How the Journal reported the funeral of Patsy O’Hara in 1981

Peggy O'Hara unveils the memorial dedicated to Patsy O'Hara on the 25th anniversary of his death on Hunger Strike. Included are niece Edel Kelly and Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell's sister Moira. (2305PG14)
Peggy O'Hara unveils the memorial dedicated to Patsy O'Hara on the 25th anniversary of his death on Hunger Strike. Included are niece Edel Kelly and Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell's sister Moira. (2305PG14)

On Tuesday morning, May 26, 1981, the Journal led with the story of Patsy O’Hara’s funeral.

It said: “Upwards of 20,000 people either in the cortege or along the side-walks took part in yesterday’s funeral of Derry born INLA hunger striker Patsy O’Hara-the largest funeral seen in Derry since those of Bloody Sunday in 1972.

“The funeral which went from St Columba’s, Long Tower, went through the Brandywell, the Bogside and Creggan and took almost two hours. Buses brought people from many parts of the North. As the procession left St Columba’s Church and turned towards Bishop Street, it was accompanied by more than 30 masked men dressed in paramilitary uniform.

“This military tribute to the dead hunger striker was headed by a six man gun party, all of whom wore black berets, green woollen masks and khaki combat jackets and black trousers and boots. Next came the hearse, flanked on either side by men clad all in black, masks and white belts. They in turn were followed by nine men in camouflaged combat jackets who brought up the rear.

“Three women dressed in black and carrying wreaths followed the hearse. The coffin was draped in a Tricolour and Starry Plough and a black beret and gloves were pinned to the top.

“The volume of people inhibited the funeral from moving freely and it took over an hour to travel the first mile of the two mile route.”

When the funeral reached the City Cemetery, the Journal reported: “Mourners gathered around and the funeral ceremony got underway. The coffin was led to the graveside by a solitary piper playing a lament. She was accompanied by three drummers who remained silent. There, the coffin was laid out on two metal stands and the six man gun party took up positions on either side. The revolvers, which they had tucked in their belts were produced and checked by an officer. He then gave a number of commands in Irish. The men raised their guns and fired three volleys over the body of their dead comrade.

“As the O’Hara family moved in around the grave the funeral rite got underway but was drowned out by the sound of the two helicopters overhead. While a bugler played the last post, the 34 INLA men stood rigidly to attention.

“The first man to speak was Jim Daly, husband of the late Miriam Daly, a leading member of the IRSP. He said they had gathered to say farewell to their beloved comrade Patsy O’Hara. As they laid him to rest in his native city they were burying his mortal body-his immortal spirit had already triumphed over death. Patsy O’Hara had already endeavoured to achieve the eroding of the injustice, oppression and slavery of his own people and all of mankind.

“Mr Daly said Patsy O’Hara had put to shame the clerics who were not only politicians and conservatives but conservatives and unionists. He said he condemned the hypocrisy of Margaret Thatcher who had stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street and read aloud the Prayer of St Fracis of Assisi. That prayer belonged to Patsy O’Hara not to Margaret Thatcher.

“There followed a minutes silence for Patsy O’Hara and for Raymond McCreesh who joined the hunger strike on the same day. (Raymond McCreesh died one day after Patsy O’Hara)

Patsy O’Hara’s brother Sean Seamus O’Hara told the Journal of the agony endured by Patsy and the other striker and dismissed any romantic notions about their deed. His brother had experienced his body decaying, he had gone deaf, his tongue had swollen and body had been covered in scabs.

“Death by hunger strike is certainly one of the hardest way that a person can die. Patsy was three things, a Republican Socialist, a soldier and a good brother and son.”