John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) telephone Martin Galvin (MG) who delivers a tribute to Peggy O'Hara of Derry. TPQ transcriber has once again given generously of her time to bring this to our readers.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
18 July 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 29:48)
JM: But now we head up to The Bronx and we speak with Martin Galvin who's the former Publicity Director of Irish Northern Aid. And Martin had direct contact with the O'Hara Family to the extent that they were bringing out family members of the hunger strikers during 1981 and Elizabeth O'Hara, who is the sister of Patsy O'Hara, was out here and Martin kept up that lifelong friendship since 1981. Hello, Martin.
MG: John, how are you doing?
JM: Good. Maybe you could explain how you first got to know the O'Hara Family.
MG: Well John, during 1981 as you know, I was the National Publicity Director for Irish Northern Aid and the Editor of The Irish People newspaper and in that capacity I had actually been appointed in the late '70's – at that time it had been building up in Long Kesh towards a hunger strike. We were hoping that American publicity as well as publicity from around the world could resolve the criminalisation crisis, convince Thatcher that she couldn't brand Irish Republicans as criminals, make them wear a criminal uniform and use torture and brutality to make them accept that.
So when the hunger strike began, as hunger strikers began to die, some of the families – they were so dedicated – they were so committed to that struggle and to the other prisoners still on hunger strike and still in Long Kesh - that instead of waiting to grieve or just accepting it and stopping family members came to the United States after their family members had died to campaign and Liz O'Hara, Sean Sands (or John Sands), Malachy McCreesh, they were among the first to come out to the United States and begin to go all around the country and raise the campaign ... later Maura McDonnell and others.
I think to show you how strong this was: not only did they have daily demonstrations in front of the British Consulate that thousands of people would attend in New York or they would have daily demonstrations in other cities - a few months ago we had Prince Charles and people lining up to shake his hand - well when Prince Charles came to Lincoln Center in 1981 at that time thirty thousand people stood a couple of blocks away with Liz O'Hara and Maura McDonnell and other families of the hunger strikers and shouted that he was a criminal, that his government, what they were doing in the North of Ireland, for instance in Long Kesh, that they were torturers, that they were wrong. In fact I can remember - members of the New York City Police Department had to protect them – coming to the rally afterwards – giving interviews – that with all the international criminals that they had to protect they were most ashamed about having to stand with them.
But from that time I got to know the O'Hara Family. I got to start lifelong friendships with some of the other families. I began to go back and meet Mrs. O'Hara – I always stayed with the O'Hara house and again – I can't tell you. It's said that there are no great men and women only ordinary people that are forced to endure and meet great challenges. Peggy O'Hara was a great person. She was forced to go through and meet a great challenge – whether it's the struggle itself, keeping a family together at the time that she saw three sons go to gaol - whether it was the hunger strike – all that she had to go through at the time - the pressure to take her son off the hunger strike, his appeals to her, the courage that she showed during that period.
All through the time John, even in 2007 I think that nobody could have united the people in Doire, who were outside of Sinn Féin who wanted to oppose endorsing the Police Service of Northern Ireland at that time, nobody could have brought all those people together. But when it was said that Peggy O'Hara would be a candidate immediately everybody else could put aside their differences – work on a campaign. You campaigned for her as I did - hundreds of political prisoners, former political prisoners put their names to an ad in The Irish News daily newspaper to support it - people came out and gave her a huge turnout to support her. And that shows you the type of respect that she had then, that she has always had since 1981 – a great woman who went through great pressure and great tragedy and came through it with dignity and honour and maternal love for family and that's why she is so much respected and missed.
SB: Martin, thank you very much and that was a very moving tribute to Peggy O'Hara. Martin, do you want to share more of your memories?
MG: Sure. She was somebody – she had a great sense of humour. I mean, one of her favourite stories – I don't want to tell one on myself but I was staying there once and I came home very late and another relative had come to stay with them didn't know I was there. And I came in from the pub and they were afraid there were burglars coming in so the guy went out to attack me and she screamed at him. And told the story the next day - How poor Martin Galvin who did so much for the O'Hara Family is there and these guys attacking him and everything and the way she would tell it – she would enjoy it more each and every time.
She was somebody who liked a bit of craic. She loved going to Bundoran. She loved especially when Joe O'Neill would invite her down or when she would go there for a holiday – she looked forward to that every year. She was very, very much somebody who would regard herself as an ordinary Derry person. She had to go through Sean, Seamus, Tony and Patsy being interned at various times, being gaoled, going up to the hunger strike, raising children, raising their families - but she was the heart and soul - Elizabeth coming to America – the heart and soul of that family, of the love of that family, of keeping them together and that's something that was central to the struggle for a lot of families. A mother, someone like Peggy, forced into that position, keeping everybody together, encouraging everybody – just the quiet determination and dignity that she had keeping them to go forward. She's one of the great mothers who showed greatness without whom the struggle – all that The Troubles went through - Republicans could not have endured it they way they did.
And I think just in terms of 1916 it's worth mentioning: this was a family – her father was one of the people who believed it when John Redmond and other Irish leaders said: Join the British Army. Support British Rule. We're going to get Home Rule for the thirty-two counties and eventually we'll get freedom. He joined the British Army, fought in the First World War and when he came back to Derry he found that no freedom came that far, as far as Derry, that he was still a second-class citizen in his own land, that he would not have the opportunities and jobs and full citizenship that others would have. (He) threw away his pension book, disavowed any type of service in the British Army and that led, that type of atmosphere that she grew up in - that led to her children having to march for civil rights, having to be attacked for marching for civil rights, having to be in gaol as political prisoners and of course, Patsy, having to go through dying on hunger strike.
And I think one of the things that should also be mentioned: it wasn't enough to just torture him and brutalise him – him and the other Republican prisoners who would not wear a criminal uniform so they could be portrayed as criminals, masqueraded as criminals by Margaret Thatcher. But even after he'd gone through the excruciating death of hunger strike, even after he had died, before the body was released to the family there were bones in his face broken, there were marks where cigarettes were put out on his face. We still have the photographs. Even in death his mother had to see him in that condition – that his body had been marked like that by the British, by those British forces holding him. That's the type of thing that that family had to go through - the harassment - home being searched- everything - and she withstood it with courage and dignity and encouragement and maternal love for her family, for her children, for her grandchildren – somebody who came to represent a symbol of resistance in Derry so that she could be supported in 2007.
Anybody – like when I stayed there it was almost like she'd bring you in - you'd be within that motherly support - encourage you, want to be behind you – protect you – if anybody said anything against me she would be against it – that would be it – she'd defend me - that's the sort of woman she is. She was a great women, she was actually beautiful in her younger days – you could see that even as she aged and she was somebody who will be deeply missed and that tribute today is deeply deserved.
JM: Thank you. And that was Martin Galvin, calling in from The Bronx, doing a tribute to Peggy O'Hara who was buried today in Doire – the mother of hunger striker Patsy O'Hara.
(ends time stamp ~ 38:44)