Cumann na Saoirse Náisiúnta

National Irish Freedom Committee

The 25th anniversary commemoration of the 1981 Hungerstrike in New York

Irish Republicans in America came together on Sunday the 29th of April to remember the ten brave men who died on hunger strike 25 years ago. The highly successful function was held at Kelly Ryan's Restaurant in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The commemoration of the 1981 hunger strike commenced with a lone piper leading ten individuals into and around the packed hall, each one bearing a white cross inscribed with the name of each martyr who died in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. A Mass in Gaeilge was then held in their memory.  

Msgr. Kevin Flanagan, a native of Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, celebrated the Mass. He said that the Mass was also celebrated in memory of the heroic men and women of the Easter Rising of 1916 who had made the ultimate sacrifice for the same noble cause. He went on to say that it was appropriate that the Mass be celebrated in Irish because Bobby Sands and others were very much involved in promoting Gaeilge as were the heroes of 1916. 

 It was heartening to see how many people were able to participate using the language that was so much part of the historic events of 1916 and 1981.  Msgr. Flanagan gave a stirring homily about the nobility of spirit shown by the hunger-strikers of 1981 and the response of the countless people world-wide, particularly, the Irish community in America who make sure that their struggle for Irish freedom and reunification was known to the world.  He spoke also of those Republicans who died on hunger strike prior to 1981, in particular County Mayo men Michael Gaughan and Frank Stagg who had died in 1974 and 1976 just a few short years earlier 

Msgr. Flanagan was then joined by Fr. Pat Moloney who spoke briefly, saying he recalled so many faces in the room who were active in 1981 and also said he was pleased to see a younger generation present, who will ensure that these men will not forgotten in the years to come.

Those assembled were then welcomed by chairperson Cathleen O'Brien who had also organized the most successful Easter Commemoration at the same venue. The guests were then treated to a performance by the Emerald Society Pipe Band of New York who will be forever remembered for their courage and dedication during the 1981 hunger strike campaign in New York. Speakers were Tyrone native Patricia Campbell, co-editor of Fourthwrite magazine and Vice-President of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland, Malachy McAllister, former political prisoner in Long Kesh, who, along with his young family is facing deportation and Martin Galvin, former spokesman for Irish Northern Aid.

Ms. Campbell spoke of how the 1981 hunger strikers transformed her from an apolitical teenager into a Republican activist. She also spoke about how the men of 1981 were not about maintaining the status quo, but committed to genuine social change and Republican goals.  She said that unlike the Provisionals of today, these men were revolutionaries. 

 Malachy spoke with great emotion about the current status of his case against deportation. He thanked people for their support, and reminded us there was still work to be done and urged those present to continue to assist his family's case.  

Martin Galvin spoke of the dedication of the tens of thousands involved in the protests and demonstrations of 1981. He then spoke of the need for people to realise that there are still Republican prisoners today who need our support. The best way to support the men of 1981 is to show solidarity with the men and women who follow in their footsteps today.

In between speakers, young people read excerpts from Bobby Sand’s diary and Alan Gogarty sang rebel songs. There was also historical displays of crafts made by prisoners in Long Kesh, Mass cards of the hunger strikers, "comms" sent out of the prison, photographs and newspaper articles all from that period of time. Original posters and artwork by Brian Mor Baoighill who was also present that were used to promote the struggle for political status was very much in evidence. 

 Statements from the families of the hunger strikers were then read. Members of Friends of Irish Freedom and of Cumann Na Saoirse Náisíunta manned information and merchandise tables. The 25th Anniversary Commemoration Committee made a commemorative program available. The NIFC also produced a commemorative booklet for the occasion. Special thanks go to the hard work of the organizing committee for making it such a successful and enjoyable day.

Cumann Na Saoirse Náisíunta/ The National Irish Freedom Committee recalls that many people were involved in supporting the Irish republican hunger strike campaign in 1981. Cumann na Saoirse Náisíunta would like to invite as many as possible of these people to take part in ongoing video project that is intended to record that emotional outpouring of support for the ten noble heroes of the summer of 1981. The overall project will be produced in a DVD format and will include original video footage from the actual 1981 hunger strike campaign in the U.S. The DVD will serve as a permanent memorial for future generations and will be made available to the public.
www.irishfreedom.net    nifcmem@optonline.net  

Source: Mac Phadraic

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