The Deaths of Kieran Doherty and Thomas McElwee on Hunger Strike
Goretti at Kieran Doherty's funeral
The 2nd of August marked the 24th anniversary of the death of hungerstriker Kieran Doherty after 73 days without food. I apologise for not posting this in a timely manner. I mean no disrespect to any particular hunger striker or any other important republican anniversary by my lapses. This particular season is a very difficult one to get through because there is a constant reminder of some painful memory to re-live, and for people who take the priciples and the events of the hunger strike seriously, the trauma of the deaths repeats itself over and over, year after year and never goes away.
Tomorrow, August 8, also marks the anniversary of the death of Thomas McElwee after 62 days on hunger strike.
Irish Northern Aid
"When you see the official photograph of Thomas McElwee on hunger republican through and through. Alfie managed the local Republican Club that helped raise funds for the prisoners’ families after the previous manager was shot dead. Kieran's granduncle, Ned Maguire, had taken part in a famous escape from the Crumlin Road jail in 1943. Two of Kieran's second cousins, Maura and Dorothy Maguire, were shot dead by the British army in 1971. His second cousin Ned was interned and was now on the blanket. In 1972, his uncle Gerry took part in another famous escape from the Crum, when republican prisoners pretending to be playing football leaped over the fences en masse to freedom.
At fifteen, Kieran left formal schooling to work with his father as a floor tiler. His brothers Michael and Terence were at that time interned without trial and the Doherty family were constantly harassed and raided.
Kieran joined Na Fianna Eireann in 1971 at the age of fifteen. He was arrested almost immediately, but his father Alfie raised hell about his son's age and Kieran was released -- only to arrested and taken away again when he turned sixteen and interned without trial.
In November 1975, Kieran was one of the last internees to be released. He immediately went on active service with the IRA in the Andytown area with Joe McDonnell, John Pickering and others. He was mostly on the run as their unit was very active and effective.
They say Kieran was a very internal person, but big, very strong and decisive. Once he gave a man a public beating for hitting a woman. He was quiet and shy, but nobody crossed Kieran Doherty. They called him "Big Doc."
He was arrested in 1976 after a bombing, with John Pickering [who was to join him later on hunger strike] and others including Terry Kirby [who escaped from the Kesh in ‘83 and was later arrested and held for extradition in the U.S.], and in 1978 was given 18 years.
He went on the blanket immediately. He was not an easy man.
He would take no orders. He would neither talk to or "hear" screws. He wouldn't even acknowledge the existence of screws!
He was beaten unmercifully. Once he was hit, kicked and had his testicles squeezed until he was unconscious because he refused to cooperate on a mirror search. Another time eight screws took him into a room for a rectal search. Kieran treated this as usual. They nearly beat him unconscious but he refused to comply. Next they asked him to open his mouth for an oral search, but he refused again and was punched and karate chopped to get him to open his mouth. He didn't. They took him back to his cell. He refused to wash to see the doctor. He was beaten so badly the doctor came to his cell. Later that night, he began to vomit, probably from the stomach punches and kicks, and was taken to the prison hospital.
Typically, Kieran on his release was sent to the punishment cells and charged with attempting to strike a warder.
By God, they will not rub my nose in it
When the first hunger strike was broken through the deceit of the Brits, Kieran was very angry [he was among the last group of hunger strikers in ‘80]: "They are rubbing our noses in it. By God, they will not rub mine."
On Friday, 22 May 1981, Kieran Doherty replaced Raymond McCreesh on hunger strike. Almost immediately, Kieran was put forward for the Dail elections. On 11 July, he was elected TD for Cavan/Monaghan. Some thought that this would get the Irish government into action. Kieran was under no such delusions.
In the beginning of August, Kevin, Kieran, and Paddy Quinn were all into the last stages of deterioration. The Republican movement was coming under a lot of pressure in the press and from the hunger strikers' families because of the behind the scenes actions of various forces including Catholic Churchmen. Particularly active in this regards was Fr. Denis Faul, whom the prisoners called "The Menace". They were spreading the lie that the Movement was ordering the men on the hunger strike and then orchestrating events. The press loved thier strike themselves. They could call it off as easily and the republican movement would welcome the decision. Even if one man decided off, his decision would be respected."
(--From the old Larkspirit site)
"Speaking of the hunger strike and her sons and their comrades during Thomas' strike, Mrs. McElwee said: "I know Thomas and Benedict would be determined to stand up for their rights. In the Blocks one will stand for another. If this hunger strike isn't settled one way or another they'll all go the same way. There'll never be peace in this country."
Thomas McElwee died at 11.30 a.m. on Saturday, August 8th. Indicative of the callousness of the British government towards prisoners and their families alike neither had the comfort of each other's presence at that tragic moment. He died after 62 days of slow agonising hunger strike with no company other than prison warders - colleagues of those who had brutalised, degraded and tortured him for three-and-a-half years."
**Please see also Irish Hunger Strike 1981 Memorial Website