Joe McDonnell 25th Anniversary

Today marks the 25th Anniversary of the death of Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell. Joe was the fifth man to die on Hunger Striker, Thatcher already having the blood of his four comrades before him on her hands.

Most Republicans hold the Fenian view that Ecclesiastics have no place in politics, this view however could not take into account the good work of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, a South Armagh man and primate of all Ireland.

He was gravely affected by the deaths of the men. He had blown the whistle on the Brits about conditions in the Kesh. He made powerful statements and worked behind the scenes, but he blamed himself for not doing enough.

What else he could have done, he wasn't sure, but he cried when Raymond McCreesh, one from his own diocese of Armagh, and Patsy O'Hara died.

He was in London to attend a commemoration for St. Oliver Plunkett, himself martyred by the British. He spoke at the open-air commemorative mass of the penal days in Ireland and of the priests ordained by Oliver Plunkett who defied the British by bringing the people through those terrible Cromwellian times: "Golden priests with wooden chalices" they were called.

He then met Thatcher.

She had no idea of the current situation or even the rudiments of Irish history. At one point she declared that the 6 county state had been set up to begin with to "save" the Catholics from civil war. O'Fiaich was compelled to give her a history lesson and finished by expressing his belief that the "Irish question" would only be solved when there was a 32 county, independent Irish state of some kind, of any kind, as long as the Irish people themselves could determine their own political fate without interference.

She complained: why must the Irish always have a problem? She even explained haughtily that "we" fought the Germans and now we are friends. What about that?

The Cardinal looked her hard in her hardly human eyes: "Because, Madame, if you want a simple answer, you're no longer in occupation of the Ruhr."

Joe McDonnell was a thirty-year-old married man with two children, from the Lenadoon housing estate in West Belfast. It illustrates well the feeling of bitter determination prevailing in the H-Blocks that Joe McDonnell, who did not volunteer for the hunger strike last year because, he said, "I have too much to live for", should have become so frustrated and angered by British perfidy as to embark on hunger strike on Sunday, May 9th, 1981.

In June, Joe was a candidate during the Free State general election, in the Sligo/Leitrim constituency, in which he narrowly missed election by 315 votes.

At 5.11 a.m., on July 8th, Joe McDonnell, who - believeably, for those who know his wife Goretti, his children Bernadette and Joseph and his family - "had too much to live for" died after sixty one days of agonising hunger strike, rather than be criminalised.

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends

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