OVERCOMING THE FEAR OF DEATH
"Keep on marching, don't give up"
30 May 1981
This tribute to the determination and spirit of republican resistance of the four dead H-Block hunger-strikers - IRA Volunteers Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, and Raymond McCreesh, and INLA Volunteer Patsy O'Hara - is written by Belfast republican Jim Gibney, who had the demanding, but privileged task of regularly visiting the former three in the H-Block prison hospital during their fast to the death for political prisoner status.
My next visit to the prison hospital was the following week to see Francis Hughes. It was my second visit with Francis since he started hungerstrike. He was in fine form, although his bad leg was causing some problems. We discussed the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election campaign which was just moving into full gear.
The following week I visited Raymond McCreesh in the hospital. He was fit enough to walk from his hospital bed to a room set aside for visitors. His eldest sister Marie was on the visit with his brother Michael. Marie had not seen Raymond for over five years, so it was an emotional reunion dominated by family news. When the visit ended Raymond stood up to say good bye, and became dizzy, almost fainted and had to sit down again. He had turned a pale white colour.
That same week I was back visiting Bobby, along with his mother and sister Marcella. He was now over forty days on hungerstrike. As we arrived in the hospital, the doctor in charge of the hungerstrikers invited us to his office. There, for twenty minutes, he, and another doctor called Emerson (who the McCreesh family tried to remove from treating Raymond in the last days of his life because of suspected impropriety) went into great detail about their dilemma in dealing with hungerstrikers. They quiet needlessly detailed the effects of a hungerstrike on the body and how the body lapses into a coma. Although they attempted to distance themselves from the prison administration, claiming their role was independent, in reality they were probing Mrs Sands and Marcella and me to see if they could find a weakness.
When at last we went in to Bobby, he was considerably weaker than when I had last seen him, but he had no difficulty speaking or moving about the bed. He warned his mother about the doctors trying to get at him thru the family and said that should he lapse into a come, he was not to be revived. We discussed his election campaign: he felt that the election would be a boost to the hungerstrike campaign, but would not be enough to shift Thatcher off course. How right he was to be proved!
The most trying time for the hungerstrikers was the period shortly after Bobby's death when a virtual queue of international dignitaries lined up outside his cell door, waiting to try and persuade him to end the hungerstrike. Their presence alone created an illusion of movement and raised hopes only to be dashed by the vindictive language of Margaret Thatcher.
*Not much time tonight, last bit tomorrow.