Joe McDonnell (hunger striker)
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14 September 1951
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Died||8 July 1981
|Known for||Hunger strike of 61 days, from 9 May 1981|
|Spouse(s)||Goretti (1970–1981; his death)|
McDonnell was born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, and was one of 10 children. He went to a Roman Catholic school which was nearby. In 1970, he married Goretti, and moved into her sister's house in Lenadoon. There were only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and the house was attacked on numerous occasions.
McDonnell was arrested in Operation Demetrius and interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone along with Gerry Adams and others. He was later moved to HMP Maze for several months. Upon release, he joined the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. McDonnell met Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company's premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, were arrested. McDonnell and the other were sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accepted the jurisdiction of the court.
McDonnell agreed with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week. He doubted, however, the need to go on hunger strike, believing that a campaign of disobedience would achieve the objective.
Although McDonnell was not involved in the first (1980) hunger strike, he joined Bobby Sands and the others in the second (1981) hunger strike. During the strike he fought the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly missed election to the Sligo–Leitrim constituency.
He went 61 days without food before dying on 8 July 1981. He had two children. His wife Goretti took an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.
McDonnell was buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell's election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gave the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he stated "He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history".
In popular culture
An Irish rebel song, written by Brian Warfield of the Wolfe Tones, bears his name, as does a song by the Scottish-Australian socialist folksinger, Alistair Hulett. He is also commemorated in the song Father's Blessing.
In March 2006, former prisoner Richard O'Rawe alleged that three days before McDonnell's death the Government made a firm offer to the prison leadership substantive enough to end the protest. O'Rawe alleges that while the leadership inside the prison were prepared to go for the deal and end the protest to save the lives of McDonnell and the others who died after him, the leadership outside told them to continue.
The IRA commander inside Long Kesh at the time, Brendan McFarlane (known as "Bik") has publicly disputed this version of events. Only one other prisoner on the prison wing O'Rawe and McFarlane were on, Anthony McIntyre, has backed up O'Rawe's version of events in relation to the 1981 Hunger Strike.
He is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia.
- General Election: 11 June 1981 Sligo/Leitrim
- Ten Men Dead by David Beresford (ISBN 0-87113-702-X), page 238
- The Blanket Meets the Blanketmen Anthony McIntyre speaks with Richard O'Rawe by Anthony McIntyre, The Blanket, 16 May 2006
- Steven McCaffrey (12 March 2005). "Former comrades' war of words over hunger strike". The Irish News. Retrieved 26 May 2007.