and a PRO for the prisoners in 1981. He was not a negotiator and was never in the prison hospital with the hunger strikers, though he elevates his importance in his book. He was a good PRO and upon his release from prison he worked for a year in the Republican Press Centre in Belfast at the time when I was Sinn Fein’s Director of Publicity. So, we saw each other at briefings every day for a year until he decided to go into business for himself.

Since then there have been a dozen occasions when we’ve discussed politics late into the night. During and after the hunger strike, and in all the time I have known and spoken to him, Richard never made this allegation.

He says that in 1991 he privately criticised the role of the IRA Army Council in the hunger strike but was told that he could be shot and so he kept quiet. He explains that because of the new atmosphere following the ceasefire and that because he believes there will be no return to armed struggle he now feels free to say these things. Even if for the sake of argument we accept that Richard felt threatened in 1991 that doesn’t explain why in the interests of accuracy he would not now have consulted Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, his former OC, whom throughout the book he has recruited to his position, other hunger strikers who survived, Gerry Adams or myself. Bik, like Laurence McKeown, repudiates Richard’s allegation.

Richard deceived many people into believing that he was writing a book about growing up in West Belfast. When the book was published last week any merit it had for former comrades, as one blanket man’s grim experience of jail, was destroyed by his implicit insult to the intelligence of the hunger strikers and his scurrilous attack on the IRA leadership and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

As a result of his attacks Richard has been feted by the ‘Sunday Times’ and lauded by revisionists, anti-republican journalists and the usual suspects. Had his book been called ‘Blanketmen – Thatcher kills hunger strikers’ I think we can guess at how little media coverage he could have expected.

Richard’s book has helped no one but the enemies of the struggle. Not the hunger strikers’ families, not the blanket men, not the republican cause, not his friends and comrades, and, certainly, not himself. What Richard O’Rawe has written is repugnant but it has exposed him as a minor figure against the inviolable memory of the hunger strikers, their sacrifices and their greatness.

First published in Daily Ireland and An Phoblacht

McFARLANE DENIES HUNGER STRIKE ‘DEAL’ WAS STRUCK

Brendan McFarlane denies Hunger Strike deal
Irelandclick.com (Andersonstown News)

Also: Republicans Reject Hunger Strike Claims, An Phoblacht

McFARLANE DENIES HUNGER STRIKE ‘DEAL’ WAS STRUCK
Brendan McFarlane, OC H-Blocks

Brendan McFarlane, the leader of the H-Block prisoners during the hunger strikes of 1981, has rejected any suggestion that a deal was rejected before the death of Joe McDonnell.

The North Belfast man said the claims in Richard O’Rawe’s book entitled Blanketmen: The Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike had caused distress among the families of the hunger strikers.
In his book O’Rawe claims the final six men to die were sacrificed for political reasons and to help the election of Owen Carron to Bobby Sands’ Westminster seat.
“All of us, particularly the families of the men who died, carry the tragedy and trauma of the hunger strikes with us every day of our lives.
“It was an emotional and deeply distressing time for those of us who were in the H-Blocks and close to the hunger strikers,” said Brendan McFarlane.
“However, as the Officer Commanding in the prison at the time, I can say categorically that there was no outside intervention to prevent a deal.
“The only outside intervention was to try to prevent the hunger strike.
“Once the strike was underway, the only people in a position to agree a deal or call off the hunger strike were the prisoners – particularly the hunger strikers themselves.
“The political responsibility for the hunger strike, and the deaths that resulted from it, both inside and outside the prison, lies with Margaret Thatcher, who reneged on the deal which ended the first hunger strike.
“This bad faith and duplicity lead directly to the deaths of our friends and comrades in 1981″.
Raymond McCartney, a former hunger striker and now Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle, also said O’Rawe’s claims lacked credibility.
“Richard’s recollection of events is not accurate or credible.
“The hunger strike was a response to Thatcher’s criminalisation campaign.
“The move to hunger strike resulted from the prisoners’ decision to escalate the protest after five years of beatings, starvation and deprivation.
“The leadership of the IRA and of Sinn Féin tried to persuade us not to embark on this course of action.
“At all times we, the prisoners, took the decisions.”

First published on Irelandclick.com and in An Phoblacht

Morrison: Hunger strikers wanted more than vague promises (2005)

Hunger strikers wanted more than vague promises

(by Danny Morrison, Irish Times)

The claim that the IRA’s army council was responsible for prolonging the hunger strikes is wrong, writes Danny Morrison.

Your columnist Fintan O’Toole (March 1st) readily accepts Richard O’Rawe’s claim in his new book Blanketmen that the IRA army council was to blame for six of the 10 hunger-strike deaths by refusing a deal from the British government.

The 1981 hunger strike was a direct result of the 1980 hunger strike. The British government had said that it would not act under duress but would respond with a progressive and liberal prison regime once it ended. The prisoners called off the fast to save the life of Seán McKenna.

However, the British immediately reneged on their promises. Because of this duplicity the hunger strikers of 1981 were adamant that any deal must be copperfastened.
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Anthony McIntyre: A Blanketman Still Fighting To Be Heard

A Blanketman Still Fighting To Be Heard

Anthony McIntyre, The Blanket • 4 March 2005

O_Rawe_author_pic_2This time last week, the name Richard O’Rawe meant little to most people in Ireland. He has no reputation as a political scoundrel, nor has he acquired the notoriety that comes with taking the life of a fellow human being. Although a republican from childhood, there are no photographs of him with a tongue sticking through each cheek, or his nose a foot long. He is not a prominent writer … yet. So there was no particular reason for his name to have generated widespread recognition.

Less than a week after hitting the headlines via one of the main Sunday newspapers, he probably feels the gravity in his world has gone down the plughole. Throughout republican heartlands the central contention in his book Blanketmen is being discussed and debated, frequently in heated manner. It is talked about in bars, living rooms and taxis. Interest in the broadcast and print media has not waned. Opponents have reviled him and friends have worried for his safety.
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McFarlane denies Hunger Strike deal was struck (2005)

McFarlane denies Hunger Strike deal was struck

(Irelandclick.com)

Brendan McFarlane, the leader of the H-Block prisoners during the hunger strikes of 1981, has rejected any suggestion that a deal was rejected before the death of Joe McDonnell.

The North Belfast man said the claims in Richard O’Rawe’s book entitled Blanketmen: The Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike had caused distress among the families of the hunger strikers.

In his book O’Rawe claims the final six men to die were sacrificed for political reasons and to help the election of Owen Carron to Bobby Sands’ Westminster seat.

“All of us, particularly the families of the men who died, carry the tragedy and trauma of the hunger strikes with us every day of our lives.

“It was an emotional and deeply distressing time for those of us who were in the H-Blocks and close to the hunger strikers,” said Brendan McFarlane.

“However, as the Officer Commanding in the prison at the time, I can say categorically that there was no outside intervention to prevent a deal.
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Hunger strike claims rile H-block veterans (2005)

Hunger strike claims rile H-block veterans
Angelique Chrisafis, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 4 March 2005 12.20 GMT

To nationalists it was one of the most emotive episodes of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, the event that gave birth to the electoral force that is modern Sinn Féin.

But the death of 10 republican hunger strikers in the Maze prison in 1981 became the subject of a furious row in Belfast this week after a former prisoner claimed that Gerry Adams and the IRA army council had blocked a deal to end the protest, possibly sacrificing the last six of the hunger strikers for electoral gain.

Richard O’Rawe, 51, who acted as public relations officer for the hunger strikers while he was serving a sentence for robbery, said that a deal was offered in July 1981 which addressed most of the prisoners’ demands for political status.
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Hunger strikers’ deaths must be fully explained, says author (2005)

Hunger strikers’ deaths must be fully explained, says author

(Irish News)

Richard O’Rawe, author of Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, replies here to a letter printed yesterday from Magherafelt councillor Oliver Hughes and criticism by other republicans of his claims that the IRA may have blocked a deal to end the 1981 protest before six of the 10 men died.

Mr Hughes is right when he says that the IRA strenuously opposed the hunger strikes when they were first suggested, but can he be sure that attitude didn’t change when Bobby Sands won the Fermanagh/South Tyrone by-election and the opportunity came to enter electoral politics if that seat could be retained after Bobby’s death?

He is correct when he says the hunger strikers were not forced unto the strike.

It was a voluntary process and those courageous men that came forward are worthy of the utmost respect.

Mr Hughes is also right when he says that volunteer Francis Hughes (his brother) remained a dignified and courageous Irishman. He was a giant in every sense of the word.

But he is wrong in almost everything else he says about my book.
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Hunger Strikers Story Brought to Book (2005)

Hunger Strikers Story Brought to Book

From Daily Ireland, 2 March 2005
Danny Morrison

I got a phone call from the ‘Sunday Times’ last Saturday.

“Do you know Richard O’Rawe,” the journalist asked. “He mentions you in a new book he has brought out.”

That surprised me because I had waved to Richard a few days earlier when I crossed the road just below his house and would have thought he would have given me the good news – and a free copy. About four years ago he came to me and told me he was writing a book about growing up in West Belfast and could I give him advice. We met twice, once in each other’s homes. What I read was quite funny and reminiscent of my own youth. Richard said that an agent had offered to publish his book for several thousand pounds. I told him not to go down that road – which is called vanity publishing – and I gave him the names of some literary scouts and publishers. But I don’t think he had any luck. It is a tough circle to break into.

The journalist told me that his paper was serialising Richard’s book, ‘Blanketmen’, and proceeded to read out to me an accompanying feature: ‘Ireland: The men who died for nothing. Former Maze inmate Richard O’Rawe was at the heart of the 1980s hunger strike drama. His new book lays the blame for six of the 10 deaths firmly on his IRA army council masters.’

I was astonished. Richard was saying that there was a deal offered to the hunger strikers by the British before Joe McDonnell died but that the army council rejected it. The journalist quoted from the book: “No matter which way one views it, the outside leadership alone, not the prison leadership, took the decision to play brinkmanship with Joe McDonnell’s life. If Bik and I had had our way, Joe and the five comrades who followed him to the grave would be alive today.”
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Hunger strikers’ lives not sacrificed — family (2005)

Hunger strikers’ lives not sacrificed — family

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

The family of a dead hunger striker last night (Tuesday) hit out at claims that the IRA sacrificed the lives of republican prisoners in negotiations with the British government during the 1981 dispute.

The family of Francis Hughes last night rejected the claims from former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe, who earlier this week stated that the British government had been prepared to agree to four of five prisoner demands during the 1981 hunger strike.

However Mr O’Rawe claimed that while IRA leaders in the prison were prepared to accept the deal, they were overruled by the army council on the outside.

Six other hunger strikers died before the end of the protest in October 1981.
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‘Dying wasn’t their decision’

‘Dying wasn’t their decision’

Controversy persisted last night (Tuesday) over allegations in a book that the IRA army council may have allowed some hunger strikers to die. Former IRA prisoner Richard O’Rawe has claimed the paramilitary leadership blocked an acceptable deal from the British government to end the 1981 protest before six of the 10 men had died.

The allegation has been dismissed by former IRA jail leader Brendan Bik McFarlane.

Mr McFarlane insisted “no deal was offered to the hunger strikers whereby they could say it was acceptable”.

However, a woman connected to one hunger striker, who did not want to be named but said she had attended family meetings surrounding the hunger strike, last night backed Mr O’Rawe’s claims.
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Allegations of a rejected deal spark fury among republicans

Allegations of a rejected deal spark fury among republicans

(Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

Senior republicans last night (Monday) rejected controversial claims in a new book that Sinn Féin and the IRA blocked a deal which could have saved the lives of six hunger strikers.

Richard O’Rawe, spokesman for the Provisional IRA in the Maze prison during the hunger strikes, said he accepted a British government deal just days before the fifth hunger striker, Joe McDonnell, died in July 1981.

In Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike, Mr O’Rawe claims fellow prisoners’ leader Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane had shared details of a “substantial” offer from Margaret Thatcher’s government, conceding four of the five IRA demands.

The only point the British had refused to concede was the free association of prisoners on the IRA wing.

Mr O’Rawe, who was serving eight years for robbery, claimed both men agreed that the offer, which was tabled by a mysterious middleman called the Mountain Climber, was sufficient to call off the hunger strike.
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Monsignor Faul regrets his ‘late intervention’ (2005)

Monsignor Faul regrets his ‘late intervention’

(Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

A key player in the 1981 hunger strikes last night (Monday) said he regretted not intervening earlier in the protest.

Monsignor Denis Faul, was a regular visitor at the Maze prison at the time and a supporter of the prisoners’ families.

Mgr Faul described how, by the end of June 1981, he believed the strikes were all but over.

Four prisoners had died agonising slow deaths from starvation, but unbeknownst to Mgr Faul at the time, six more would die before the protest was brought to an end.
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Was my father’s death PR exercise? (2005)

Was my father’s death PR exercise?

(Seamus McKinney and Catherine Morrison, Irish News)

The son of a Derry hunger striker has voiced concerns over claims that the republican leadership could have allowed his father to die for political gain.

Michael Devine, whose father Mickey was the last of the 10 men to die in the 1981 protest, was speaking after publication of Blanketmen: An Untold Story of the H-block Hunger Strike.

The book’s author, Richard O’Rawe, was a public relations officer for the hunger strikers in the Maze. Along with IRA prisoners’ ‘OC’ Brendan Bik McFarlane, he was closely in-volved in the day-to-day events of the hunger strike.
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SPRING 2013: 55 HOURS
A day-by-day account of the events of early July, 1981.


There's an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend? It has withstood the blows of a million years, and will do so to the end.