In light of the recent deaths of Brendan 'The Dark' Hughes and Margaret Hughes, mother of legendary IRA volunteer and heroic H-Block martyr Francis, I decided that it was perhaps apt and poignant to once more reflect on the events of the 1981 hunger strike.
The death of Brendan once more highlights the poor health and the long term detriments that hunger strike can have on your health. However the dignity in which people like Brendan, Paddy Quinn and Brendan Mc Laughlin cope with this is commendable. Indeed it once more shows the courage that is needed to commit yourself to the hunger strike.
Indeed the ten men who died showed remarkable courage in the face of extreme adversity and pressure. Dying a slow, agonising death is never an easy option to choose, but then again the choice was pushed upon them by years of brutality, degradation and inhumanity in the H-Blocks. These young men chose to die on their feet rather than live on their knees as Mpzenza once famously said. No one can argue with their decision.
Brendan and other hunger strikers that I am acquainted with have often spoken at length of the physical pain of hunger strike. They would say of how they knew they were wasting away, and could smell their own rotten flesh. However several have spoken of the grief they knew that they were bringing to their family. I think in light of the death of Margaret Hughes and Alfie Doherty that we should examine the profound effect this has had on the families.
Oliver Hughes, Francis brother, spoke of how whilst his mother did not want Francis to die, she knew this was his decision and it had to be, and she was immensely proud of her son for his choice and the courage of his conviction. Indeed in her later years Margaret often prayed to Francis, offering him comfort in his eternal rest. In the words of the poem 'The Mother' by Pearse, he tells of how the mothers of Ireland's patriot dead "suffer in their coming and in their going". This could not be any more relevant than in the case of the hunger strikers.
The suffering of mothers whose sons are on hunger strike is indubitably a traumatic thing. It is often said that the greatest injustice is when a child dies before its own parents. In the case of the mothers of the H-Block martyrs they had to watch as their young sons faded away into nothing and died an agonising death.
This grief was compounded by the opprobrious actions of the Catholic Church, in particular that sadistic bastard Fr Faul. In the families' time of need, when they needed support and comfort, the RC Church provided unnecessary and immoral pressure on already suffering families. How men that are supposed to represent God can inflict such pain and suffering on fellow human beings is beyond my comprehension.
For the families of the H-Block volunteers, whilst they may be very proud of the sacrifice of their sons, the overwhelming sense of loss and grief will never subside. To them they are not simply the faces on the posters, the smiling faces that adorn gable walls in murals, or the names in songs. To them they were the sons, brothers, husbands and fathers that they knew and loved. Whilst republicans may remember them with pride, for their families this pride is tainted with extreme sadness.
I think that it is apt to conclude this post with the lines of a Christy Moore song. These lyrics are from the song 'The Time Has Come' that was written by Christy for Peggy O'Hara the mother of Patsy O'Hara.
"The gentle clasp that holds my hand must loosen and let go,
please help me through the door though instinct it tells you no,
our vow it is eternal and will bring you dreadful pain,
but if our demands are not recognised please don't call me back again".