A golden crucifix given to Patsy O’Hara by Pope John Paul II before he died on hunger strike in 1981, is now on display in a Derry museum.
The cross, framed alongside portraits of the late INLA hunger striker and the Pope, is held in the Irish Republican Socialist Movement museum in Chamberlain Street.
It was, explained the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), among several crucifixes given to the ten INLA and IRA hunger strikers who died protesting their criminalisation by the British authorities in the H-Blocks over four momentous months in 1981.
“In the midst of the 1981 hunger strike, Margaret Thatcher [the then British Prime Minister] lobbied the Catholic Church to declare the prisoners’ actions to be a form of suicide and so a ‘mortal sin’.
“Pope John Paul [II] ordered his emissary to Ireland to present the Hunger Strikers with golden crucifixes on his behalf, to comfort them during their ordeal.
“A clear if subtle rebuff to Thatcher’s cynical attempts to destroy the morale of these brave martyrs,” the IRSP has maintained.
Files declassified by the British Government eight years ago shed some light on the Vatican’s efforts to intervene in the strike in the spring of 1981.
They detail a conversation between the papal envoy Fr. John Magee and the British Secretary of State, Humphrey Atkins, in April 1981, shortly before Mr. O’Hara died.
According to the note Monsignor McGee asked the late IRA Volunteer, Bobby Sands, to halt the strike.
Mr. Sands declined the request and was later buried with a crucifix that was given to him by Fr. Magee from the Pope when he became the first man to die.
The IRSP said Mr. O’Hara, rather than be buried with the crucifix he received from Pope John Paul II, instead passed it on to his mother Peggy.
“IRSM Volunteer Patsy O’Hara, in a beautiful gesture bequeathed his cross to his mother, in recognition of the suffering that she had gone through on his behalf and on behalf of Ireland,” the party stated.
After Mrs. O’Hara passed away in 2015 her family handed over the cross to James Connolly House in Chamberlain Street, where it is still available for viewing today.
“Upon her passing the O’Hara family bequeathed it to the Irish Republican Socialist Movement museum.
“A rounded symbol (if any where needed) of the revolutionary sincerity and commitment that exists amongst the Irish Republican Socialist family as a whole. Venceremos!” said the party.
The IRSM museum is situated at number 8 Chamberlain Street, Derry and is open between Monday and Friday.
Patsy O’Hara died after 61 days on hunger strike on May 21, 1981, the fourth of the ten hunger strikers to die.
He was the first of three INLA members, all from the Derry area, to die on the protest.
The others were Kevin Lynch from Park, who died on August 1, after 77 days without food, and Mickey Devine, from Derry, who was the last prisoner to die when he passed away after 60 days on hunger strike on August 20, 1981.