Freedom For All Ireland Report – Chairman’s December Report on the Legacy of “Hunger Strike 1980”

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, has issued the following statement by National Freedom for All Ireland Chairman Martin Galvin:

“HUNGER STRIKE 1980”, the first in a series of Hibernian events honoring the legacy of the 1981 Hunger Strikers, was highlighted by new revelations about British strategy inside and outside the prison, as well as the crucial battle for American opinion. The live online broadcast featured one of the seven 1980 Hunger Strikers Tommy McKearney, former H-Block Blanketman now MLA Fra McCann, and political commentator Andree Murphy. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s decision after the 53-day Hunger Strike ended December 18, 1980, to intensify repression rather than compromise, triggered the 1981 Hunger Strike, and forever changed Ireland’s political landscape as well as its American dimension.

PRISONERS STATEMENT

 “The webinar opened with the Republican prisoners’ statement declaring the 1980 Hunger Strike, read by Ancient Order of Hibernian President Danny O’Connell. Seven prisoners in the H-Bocks of Long Kesh began hunger strike on October 27,1980, demanding to be treated as political prisoners, “refusing to bow the knee before the British administration and wear a criminal uniform” despite years of British brutality. They were Brendan Hughes, Tommy McKearney, Leo Green, Sean McKenna, Raymond McCartney, Tom McFeeley and INLA member John Nixon.

Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians President, Karen Keane, noted that Mairead Farrell, Mary Doyle and Mairead Nugent had joined the Hunger Strike on December 1st, from Armagh Women’s Prison. Past AOH President Judge James McKay, commended those using new technologies to bring key speakers from Ireland at this crucial time”. The support of other Irish organizations, including Irish Northern Aid, Irish American Unity Conference and the Brehon Law Society also welcomed.   

BLANKETMEN

Fra McCann former Belfast City Councilman, and elected Stormont Assembly member, explained how seeing British troops and Royal Ulster constabulary carrying out the Falls Curfew, Internment and Bloody Sunday, convinced him to join the Irish Republican Army and fight to end British rule. He was twice imprisoned as a political or special category prisoner, a status recognized by the British after a 1972 Hunger Strike led by legendary IRA Commander Billy McKee.

“However, in 1976 the British decided to deny jury trials and establish special laws for political offenses, then treat those jailed were criminals, not political prisoners. The new laws were central to a new strategy portraying all Irish resistance to British rule as a crime. The centerpiece of this new policy was making prisoners wear a criminal costume, instead of their own clothes as political prisoners.

“Kieran Nugent, Fra McCann’s lifelong friend, was the first man jailed in the H-Block cells in Long Kesh prison under the new British strategy. He said that if the British wanted him to wear a criminal costume, ‘they would have to nail it to him.’ Kieran Nugent was then forced to remain naked, except for a blanket. He and other Republican prisoners, called Blanketmen were systematically mistreated.

AMERICAN HEADLINES

“Fra McCann joined the protest after being re-arrested. He and other Blanketmen were constantly beaten. There were no toilets in the cells, which became filled with human waste. Young prisoners were targeted for special beatings. The Blanketmen began a series of protests inside Long Kesh, while Cardinal O’Fiaich and others attempted to get the Thatcher regime to compromise.

“Upon his release Fra McCann was sent to America in the crucial battle for American opinion. He, Kieran Nugent and Liam Carlin, travelled to America despite being denied visas and legal entry. Fra McCann was smuggled into Buffalo then sent to New York. Irish American supporters sent him on a national tour including San Francisco, Chicago, Dayton Ohio, Albany, and Washington DC. doing newspaper and television interviews and meetings with Irish American supporters. In Boston he had to leave a press conference in the Massachusetts State House, as Immigration arrived.

“Caught by Immigration, a sympathetic judge told him to claim political asylum and released him. This meant Fra McCann could appear publicly at advertised events. When the Hunger Strike ended he was in New York, speaking in a packed hall alongside the United Nations. He saw headlines, ‘Irish Hunger Strikers near death.’ A leading politician pointed out Ireland was front page news in America for the first time since Bloody Sunday.

CAMPAIGN

“Political commentator Andree Murphy was introduced by LAOH FFAI Chair Dolores Desch. Ms. Murphy described how the political campaign outside the prisons began with the mothers and relatives of Irish prisoners forming Relatives Action Committees to highlight conditions. These grew into a National H-Block Armagh Committee and protest marches began to turn out large numbers showing political support for the Blanketmen. The British reacted by deploying loyalists to assassinate leading members of the committee including Miriam Daly, John Turnley, Ronnie Bunting. Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, and her husband were severely wounded.

“As the campaign grew. British troops and Royal Ulster Constabulary took over. Women and children were killed with plastic bullets. The aim was to intimidate and criminalize supporters. Those killed were portrayed as rioters or criminals and no member of crown forces was held accountable.

“Before the Hunger Strikes, Ms. Murphy said, the north seemed to be ignored or forgotten in the 26 counties. By the end of the Hunger Strikes, the names of the Hunger Strikers could be seen on street corners across the country and the impact is felt in Irish politics today.

NEAR DEATH

Tommy McKearney described collusion and how loyalists, directed by British crown forces, killed members of his family as they worked the family owned shop. He himself was jailed after a Diplock non-jury trial, where the only evidence was a fabricated confession he had never made. A doctor employed by the RUC, Dr. Robert Irwin, made a formal complaint about the injuries he saw that Mr. McKearney suffered under interrogation. Dr. Irwin’s charges about beatings of suspects were highlighted by Amnesty International and a television documentary.

After years of inhuman conditions, and the British refusing any compromises, he volunteered to go on Hunger Strike, and was chosen to represent Tyrone. He was near death, going in and out of consciousness at the time the Hunger Strike ended.

“The H-Bock prisoners expected the British to make gradual moves on a criminal uniform or other conditions. Instead Margaret Thatcher and the British decided to intensify efforts to break the prisoners and their struggle.  Her miscalculation made the 1981 Hunger Strike and death of 10 Irish patriots inevitable.

REACTION

“The 1980 Hunger Strike, changed the political landscape in America as well as Ireland, so that when Bobby Sands began his Hunger Strike in 1981, Irish America understood what was at stake, and was united and ready to respond.  The numbers of people and Irish American groups who joined with the AOH and LAOH to watch this broadcast demonstrates that the legacy of the 1981 Hunger Strike Martyrs continues to inspire Irish Americans. That legacy will be in direct contrast with British celebrations of the 100th anniversary of partition and formation of the Orange State”.

Martin Galvin
National and NYS AOH FFAI Chair

“Hunger Strike 1980” Webinar Honors the Legacy of the 1981 Hunger Strikers

Forty years ago, seven Irish Republican political prisoners were in the midst of a 53 day Hunger Strike against British torture and a strategy to brand them as common criminals rather than political prisoners. Britain’s decision at the end of that Hunger Strike, to intensify efforts to break the H-block prisoners rather than compromise, triggered the 1981 Hunger Strike transforming Irish politics and its American dimension. Hibernians will host a special live webinar broadcast ‘Hunger Strike 1980’ on Saturday December 5th featuring key perspectives from inside the Hunger Strike, from the campaign on Irish streets, and from the crucial battle for American public opinion.

View the Webinar Recording on YouTube here.

The webinar was sponsored by America’s oldest and largest Irish organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Joining in the live webinar broadcast were Hibernians across the United States, led by National Presidents Danny O’Connell and Karen Keane. Watch as a 1980 Hunger Striker, Tommy McKearney, discusses the events with former H-Block Blanketman now MLA Fra McCann, and political commentator Andree Murphy.  Read Martin Galvin, National and NYS AOH FFAI Chairs report on “Hunger Strike 1980.

State Honors the Order and Ireland’s 1918 Freedom Mandate

Hibernians from Suffolk to Buffalo, led by State Presidents Victor Vogel and Jacqueline Clute, were applauded in the New York State Senate and Assembly chambers and won State Legislative Resolutions honoring “Ireland’s 1918 Freedom Mandate”. The AOH and LAOH picked April 24th,the calendar day of the 1916 Rising, to honor the historic election where Ireland stunned Britain by voting  for the Easter Rising and a free Irish parliament or Dail Eireann. The ceremonies in both state houses preceded a celebration at the Albany AOH Hall, where Senator Boyle presented a framed copy of the State Senate Resolution to the State Presidents. Click to view the event photo album.

Gathering of State, County, Division officers on the steps of the New York State Capitol in Albany

SENATE

Senator Boyle opened the state Senate session with the “Irish Freedom Mandate 1918” topping the agenda. The bill, already passed in both the Senate and Assembly, recounted the history of the 1918 Freedom Mandate, then went on to commend the AOH-LAOH for making sure this key chapter in Irish history was properly remembered in New York State.

Despite a last minute schedule change and early morning session, a strong AOH-LAOH delegation attended, led by both State Presidents, National Secretary Karen Keane, State Secretary John Manning, Hibernian Digest Editor John O’Connell, State Treasurer Regina Begley, Past Presidents Jim Burke, Tim McSweeney, Chip McLean,and FFAI Chairs Dolores Desch and Martin Galvin among other state and county officers.

Senator Boyle spoke of the import of the resolution and his pride in being a member of the AOH. Senator Martin Golden, then stood to speak about his own pride in Irish heritage, his wish for the reunification of Ireland and the major part in Irish history played by the “exiled children in America.” Senator Klein then talked about the Irish desire for freedom and hardships the Irish overcame, in common with the experiences of so many American immigrants to America. (Read a copy of the Resolution).

The Senators stood and applauded the AOH and LAOH for raising this important issue. The Senate then suspended and permitted the AOH-LAOH to come forward for photographs.

(l-r) LAOH FFAI Chair Delores Desch, Senator Philip A. Boyle, NYAOH President Vic Vogel, LAOH President Jacqueline Clute, Martin Galvin, NYAOH FFAI Chair, and Senator Martin J. Golden

ASSEMBLY

Nearly 100 AOH-LAOH members packed the gallery for the Assembly session that afternoon. State VP Tom Lambert, National Directors Dan Dennehy and Liam McNabb, LAOH State officers Joann Gunderson and Cathie Doherty among many others joined as Speaker Carl Heastie welcomed the delegation. Bronx County President Bob Nolan was designated by his cousin Assemblywoman Nolan to sit alongside her as a special representative for the AOH-LAOH.

Assembly Sponsor Cusick spoke about how the legislature honored the 100th anniversary of 1916, and should not forget that in 1918, Ireland voted popular support for the freedom proclaimed in 1916 and to have a free Irish parliament. Assemblywoman Nolan followed also spoke about the resolution.

State county and division officers are joined on the floor by NYS Senators and Members of the Assembly

EVENT

Hibernians then went to the Albany AOH Hall for a celebration co-hosted by AOH Division 5 led by Ciaran Geraghty and John Levendosky and LAOH Division 1 led by Dolores Desch and Cathy Davis.

The formal presentation of the State Resolution by Senator Phil Boyle to State Presidents Jacqueline Clute and Victor Vogel

The highlight of this event was the formal presentation of a framed copy of the State Resolution by Senator Boyle to State Presidents Victor Vogel and Jacqueline Clute. State President Vogel noted that Senator Boyle was a member of the AOH and thanked him and all the Senators and Assembly members who voted for these important Irish resolutions and all the AOH-LAOH members who lobbied for their support.

An Aide to State Comptroller DiNapoli spoke about the Comptroller’s backing on the MacBride Principles and recently the McGuinness Principles.

National Director Liam McNabb praised the united effort from around the state which had gotten the votes to pass these Resolutions.

New York State AOH Freedom For All Ireland Chair Martin Galvin noted:

“The 1916 Rising and Proclamation were the beginning of freedom for 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties. This year we mark the centenary of the 1918 all-Ireland election where by electing 73 Sinn Fein candidates out of 105 pledged to a free Irish Parliament rather than a British parliament, the Irish shocked Britain and voted popular support for the Rising and freedom. Sadly we must remember that Britain’s response was to jail many of those elected, outlaw the Irish parliament and today  six counties are still denied freedom for all Ireland.

LAOH FFAI Chair Dolores Desch then concluded by speaking about the 1918 Irish election, where women were allowed to vote and Sinn Fein campaigned on a platform of national freedom as proclaimed in 1916. She called for support for initiatives such as the McGuinness Principles to finally see that freedom for all of Ireland.

Photos and photo album courtesy of John O’Connell of oconnellphotos.com

Fundraiser for NY Candidates for National Office

Join Us in Showing Support

Saturday, May 21, 2016
3:00 – 7:00 pm

Liam_McNabbLiam McNabb
for
AOH National Director
Karen_KeaneKaren Keane
for
LAOH National Secretary

Tickets are $25.00.

Admission includes music, draft beer, Soda, food & more!

CDIAA: Albany Hibernian Hall
375 Ontario Street
Albany, NY

Raffles, Good Friends and Fun in the True Albany Style

Please support these candidates in their pursuit to represent you on the National Boards. Liam and Karen both bring years of hard work and dedication to our Orders. Please join us on May 21, 2016 at 3:00.  If you are unable to attend, please consider sending a donation payable to “AOH Division 5 Albany” to Tim Weklar at: 3431 State Route 43 Averill Park, NY 12018

For more information contact: Tim McSweeney at Newjack12007@yahoo.com or Nancy Holland at termtav@gmail.com

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