A determined and
Twenty-three-year-old Patsy O'Hara from Derry city, was the former
leader of the Irish National Liberation Army prisoners in the H-Blocks, and
joined IRA Volunteer Raymond McCreesh on hunger strike on March 22nd, three
weeks after Bobby Sands and one week after Francis Hughes.
Patsy O'Hara was born on July 11th, 1957 at Bishop Street in Derry city.
His parents owned a small public house and grocery shop above which the
family lived. His eldest brother, Sean Seamus, was interned in Long Kesh for
almost four years. The second eldest in the family, Tony, was imprisoned in
the H-Blocks - throughout Patsy's hunger strike - for five years before
being released in August of this year, having served his full five-year
sentence with no remission.
The youngest in the O'Hara family is twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth.
Before 'the troubles' destroyed the family life of the O'Haras, and the
overwhelming influence of being an oppressed youth concerned about his
country drove Patsy to militant republicanism, there is the interesting
history of his near antecedents which must have produced delight in Patsy's
Patsy's maternal grandfather, James McCluskey, joined the British army as a
young man and went off to fight in the First World War. He received nine
shrapnel wounds at Ypres and was retired on a full pension.
However, on returning to Ireland his patriotism was set alight by Irish
resistance and the terror of British rule. He duly threw out his pension
book, did not draw any more money and joined the Republican Movement. He
transported men and weapons along the Foyle into Derry in the 'twenties.
He inherited a public house and bookmakers, in Foyle Street, and was a great
friend of Derry republican Sean Keenan's father, also named Sean.
Mrs. Peggy O'Hara can recall 'old' Sean Keenan being arrested just before
the out break of the Second World War. Her father's serious illness resulted
in him escaping internment and he died shortly afterwards in 1939.
Mrs. O'Hara's aunt was married to John Mulhern, a Roscommon man, who was in
the RIC up until its disbandment in 1921.
"When my father died in 1939 - says Mrs O'Hara, - "John Mulhern, who was
living in Bishop Street, and owned a bar and a grocery shop, took us in to
look after us. I remember him telling us that he didn't just go and join the
RIC, but it was because there were so many in the family and times were
"My father was a known IRA man and my uncle reared me, and I was often
slagged about this. Patsy used to hear this as a child, but Patsy was a
very, very straight young fellow and he was a wee bit bigoted about my uncle
being a policeman.
"But a number of years ago Patsy came in to me after speaking to an old
republican from Corrigans in Donegal, and Patsy says to me, 'You've nothing
to be ashamed of, your uncle being a policeman, because that man was telling
me that even though he was an RIC man, he was very, very helpful to the
The trait of courage which Patsy was to show in later years was in him from
the start, says Mr. O'Hara. "No matter who got into trouble in the street
outside, Patsy was the boy to go out and do all the fighting for him. He was
the fighting man about the area and didn't care how big they were. He would
tackle them. I even saw him fighting men, and in no way could they stop him.
He would keep at them. He was like a wee bull terrier!"
Apparently, up until he was about twelve years of age, Patsy was fat and
small, "a wee barrel" says his mother. Then suddenly he shot up to grow to
over six foot two inches.
Elizabeth, his sister, recalls Patsy: "He was a mad hatter. When we were
young he used to always play tricks on me, mother and father. We used to
play a game of cards and whoever lost had to do all the things that
everybody told them.
"We all won a card game once and made Patsy crawl up the stairs and 'miaow'
like a cat at my mother's bedroom door. She woke up the next day and said,
'am I going mad? I think I heard a cat last night' and we all started to
The O'Haras' house was open to all their children's friends, and again to
scores of the volunteers who descended on Derry from all corners of Ireland
when the RUC invaded in 1969. But before that transformation in people's
politics came, Mrs. O'Hara still lived for her family alone.
She was especially proud of her eldest son, Sean Seamus who had passed his
eleven plus and went to college.
When Sean was in his early teens he joined the housing action group, around
1967, Mrs. O'Hara's conception of which was Sean helping to get people
"But one day, someone came into me when I was working in the bar, and said,
'Your son is down in the Guildhall marching up and down with a placard!
"I went down and stood and looked and Finbarr O'Doherty was standing at the
side and wee fellows were going up and down. I went over to Sean and said,
'Who gave you that? He said, Finbarr!' I took the placard off Sean and went
over to Finbarr, put it in his hand, and hit him with my umbrella.'
Mrs. O'Hara laughs when she recalls this incident, as shortly afterwards she
was to have her eyes opened.
"After that, I went to protests wherever Sean was, thinking that I could
protect him! I remember the October 1968 march because my husband's brother,
Sean, had just been buried.
"We went to the peaceful march over at the Waterside station and saw the
people being beaten into the ground. That was the first time that I ever saw
water cannons, they were like something from outer space.
"We thought we had to watch Sean, but to my astonishment Patsy and Tony had
slipped away, and Patsy was astonished and startled by what he saw."
Later, Patsy was to write about this incident: "The mood of the crowd was
one of solidarity. People believed they were right and that a great
injustice had been done to them. The crowds came in their thousands from
every part of the city and as they moved down Duke Street chanting slogans,
'One man, one vote' and singing 'We shall overcome' I had the feeling that a
people united and on the move, were unstoppable."
Shortly after his release in April 1975, Patsy joined the ranks of the
fledgling Irish Republican Socialist Party, which the 'Sticks', using
murder, had attempted to strangle at birth. He was free only about two
months when he was stopped at the permanent check-point on the Letterkenny
Road whilst driving his father's car from Buncrana in County Donegal.
The Brits planted a stick of gelignite in the car (such practice was
commonplace) and he was charged with possession of explosives. He was
remanded in custody for six months, the first trial being stopped due to
unusual RUC ineptitude at framing him. At the end of the second trial he was
acquitted and released after spending six months in jail.
In 1976, Patsy had to stay out of the house for fear of constant arrest.
That year, also, his brother, Tony, was charged with an armed raid, and on
the sole evidence of an alleged verbal statement was sentenced to five years
in the H-Blocks.
Despite being 'on the run' Patsy was still fond of his creature comforts!
His father recalls: "Sean Seamus came in late one night and though the whole
place was in darkness he didn't put the lights on. He went to sit down and
fell on the floor. He ran up the stairs and said: 'I went to sit down and
there was nothing there'
"Patsy had taken the sofa on top of a red Rover down to his billet in the
Brandywell. Then before we would get up in the morning he would have it back
up again. When we saw it sitting there in the morning we said to Sean: 'Are
you going off your head or what? and he was really puzzled."
In September 1976, he was again arrested in the North and along with four
others charged with possession of a weapon. During the remand hearings he
protested against the withdrawal of political status.
The charge was withdrawn after four months, indicating how the law is
twisted to intern people by remanding them in custody and dropping the
charges before the case comes to trial.
In June 1977, he was imprisoned for the fourth time. On this occasion, after
a seven-day detention in Dublin's Bridewell, he was charged with holding a
garda at gunpoint. He was released on bail six weeks later and was
eventually acquitted In January 1978.
Whilst living in the Free State, Patsy was elected to the ard chomhairle of
the IRSP, was active in the Bray area, and campaigned against the special
In January 1979, he moved back to Derry but was arrested on May 14th, 1979
and was charged with possessing a hand-grenade.
In January 1980, he was sentenced to eight years in jail and went on the
What were Mrs. O'Hara's feelings when Patsy told her he was going on hunger
"My feelings at the start, when he went on hunger strike, were that I
thought that they would get their just demands, because it is not very much
that they are asking for. There is no use in saying that I was very vexed
and all the rest of it. There is no use me sitting back in the wings and
letting someone else's son go. Someone's sons have to go on it and I just
happen to be the mother of that son."
Writing shortly before the hunger strike began, Patsy O'Hara grimly
declared: "We stand for the freedom of the Irish nation so that future
generations will enjoy the prosperity they rightly deserve, free from
foreign interference, oppression and exploitation. The real criminals are
the British imperialists who have thrived on the blood and sweat of
generations of Irish men.
"They have maintained control of Ireland through force of arms and there is
only one way to end it. I would rather die than rot in this concrete tomb
for years to come.
Patsy witnessed the baton charges and said: "The people were sandwiched in
another street and with the Specials coming from both sides, swinging their
truncheons at anything that moved. It was a terrifying experience and one
which I shall always remember."
Mr. and Mrs. O'Hara believe that it was this incident when Patsy was aged
eleven, followed by the riots in January 1969 and the 'Battle of the Bogside'
in August 1969 that aroused passionate feelings of nationalism, and then
republicanism, in their son. "Every day he saw something different
happening," says his father. "People getting beaten up, raids and coffins
coming out. This was his environment."
In 1970, Patsy joined na Fianna Eireann, drilled and trained in Celtic Park.
Early in 1971, and though he was very young, he joined the Patrick Pearse
Sinn Fein cumann in the Bogside, selling Easter lilies and newspapers.
Internment, introduced in August 1971, hit the O'Hara family particularly
severely with the arrest of Sean Seamus in October. "We never had a proper
Christmas since then" says Elizabeth. "When Sean Seamus was interned we
never put up decorations and our family has been split-up ever since then."
Shortly after Sean's arrest Patsy, one night, went over to a friend's house
in Southway where there were barricades. But coming out of the house,
British soldiers opened fire, for no apparent reason, and shot Patsy in the
leg. He was only fourteen years of age and spent several weeks in hospital
and then several more weeks on crutches.
On January 30th, 1972, his father took him to watch the big anti-internment
march as it wound its way down from the Creggan. "I struggled across a
banking but was unable to go any further. I watched the march go up into the
Brandywell. I could see that it was massive. The rest of my friends went to
meet it but I could only go back to my mother's house and listen to it on
the radio," said Patsy.
Asked about her feelings over Patsy be coming involved in the struggle, Mrs.
O'Hara said: "After October 1968, I thought that that was the right thing to
do. I am proud of him, proud of them all".
Mr O'Hara said: "Personally speaking, I knew he would get involved. It was
in his nature. He hated bullies al his life, and he saw big bullies in
uniform and he would tackle them as well.
Shortly after Bloody Sunday, Patsy joined the 'Republican Clubs' and was
active until 1973, "when it became apparent that they were firmly on the
path to reformism and had abandoned the national question".
From this time onwards he was continually harassed, taken in for
interrogation and assaulted.
One day, he and a friend were arrested on the Briemoor Road. Two saracens
screeched to a halt beside them. Patsy later described this arrest: "We were
thrown onto the floor and as they were bringing us to the arrest centre, we
were given a beating with their batons and rifles. When we arrived and were
getting out of the vehicles we were tripped and fell on our faces".
Three months later, after his seventeenth birthday, he was taken to the
notorious interrogation centre at Ballykelly. He was interrogated for three
days and then interned with three others who had been held for nine days.
"Long Kesh had been burned the week previously" said Patsy, "and as we flew
above the camp in a British army helicopter we could see the complete
devastation. When we arrived, we were given two blankets and mattresses and
put into one of the cages.
"For the next two months we were on a starvation diet, no facilities of any"
kind, and most men lying out open to the elements...
"That December a ceasefire was announced, then internment was phased out."
Merlyn Rees also announced at the same time that special category status
would be withdrawn on March 1st, 1976. I did not know then how much that
change of policy would effect me in less than three years".
Patsy O'Hara died at 11.29 p.m. on Thursday, May 21st - on the same day as
Raymond McCreesh with whom he had embarked on the hunger-strike sixty-one
Even in death his torturers would not let him rest. When the O'Hara family
been broken and his corpse bore several burn marks inflicted after his