reading 'Ten Men Dead' I swore that I would
never again read about the Hunger Strike of 1981.
I cried at every page and my husband eventually
hid the book. I bought another.
levels of sadness rose at the same rate as my levels
of anger. The targets for my anger were the usual
ones: those identified by the Republican Leadership
as responsible for the death of Bobby Sands and
his comrades. Top of the list was Margaret Thatcher,
then came busybody priests, political opponents,
an uncaring Free-State Government and more and more.
the last resort of the brutalised political prisoner.
The ultimate weapon, one's own body. As a Republican
I have always maintained that just as I could not
be ordered to undertake a Hunger-Strike, then the
control and ultimate decision as to where that hunger-strike
might lead was also a matter for myself, the individual
prisoner. That is not to say that guidance from
comrades and particularly the leadership of my movement
would at all times be of paramount importance in
where that Strike would end for me, be that living
read Richard O'Rawe's book 'Blanketmen' because
I felt the years that have passed since the Hunger-Strike
would let me better cope with the enormity of the
sacrifices made then. I was also curious to hear
how it was from the 'inside'.
in the Republican community in 1981, having just
left prison myself weeks before Bobby Sands died,
I took in every word uttered by the then (and still)
Republican leadership. They were all out to kill
our boys, the Thatcher's, the civil servants, the
media, the lot of them, and those who weren't out
to kill our boys were out to break the Hunger-strike.
We were all angry then and we believed and trusted
our leadership to act in the best interest of our
Comrades. We trusted them and so did the Hunger-strikers.
O'Rawe raises some very disturbing questions in
his account of what was happening inside the prison
during this period. How exactly was the Hunger-strike
being conducted, particularly after the death of
the first four men? He clearly says that decisions
come to by the prisoners' command staff and with
the knowledge and agreement of the Strikers themselves
would mysteriously change after visits by the representatives
of Sinn Fein.
Richard O'Rawe has accurately recorded the events
of the time, and there is no reason to suggest he
hasn't, then questions we all quietly asked ourselves
way back in 1981 why so many, where will it
end, how can it end are all too clearly answered
for us. There were no orders forthcoming, no orders
could be forthcoming.
I have already stated this was a matter for the
prisoners, the Strikers, but, and this is an enormous
BUT, no-one in the leadership of the Republican
Movement advised the men that it was time, that
enough was available to build on, that their deaths
were more than the movement could endure. No such
comradely concern was shown to very ill and vulnerable
friends. No humanity, just political tactics, tactics
which we have seen seep through the Republican community
in the years since like the Black Death: everything
is justifiable if it advances the Sinn Fein agenda.
there a motive in what seemed like madness by the
leadership? Richard O'Rawe points clearly to a very
unpalatable one for Republicans to accept. Yes,
men were sacrificed for the political ambitions
of the Republican leadership. They trusted and they
should all be indebted to Richard O'Rawe for having
the courage to put pen to paper and declare that
to the world.
find his memoir of that period both deeply moving
and credible. Without being melodramatic, I will
say that, allowing for the times we live in, Richard
has probably made stronger enemies than he has friends
and it is a credit to him that this consideration
has not prevented the rest of us having access to
this vital piece in the jigsaw, a very sad piece,
a sad and dirty period in our history. I applaud
Richard for his loyalty to our dead comrades who
cannot speak for themselves. This book has been
written with genuine heart, it has been researched
thoroughly and put together with intelligence and
consideration. It is a captivating read, written
by a skilled writer.
is one man's account. There are hundreds more out
there with stories to tell. I urge them to tell
those stories. Yes, 'history is written by the victors,'
but the truth is written by people of courage, people
such as Richard O'Rawe. Salute.