Thirty years ago, on May 29, 1981, Oscar López Rivera was arrested for his role in the Puerto Rican independence movement. That same summer, Irish Republican Army members Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McElwee, and Mickey Devine engaged in a hunger strike, refusing food for periods of 46 to 73 days, and ultimately giving their lives, in the fight for recognition of their status as political prisoners. The hunger strike was pivotal in thwarting Britain’s efforts to criminalize the Irish Republican Army political prisoners in the H-Blocks and Armagh Women’s Gaol and concentrated world-wide media attention on the war in Ireland, paving the way for Sinn Féin’s entrance into the political arena and the electoral successes that followed.
On May 22, 2011, three members of Sinn Féin, all of whom are also former political prisoners and hunger strikers, traveled to Cleveland, Ohio for an event hosted by of the Friends of Sinn Féin to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Hunger Strike. Gerry Kelly (Ard Chomhairle [National Executive] and a Member of the Legislative Assembly for North Belfast) described the overall history and context of the struggle for political recognition and Pat Sheehan (Member of the Legislative Assembly for Belfast West) spoke about his experience as a 55-day hunger striker; he was near death when the strike ended in October of 1981. Rita O’Hare (General Secretary and current Representative to the United States) was also part of the Sinn Féin delegation to Cleveland. The program also included songs from the Irish struggle, including Joe McDonnell, whose lyrics include these words:
And you dare to call me a terrorist
While you look down your gun
When I think of all the deeds that you have done –
You have plundered many nations
Divided many lands
You have terrorized their people
You ruled with an iron hand
And you brought this reign of terror to my land.
Through the many months internment
In the Maidstone and the Maze
I thought about my land throughout those days
Why my country was divided
Why I was now in jail
Imprisoned without crime or without trial
And though I love my country
I am not a bitter man
I’ve seen cruelty and injustice at first hand
And so one faithful morning
I shook bold freedom’s hand
For right or wrong I tried to free my land.
The program concluded with another song, A Nation Once Again, whose chorus proclaims: And Ireland, long a province, be a nation once again.
After the program ended, Rev. Nozomi Ikuta of the National Boricua Human Rights Network presented the Sinn Féin members with a painting by Oscar López Rivera of Don Juan Antonio Corretjer. Pictured here (from left to right) are Nozomi Ikuta and Carlos Ivan Ramos of the Boricua Human Rights Network; Rita O’Hare, Pat Sheehan, and Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin; and Jack Kilroy of Friends of Sinn Féin.