Oct 26, 2010
Commemoration event in Sandinos tomorrow night
Published Date: 26 October 2010
By Staff reporter
The 30th anniversary of the first Long Kesh hunger strike will be marked in Derry tomorrow night at an event involving one of the key participants and the man who led the 1981 protest.
Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney spent 53 days on hunger strike from October 1980 to January 1981 along with six other republican prisoners.
Bobby Sands began a second hunger strike in March 1981 and handed over command of the IRA prisoners to Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane.
Mr McFarlane, now a key figure in Sinn Féin in Belfast, will be speaking in Sandino’s Bar, Water Street, tomorrow night alongside Mr McCartney and Mary Doyle, who took part in the 1980 hunger strike in Armagh.
Speaking ahead of the event, Mr McFarlane described the hunger strike period as one of the most important in recent Irish history and compared its impact to the Easter Rising of 1916.
“It was a watershed in our struggle,” he told the ‘Journal’. “It was hugely important and comparable to 1916. My ten comrades who died on hunger strike are comparable to the men who went into the GPO in terms of their influence and place in republican history,” he said.
The former H-Block OC said it was important to remember the period and to explain it to a new generation.
“The political ramifications of that are still being felt and have led us to where we are today. The foundation stone was laid for the development and enhancement of republican politics,” he said.
Mr McFarlane said he believes young people should learn more about the hunger strike period. “It is crucial that people focus on it. This was 30 years ago but, for many people, particularly the hunger strikers’ families, this is not history. It is as fresh in their memories as last week.
“When I look at it now, the age of those involved is remarkable. Joe McDonnell was the eldest by far and he was 30 years-old. The prisoners from Derry always seemed to me to be the youngest. I myself was in my 20s. But the common sense and selflessness of those hunger strikers was massive. They had fierce dedication and commitment,” he explained.
Mr McFarlane also rejected claims from some quarters that the lives of a number of the hunger strikers could have been saved and that a possible deal was rejected by the IRA leadership. “Quite frankly, it is absolute nonsense. There was no secret deal. I was there and it simply did not occur. There is not one shred of evidence,” he said.
Despite the importance of the hunger strikes, Mr McFarlane said his main memories of the period are of the loss of friends. “I remember all the lads but I have an abiding memory of Joe McDonnell at the time the back channel was opened through Derry. He grabbed my arms and told me there was not enough on offer and said, ‘don’t you sell us short.’ I think about that every day,” he said.
The hunger strike commemoration will take place upstairs in Sandino’s Cafe Bar, Water Street, tomorrow night at 8 pm.