1981 Hunger Strikes
March 1st, 1981 in the Maze Prison (formerly Long Kesh) at Lisburn,
Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, Irish nationalists began a hunger
strike to press for political legitimacy within the British penal
system. Of twenty-three who began their fasts, ten would be dead
before the strike ended in October. The 1981 Hunger Strikes were
a seminal event in the history of modern Ireland and of contemporary
Irish America. They have been regularly commemorated in the United
States since that time.
The 1981 Hunger Strikes were closely monitored in the Irish American
communities of New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. New
York City, with its large first and second generation Irish population,
took the lead in public protests against British policy towards
the hunger strikers. There were regular pickets outside the British
Consulate and the United Nations, and a mass demonstration against
the visit of Prince Charles to Lincoln Center in July 1981. Irish
Northern Aid (a.k.a. Noraid, established 1971) was the key organization
responsible for generating this grassroots activism as well as counter-British
propaganda about critical aspects of the situation in Northern Ireland.
It used a local media consultant and through advertisements, flyers,
and the pages of the Irish People newspaper, proved an effective
source for information that would not normally reach mainstream
American press or television.