Ray McCreesh (Réamonn Mac Raois)
February 25 1957 – May 21 1981.
Raymond McCreesh was born in Camlough, South Armagh in 1957, the second youngest of a large staunchly republican family. Ray attended Camlough Primary school, followed by St Colmans, Newry. In school his keenest interests were the Irish Language and history.
After completing formal education he attended Newry Technical College and served an apprenticeship as a sheet-metal worker after which he then worked in Lisburn. However, following high numbers of sectarian assassinations in the area he decided the risk was too great to continue working there.
During Ray’s teenage years, the South Armagh area became a hotspot for British army brutality and harassment. The British army’s notorious Parachute Regiment operated out of the Bessbrook Mill base, less than two miles from the McCreesh family home.
Later the terror campaign of the SAS began in this area in an effort to combat the successes of the Irish Republican Army in South Armagh. Ray joined Na Fianna Éireann in early 1973 and towards the end of that same year he joined the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade. He displayed remarkable self-discipline and discretion during his years of intense involvement in the IRA.
As a result, he remained unknown to the enemy and was never obliged to go on the run. During this time, he was never arrested or screened in the occupied Six Counties and was held only briefly in the 26 Counties. Consequently, Ray resided in his family home until June 1976 when he was arrested following a shoot-out between the IRA and the British Army near Beleeks, South Armagh.
The operation which led to the capture of Ray, Patrick Quinn and boyhood friend Danny McGuiness took place on June 26 1976. Their objective had been to ambush a covert British observation post. The British army, upon discovery of the IRA volunteers, opened fire indiscriminately, expending hundreds of rounds.
Following his arrest, Ray was taken to Bessbrook barracks where he was interrogated and beaten for three days before any formal charges were made against him. After nine months on remand in Crumlin Road Jail, he was tried, convicted and sentenced by a non-jury Diplock court.
Upon arrival in the H-Blocks, Ray joined the Blanket protest. He was so staunch in his commitment to the protest he forfeited his monthly visits (which required him to wear a prison uniform for half-an-hour each month). He took his first visit in 1981, only to inform his parents of his decision to go on hunger strike.
The only member of Ray’s family to see him during this four-year period was his brother, who occasionally said mass at Long Kesh. Ray’s resolve to hunger strike to the death was summed up in a letter smuggled out of the H- Blocks by his friend Paddy Quinn, in which he stated, “Tá seans ann go mbeidh mé abhaile romhat a chara [There is a chance that you’ll be home before me, my friend].”
Ray McCreesh died at 2.11am on Thursday, May 21 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike.