Kevin Lynch (Caoimhín Ó Loingsigh)
25 May 1956 – 1 August 1981
A man with a great love of life and a committed Irish republican, Kevin Lynch became the eighth activist to join the 1981 hunger strike following the death of his comrade and fellow volunteer in the Irish National Liberation Army Patsy O’Hara.
Kevin was well known and respected in his hometown of Dungiven in county Derry, mainly as an enthusiastic sportsman. Many have described him as ‘lively’ and ‘hard-working’. He brought passion and dedication to everything life would throw at him, whether on the pitch as a hurler or as a political activist.
Kevin joined the INLA after being subject to a British army beating along with nine others. His family describe him as a man who’d not let anyone walk all over him, hence his decision to join the republican struggle. After a short period on active service, he was arrested and taken to the Castlereagh interrogation centre in Belfast, where he was charged with multiple offences, including “conspiracy to disarm members of the enemy forces”.
Kevin, who was a highly regarded INLA Volunteer, was arrested in December 1976 and charged with conspiracy to obtain arms. He received a ten-year sentence in December 1977. Following a year on remand in Crumlin Road jail, Kevin was sentenced by a non-jury Diplock court in 1977 and sent to the H-Blocks, where he immediately joined the Blanket protest along with his friend Liam McCloskey. Kevin and Liam were both subjected to horrific treatment from the prison staff, including physical and verbal abuse.
In one particularly sadistic attack in April 1978, six screws arrived to search Kevin’s cell, one of them armed with a hammer. While the search was taking place Kevin’s bare foot slipped on urine drenched food which connected with one of the screw’s trouser legs. The screw verbally abused Kevin and kicked urine at him.
Kevin responded in a likewise manner and was then set upon by two of the screws who punched and kicked him and attempted to hit him with the hammer. The beating continued until Kevin was left with a bruised, beaten and swollen face, collapsing onto the floor covered in urine.
In spite of all this, Kevin never broke. His commitment to the republican struggle and his comrades in H3 got him through the blanket protest. After joining the hunger strike in 1981, Kevin stood in Waterford in that year’s 26-County general election, only losing on the fifth count with a total of 3,753 votes.
However, the indifference of the Dublin government to the prisoners’ plight, despite the popular support they evidently enjoyed, made it easier for the British government to continue with its inhumane policies.
Kevin had been lapsing into frequent periods of unconsciousness in the last four days, having already lost his sight, hearing and speech. On August 1 1981, Kevin Lynch, a determined republican socialist, died in the prison hospital in the H-Blocks after 71 days on hunger strike. His loving family were at his bedside throughout his final days.
The RUC and the Ulster Defence Regiment made every effort to disrupt Kevin’s funeral, holding up cars and forcing buses to park outside of town so that the passengers would have to make their way on foot. Ulsterbus in Belfast cancelled bookings at the last minute. Nevertheless, mourners came in convoys of cars and black taxis.
At mid-day, the coffin, bearing the Tricolour, Starry Plough, gloves and beret, was carried to the nearby church. The procession was led by a lone piper, followed by the Lynch family, relatives of other Hunger Strikers, and senior representatives of the IRSP and the broad republican movement, along with the National H-Block/Armagh Committee.
At the funeral procession an 18-strong INLA guard of honour marched up to escort the coffin to the church door. At the graveside, the piper played I’ll Wear No Convict’s Uniform. The Last Post was also played and wreaths were laid representing both the INLA, and IRA Army Councils.