21 May 2006

As Raymond and Patsy Reach Crisis: Both Families Come Under Intense Pressure

INA: 1981 Hunger Strike

Irish Hunger Strikes Chapter 30

As Raymond McCreesh was approaching the end after being on hunger strike for over 50 days, Dr. Emerson of the prison hospital called the family to Long Kesh. Nothing more was said n the phone. They arrived at 9 PM. There they were meet by Emerson and a medical officer called only Mr. Nolan. The men offered the family tea in a private meeting room and told there was nothing urgent. Then why were they called in under such circumstances at night? At one point Emerson asked Nolan to tell the family what had transpired earlier that evening.

Tricks and lies

Nolan told the family that Fr. Tom Toner, a prison chaplain, had given Raymond "Extreme Unction" and that it left him in distress: "shocked and frightened." The term had not been used for 15 years at this point ["Anointing the Sick" is the modern term for the sacrament.] Nolan began to lecture the family, including Raymond's brother Fr. Brian, an expert on sacramental theology, on the significance of the 'final" sacrament and how he emphasized the final nature of it to Raymond, that it was given only just before death. This was all nonsense. Obviously it was a despicable trick to confuse Raymond off of his hunger strike.

Fr. Brian knew that if anything, his brother would have been relieved to receive this sacrament, being such a deeply religious man. And where was Fr. Toner now if indeed he had witnessed such extraordinary behavior? Nolan continued to tell the family how Raymond couldn't take water anymore and how he helped him try to get in down and keep it down. He also, curiously, said he offered him milk. Milk! He said Raymond told him that

he was confused and didn't know. At this Nolan contended he called in Emerson who rushed to the scene and asked Raymond if he wanted "to save your life?" Emerson said he seemed to respond "yes."

Raymond lies confused and disoriented

Then the clincher: Emerson said he called in the family because it was now up to them whether to save Raymond's life and that medical treatment was mobilized for him in an outside hospital. The family were also assured that Raymond would recover his eyesight and health in a few weeks. Fr. Brian was astonished. He and several other family members were with Raymond at 4 PM, and he was adamant about continuing on until the 5 demands were met.

Earlier the press were floating rumors that Raymond wanted to come off his strike. In fact, Fr. Brian even brought this to his attention. An absolute fabrication according to Raymond himself.

The family were now piecing things together. The offer of milk to a man on hunger strike? The emphasis of the finality of "Extreme Unction"? The middle of the night intrigue?

The family asked to see Raymond alone. He didn't even know were he was although he knew he was in jail someplace. Scotland he thought. He had never been to Scotland. They asked him if he knew he was on hunger strike and he didn't seem to understand. He didn't respond when asked about who Bobby Sands was or Francis Hughes. Then he was told that they were both dead. He asked who had killed Francis. He was in a state of serious confusion. But little by little he seemed to gather himself.

Ray is drugged by prison doctors & NIO

He was asked why he was on hunger strike and after a long pause said it was for the 5 demands, but at first he didn't know. He was coming around. Then he seemed his old self. His brother told him he must have been a bit confused. "A big wee bit!" he replied and he was warned about nurses or doctors trying to confuse him into taking milk, etc. As the visit was over, Raymond raised his hand and said in Irish, "We will win yet!"

The following Sunday Raymond's mother noticed a Band-Aid of some sort on his right arm and what looked like an injection mark in his left. They were now convinced without doubt that he was being drugged by the prison doctors and NIO authorities.

Fr. Brian McCreesh accused of assisting Raymond's "suicide"

Now the Brits and Northern Ireland Office get even dirtier if that was possible. They now floated in the press, who were all too willing to help, the line that Raymond had wanted to come off the hunger strike, but was prevented by his family. The BBC ran reports attacking Fr Brian, the "Priest/Brother", personally for talking his brother into continuing his fast. The Sunday Telegraph [31 May] ran a story by a Benedictine priest about how disgusting it was for "relatives stiffening strikers' resolve to die when they begin to waver." He accused Fr Brian of assisting in his own brother's "suicide."

At 2:11 AM on Thursday, 21 May 1981, Ray McCreesh died for Ireland.

"My God, what have we done to you?"

Generation after generation of McCreeshes had been buried at the cemetery at Creggan and there Raymond was laid to rest amid thousands of mourners and supporters. A British army helicopter tried to drown out the speakers at the ceremony. It didn't matter whether the people could hear or not. They could hear the words of Terence MacSwiney their hearts: "Not all the armies of all the empires on earth can crush the spirit of one true man,and that man will prevail." The day before a young reporter from London stood in stunned amazement at the throngs of sorrowful Irish people that made their way to the McCreesh home to pay their last regards to Raymond. She turned to a friend of the family and said, "My God, what have we done to you?"

The torment of Peggy O'Hara

Less than a month earlier, Mrs. Peggy O'Hara, Patsy's mother, at Bobby Sands' funeral, moved closer so that she could "look into the eyes of a mother who could let her son die." That woman was now herself. How could she? Yet how could she intervene on Pasty's behalf when her son had already make up his mind to go through with his strike and his sacrifice if necessary to the end. And Patsy wasn't the type to enter into situations half-heartedly. He was a totally dedicated soldier and political thinker and she knew his wishes.

As Patsy neared the end, Peggy O'Hara was alone in the prison hospital cell with her son. It was about 10 PM and she was told that her husband, Jim, had been refused admittance to the prison. Rather than be alone at this terrible time, she asked the screws if she would be allowed to sit with the McCreeshes for a few minutes. Both families were witnessing the last moments of their loved one. The screws refused, thereby isolating the poor woman with her own thoughts and with the grief that only a mother could know.

A few hours earlier she had made a firm decision: she would intervene to save her son's life. She loved him too much to watch him die. She had to. She had only to wait until Patsy was no longer conscious, then as next of kin, she would have legal power to order him off his strike and into a real hospital.

"Mammy, please let the fight go on."

She held his hand and moistened his dry lips with water. Then Patsy pronounced what was probably the most famous words uttered by any of the hunger strikers. It was as if he knew what his mother was going to do. He gathered himself and turned towards her, although he couldn't see her, and said: "Mammy, I'm sorry we didn't win. But please let the fight go on." Then she knew that she loved he son so much that she had to allow him to die for the cause he lived for. In the morning her family came for her and waited for the end with Patsy as Peggy got some exhausted sleep.

RUC threaten to drop Patsy's body from a helicopter

Patsy fought for life all the next day. His sister Elizabeth, who had fought tirelessly to save her brother, was with him at the end along with her father. At 11:29 PM, 21 May 1981, she whispered, "You're free, Patsy. You've won your fight and you're free!" Elizabeth saw a smile cross his face at the end. Pasty was dead, just hours after his friend Raymond had died.

His brother Sean asked where they could pick up his brother's remains, but the authorities refused to tell him. Then a 4:40 in the morning, the exhausted family got a call from the RUC: "If you want to collect this thing, you'd better collect it before daylight." The H-Block/Armagh committee got a similar call: "Where do you want this f_cking thing?" They threatened to drop the corpse from a helicopter onto the O'Hara's front doorstep.

The desecration of Patsy O'Hara's remains

In the early morning hours, the family undertaker picked up the body and delivered the coffin to the O'Hara's home in Derry City. When they opened the coffin, they were horrified to see what the RUC and/or British soldiers, like hateful, psychotic ghouls, did to Pasty's body. Elizabeth and her father were with Pasty to the end. While he was in terrible shape from his agonizing death, he was unmarked. As they looked with anger and shock into the coffin, they found that Pasty's nose was broken. Two blood crusted marks were clearly evident across the base of the nose. Four cigarette burns marked the spot above his left eye where they put out their cigarette's on Pasty's face. Similar marks were all over his upper torso, which was covered with bruises. Did prison screws or RUC or Brit army personnel thrown Patsy's body in a plastic bag and dragged out and threw it into a waiting lorry or landrover? Something like that.

Did it make them feel better to desecrate an Irishman's body or cause further torture to an already tortured Irish family? Probably. And that is another reason why Ireland will never experience peace while Britain remains in control. It also is another reason why the Brits themselves will never be at peace as long as they occupy Irish soil. It really is the oppressors who are oppressed by their actions -- it so often makes them unfeeling, disgraceful monsters.

What they did to Pasty's body might have given temporary vent to their repressed self-disgust. But by then Patsy O'Hara was well beyond their sadism and their H-Blocks.

Patsy and Raymond had that day in May won something that even the Brits couldn't take away. They won their freedom and they were true to the end to a true thing.


Next: A closer look at the lives of Raymond McCreesh of South Armagh and Patsy O'Hara of Derry City.

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