Martin Hurson (Máirtín Ó hUrsáin)
September 13 1956 – July 13 1981
On May 29 1981, Martin Hurson joined the hunger strike, replacing Derry man Brendan McLoughlin who was forced to drop out because of a burst stomach ulcer.
Martin was born in September 1956 in the townland of Aughnaskea, Cappagh, near Dungannon, the eighth of nine children: six girls and three boys. Both of his parents came from the Cappagh district and the whole of their family – including Martin – were born in the farmhouse perched precipitously on top of the 30 hilly acres of rough land that make up the Hurson farm. He was capable of being very outgoing and talkative on occasions, while remaining essentially a rather shy and quiet person.
Perhaps because he was one of the youngest of the family, Martin was particularly close to his mother, whose premature death in 1970 when he was only 13, came as a deep shock to him. After leaving school, Martin worked as a welder before going to England with his brother Francis to work in the building trade. Returning to his native Tyrone at the end of 1974, both he and his brother spent time in Bundoran, county Donegal.
Late in 1975, Martin met and started going out with Bernadette Donnelly. Bernadette, from Pomeroy, was later extremely active in the campaign for political status, along with members of Martin’s family, appearing on public platforms and taking part in marches and pickets all over the country.
Martin was arrested over suspected involvement in three IRA landmine incidents, one at Cappagh in September, one at Galbally, County Tyrone in November 1975 and a third at Reclain in February 1976, when several members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defence Regiment narrowly escaped with their lives in a carefully planned attack.
Martin was convicted of involvement in IRA operations in 1976 and received a 20-year sentence. He stood as an Anti-H-Block/Armagh candidate in the Longford/Westmeath constituency during the June 1981 general election in the South. He won almost 4,500 first preference votes and over 1,000 transfers, before being eliminated at the end of the sixth count, outlasting two Labour candidates and a Fine Gael contender.
On July 13 1981 Martin became the fifth hunger striker to die. Having seriously deteriorated after 40 days on hunger strike, he was unable to hold down water and died a horrifically agonising death early that morning.
The following day, Martin Hurson’s body was removed by the RUC to Omagh Hospital without consulting the family in an attempt to deny mourners an opportunity to pay their last respects. Despite this, over 100 cars followed the hearse from Omagh to the Hurson home in Cappagh.
Relatives, friends and comrades carried the coffin for the last mile home, escorted by a uniformed guard of honour and followed by a large procession of sympathisers. Later, at the Hurson home, guards of honour from Cumann na mBan, Fianna Éireann and the Irish Republican Army stood to attention as lines of mourners filed past the coffin.
At the graveside, Seán Lynch, Hurson’s election agent, gave an impassioned oration. Speaking of Martin, Lynch described the 26-year-old as “a member of a large family whose mother died when he was only a boy, a young man who played Gaelic football for the local GAA club in Galbally, a lover of all things Irish who was forced to emigrate and who returned and threw in his lot with those who dispute the claim of England to rule over one inch of Irish soil”.
Lynch went on to say that Martin’s sacrifice would “save the cause of Irish independence from destruction at the hands of the foreign enemy and native compromiser, and carry it to victory yet”.