Sunday [May 20th] saw the Rebublican community from Newry and beyond gather in the iconic Raymond McCreesh Park to honour the sacrifice made by the IRA hero.
The number of people in attendence was evident of the respect the local community have for the hunger striker, as around 150 people joined with Saoradh on the day.
A heavy Crown Force presence was in place for the duration of the vigil in an attempt to intimidate those present, this of course failed to deter the participants.
Black flags were unfurled and posters bearing the image of Raymond were held aloft in what was a fitting and dignified event attended by community leaders, former Republican Prisoners, trade unionists, children and pensioners all united in their admiration and respect for the young South Armagh martyr.
During the vigil young children played in the park under the backdrop of a Saoradh banner emblazoned with the infamous Bobby Sands quote “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”. A fitting legacy cemented by the sacrifice of those who hungered for justice.
The threat of an irrelevant counter-protest organised by sectarian bigots failed to materialise.
The vigil was chaired by Saoradh An Iúir chairperson Oliver White and speakers on the day included Saoradh’s Newry area representative Stephen Murney whilst the main speaker on the day was former IRA POW Nuala Perry.
Stephen addressed the Unionist/Loyalist hysteria that preceded the remembrance event and outlined the party’s position and reasons for organising the event.
Below we carry the full oration by Nuala Perry:
“Ba mhaith liom mo chuid buiochas a dhul le gach duine a thainig anseo inniu agus ta failte romhaibh go leir
On behalf of Saoradh I would like to thank everyone for their attendance here today and I would especially like to thank Saoradh An Luir for asking me to say a few words at this very fitting and poignant vigil.
It is very important that we as Republicans gather here today and pay tribute to Ray Mc Creesh.
It is important because Raymond Mc Creesh was an IRA Volunteer who gave his life to ensure that the British policy of criminalisation like that of subjugation would be consigned to the bin of history in this country.
As Saoradh spokesperson Stephen Murney recently stated in relation to this vigil, ‘Republicans commemorating their dead in their own communities are not offending anyone.’
He continued, ‘We will be there on Sunday to remember Raymond Mc Creesh in a dignified and fitting fashion, and we have chosen to remember him amongst the community that hold him and have always held him in the highest esteem.’
Tomorrow it will be thirty seven years since Raymond Mc Creesh lost his life in the H Blocks of Long Kesh after 61 days of hunger-strike, and on that same tragic day when Republicans tried to absorb the sheer ruthlessness of Thatcher’s government’s indifference to the loss of another young Republican life, Patsy O Hara another young volunteer would succumb to the horrors of the strike that night.
Ray Mc Creesh was nineteen when he was arrested after an ambush on British soldiers near Beleek in South Armagh in 1976.
After nine months on remand he was sentenced in a non-jury Diplock court in March 1977. Ray spent four years on the blanket after refusing to wear the prison uniform. The one and only prison visit he would take during that time was to inform his parents he was going on hunger strike.
When Ray Mc Creesh was arrested in June 1976 Gardiner’s recommendations to phase out the overt policy of internment and special category status were well under way.
Under this new policy a situation which was recognised as political prior to March 1st 1976 effectively became criminal through legislation, this would mean that despite the fact that the individual and the collective characteristics of the prisoner remained the same the idea that a political motivation existed was being reframed.
In many ways there was surreal feeling about the events as they unfolded around us 37 years ago, few of us, whether it was in the prisons, in call houses or protesting on the streets could ever have realised the extent or the gravity of the sacrifice that was about to unfold.
In the prisons our days and nights seemed to be defined by the next hourly news bulletin, yet usually even when the slightest glimmer of hope came it would be overshadowed quickly by despair and that feeling of helplessness.
On the streets the Republican movement and people from various shades waged a campaign to highlight the horror of the Brits pursuit to criminalise the campaign in the North, the latter sometimes barefooted and wrapped in blankets, the former by any given means.
Criminalisation was the process that would replace militarisation and when Republicans were suitably tarnished we would then reach the ultimate goal of normalisation.
The only problem with that was and is, that irrespective through which mouth the policy of Gardiner is being spouted or regurgitated the Republican psyche is always conditioned to resist it.
When Ray Mc Creesh lost his life after 61 days on hunger strike he joined the ranks of IRA volunteers who were determined that their people would be free from the shackles of British occupation and that Irish Republicans would never again be stigmatised or criminalised, and for that we owe him a debt of honour.
Beir Bua Ray Mc Creesh.
Go Raibh Maith agaibh.