The 30th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike was marked by the éirígí ciorcal in Coolock with a series of events last Saturday [August 27].
The day commenced with a public meeting at the Le Chéile community centre in Donneycarney. The meeting was chaired by Ursula Ní Shionnain and was opened by local éirígí member Eoin Quinn who read the Bobby Sands poem ‘The Rhythm of Time’. Belfast man Pádraic Mac Coitir then delivered an enthralling personal account of his time in the H-Blocks from 1978 to late 1980 during which he participated in the blanket and no-wash protest.
The several dozen people in attendance were enraptured as Pádraic took them through his life journey from a teenager battling the British army on the streets of Belfast to his eventual arrest, interrogation, torture and imprisonment first at Crumlin Road jail and then the recently built H-Blocks. It was an intriguing and brutally honest account of the life of an IRA activist incarcerated during the epic prison struggle of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The conditions experienced by republican prisoners in the H-Blocks were brought to life as Pádraic recounted the regular beatings, the forced mirror searches, the privations of the no wash protest during the brutally cold winter of 1978. While conditions were bleak, there was also much humour and a great sense of camaraderie forged by the brutality of the H-Block regime. It was a story of the life of a Blanketman and it was evident that Pádraic is rightly proud to be amongst their ranks.
What was at stake in the H-Blocks was summed by one of the H-Block martyrs Kieran Doherty:
“The British and Maggie Thatcher won’t break me or my comrades. We are not criminals, we are Irish Political Prisoners of War and we will win in the end. Defeat is unthinkable after all that has passed. It is not just the 5 demands; the Republican Movement is at stake.”
Following the meeting it was off to the Inis Fáil GAA club in Balgriffin for a football match between éirígí teams from the Northside and Southside of Dublin. Prior to the match there was a tightly contested Poc Fada which was won by Scott Masterson. During the combative but generally good natured football encounter that followed, the Southsiders were given somewhat of a footballing lesson by a slick, well organised Northside team managed by the wily tactician Patrick Burke. The Northsiders ran out eventual winners 8-12 to 2-5 with several of the team surely staking a claim for a place on the Dublin panel for the upcoming all-Ireland final against Kerry.
Chair of the local éirígí ciorcal Ciarán Heaphey presented the winning Northsiders with the Hunger Strike memorial trophy, which will be held with pride until the return leg next year.
Speaking after the event, he said, “Today was an opportunity for the local ciorcal to pay tribute to the Hunger Strikers and we are delighted it went so well. The courage and selflessness of the Hunger Strikers continues to inspire. They are remembered with pride by freedom loving people around the world. On behalf of the local ciorcal I would like to thank Pádraic Mac Coitir for sharing his memories with us and for speaking with such humility about what was an epic prison struggle. The struggle to achieve the aims for which the hunger strikers sacrificed their lives continues.”