Thomas Mc Ilwee died today 32 years ago, he was a young man of 23 years.
Thomas McElwee, the fifth of twelve children, was born on November 30th, 1957, into the small, whitewashed home built by his father, along the Tamlaghtduff Road in the parish of Bellaghy.Jim and Alice McElwee married in 1950 and had twelve children, Kathleen, Mary, Bernadette, Annie, Enda, Thomas, Benedict, Joseph, Nora, Pauline, Majella and the youngest James.
Tom McElwee went to St Mary’s primary in Bellaghy, and then to Clady intermediate, three miles away.Thomas got on pretty well at school. From he was eleven Thomas had an intense interest in working with cars and all types of machinery.
As he grew older, his fascination for engines grew stronger. He got his driving licence as soon as he was old enough, and got his own car. He used to travel all over the place to watch stock-car racing.
Thomas joined Fianna Eireann when he was only 14, and subsequently joined the independent unit led by his cousin, Francis Hughes before it was recruited in its entirety, after a period of time, into the IRA.The following few years, before Thomas’ capture in October ‘76, were active ones in the South Derry area.
He had been arrested on a couple of occasions but on October 9th 1976, Kathleen answered the phone, to be told that both their brothers Thomas and Benedict were in the Wavery hospital in Ballymena following a premature bomb explosion in a car in the town, shortly beforehand.In the explosion, Thomas lost his right eye, while two other Bellaghy men were also injured: Colm Scullion losing several toes and Sean McPeake, losing a leg.Benedict McElwee, fortunately, suffered only from shock and superficial burns.
Following the explosion, several other republicans in the town were arrested, later to be charged. These included Dolores O’Neill, from Portglenone, Thomas’ girlfriend, and Ann Bateson, from Toomebridge, both of whom joined the protest in Armagh women’s jail.
Thomas was transferred from the Ballymena hospital to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for emergency surgery to save his remaining eye. It was three weeks, however, before he was able to see at all.One week before Christmas, he and Benedict were charged and sent to Crumlin Road jail.
At their subsequent trial in September 1977, having spent over eight months on remand in Crumlin Road, Thomas was convicted not only of possession of explosives but also for the killing of a woman who accidentally died in a bomb attack elsewhere in Ballymena that day and with which other republicans were also charged.That ‘murder’ conviction was, on appeal, reduced to 20 years for manslaughterand Thomas returned to the blanket protest he had joined immediately after his trial, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.
The McElwee family weren’t surprised last December when they discovered that both Thomas and Benedict had joined the thirty strong hunger-strike, as Sean McKenna neared death.
Thomas McElwee died at 11.30am on Saturday, August 8th. THOMAS McELWEE Aged 23 from South Derry. Commenced hunger-strike June 8th, died August 8th after 63 days.
Mary Queen of the Gael, intercede for the souls of all our Patriot Dead. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, in the mercy of God rest in peace. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, comrades and friends of Patriot Dead at this time.
Mary Banríon na nGael, intercede do na anamacha na ár dtírghráthóirí léir Dead. Bealtaine a n-anamacha, agus an anamacha de na departed dílis, i an trócaire Dé chuid eile i síochána. Is iad ár smaointe agus paidreacha leis na teaghlaigh, chomrádaithe agus do chairde de Tírghrá ag