Friday 28 July 2017

Jim Cusack: Hunger strike posed a real threat across the country

The protest in the Maze prison gripped the public imagination here in a way never seen before, writes Jim Cusack

IN THE summer of 1981, travelling on holiday from Belfast to Wexford, I recall being struck by the number of black flags in towns along the route.

On a hillside in Wicklow there was a huge 'H', made out of stones, for the H Block protest. The hillside monument remained there for years. In Northern Ireland, there were black flags in republican areas but not many, if any, in ordinary Catholic, nationalist areas where the IRA had little support. It was a surprise to see so many in the Republic.

It is forgotten now, or airbrushed out of Sinn Fein history, but the intention at the time of the hunger strike was to "seize power" not only in Northern Ireland but also in what the party termed until very recently the "26 Counties". Danny Morrison, the Sinn Fein propagandist, told the party at its ard fheis that the intention was to seize power with an Armalite rifle in one hand and a ballot box in the other. The front cover of Christmas edition of the SF newspaper, An Phoblacht, was a cartoon depicting an Armalite coming out of a ballot box, bizarrely set in front of a decorated Christmas tree.

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