1981 Irish hunger strike

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25th commemoration of 1981 Irish hunger strike

1981 Irish hunger strike

The 1981 Irish hunger strike was a pivotal event during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The hunger strike was the culmination of a five-year protest during which Irish republican prisoners sought to regain Special Category Status, which would have granted them the same privileges as prisoners of war.

Background[edit | edit source]

The protest began in 1976 when the British government withdrew Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners. In response, prisoners in the Maze Prison (also known as Long Kesh) initiated the blanket protest, refusing to wear prison uniforms and instead wrapping themselves in blankets. This escalated into the dirty protest in 1978, where prisoners refused to wash and smeared their cells with excrement.

The Hunger Strike[edit | edit source]

The first hunger strike took place in 1980 but ended without achieving its goals. The second hunger strike began on 1 March 1981, led by Bobby Sands, who was the Officer Commanding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners in the Maze Prison. Sands began his strike to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Frank Stagg, an IRA volunteer who had died on hunger strike in 1976.

During the strike, Sands was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in a by-election, which garnered significant international attention. Despite this, the British government under Margaret Thatcher remained resolute in its stance against granting political status to the prisoners.

Deaths and Aftermath[edit | edit source]

The hunger strike resulted in the deaths of ten prisoners, including Sands, who died on 5 May 1981 after 66 days without food. The other nine who died were Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O'Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, and Michael Devine.

The strike had a profound impact on the Northern Ireland conflict, leading to increased support for the Provisional IRA and the political party Sinn Féin. It also led to a shift in strategy towards electoral politics, which eventually contributed to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The 1981 hunger strike is remembered as a significant event in Irish history and is commemorated annually. It highlighted the prisoners' plight and brought international attention to the situation in Northern Ireland. The strike also had a lasting impact on the political landscape, influencing the rise of Sinn Féin as a major political force.

See also[edit | edit source]

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Further reading[edit | edit source]



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