The following is one response regarding the Hunger strike of 1980 from a man who participated: Tommy McKearney, now editor of Fourthwrite magazine. It is taken from a volume of Republican literature, Republican Voices. Information on purchasing this book can be found here. I strongly recommend buying this book, as it is a vital piece in understanding current "dissidents" who were loyal members of the Provisional Movement.
I had seen on Hunger Strike previously in Portlaoise in 1975 and it had lasted over 30 days so I wasn't totally unaware of what might happen. The first morning of the Hunger Strike I was in the H-Block with my old cell-mate Dennis Cummings. I do remember the screws coming with our breakfast and I refused it. Unlike other occasions when I had refused food and they had responded sarcastically, if not menacingly, the screws were very interested to record the fact because they were aware of what was happening. They officially confirmed that I was refusing to eat food, and the screws asked me three times.
I'd heard different stories in the past about Hunger Strikes, such as the pangs of hunger go within a few days, different things like that It wasn't my experience since for certainly 35-40 days I could still feel hunger and I was tempted to eat food. When I lost my appetite for food it was much later and it was the result of the effects of sickness and the effects of lack of food rather than and diminution of appetite.
There certainly was no noticeable physiological effects for the first twenty days. I felt a wee bit tired but I could sleep, read and write. To an extent this was tempered by the fact that we were thinking frantically about political developments and thinking about strategy. We were working as best as we could from within the confines of the prison to see if we could advance and develop the protest. We were listening form information; it wasn't a question of just being in a total vacuum, total isolation, just sitting staring. We were constantly receiving bits of information and we were constantly trying to send out wee suggestions. I suppose this activity would tend to use up some of our thoughts rather than sitting and dwelling on the lack of food.
After ten days in our original cell we were moved together from our blanket cells to a clean wing in H3; that was the first time that we were together. Brendan Hughes
was OC of the Hunger Strike and he had handed the overall OC position in the jail over to Bobby Sands
, at the beginning of the Hunger Strike. Brendan ordered us to stop the dirty protest when we began the Hunger Strike. We washed, had beds and wore prison pyjamas; there was no other clothing apart from the pyjamas.
In this period the screws routinely came four times a day and left our food in. The breakfast would be left with us until lunch, and lunch would be left until tea, the tea would be left until supper and the supper would be left until breakfast, and so on. The screws would record that nothing had been touched or eaten. I have since learnt that the prison authorities would measure the food with almost scientific accuracy to see if we had eaten or even touched the food. We were told by the prison authorities that there was no breach of the Hunger Strike recorded - it was certainly true in my case.
*Tomorrow, more of this bit of the interview. Buy the book to read the whole text.