“If they took everything else away, they’d never take my principles. I’ll die before they take them from me.” – Óglach Kevin Lynch
Tuesday, August 1st was the 25th anniversary of the death of hunger striker Kevin Lynch. To commemorate the date, Sinn Féin organized the Kevin Lynch Memorial Night at the Belfast Hilton. It was standing room only, and was attended by Kevin’s brother and sister, as well as family members of hunger striker Thomas McElwee. It was a powerful event, and the intense emotion in the room was palpable. Sure, the Detroit commemoration event in May was great, but it is something entirely different to be in Belfast, surrounded by friends and family members of the hunger strikers, ex-prisoners of war, and generations that have lived through what we have only read about in books and in the papers.
There was plenty of music, and a short play by the Market Youth Group, and a poem read by ex-POW John McComb. Gerry Adams was a featured speaker as well; I was interested to hear what he would have to say to a local audience (especially at an event like this). Other than last summer’s SF-100 years book launch, I had not heard him speak except in the states. I imagined it would be different, and it certainly lacked the pomp and circumstance (ha- no need to impress I suppose!). He spoke very briefly–only about 10 minutes or so. The gist of his address was to compare a cell at Long Kesh to an average bathroom, and told the audience to try to imagine what it would be like to have to stay in your bathroom (minus the pleasant distractions, like the tub for instance) for a week, a month, five years…He talked about Kevin and his family, of course. Then he pointed out the number of women in the room (I had previously noticed how many women and young children were present) and talked about how Sinn Féin desperately needs more women to get involved.
Then there was a profile of Kevin Lynch’s life read by Ian Milne, followed by the Ballad of Kevin Lynch sung by a man named Eamonn who was sitting next to me. He was introduced to me as one of Ireland’s prized singers, but I didn’t catch his last name. Anyway, he was great. Next, there was a presentation of a potrait of Kevin (not sure by whom) presented to his brother and sister, who said a short thank you.
Francie Brolly then sang the H-Block Song, and it was time for the main event, Ar An Plúid, a one-man play about the story of Kieran Nugent, the first republican prisoner to go on the blanket. It was fucking amazing!! (I think we had tried to go see it last year, but it was sold out.) The young man (ha! “young man”-I sound like an old lady!) was a fantastic actor, and the play was really physical–throwing himself around the stage as he simulated the beatings that Kieran had to endure after refusing to put on the prison uniform. There were also some very funny parts; like when the prisoners organized betting on imaginary horse races, or when Kieran expressed his joy upon finally receiving a cell mate. All in all, though, it was a very intense and powerful performance in keeping with the night’s theme.