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Raymond McCreesh from Camlough died on Hunger Strike in the Maze Prison forty years ago today, 21 May 1981 aged 24.

Camlough man Pat McGinn recalls "This weekend sees the 40th anniversary of Camloch born IRA Volunteer and Political Prisoner Raymond Mc Creesh who died on May 21 1981 after 61 Days on Hunger strike. Raymond was born on February 25th 1957 in his family home at St Malachy’s Park Camloch. On June 25th 1976, aged 19 and along with his friends and comrades Paddy Quinn from Belleek and Dan McGuinness from Camloch was captured whilst on an IRA operation. Refusing to recognise the court the south Armagh IRA Volunteer was sentenced to 14 years in Prison in March 1977 for attempted murder, possession of a rifle and ammunition and a further five year for IRA membership. 

"In the H-Blocks of Long Kesh he immediately joined the blanket protest, and so determined was his resistance to criminalisation that he refused to take his monthly visits for four years, right up until he informed his family of his decision to go on hunger strike on February 15th of 1981. He also refused to send out monthly letters, writing only smuggled 'communications' to his family and friends."

Fr Brian Mc Creesh a brother of the dead Hunger Striker wrote in the “25th Anniversary of the Hunger Strike Commemoration Booklet” edited by Pat Mc Ginn and Tommy Lynch, some of his memories.

“At the beginning of 1981, after almost four years on the blanket, Raymond took his first visit from our mother and father. My mother didn’t know him. His hair which used to be fair to light brown was now black. The only facial feature that she recogonised was his teeth.

"When he told them of his intention of going on Hunger Strike, my mother began to cry. Raymond said to her “Don’t be crying mammy, hold your head high and be proud”.

 "I said Mass in H-Block 5 around the time he was making his decision and spoke to him after Mass. My fear had been that after being in such confined and unnatural conditions for so longhe would not be in a fit state of mind to make a decision of that importance. I was amazed and reassured to find him so clear in his mind and so calm and composed in his decision and determination.He remained calm and composed all through his Hunger Strike of 61 Days.

 "On my visits to Raymond we always spoke in Irish. I had made a speech at a rally in Toome saying that “My Brother is not a Criminal”. The next day I took in a copy of the speech to show it to Raymond only to discover by that stage he could not read it, his sight had deteriorated so much. 

Raymond McCreesh's funeral in 1981.

" He told me how he had listened to Bobby Sands dying and knew he would be going through the same.

"He spoke to me about the arrangements for his funeral. His wish was to be buried there. He wondered whether he could be buried in Camlough in the Cemetery right beside where we live.

"We did not have a family plot there. The Republican plot was a commemorative plot, he didn’t even consider being buried there. He wondered whether he could be buried in the plot of our grand-aunt Rose Sands. In the event he was buried in the Republican plot.

 "Pope John Paul II had sent a special envoy to the Hunger- Strikers to ask the men to come off. This was Monsignor John Magee a native of Newry. Although he was not aware of it, my mother had worked in their house and had nursed him as a baby. Raymond told me the hardest thing he had to do on Hunger Strike was to say no to the Pope.

 "Two days before he died, I said Mass in his hospital cell. Raymond had been in a coma for almost two days. At communion I blessed him with the host and he opened his eyes, looked around at my mother and father and other family members, called them by name and lapsed back into unconsciousness. It was the last time he spoke.

 "On a previous visit when he had become very weak, after the prison warders told us the visit was over, I said some prayers in Irish. As we said goodbye to him Raymond raised his hand and said in Irish, “Beidh and bua again go foill” (We will win yet)

Those words are now inscribed on his grave stone”.

 Ten  republican prisoners died on the 1981 Hunger Strike, Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond Mc Creesh, Patsy O Hara, Joe Mc Donnell, Martin Hurson,Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas Mc Elwee and Mickey Devine.

  

 

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