Hunger Strike Commemoration, 1987
A nationalist rally commemorating the 1981 republican hunger strikers makes its way along the Andersonstown Road, West Belfast, May 1987.
Marchers, led by a republican colour party, carry portraits of the ten IRA and INLA prisoners who died on the hunger strike in Long Kesh (Maze) prison. As commemorations of a significant historical event, these annual rallies expressed historical continuity and provided a reaffirmation of commitment to the republican 'struggle', equalling the Easter 1916 commemorations in terms of importance for republicans. This 1987 commemoration took place a month after IRA man Larry Marley was shot dead by the loyalist UVF (April 1987), an event which had caused widespread rioting across Belfast over several days.
THE 1981 HUNGER STRIKES
In 1981, ten republican prisoners fasted to death in Long Kesh (Maze) prison in a protest for restoration of political status. During the hunger strikes a movement of large scale demonstrations developed across Northern Ireland in support of the prisoners. Representative of the depth of this support was the attendance of 100,000 people at Bobby Sands's funeral in West Belfast and the electoral success of anti-H Block candidates, including some of the prisoners themselves. The hunger strikes were significant in building up both popular and electoral support for the republican movement as well as strengthening its international profile. The hunger strike had been used as a means of protest by republican prisoners since 1917 and there had been hunger strikes in Irish and English jails in almost every decade that followed.