Francis Hughes: Unwavering Republican
Born on the 28th of February, 1956, to a large Catholic family, Francis Hughes
grew up in the town of Tamlaghtduff, Bellaghy in South Derry along with his cousins and fellow Volunteers, Benedict and Thomas McElwee
. All three of these men were to serve long stints in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh; two of them were to never come out alive.
When Francis left school at the age of sixteen, he took up an apprenticeship as a decorator and painter. Upon completing this apprenticeship, he went on the run.
As a Volunteer he was brazen and fearless in the face of danger. His first stint of active service was with the Stickies
, but after their unilateral ceasefire, Francis became disillusioned and began running his own unit of men in independent operations. Rightly impressed, the Provos recruited the group as a whole in early 1973.
In the years to come, Francis' reputation as a courageous and bold Volunteer began to build amongst both the Nationalist community and the security forces in the Six Counties. The pressure to catch him came to a full head of steam in the spring of 1978, when he and another Volunteer had a gun battle with two SAS members, killing one and wounding another. The wounded soldier got off a burst of automatic sub-machine gun fire, wounding both Volunteers. Francis was hit in the thigh, preventing him from escape. He bade his comrade to flee and told him he'd fare for himself.
Francis was captured the next morning, having crawled nearly a half mile with a shattered leg. He was weak from exposure and blood loss, but was as defiant as ever. While they carried him away on a stretcher, he screamed "Up the PROVIES!" at the top of his lungs. At the time of his capture, Francis was being called "the most wanted man in the North[sic]"
Put on trial after a period of recovery from his injuries, Francis was put on trial and found guilty of murder as well as nearly a dozen other charges. He was sentenced to life for the killing of the SAS soldier; the other charges totaled 69 years in prison.
Arriving in Long Kesh, he immediately involved himself in the campaign for political status. On the blanket, he continued to build his reputation, defying the screws. They would do little to stop him; they were in as much awe of Francis as the POWs. He hobbled around on his crutches, yelling slogans and pick-me-ups to his comrades. Very few other prisoners in the history of the struggle could have gotten away with this without regular torture from the screws.
Francis was one of the 30 POWs who took part in the last stages of the 1980 Hungerstrike
. This strike was called off when an apparent deal for political status was struck with the Brits. The British reneged on their original deal and the no-wash protest went on.
A second hungerstrike began on March 1st, 1981 when Volunteer Bobby Sands
refused his meals. Two weeks later, Hughes joined his comrade on the strike. On May 12th, after 59 days refusing food, Francis Hughes died, unbroken. He died for Ireland.
Francis Hughes: Ireland's Own
Francis Hughes: Scourge of the UDR: Ireland's Own
Hungerstrike Commemorative: Francis Hughes
Irish Hungerstrike Page
Noraid Hungerstrike Page