July 1981

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Uncovering the Truth About the 1981 Hunger Strike

Brendan Hughes: Ending the 1980 Hunger Strike

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Risking the Lives of Volunteers is Not the IRA Way

Brendan Hughes • Irish News, 13 July 2006

In a recent BBC documentary Bernadette McAliskey stated that 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.
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Richard O’Rawe, PSF, and Events in 1981

Richard O’Rawe, PSF, and Events in 1981

“It only becomes the truth when it is officially denied.”

Gerard Foster, The Blanket • 8 July 2006

I imagine from the title of this article it would be natural to think I am writing about O’Rawes’ book, Blanketmen. Nothing could be further from the truth. I haven’t even read the book, though no doubt I will eventually get around to getting a copy of it.

I am more interested in the Provisional Movements’ Leadership’s (PML) reaction to the book and that of a few others, like Danny Morrison. I had, of course, heard about O’Rawes’ claims, but felt that they were only his opinions and he would have no way of backing them up. It was a non-starter and people would soon forget about his claims that the PML outside the prison let the last 6 Hunger Strikers, including 2 INLA Volunteers, die to promote their own political agenda. Let’s face it, this claim was so serious I did not believe it; I was wondering what agenda O’Rawe was working to, and the release of the book coming up to the 25th anniversary of the Hunger Strikers deaths smacked of commercialism.
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Salvaging History from Deceit

Salvaging History from Deceit

Some disguised falsehoods represent the truth so well, that it would be bad judgement not to be deceived by them
– Francois de La Rouchefoucauld

Forum Magazine Editorial • June/July 2006

Throughout February 2005 the airwaves and print columns were dominated by the gangland-style murder of Robert McCartney. Two months into Sinn Fein’s centenary celebrations, party spokespersons had hoped to be questioned about “the legacy of one-hundred years of resistance”. Instead they riggled like eels under a sustained media inquisition and were haunted by the ubiquitous image of the McCartney sisters, a group of articulate young women whose decency and courage could not be dismissed as hooey or yet another securocrat plot to undermine the peace.

Later that same February, UTV commissioned a report on a controversial new book written by Richard O’Rawe. Although few would have guessed it at the time, Blanketmen was about to radically alter the conventional republican perception of the 1981 hunger strike.
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Brendan Hughes: O’Rawe Told Me His Concerns (2006)

O’Rawe Told Me His Concerns

Brendan Hughes • Irish News, 19 May 2006

IT is not my intention to take sides in the ongoing debate over the claims made in the book Blanketmen by its author Richard O’Rawe.

I am not in a position to speak authoritatively on the matter.

I was in the same block as Richard O’Rawe at the time of the events he refers to but not on the same wing.

However, there has been some attempt to present O’Rawe as a person who made no effort to tell any former prisoner of his suspicions over a 24-year period. This is simply not so.
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Anthony McIntyre interviews Richard O’Rawe (2006)

‘The Blanket’ meets ‘Blanketmen’

All truth passes through three stages.
First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident
– Arthur Schopenhauer

Anthony McIntyre speaks with Richard O’Rawe • 16 May 2006

Q: This month marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, Frank Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara. How has it been for you emotionally?

A: Terrible. It has been terrible.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: Bob has been in my thoughts all the time. He left from our wing. The others were in different blocks. And I just get this vision of him. I see him in the wing canteen for mass just before he went up to the prison hospital. He was smiling at me. He knew he was going up there to die. I knew it too. It was just so unbelievably heartrending and it has never left me. That smile has been with me for over a week; that smile of pathos. I went over to his grave and just looked around me. There was Joe and big Doc, Bryson and our Mundo, wee Paddy Mul, Todler and all the dead volunteers. It was just horrific.
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O’Rawe responds to Gibney (2006)

Former Blanketman Speaks Out Against ‘Vitriolic Attack’

Richard O’Rawe, Irish News • 15 May 2006

A fellow republican said to me last week that over the period of Bobby Sands’ anniversary, the republican movement had done everything except paint the Star of David on my windows and daub Juden Raus on my front door.

I laughed when he made that analogy but when I had time to think about it, I don’t think he was too wide off the mark.

The recent attempts to demonise me from on high, the vitriol, raw hatred and the ferocious endeavours to destroy my integrity have, in terms of sheer viciousness, been unprecedented within the republican family.

The same republican pointed out that Freddie Scappaticci had not received such a ‘battering.’

Sinn Fein’s silence on the question of this super-tout contrasted sharply with their crazed attacks on my character. An agent, it seems, is better thought of than a blanketman. Scap apparently had both the republican movement’s blessing and its promise of ‘omerta’ as he made haste from Dodge, his saddlebags full of Brit money.
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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

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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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Anthony McIntyre: A Spartan’s Story

A Spartan’s Story

Anthony McIntyre • Fourthwrite

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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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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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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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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.