Exhibition tells story of hunger strikes in Ireland

Posted By: September 22, 2017

Bimpe Archer. Irish News. Belfast. Friday, September 22, 2017

Hunger Strike: Ireland 1877-1981 examines how inmates have used the extreme form of protest for varied causes since the foundation of the modern prison system, including political status, female suffrage, and conscientious objection to the First World War.

It also looks at how some prisoners have refused food to highlight over-crowded conditions in many jails at the turn of the century and to undermine the inhumanity of the prison system at that time. It contains startling images of inmates being force-fed, described by those who experienced it as tantamount to torture.

Speaking at the launch, Kevin Moran, minister of state for public works, said the exhibition “chronicles the lengths that prisoners went to during key moments in Irish political history to promote and advance

their causes”.

“The hunger strike tactic has long been used as a weapon of protest in Irish political culture from the death of Thomas Ashe in Mountjoy in 1917 to those who died in Long Kesh in the 1980s,” he said.

“The hunger strikes of 1980-81 in which 10 men died, including Bobby Sands [left] remain embedded in public memory.”

The exhibition focuses on two key moments: the force-feeding of the ‘Winchester Eight’ – particularly Dolours and Marion Price – in 1973/74, and the hunger strikes of the H-Blocks in 1980/81. It also marks the death 100 ago of republican prisoner Thomas Ashe following

force-feeding in Dublin’s Mountjoy prison on September 25, 1917. Hunger striking prisoners posed a major ethical question for the medical profession, who faced the dilemma of

force-feeding or letting prisoners starve. In 1975 the World Medical Association declared

force-feeding unethical.

The exhibition also touches on how, while hunger striking is intrinsically linked to Ireland, it has a global history. Mr. Moran said the exhibition “adds to the appeal of Kilmainham Gaol Museum, which is home to a treasure trove of wonderful artifact material.”