Sean McKenna Hunger-striker 1981 Biography
In 2009 a senior Sinn Fein member, Jim Gibney, paid Tribute in The Irish News, to Sean McKenna Jnr and his Father Sean McKenna Snr when he said, “The McKenna's are republicans. They believed partition was wrong and actively opposed British occupation. They paid a high price for their political convictions.”
Sean McKenna was on the first Provisional IRA Hunger Strike in Long Kesh which began on the 27th of October 1980, Sean would remain on hunger strike for 53 days, at which time he fell into a coma and Brendan Hughes called off the hunger strike as the British had granted concessions, Sean McKenna was then subject to electric shock treatment and his heart was restarted.
Following Sean’s release from Long Kesh he worked with his cousin Vincent McKenna in Monaghan Mushrooms in Monaghan Town, and during this period Sean McKenna recorded his life story on four-track tape. Sean gave the tapes to his cousin Vincent McKenna and asked Vincent to transcribe and publish the tapes after Sean had died. Now in 2013 Vincent McKenna has transcribed the tapes and publishes them here to coincide with the National Hunger Strike Commemoration in Monaghan Town on the 4th of August 2013.
In the transcribed tapes Sean McKenna accepts that he freely volunteered for the first IRA hunger strike in 1980 and that he again put his name forward for the second hunger strike in 1981, although he was still in hospital recovering from the first hunger strike at the time. Sean McKenna claims that it was the Prison Officers Association’s refusal to implement the ‘concessions’ offered by the British that created the conditions for a second hunger strike in which 10 Irish Republicans would die.
Sean McKenna also controversially claims that during the second hunger strike, the IRA Officer Commanding, Bik McFarland, was forcing hunger strikers to sign affidavits in front of solicitors, and that these documents would ensure that when hunger strikers fell into comas, their families would not be allowed to have them resuscitated, this action says McKenna, was wrong and not republican. McKenna states categorically that the IRA leadership inside and outside Long Kesh, got carried away with the publicity being generated by the hunger strikes and were prepared to allow men to die for political gain.
Other hunger strikers such as Richard O’Rawe would support the McKenna thesis that the IRA leadership were more concerned with electioneering than they were with the lives of Irish republicans in Long Kesh. This thesis is further supported by Official British papers released under the 30 year rule in 2011 which appear to vindicate O’Rawe’s claims that the IRA leadership vetoed a deal put forward by Margaret Thatcher’s government.
The concessions offered by Thatcher and the timing of the offer, suggests that four IRA and two INLA hunger strikers died needlessly in order to facilitate the political ambitions of certain people within the leadership of the Provisional IRA, in particular Gerry Adams TD.
Martin McGuinness MI6 Agent
While it has always been suggested that all communication between MI6 and the IRA leadership (before/during and after the hunger strikes) was passed through a Derry based ‘middleman’ a communication between MI6 Agent Michael Oatley and Martin McGuinness (1993), reproduced here and published publicly for the first time, shows that there was a very direct line of communication between Martin McGuinness and MI6, however, this particular line of communication between McGuinness and MI6 suggests that Martin McGuinness was an MI6 Agent rather than a negotiator on behalf of the Provisional IRA or Sinn Fein. This assertion can be made, as Oatley was not part of the MI5 lead negotiating team that was engaged with the IRA leadership in 1993, Oatley had been replaced by a senior MI5 Officer, John Deverill, both Oatley and John Deverill had at all times been advised by former IRA Commander/MI5 Agent Sean O’Callaghan, hence, Oatley’s use of the Irish language in his communication to McGuinness.
Dealings between the IRA and MI6 go back to the early 1970’s when the intelligence agency operated out of a house in Hollywood, Co Down known as Laneside. In 1974 and 1975 a Foreign Office diplomat, James Allen and a senior MI6 Agent, Michael Oatley regularly met IRA leaders there during what became known as “the Feakle ceasefire”, from this time forward many Senior IRA activists such as McGuinness were groomed by M16.
MI6 Communication to Martin McGuinness
Here is reproduced an exact copy of a communication (1993) sent from MI6 Agent Michael Oatley (The Mountain Climber) to Martin McGuinness Sinn Fein/IRA Leader in 1993. Later in 1994 IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna would give a rare interview to Eamon Malley from Downtown radio in which McKenna would say, “As long as the boys with the balaclavas are at the table I am happy enough”, this was a reference to the IRA members who made up the Sinn Fein delegations meeting with the British Government in 1994. However, while Kevin McKenna was IRA Chief of Staff, no effort was made by the northern leadership to facilitate McKenna at the negotiating table and McKenna had to rely heavily on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD who acted as a messenger between the northern leadership and McKenna who was on-the-run and living in Smithboro in County Monaghan.
In the communication Oatley refers to the National Chairman (John Major) and the National Executive (the British Cabinet), the Local Chairman refers to Sir Patrick Mayhew (northern Secretary of State at the time). The headline events relate to several IRA bomb attacks in the north of Ireland and also the Warrington bomb that killed two school boys.
When Sir Patrick Mayhew was speaking at a public lecture in Queens University at this time, he was asked by a student if the British were engaged in talks with Sinn Fein/IRA, Sir Patrick denied any talks were taking place at any level. When the same question was put to John Major in the House of Commons, Major said it would make his stomach sick to think that anyone from his Government or Government officials would be talking with terrorists. When the communication below was privately shown to certain trusted journalists, McGuinness tried to counteract its content by going public in a British crafted documentary explaining that all of his contact with MI6 was at the direction of the republican leadership, however, McGuinness has failed to explain the tone and tenor of this communication from Oatley, and why Oately was still communicating with McGuinness in 1993 long after Oatley had been removed from the British negotiations with the IRA.
In the aftermath of the 1994 IRA cease-fire there was a ‘war of words’ or ‘political theatre’ between the northern IRA leadership and the British Government as to whether ‘decommissioning’ had been part of the negotiated process, in a bizarre move Michael Oatley moved to help the McGuinness argument that decommissioning was not part of the immediate process, in so doing, Oatley supplied some of his official documents and notes relating to the IRA talks to a senior academic at Queens University in Belfast to help resolve the issue, the communication below was accidentally included in Oatley’s documents and those documents were accessed and copied by an IRA intelligence officer.
O’Rawe Claims are disputed
The claims by O’Rawe are disputed by those who made political and monetary gain off the backs of the hunger strikes, people such as Danny Morrison suggest that the Official British papers support the IRA leadership’s decision to push on with the hunger strike as the British had not ‘formulated a final position’. However, O’Rawe and the British papers suggest that a resolution to the hunger strike crisis was available in early July 1981. In 2011 the businessman who had acted as ‘go-between’ for MI6 and the IRA, before, during and after the hunger strike period, Mr Brendan Duddy provided his own private papers on the hunger strike period to Galway University and those papers support the view that a deal was possible in early July 1981 before another six republicans died on hunger strike.
Brendan Duddy who has never shown any political bias in his role, supports the view held by O’Rawe that on the 5th July 1981 the British had went a long way towards meeting the demands of the hunger strikers and the prisoners would have accepted those terms, at least as something to work with going forward. O’Rawe believes that the IRA leadership in some guise or other, wanted to capitalise on the deaths of the hunger strikers and wanted to get Owen Carron and others, if possible, elected.
It is reasonable to suggest that the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein leadership wanted to capitalise on the hunger strikes, this could be seen clearly in Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Cavan/Monaghan, were scarce resources were spent on several election campaigns off the back of the election of Bobby Sands and Kieran Doherty, for example, in Monaghan/Cavan Sinn Fein fought two general election campaigns in 1982, at a time when IRA volunteers were struggling to accumulate enough ammunition for gun attacks on British Army bases close to the Monaghan ‘border’. Prisoner’s wives were receiving little benefit from all of the Prisoners Dependence Fund (PDF) money being collected around the country; as such money was being used for election expenses.
It is clear from Duddy’s own records that the British had offered concessions that could have ended the hunger strike, however, it appears that Gerry Adams and other IRA leaders in Belfast wanted to capitalise on the deaths of the hunger strikers, and it is clear that IRA leaders in the south of Ireland were not shown the detail of the British concessions, Ruari O’Bradaigh, told this writer that he had never seen the deal offered by the British.
While Danny Morrison and others, who benefited politically and monetarily from the death of the hunger strikers, try to rubbish many former comrades, the reality is that the IRA leadership trusted Bendan Duddy for over 20 years, and he has no reason to lie about his role. Professor Paul Bew, Ireland’s foremost authority on the northern conflict, suggests that the British papers neither prove nor disprove O’Rawe’s thesis.
Vol. Sean McKenna – Biography – 1954 to 2008
I was born in Clara in north Monaghan in 1954, my Mother is Bridget Keogh from Clogher in County Tyrone and my Father was Sean McKenna from Clara in north Monaghan. My Father Sean McKenna was a farm labourer and small farmer. In 1957 my Mother and Father decided to move the family to Ivy Hill College in Newry, where my Father worked on the College farm as a manager and was paid £11 per-week. I was left in Tyrone with my Grandmother at this time, I have no idea why and nobody has ever explained it to me.
I eventually moved to the farm cottage in Newry with the rest of the family, I began my school days in the Mercy Convent in Newry, soon afterwards the nuns decided that the school should be an all-girl school and so I had to move to Abbey Yard Christian Brothers School. I remember a Miss Lennon, very old fashioned, very strict, but alright.
The Christian Brothers taught me well, and one particular Christian Brother from County Kerry taught us about Irish Republicanism, at this time I was also hearing many stories at home about Sinn Fein and the IRA, both my parents were republicans, more so on my Father’s side of the family.
I was being conditioned to republicanism from a young age, my Father could play the accordion, and we had great nights in Newry when my Father’s brothers, Peter, Arthur, Patsy and my cousins would come, songs stirred emotions, great thing to fight for your country and even die for your country if possible. I remember great nights with the Attys (McKennas) from Monaghan and the McGeoughs from Clogher. My Father bought some books for me, they were about the IRA 1957-62 campaign and I got some books myself when I was 11-14 years old.
When I was 7 years old I got a dog in Monaghan, I would go hunting with my dog after school and even mitch school for hunting, school was a lot of nonsense, I thought. When I was 11 years old, I done a lot of hunting between Newry and Poyntzpass, it was a happy childhood.
In 1968 the Civil Rights Campaign started, I had no clue about civil rights, I was about 13 years old, I heard about police brutality, people beaten and killed, I hated the police, I was brought up to hate the police. I went to civil rights marches, at the time I worked in Mick McArdle’s shop.
I told my Mother and Father that I was going to a civil rights march, my Father said that civil rights was no good, that we needed the country free, my Mother asked my Father to explain politics to me, in about 10 minutes he explained nationalist and unionist, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, all of this was explained to me in 10 minutes, that was it.
When I went to the civil rights march I enjoyed the crack, fighting the police, I went back to work and Mick McArdle told me not to get involved too much, however, I enjoyed the fighting and used the civil rights marches to get at the police.
I then began working at the college farm, my Mother’s brother John was manager on the farm and it was good. I wanted to join the IRA, however, the Offical IRA would not take me until I was 16 years old, I was only 15, then there was talk of a split, my Father set up a Provisional Sinn Fein Cumann in Newry, my Father asked me to join the Sinn Fein Cumann, I told my Father I was only interested in fighting the Brits, my Father said, “join this Cumann and you will get all the fighting you want”.
The Cumann was a boring carry-on, I sold An Phoblacht/Republican News or a version of it at that time, I was with good people, the right people, people I wanted to be with, however, I wanted more. A few nights around the cottage in 1970, boys arrived at the house, I did not know them, I knew there was something big on. Joe Conway stands out he was about six foot tall, 54 years of age, good fighter, bouncer around Newry. I could see boxes going in and out of the shed, I knew there something big on, there were men working in the garage, that night there would be an explosion in the town, buildings destroyed, I knew my Father was in the IRA and so I tortured him to get me in, eventually he agreed and I was sworn in at the Paul Smith Sinn Fein rooms in Newry. It was good to be in the IRA, I was sent away to training camps in the south of Ireland.
I was trained to use weapons, Thompsons, carbines, 38s or 32s that’s all we had, the training was good but I wanted to use them, I was 16. One night at the cottage in Newry older men came back with a bomb and did not plant it, the bomb was primed, I asked an older IRA man to give the bomb to me and I would stick it somewhere. I took the 15lb gelignite bomb that had a 15 minute blue fuse, and I blew up a transformer, I was only hitting ordinary people, but I did not know that nor did the fellow that sent me. It blew the transformer away and I was happy enough. I then meet with Joe Conway and he trained me in making bombs, I liked bombs, I was really interested in landmines.
Joe trained me in landmines, Joe would take me up from Newry and we would walk over the mountains and move to Louth, sometimes we had guns, it was all about watching and learning, I was 16 years, Joe helped me a lot, I am grateful to Joe.
The next thing I done a few more bombs around Newry using gelignite, however, gelignite was scarce, in 1970 people wanted us to do something, the Brits were on the streets, my Father and other men would use 303 Rifles and fire as few shots at the Brits. I had some good times planting bombs and levelling buildings, I enjoyed it. I was still in Sinn Fein going to parades, I went to Fergal O’Hanlon commemoration in Monaghan Town and Daithi O’Connell impressed me when he was speaking at that commemoration.
We were operating in Newry, Down and south Armagh, we were getting tougher and the Brits were getting tougher, our house had been searched in 1970, my birthday was in Feb and I was 17, I was operating and doing the best I could.
There was an operation in Newry and it did not come off, we had ten rifles, my Father and I carried them across fields, it was the 8th of August 1970, we hid the weapons up trees, my Father had pains that night and so he went home and I hid the rest of the weapons and the ammunition. I got home about 3.30am on the 9th of August 1970, the Brits came into the house at 4am and the Brits were in bad temper, I thought the IRA had shot someone, we were taken to the UDR barracks, there were 50 or 60 men in the UDR Barracks, some Provos and some Stickys, many others who had nothing to do with republicanism were also lifted, the sticks were nervous and afraid.
The following morning we were moved to Ballykinlar Army Barracks, it was rough stuff, kicking and punching, some of the older men were not fit for it, I was 17, I was fit for it. They took us into Nissan huts, made us lay on the floor and began exercising us, they worked us all day, we had a stew and bucket of water, we got no break, the exercising and beatings went on to 4am the next morning, press ups, sit ups, the soldiers were changing every few hours and if you did not do it you got beat. The beatings were horrific, men were beaten unconscious.
I was taken in by the RUC Special Branch, they talked to me, gave me a cigarette and so forth and sent me out after 15 minutes, I was crumbling, and they knew it, the older men, hard-men were crumbling, we could not get away.
I did not tell them where the guns or explosives were. I was sent out again and I was exercising again. I had not seen my Father in Ballykinlar, the next morning the helicopters began to arrive, dogs were put on us, and men were kicked and beaten. We were beaten into helicopters by ordinary British Soldiers.
We were taken to the Belfast Dock and I was put on the Maidstone Prison Ship, I was being signed out of army custody into prison custody, they would not believe my age, they gave me a good shake before an RUC man confirmed my age, I got a good shaking for nothing.
We were treated to the normal degrading prison stuff, naked, degrading, I was a country boy being taken in on the Maidstone Prison Ship, there were 120 of us on the Maidstone, the older men had been in jail before, and they were not bothered. There was a Sticky and Provo battle about who would be in control. A Derry man was appointed commander. It was a very warm summer, the heat, the dormitory was deadly hot, we ran about in trousers, all the Newry men were there, and so I talked to everybody, Jimmy Savage looked after me like a son.
My Father was not on the Maidstone, I did not know where he was, Crumlin Road Jail had been mentioned, Jimmy Savage was good to me, we got visits for which we had to walk along a gang-plank to a wee hut, my Mother and sisters would visit once per month, and we were allowed one letter per month. I got used to prison life; Jimmy Savage had been in during the IRA campaign in 1957-62 so I am indebted to Jimmy.
I was then moved to Long Kesh in November, I was in Cage 1 and then Cage 2 opened, they were moving men from Crumlin Road Jail, the first time I seen my Father his hair had went from grey to pure white, he looked bad, I did not know what had happened to him.
I had to shout from Cage 1 to my Father in Cage 2, we made scrumpy (alcohol) in the Cage, it was not great, it would not do much for you, we began making handkerchiefs and handcraft, Jimmy had me building things out of matches.
On the 11th of October 1971, the Brits sent in dinner to Cage 2, the grub was bad, I am not sure if the army was cooking it, or ordinary convicts, it was rough, beef burgers, we lost the head, tempers got out of hand, Frank McGarry lost the head. The screws ran out of the Cage and we burned the canteen, 500/600 Brits started firing gas in to the Cage, they saturated the place with gas, everyone hit the ground, the Brits came in with pick axe handles and other tools, they just beat everyone, 40 men were carried out unconscious, Frank McGlade 71 carried out unconscious, they got the tools from the other Cage that was still being built, it was a rough night.
I was moved to Cage 5, and Cage 3 closed, my Father moved to Cage 5 with me, visits and all continued, we were now official internees, we were allowed 4 letters per week, visit per week, my Father and I took joint visits with my Mother and sisters, my Father was pretty upset.
There was twenty-seven of us in Cage 5 the crack was good, Paddy O’Hagan, and Jimmy Fields from Armagh were great men for the stories. One night I was on the top bunk and my Father was on the bottom bunk, and my Father was crying, I did not know what was wrong with him. I did not know what to say, you don’t see your Father crying. He told me about after the 9th August and how he had been tortured, he had been subject to beatings, dropped from helicopters, strange noises that distorted his balance and senses, he was in a bad way. Jimmy Savage, and others got up, next morning my Father went to hospital. I would see him in the hospital as I went back and forward, I would have a wee talk with him, he could not handle the Cage, he wasn’t coming back to the Cages, it was rough on the men. He had a nervous breakdown, I know that now, but at the time I did not know what was happening.
He went to hospital and I stayed with Jimmy, I got involved in a few escapes, digging tunnels and wire cuttings, one day I was coming back from a visit and I was told that my Father was being released in 1972. I had a lot of friends in Long Kesh, there were a lot of people in, 600 in at that time. Jimmy was moved to another Cage, I was on my own, but I was getting on ok, we marched and had training, trying to be a soldier, or at least that is what I thought. Time moved on 1973-74 I was still in, now there were 1400 men in, I meet a lot of them, then the numbers were down to 300, there were release plans on, a lot of excitement and lists of names would be read out by screws, we would gather and they might call 6 names and six got out.
Gerry Cunningham and Gerry Fitzpatrick from Belfast, good men, started making poteen with me, my Father and Grandfather (Paddy Frank McKenna) had made poteen in Monaghan and Newry, we had many great nights drinking poteen in Long Kesh, we had an old record player on, or someone would sing. This was jail life and it was hard, I was young and I got on well with everyone, I made the poteen out of apples, bananas, plums, Gerry Cunningham made the worm, a rare looking worn, more bends than a dogs hind legs, we even smuggled out a wee bottle to our people outside.
In February 1975 they began releasing more names, it was said that the last of the 9th of August men were to be released, there were only a few of us left, Art McAlinden and so forth, they called out my name, for 3 years and 8 months I had been interned, I was delighted to be out, my good friend began crying when I was getting out, he was young, I just left as quick as I could, Cage 8, I felt bad that he was on his own, but I had to go.
I returned to O’Neil Avenue in Newry there was a great welcome, everyone was behind us, I knew what I was going to do, I had a few drinks, a party, things were brave and good, all my friends had not reported back to the IRA and so I did not want to know them, Eamon Murphy had reported back to the IRA and so I spoke to him.
He said there was only one man to see in Newry, he had been on the run the same as myself Hitchy Hillen, a hard man, tuff man, I went up to Barcroft, he had heard of me, we meet in Mrs Connolly’s house, another famous house around Newry. I told Hitchy that I wanted action and he said no problem, but he had nothing, so I went back and got two guns, two browning high power weapons, 13 rounds, they were Belgium guns, good guns, British army corporals and captains were using them at that time. Hitchy and I went with the guns and we hit a ten man British Army foot patrol in Hill Street, it worked out alright, but Hitchy’s gun jammed, I got one shot into a Brit and he went down, his flack-jacket protected him, I had about 8 rounds left, I started shooting in the air or else the other soldiers would have come out after us. We got to the car and got away, the police were furious, we had frightened the life out of them, we had no hoods on us, we just wanted a bit of agro, we did not care, they did not expect to get hit in that area of town.
I was on the run as everyone knew who done it, I was made OC in Newry and Hitchy was my right hand man and I ran Newry for the next year, the police and the army were going crazy to get us, we knew that they had someone who was setting us up but we kept shooting our way out. We had talked in prison, drinking poteen and so forth, jail is not human, I was not going back and the police and the army knew that.
We caught the boy who had set us up, he got away, and the police were not happy as they had no one to set us up, we could stay in houses in any estate in Newry even the old nationalist party and labour party would let us in when we were in trouble. Those were hairy times around Newry, we had regular shoot outs with the Brits, Hitchy had been in jail in the south and he was not going back either.
We had a few drinks in the Border Bar one evening, I was driving, we came down the Brownish, and we ran into a British checkpoint, I rammed them with the car, I got around the first Saracen, but the car crashed, I gave them a bogus name and I said I needed to go to the toilet. They let me go to the hedge to go to the toilet, I just went through the hedge, the Brits opened fire on me with a browning off the top of the Saracen, Hitchy and the others thought I was dead; the helicopters were up, I ran to the custom clearance post. I stayed in the field, they thought I was heading for the border, but I doubled back to a safe house in Newry. Hitchy and the people who were with him appeared in court charged with attempted murder, membership and so forth, so Hitchy was gone, and I had no-one, from 1975 in Newry Hitchy was the only man in Newry who would do anything, there were plenty in Newry drinking and talking, but they would not do anything, a few would help you out, but they would not get into the heavy agro.
I ended up joining a unit in South Armagh, I was going to give up OC in Newry, Peter Cleary was in my unit in south Armagh he is dead now, I enjoyed working with Peter Cleary and the lads. I had a girlfriend at that time, Marian McNeil, we were engaged, I was too wild to get married, she was a good girl and we were happy, her people were good people and we got on well.
Christmas passed and the sectarian trouble started in south Armagh, 10 Protestants were shot dead on their way home from work, I agreed with it, to bring the thing to a head, it would sort it out, in February the 10 Protestants were shot dead, in March I had nowhere to stay so I went back to my Father’s house in Edentubber , the man who owned the house (Watters) had been killed with three others when the bomb they were preparing went off accidentally, so the people in the area seen me and my Father carrying the line on for the IRA. My Father had died in the house in Edentubber in 1975 as a result of the torture he had been subjected to by the British.
That night I had no gun as I had sent the two guns into Newry that morning, so all I had was the sawn off shotgun beside the bed, I had a loaf of bread and pint of milk, but I had no money. At about 4am the door was kicked in and two fellas who were armed with browning high powered weapons with torches on top were standing over me, they said, where is the gun, I said, I have no gun. It took them two minutes to get in and I would have got them if I had a gun. When we went outside, there was another guy outside the window with a Sterling sub-machine gun with a double magazine. He would have got me if I had moved towards the door, I might have been better if he did kill me, it would have saved a lot of hassle over the next 15 years.
They took me out of the bed and searched me, they were going crazy for the gun, they knew I was crazy about guns, there was stuff in the house, the big guy with blonde hair, he was about 5-11, said, you have two choices come with us without hassle or trouble, or I will shoot you here and your death will be claimed by UVF in retaliation for the 10 Protestants shot in south Armagh. I thought about my Mother and I was getting married, those are the two people who saved me, I did not want to go to Newry, but I done it for them.
I did not want to tell them anything. I said ok I will go with you, we walked down the fields and across the Flurry River, we jumped across the river, they kept the guns on me, the big fella said we will cut you down, any chance I miss you the man with the sterling will cut you down, half-a-mile across the border, he put his arm around my shoulder, he said I know what you are thinking, don’t do it, I don’t want to kill you. When we got to Killeen there were other British Soldiers there, they were in uniform, the three who took me were not in uniform, the three got into uniform and changed their guns, a blue Volkswagen van came up the road, and they took me in the van, I had a smoke in the back of the van, the SAS treated me ok. In Bessbroke soldiers and their wives were all coming in and looking at me, it was embarrassing to see all these people and top brass looking at me. Every two minutes the door would open and a guy with a row of medals would look in.
I was moved to Newry where RUC detectives Bradley and McCann were to interview me, two bastards, they were angry at what I had done around Newry and the border, the beatings started; I did not want to talk. They produced the file with the 1971 stuff, bombs and shootings. I did not care, I was reluctant and cool. At 10 O’Clock that night the Blonde soldier came in and put his arm around my neck and said, Sean I don’t want to kill you, if you don’t talk we will take you out and you will be found on the border, me and this fella will take you out and kill you and the UVF will claim it.
They wanted me for murder, but I was not going to sign for a murder I did not do. I was taken to Newcastle Court in March 1976 and back to Crumlin Road Jail, I meet Hitchy, it was bad in there, IRA bad boys running the show, and they were beating young fellas who had made statements, I did not agree with that, they are bloody animals. I had a name and no fear, and I let them know it, that was the way it was. Hitchy was sentenced to 25 years for the attempted murder on Hill Street, my case came up, I was fighting my case, Judge Babbington, a police judge, a rotten bastard. I heard later that the blonde solider was Captain Niarac, he later shot Peter Cleary dead, Peter was a good man, but he was a tuff man, and he would not have went with them. Niarac also killed John Frances Green in Monaghan.
The case was put back as the SAS could not turn up as they had to come from England. All the SAS were in civilian clothes, I recognised the blonde solider, I don’t know if it was Niarac as I have never seen a picture of Niarac. I have heard all the things that Niarac is supposed to have done, I don’t think Niarac shot Peter Cleary, because when I was on the side of the road the blonde fella put a young solider on me and ‘Niarac’ told him that if I moved a finger he was to shoot me dead. All I know is that ‘Niarac’ for some reason did not want to kill me.
Judge Babbington was the top man, the SAS made fools of themselves, they lied through their teeth, no problem, Babbington, said he was not there to determine where I was lifted, he said I would have to go to European Court for that, State Prosecutor, told the court what I had been doing, that I had been in jail for a long time, and the problem they had getting me.
Judge Babbington asked for an adjournment, he was going to Corfu, he would take the papers with him and come back. When Babbington returned from his holidays, I was in the court on my own, the solicitor never even turned up, he said 25 years, it wrecked me, he looked out over his glasses and sneered, nobody turned up, a lonely minute.
H Blocks Long Kesh
I was moved to the H-Blocks, Ciaran Nugent was on the blanket, April 1977 I was sentenced, I went to H4 first, we were in our civilian clothes, stripped naked, I told the screws I was going on the blanket, we were put naked into a van and they drove us to the H-Block, we walked naked across the yard, they took all our particulars again, usual routine, into a cell.
I was in a cell on my own, big screw, Paddy Joe Kerr, a Catholic Prison officer, he came in and beat me, what’s your prison number, I refused, and there was an air of hostility, Catholic screws worse than Protestants, Paddy Joe Kerr went out of his way to prove they were not afraid of the Provos.
I was there a couple of weeks and then moved to H5 where I became OC as I had a lot of experience in jail. I was disillusioned with the jail experience, I knew I would be on the ultimate end if I stayed OC, I could get on the hunger strike when it came. PO was not too bad, but beatings went on, the doors would open, that was the way it was, sitting at 5 or 6 in the evening, we would shout keys, they would open the door and someone getting the life beaten out of them. I never got a beating as OC and I was OC for 4 years, maybe it was respect. Hard when you hear an 18 year old lad getting beaten naked in the cell, big men beating a young lad, all they could do was go on the ground in a ball while getting the life beaten out of them.
The PO was from Lurgan, a Christian, but boys under his control, sometimes with drink taken would do beatings. H5 I was OC, one of my closest friends would have been Tom McFeeley, he was on the Staff (Adjacent) both of us had been in before, he was a tough man. I have meet thousands of men but McFeeley was miles out in front of everyone for toughness, the screws were afraid of him, they had respect for McFeeley, they beat him and he beat them, police and everyone.
A year after I joined the blanket, we were still locked in the cell 24 hours per day, never got out except to go to mass on Sunday morning. The boys would just talk at mass, however, some of the lads wanted to hear the mass, so we had to call order. It was hateful, but we had to keep order, when you are with a fellow 24 hours a day, toilet, no tv, radio, cigarettes, conversation runs out after a month, lads would beat each other, and get friendly again, that is the way it was. Another thing that happened on the blanket we would have concerts, I never liked singing but I would sing a song.
In 1978 there was no movement, 3 H-Blocks, 600 men, the Brits were going nowhere, we knew there was marches but we did not know what was going on, so we went on the dirty protest, they hate to see you grow a beard in prison they would beat the hell out of you. We would stop washing, and put the shit on the wall, the embarrassment walking up the landing with a poo in a pot, so we put it on the wall once we went on the dirty protest. The cells were stinking, we were stinking, it was inhuman, but we had no choice. It was a grotesque place, shit on the wall and urine on the floor, beyond description, that men could endure it for years was beyond comprehension.
We had a Visit every month, by 1979-80 we had not washed in 4 years, your Sister or Mother would visit you and you were stinking and yet they would still throw their arms around you, they still loved you, which was hard to believe, that they loved you when you did not love yourself, walking through shit and probably eating it because your hands were that dirty, lots of fighting and beatings, screws beating young lads, kicking young lads on the ground with their big boots.
The hunger strike came as we knew it would, we forced it, we had Cardinals and Bishops in but the Brits were not moving, we were beat out on the blanket, lads getting beating 3 and 4 times per day, the hunger strike was the final way. I did not want to live anymore after 4 years on the blanket, I wanted to die, I was one of the more experienced men there and when the time came to fight I could do that. I wanted to get something for the young lads, Brendan Hughes was OC on all the blocks and he said that, I was not going on the hunger strike
He did not pick my name on first count – I sent word to hold back H3 until he got a letter from me. I knew why I was not getting picked, I had been scalded when I was a child and had a bad scare and he thought I had been shot, and that I might not last long on hunger strike, but I told him what had happened and the word came back that I was on the hunger strike.
Hunger Strike 1980
We knew the hunger strike would start, we were prepared to die. The 7 names were announced as there were 7 signatories on the 1916 Proclamation; we thought this might capture people’s imagination and stir emotions.
The group consisted of IRA members Brendan Hughes, Tommy McKearney, Raymond McCartney, Tom McFeeley, Leo Green, INLA member John Nixon and I.
I was in the cell with Tommy Kelly, Turf Lodge, great fella we got on well he eat his dinner, I walked up and down the cell and my dinner was sitting at the door, it went on, we did not eat at all, after about three weeks we were still in the cell, but they did not move us, we thought they would take us to hospital, governors came in and said we were refusing to eat prison food so we would lose remission, for every month we were on the blanket we were losing a month remission, 3rd week we were taken to H3 hospital wing. Ordinary prisoners looked on us as if we were contaminated, nobody would touch us, Provos that did not go on the blanket/dirty protest respected us, but they simply could not do it.
The first thing we done in the hospital wing was take a shower.
I was on hunger strike for 53 days, Fr Murphy was giving me the last rites, that was the last I remember, I was lying in bed and I felt I was floating out of my body, this guy came in with a white beard, I was given electric shock, the next thing I remember, I was in a bed in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, the hunger strike was over. I woke up a couple of days later, a nurse sitting beside me, she asked me my name I could not remember my name, she told me John Lennon was dead, I was sad as I liked John Lennon, I was moved back to the blocks within a couple of days I was in a wheel chair, some thought the hunger strike should not have been called off and I agreed, some thought it should have been called off, there was a good deal of talk. We had been told that the NIO had offered concessions and that is why it was called off. Brendan Hughes had called off the hunger strike because he believed there was a deal.
McFeely and I said it should not have been called off, Brendan Hughes had been talking to NIO Officials and he believed they could work from there. I was in hospital; I was there on my own, watching TV and looking at books. My eyes were really bad, I needed a good light and I could read one line at a time, I was getting vitamin injections, they were very sore, every morning I would get the injections. The injections would help sort my eyes out; eventually I was able to get out of the wheelchair.
I was in bed one day and the doctor came in to see me, grey hair, he told me that I had effectively died and they used electric shock to bring my heart back, he said I had a near death experience. I was happy enough, good to be alive, I suppose. Rumours of a second hunger strike began to do the rounds; I told Bobby Sands that if there was to be a second hunger strike I wanted to be on it. Bobby said he did not want me to die, he knew that I would not last long on a second hunger strike, but I would rather have died than send some of the other lads to their death. That evening they sent me back to the H-Blocks because I wanted to go on the second hunger strike, everyone was hunger strike crazy. Brendan Hughes was right; it was not worth one man’s life.
According to Brendan the NIO had passed the British concessions to the Long Kesh Governors and the POA refused to implement the concessions and that is why the second hunger strike began. The POA caused or at least created the conditions for the second hunger strike.
The 7 of us who had been on the first hunger strike wrote and signed a letter and sent it to the IRA’s Belfast Brigade telling them that we did not support a second hunger strike as it was tantamount to suicide, nobody acknowledged our letter, and so we had no choice but to offer our support to the lads going on the second hunger strike.
It was a horrible time, I knew exactly what Bobby was going through, I knew the pains, the aches, the doubts, I wished Brendan Hughes had allowed me to die; I did not want our men going through this horrible death.
We were delighted when Bobby was elected as MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone, we thought it might save him, history would have told us different. The blocks were bad, death hung in the air, my close friend Raymond McCreesh died, the Irish Commission for Peace and Justice were told that 4.5 demands were on offer from the British, but the leadership ignored this and another 6 men died without good cause, they could have been saved.
Bobby Sands Elected MP
The election of Bobby Sands raised hopes that a settlement could be negotiated, but Margaret Thatcher stood firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. She stated “We are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime, it is not political”. The world’s media descended on Belfast, and several intermediaries visited Sands in an attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike, including Síle de Valera, Granddaughter of Éamon de Valera, Pope John Paul II’s personal envoy John Magee, and European Commission of Human Rights officials. With Sands close to death, the British Government’s position remained unchanged, with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Humphrey Atkins stating “If Mr. Sands persisted in his wish to commit suicide that was his choice. The Government would not force medical treatment upon him”. Bobby Sands died on the 5th Day of May 1981 after 66 Days on Hunger Strike.
Hunger Strike Ends
Then the hunger strike was called off, the British had given us nothing, not an inch, it was Father Faul from Dungannon who secured an end to the hunger strike, if he had not ended the hunger strike another 20 men would have died and we would still have got nothing.
I was not happy with a good deal that went on behind the scenes, Bik McFarland on the orders of the Belfast Brigade staff had forced the hunger strikers to sign affidavits in front of solicitors so that when they fell into a coma their parents or families could not take them off the hunger strike, I felt this was wrong, that is not what republicanism is about, it is not what I am about, totally out of order, wrong.
I was in H-Block 4 (H4) the Belfast Brigade leadership and the leadership inside the Kesh had got carried away with the propaganda, they never had propaganda like it. It was called off and we had nothing, we had our own clothes and we shaved, that was it, nothing and ten men dead.
Sean McKenna Autobiography Ends…
Peadar Whelan, who remains within the ranks of Sinn Fein in 2013 reflects the feelings of those men who had lived through the hunger strike period in Long Kesh.
“My resentment…,” writes Peadar Whelan recalling the end of the second hunger strike in ‘Nor Meekly Serve My Tim’’, “was as great as my relief.”
Peadar mirrors the response of many Republican prisoners at that time. “Despite my relief that no one else would die I still felt gutted because ten men had died and we had not won our demands,’” writes Peadar. “My morale was never as low.” Peadar was released on licence from a life sentence in 1992 and would become northern Editor of An Phoblacht.