On the 20th August 1981, 33 years ago today, Irish National Liberation Army volunteer Mickey Devine was the tenth and last Irish Republican POW to give his life on Hunger Strike. Mickey Devine gave his life for the right to be treated as a political prisoner and he was also the third and last of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners to die on Hunger Strike.
Mickey Devine’s nickname was ‘Red Mick’ due to his red hair but it was also indicative of his Left-wing beliefs as he was a founding member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) in his home city of Derry. The arms procurement operation that Mickey Devine was arrested for and for which he received 12 years imprisonment in the H Blocks also involved his Derry INLA comrade and fellow Hunger Striker Patsy O’Hara, who had given his life just a month before Mickey Devine commenced his fast. Ironically, it has been said that the INLA unit in Derry to which both Mickey Devine and Patsy O’Hara were attached, were in dire need of weaponry not just to prosecute the guerrilla struggle but also to protect members of the Republican Socialist Movement from attacks from hostile elements within the leadership of the Provisional IRA in the city who were centred around the current Deputy Prime Minister of the Stormont partitionist assembly, Martin McGuinness.
Mickey Devine began his Hunger Strike on the 22nd of June 1981, his INLA comrade Kevin Lynch from nearby Dungiven died some 6 weeks later on August 1st. There have been numerous accounts of Mickey Devine’s life, his last days on Hunger Strike and all of them bear testimony to his tremendous courage in the face of death and his willingness to make the supreme sacrifice against the massive resources waged against him by the imperialist enemy.
David Beresford’s ‘Ten Men Dead‘ which many viewed erroneously, as recent events have uncovered, as the definitive account of the 1981 Hunger Strike, was not particularly kind to Mickey Devine’s memory in it’s pen portrait of his life. Richard O’Rawe, whose book ‘Blanketmen’ controversially exposed the existence of a ‘deal’ which could have saved the lives of perhaps up to 6 of the Hunger Strikers including Mickey Devine’s. Richard O’Rawe in both his bestselling publications, Blanketmen and Afterlives maintain the life-saving deal offered by the British government via a neutral conduit, was rejected by the Provisionals outside leadership for reasons of political expediency. A recent Irish Republican Socialist Party inquiry completely vindicated Richard O’Rawe’s version of events and accepted the existence of a deal.
Mickey Devine was described by Richard O’Rawe as follows:
“this poor man – like his nine comrades – was blessed (or damned) with the heart of a lion. He had told Pat Beag that he thought all was lost, yet he chose to forfeit his life rather than end his hunger strike. What naked valour! He had one life, and he gave it for us.”
It goes without saying that Mickey Devine, just like his 9 Hunger Striker comrades before him was one of the bravest of the brave! Mickey Devine’s last fight against British imperialism, and the system that sought unsuccessfully to criminalise his actions, ended on the 20th of August 1981. He was only 27 years of age. He was survived by a daughter, Louise and a young son Michael who bore his name. Within 6 weeks, the Hunger Strike was officially ended with no further loss of life.
Mickey Devine died as he lived, a proud Irish Republican Socialist and volunteer in the Irish National Liberation Army. In this the 33rd year since his death, the ideals for which Mickey Devine died, National Liberation and Socialism are still pursued by the Irish Republican Socialist Party that he helped to found in his hometown of Derry.
Thúg sé a beo ag troid ar son Saoirse agus Muintir Na hEireann. I measc Laochra Na nGael go raibh a Anam.
Saoirse go deo!