Thomas McElwee

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Thomas McElwee
Born (1957-11-30)30 November 1957
Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Died 8 August 1981(1981-08-08) (aged 23)
Cause of death
Hunger strike
Organization Provisional IRA
Known for Hunger strike of 62 days, from 8 June 1981

Thomas McElwee (30 November 1957 - 8 August 1981) was an Irish republican hunger striker and a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) from Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.[1]

Paramilitary activity[edit]

Thomas McElwee with his cousin Francis Hughes, formed the South Derry Independent Republican unit, which for several years carried out ambushes on British army patrols as well carrying out bomb attacks in neighbouring towns such as Magherafelt, Castledawson, and Maghera.[1][2]

In October 1976, McElwee took part in a planned bombing blitz on the town of Ballymena. Along with several colleagues, he was transporting one of the bombs, which exploded prematurely blinding him in his right eye.[1][2] Following his arrest, he was charged and sentenced to 20 years prison for possession of explosives and the murder of 26-year-old Protestant Yvonne Dunlop, who was burnt alive when one of the firebombs destroyed her clothes shop, Alley Katz.[1][2][3] His murder charge was on appeal reduced to manslaughter, however the original jail term given stood.[2]

In prison he became involved in the blanket protest.[1] He joined the 1981 Irish hunger strike and died on 8 August 1981 at the age of 23 after 62 days of hunger-strike.[2][4]

Gravestone erected to Thomas McElwee and Francis Hughes.

Aftermath[edit]

In 2009 McElwee was honoured by Republican Sinn Féin who named their Waterford city cumann after him. Ironically his name replaced that of Waterford Old IRA ASU O/C George Lennon (1900-1991) who led the IRA "Irregulars" into Waterford City (March 1922) and who later eschewed the tactics utilised by certain Republican elements in Northern Ireland.[citation needed] (Ulster to the Deise: Lennons in Time by Ivan Lennon)

McElwee is the main subject of the song "Farewell to Bellaghy", which also mentions his cousin Francis Hughes, other members of the South Derry Independent Republican Unit and deceased volunteers of the South Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA. He is also the subject of the Crucifucks' song "The Story of Thomas McElwee".

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Bobby Sands Trust - Thomas McElwee
  2. ^ a b c d e Victims.org.uk - Face of Evil
  3. ^ The Guardian - Mural to IRA 'peacemakers' is condemned
  4. ^ What happened in the hunger strike? BBC News, 5 May 2006