20 March 2006

Mass marks 25 years


A special 25th anniversary Mass remembers sacrifice of hunger strikers

by Laura McDaid

There were emotional scenes at Clonard Monastery on Sunday as the H-Block hunger strikers were remembered at a special Mass.

Relatives and friends of those who died gathered for the afternoon ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the hunger strike.

In a touching homily, Fr Gerry Reynolds acknowledged the suffering of those who lost loved ones in the 1981 hunger strike.

“Maybe it’s a son, a brother, a best friend or a comrade in the armed struggle, now thankfully part of history.

“Whatever the relationship, the sense of loss and the heartache does not go away.”

Emphasising the need for forgiveness, Fr Reynolds said, “We pray today for the healing of the wounds of our history - particularly those arising from the hunger strike.

“Perhaps you are bitter over the wrongs you've suffered, and so need the divine power to forgive those who hurt you.

“There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.
“A time for keeping silent, a time for speaking, a time for fighting, a time for peace.”

Speaking after the Mass, the father of Andersonstown man Kieran Doherty, who died on August 2, 1981, said it was an emotional, but necessary, day.

“It certainly brings it all back,” said Alfie Doherty.

“My wife was very upset this morning.

“It’s 25 years, but it just seems like yesterday.”

Recalling the events leading up to Kieran’s death in the H-Block, Mr Doherty explained: “I was beside him in Long Kesh 16 nights and my wife was with him 16 days before he died.

“Prison wardens let us in when he looked like he was about to die, but he lasted 73 painful days. On the last day, they kept us out. I’ll never forget it.”

Oliver Hughes, brother of Derry man Francis Hughes, who died on May 12, 1981, said a memorabilia display arranged by the Greater Clonard Ex-prisoners’ Association brought back a lot of painful memories.

“It’s all so vivid when you see the newspaper clippings, but it’s very touching and commendable that this has been arranged.

“It’s also lovely to see families that I haven’t seen in 25 years – families who were such a source of comfort and support in 1981.

“And it’s very important that we have these days so that history isn’t forgotten and a new generation can understand why this happened.”

Following the Mass, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness made a presentation of bronze statues to the families of those who lost their loved ones through the hunger strike.

Addressing the relatives, he commended the courage of those who died for the republican cause.

“Their star burns brighter every year as Margaret Thatcher’s star dims.
“What these hunger strikers achieved we should always be proud of.

“These men stood up and fought for our rights and they made a difference to our lives.

“The primary objective of the hunger strikers remains the primary objective of republicanism today – ending British rule in Ireland.”

Journalist:: Laura McDaid

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