ONE of Fermanagh’s best known republicans has made a rare public appearance, speaking at a hunger strike commemoration in Ballyconnell on Friday night.
However it has been reported that former MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone, Owen Carron, will not be attending Sunday’s national hunger strike commemoration in Derrylin.
The 61-year-old from Macken, Kinawley, has lived in the South since 1986 after he absconded while awaiting trial in the North for possessing an assault rifle.
He recently retired as a national school principal in Ballinamore.
In his address last Friday, in Ballyconnell to mark the 33rd anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike, Owen Carron, who was Bobby Sands election agent, said it was a defining time not just for him personally, but for Irish republicanism.
“And, I believe will be so in the modern history of Ireland. Something more profound happened in ’81, that changed forever the political landscape in the North of Ireland, and had resonances for the Irish struggle far beyond these shores and far beyond that time.
“It was a watershed period in history and things would never be the same again.”
He recalled meetings to form Fermanagh H-Block Committee, and he believed it did ‘a fair job’ at highlighting the prisoners’ plight during the first hunger strike which ended in December that year.
But, he added, ‘little did we realise the situation was far from resolved’.
Events moved quickly, and, he recalled, fate played a hand in the sudden death of the standing Westminster MP, Frank Maguire’s sudden death.
“I remember the frantic efforts to get Noel Maguire (the late MP’s brother) to stand aside and give Bobby Sands a clear run. At the last minute, Noel Maguire withdrew his nomination.
The battle was won, with Sands outpoIling Harry West (30,492 to 29,046) to take the seat.
But, all the while, the newly-elected MP was getting weaker and weaker.
“I first met Bobby when he was 30 days on hunger strike and I saw him roughly for the next 30 days. I was unprepared for my task.
“I saw him in the prison hospital. Those first visits he was in good shape, able to sit up. He had a good relationship with his mother and his sister, Marcella, and he felt very much for them.
“It never ever crossed his mind in any of our conversations that he should stop. He always felt that he would die and perhaps one other before there would be any movement from the British.”
He recalled his last visit with him the week-end before he died.
“He was really weak, blind, totally gaunt and emaciated, lying on a sheepskin rung on a waterbed because his bones were sticking out. He could barely speak.
“He asked me if there was any change in things. I said ‘No’ and he replied, “Ah well, that’s it then – Look after my ma.”
He recalled returning to Long Kesh with Gerry Adams at the end of July that year (Bobby Sands was dead by then, on 5th May).
“(The late) Fr Denis Faul had intervened with families, was applying pressure on mothers/wives to take their loved ones off.
“He was arguing that it was the movement outside that was continuing the strike. This was not true.
“After 217 days hope, despair, suffering and exceptional courage the prisoners called off their strike.”
Mr Carron said he believed the hunger strike broke what he called the British criminalisation strategy, and shed light on Britain’s true role in Ireland.
“It politicised republicans and nationalists and gave us strength. The prisoners ultimately got their demands and won a huge moral victory. It gave birth to Sinn Fein as a radical party of growing strength and capacity.”
And, yet, he was sad at the loss.
“It’s as if these 10 men died for us and they died to make us equal. Today, Sinn Fein is the largest all-Ireland party. We have the future in the palm of our hands, but we mustn’t fail through incompetence or arrogance.
“We can’t take the people and our supporters for granted. We can’t plough over people, we must take them along the road with us. We must always listen to the people and lead them.”