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  • Greg O'Loughlin

Mairéad Farrell Commemorates Hunger Strikers in Chicago


Mairéad Farrell, Sinn Féin TD for Galway West/ South Mayo, visited Chicago on Sunday for an event commemorating the Hunger Strikers.


She told the audience,"Irish America has always been a rock of support and resource to our Irish freedom movement. From those who fled the great hunger and found a safe haven on these shores, to those who built the great American cities like this one we stand in today and who never forgot where they came from.

"Clan Na Gael and the Fenians stood shoulder to shoulder for an Irish republic. You were never found to be wanting when it came to standing up and being counted, and we did and do count on you.”


“We face a British Government that believes that it is not bound by international laws and its own agreements. The US has demonstrated that it can and will hold the British Government to account.


“The gathering here today is testament to the courage and determination of our Hungerstrikers. It is testament to the legacy that they have left behind them and, of course, to our understanding that we must continue their struggle for Irish Unity”



FULL SPEECH:


Friends, it is a huge honour for me to be here today to remember the Hungerstrikers with all of you.


The gathering here today is testament to the courage and determination of our Hungerstrikers. It is testament to the legacy that they have left behind them and, of course, to our understanding that we must continue their struggle for Irish self determination.


Irish America has always been a rock of support and resource to our Irish freedom movement. From those who fled the great hunger and found a safe haven on these shores, to those who built the great American cities like this one we stand in today and who never forgot where they came from.


Clan Na Gael and the Fenians stood shoulder to shoulder for an Irish republic. You were never found to be wanting when it came to standing up and being counted, and we did and do count on you.


Thousands of families of our political prisoners benefited from your fundraising and countless acts of kindness.


You generated debate, critical thinking and discussion; you shone a light on the struggle in Ireland and never allowed it to fall from the public mind.


I treasure these visits, as I meet with our Diaspora and keep the solidarity link alive. Our Irish nation is larger than our island. It includes you all, and always will.


Of course the connnections between Chicago and Long Kesh and Armagh Gaol have always been strong and indeed just today I spoke to some of those who were in Armagh and Long Kesh who said that the knowledge of the protests that took place across the US meant the world to them during those difficult times.


Síle Darragh sent her comms – all her messages from her time in prison – to Chicago for safe keeping. Sile was OC of Armagh Women’s Prison when the 1980 Hunger Strike was on and as a result of having been able to send those communications to this City they were never destroyed due to searches etc and from that she was able to write a book of her time in Armagh Gaol and specifically about the 1980 Hunger Strike which the women in Armagh participated in.


And she writes in that book about the importance that she placed on receiving those notes back, and I quote from the book “In 2001, twenty years later, I got them back, and I cried again. Once more I was that young woman of twenty-three sitting in a cell in armagh gaol, reliving the terrible memories of a terrible period in my life.”


I would encourage you all to get a copy of that book for a very interesting insight into that time.


Of course, the support received from Chicago brought a lot of joy too, particularly to the women in Armagh as my Aunty Mairéad was on Hungerstrike there, and her cousins who are here today sent many parcels to the women.


Her cell mate Sinéad told me of the great entertainment they got from the letters and in one specific case where a furry onesie was sent to Mairéad and Sinéad at a time when onesies were completely unknown in Ireland and the great laugh they had walking around in them. And for all those who know the Irish wit the slagging they got as a result!!


Today I received a letter that Mairéad wrote to her cousin Noelle which shows the humour and craic that kept spirits up, she mentions that her 3 brothers were travelling around the world and she writes “isn’t it well for them running around the world, wait till I get out, I’ll spend all their money and they’ll not have a penny when I’m finished! (…) Jealous me? Of course not – I love Armagh!!”


Of course, there were very diffifuclt times too and in a letter she wrote on the 18th of December 1980 whilst on Hunger Strike she wrote “I wasn’t in too good of form yesterday morning. Well it’s not that I was in bad form it’s just that in the mornings now I always feel kind of sick and instead of just lying about I went to the yard which didn’t do much for me – oh I’m so daft!!!!”


The 1980 and 1981 Hunger Strikes changed everything and it is often said that we stand on the shoulders of giants but never is that more clear than when we speak about that period.

We are here today because of all who went before us.


Many took up arms, just as WolfeTone had done. Just as Fenians and Young Irelanders had done. Just a Pearse Connoly and Markivich done. Just as Bobby Sands and my aunty Mairéad had done.


They didn’t have the opportunities that we now enjoy. A peaceful and democratic pathway to unity.


All has changed.


We meet at a time of great change in Ireland. A time of great opportunity. Opportunities that were not open to those who came before us.


Irish Unity, Freedom for All of Ireland is no longer an aspiration. It is achievable

A new and united Ireland is possible. It is our responsibility in Sinn Féin. It is the responsibility of all who support Irish freedom in this room to realize the opportunity before us.


Ireland has changed and is changing.


People are hungry for change. They have put their hopes in our party.


Sinn Féin is the largest party in the state. Mary Lou McDonald is now the first Sinn Féin President and First woman to hold the position of leader of the opposition.


Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can no longer control the government and opposition. They formed a government solely to exclude Sinn Féin. They continue with the same failing policy.

But the people are wise to them.


We are leading in the polls. We have much to do and we are not complacent. Further change is coming and I hope that Mary Lou McDonald will be the first women Taoiseach.


In the North, Sinn Féin is the largest party. Michelle O’Neill is the First Minister Elect. All in a state that was designed, and gerrymandered to ensure that would not happen. But it has.


In the last election in the North, there was a 0.6% difference between those who support continued partition and those in favor of unity. In the Assembly that was convened unionism was no longer a majority and held a single-seat advantage over united Irelanders.


The protestant parliament for a protestant people is over. Replaced by power sharing, equality, and rights.


A sectarian state drawn to have a protestant majority is now gone.


The exclusion and discrimination of the past have no place in the present in the North. It will not be a feature in the new and united Ireland we are building. A republic of equal citizens, a home for all that share our island.


The discussion on Irish unity is alive and vibrant. Every week is marked by books, articles, and research on the issue. In October over 5,000 people paid to attend Ireland’s Future event.


We have come so far and we could not have done it without you.


Throughout our history, Irish America has kept the faith. Has walked every step of the way with us. Carried the dream of unity.


There would have been no Easter Rising without Irish America. There would be no Good Friday Agreement with Irish America. There will be no Irish Unity without Irish America.


We face a British Government that believes that it is not bound by international laws and its own agreements. The US has demonstrated that it can and will hold the British Government to account.


When both parties in Congress and the President made clear that there would be no trade deal if the Good Friday Agreement was undermined, Britain listened and the people of Ireland cheered.


That battle continues.


The same British Government also introduced legislation that would prevent those bereaved in the conflict to have an inquest or a judicial investigation into the killing of their loved ones or even have the right to access the courts.


The British Government has made clear this legislation is to prevent members of the British military and their political masters to be held to account for their dirty war in Ireland.


They claim this is all to promote reconciliation, draw a line in the past, and move on. How insulting. Reconciliation cannot be based on coverups. Reconciliation can only be founded on truth and acknowledgment.


The rights of all those bereaved cannot and must not be denied by this British Government.

A British government will not readily give up its claim to the North of Ireland. But under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the future of the North is in the hands of the people and the British government is obliged to legislate for Irish Unity if that is the choice of the people.


The challenge before us all is to secure a Unity Referendum. Have an inclusive, respectful, and informed discussion, and then let the people have their say. With all agreeing to respect the democratic outcome of the vote.


The role of an Irish Government will be essential in securing referendums, and for advocating and planning for unity. If this current Irish Government refuses to act on its constitutional obligations to advocate for unity then a Sinn Féin led government will.


The US, as ever is critical to ensuring that a British Government abides by their Agreements on Brexit, Legacy, and Unity.


When the US talks, when people in this room challenge the Irish Government to plan and prepare for unity, Dublin listens. They might not like what they hear, but they will listen.


Friends, Bobby Sands writing from his prison cell, alone and wrapped only in a blanket wrote, “Everyone, republican or otherwise has a role to play”


This is no longer 1981, much has changed, but that truth remains. If we are going to see a united Ireland it will take all our collective efforts.


I have no doubt, that with your support we will see a new and united Ireland.



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