Memories recalled: brother of one of the ‘Ten Brave Men’ Patsy O’Hara recalls in pictures his return to the H-Blocks after his brothers death – Ádh mór oraibh

Fuair sé bás ar son saoirse na hÉireann

Myself and family and friends return to the H Blocks Long kesh

– With Colm O’Neill and John Nixon at The Maze Prison/H5 – Long Kesh.
– At The Maze Prison/Long Kesh

 

– At The Maze Prison/Long Kesh
– At The Maze Prison/Long Kesh

 

 

– At The Maze Prison/Long Kesh

 

 

– At The Maze Prison/Long Kesh
– At The Maze Prison/Long Kesh

 

 

 

– With Teresa Ferry at The Maze Prison/ Long Kesh

 

 

With many thanks to: Antoin O’Hara for allowing me permission to share these very precious memories. Your brothers sacrifice will never be forgotten by the true Republicans of Éire. Beir Bua

Follow this link to find out more: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patsy_O%27Hara

 

Remembering with pride Patsy O’Hara Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), Volunteer who died 21st May 1981 at 11.29pm aged twenty-three after 61 days on Hunger Strike

PATSY O’HARA

The Fourth Hunger Striker

“After we are gone, what will you say you were doing? Will you say that you were with us in our struggle or were you conforming to the very system that drove us to our deaths?”

Patsy O’Hara was born 11 July, 1957 on Bishop Street in Derry City. His parents were Peggy (née McCluskey) and James. He had two older brothers; Seán Seamus and Tony, and a younger sister Elizabeth. His family lived above a small pub and grocery shop which his parents inherited from Peggy’s uncle. Her father James McCluskey had served in the IRA during the Irish War of Independence in the 1920’s.
Patsy was short and stout until the age of 12, when he suddenly shot up to six feet, two inches. He was a mischievous child who enjoyed playing jokes. He was always courageous. His father said of him: “No matter who got into trouble in the street outside, Patsy was the boy to go out and do all the fighting for him. He was the fighting man about the area and didn’t care how big they were. He would tackle them. I even saw him fighting men, and in no way could they stop him. He would keep at them. He was like a wee bull terrier!”
Patsy’s older brother Seán Seamus had joined the Derry Housing Action Committee around 1967, which involved attending protests. Their mother Peggy wasn’t pleased about this at first. She then started attending these along with him out of concern, then eventually out of support. There was a civil rights movement very much influenced by that led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the USA gaining momentum in the North of Ireland, and especially in Derry.
The people of Derry, who were mostly catholic, like the O’Haras, had suffered systematic discrimination in housing and employment although they were actually in the majority in Derry City. This was the result of gerrymandering, or creative drawing of districts to produce a controlled result. This was also because until 1969, voting in local council elections had requirements that denied votes to some while granting multiple votes to others. This invariably ran along sectarian lines and favoured Unionists. A setup which made the Catholic and nationalist people feel that the system was stacked against them. It also made many people in Derry see socialism as the solution to problems rooted in economic and political inequality.
Derry is one of the six counties which were partitioned from the rest of Ireland by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 which ended The Irish War of Independence. It became part of the new state known as Northern Ireland along with counties Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone.

The state of Northern Ireland was governed by the Parliament at Stormont, called a “Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people” by Sir James Craig, one of its founders. The rights of the large minority of catholics and nationalists who lived within the state were not a consideration. Many loyalists viewed the catholic community with suspicion, fear, and hatred. The catholics in the North of Ireland suffered discrimination in housing and employment. They also they suffered brutal repression by the notoriously sectarian police force, the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and the infamous B-Specials, police reservists who were well-armed, but not well disciplined.
In 1968, at the age of 11, Patsy was to witness this brutality first hand. Peggy, Sean Seamus, Tony and Patsy attended a peaceful march in Derry on 5 October, 1968 at the Waterside station. The peaceful march for Civil Rights for was viciously attacked by the RUC and B-Specials with batons and fire hoses causing over 30 injuries as they watched. That incident in particular is cited by many as the beginning of the conflict in the North of Ireland as television images were widely seen.
Patsy described what he saw: “The people were sandwiched in another street and with the Specials coming from both sides, swinging their truncheons at anything that moved. It was a terrifying experience and one which I shall always remember.”
The year of 1969 saw civil rights marchers attacked at Burntollet bridge outside Derry city, where a loyalist mob of 300 who attacked the marchers included 100 off-duty B-Specials. The peaceful marchers were beaten with pipes and cudgels with nails driven through them. The RUC did nothing to stop them while arresting peaceful protesters.

The summer of 1969 saw week-long sectarian riots in Derry, known as the Battle of the Bogside, which was provoked by loyalist parade marchers in mid-August. The O’Hara’s home, always open to their friends, was now open to volunteers who had come from all over Ireland to assist the people of Derry as they fought off incursion/invasion of their homes by the RUC.
The same week, the Falls Road catholic ghetto in Belfast was invaded by loyalist mobs from the neighbouring Shankill Road escorted in by the police. The B-Specials fired indiscriminately, killing innocent civilians, including a 9 year old boy asleep in bed. Since the police were seen as exacerbating the situation, rather than diffusing it, British troops were sent in to keep order throughout the North of Ireland.

Patsy was very aware of what was happening in his city and in his country from what he had seen and experienced. He developed a strong socialist, nationalist and republican ideology. His father James observed: “Every day he saw something different happening, people getting beaten up, raids and coffins coming out. This was his environment.” He joined Na Fianna Éireann in 1970, a Republican youth organisation. In early 1971, still only 13, he joined the Pádraig Pearse Sinn Féin Cumann in the Bogside area, selling Easter Lilies (a Republican symbol commemorating Ireland’s Patriot dead) and newspapers.
In August of 1971, Brian Faulkner, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, introduced Internment-imprisonment without trial. On the morning of 9 August, 342 men in the Catholic and nationalist community across the north of Ireland were arrested and held without charge or trial. This was part of Operation Demetrius carried out by the British Army. They worked often from outdated lists, which is why many of the men arrested had no current involvement. Many convictions were obtained by torture, thus many innocents were imprisoned for years. The policy would remain in place until 1975.
In October 1971, Patsy’s brother Seán Seamus was arrested and interned in Long Kesh. He would be interned there for several years. Shortly after Seán’s Seamus’ arrest, Patsy was shot and wounded in the leg by a British soldier after coming out of a friend’s house in Southway. The Army said it was crossfire. He was fourteen at the time. He spent several weeks in Altnaglevin hospital and several more weeks on crutches.
Because of his wound, Patsy did not attend the anti-internment/civil rights march of Sunday, 30 January, 1972 in Derry City. He went with his father to watch the march as it wound its way down from the Creggan. Patsy remembered: “I struggled across a banking but was unable to go any further. I watched the march go up into the Brandywell. I could see that it was massive. The rest of my friends went to meet it but I could only go back to my mother’s house and listen to it on the radio.” Ironically, as it turned out, a British bullet kept him out of harm’s way on that day.

The peaceful marchers were fired upon by British soldiers, killing 14 and wounding another 14 unarmed protesters, and became known as “Bloody Sunday”. The soldiers claimed they acted in self defence; although no soldiers were injured and none of the dead and wounded were armed. Many of the dead were shot in the back as they ran or were shot as they tended the wounded. It had a deep effect on Patsy as it did many young men across the country, but it was different for him. It literally hit close to home.
The inevitable result of Bloody Sunday was the escalation of the conflict. What had been a non-violent movement now became an armed struggle as innocent people were being murdered by the forces of the state. Patsy’s father said: “I knew he would get involved. It was in his nature. He hated bullies all his life, and he saw big bullies in uniform and he would tackle them as well”
There was certainly no shortage of bullies in uniform for him to fight. Shortly after Bloody Sunday, he joined the Republican Clubs. From that time, he was continually harassed, assaulted, arrested and interrogated. He describes being arrested by the British Army in the summer of 1974 with a friend on the Briemoor Road: We were thrown onto the floor and as they were bringing us to the arrest centre, we were given a beating with their batons and rifles. When we arrived and were getting out of the vehicles we were tripped and fell on our faces”.
In October 1974, he was taken to Ballykelly interrogation Center. He was interrogated for three days. His face was burned with cigarettes. He grew a beard to cover the scars. Then he was taken to be interned in Long Kesh. Patsy describes his arrival: “Long Kesh had been burned the week previously, and as we flew above the camp in a British army helicopter we could see the complete devastation. When we arrived, we were given two blankets and mattresses and put into one of the cages. For the next two months we were on a starvation diet, no facilities of any kind, and most men lying out open to the elements”. Upon his release in April 1975, he joined the INLA as did his brother Tony.
The IRSP (Irish Republican Socialist Party), and its paramilitary wing, the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) were formed in December 1974 by former members of the Official IRA who were opposed to that organisation’s ceasefire from May 1972. The founding leader of the IRSP/INLA (together known as the IRSM-Irish Republican Socialist Movement); was Seamus Costello, who advocated a combination of socialist politics on economic issues and traditional physical force Irish republicanism. Costello was a veteran of the IRA border campaign of the 50’s.
The largest and dominant Republican paramilitary organisation was the Provisional IRA.

The Provisionals had split from the Official IRA themselves in 1969. The Officials had become much more left-wing with a decidedly Marxist philosophy who prioritised uniting the workers over taking up arms in defence. Eventually the Officials renounced violence and became The Workers Party. The Provisional IRA was formed by those who advocated armed struggle as being necessary. The members of the rival organisations called each other nicknames based on their commemorative Easter Lilies, such as Patsy sold as a kid. Officials used adhesive, so were called “Stickies”, Provisionals used pins and so were called “Pinnies” or “Pinheads”.
The INLA had feuds with the Officials since its turbulent founding. There were also tensions with the “Provos” who didn’t want rivals for recruitment. Some Provisionals, like Tony had defected after that organisation’s extended ceasefire in 1975 to join the INLA, who shared the Marxist ideology of the Officials. The Officials, and later the INLA had a strong presence in Derry, where their socialist rhetoric struck a nerve with the young people who had seen so much economic injustice.
Patsy was free for only two months when he was arrested at an army border checkpoint on the Letterkenny Road in June 1975. He was driving his father’s car from Buncrana, Co. Donegal when a stick of gelignite was found. He swore it was not his. He was charged with possession of explosives. He was released after six months on remand amid suspicions that the explosives were planted, as Patsy had claimed.

Patsy was “on the run” or in hiding for much of the year 1976 for fear of arrest. One night his brother Seán Seamus had come home in the dark, and fell on the floor as he went to sit on the couch. He realised too late it was missing. Unknown to him, Patsy had taken the couch to his hideout and returned it in the morning before a puzzled Seán Seamus awoke to see it mysteriously reappear.
In September 1976, Patsy was arrested again and held once more on remand for four months for weapons possession. He was released as the charges were dropped before he came to trial. In Patsy’s case in particular, this can be seen as a tool of government harassment and imprisonment at will.
Also in 1976, Patsy’s brother Tony was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 5 years for having participated in an armed robbery. He always maintained his innocence. He was convicted on hearsay evidence by a “Diplock Court” with one judge and no jury. Tony’s experiences of imprisonment, brought about by a drastic change in government policy would later also directly affect Patsy.
On 1 March, 1976, new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Merlyn Rees announced that anyone convicted of a scheduled offence after March 1976 would be treated as an ordinary criminal and would have to wear a prison uniform, do prison work and serve their sentence in the H-blocks of the new Maze Prison, which replaced the Nissan hut Cages of Long Kesh. This coincided with the phasing out of Internment. The intent was to erase the distinction between political prisoners and ordinary criminals, despite the fact that they had set up a special court system for political offences.
This was part of a British Government policy of criminalisation. The aim was not only to break the will of the prisoners, but to label the republican movement itself as a criminal conspiracy, without popular support. The republican prisoners saw themselves as prisoners of war. As such, the command structure of the paramilitary organisations were preserved, morale made imprisonment more bearable and the prisoners were treated relatively decently. With the revocation of Special Category Status, that all changed.
On 14 September, 1976, Kieran Nugent became the first prisoner sentenced after the revocation of special status. When he arrived at The Maze, he was asked his size for a prison uniform, he refused to wear it, and told them they would have to nail it to his back. Since he was forbidden to wear any other clothing, Nugent went naked, wrapping himself in a blanket. Thus, the Blanket Protest was born, and by 1978, 300 Republican prisoners were refusing to wear prison uniforms, for which they were confined to their cells and lost the right to fifty percent remission of their sentences for good behaviour. Patsy’s brother Tony, arriving at Long Kesh not long after Nugent, immediately joined the protest and went “on the blanket”.
Patsy went to live down in Dublin for a time, but he seemed no less active, nor apparently was he any more popular with the authorities than in Derry. In 1977, he was elected to the Ard Comhairle (Executive Committee) of the IRSP. He also helped to publish The Starry Plough newspaper of the IRSP. He was an intelligent, literate and articulate socialist revolutionary. Within the organisation, he stressed discipline, regulation and dedication.
In June 1977, Patsy was arrested on charges of holding a Garda (Republic of Ireland police officer) at gunpoint. He was released on bail six weeks later. While out on bail, he served as commander of the guard of honour for the funeral for INLA leader Seamus Costello. Costello had been assassinated in Dublin on 6 October 1977, allegedly by the Official IRA. Over 5,000 attended his funeral. Patsy was acquitted once again of his charges in January, 1978.
On 10 May 1978 he was arrested on O’Connell St. in Dublin under section 30 of Offences against the State act. This allows a person suspected of such an offence in the Republic of Ireland to be held without warrant or being charged for 24 hours. He was released 18 hours later. He returned to Derry in January 1979. His homecoming was short-lived.
On 14 May 1979 in Derry, he ran into a patrol of the Royal Hampshire Regiment and was seen discarding an item in the bushes. It was found to be a Soviet-made F1 fragmentation grenade wrapped in a purple-patterned sock. A search of the O’Hara house found the matching sock in Patsy’s bedroom. He was convicted of possession of the hand grenade. His only conviction out of numerous arrests. On 15 January 1980, he was sentenced to 8 years. On Patsy’s arrival at Long Kesh, he immediately joined the protest and went “on the blanket” as did his brother Tony before him. He also likewise joined the No Wash Protest.
What was called “the No Wash Protest.” began in April, 1978. Since the withdrawal of political status in 1976, The animosity between the prisoners and the prison officials escalated. The prisoners endured brutal beatings for things like refusing to address prison officers as Sir and their refusal to cooperate in general with rules for criminal prisoners. The IRA leaders in prison requested of the IRA Army Council to assassinate prison officials, which they did, starting with Patrick Dillon in April of 1976.
Some prisoners were refusing to leave their cells to shower or use the toilet due to the beatings. They were being beaten when trying to empty their chamber pots. After a prisoner was badly beaten and sent to solitary confinement, the Blanketmen now refused to leave their cells, smearing their excrement on the walls. This was also because spiteful prison officers would empty the pots back in the cells.
On 27 October 1980, Brendan Hughes O.C. (Officer Commanding) of the IRA prisoners, Tommy McKearney, Raymond McCartney, Tom McFeeley, Sean McKenna, Leo Green, and INLA member John Nixon went on Hunger Strike simultaneously, called by Brendan Hughes. As Sean McKenna was in and out of a coma after 53 days, The Hunger Strike was called off on a decision taken by Brendan Hughes on a promise of concessions. At the beginning of this Hunger Strike, Patsy had become O.C. Of the INLA prisoners. He had placed himself fourth in the line of INLA prisoners to join the strike.
The Hunger Strike was Intended to secure the Five Demands, which were:
The right not to wear a prison uniform;
The right not to do prison work;
The right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week;
Full restoration of remission lost through the protest.
When it had become obvious that the British government had no intention of granting the concessions it promised, a second Hunger Strike began on March 1, 1981 when Bobby Sands refused food. Unlike the previous Hunger Strike, where seven men started at the same time; Sands, who was O.C. of the IRA prisoners, thought it wiser to stagger them at intervals this time. This would also prolong the protest. Francis Hughes, the second in line, began his on March 16. Patsy decided to lead the Hunger Strike for the INLA prisoners. It was decided that he and IRA prisoner Raymond McCreesh would begin their fast on the same day, March 22.
Shortly before going on Hunger Strike, Patsy wrote “We stand for the freedom of the Irish nation so that future generations will enjoy the prosperity they rightly deserve, free from foreign interference, oppression and exploitation. The real criminals are the British imperialists who have thrived on the blood and sweat of generations of Irish men. They have maintained control of Ireland through force of arms and there is only one way to end it. I would rather die than rot in this concrete tomb for years to come.” He also wrote “After we are gone, what will you say you were doing? Will you say that you were with us in our struggle or were you conforming to the very system that drove us to our deaths?”
His mother Peggy showed tremendous strength and courage in the face of her grief and torment at watching her son die. She had said “There is no use me sitting back in the wings and letting someone else’s son go. Someone’s sons have to go on it and I just happen to be the mother of that son.”
Then on 5 May, Bobby Sands died, then Francis Hughes on 12 May. Peggy had been hopeful because Elizabeth, Patsy’s sister had been to Dublin to see Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland) Charles Haughey, who had assured here that no more Hunger Strikers would be allowed to die. But Patsy and Ray McCreesh were in a bad way.
As Peggy left from visiting Patsy, she put her arms around him and said: “I don’t care about Ireland or the world, but I’m going to save you.” She left, but was called back after Patsy had lost consciousness. Though conflicted, she had decided to honour his wishes to continue when he uttered his last words: “I’m sorry Mammy, we didn’t win. Let the fight go on.”
Patsy O’Hara died 21 May 1981 at 11:29pm. Raymond McCreesh had died a few hours earlier, both after 61 days on Hunger Strike. Patsy was aged twenty-three.

With many thanks to: Kevin Rooney – Irelands Struggle 1969 – The Present Day.

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RAYMOND McCREESH
The Third Hunger Striker:

Click here to read the article on
JOE McDONNELL
The Fifth Hunger Striker:

We the Family of Irish Republican Hunger Striker, Patsy O’Hara, on this the 36th Anniversary of his death on the Hunger Strike of 1981, send solidarity greetings to the Palistinian Hunger Strikers, 1500 of whom have been protesting since April 17th.

They are part of The 6,500 prisoners in Israeli jails include hundreds of children, women, elected officials, journalists and administrative detainees, who are held without charge and no due process.

There protest is against the Murders, Tortures and treatment of their people both inside and outside the prisons.

We call on all free thinking people to support their demands and get an end to the barbarity.

With many thanks to: Antoin O’Hara the brother of the late Patsy O’Hara.

Today marks the anniversary of 2 brave sons of Ireland.

Irish Political hostages on hunger strike,Volunteer Patsy O Hara (inla) and Volunteer Ray Mccreesh (ira) …both men went on hunger strike together,they both died on may 21st, 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike,side by side till the last breath,
We stand for the freedom of the Irish nation so that future generations will enjoy the prosperity they rightly deserve, free from foreign interference,oppression and exploitation. The real criminals are the British imperialists who have thrived on the blood and sweat of generations of Irish men. They have maintained control of Ireland through force of arms and there is only one way to end it.

I would rather die than rot in this concrete tomb for years to come – Patsy O Hara (I.N.L.A Hungerstriker) 
Both men paid the ultimate price for their dedication,courage and beliefs.We remember them as ordinary men who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times,

Gone but never forgotten Cuz,

Rest in Power,Glory to your soul ❤

With many thanks to: Brònzy Hegerty

The Long Kesh Hunger Strike, in which 10 IRA/INLA volunteers died, was called off at 3:15pm on 3rd October 1981.

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https://m.facebook.com/morgan.morrison2#!/story.php?story_fbid=839773129405393&id=754275634621810

Kevin Lynch ‘A loyal, determined Republican with a great love of life’

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Belfast Nga

The sorrow of this day 32 years ago still impacts and is as hurtful today, as it was on 1st August 1981. Kevin Lynch lost his battle for life today, Kieran Doherty would lose his battle a matter of hours behind his comrade and friend as they lay in a prison hospital in Long Kesh 1981. Today our thoughts and prayers are with the families, comrades and friends of all our Patriot Dead. For those of you who think of them today, a silent prayer in their memory say. The following biography is taken from irishhungerstrike.ie

Kevin Lynch

‘A loyal, determined republican with a great love of life’

THE EIGHT republican to join the hunger-strike for political status, on May 23rd, following the death of Patsy O’Hara, was twenty-five-year-old fellow INLA Volunteer Kevin Lynch from the small, North Derry town of Dungiven who had been imprisoned since his arrest in 1976.

Kevin Lynch was born on May 25th, 1956, the youngest of a family of eight, in the tiny village of Park, eight miles outside Dungiven. His father, Paddy, (aged 66), and his mother, Bridie, (aged 65), were born in Park too.Kevin went to St Canice’s primary school and then on to St Patrick’s intermediate, both in Dungiven.

His great passion was Gaelic Games and his finest achievement was leading the Derry Under 16 hurling team to All-Ireland success against Armagh at Croke Park.He also continued to play for Dungiven. He went off to work in England in 1973 with two of his brothers but on one of his trips home in August 1976 he decided to stay in Dungiven.

He was badly beaten by the British army shortly after his return home and he joined the INLA around this time.He was arrested in December 1976 along with his old friend Liam McClockey and two others. Three days later he was charged with a string of charges included conspiracy to disarm members of the enemy forces, taking part in a punishment shooting, and the taking of ‘legally held’ shotguns.Following a year on remand in Crumlin Road jail, Belfast, he was tried and sentenced to ten years in December 1977.

He immediately joined the blanket protest in H3, and eventually finding himself sharing a cell with his Dungiven friend and comrade, Liam McCloskey. Both men received a number of bad beatings during the prison protest.He was one of 30 men to join the first hunger strike in December 1980 and took the place of INLA hunger striker Patsy O’Hara.

Neither were his family, who supported him in his decision, surprised: ‘’Kevin’s the type of man’’, said his father, when Kevin was on the hunger-strike, ‘’that wouldn’t lie back. He’d want to do his share.’’

The direct consequence of that was Kevin’s death the seventh at that stage in the Long Kesh hospital at 1.00am on Saturday, August 1st after seventy-one days on hunger-strike.

KEVIN LYNCH Aged 25 from North Derry. Commenced hunger-strike May 23rd, died August 1st after 71 days.

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Mary queen of the Gael, intercede for the souls of our departed family comrades and friends. May their souls, and the souls of all our patriot dead in the mercy of god, rest in peace

Mary banríon na nGael, intercede do na anamacha na ár gcomrádaithe teaghlaigh departed agus cairde. Bealtaine a n-anamacha, agus an anamacha as ár gcuid tírghráthóirí marbh go léir i an trócaire Dia, chuid eile i síocháin

Belfast NGA

Oglaigh na hEireann Kevin Lynch…. Died August 1st, 1981- Rest in Peace

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A loyal, determined republican with a great love of life

The eighth republican to join the hunger-strike for political status, on May 23rd, following the death of Patsy O’Hara, was twenty-five-year-old fellow INLA Volunteer Kevin Lynch from the small, North Derry town of Dungiven who had been imprisoned since his arrest in 1976.

A well-known and well liked young man in the closely-knit community of his home town, Kevin was remembered chiefly for his outstanding ability as a sportsman, and for qualities of loyalty, determination and a will to win which distinguished him on the sports field and which, in heavier times and circumstances, were his hallmarks as an H-Block blanket man on hunger strike to the death.

Kevin Lynch was a happy-go-lucky, principled young Derry man with an enthusiastic love of life, who was, as one friend of his remarked – a former schoolteacher of Kevin’s and an active H-Block campaigner: “the last person, back in 1969, you would have dreamed would be spending a length of time in prison.”

The story of Kevin Lynch is of a light-hearted, hard-working and lively young man, barely out of his teens when the hard knock came early one December morning nearly five years ago, who had been forced by the British occupation of his country to spend those intervening years in heroic refusal to accept the British brand of ‘criminal’ and in the tortured assertion of what he really was – a political prisoner.

PARK

Kevin Lynch was born on May 25th, 1956, the youngest of a family of eight, in the tiny village of Park, eight miles outside Dungiven. His father, Paddy, (aged 66), and his mother, Bridie, (aged 65), whose maiden name is Cassidy, were both born in Park too, Paddy Lynch’s family being established there for at least three generations, but they moved to Dungiven twenty years ago, after the births of their children.

Paddy Lynch is a builder by trade, like his father and grandfather before him – a trade which he handed down to his five sons: Michael (aged 39), Patsy (aged 37), Francis (aged 33), Gerard (aged 27), and Kevin himself, who was an apprenticed bricklayer. There are also three daughters in the family: Jean (aged 35), Mary (aged 30), and Bridie (aged 29).

Though still only a small town of a few thousand, Dungiven has been growing over the past twenty years due to the influx of families like the Lynches from the outlying rural areas. It is an almost exclusively nationalist town, garrisoned by a large and belligerent force of RUC and Brits. In civil rights days, however, nationalists were barred from marching in the town centre.

Nowadays, militant nationalists have enforced their right to march, but the RUC still attempt to break up protests and the flying of the tricolour (not in itself ‘illegal’ in the six counties) is considered taboo by the loyalist bigots of the RUC.

Support in the town is relatively strong, Dungiven having first-hand experience of a hunger strike last year when local man Tom McFeeley went fifty-three days without food before the fast ended on December 18th. Apart from Tom McFeeley and Kevin Lynch other blanket men from the town are Kevin’s boyhood friend and later comrade Liam McCloskey – himself later to embark on hunger strike – and former blanket man Eunan Brolly, who was released from the H-Blocks last December.

SCHOOL

Kevin went to St. Canice’s primary school and then on to St. Patrick’s intermediate, both in Dungiven. Although not academically minded – always looking forward to taking his place in the family building business – he was well-liked by his teachers, respected for his sporting prowess and for his well-meant sense of humour. “Whatever devilment was going on in the school, you could lay your bottom dollar Kevin was behind it,” remembers his former schoolteacher, recalling that he took great delight in getting one of his classmates, his cousin Hugh (‘the biggest boy in the class – six foot one’) “into trouble”. But it was all in fun – Kevin was no troublemaker, and whenever reprimanded at school, like any other lively lad, would never bear a grudge.

Above all, Kevin was an outdoor person who loved to go fishing for sticklebacks in the river near his home, or off with a bunch of friends playing Gaelic (an outdoor disposition which must have made his H-Block confinement even harder to bear).

GAMES

His great passion was Gaelic games playing Gaelic football from very early on, and then taking up hurling when he was at St. Patrick’s.

He was excelled at both.

Playing right half-back for St. Patrick’s hurling club, which was representing County Derry, at the inaugural Feile na nGael held in Thurles, County Tipperary, in 1971, Kevin’s performance – coming only ten days after an appendix operation – was considered a key factor in the team’s victory in the four-match competition played over two days.

The following season Kevin was appointed captain of both St. Patrick’s hurling team and the County Derry under-16 team which went on in that season to beat Armagh in the All Ireland under-16 final at Croke Park in Dublin.

Later on, while working in England, he was a reserve for the Dungiven senior football team in the 1976 County Derry final.

Kevin’s team, St. Canice’s, was beaten 0-9 to 0-3 by Sarsfields of Ballerin, and he is described in the match programme as “a strong player and a useful hurler”. Within a short space of time after this final, Kevin would be in jail, as would two of his team mates on that day, Eunan Brolly and Sean Coyle.

QUALITIES

The qualities Kevin is remembered for as a sportsman were his courage and determination, his will to win, and his loyalty to his team mates. Not surprisingly the local hurling and football clubs were fully behind Kevin and his comrades in their struggle for the five demands, pointing out that Kevin had displayed those same qualities in the H-Blocks and on hunger strike.

He was also a boxer with the St. Canice’s club, once reaching the County Derry final as a schoolboy, but not always managing as easily as he achieved victory in his first fight!

Just before the match was due to start his opponent asked him how many previous fights he’d had. With suppressed humour, Kevin answered “thirty-three” so convincingly that his opponent, overcome with nervous horror, couldn’t be persuaded into the ring.

At the age of fifteen, Kevin left school and began to work alongside his father. Although lively, going to dances, and enjoying good crack, he was basically a quiet, determined young fellow, who stuck to his principles and couldn’t easily be swayed.

Like any other family in Dungiven, the Lynches are nationally minded, and young Kevin would have been just as aware as any other lad of his age of the basic injustices in his country, and would have equally resented the petty stop-and-search harassment which people of his age continually suffered at the hands of Brits and RUC.

The Lynches were also, typically, a close family and in 1973, at the age of sixteen, Kevin went to England to join his three brothers, Michael, Patsy and Gerard, who were already working in Bedford.

Both Bedford and its surrounding towns, stretching from Hertfordshire to Buckinghamshire and down to the north London suburbs, contain large Irish populations, and the Lynches mixed socially within that, Kevin going a couple of times a week to train with St. Dympna’s in Luton or to Catholic clubs in Bedford or Luton for a quiet drink and a game of snooker. He even played an odd game of rugby while over there.

But Kevin never intended settling in England and on one of his occasional visits home (“he just used to turn up”), in August 1976, he decided to stay in Dungiven.

INLA

Shortly after his return home, coming away from a local dance, he and nine other young lads were put up against a wall by British soldiers and given a bad kicking, two of the lads being brought to the barracks.

Kevin joined the INLA around this time, maybe because of this incident in part, but almost certainly because of his national awareness coming from his cultural love of Irish sport, as well as his courage and integrity, made him determined to stand up both for himself and his friends.

“He wouldn’t ever allow himself to be walked on”, recalls his brother, Michael. And he had always been known for his loyalty by his family, his friends, his teammates, and eventually by his H-Block comrades.

However, within the short space of little more than three months, Kevin’s active republican involvement came to an end almost before it had begun. Following an ambush outside Dungiven, in November ’76, in which an RUC man was slightly injured, the RUC moved against those it suspected to be INLA activists in the town.

On December 2nd, 1976, at 5.40 a.m. Brits and RUC came to the Lynch’s home for Kevin. “We said he wasn’t going anywhere before he’d had a cup of tea”, remembers Mr. Lynch, “but they refused to let him have even a glass of water. The RUC said he’d be well looked after by then.”

Also arrested that day in Dungiven were Sean Coyle, Seamus McGrandles, and Kevin’s schoolboy friend Liam McCloskey, with whom he was later to share an H-Block cell.

Kevin was taken straight to Castlereagh, and, after three days’ questioning, on Saturday, December 4th, he was charged and taken to Limavady to be remanded in custody by a special court. The string of charges included conspiracy to disarm members of the enemy forces, taking part in a punishment shooting, and the taking of ‘legally held’ shotguns.

Following a year on remand in Crumlin Road jail, Belfast, he was tried and sentenced to ten years in December 1977, immediately joining the blanket men in H3, and eventually finding himself sharing a cell with his Dungiven friend and comrade, Liam McCloskey, continuing to do so until he took part in the thirty-man four-day fast which coincided with the end of the original seven-man hunger strike last December.

LONG KESH

Since they were sentenced in 1977, both Dungiven men suffered their share of brutality from Crumlin Road and Long Kesh prison warders, Kevin being ‘put on the boards’ for periods of up to a fortnight, three or four times.

On Wednesday, April 26th, 1978, six warders, one carrying a hammer, came in to search their cell. Kevin’s bare foot, slipping on the urine-drenched cell floor, happened to splash the trouser leg of one of the warders, who first verbally abused him and then kicked urine at him.

When Kevin responded in like manner he was set upon by two warders who punched and kicked him, while another swung a hammer at him, but fortunately missed. The punching and kicking continued till Kevin collapsed on the urine-soaked floor with a bruised and swollen face.

In another assault by prison warders, Kevin’s cellmate, Liam McCloskey, suffered a burst ear-drum during a particularly bad beating, and is now permanently hard of hearing.

DETERMINATION

Even as long ago as April 1978, just after the ‘no wash’ protest had begun, Kevin was reported, in a bulletin issued by the Dungiven Relatives Action Committee, to “have lost a lot of weight, his face is a sickly white and he is underfed”.

His determination, and his sense of loyalty to his blanket comrades, saw him through, however, even the hardest times.

His former H-Block comrade, Eunan Brolly, who was also in H3 before his release, remembers how Kevin once put up with raging toothache for three weeks rather than come off the protest to get dental treatment. It was the sort of thing which forced some blanket men off the protest, at least temporarily, but not Kevin.

Eunan, who recalls how Kevin used to get a terrible slagging from other blanket men because the GAA, of which of course he was a member, did not give enough support to the fight for political status, also says he was not surprised by Kevin’s decision to join the hunger strike. Like other blanket men, Eunan says, Kevin used to discuss a hunger strike as a possibility, a long time ago, “and he was game enough for it”.

Neither were his family, who supported him in his decision, surprised: “Kevin’s the type of man”, said his father, when Kevin was on the hunger strike, “that wouldn’t lie back. He’d want to do his share.”

In the Free State elections, in June, Kevin stood as a candidate in the Waterford constituency, collecting 3,337 first preferences before being eliminated – after Labour Party and Fianna Fail candidates – on the fifth count, with 3,753 votes.

But the obvious popular support which the hunger strikers and their cause enjoyed nationally was not sufficient to elicit support from the Free State government who share the common, futile hope of the British government – the criminalisation of captured freedom fighters.

The direct consequence of that was Kevin’s death – the seventh at that stage – in the Long Kesh hospital at 1.00 a.m. on Saturday, August 1st after seventy-one days on hunger strike.

R.I.P. ~ Kevin Lynch…