In October 1980, protesting POW’s in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh began a hunger strike for political status ; on the 1st December, 1980, they were joined by three republican women prisoners in Armagh Jail – Mairead Farrell, Mairead Nugent and Mary Doyle. These were the only three women weighing more than eight-and-a-half stone :

‘One of the notable figures of the dirty protest, Pauline McLoughlin, was a 19-year-old from Derry when she was arrested and held on remand in Armagh before being sentenced in 1978 for complicity in the killing of a British soldier…as an initial member of the protest, Pauline lived in the unsanitary conditions from the first days and, because of a previously existing stomach condition, became increasingly ill as time went on.

After having lost all of her prison privileges as a member of the dirty protest, Pauline was suddenly unable to receive the packages of food which had kept her sustained and began to vomit continuously after every prison meal…between the poor food and the grotesque conditions she found herself living in, her weight quickly dropped from 9.5 stone to around 6 stone…on 18th March, a prison doctor cautioned that, should she not be given medical attention immediately, she would most likely die and she was subsequently declared unfit for punishment and sent to the hospital to recover (but) after an incomplete recovery, she was returned to Armagh where her condition worsened again, causing her to be sent back to the hospital; this was a pattern that would continue for multiple trips…

Upon hearing of Pauline’s condition, the public immediately began to protest the treatment of her poor health, which was blamed on her “voluntary” involvement in the dirty protest by prison officials and doctors. The activists group called the ‘Women of Imperialism’ issued a pamphlet advocating for Pauline’s return to health and an improvement of prison conditions by juxtaposing a picture of a healthy Pauline, pre-arrest, with the following description of her condition : ‘She landed in the hospital so dehydrated that eight bags of special fluid had to be drip fed into her to stop her heart [from] collapsing. Yet one week later Pauline was back in her cell in Armagh prison. Her condition was
still undiagnosed and untreated. At the age of 23 her hair is grey, her teeth rotting and falling out (and) she has dizzy spells and blackouts if she tries to walk. Weighing just over 5 stone, she looks like the victim of a famine —too thin even to sit in one position for any length of time..'(from here).

In October 1980, the ‘British Socialist Feminist Conference’ (which was attended by 1,200 women) supported the demand for political status and pledged its aid to campaign for the release of Pauline McLoughlin from Armagh Jail. The ‘no wash’ protest was halted as the hunger strikes began, putting Westminster under political pressure and, fearful of a Christmas bombing campaign, which hunger strike deaths could have sparked off, on December 18th, 1980, a 30-page document was released outlining proposals and assurances from the British Government that, step by step, the five demands – the right not to wear a prison uniform, the right not to do prison work, the right of free association with other prisoners and to organise educational and recreational pursuits, the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week and the full restoration of remission lost during the protest – would be met. The hunger strike was called off and the fulfilment of promises was awaited. They were never fulfilled.

‘Sentenced before 1976, McLaughlin qualified for special prisoner status, but was denied this. She originally joined the protest movement inside the Northern Irish prisons to gain this special status, but became ill and according to some sources, ‘blackmailed by the prison doctor to end her action’..she suffered from stomach problems and was unable to digest food, which caused her to rapidly lose weight. Shuffled between prison hospital and Armagh, her condition was viewed as potentially fatal and there were calls by the anti-H-Block movement for her to be released on compassionate grounds. However the Thatcher government refused to do so, with Northern Ireland Secretary Humphrey Atkins claiming that her condition was “Not at present critical…while Miss McLaughlin’s health does give cause for serious concern, it is considered in the light of all the advice available that there are insufficient grounds for taking the exceptional course of releasing her on licence from the indeterminate sentence and using the Royal Prerogative to remit the balance of the fixed terms..” (from here).

However, after a sustained campaign in Ireland and Britain, Pauline McLoughlin was released, on licence, on the 10th January, 1981 – 37 years ago on this date. Hopefully, in the (near) future, myself or some other blogger will be able to write about the release of our other political prisoners, including Gabriel Mackle and Tony Taylor, present-day victims of continuing British injustice.

‘IN IRELAND’S CAUSE’ by Alice French.

From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, October 1954.

‘Oh! Give me a gun and a stout, strong arm,

instead of a feeble pen,

when the rallying call to break the thrall,

resounds from glen to glen.

Bringing back the joy of the yesteryears,

when Ireland’s sons were men,

and taking the sadness from all the tears,

that blinded her eyes since then.

Oh! Give me a gun and a stout, strong arm,

instead of this shaky hand,

and the joy of helping to lift our flag

above this glorious land.

And the strength of heart, and the steely nerve,

that befits a soldier’s task!

Ah me! But, dear Lord, ’tis against Your rules,

and I know it’s too much to ask.

But give me the light – wherever I can – my country and You to serve,

to love You first, and my country next,

from this duty not to swerve.

Decree, dear Lord, and destine, for our land,

that her sons be as strong and brave,

as those who are pleading on High for her,

who call from their martyr’s grave.

May the call of her dead be not in vain,

when they plead before Your throne,

may the call of her dead be not in vain,

when it’s “Arms for her alone!”

Oh give to her sons such a pure proud joy,

a Terence MacSwiney heart,

that their arms may live in their country’s love,

of Ireland’s soul be a part!

(Next – ‘DRIVE ENGLAND OUT!’, from the same source.)


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, February 1955.

The military actions at Armagh and Omagh were so manifestly justified and so bravely carried out they immediately won popular approval among Irishmen everywhere. Apart from their military significance they have had a most marked effect on political thoughts and have been spectacularly successful in pinpointing the root of the whole political problem eg British occupation of part of Ireland. But there have been criticisms in high places –

1)- that the young men of Omagh were brave but foolish and did not realise the consequence of their actions.

2)- that their action was unchristian and immoral.

3)- that their action was illegal and unjustified as they had not the support of the majority of the Irish people.

The first slander has been made by public men but I think it has been adequately answered by no less a person than Lord Chief Justice MacDermott, who stated that the eight felons sentenced by him in Belfast were highly intelligent young men and seemed to realise fully the consequences of their actions.

The second slanderous accusation was made by Mr Costello and endorsed by Mr de Valera in that marathon debate in Leinster House last October shortly after the battle of Omagh. These men have little qualifications for preaching to us of christianity and morality as they only succeed in raising up ghosts from the 1920’s and 1930’s who accuse them of the killing of their former comrades. But yet they dare call the young men of the IRA who were captured at Omagh “unchristian and immoral”.

The third charge is one which is being played up most at present but it is the one which we expect will boomerang and obliterate nearly every political party in Leinster House today. This is the charge that military action is illegal and unjustified as we have not the support of the majority of the people. This is exactly the argument put forward by the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1916 when it supported the British Government in its slander of the men of Easter week… (MORE LATER.)



By Jim McCann (Jean’s son). For Alex Crowe, RIP – “No Probablum”. Glandore Publishing, 1999.

Biographical Note : Jim McCann is a community worker from the Upper Springfield area in West Belfast. Although born in the Short Strand, he was reared in the Loney area of the Falls Road. He comes from a large family (average weight about 22 stone!). He works with Tús Nua (a support group for republican ex-prisoners in the Upper Springfield), part of the Upper Springfield Development Trust. He is also a committee member of the ‘Frank Cahill Resource Centre’, one of the founders of ‘Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh’, the local Irish language primary school and Naiscoil Bharr A’Chluanaí, one of the local Irish language nursery schools.

His first publication last year by Glandore was ‘And the Gates Flew Open : the Burning of Long Kesh’. He hopes to retire on the profits of his books. Fat chance!


The prison officers parade-ground swagger must have cut quite a dash in his army days but, because of his age, he missed all the major world conflicts of the twentieth century. I always thought that this weighed heavily on him – all that anger and no outlet for it except maybe the prison service. This, plus the fact that he was constantly derided in front of his subordinates who all took great pleasure from our playful banter which made a laughing stock of him in everyone’s eyes but his own!

The fact that all the other screws got great delight from our efforts was a matter of complete indifference to us. In those days we were given to bouts of sizism.

“You stupid bastard!” roared the prison officer to one of his men who claimed to have seen the horse, as both horse and jockey neared the prison officer’s hut through the deteriorating light of day. I’m sure that when the prison officer saw the horse he thought he had been kicked by a Honky/donkey. Or is it the other way round?

Anyway, Honky made jockey-like noises with a Lady Godiva-like accent – “You perverted Peeping Tom, avert your gaze, you cad!” he cried with all the demure he could muster. “Go back to England, sicko, and stop ogling my beautiful wife!”, I shouted at the prison officer, who was nearly choking himself looking for the correct rebuke. “You fucking Irish bastards, I’ll have the lot of ye…” he articulated, pushing the parameters of his abridged vocabulary to the limits. Honky Godiva rode off into the sunset laughing his head off, his honour intact. I pleaded with the screw for a bale of hay. Request loudly denied… (MORE LATER).

Thanks for reading,

About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
This entry was posted in History/Politics. and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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