Posted By: January 02, 2024

MAY 5,1981


Excerpt from Fr. Mc Manus’ Memoirs: My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland. (2023 U.S.A.

RE-PRINT).Pages 183-184.

The Washington Star. Thursday, April 30, 1981


The year 1981, of course, was the year of the Irish hunger strike. We had been trying to move heaven and earth to get America to put pressure on Margaret Thatcher to grant the hunger strikers’ demands. I had asked Congressman Hamilton Fish (R-NY) to work on his good friend Vice President George H. Bush. When Fish called me to tell me that Bush had gotten back to him with a final decision that President Reagan would not intercede, I knew Bobby Sands was going to die. Twelve days before his death, I embarked on my own hunger strike right outside the British Embassy. Because I did not hold any poster, and because I was by myself,  I did not have to remain at the mandatory distance of five hundred yards. Prince Charles was staying at the Embassy,   and each time he left in the car, he had to drive right past me. I could see him peering out of the darkened car windows—not without empathy, or so I thought. Certainly, he was not glaring with hostility. I stayed on a hunger strike for twelve days, only drinking water, and losing twenty-five pounds. When Bobby died, I came off the hunger strike, knowing I had to continue the work.

But I felt disgusted that although two of the most powerful men in the world, President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill, had Irish roots, they
did not lift a finger to save Bobby Sands and his nine fellow-patriots who went on to die, “hungering for justice.” I could never think the same way again about Reagan and O’Neill. On May 12, Francis Hughes (twenty-four) was the second Irish martyr to die on the 1981 Hunger Strike. Francis is commonly regarded as being one of the most fearless soldiers the IRA ever produced. On May 30, the Irish National Caucus brought his brother, Oliver, from Bellaghy, County Derry, to Washington. Oliver—one of the most dynamic and charismatic speakers I have ever heard—declared in that unique Bellaghy accent: “I came to the United States to give a simple message. My brother, Francis, was not a criminal. He was an Irish patriot.”23 Later we would bring out Mrs. McElwee, the mother of Oliver’s first cousin Tom, who would also die on the hunger strike. I marveled at the fortitude of this woman as she went around Capitol Hill speaking to politicians and the media, trying to save the life of her son. I would later attend Tom’s funeral and have my heart broken at the sight of his eight beautiful sisters carrying his coffin. I would also attend the funerals of hunger strikers Joe McDonnell, Kevin Lynch, and Ciaran Doherty.