Funeral of IRA man and hunger striker

By Victoria O'Hara
Tuesday 19, February 2008
Belfast Telegraph

Thousands of mourners gathered today to attend the funeral of veteran republican Brendan Hughes.

Mr Hughes (59), a former hunger striker, died last Saturday after becoming critically ill.

Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams was amongst about 1,500 mourners who packed the church and lined the streets to pay their last respects to the former IRA commander.

A lone piper played as the coffin, draped in an Irish tricolour, was carried by friends and family from his sister's house to St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast.

During the requiem mass Father Brendan Smyth referred to Mr Hughes's nickname, The Dark.

He said it both invoked worry and commanded respect amongst the community.

Father Smyth said: "Today we come to lay that man, that name to rest."

Mr Hughes was born in Belfast in 1948 into a republican family in the Falls Road, joining the IRA on the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969.

He was also involved in arms smuggling, helping to bring Armalite rifles from America.

By 1973 he was captured along with Gerry Adams at a Falls Road house.

They were interned at Long Kesh and six months later he escaped in a rolled up mattress in a rubbish lorry. He was later rearrested.

In October 1980 he went on hunger strike with six other men which lasted 53 days.

However, he called it off as one of the strikers approached death.

Father Smyth told mourners that Mr Hughes had both his critics and those who supported him, but said the decision to stop the hunger strike in1980 saved one man's life.

Mr Hughes's lengthy fast, however, left him with a variety of heart and vision problems.

Father Smyth also said Mr Hughes had suffered from depression in the past.

He added Mr Hughes left prison with only the clothes on his back, but he didn't leave empty handed.

"He had baggage no-one could see," Father Smyth said.

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