Volunteer Joe McDonnell
Joe McDonnell was born September 14th, 1951 in Lower Falls as one of eight kids to a large Catholic family. Growing up in Lenadoon housing estate, he gained a reputation as a tough but lovable character.
He was interned in 1972 in the prison ship Maidstone
and later in Long Kesh. Upon his release he joined the 1st battalion of the Belfast Bridge. He was active with the A Company which ran most of its operations in the area of Rosnareen in Andersonstown. As a Volunteer, Joe is remembered by his comrades as being cool and collected at all times.
Joe worked as a upholster, making furniture whilst not in prison. He made furniture for all the neighbourhood bars as well as for his family. He loved his work and especially the city of Belfast. He also enjoyed playing with his three children, teaching to swim and playing football with them.
He was arrested after an operation which intended to burn down a high level furniture store as an economic target. A shoot-out with the RUC and British Army ensued in which two soldiers and two republicans were wounded. Among the four he was arrested with was Bobby Sands
. A single revolver was found in the car and all four men were sentenced to 14 years.
He determination is shown by the fact that while he is remembered as a loving father and husband, he did not once don a prison uniform in order to be granted visitation rights. He was on the blanket from the day he entered prison until the day he began hungerstrike.
He was imprisoned in H-5 and acted as the scorcher (shouter of the news) for his wing. He yelled any updates from his block out the window to the adjoining H-block.
A father of two and a veteran of internment from the early 1970's, Joe fittingly volunteered to take his friend Bobby Sands' spot on the hungerstrike when he died. He died 61 days later on July 8, 1981.
He was a genuine person with a great sense of humour who cooly set about completing any mission he had as a Volunteer. He was retracted at times but was no stranger to laughter and friendship. He was sadly missed by his friends and family as well as his comrades and neighbours.
God bless his soul.
Ballad of Joe McDonnell
Hungerstrike Commemorative Project (recently updated)