Patsy O’Hara (Peatsaí Ó hEadhra)
11 July 1957 – 21 May 1981
Born in Bishop Street, Derry in July 1957, Patsy O’Hara was born into a city and artificial statelet that denied his community basic civil rights.
Aged 11 in 1968 when the RUC baton charged the citizens of Derry on Duke Street, Patsy remembered: “The people were sandwiched in another street and with the Specials coming from both sides, swinging their truncheons at anything that moved. It was a terrifying experience and one which I shall always remember.”
His family attributed his politicisation to the repression he witnessed that day followed by the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969. In 1970, Patsy joined the Republican Movement. Internment hit the O’Hara family with the arrest of his eldest brother Seán, then a member of the Derry Housing Action Committee, in October 1971. Another brother, Tony, was to be imprisoned in the H-Blocks throughout Patsy’s hunger strike.
After Seán’s arrest Patsy, then aged 14, was shot by British soldiers and spent several weeks in hospital and several more weeks on crutches. On January 30, 1972, his father took him to the anti-internment march as it wound its way down from the Creggan.
“I struggled across a banking but was unable to go any further. I watched the march go up into the Brandywell. I could see that it was massive. The rest of my friends went to meet it but I could only go back to my mother’s house and listen to it on the radio,” said Patsy later of the day the Parachute Regiment massacred 14 civil rights demonstrators.
In September 1974 Patsy himself was interned in the cages of Long Kesh. Shortly after his release, he joined the ranks of the fledgling Irish Republican Socialist Party. He was free only about two months when he was charged with possession of explosives. He was remanded in custody for six months and, after two failed trials, released.
In September 1976, Patsy was again arrested and, along with four others, charged with possession of a weapon. Again, the charge was withdrawn after four months. In June 1977, Patsy was imprisoned for the fourth time. On this occasion, after a seven-day detention in Dublin’s Bridewell, he was charged with holding a Garda at gunpoint.
Patsy was released on bail six weeks later and was eventually acquitted In January 1978. Hewas elected to the ard chomhairle of the IRSP and headed the guard of honour at the funeral of the assassinated Séamus Costello. He also helped to produce the Starry Plough newspaper.
In January 1979, Patsy moved back to Derry but was arrested in May and charged with possessing a hand-grenade. In January 1980, he was sentenced to eight years in jail and went straight on the Blanket protest.
Patsy became leader of the Irish National Liberation Army prisoners at the beginning of the first hunger strike in October 1980, which he joined in its last days. He joined the 1981 strike on March 22 alongside Ray McCreesh.
Writing shortly before the hunger strike began, Patsy declared: “We stand for the freedom of the Irish nation so that future generations will enjoy the prosperity they rightly deserve, free from foreign interference, oppression and exploitation”.
“The real criminals are the British imperialists who have thrived on the blood and sweat of generations of Irish men. They have maintained control of Ireland through force of arms and there is only one way to end it. I would rather die than rot in this concrete tomb for years to come”.
Patsy O’Hara died at 11.29 p.m. on Thursday, May 21 – on the same day as Raymond McCreesh with whom he had embarked on the hunger-strike 61 days earlier.