Crowds attend Sinn Féin commemoration at play park named after hunger striker Raymond McCreesh

Children hold up black flags at Monday evening's Sinn Féin gathering at Raymond McCreesh play park in Newry. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Over 100 people have attended a commemoration organised by Sinn Féin at the Newry play park named after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.

The event yesterday evening, which marked the 37th anniversary of McCreesh's death in prison, took place a day after a similar commemoration was held at the park by dissident republican group Saoradh.

The park was bedecked with a banner stating ‘Raymond McCreesh: Our Hero” and addressing the crowd was local Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady and Newry hunger striker Paddy Quinn, who was arrested at the same time as McCreesh in 1976 following a planned attack on a British Army patrol in South Armagh.

McCreesh died on May 21, 1981 after 61 days without food, and the play park was named after him in 2001 following a decision by the then-Newry and Mourne District Council.

Since then, attempts by unionist councillors to rename the controversial park have failed, including a bid to remove the link to McCreesh in December of last year.

According to Sinn Féin, residents in the area want the name to stay, and MP Mickey Brady said republicans “should not have to apologise” for commemorating their dead.

He claimed the unionist objection to the park only arose following pressure from the Orange Order.

“It took almost seven years for unionists to be offended by this, given that the park was named after Raymond in 2001,” he told the Irish News.

“There is also a great level of support from local residents in the Ballybot area, who wish to remember Raymond. They regard him as a hero.”

Sinn Féin councillor for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Barra Ó Muirí added: “The commemoration is in accordance with the wishes of local residents, who we have been working with as much as possible. Unfortunately they feel demonised by the attacks from those within unionism on this very sensitive issue.”

However, fellow councillor David Taylor, of the Ulster Unionist Party, described the commemoration as “concerning”.

He told the Irish News: “This event only serves to raise tensions and will further damage community relations in the area.”

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