Photos from the commemoration, including the mural and memorial
21 May 2006
Oration at Patsy O'Hara Commemoration
[Delivered by Patsy's friend and comrade, Gerard 'Cocker' Murray
member and ex-INLA prisoner), during the dedication of a mural
memorial plaque in Patsy's honor in Derry.]
Friends and comrades, it is indeed a great honour and privilege
standing here today to commemorate the unveiling of this fine
to the memory of Volunteer Patsy O'Hara on this the 25th anniversary
of his death.
There has been a lot of hard work put into it so that people
and afar, young and old, will recognise who he represented and
sacrifice he gave for what he believed in.
I would also ask you to remember Raymond McCreesh who also died
hunger strike the same day.
Twenty-three year old Patsy O'Hara from here in Derry City was
former leader of the Irish National Liberation Army prisoners
H-Blocks. He joined IRA Volunteer Raymond McCreesh on hunger strike
March 22nd 1981, three weeks after Bobby Sands and one week after
Patsy O'Hara was born on July 11th 1957 at Bishop Street here
Derry. His parents owned a small public house and grocery shop,
which the family lived. His eldest brother Sean Seamus was interned
the cages of Long Kesh for almost four years. The second eldest
family, Tony, was imprisoned in the H-Blocks for five years, which
served in full, with no remission. During this time his brother
was joining the hunger strike.
From the age of 17, Patsy had been arrested and charged on several
occasions on both sides of the border. Ironically in all the cases
charges were ultimately dropped.
This was a common practice in the seventies when young Catholics
arrested on trumped up charges only to have them dropped after
This tactic was not something that would deter Patsy as he continued
with his political ideals. Such was his enthusiasm and commitment
he was elected to the Ard-Chomhairle of the IRSP, a position he
right up to his arrest and eventual imprisonment.
He was arrested in May 1979 and was charged with possession of
grenade and sent to Crumlin Road Prison. In January 1980 he was
sentenced to eight years in prison and immediately went on the
protest in Long Kesh.
After the first hunger strike, Patsy soon became officer commanding
the Irish National Liberation Army prisoners on the protest and
figure that everyone looked up to. Unfortunately due to British
intransigence and apparent double-dealing on the five basic demands,
was decided that another hunger strike was to begin.
The five demands were 1. no prison uniform, 2. no prison work,
association, 4. 1 letter, 1 parcel, 1 visit per week, and 5.
restoration of lost remission.
The Starry Plough carried an article at that time stating that
prisoners announced "that if their demands were not met,
recommence a hunger strike on march the 1st. Irish republican
socialist prisoners will be represented on this hunger strike.
"The IRSP/INLA prisoners are determined to continue their
to the criminalisation policies of the British government. IRSP
opposition to the H-Blocks has existed ever since Merlyn Rees
announced his proposals for the ending of special category status.
"At a meeting of representatives of the various organisations
kesh [Provisonials, IRSP, Officials, UDA and UVF], the British
to sell the idea of criminalisation in return for remission of
sentences, a welfare centre and cash.
"IRSP representatives - including special category prisoners
spokesman Frank Gallagher - stated that there was no way that
IRSP would accept the H-Blocks."
That has been the IRSP position ever since.
Writing shortly before the hunger strike began, Patsy O'Hara
declared "we stand for the freedom of the Irish nation so
generations will enjoy the prosperity they rightly deserve, free
foreign interference, oppression and exploitation. The real criminals
are the British imperialists who have thrived on the blood and
of generations of Irish men. They have maintained control of Ireland
through force of arms and there is only one way to end it. I would
rather die than rot in this concrete tomb for years to come."
On March the 22nd 1981, Patsy was the first INLA prisoner to
hunger strike and led by example, a trait that he carried all
life. Unfortunately, after 61 days Volunteer Patsy O'Hara INLA
breathed his last.
I first met Patsy in the summer of 1979 in Crumlin Road Prison
immediately recognised that he was an astute political thinker,
proven by his position on the Ard-Chomhairle of the IRSP.
But he was also a leader of men, as I soon realised as we ambled
aimlessly around C-wing yard. We were all young men but he was
to look up to as he had the charisma of having done all this before.
Although he was tall in stature he treated everyone as an equal
was able to, through his experience, help new arrivals to settle
His commitment to a cause was second to none as he led by example.
There was a protest going on in the Crum at the time in support
political status, which involved refusal to shave or have your
cut, Patsy had no hesitation in joining this. So to the new arrival,
the yard seemed like a somewhat culture shock, but as I walked
that first day, Patsy was one of the first over to greet me to
You need to experience the relief of seeing a friendly face after
spending three days in Castlereagh interrogation centre. Over
coming months as we walked around we talked about, among other
the political situation outside, how things were progressing and
could be done by the prisoners to support our movement as a whole.
Although we were roughly the same age, Patsy seemed head and shoulders
above me when it came to political discussions.
I always remember looking at him with his wispy beard and longish
and thinking to myself that this man is a committed revolutionary.
Little did I realise that in the space of two short years all
revolutionary spirit and determination would be gone.
Now, when I look at his face on this mural, I find myself drifting
back all those years ago to those months on remand and remembering
discussions as we ambled around C-wing yard. I hope that I have
some benefit from those experiences.
He gave his life for what he believed in and paid the ultimate
sacrifice. He was a republican socialist and a committed follower
Connolly and Mellows as their thinking and ideals directed him
the Republican Socialist Movement.
He had a burning sense of injustice and even on his deathbed
body weak and frail his spirit was still shining bright when as
told those dearest to him "let the fight go on."
Recently it has been said that Patsy and his comrades would in
likelihood have supported the Good Friday Agreement. We cannot
for all the hunger strikers but we can speak for Patsy O'Hara,
Lynch and Mickey Devine. They joined our movement to end British
and establish a socialist republic. That is what they believed
They were not young naive men. They were mature, committed
Others can change their views, which is their prerogative. We
and we do not believe Patsy, Kevin or Mickey would have either.
But there is one thing I can say for definite, and that is Patsy
O'Hara died as a republican socialist, and a Volunteer in the
National Liberation Army.
Six more volunteers in the IRA and the INLA died before the hunger
strike ended that year and many more families and friends were
affected by it all.
The hunger strike in Long Kesh was 25 years ago, yet it is so
most peoples minds. Let us not forget what these prisoners went
through day after day. Locked up 24 hours a day in a tiny cell,
unwashed and unshaven, constantly hosed down with cold water,
except for a blanket, cold food, often with maggots in it, freezing
the winter months and the constant threat of the screws opening
cell door to deliver their customary brutality. These are things
never should be forgotten. Margaret Thatcher knew all this but
nothing to stop it. To her the prisoners in Long Kesh meant nothing.
So that it is why it is so important to educate the young people
today about the ultimate sacrifice the ten brave men gave in that
prison all those years ago. They made strong decisions and stood
them to the death and it became world-wide news.
There are streets named after them, songs written about them,
dedicated to them and their names are known internationally.
Even today in distant far off shores people know about that hunger
Yet in Turkey at this present time there is a hunger strike taking
place with numerous lives lost and little being said or done to
They took their inspiration and demands from those men who gave
lives in 1981. They also are fighting for basic human rights.
Today also we see Irish political prisoners being denied the
that the hunger strikers gave their lives for. In a single stroke
pen political status was signed away by the parties who signed
the GFA. If we supported the prisoners in 1981 for those just
then by extension we must support the prisoners of today in their
quest for the restoration of political status.
There were ten men who died during those fateful months between
and August and I think it is fitting that we spare a thought for
Volunteer Bobby Sands IRA
Volunteer Francis Hughes IRA
Volunteer Ray McCreesh IRA
Volunteer Patsy O'Hara INLA
Volunteer Joe McDonnell IRA
Volunteer Martin Hurson IRA
Volunteer Kevin Lynch INLA
Volunteer Kieran Doherty IRA
Volunteer Tom McElwee IRA
Volunteer Mickey Devine INLA
I hope this mural is a fitting tribute to a brave young man who
unbowed and unbroken for 61 days in Long Kesh Prison. I can only
am proud to have known Patsy O'Hara. He will always be remembered
only by his family but by all the people of Derry, both young
Volunteer Patsy O'Hara, son, brother, comrade, revolutionary,
and hunger striker, we salute you!