July 1981


Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Key points from “Rusty Nail” discussion: End of 1st Hunger Strike

Excerpt from Slugger O’Toole comment section discussion, referring to the end of the 1980 hunger strike:

This is not how the first hunger strike ended. If you take a look at page 299 of Denis O’Hearn’s biography of Bobby Sands, Nothing But an Unfinished Song:

“The movement had sent comms to let him (Sands) know that the British government was sending a courier with a document that might be a solution. But Bobby never got the comms until the next day because “the lad had to swallow them”. It would not have made any difference because the authorities refused to let Sands go to the hospital, where the drama of the negotiations and pressures on Brendan Hughes was unfolding…”

“The next thing he knew, he was taken to the prison hospital at 6:45 in the evening. What he found there shocked him.

I saw Index (Father Toner) and Silvertop (Father Murphy) in the corridor as I walked down the wing. There were three cartons of eggs sitting in a doorway. My heart jumped. Dorcha (Brendan Hughes) came out of Tommy McKearney’s room and went into Tom (McFeeley)’s room in front of me. Tom was in bed. Raymond and Nixie were sitting beside the bed. They were all shattered. Dorcha said, “Did you hear the sceal (news)?” I said, “No.” He said it again. I thought Sean was dead. Then he said, “We’ve got nothing, I called it off.” The MO was banging an injection into Tommy. Sean was en route to the hospital. Tom had been against it, wanting to wait to see what Atkins was going to say in the Commons. Dorcha was under the impression that Sean had only twelve hours to live.”

And also look Adams’ description of the end of the first hunger strike as he writes of it in A Farther Shore, pages 12-13:

But with the commencement of the hunger strike, the British government opened up contact with republicans. Through this contact in the British Foreign Office – code-named “Mountain Climber” – a channel of communication which had been used during the 1974 IRA-British government truce was reactivated. Father Reid’s role had been filled by another Redemptorist priest, Father Brendan Meagher. The British said they wanted a settlement of the issues underpinning the protest and committed to setting out the details in a document to be presented to all of the prisoners formally and publicly after they came off their hunger strike.

Mountain Climber brought the document to Father Meagher, who delivered it to Clonard Monastery where I and a few people who were assisting the prisoners were waiting for him. As he was briefing us, Tom Hartley, the head of our POW department, burst into the room where we were meeting to tell us the hunger strike was over in the blocks.”

See also pages 108-109 of Richard O’Rawe’s Blanketmen:

By 18 December the hunger strikers had not eaten for over seven weeks. Bobby was summoned to the camp hospital about ten o’clock that night. (We later found out that while there, he had met Father Meagher, who presented him with a document from the British government on prison procedures.) You could feel the tension on the wing as Bobby got ready to leave for the hospital. Everyone knew this was an important meeting, because reports had been circulating that Sean McKenna was in a critical condition. After an hour and a half, Bobby returned with the news that the hunger strike was over. My immediate reaction was one of huge relief, but this was tempered when Bobby said, “Ní fhuaireamar faic.” (‘We didn’t get anything.’)

Brendan Hughes had made a commitment to Sean McKenna that he would not let him die, and when he was close to death, he kept his word and called the strike off, before any British documents came in or any deal could be done.

As he wrote in a letter to the Irish News, 13 July 2006, “Risking the lives of volunteers is not the IRA way”:

In a recent BBC documentary Bernadette McAliskey said she would have let Sean McKenna die during the 1980 hunger strike in order to outmanoeuvre British brinkmanship.
Implicit in her comments was a criticism of those senior republicans who decided against pursuing the option favoured by Bernadette.
As the IRA leader in charge of that Hunger Strike I had given Sean McKenna a guarantee that were he to lapse into a coma I would not permit him to die.
When the awful moment arrived I kept my word to him.
Having made that promise, to renege on it once Sean had reached a point where he was no longer capable of making a decision for himself, I would have been guilty of his murder.
Whatever the strategic merits of Bernadette’s favoured option, they are vastly outweighed by ethical considerations.
Terrible things happen in the course of any war and those of us who feel obliged to fight wars must take responsibility for the terrible consequences of actions we initiate.
I can live with that – in war we kill enemies and expect to be killed by them.
I can stand over the military decisions I made during our war against the British.
But there are no circumstances in which I was prepared to make a cynical decision that would have manipulated events to the point where a republican comrade would forfeit his life.
Twenty-five years on, I have no reason to change my mind that the decision I made to save the life of Sean McKenna was the proper one.
Faced with similar circumstances I would do the same again.
History may judge my actions differently but preventing Sean McKenna from becoming history rather than my own place in history was my prevailing concern.
Brendan Hughes, Belfast.

At the meeting in Derry, this was discussed and former blanketmen Gerard Hodgins, Tommy Gorman, Dixie Elliott and Gerard Clarke, and Richard O’Rawe, were all very clear that there was no deal for the British to renege on, and that those inside the prison at the time knew this. They had decided to save face, however, and claim that was what ended the hunger strike in order to keep the pressure on the British. This discussion should be available in the You Tube videos and when I have time I will find it for you later, if you have not already viewed them.

So the idea that the rejection of the British offer in July during the second hunger strike was based on the prisoners’ fear of the British ‘dirty joeing’ them again is a nonsense. The Brits could not renege on a deal that had not been struck. It is propaganda, nothing more.

Rusty Nail at Slugger O’Toole, comments 20 & 21

Sourced from Slugger O’Toole

Category: "Rusty Nail", 2009, Brendan Hughes, Commentary, Media, Slugger O'Toole, Statements

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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.