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A Letter from Ireland - Remembering Joe McDonnell

Each week we get a letter from Ciarán Quinn reflecting on the events of the week. In this letter he remembers the 1981 Hunger Strike and the death of Joe McDonnell




A Smiling Image Frozen in Time

a Chairde,

This week marks the 40th Anniversary of the death of Joe McDonnell on Hunger Strike in Long Kesh prison. A married man with two children and a committed IRA volunteer, he had gone 61 days without food. He just turned 30. I was just turning 13.


I had a badge with his photo. He was smiling, and he looked like all the men I knew. He could have been any one of them sharing a story and telling a joke. He was from an estate not far from where I lived.


His funeral, like Bobby Sands's, would pass our street. We all went around to watch the cortege and catch a glimpse of the IRA as they paid their final salute. I was another face in the crowd.


The Funeral of Joe McDonnell

As his funeral passed it was attacked by the British Army and the RUC. Plastic bullets and panic flew around us as we ran home, cutting through back gardens and jumping fences. I was reminded of this experience recently while watching the compelling interview with Joe’s friend and comrade Jaz McCann. Jaz recently published a memoir, entitled "6000 Days", detailing his seventeen years as a prisoner in the notorious Long Kesh prison and he details his friendship with Joe. We have an opportunity denied to Joe and his comrades. A clear, peaceful, and democratic pathway to Irish Unity is now in sight, a pathway made possible by the sacrifice of the 1981 Hunger Strikers. The only fitting tribute to them and to all that sacrificed is a new and united Ireland. A home to all our people. Is mise Ciarán

Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Fein Representative to North America

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