Tomorrow, 12th May, marks my fathers birthday but more important than that it marks the 25th Anniversary of the death of Francis Hughes and the 90th Anniversary of the death of James Connolly. Francis was the second hunger striker to die, he was only 25 when he died.
He was a determined, committed and a 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.
Francis was a commited Volunteer of Oglaigh na hÉireann but he wasn't a savage, he hatred killing. Particularly, he hated having to kill British soldiers. He told his brother Mick, "They're just kids. For God's sake, I don't want to be shooting them. I want them to bloody go home in the morning."
He was taught by his father, Joe, not to be bigoted against Protestants or anyone. Once he burst in with his gun drawn on a UDR man and told him to say his prayers before meeting his end. While he waited, the man begged for his life, saying he left the UDR. Francis walked away, because he couldn't be sure. It turned out the man had just left the regiment.
He began his hunger strike on 15 March, 15 days after Bobby. He gave a speech out of the cell door to the men in the wing. He told them he wanted to be in the front line of the war. He said he sometimes regretted not holding onto his M14 for a final shootout on the night before he captured, rather than trying to escape, but that he was glad to have gone on the blanket and now he would use the weapon he now had -- hunger strike -- to the end if necessary.
He told them if he died, that they should listen for the sound of his crutch tapping down the corridors of the cell blocks. It would be Frank Hughes keeping an eye on his comrades.
Francis showed courage and honour far beyond what the enemy showed him. He lay down his life for his beliefs and for his comrades.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
It is fitting that Francis Hughes and James Connolly would share the same date with death, both patriots and both fought and died for Ireland's independence.
James Connolly was a Socialist and a Republican, the one man who best symbolises my Republicanism.
On May 12th,1916, Connolly was shot by firing squad. He had been taken by military ambulance to Kilmainham Prison, carried on a stretcher to a courtyard in the prison, tied to a chair and shot. With the other executed rebels, his body was put into a mass grave with no coffin.
In death, Connolly and the other rebels had succeeded in rousing many Irish people who had been, at best, indifferent to the cause of Irish freedom.
Ní hiad na fir mhóraa bhaineas an fomhar i gcónaí