July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

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

Category: 2005, An Phoblacht, Commentary, Former Hunger Strikers, Media, Statements

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One Response

  1. […] 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. – Laurence McKeown, An Phoblacht, 2005 […]

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