24.8.06

Son proud of father’s fight against injustice

Daily Ireland

Hundreds of republicans in Derry commemorate 25th anniversary of INLA hunger striker’s death

By Eamonn Houston
21/08/2006

As his final days on the 1981 hunger strike loomed, 27-year-old Michael Devine asked for his two children, Michael Jr and Louise, to be brought to the hospital wing of Long Kesh prison.
It was to be an emotional visit.
By that stage the ravages of Devine’s fast had rendered him blind.
His life was now quickly ebbing away.
Michael and Louise were brought to Long Kesh by their aunt Margaret – Mickey Devine’s only surviving family member.
For Michael Jr, that last visit when he was just eight years old is seared into his memory.
“I remember the prison hospital pretty well,” he says.
“On one of the last visits we were brought to his bedside at each side and he held our hands.
“That is something that stays with you – you could never forget that even though you were so young. It was hurtful and hateful.”
Michael Devine is now 33 – older than his father was when he took the decision to join the prison protest that saw ten republican prisoners fast to the death in a bid to gain political status.
Devine Jr (Óg) is soft-spoken and politically astute.
He is committed to the same republican socialist ideals that his father died for. The hunger strike and his father’s death have dominated his life. At times, he admits, it has almost become too much for him.
Mickey Devine was the last of the hunger strikers to die. His funeral saw tens of thousands of people follow his cortege through Derry’s Creggan estate.
During this reporter’s interview with Mickey Jr, we look at pictures of his father’s hearse flanked by INLA volunteers as the funeral snaked its way through the Creggan estate. There are other pictures of Mickey Devine lying in state with an INLA guard of honour.
At the age of eight, Michael Jr says that he knew what was happening.
“I knew what he was doing. We knew that he was on hunger strike and refusing food and that other people were. It was something we couldn’t get away from at that time and we had been going to the prison for five years. It was something that was part of our childhood.”
On August 20, 1981, Michael and Louise Devine were awoken at 7am to be told that their father had died.
“We were sat down and told by our mother. I remember crying but even then I had a fair feeling of that coming – but it was still a shock at that time.
“I remember the wake house, and knew that my father was a republican socialist. It was on the last day of the wake that things really hit me. There were throngs of people coming and going.”
Devine’s funeral witnessed one of the biggest colour party displays by the INLA. Michael Jr and Louise were taken the short distance to the city cemetery by their aunt Margaret and Theresa Moore, who had visited Mickey Devine daily during the latter stages of his hunger strike.
Theresa Moore, who was an Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) welfare officer at the time, was appointed as one of Mickey Devine’s ‘surrogate’ family. She remembers Devine’s fondness for his son.
“On his son Michael’s birthday, Michael borrowed £2 to put in a card for him. I said to him: “You can’t die now Michael Devine – you owe me £2.
“He could hear everything, but he couldn’t speak,” she says.
The late Margaret McCauley would talk often of Michael Jr and Louise’s last visit to their father. In several interviews she recalled Devine – who could no longer see – feeling the faces of his children with his hands. She recalled looking back at a “dying skeleton of a man” with tears streaming down his face as she took the children out of the room.
Devine had endured a hard life. His father died when Mickey was a young boy. Devine found his mother dead when he was a teenager. He married young but the union ended in separation.
He also underwent four years of suffering ‘on the blanket’ in the H-blocks and finally the physical and mental torture of hunger strike.
Michael Jr remembers standing in the cemetery as his father was laid to rest.
“I remember the shots ringing in my ears. In the months after his death there was just a numbness. It was a numbing experience even at that age. It was an experience that was hard to deal with. It is something that I found hard to cope with.”
Devine Jr says that his schooling suffered. He was no longer a young boy enjoying a normal existence. Everyone at his school knew who his father was and what had happened. It was something that he could not escape.
“I don’t remember much about school. I was put back a year at school, so there must have been something happening in me at that stage.”
Michael Devine says that he first began to really understand his father’s motivation and sacrifice when he entered his early teens.
“I was thinking politically at a very young age,” he says.
“I was always surrounded by his former comrades and at the age of 13 or 14, I remember becoming very politically aware of what it was all about. It was important for me to have my father and his politics honoured.
“I got angry at stages and had a complete hatred against the British.”
In 2001, Michael Devine took a step that he admits “nearly wrecked” him.
In Turkish prisons, many socialists joined “deathfasts”. Devine Jr felt duty bound to show solidarity with the hunger strikers.
“I felt that I would have some connection with these people – that’s why I went. There is a natural bond and I still feel the same. It disturbed me when I saw those people sitting in those rooms. To be honest, it nearly wrecked me.”
Michael Devine says that his father’s sacrifice is a source of pride.
“I’m proud of him and his politics for the working class. It has dominated my life and sometimes I have tried not to let it dominate my life, but it is always there. It’s something that will be there in 80 years time. The hunger strike is never going to go away. I’m also proud of his former comrades and proud of them putting on such a fitting tribute to him on the 25th anniversary.
“Regardless of political differences, the hunger strikers should be honoured as equals. They fought beside each other in the prisons as comrades. There was a unity.”
Yesterday hundreds of republicans in Derry turned out to commemorate the anniversary of Mickey Devine’s death.
A plaque and murals in his honour were unveiled. The murals feature the signature image of Mickey Devine smiling benignly. His image is one of the most recognisable in his home city.
On June 22, 1981 Devine had completed his fourth year on the blanket and joined Joe McDonnell, Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch, Martin Hurson, Thomas McElwee and Paddy Quinn on hunger strike.
He became the seventh man in a weekly build-up from a four-strong hunger strike team to eight-strong.
He was transferred to the prison hospital on Wednesday, July 15, his 24th day on hunger strike.
With 50 per cent remission available to conforming prisoners, Devine would have been due out of jail the following September, but the criminalisation policy of the British government spurred Devine to face death within the walls of Long Kesh.
Micky Devine died at 7.50am on Thursday, August 20, 1981.
On the same day nationalist voters in Fermanagh/South Tyrone were beginning to make their way to the polling booths to elect Owen Carron a member of parliament for the constituency.
In the months that followed, prisoners in Long Kesh were granted most of the privileges they had fought for, first on the blanket protest, and then on hunger strike, by Margaret Thatcher’s government.
A large mural of Devine is painted on the gable wall of the home of his late sister Margaret.

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