Francis Hughes ignored IRA order not to go on hunger strike, book claims

Republican Paul McGlinchey and Philomena Gallagher. Picture by Mal McCann.
Republican Paul McGlinchey and Philomena Gallagher. Picture by Mal McCann.

One of the best known 1981 hunger strikers ignored an order from the IRA not to take part in the fast, a new book has claimed.

The claim has been made by former IRA prisoner Paul McGlinchey in a book about his personal experiences in the H-Blocks before and after the 1981 hunger strike.

In the book, ‘Truth will Out’, Mr McGlinchey confirmed that the IRA did not want the 1981 hunger strike to go ahead and ordered republican prisoners not to take part.

In a rare insight, the south Derry native offers a glimpse into what life was like for republican prisoners who took part in the ‘blanket protest’ during the 1970’s and early ‘80’s.

The book also includes allegations that he was sexually assaulted by a prison officer while serving a sentence for possession of arms.

Republican Paul McGlinchey has written a book about his time in prison. Picture by Mal McCann.
Republican Paul McGlinchey has written a book about his time in prison. Picture by Mal McCann.

Mr McGlinchey said that the IRA’s GHQ (General Headquarters) instructed hunger striker Francis Hughes not to take part in the fast - an order he ignored.

The 59-year-old, who is a brother of murdered INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey, said the instruction was passed to Hughes in a message smuggled into the prison.

He says the IRA was initially opposed to a second fast after a similar hunger strike failed in 1980.

In the book he claims that the IRA’s GHQ “were ordering the men not to hunger strike”.

Mr McGlinchey said he was asked to pass the message to Hughes who shared a cell next door to his.

However, the message, which republicans called a ‘comm’, was too large to be pushed through a tiny gap in the wall between the cells.

He said he was asked to read the tightly folded paper document through a small hole in the wall before destroying it.

“I was given permission to read it and never reveal its contents,” he said.

“They were ordering him (Francis Hughes) not to go on hunger strike because the IRA believed after the first hunger strike had failed that another hunger strike would be detrimental to the struggle and for him not to be going onto it.”

Before going to jail Francis Hughes was one of the IRA’s most significant members in south Derry and was part of a unit that also included Dominic McGlinchey.

Mr McGlinchey said he was shocked by the IRA instruction.

“That man was going on hunger strike and he is going to sacrifice his life and here was a ‘comm’ to say they did not support him,” he said.


Mr McGlinchey said that another IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh, who shared a cell with Hughes, was also aware of the order.

He believes the IRA may also have made direct contact with all those who initially volunteered to take part in the 1981 hunger strike, including Bobby Sands, when they became aware another fast was to take place.

Mr McGlinchey said details of the secret communication was carried in a republican newspaper around a decade ago when controversy erupted over claims by former H-Block prisoner Richard O’Rawe that the republican movement rejected a deal to end the fast which could have saved the lives of six hunger strikers.

Mr McGlinchey said that plans for the hunger strike were revealed to him by Francis Hughes shortly after the first fast was ended when one of those taking part, Sean McKenna, was nearing death.

He says that in the hours after the first strike ended Bobby Sands visited Hughes and McCreesh before making his way to the cell of senior INLA man Patsy O’Hara.

Mr McGlinchey believes this is when the decision to launch a new hunger protest was taken.

Mr McGlinchey said that after the hunger strike began the IRA leadership gave it their backing.

Republican Paul McGlinchey (left) pictured in Jail. Picture by Mal McCann.
Republican Paul McGlinchey (left) pictured in Jail. Picture by Mal McCann.

He also provides details of the final hours spent by Francis Hughes in his cell before being removed to the hospital wing and claims he sang rebel songs for almost an hour and spoke about how he saw the hunger strike as part of the wider republican campaign.

Mr McGlinchey was one of the fist IRA prisoners to go on the blanket after being sentenced for possession of arms as an 18-year-old in 1976.

He is also believed to have been the longest serving blanket man, joining the protest soon after Kieran Nugent - the first ‘blanket man’.

He later took part in a no-wash protest during which prisoners smeared their excrement on the walls of their cells as part of a campaign demanding political status.

The campaign ended when the 1981 hunger strike drew to a close after the deaths of ten IRA and INLA prisoners.

He says he was forced to serve an extra three years behind bars due to lost remission when the protest eventually ended.

In his book Mr McGlinchey claims he was sexually assaulted by a prison officer after he resisted attempts to carry out an internal search.

In graphic detail he reveals that he was held upside down by several prison officers while another repeatedly violated him with a “cold and hard” object.

Mr McGlinchy said he suffered from his injuries for days and that his complaints to a governor were dismissed.

“I could not talk about it for years, what went on at the time,” he said.

“I would say I was not the only one that happened to but nobody has been brave enough to admit that happened to them.”

The 59-year-old is currently undergoing treatment for cancer and says he wanted to publish the book, which was co-authored by Portadown based writer Philomena Gallagher, to tell his personal story to his four children.

Mr McGlinchey met Mrs Gallagher while serving a sentence in Portlaoise Prison for armed robbery in the 1990s.

The information used in the book was sent to the author in letter form by Mr McGlinchey over several years.

Bobby Sands
Bobby Sands

However, plans to publish the work were only finalised last year when Mrs Gallagher contacted him out of the blue after two decades.

In the book he also recounts his encounters with ghostly figures that were said to stalk the H-Blocks and claims that some prison staff were involved in performing black Masses using vestments, a chalice and crucifix left in the prison by visiting Catholic priests.

Mr McGlinchey provides a glimpse into his upbringing in the Co Derry village of Bellaghy and how he encountered sectarianism for the first time during the civil rights campaign.

He reveals how he eventually followed his older brother Dominic into the ranks of the IRA on his 17th birthday.

‘Truth Will Out' will be launched at the Ex-Prisoners Outreach Programme in Derry on Saturday, May 20, at 1pm.

Its Belfast launch will take place at the Theatre Complex, Conway Mill, on May 27 at 1pm.

A separate launch will take place in his native Bellaghy later in the year while the book is also available to buy at the Sperrins and Glens Teach na Failte office in the village.

Copies can also be obtained by emailing