Saturday, May 21, 2005

May 21st, 1981 - Patsy O'Hara Dies

Patsy O'Hara

Died May 21st, 1981

A determined and courageous Derryman

Twenty-three-year-old Patsy O'Hara from Derry city, was the former leader of the Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in the H-Blocks, and joined IRA Volunteer Raymond McCreesh on hunger strike on March 22nd, three weeks after Bobby Sands and one week after Francis Hughes.

Patsy O'Hara was born on July 11th, 1957 at Bishop Street in Derry city.

His parents owned a small public house and grocery shop above which the family lived. His eldest brother, Sean Seamus, was interned in Long Kesh for almost four years. The second eldest in the family, Tony, was imprisoned in the H-Blocks - throughout Patsy's hunger strike - for five years before being released in August of this year, having served his full five-year sentence with no remission.

The youngest in the O'Hara family is twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth.

Before 'the troubles' destroyed the family life of the O'Haras, and the overwhelming influence of being an oppressed youth concerned about his country drove Patsy to militant republicanism, there is the interesting history of his near antecedents which must have produced delight in Patsy's young heart.


Patsy's maternal grandfather, James McCluskey, joined the British army as a young man and went off to fight in the First World War. He received nine shrapnel wounds at Ypres and was retired on a full pension.

However, on returning to Ireland his patriotism was set alight by Irish resistance and the terror of British rule. He duly threw out his pension book, did not draw any more money and joined the Republican Movement. He transported men and weapons along the Foyle into Derry in the 'twenties.

He inherited a public house and bookmakers, in Foyle Street, and was a great friend of Derry republican Sean Keenan's father, also named Sean.

Mrs. Peggy O'Hara can recall 'old' Sean Keenan being arrested just before the out break of the Second World War. Her father's serious illness resulted in him escaping internment and he died shortly afterwards in 1939.

Mrs. O'Hara's aunt was married to John Mulhern, a Roscommon man, who was in the RIC up until its disbandment in 1921.

"When my father died in 1939 - says Mrs O'Hara, - "John Mulhern, who was living in Bishop Street, and owned a bar and a grocery shop, took us in to look after us. I remember him telling us that he didn't just go and join the RIC, but it was because there were so many in the family and times were hard.

"My father was a known IRA man and my uncle reared me, and I was often slagged about this. Patsy used to hear this as a child, but Patsy was a very, very straight young fellow and he was a wee bit bigoted about my uncle being a policeman.

"But a number of years ago Patsy came in to me after speaking to an old republican from Corrigans in Donegal, and Patsy says to me, 'You've nothing to be ashamed of, your uncle being a policeman, because that man was telling me that even though he was an RIC man, he was very, very helpful to the IRA!"


The trait of courage which Patsy was to show in later years was in him from the start, says Mr. O'Hara. "No matter who got into trouble in the street outside, Patsy was the boy to go out and do all the fighting for him. He was the fighting man about the area and didn't care how big they were. He would tackle them. I even saw him fighting men, and in no way could they stop him. He would keep at them. He was like a wee bull terrier!"

Apparently, up until he was about twelve years of age, Patsy was fat and small, "a wee barrel" says his mother. Then suddenly he shot up to grow to over six foot two inches.

Elizabeth, his sister, recalls Patsy: "He was a mad hatter. When we were young he used to always play tricks on me, mother and father. We used to play a game of cards and whoever lost had to do all the things that everybody told them.

"We all won a card game once and made Patsy crawl up the stairs and 'miaow' like a cat at my mother's bedroom door. She woke up the next day and said, 'am I going mad? I think I heard a cat last night' and we all started to laugh."

The O'Haras' house was open to all their children's friends, and again to scores of the volunteers who descended on Derry from all corners of Ireland when the RUC invaded in 1969. But before that transformation in people's politics came, Mrs. O'Hara still lived for her family alone.

She was especially proud of her eldest son, Sean Seamus who had passed his eleven plus and went to college.


When Sean was in his early teens he joined the housing action group, around 1967, Mrs. O'Hara's conception of which was Sean helping to get people homes.

"But one day, someone came into me when I was working in the bar, and said, 'Your son is down in the Guildhall marching up and down with a placard!

"I went down and stood and looked and Finbarr O'Doherty was standing at the side and wee fellows were going up and down. I went over to Sean and said, 'Who gave you that? He said, Finbarr!' I took the placard off Sean and went over to Finbarr, put it in his hand, and hit him with my umbrella.'

Mrs. O'Hara laughs when she recalls this incident, as shortly afterwards she was to have her eyes opened.

"After that, I went to protests wherever Sean was, thinking that I could protect him! I remember the October 1968 march because my husband's brother, Sean, had just been buried.

"We went to the peaceful march over at the Waterside station and saw the people being beaten into the ground. That was the first time that I ever saw water cannons, they were like something from outer space.

"We thought we had to watch Sean, but to my astonishment Patsy and Tony had slipped away, and Patsy was astonished and startled by what he saw."


Later, Patsy was to write about this incident: "The mood of the crowd was one of solidarity. People believed they were right and that a great injustice had been done to them. The crowds came in their thousands from every part of the city and as they moved down Duke Street chanting slogans, 'One man, one vote' and singing 'We shall overcome' I had the feeling that a people united and on the move, were unstoppable."


Shortly after his release in April 1975, Patsy joined the ranks of the fledgling Irish Republican Socialist Party, which the 'Sticks', using murder, had attempted to strangle at birth. He was free only about two months when he was stopped at the permanent check-point on the Letterkenny Road whilst driving his father's car from Buncrana in County Donegal.

The Brits planted a stick of gelignite in the car (such practice was commonplace) and he was charged with possession of explosives. He was remanded in custody for six months, the first trial being stopped due to unusual RUC ineptitude at framing him. At the end of the second trial he was acquitted and released after spending six months in jail.

In 1976, Patsy had to stay out of the house for fear of constant arrest. That year, also, his brother, Tony, was charged with an armed raid, and on the sole evidence of an alleged verbal statement was sentenced to five years in the H-Blocks.

Despite being 'on the run' Patsy was still fond of his creature comforts!

His father recalls: "Sean Seamus came in late one night and though the whole place was in darkness he didn't put the lights on. He went to sit down and fell on the floor. He ran up the stairs and said: 'I went to sit down and there was nothing there'

"Patsy had taken the sofa on top of a red Rover down to his billet in the Brandywell. Then before we would get up in the morning he would have it back up again. When we saw it sitting there in the morning we said to Sean: 'Are you going off your head or what? and he was really puzzled."


In September 1976, he was again arrested in the North and along with four others charged with possession of a weapon. During the remand hearings he protested against the withdrawal of political status.

The charge was withdrawn after four months, indicating how the law is twisted to intern people by remanding them in custody and dropping the charges before the case comes to trial.

In June 1977, he was imprisoned for the fourth time. On this occasion, after a seven-day detention in Dublin's Bridewell, he was charged with holding a garda at gunpoint. He was released on bail six weeks later and was eventually acquitted In January 1978.

Whilst living in the Free State, Patsy was elected to the ard chomhairle of the IRSP, was active in the Bray area, and campaigned against the special courts.

In January 1979, he moved back to Derry but was arrested on May 14th, 1979 and was charged with possessing a hand-grenade.

In January 1980, he was sentenced to eight years in jail and went on the blanket.


What were Mrs. O'Hara's feelings when Patsy told her he was going on hunger strike?

"My feelings at the start, when he went on hunger strike, were that I thought that they would get their just demands, because it is not very much that they are asking for. There is no use in saying that I was very vexed and all the rest of it. There is no use me sitting back in the wings and letting someone else's son go. Someone's sons have to go on it and I just happen to be the mother of that son."


Writing shortly before the hunger strike began, Patsy O'Hara grimly declared: "We stand for the freedom of the Irish nation so that future generations will enjoy the prosperity they rightly deserve, free from foreign interference, oppression and exploitation. The real criminals are the British imperialists who have thrived on the blood and sweat of generations of Irish men.

"They have maintained control of Ireland through force of arms and there is only one way to end it. I would rather die than rot in this concrete tomb for years to come."

Patsy witnessed the baton charges and said: "The people were sandwiched in another street and with the Specials coming from both sides, swinging their truncheons at anything that moved. It was a terrifying experience and one which I shall always remember."

Mr. and Mrs. O'Hara believe that it was this incident when Patsy was aged eleven, followed by the riots in January 1969 and the 'Battle of the Bogside' in August 1969 that aroused passionate feelings of nationalism, and then republicanism, in their son. "Every day he saw something different happening," says his father. "People getting beaten up, raids and coffins coming out. This was his environment."


In 1970, Patsy joined na Fianna Eireann, drilled and trained in Celtic Park.

Early in 1971, and though he was very young, he joined the Patrick Pearse Sinn Fein cumann in the Bogside, selling Easter lilies and newspapers. Internment, introduced in August 1971, hit the O'Hara family particularly severely with the arrest of Sean Seamus in October. "We never had a proper Christmas since then" says Elizabeth. "When Sean Seamus was interned we never put up decorations and our family has been split-up ever since then."

Shortly after Sean's arrest Patsy, one night, went over to a friend's house in Southway where there were barricades. But coming out of the house, British soldiers opened fire, for no apparent reason, and shot Patsy in the leg. He was only fourteen years of age and spent several weeks in hospital and then several more weeks on crutches.


On January 30th, 1972, his father took him to watch the big anti-internment march as it wound its way down from the Creggan. "I struggled across a banking but was unable to go any further. I watched the march go up into the Brandywell. I could see that it was massive. The rest of my friends went to meet it but I could only go back to my mother's house and listen to it on the radio," said Patsy.

Asked about her feelings over Patsy be coming involved in the struggle, Mrs. O'Hara said: "After October 1968, I thought that that was the right thing to do. I am proud of him, proud of them all".

Mr O'Hara said: "Personally speaking, I knew he would get involved. It was in his nature. He hated bullies al his life, and he saw big bullies in uniform and he would tackle them as well.

Shortly after Bloody Sunday, Patsy joined the 'Republican Clubs' and was active until 1973, "when it became apparent that they were firmly on the path to reformism and had abandoned the national question".


From this time onwards he was continually harassed, taken in for interrogation and assaulted.

One day, he and a friend were arrested on the Briemoor Road. Two saracens screeched to a halt beside them. Patsy later described this arrest: "We were thrown onto the floor and as they were bringing us to the arrest centre, we were given a beating with their batons and rifles. When we arrived and were getting out of the vehicles we were tripped and fell on our faces".

Three months later, after his seventeenth birthday, he was taken to the notorious interrogation centre at Ballykelly. He was interrogated for three days and then interned with three others who had been held for nine days.

"Long Kesh had been burned the week previously" said Patsy, "and as we flew above the camp in a British army helicopter we could see the complete devastation. When we arrived, we were given two blankets and mattresses and put into one of the cages.

"For the next two months we were on a starvation diet, no facilities of any" kind, and most men lying out open to the elements...

"That December a ceasefire was announced, then internment was phased out." Merlyn Rees also announced at the same time that special category status would be withdrawn on March 1st, 1976. I did not know then how much that change of policy would effect me in less than three years".

Patsy O'Hara died at 11.29 p.m. on Thursday, May 21st - on the same day as Raymond McCreesh with whom he had embarked on the hunger-strike sixty-one days earlier.

Even in death his torturers would not let him rest. When the O'Hara family been broken and his corpse bore several burn marks inflicted after his death.

Published in IRIS, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1981.

Patsy O'Hara

May 21st, 1981 - Ray McCreesh Dies

Raymond McCreesh

Died May 21st, 1981

A quiet, good-natured and discreet republican

THE THIRD of the resolutely determined IRA Volunteers to join the H-Block hunger strike for political status was twenty-four-year-old Raymond McCreesh, from Camlough in South Armagh: a quiet, shy and good-humoured republican, who although captured at the early age of nineteen, along with Volunteers Danny McGuinness and Paddy Quinn, in a British army ambush, had already almost three years active republican involvement behind him.

During those years he had established himself as one of the most dedicated and invaluable republican activists in that part of the six counties to which the Brits themselves have - half-fearfully, half-respectfully - given the name 'bandit country' and which has become a living legend in republican circles, during the present war, for the courage and resourcefulness of its Volunteers: the border land of South Armagh.

Raymond's resolve to hunger strike to the death, to secure the prisoners' five demands was indicated in a smuggled-out letter written by Paddy Quinn, an H-Block blanket man - who was later to embark on hunger strike himself and who received the same fourteen year sentence as Ray: "I wrote Raymie a couple of letters before he went to the prison hospital. He wrote back and according to the letter he was in great spirits and very determined. A sign of that determination was the way he finished off by saying: Ta seans ann go mbeidh me abhaile rombat a chara' which means: There is a chance that I'll be home before you, my friend!"

Captured in June 1976, and sentenced in March 1977, when he refused to recognise the court, Raymond would have been due for release in about two years' time had he not embarked on his principled protest for political status, which led him, ultimately, to hunger strike.


Raymond Peter McCreesh, the seventh in a family of eight children, was born in a small semi-detached house at St. Malachy's Park, Camlough - where the family still live - on February 25th, 1957.

The McCreeshes, a nationalist family in a staunchly nationalist area, have been rooted in South Armagh for seven generations, and both Raymond's parents - James aged 65, a retired local council worker, and Susan (whose maiden name is Quigley), aged 60 - come from the nearby townland of Dorsey.

Raymond was a quiet but very lively person, very good-natured and - like other members of his family - extremely witty. Not the sort of person who would push himself forward if he was in a crowd, and indeed often rather a shy person in his personal relationships until he got to know a person well. Nevertheless, in his republican capacity he was known as a capable, dedicated and totally committed Volunteer who could show leadership and aggression where necessary.

Among both his family and his republican associates, Raymond was renowned for his laughter and for "always having a wee smile on him". His sense of humour remained even during his four-year incarceration in the H-Blocks, as well as during his hunger strike where he continued to insist that he was "just fine."


Raymond went first to Camlough primary school, and then to St. Coleman's college in Newry. It was at St. Coleman's that Raymond met Danny McGuinness, also from Camlough, and the two became steadfast friends. They later became republican comrades, and Danny too then a nineteen-year-old student who had just completed his 'A' levels was captured along with Raymond and Paddy Quinn, and is now in the H-Blocks.

At school, Raymond's strongest interest was in Irish language and Irish history, and he read widely in those subjects. His understanding of Irish history led him to a fervently nationalist outlook, and he was regarded as a 'hothead' in his history classes, and as being generally "very conscious of his Irishness".

He was also a sportsman, and played under-sixteen and Minor football for Carrickcruppin Gaelic football club as well as taking a keen interest in the local youth club where he played basketball and pool, and was regarded a good snooker player.

When he was fourteen years old, Raymond got a weekend job working on a milk round through the South Armagh border area, around Mullaghbawn and Dromintee. Later on, after leaving his job in Lisburn, he worked full-time on the milk round, where he would always stop and chat to customers. He became a great favourite amongst them and many enquired about him long after he left the round.


During the early 'seventies, the South Armagh border area was the stamping ground of the British army's Parachute regiment, operating out of Bessbrook camp less than two miles from Raymond's home. Stories of their widespread brutality and harassment of local people abound, and built-up then a degree of resentment and resistance amongst most of the nationalist population that is seen to this day.

The SAS terror regiment began operating in this area in large numbers too, in a vain attempt to counter republican successes, and the high level of assassinations of local people on both sides of the South Armagh border, notably three members of the Reavey family in 1975, was believed locally to have been the work both of the SAS, and of UDR and RUC members holding dual membership with 'illegal' loyalist paramilitary organisations.

Given this scenario and Raymond's understanding of Irish history, it is small wonder that he became involved in the republican struggle.


He first of all joined na Fianna Eireann early in 1973 and towards the end of that year joined the Irish Republican Army's 1st Battalion, South Armagh.

Even before joining the IRA, and despite his very young age, Raymond - with remarkable awareness and maturity - became one of the first Volunteers in the South Armagh area to adopt a very low, security conscious, republican profile.

He rarely drank, but if occasionally in a pub he would not discuss either politics or his own activities, and he rarely attended demonstrations or indeed anything which would have brought him to the attention of the enemy.

It was because of this remarkable self-discipline and discretion that during his years of intense republican involvement Raymond was never once arrested or even held for screening in the North, and only twice held briefly in the South.

Consequently, Raymond was never obliged to go 'on the run', continuing to live at home until the evening of his capture, and always careful not to cause his family any concern or alarm.

Fitted in with his republican activities Raymond would relax by going to dances or by going to watch football matches at weekends.


After leaving school he spent a year at Newry technical college studying fabrication engineering, and afterwards got a job at Gambler Simms (Steel) Ltd. in Lisburn. He had a conscientious approach to his craft but was obliged to leave after a year because of a fear of assassination.

Each day he travelled to work from Newry, in a bus along with four or five mates who had got jobs there too from the technical college, but the prevailing high level of sectarian assassinations, and the suspicion justifiably felt of the predominantly loyalist work-force at Gambler Simms, made Raymond, and many other nationalist workers, decide that travelling such a regular route through loyalist country side was simply too risky.

So, after leaving the Lisburn factory, Raymond began to work full-time as a milk roundsman, an occupation which would greatly have increased his knowledge of the surrounding countryside, as well as enabling him to observe the movements of British army patrols and any other untoward activity in the area.


Republican activity in that area during those years consisted largely of landmine attacks and ambushes on enemy patrols.

Raymond had the reputation of a republican who was very keen to suggest and take part in operations, almost invariably working in his own, extremely tight, active service unit, though occasionally, when requested - as he frequently was - assisting other units in neighbouring areas with specific operations. He would always carefully consider the pros and cons of any operation, and would never panic or lose his nerve.

In undertaking the hunger strike, Raymond gave the matter the same careful consideration he would have expended on a military operation, he undertook nothing either a rush, or for bluff.


The operation which led to the capture of Raymond, his boyhood friend, Danny McGuiness, and Patrick Quinn, took place on June 25th, 1976.

An active service unit comprising these three and a fourth Volunteer arrived in a commandeered car at a farmyard in the town land of Sturgan a mile from Camlough - at about 9.25 p.m.

Their objective was to ambush a covert Brit observation post which they had located opposite the Mountain House Inn, on the main Newry - Newtonhamilton Road, half-a-mile away. They were not aware, however, that another covert British observation post, on a steep hillside half-a-mile away, had already spotted the four masked, uniformed and armed Volunteers, clearly visible below them, and that radioed helicopter reinforcements were already closing in.

As the fourth Volunteer drove the commandeered car down the road to the agreed ambush point, to act as a lure for the Brits, the other three moved down the hedgeline of the fields, into position. The fourth Volunteer, however, as he returned, as arranged, to rejoin his comrades, spotted the British Paratroopers on the hillside closing in on his unsuspecting friends and, although armed only with a short range Stengun, opened fire to warn the others.

Immediately, the Brits opened fire with SLRs and light machine-guns, churning up the ground around the Volunteers with hundreds of rounds, firing indiscriminately into the nearby farmhouse and two vehicles parked outside, and killing a grazing cow!

The fourth Volunteer was struck by three bullets, in the leg, arm and chest, but managed to crawl away and to elude the massive follow up search, escaping safely - though seriously injured - the following day.

Raymond and Paddy Quinn ran zig-zag across open fields to a nearby house, under fire all this time, intending to commandeer a car. Unfortunately, the car belonging to the occupants of the house was parked at a neighbour's house several hundred yards away. Even then the pair might have escaped but that they delayed several minutes waiting for their comrade, Danny McGuinness, who however had got separated from them and had taken cover in a disused quarry outhouse (where he was captured in a follow-up operation the next day).

The house in which Raymond and Paddy took cover was immediately besieged by berserk Paratroopers who riddled the house with bullets. Even when the two Volunteers surrendered, after the arrival of a local priest, and came out through the front door with their hands up, the Paras opened fire again and the pair were forced to retreat back into the house.

On the arrival of the RUC, the two Volunteers again surrendered and were taken to Bessbrook barracks where they were questioned and beaten for three days before being charged.


One remarkable aspect of the British ambush concerns the role of Lance-Corporal David Jones, a member of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute regiment. According to Brit statements at the trial it was he who first opened up on the IRA active service unit from the hillside.

Nine months later, on March 16th, 1977 two IRA Volunteers encountered two Paratroopers (at the time seconded to the SAS) in a field outside Maghera in South Derry. In the ensuing gun battle, one SAS man was shot dead, and one IRA Volunteer was captured. The Volunteer's name was Francis Hughes, the dead Brit was Lance-Corporal David Jones of the Parachute regiment.

In the eighteen months before going on hunger strike together neither Raymond McCreesh or Francis Hughes were aware of what would seem to have been an ironic but supremely fitting example of republican solidarity!

After nine months remand in Crumlin Road jail, Raymond was tried and convicted in March 1977, of attempting to kill Brits, possession of a Garand rifle and ammunition, and IRA membership. He received a fourteen-year sentence, and lesser concurrent sentences, after refusing to recognise the court.

In the H-Blocks he immediately joined the blanket protest, and so determined was his resistance to criminalisation that he refused to take his monthly visits for four years, right up until he informed his family of his decision to go on hunger strike on February 15th, this year. He also refused to send out monthly letters, writing only smuggled 'communications' to his family and friends.

The only member of his family to see him at all during those four years in Long Kesh two or three times - was his brother, Fr. Brian McCreesh, who occasionally says Mass in the H-Blocks.


Like Francis Hughes, Raymond volunteered for the earlier hunger strike, and, when he was not chosen among the first seven, took part in the four-day hunger strike by thirty republicans until the hunger strike ended on December 18th, last year.

Speaking to his brother, Malachy, shortly after Bobby Sands death, Raymond said what a great loss had been felt by the other hunger strikers, but it had made them more determined than ever.

And still managing to keep his spirits up, when told of his brother, Fr. Brian, campaigning for him on rally platforms, Raymond joked: "He'll probably get excommunicated for it."
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To Britain's eternal shame, the sombre half-prediction made by Raymond to his friend Paddy Quinn - Ta seans ann go mbeid me abhaile rombat - became a grim reality. Bhi se. Raymond died at 2.11 a.m. on Thursday May 21st, 1981, after 61 days on hunger strike.

Published in IRIS, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1981.

Raymond McCreesh

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

May 12th, 1981 - Francis Hughes Dies

May 12th, 1981 - Francis Hughes Dies

Died May 12th, 1981

A determined and totally fearless soldier

THE SECOND Republican to join the H-Block Hunger Strike for political status - a fortnight after Bobby Sands - was twenty-five-year-old Francis Hughes, from Bellaghy in South Derry: a determined, committed and totally fearless IRA Volunteer who organised a spectacularly successful series of military operations before his capture, and was once described by the RUC as their 'most wanted man' in the North.

Eluding for several years the relentless efforts of the British army, UDR and RUC to track him down, Francis operated boldly throughout parts of Tyrone and north and south Antrim, but particularly in his native South Derry, with a combination of brilliant organisation and extreme daring - until his capture after a shoot-out with the SAS - which earned him widespread popular renown, and won general support for the Republican cause, as well as giving him an undisputed reputation as a natural-born soldier and leader.


Francis Hughes was born on February 28th, 1956, the youngest son amongst ten children, into a staunchly Republican family which has been solidly rooted, for most of this century, in the townland of Tamlaghtduff, or Scribe Road, as it is otherwise called.

His parents who married in 1939, are Patrick Joseph Hughes, aged 72, a retired small cattle farmer born in the neighbouring town land of Ballymacpeake, and Margaret, aged 68, whose maiden name is McElwee, and who was born in Tamlaghtduff.

A quarter-of-a-mile away from the Hughes' bungalow, on the other side of the Scribe Road is the home of Thomas and Benedict McElwee - first cousins of Francis. Benedict is currently serving a sentence in the H-Blocks. Thomas - the eldest - embarked on Hunger Strike on June 8th, and died sixty-two days later on August 8th.

In Tamlaghtduff, as throughout the rest of Bellaghy, sympathy as well as active support for the Republican cause runs at a very high level, a fact testified to by the approximately twenty prisoners-of-war from around Bellaghy alone.

Francis was an extremely popular person, both to his family and to his republican colleagues and supporters.

His father recalls that as a boy he was always whistling, joking and singing: a trait which he carried over into his arduous and perilous days as a Republican, when he was able to transmit his enthusiasm and optimism both to Volunteers under his command and to Sympathisers who offered them - at great personal risk, food and shelter

It was qualities like these, of uncomplaining tirelessness, of consideration for the morale of those around him, and his ruling wish to lead by example, that have made Francis Hughes one of the most outstanding Irish revolutionary soldiers this war has produced and a man who was enormously respected in his native countryside.


As a boy, Francis went first to St. Mary's primary school in Bellaghy, and from there to Clady intermediate school three miles away.

He enjoyed school and was a fairly good student whose favourite subjects were history and woodwork. He was not particularly interested in sport, but was very much a lively, outdoor person, who enjoyed messing around on bikes, and later on, in cars.

He enjoyed dancing and regularly went to ceilidh as a young man, even while 'on the run', although after 'wanted' posters of him appeared his opportunities became less frequent.

His parents recall that Francis was always extremely helpful around the house, and that he was a "good tractor man".


Leaving school at sixteen, Francis got a job with his sister Vera's husband, as an apprentice painter and decorator, completing his apprenticeship shortly before 'going on the run'.

In later days, Francis would often do a spot of decorating for the people whose house he was staying in

On one occasion, shortly after the 'wanted' posters of him had been posted up all over South Derry, Francis was painting window frames at the front of the house he was staying in when two jeep-loads of British soldiers drove past. While the other occupants of the house froze in apprehension, Francis waved and smiled at the curious Brits as they passed by, and continued painting.

It was such utter fearlessness, and the ability to brazen his way through, that saved him time and time again during his relatively long career as an active service Volunteer.

On one such occasion, when stopped along with two other Volunteers as they crossed a field, Francis told a Brit patrol that they didn't feel safe walking the roads, as the IRA were so active in the area. The Brits allowed the trio to walk on, but after a few yards Francis ran back to the enemy patrol to scrounge a cigarette and a match from one of the British soldiers.

A turning point for Francis, in terms of his personal involvement in the Struggle, occurred at the age of seventeen, when he and a friend were stopped by British soldiers at Ardboe, in County Tyrone, as they returned from a dance one night.

The pair were taken out of their car and so badly kicked that Francis was bed-ridden for several days. Rejecting advice to make a complaint to the RUC, Francis said it would be a waste of time, but pledged instead to get even with those who had done it, "or with their friends."

Notwithstanding such a bitter personal experience of British thuggery, and the mental and physical scars it left, Francis' subsequent involvement in the Irish Republican Army was not based on a motive of revenge but on a clear and abiding belief in his country's right to national freedom.


During the early part of 'the troubles', the 'Officials' were relatively strong in the South Derry area and Francis' first involvement was with them.

However, disillusioned, as were many others, with the 'Sticks' unilateral ceasefire in 1972, he left to set up and command an 'independent' military unit in the Bellaghy area. About the end of 1973 the entire unit - including Francis - was formally recruited into the IRA.

Francis' involvement brought him increasingly to the attention of the British army and RUC and he was regularly held for a few hours in Magherafelt barracks and stopped on the road by British patrols; and on one occasion he was held for two days at Ballykelly camp.

As the 1975 IRA/British army truce came to an end Francis, fearing his imminent arrest, went 'on the run'. From that time on, he led a life perpetually on the move, often moving on foot up to twenty miles during one night then sleeping during the day - either in fields and ditches or in safe houses; a soldierly sight in his black beret and combat uniform, and openly carrying his rifle, a handgun and several grenades as well as food rations.

The enemy reacted with up to fifty early morning raids on Francis' home, and raids on the homes of those suspected of harbouring him. Often, houses would be staked out for days on end in the hope of capturing Francis. Often, it was only his sheer nerve and courage which saved him. One night, Francis was followed to a 'safe house' and looked out to see the Brits surrounding the place and closing in. Without hesitating, the uniformed Francis stepped outside the door, clutching his rifle, and in the darkness crept gradually through their lines, occasionally mumbling a few short words to British soldiers he passed, who, on seeing the shadowy uniformed figure, mistook him for one of themselves.

On numerous occasions, Francis and his comrades were stopped at checkpoints along the country roads while moving weapons from one locality to another but always calmly talked their way through. Once, a UDR soldier actually recognised Francis and his fellow Volunteers in a car but, fully aware that Francis would not be taken without a shoot-out, he waved their car on.


The years before Francis' capture were extremely active ones in the South Derry and surrounding areas with the commercial centres of towns and villages like Bellaghy, Maghera, Toome, Magherafelt and Castledawson being blitzed by car bombs on several occasions, and numerous shooting attacks being carried out as well.

Among the Volunteers under his command Francis had a reputation of being a strict disciplinarian and perfectionist who could not tolerate people taking their Republican duties less seriously, and selflessly, than was necessary. He also, however, inspired fellow Volunteers by his example and by always being in the thick of things, and he thrived on pressure.

During one night-time operation, a weapon was missing and Francis gave away his own weapon to another Volunteer, taking only a torch himself which he used to its maximum effect by shining it at an oncoming enemy vehicle, which had its headlights off, to enable the other Volunteers to direct their fire.

Francis' good-humoured audacity also showed itself in his Republican activity. At the height of his 'notoriety' he would set up road-blocks, hoping to lure the Brits into an ambush (which by hard experience they learned to avoid), or he would ring up the Brits and give them his whereabouts!

Such joking, however, did not extend only to the enemy. One day, lying out in the fields, he spied one of his uncles cycling down a country road. Taking careful aim with his rifle he shot away the bike's rear wheel. His uncle ran alarmed, into a nearby house shouting that loyalists had just tried to assassinate him!


The determination of the British army and RUC to capture Francis Hughes came to a head in April 1977. In that month, on Good Friday, a car containing three IRA Volunteers was overtaken and flagged down on the Moneymore Road at Dunronan, in County Derry, by a carload of RUC men.

The Volunteers attempted to make a U-turn but their car got stuck in a ditch as the armed RUC men approached. Jumping from the car, the Volunteers opened fire, killing two RUC men and injuring another before driving off. A hundred yards further up the road a second gun battle ensued but the Volunteers escaped safely.

Subsequently, the RUC issued a 'wanted' poster of Francis Hughes and two fellow Republicans, Dominic McGlinchey and Ian Milne, in which Francis was named as the 'most wanted man' in the North.

When his eventual capture came, it was just as he had always said it would be: "I'll get a few of them before they get me."


At 8.00 p.m. on March 16th, 1978, two SAS soldiers took up a stake-out position opposite a farm, on the south side of the Ronaghan road, about two miles west of Maghera, in the townland of Ballyknock.

At 9.15 p.m. they saw two men in military uniform and carrying rifles, walking in single file along the hedgeline of the field towards them. Using their 'night sights' in the darkness, the SAS men observed the military behaviour of the two on-comers and having challenged them, heard the men mumble a few words to each other in Irish accents and assumed that the pair were UDR soldiers.

One of the pair, in fact, was Francis Hughes, the other a fellow Volunteer, and with only a second's hesitation both Volunteers cocked their rifles and opened fire. One SAS man fell fatally wounded but the other - though shot in the stomach - managed to fire a long burst from his sterling sub-machine gun at the retreating figures, and to make radio contact with his base.

Within three minutes, nearby Brit patrols were on the scene and the area was entirely sealed off. The following morning hundreds of Brits took part in a massive search operation.

Fifteen hours after the shooting, at around 12.15 p.m. the next day, they found Francis Hughes sitting in the middle of a gorse bush in a field three hundred yards away, bleeding profusely from a bullet wound which had shattered his left thigh. As he was taken away on a stretcher he yelled defiantly, through his considerable pain: "Up the Provies".

(Below: Francis lies wounded after the shootout with the SAS.)

His comrade, though also wounded, slightly, managed to evade the dragnet and to escape.


How he survived the night of the shooting, possibly the coldest night of that year, bears eloquent testimony to Francis' grim determination to evade capture. After being shot, he dragged himself - unable to walk - across the Ronaghan road and across two fields without a sound, before burying himself in a thick clump of gorse bushes.

At one point, en-route, Francis fell down a sharp drop between fields, and his left leg - the muscle and bone completely disintegrated - came up over his shoulder; but Francis worked it carefully down before continuing to crawl on his way. In his hiding place, he lay through the night, motionless and soundless, till his capture.

When he was found, unable to move through the cold, pain and stiffness, Francis, knowing that both Brits and RUC were on instructions to shoot him on sight, gave his name as Eamonn Laverty and his address as Letterkenny, County Donegal.

Francis was taken to Magherafelt hospital and from there to Musgrave Park military hospital in Belfast, and it was only then that his true identity was revealed. He spent ten months in Musgrave Park where his leg was operated on, reducing his thigh bone by an inch-and-a-half and leaving him dependent on a crutch to walk.


On Wednesday, January 24th, 1979, Francis was taken from Musgrave Park hospital to Castlereagh interrogation centre where he spent six days before being charged on January 29th. For more than four days Francis refused food and drink, fearing that it might have been drugged to make him talk.

His behaviour in Castlereagh was typical of the fiercely determined and courageous Republican Volunteer that he was. His frustrated interrogators later described him as "totally uncooperative".

Nevertheless, at his trial in Belfast in February 1980, after a year on remand in Crumlin Road jail, Francis was found 'guilty' on all charges.

He received a life sentence for killing the SAS soldier, and fourteen years for attempting to kill the other SAS man. He also received fifty-five years on three other charges.


In the H-Blocks, Francis immediately went on the protest for political status and, despite the severe disability of his wounded leg, displayed the same courage and determination that had been his hallmark before his capture.

And, just as always wanting to be in the thick of things and wanting to shoulder responsibility for other political prisoners as he had earlier looked after the morale of fellow Volunteers, Francis was one of those to volunteer for the Hunger Strike which began on October 27th, 1980. He was not one of the first seven Hunger Strikers selected but was among the thirty men who joined the Hunger Strike in its closing stages as Sean McKenna's condition became critical.

That utter selflessness and courage came to its tragic conclusion on Tuesday, May 12th, when Francis died at 5.43 p.m. after fifty-nine days on Hunger Strike.

Published in IRIS, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1981. IRIS was a publication of the Sinn Fein Foreign Affairs Bureau.

Francis Hughes

Saturday, May 07, 2005

May 8th, 1987 - Eight Volunteers and One Civilian Killed at Loughgall

On May 8th, 1987, in the tiny village of Loughgall in County Armagh, eight IRA Volunteers and one civilian were killed by the S.A.S. in a joint shoot-to-kill operation with the R.U.C. The Volunteers, Jim Lynagh, Gerard O'Callaghan, Paddy Kelly, Pádraig McKearney, Tony Gormley, Declan Arthurs, Eugene Kelly and Séamus Donnelly of the East Tyrone Brigade, were engaged in an attack on the local RUC barracks.

Loughgall was a devastating blow to the IRA. It was the deadliest day for Óglaigh na hÉireann since the Irish War of Independence, and it nearly destroyed its East Tyrone Brigade. Many of the Volunteers killed were seasoned veterns and able leaders. It did, however, also manage to put the British in an uncomfortable spot. If, as the British government frequently insisted, there was no war in Ireland, then the shoot-to-kill operation (which was planned and approved at the highest level of the British government's administration) was a stark violation of Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights. If there was a war, then the British government was obliged to recognize that IRA prisoners had political status as prisoners of war. It would undo all the efforts made by the British government to paint the IRA as nothing more than criminals.
From the republican perspective, this was a tragic day in which eight brave Volunteers and one unfortunate civilian, Anthony Hughes, were killed by a foreign army occupying Ireland. From a British perspective, which maintains that there is no war, it would amount to yet another gross human rights violation - the murder of nine men. In order for it to be anything else, they would have to recognize the conflict for what it truly is - a war - and this would fly in the face of the stance they have long maintained. It would oblige them to recognize that every Republican Hunger Striker who went heroically to his grave fighting for political status was right, and that all Republican prisoners were entitled to such status. To date, the British government has neither been held accountable for it's actions in Loughgall, nor does it recognize the political status of Republican prisoners.

Vol Seamus Donnelly
Vol Tony Gormley
Vol Eugene Kelly
Vol Paddy Kelly
Vol Declan Arthurs
Vol Jim Lynagh
Vol Padraig McKearney
Vol Gerard O'Callaghan
Anthony Hughes


May 8th, 1981 - Joe McDonnell Joins Hunger Strike

Joe McDonnell
by Míchealín Ní Dhochartaigh
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Joe McDonnell was born on 14th September 1951 in Slate Street in Belfast's Lower Falls. He was one of 10 children.

He married his wife Gorretti in 1970 and moved in to live with Goretti's sister and her family in Lower Lenadoon. They had two children — Bernadette and Joseph. At that time, they were one of only two nationalist households in what was then a predominantly loyalist street, and, they were repeatedly attacked.

During internment, in 1972, Joe’s house was raided and he was taken to the prison ship Maidstone and later on to Long Kesh internment camp where he was held for several months. On his release Joe joined the IRA's Belfast Brigade.

During his periods of internment and when he was free, the McDonnell home was a site for constant harassment by the British army with frequent house raids and street arrests. He could rarely leave the house without being stopped or held up for hours by roadblocks.

Joe McDonnell met Bobby Sands when Republican Volunteers from the Andersonstown area assisted the Twinbrook active service unit which Bobby led. Joe was captured, along with Bobby, in October 1976 following a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company in Upper Dunmurray Lane near the Twinbrook estate. During an ensuing shoot-out with the BA and RUC, two republicans were wounded, and four others — Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell, Séamas Finucane and Seán Lavery — were arrested.

Only a single revolver was found in the car, and at the men's subsequent trial in September 1977 all four received 14-year sentences for possession when they refused to recognise the court.

<>Joe hadn't volunteered for the earlier hunger strike, but his disillusion and anger at the british duplicity following the end of that hunger strike, led Joe to put his name forward in 1981. When his friend and comrade Bobby Sands died on the 66th day of his hunger strike, Joe McDonnell volunteered to take Bobby's place and continue that fight.
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At 5.11 a.m., on 8th July 1981 Joe McDonnell died after 61 days on hunger strike.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

May 5th, 1981 - Bobby Sands Dies

Bobby Sands
"We refuse to lie here in dishonour! We are not criminals, but Irishmen! This is the crime of which we stand accused..." - Bobby Sands

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Died May 5th, 1981

The revolutionary spirit of freedom

Portions of this article were first published anonymously in 'Republican News', December 16th, 1978. The smuggled out article recalls how the spirit of republican defiance grew within him, and is a semi-autobiographical account.

BOBBY SANDS was born in 1954 in Rathcoole, a predominantly loyalist district of north Belfast. His twenty-seventh birthday fell on the ninth day of his sixty-six-day hunger strike. His sisters Marcella, one year younger, and Bernadette, were born in April 1955 and November 1958, respectively. All three lived their early years at Abbots Cross in the Newtownabbey area of north Belfast. A second son, John, now nineteen, was born to their parents John and Rosaleen, now both aged 57, in June 1962.

The sectarian realities of ghetto life materialised early in Bobby's life when at the age of ten his family were forced to move home owing to loyalist intimidation even as early as 1962. Bobby recalled his mother speaking of the troubled times which occurred during her childhood; 'Although I never really under stood what internment was or who the 'Specials' were, I grew to regard them as symbols of evil '.

Of this time Bobby himself later wrote: ''I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto, but it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom. I shall not settle until I achieve liberation of my country, until Ireland becomes a sovereign, independent socialist republic. ''

When Bobby was sixteen years old he started work as an apprentice coach builder and joined the National Union of Vehicle Builders and the ATGWU. In an article printed in 'An Phoblacht/Republican News' on April 4th, 1981, Bobby recalled: ''Starting work, although frightening at first became alright, especially with the reward at the end of the week. Dances and clothes, girls and a few shillings to spend, opened up a whole new world to me.''

Bobby's background, experiences and ambitions did not differ greatly from that of the average ghetto youth. Then came 1968 and the events which were to change his life. Bobby had served two years of his apprenticeship when he was intimidated out of his job. His sister Bernadette recalls: "Bobby went to work one morning and these fellows were standing there cleaning guns. One fellow said to him, 'Do you see these here, well if you don't go you'll get this' then Bobby also found a note in his lunch-box telling him to get out."

In June 1972, the family were intimidated out of their home in Doonbeg Drive, Rathcoole and moved into the newly built Twinbrook estate on the fringe of nationalist West Belfast. Bernadette again recalled: We had suffered intimidation for about eighteen months before we were actually put out. We had always been used to having Protestant friends. Bobby had gone around with Catholics and Protestants, but it ended up when everything erupted, that the friends he went about with for years were the same ones who helped to put his family out of their home.

As well as being intimidated out of his job and his home being under threat Bobby also suffered personal attacks from the loyalists.

At eighteen Bobby joined the Republican Movement. Bernadette says: .. 'he was just at the age when he was beginning to become aware of things happening around him. He more or less just said right, this is where I'm going to take up. A couple of his cousins had been arrested and interned. Booby felt that he should get involved and start doing something. '

Bobby himself wrote. "My life now centered around sleepless nights and stand-bys dodging the Brits and calming nerves to go out on operations. But the people stood by us. The people not only opened the doors of their homes to lend us a hand but they opened their hearts to us. I learned that without the people we could not survive and I knew that I owed them everything.

In October 1972, he was arrested. Four handguns were found in a house he was staying in and he was charged with possession. He spent the next three years in the cages of Long Kesh where he had political prisoner status. During this time Bobby read widely and taught himself Irish which he was later to teach the other Blanket Men in the H-Blocks.

Released in 1976 Bobby returned to his family in Twinbrook. He reported back to his local unit and straight back into the continuing struggle: 'Quite a lot of things had changed some parts of the ghettos had completely disappeared and others were in the process of being removed. The war was still forging ahead although tactics and strategy had changed. The British government was now seeking to 'Ulsterise' the war which included the attempted criminalisation of the IRA and attempted normalisation of the war situation.'

Bobby set himself to work tackling the social issues which affected the Twinbrook area. Here he became a community activist. According to Bernadette, 'When he got out of jail that first time our estate had no Green Cross, no Sinn Fein, nor anything like that. He was involved in the Tenants' Association... He got the black taxis to run to Twinbrook because the bus service at that time was inadequate. It got to the stage where people were coming to the door looking for Bobby to put up ramps on the roads in case cars were going too fast and would knock the children down.'

Within six months Bobby was arrested again. There had been a bomb attack on the Balmoral Furniture Company at Dunmurry, followed by a gun-battle in which two men were wounded. Bobby was in a car near the scene with three other young men. The RUC captured them and found a revolver in the car.

The six men were taken to Castlereagh and were subjected to brutal interrogations for six days. Bobby refused to answer any questions during his interrogation, except his name, age and address.

In a ninety-six verse poem written in 1980, entitled 'The Crime of Castlereagh', Bobby tells of his experiences in Castlereagh and his fears and thoughts at the time.

They came and came their job the same
In relays N'er they stopped.
'Just sign the line!' They shrieked each time
And beat me 'till I dropped.
They tortured me quite viciously
They threw me through the air.
It got so bad it seemed I had
Been beat beyond repair.

The days expired and no one tired,
Except of course the prey,
And knew they well that time would tell
Each dirty trick they laid on thick
For no one heard or saw,
Who dares to say in Castlereagh
The 'police' would break the law!

He was held on remand for eleven months until his trial in September 1977. As at his previous trial he refused to recognise the court.

The judge admitted there was no evidence to link Bobby, or the other three young men with him, to the bombing. So the four of them were sentenced to fourteen years each for possession of the one revolver.

Bobby spent the first twenty-two days of his sentence in solitary confinement, 'on the boards' in Crumlin Road jail. For fifteen of those days he was completely naked. He was moved to the H-Blocks and joined the blanket protest. He began to write for Republican News and then after February 1979 for the newly-merged An Phobhacht/Republican News under the pen-name, 'Marcella', his sister's name. His articles and letters, in minute handwriting, like all communications from the H-Blocks, were smuggled out on tiny pieces of toilet paper.

He wrote: 'The days were long and lonely. The sudden and total deprivation of such basic human necessities as exercise and fresh air, association with other people, my own clothes and things like newspapers, radio, cigarettes books and a host of other things, made my life very hard.'

Bobby became PRO for the blanket men and was in constant confrontation with the prison authorities which resulted in several spells of solitary confinement. In the H-Blocks, beatings, long periods in the punishment cells, starvation diets and torture were commonplace as the prison authorities, with the full knowledge and consent of the British administration, imposed a harsh and brutal regime on the prisoners in their attempts to break the prisoners' resistance to criminalisation.

The H-Blocks became the battlefield in which the republican spirit of resistance met head-on all the inhumanities that the British could perpetrate. The republican spirit prevailed and in April 1978 in protest against systematic ill-treatment when they went to the toilets or got showered, the H-Block prisoners refused to wash or slop-out. They were joined in this no-wash protest by the women in Armagh jail in February 1980 when they were subjected to similar harassment.

On October 27th, 1980, following the breakdown of talks between British direct ruler in the North, Humphrey Atkins, and Cardinal O Fiaich, the Irish Catholic primate, seven prisoners in the H-Blocks began a hunger strike. Bobby volunteered for the fast but instead he succeeded, as O/C, Brendan Hughes, who went on hunger-strike.

During the hunger-strike he was given political recognition by the prison authorities. The day after a senior British official visited the hunger-strikers, Bobby was brought half a mile in a prison van from H3 to the prison hospital to visit them. Subsequently he was allowed several meetings with Brendan Hughes. He was not involved in the decision to end the hunger-strike which was taken by the seven men alone. But later that night he was taken to meet them and was allowed to visit republican prison leaders in H-Blocks 4, 5 and 6.

On December 19th, 1980, Bobby issued a statement that the prisoners would not wear prison-issue clothing nor do prison work. He then began negotiations with the prison governor, Stanley Hilditch, for a step-by-step de-escalation of the protest.

But the prisoners' efforts were rebuffed by the authorities: 'We discovered that our good will and flexibility were in vain,' wrote Bobby. It was made abundantly clear during one of my co-operation' meetings with prison officials that strict conformity was required. which in essence meant acceptance of criminal status.

In the H-Blocks the British saw the opportunity to defeat the IRA by criminalising Irish freedom fighters but the blanketmen, perhaps more than those on the outside, appreciated before anyone else the grave repercussions, and so they fought.

Bobby volunteered to lead the new hunger strike. He saw it as a microcosm of the way the Brits were treating Ireland historically and presently, Bobby realised that someone would have to die to win political status.

He insisted on starting two weeks in front of the others so that perhaps his death could secure the five demands and save their lives. For the first seventeen days of the hunger strike Bobby kept a secret diary in which he wrote his thoughts and views, mostly in English but occasionally breaking into Gaelic. He had no fear of death and saw the hunger-strike as something much larger than the five demands and as having major repercussions for British rule in Ireland. The diary was written on toilet paper in biro pen and had to be hidden, mostly carried inside Bobby's own body. During those first seventeen days Bobby lost a total of sixteen pounds weight and on Monday, March 23rd, he was moved to the prison hospital.

On March 30th, he was nominated as candidate for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election caused by the sudden death of Frank Maguire, an independent MP who supported the prisoners' cause. The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

The next morning, day thirty-one, of his hunger-strike, he was visited by Owen Carron who acted as his election agent. Owen told of that first visit 'Instead of meeting that young man of the poster with long hair and a fresh face, even at that time when Bobby wasn't too bad he was radically changed. He was very thin and bony and his hair was cut short.'

Bobby had no illusions with regard to his election victory. His reaction was not one of over-optimism. After the result was announced Owen visited Bobby. "He had already heard the result on the radio. He was in good form alright but he always used to keep saying, 'In my position you can't afford to be optimistic.' In other words, he didn't take it that because he'd won an election that his life would be saved. He thought that the Brits would need their pound of flesh. I think he was always working on the premise that he would have to die."

At 1.17 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5th, having completed sixty-five days on hunger-strike, Bobby Sands MP, died in the H-Block prison hospital at Long Kesh. Bobby was a truly unique person whose loss is great and immeasurable. He never gave himself a moment to spare. He lived his life energetically, dedicated to his people and to the republican cause, eventually offering up his life in a conscious effort to further that cause and the cause of those with whom he had shared almost eight years of his adult life. In his own words: "of course can be murdered but I remain what I am, a political POW and no-one, not even the British, can change that."
"Our revenge will be the laughter of our children." - Bobby Sands