The author is a QUB Pol Sci Honours graduate and has written extensively on imperialism, national liberation struggles and class issues.
Afterlives, The Hunger Strike and the Secret Offer' that Changed Irish History by Richard
O'Rawe was first published in 2010 by Liliput Press, as the sequel to the author's highly
controversial first book, Blanketmen, an untold story of the H-Block hunger strike (2005).
Richard O'Rawe was Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Provisonal IRA prisoners in the H
Blocks of Long Kesh prison, during the tragic Hunger Strike of 1981. O'Rawe's first book
Blanketmen caused extreme controversy, among Irish Republicans especially, due to its
challenge to the orthodox versions of the H-Block Hunger Strike. It was viewed as a serious
challenge to the Provisional Sinn Fein leadership, whose near meteoric political gains were
directly related to the groundswell of Irish Nationalist sentiment, caused by the martyrdom of the
ten Hunger Strikers in 1981.
Prior to the publication of 'Blanketmen' it was accepted orthodoxy, within Irish Republicanism, at least, that the Hunger Strikers and the prison leadership were ultimately in sole command of their own destiny and it was they alone who decided to continue the stailc to it's tragic end. The official version asserted that the 'outside' Provisional leadership had nothing more than an advisory role. Equally universally accepted and not just within Irish Republicanism, was that the Hunger Strikes of 1981 and the ultimate price paid by the 10 H-Block martyrs, were the catalyst for Provisional Sinn Fein's rise to political power and the emergence of a nascent peace process.
The Kitchen Cabinet
O'Rawe's first publication sensationally maintained that a Belfast-centred kitchen cabinet, comprising of Gerry Adams and other prominent Provisional Sinn Fein figures, such as Danny Morrison and Tom Hartley, were the final arbiters as to the tragic trajectory of the Hunger Strike. Central to O'Rawe's Blanketmens significance was that Adams et al allegedly overruled the acceptance of a deal offered by the British government, via a secret mediator, codenamed the Mountain Climber, which had initially been accepted by the H-Block prisoners' leadership, under the command of Brendan 'Bik' MacFarlane.
O'Rawe, as PRO of the protesting prisoners in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh Concentration Camp would have been intimately cognizant of the secret negotiations and would have been a close confidante of MacFarlane. As a consequence of this overruling of the H-Block prisoners' leadership's decision to accept the Mountain Climber deal, 6 of the Hunger Strikers went on to lay down their lives when an acceptable offer already existed that fulfilled most of the prisoners' 5 demands. The implication being that the Provisional Sinn Féin leadership cynically allowed 6 Hunger Strikers to die, as it was politically expedient to do so. It was literally an appalling vista for many within the Irish Republican community to contemplate, at first! Needless to say, O'Rawe's quickly became a hate figure for the Provisional Sinn Fein leadership, who owed their political and even their literary careers, to a general acceptance by the broad Republican community of the approved version of events surrounding the 1981 Hunger Strike
The Cat Is Out Of The Bag
If Blanketmen slowly raised serious doubts over the official view of the 1981 Hunger Strike, the subsequent events set in motion by its publication, such as admissions by an intermediary Brendan Duddy aka 'The Mountain Climber' and other H-Block prisoners, added to the points contained therein, went some way to fulfilling a notional criteria that on the balance of
probabilities, O'Rawe's thesis was tragically correct.
Many people felt that 'Afterlives' fulfilled the more stringent criteria of proving beyond reasonable doubt that the Adams-Morrison-MacFarlane axis had indulged in a cover-up of the true events surrounding the 1981 Hunger Strike. An acceptance of the O'Rawe hypothesis is to accept the culpability of those, like the Adams' kitchen cabinet committee, who have therefore been publicly promoting a grand lie for 30 years! There are no gaps in O'Rawe's thesis nor leaps of faith required on the part of the reader. O'Rawe does not come across as a barefaced liar and he certainly had a lot to lose by challenging the prevailing orthodoxy and not towing the accepted line regarding the events of 1981.
A Personal View
I must admit when I first heard of the book 'Blanketmen' and the author's startling revelations in 2005, I did not want to believe them. Back then, I asked people who would have been very loyal to the Sinn Fein leadership what they thought of O'Rawes' book and why he would have written what he did? I was given a variety of reasons why O'Rawe would 'manufacture' such a story, such as: monetary gain, egotism and that he had turned bitterly against Provisional Sinn Fein. I
must also admit that back then, I more or less accepted their explanations and I did not even read the book to make up my own mind because I guess, like many people, it was far easier to discount an isolated voice in the wilderness. It was also much more comfortable not to read the book and adhere to the accepted Hunger Strike thesis, backed up by several authors, accepted
Hunger Strike 'experts' and leading Republicans. But, even back then, despite O'Rawe's version being too terrible a vista to contemplate, there were niggling doubts, which surely must have periodically visited even the most sceptical or Provisional Sinn Fein leadership-loyal individuals,
What if O'Rawe is right?
What if O'Rawe is even half-right?'
Would an ex-blanketman really make up lies like that?'
If the accepted Hunger Strike line is a grand lie, what else is a lie?
An Inconvenient Truth?
Even following the publication of both 'Blanketmen' and 'Afterlives' many people are still roughly at the stage of disbelief described above, in that O'Rawe's hypothesis would be more of an
inconvenient truth. Plus, until 5 or so years ago, the accepted Hunger Strike line was an unchallenged historical monolith, a quarter of a century in the making. There is little doubt that more and more people are being convinced by Blanketmen and Afterlives, especially in this
historically significant year, the momentum is steadily growing. However, there is a
distinct correlation between those who are publicly supportive of O'Rawe's account and those who are critical of Provisional Sinn Féin and vice-versa. For many, in either camp, acceptance
or non-acceptance of O'Rawe's thesis has been a near article of faith and there has been little
cross-pollination. Ironically, it may only be when those people (whose political careers depend on the silent majority within Irish Republicanism disbelieving O'Rawe) are no longer about or no longer in positions of power, that the Blanketmen and Afterlives hypotheses will eventually overtake
the orthodox 1981 Hunger Strike 'line'. After all, it took decades and years to enshrine and entrench that particular version in the broad Irish Republican consciousness, so it may take that again, to
not only refute it but to replace it as a widely accepted truth..
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
MG Singh from UAE on September 08, 2021:
The IRA doesn't have much attention in this part of the world. I enjoyed reading your article and anew perspective on the hunger strike of 1981. Is the movement still alive?