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1981 Hunger Strikes

On 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.

"An Open Letter to the American Public"
Irish Northern Aid flyer, 17 June 1981
Irish Republicanism Collection
AIA Dig. ID 0040PL02

Listen to the Interview:

 Michael Flannery describing Requiem Masses for the Hunger Strikers at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, New York City
11 December 1991
Jane Conlon Muller Oral History Collection
Archives of Irish America, NYU

Irish Northern Aid flyer enlisting help in fighting British propaganda in the United States, New York City, 1982
Irish Republicanism Collection
AIA Dig. ID 0044PL02

Michael McCreesh to George Harrison
ALS, New York, 22 February 1991
George Harrison Papers
AIA Dig. ID 0041PL02

Listen to the Interview:

Paul O'Dwyer speaks about the 10th Anniversary of the Hunger Strikes
19 April 1991
Jane Conlon Muller Oral History Collection
Archives of Irish America, NYU

Click Here to view the online exhibit The 1981 Hunger Strikes: America Reacts