Thousands visit Castlewellan for Hunger Strike Commemoration

Thousands visit Castlewellan for Hunger Strike Commemoration

8 August 2018

THOUSANDS of people travelled to Castlewellan on Sunday for the National Hunger Strike Commemoration.

The event commemorated the 37th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike by republican prisoners, who refused food as part of a campaign to force the British government to give them political status.

There were numerous well attended events in the town such as historical talks, poetry events and documentary screenings, culminating in a large demonstration on Sunday afternoon.

However, the event drew strong criticism from some Unionists and relatives of IRA victims who accused Sinn Fein organisers of insulting their loved ones by glorifying terrorists.

Sinn Fein’s South Down MP, Chris Hazzard, thanked all those who had travelled to Castlewellan for the commemoration and said he had been “honoured” to welcome the families of those who died.

“South Down republicans were privileged to host the National Hunger Strike Commemoration as we welcomed people from all four provinces of Ireland and her diaspora to celebrate the memory of those who gave their life on hunger strike across each generation,” he said.

“We were honoured also to welcome the families of those who have died on hunger strike. It is because of their loved ones’ sacrifice that republicanism is stronger today than at any point in our history.”

Mr Hazzard added: “In this, the 220th anniversary of the United Irish rebellion in County Down, it was also a great opportunity to mark the vision, efforts and sacrifice of those local republicans who first rose in the name of the Irish Republic in Ballynahinch and Saintfield in 1798.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and former leader Gerry Adams were among those attending.

Ms McDonald said the time for a referendum on Irish unity was “drawing near” and “back at the centre of political discussion”.

The comments came a week after she said a unity poll should not be held while uncertainty remains around Brexit, before a day later calling for a referendum as a soon as possible.

Ms McDonald told the crowds gathered in Castlewellan that such a vote was provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.

“The need for an end to partition is writ large,” she said. “The time for a unity referendum is drawing near. It is not a question of if a unity referendum will happen, but a question of when.”