19 May 2006

O’Hara determined to let the fight go on

Daily Ireland

By Eamonn Houston
19/05/2006

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe familiar image of 1981 hunger striker Patsy O’Hara grinning broadly dominates the gable of a house in the Bishop Street area where the O’Hara family lived. (Click photo to view)
Belfast artists put the finishing touches to the mural last week. It bears the message ‘let the fight go on’ in line with defiant self-sacrifice O’Hara made with nine others in Long Kesh prison in 1981.
The name of Patsy O’Hara is known to everyone in his home city. The former INLA leader in Long Kesh and Michael Devine were the two hunger strikers to die from the city.
His mother Peggy and family will watch as the monument and mural are officially dedicated on Bishop Street to mark the anniversary of his death on Sunday.
O’Hara, like many others, became politicised by the Civil Rights movement and Bloody Sunday, when 14 unarmed civilians died as a result of a British Paratroop massacre in the Bogside on January 30, 1972.
O’Hara would later write of the October 15 1968 Civil Rights demonstration: “The mood of the crowd was one of solidarity. People believed they were right and that a great injustice had been done to them. The crowds came in their thousands from every part of the city and as they moved down Duke Street chanting slogans, ‘One man, one vote' and singing ‘We shall overcome' I had the feeling that a people united and on the move, were unstoppable."
It was in 1975 that Patsy O’Hara’s burgeoning political beliefs would lead him into the ranks of the Irish National Liberation Army.
In 1979 he was arrested for possession of a hand grenade. His imprisonment would end in his leaving the Long Kesh prison in a coffin after 61 days of refusing food.
O’Hara’s prison protest began with the blanket men. When O’Hara’s mother Peggy learned of her son’s decision to join the 1981 hunger strike she thought the political status demands of the prisoners would be met before death.
She said: “There is no use in saying that I was very vexed and all the rest of it. 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."
She was photographed at the weekend beside the new mural in memory of her son.
Patsy O’Hara’s prison writings reveal a committed socialist republican, determined to see his protest through to the end.
"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,” he wrote.
When O’Hara died on May 21 1981, Derry was plunged into street violence and mourning.
There were claims that the prison authorities had abused his remains.
His funeral was one of the largest witnessed in his home city equalling those of the victims of Bloody Sunday.
O’Hara’s cortege was flanked by 34 INLA men and women as it made its way from his home to the city cemetery.
At the graveside a spokesman for the Army Council of the INLA said: “Our comrade did not die solely for the five demands of the political prisoners.
“He recognised that if the prisoners are criminalised, then the struggle for Irish freedom is criminalised.
“This is the reason why Patsy went on hungerstrike, and along with his comrades in death, Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes and Raymond McCreesh, courageously confronted the Thatcher regime and her loyalist lackeys."
In an atmosphere of overwhelming tension in Derry, the INLA spokesman said that the organisation would not respond to O’Hara’s death wildly and emotionally.
Speaking at O’Hara’s graveside, Bernadette McAliskey of the National H-Block/Armagh Committee castigated the Catholic Church.
“As the cortege left the Long Tower church this morning, personally I could not help but cast my mind back to a time in 1969 when there was no ambiguity on the part of Catholic hierarchy as to the position of young men like Patsy O'Hara.
“It is tragic, in this time in our history, that the Irish people, who for centuries have defended their church and their religion, should be, by and large, so sadly abandoned by it in their hour of greatest need.”
In recent years O’Hara’s legacy would find expression in prison cells in Turkey where many political prisoners went on hunger strike over their status.
In his much changed city, free of the political turmoil that had gripped it in O’Hara’s youth, his image on the mural on Bishop Street a new monument in his memory stand as reminders of the sacrifice the young Derry man made during the depressing days of 1981.

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