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Former Hunger Striker leads 1981 Commemoration March in St. Pat's Day Parade

Picture credit: The Chicago Sun-Times

Former Hunger Striker Frank O'Neill led a commemoration for the 1981 Long Kesh Hunger Strikes in last Saturday's St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Chicago.


Deirdre Fennessy • 18 March 2006

Frank O'Neill, veteran Irish Republican activist and former Hunger Striker, led the Chicago unit of the Irish Freedom Committee in Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade in Downtown Chicago. The focus of the group's march was a commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Hunger Strikes at Long Kesh prison in Ireland, where ten men died in 1981.

Frank O'Neill, 83, was born in the North of Ireland at a time when Ireland was torn apart by bloody Civil War. He joined the Irish Republican Army in the 1940's and was later interned in some of the worst prisons in Ireland including the Curragh, Mountjoy, and Portlaoise Prison; where he went on Hunger Strike three times for the right to be classed as a political prisoner, and not as a criminal.

After moving to Chicago in the 1950's Frank owned and operated "O'Neill's", a popular establishment on Chicago's Northwest side for over forty years frequented by many well-known politicians, judges, lawyers, and city workers. A former boxer, Frank ran a tight ship. There were never any fights at O'Neill's; he cut them all off before they had the chance, gently telling them they'd had enough. It didn't matter if they were ward bosses, captains of industry or bus drivers, Frank treated everyone the same.

Frank O'Neill has dedicated his life to the cause of a united Ireland, free of British interference. Frank has been a member and founder of numerous Irish humanitarian organizations in the United States since the 1960's. In 1987 Frank testified in the Illinois Legislature as an expert witness in the McBride Principles, whose passage guaranteed fair employment practices for Irish Catholics in the North of Ireland. At the present time Frank is a National Board Member of the Irish Freedom Committee/Cumann na Saoirse, and is Chairman of the Chicago Chapter; which was named in honor of his associate and good friend Charlie Kerins, executed by a British hangman in 1944. The Irish Freedom Committee, established in 1961, is a Nation-wide, registered Not-for-Profit organization dedicated to education on the root causes of the conflict with England, and to the charitable and humanitarian support of the children and dependents of Irish Republican Political Prisoners.

On Saturday, Mr. O'Neill led a contingent of activists marching in respect for the memories of ten brave young Irish men who gave their lives on Hunger Strike twenty-five years ago at Long Kesh Prison in the North of Ireland. These young men, Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Patsy O'Hara, Ray McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, and Michael Devine; died for the right to be classed as political prisoners, and as not criminals.

In the words of three-time hunger striker Frank O'Neill, "Hunger strike is a tactic used for centuries to bring the struggle to the oppressor's door". It is not an easy one, as the deaths of these ten consecutive Hunger Strikers in 1981 was to show. Twenty-five years later, not one of the demands the 1981 Hunger Strikers died for has come to pass-Ireland un-united is still not at peace. And today, almost unknown to the world, nearly 100 Irish republican political prisoners in jails in Britain and Ireland still battle for the same right to be classed as political prisoners - a right taken from them with the signing of the 1998 Treaty with England.

Mr. O'Neill recently told a Derry conference on prisoners' rights; "The British government.will always deny Irish prisoners human dignity, but it is my hope that no Political Prisoner will ever have to suffer the ordeal of starving in a dark wet cell, in a hope to be allowed basic human rights. I hope that we will never see another Hunger Strike."

The Irish Freedom Committee/Cumann na Saoirse made an impressive showing in Saturday's parade, with over 40 participants extended over half a city block. Frank O'Neill led the contingent in a black 1966 Cadillac Eldorado in mint condition, with presidential type flags on either fender. The 9 year old grand-daughter of P. Michael O'Sullivan, celebrated photo/journalist who authored the 1971 book "Patriot Graves", followed him; beating the Bodhron slowly as ten marchers walked silently behind in formation carrying large black and white photos of the ten 1981 Hunger Strikers. A marcher behind them carried a large placard stating "No More Hunger Strikes - Political Status Now".



For more information and event updates please visit The Irish Freedom Committee at, or email the Charlie Kerins Chicago Cumann of the IFC at



















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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19 March 2006

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