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A Chronology of the Conflict - 1981



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Text and Research: Martin Melaugh
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change

A Chronology of the Conflict - 1968 to the Present 1968 1969
1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
2000 2001 2002 2003            

The following is a draft chronology of the conflict for the year 1981

1981 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sources Notes

1981

January 1981

Monday 5 January 1981
item mark Adam Butler, David Mitchel and John Patten were appointed to positions in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

Friday 16 January 1981
item mark Bernadette McAliskey (formally Devlin) and her husband were shot and seriously injured in a gun attack in their home near Coalisland, County Tyrone. It was believed that members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were responsible for the attack. Bernadette McAliskey was shot seven times in front of her children, but both her and her husband recovered from their injuries.

Tuesday 20 January 1981
item mark Maurice Gilvarry (24), a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was found shot dead near Jonesborough, County Armagh. He had been killed by other members of the IRA who alleged that he had acted as an informer.
item mark A British soldier was shot dead by the IRA in Derry.
death button

Wednesday 21 January 1981
item mark Norman Stronge (86), a former speaker of the Stormont parliament, and James Stronge (48), his son, were shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in an attack on their mansion, Tynan Abbey, near Middletown, County Armagh.
death button
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

February 1981

Thursday 5 February 1981
item mark In a statement Republican prisoners warned that there could be further hunger strikes if they were not granted special category status.

Friday 6 February 1981
'Firearm Certificates Protest'
item mark Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), led a group of 500 men up a hillside in County Antrim at night. Those taking part in the gathering were photographed holding firearms certificates above their head. [Firearm certificates are issued by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to those people who possess legally held firearms. The implication of the demonstration was that those taking part could as easily have been holding their weapons above their head.]
item mark The Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed and sunk a British coal boat, Nellie M, off the coast at Moville, County Donegal, Republic of Ireland.

Monday 9 February 1981
item mark Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and other senior members of the DUP held a rally at Belfast City Hall were they signed a covenant, the 'Ulster Declaration', based on the Ulster Covenant of 1912. Paisley also announced a 'Carson Trail' which was to be a series of protest rallies against the continuing dialogue between Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, and Charles Haughey, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister).

Tuesday 10 February 1981
[ proni on cain Political Developments; Employment.]

Thursday 12 February 1981
item mark Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), was suspended from the House of Commons when he repeatedly called Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a liar.
[ proni on cain Political Developments; Employment.]

Thursday 19 February 1981
item mark James Molyneaux, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), dismissed as 'ludicrous' claims by Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), that the UUP were conspiring to kill him.

Friday 20 February 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 21 February 1981
item mark The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a series of fire bomb attacks on eight shops in Belfast and three in Derry which resulted in damage to all 11 stores.

Sunday 22 February 1981
item mark Patrick Trainor (28), a Catholic civilian, was found shot dead on waste ground off Glen Road, Andersonstown, Belfast. Trainor had been killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who alleged that he had been acting as an informer.
death button

Monday 23 February 1981
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Friday 27 February 1981
item mark A large van bomb exploded in the centre of Limavady, County Derry, causing damage to 40 premises. [It was believed that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were responsible for the attack.]

March 1981

Sunday 1 March 1981
1981 Hunger Strike Began
item mark Bobby Sands, then leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison, refused food and so began a new hunger strike. The choice of the start date was significant because it marked the fifth anniversary of the ending of special category status (1 March 1976). The main aim of the new strike was to achieve the reintroduction of political status for Republican prisoners. Edward Daly, then Catholic Bishop of Derry, criticised the decision to begin another hunger strike. [Sands was to lead the hunger strike but it was decided that Brendan McFarlane would take over Sands' role as leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison. It later became clear that the IRA leadership outside the prison was not in favour of a new hunger strike following the outcome of the 1980 strike. The main impetus came from the prisoners themselves. The strike was to last until 3 October 1981 and was to see 10 Republican prisoners starve themselves to death in support of their protest. The strike led to a heightening of political tensions in the region. It was also to pave the way for the emergence of Sinn Féin (SF) as a major political force in Northern Ireland.]

Monday 2 March 1981
item mark Republican prisoners decided to call off the 'blanket protest' (?) so as not to detract attention from the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Tuesday 3 March 1981
item mark Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made a statement in the House of Commons in which he said that there would be no political status for prisoners regardless of the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 5 March 1981
item mark Frank Maguire, then Independent Member of Parliament for Fermanagh / South Tyrone, died. [In the aftermath of his death there was some debate amongst Nationalists as to the possibility of an agreed candidate for the forthcoming by-election. Initially Noel Maguire, Frank's brother, Austin Curry, then a member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Bernadette McAliskey all expressed an interest in standing for the vacant seat. However McAliskey later stated that she would be willing to step down in favour of a candidate chosen by the prisoners in the H-Blocks. Eventually the leadership of Sinn Féin (SF) decided to put forward a candidate and on 26 March 1981 Bobby Sands was nominated.]
item mark Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, paid a visit to Northern Ireland and denied claims that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland would be threatened by the on-going talks between the British and Irish governments.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 6 March 1981
item mark Second day of visit by Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, to Northern Ireland.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Sunday 15 March 1981
item mark Francis Hughes, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined Bobby Sands on hunger strike.

Wednesday 18 March 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 19 March 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 20 March 1981
item mark Patrick McNally (20), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), while he was 'joy riding' in a stolen car on the Ross Road in the Lower Falls Road area of Belfast.
death button
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 21 March 1981
item mark Tomás Ó Fiaich, then Catholic Primate of Ireland, issued a statement calling upon the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to end its use of violence.

Sunday 22 March 1981
item mark Raymond McCreesh, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, and Patsy O'Hara, then leader of Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners in the Maze, joined the hunger strike.
item mark Brian Lenihan, then Irish Foreign Minister, said that the on-going talks between the British and Irish governments could lead to a United Ireland in 10 years.

Monday 23 March 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 26 March 1981
item mark Bobby Sands was nominated as a candidate in the by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone on 9 April 1981.

Saturday 28 March 1981
item mark Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), addressed a rally, estimated at 30,000 people, at Stormont to protest against the on-going talks between the British and Irish governments.

Sunday 29 March 1981
item mark The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) decided to withdraw the nomination of Austin Currie from the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone.

Monday 30 March 1981
item mark Noel Maguire decided to withdraw his nomination in the forthcoming by-election in Fermanagh / South Tyrone. [This decision meant that voters were faced with a straight choice between Bobby Sands and Harry West, the Unionist candidate.]
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Tuesday 31 March 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

April 1981

Thursday 1 April 1981
item mark The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) organised three late-night rallies on top of hills near Armagh, Gortin and Newry. At the rally near Gortin, County Tyrone, two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) vehicles were overturned by the crowd. [The rallies were similar to one held on 6 February 1981 when firearm certificates were displayed by those taking part.]

Saturday 3 April 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Sunday 5 April 1981
The 1981 Census
item mark During the census Sinn Féin (SF) campaigned for non completion of the census forms as a demonstration of support for the hunger strike. As a result in many Republican areas the census enumerators were unable to collect completed forms. Indeed one enumerator was shot dead in Derry by Republican paramilitaries on 7 April 1981. [This led to a large under representation of Catholics in the published figures. The population of Northern Ireland was recorded as 1,481,959 with 28 per cent giving their religion as Catholic. 18.5 per cent of the population had refused to state their religion. Later estimates of the true Catholic population put the figure at 38.5 per cent.]

Monday 6 April 1981
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Tuesday 7 April 1981
item mark Joanne Mathers (29), a Protestant civilian who was acting as a census enumerator, was shot dead in the Gobnascale area of Derry, while she was collecting census returns. Republican paramilitaries were responsible for the killing.
death button
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Wednesday 8 April 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 9 April 1981
Bobby Sands Elected to Westminster
item mark In the Fermanagh / South Tyrone by-election Bobby Sands, then on hunger strike in the Maze Prison, was elected (following the final count on 11 April 1981) as Member of Parliament for the constituency. The turnout for the contest was 86.9 per cent and Sands obtained 30,492 votes and Harry West, the Unionist candidate, obtained 29,046 votes. [The election had been followed by media organisations around the world and the outcome gave added impetus to the hunger strike campaign. The British government declared that the election would not change its position in regard to special category status. On 12 June 1981 the government published proposals to change the Representation of the People Act making it impossible for prisoners to stand as candidates for election to parliament.]

Saturday 11 April 1981
item mark Following the announcement that Bobby Sands had won the Fermanagh / South Tyrone by-election there were celebration parades in many Republican areas across Northern Ireland. In Belfast, Cookstown and in Lurgan these celebrations ended in rioting.

Monday 13 April 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Wednesday 15 April 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 16 April 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Sunday 19 April 1981
item mark James Brown (18) and Gary English (19), both Catholic civilians, were killed when a British Army vehicle drove into a crowd of people on Creggan Road, Derry. [There had been rioting in the area but local people stated that the vehicle was driven deliberately at the crowd.]
death button

Monday 20 April 1981
item mark Three Irish TDs (Teachta Dáil; Members of the Irish Parliament) together with Owen Carron, then Bobby Sands' election agent, paid a visit to the Maze Prison. Following a meeting with Sands the TDs called for urgent talks with the British government. [Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, announced on 21 April 1981 that the British government would not meet the TDs.]

Tuesday 21 April 1981
item mark Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, spoke to a press conference in Saudi Arabia and stated that the British government would not meet with Irish TDs (Teachta Dáil; Members of the Irish Parliament) to discuss the hunger strike. Thatcher went on to say: "We are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime, it is not political."

Wednesday 22 April 1981
item mark Dolours Price, who had been serving a sentence along with her sister Marion for a car bombing in London on 8 March 1973 (?), was released from Armagh Prison on medical grounds. [Dolours Price was suffering from anorexia nervosa the same condition her sister suffered from. Marion Price had been released from prison on 30 April 1980.]

Thursday 23 April 1981
item mark In what was seen as a response to continuing rioting in Catholic areas, Loyalist paramilitaries decided to meet under the auspices of the Ulster Army Council (UAC) which was effectively a co-ordinating committee for Loyalist groups. Marcella Sands, the sister of Bobby Sands, made an application to the European Commission on Human Rights claiming that the British government had broken three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights in their treatment of Republican prisoners. [Two Commissioners tried to visit Bobby Sands on 25 April 1981 but are unable to do so because Sands requested the presence of representatives of Sinn Féin (SF). On 4 May 1981 the European Commission on Human Rights announced that it had no power to proceed with the Sands' case.]

Saturday 25 April 1981
item mark Paul Whitters (15), a Catholic teenager, died as a result of injuries received ten days earlier when he was shot in the head by a plastic bullet by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
death button
item mark Two Commissioners from the European Commission on Human Rights tried to visit Bobby Sands but are unable to do so because Sands requested the presence of representatives of Sinn Féin (SF). Sands had insisted that he would only meet the Commissioners if Brendan McFarlane, who had taken over as leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Maze Prison, and Gerry Adams, then Vice-President of SF, and Danny Morrison, then editor of An Phoblacht, were also allowed to attend the meeting. [On 4 May 1981 the European Commission on Human Rights announced that it had no power to proceed with the Sands' case.]

Tuesday 28 April 1981
item mark The private secretary of Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Bobby Sands in the Maze Prison but was unable to persuade him to end his hunger strike. Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated that: "If Mr Sands persisted in his wish to commit suicide, that was his choice. The government would not force medical treatment upon him." In the United States of America (USA) Ronald Reagan, then President of the USA, said that America would not intervene in the situation in Northern Ireland but he was "deeply concerned" at events there.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Wednesday 29 April 1981
item mark The private secretary of Pope John Paul II held talks with Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, before paying another visit to Bobby Sands in the Maze Prison.

May 1981

Monday 4 May 1981
item mark The European Commission on Human Rights announced that it had no power to proceed with the case brought against the British government by Marcella Sands, the sister of Bobby Sands. [The case had been announced on 23 April 1981.]
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Tuesday 5 May 1981
Bobby Sands Died
item mark After 66 days on hunger strike Bobby Sands (26), then a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a Member of Parliament (MP), died in the Maze Prison. [The announcement of his death sparked riots in many areas of Northern Ireland but also in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) also stepped up its attacks on members of the security services. Following the death of Sands the British government faced extensive international condemnation for the way in which it had handled the hunger strike. The relationship between the British and Irish government was also very strained.]
death button
item mark Eric Guiney (45) and his son Desmond Guiney (14), both Protestant civilians, were seriously injured after their milk lorry crashed following an incident in which it was stoned by a crowd of people at the junction of New Lodge Road and Antrim Road in Belfast. Desmond Guiney died on 8 May 1981 and Eric Guiney died on 13 May 1981.
death button     death button
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Wednesday 6 May 1981
item mark The British government sent 600 extra British troops into Northern Ireland.
[ proni on cain Political Developemnts.]

Thursday 7 May 1981
Funeral of Bobby Sands
item mark An estimated 100,000 people attended the funeral of Bobby Sands in Belfast. [The size of the crowd reflected the impact the hunger strike was having on the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland.]
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 8 May 1981
item mark Joe McDonnell, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to take the place of Bobby Sands.
[ proni on cain Education; 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 9 May 1981
item mark The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb at an oil terminal in the Shetland Islands. A quarter of a mile away at that time the Queen was attending a function to mark the official opening of the terminal.

Monday 11 May 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Tuesday 12 May 1981
Second Hunger Striker Died
item mark After 59 days on hunger strike Francis Hughes (25), an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, died. [Hughes' death led to a further surge in rioting in Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast and Derry. In Dublin a group of 2,000 people tried to break into the British Embassy.]
item mark A member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) was shot dead by the British Army in Belfast.
death button
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Wednesday 13 May 1981
item mark Julie Livingstone (14), a Catholic teenager, was shot dead by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army. She had been walking along Stewartstown Road in the Suffolk area of Belfast.
death button
item mark John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), travelled to London to meet Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister. Hume asked Thatcher to concede to the hunger strikers demand for free association and the right to wear civilian clothes. No concessions were forthcoming from Thatcher.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 14 May 1981
item mark Brendan McLaughlin, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to replace Francis Hughes who had died on 12 May 1981. [McLaughlin was taken off the strike on 26 May 1981 when he suffered a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding.]

Saturday 16 May 1981
[ proni on cain Education; 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Monday 18 May 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Tuesday 19 May 1981
item mark Five British soldiers were killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) landmine attack near Bessbrook, County Armagh. The soldiers had been travelling in an armoured vehicle when the bomb exploded.
death button

Wednesday 20 May 1981
District Council Elections
item mark Local government elections were held in Northern Ireland against the backdrop of the continuing hunger strike. In the increased tension in the region, 'moderate' parties all suffered a decline in support. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) achieved 26.6 per cent of the vote compared to the 26.5 per cent recorded by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) obtained 17.5 per cent of the first preference votes compared to 20.6 per cent in 1977.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 21 May 1981
Third and Fourth Hunger Strikers Died
item mark Raymond McCreesh (24), a Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, and Patsy O'Hara (23), an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, both died having spent 61 days on hunger strike. Tomás Ó Fiaich, then Catholic Primate of Ireland, criticised the British government's attitude to the hunger strike.
death button
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 22 May 1981
item mark Henry Duffy (45), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army as he walked through the Bogside area of Derry. item mark Carol Anne Kelly (12), a Catholic girl, died three days after being shot by a plastic bullet by the British Army as she walked along Cherry Park in the Twinbrook area of Belfast.
death button
item mark Kieran Doherty, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 23 May 1981
item mark Joseph Lynch (33), a Catholic civilian, was killed during a street disturbance involving members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) at the junction of Oldpark Road and Gracehill Street, Belfast.
death button

Tuesday 26 May 1981
item mark Brendan McLaughlin, who had joined the hunger strike on 14 May 1981, was taken off the strike when he suffered a perforated ulcer and internal bleeding. item mark The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) carried out a raid on the headquarters of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in Belfast and discovered a number of illegal weapons. [At this time the UDA, although a Loyalist paramilitary group, was still a legal organisation and was not 'proscribed' until 10 August 1992.]
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Wednesday 27 May 1981
[ proni on cain Education; 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 28 May 1981
item mark Charles Maguire (20) and George McBrearty (24), both members of the IRA, were shot dead as they approached a car on the Lone Moor Road in Derry. The car contained undercover members of the British Army.
item mark A member of the RUC was shot dead by the IRA near Bessbrook, County Armagh.
death button
item mark Martin Hurson, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner in the Maze Prison, joined the hunger strike to replace Brendan McLaughlin who had been taken off the strike on 26 May 1981.
Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, paid a visit to Northern Ireland and made a statement indicating the British government's belief that the hunger strike was the 'last card' of the IRA.

Friday 29 May 1981
item mark The names of four prisoners on hunger strike together with five other Republican prisoners, were put forward as candidates in the forthcoming general election in the Republic of Ireland.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

June 1981

Monday 1 June 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Tuesday 2 June 1981
item mark A new political party was established in Northern Ireland by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The party was initially called Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party (ULDP) but later the name was changed to the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP).
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Wednesday 3 June 1981
item mark The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP) issued a statement on the hunger strike at the Maze Prison. The ICJP, which had been established by the Catholics Bishops Conference, came out against political status but did support improvements in conditions in the prison. This would have effectively met three of the prisoners demands: free association; no prison work; and civilian clothing. [The ICJP's initiative was one of a number of attempts to resolve the hunger strike. The attempt, however, was to come to an end by 8 July 1981 with the ICJP accusing the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) of going back on offers made in relation to the five prisoners demands.]
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Monday 8 June 1981
item mark Tom McElwee, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Wednesday 10 June 1981
Crumlin Road Prison Escape
item mark Eight Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners on remand escaped form the Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast. The prisoners used three handguns, which had been smuggled into the prison, to hold prison officers hostage before taking their uniforms and shooting their way out of the prison.

Thursday 11 June 1981
item mark A general election was held in the Republic of Ireland. [When counting was completed a minority government was formed between a coalition of Fine Gael (FG) and Labour. On 30 June 1981 Garret FitzGerald replaced Charles Haughey as Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister). Two H-Block prisoners were elected to the Dáil.]

Friday 12 June 1981
item mark The British government published proposals to change the Representation of the People Act making it impossible for prisoners to stand as candidates for election to parliament.
[ proni on cain Education; 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 13 June 1981
item mark A booby trap bomb was planted on a car being used by Lord Gardiner during a visit to Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack failed when the bomb fell of the car and failed to explode.

Monday 15 June 1981
item mark Sinn Féin (SF) issued a statement to say that a Republican prisoner would join the hunger strike every week. [This was seen as a stepping-up of the hunger strike. Paddy Quinn, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner joined the strike.]

Tuesday 16 June 1981
[ proni on cain Education; 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Thursday 18 June 1981
[ proni on cain Education; 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Monday 22 June 1981
item mark Michael Devine, then an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Tuesday 23 June 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Monday 29 June 1981
item mark Laurence McKeown, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Tuesday 30 June 1981
item mark The British government issued a statement on prison policy in Northern Ireland. The government said that it would not grant special category status and would retain control of the prisons.

July 1981

Wednesday 1 July 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Thursday 2 July 1981
item mark Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, suggested the setting up of an advisory council to help govern Northern Ireland. It was envisaged that the council would be comprised of 50 elected representatives. [The idea received little political support and was later dropped.]
[proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Friday 3 July 1981
item mark In the United States of America (USA) a federal court ruled that Noraid (Northern Ireland Aid ?) would have to register as an agent of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
[proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 4 July 1981
item mark In a statement issued on behalf of the hunger strikers, they said that they had no objection to any changes in the prison regime being applied to all prisoners. [This would have meant that special category status was not being conferred on Republican prisoners alone.]

Tuesday 7 July 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Wednesday 8 July 1981
Fifth Hunger Striker Died
item mark Joe McDonnell (30) died after 61 days on hunger strike. McDonnell had gone on strike to replace Bobby Sands. item mark The Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP), which had been established by the Catholics Bishops Conference, accused the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) of retreating from earlier offers made to the ICJP on the hunger strikers five demands.
item mark A member of the youth section of the IRA was shot dead by the British Army in Belfast.
death button

Thursday 9 July 1981
item mark Danny Barrett (15), a Catholic teenager, was shot dead by the British Army while he was standing outside his home in Havana Court in the Ardoyne area of Belfast.
item mark Nora McCabe (30), a Catholic civilian, died one day after being shot by a plastic bullet fired by the RUC.
death button
item mark Patrick McGeown, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike to replace Joe McDonnell.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 10 July 1981
item mark The funeral took place of Joe McDonnell who had died on hunger strike on 8 July 1981. The British Army moved to arrest an Irish Republican Army (IRA) firing party at the funeral and seized a number of weapons and made several arrests. Rioting broke out following this incident.

Monday 13 July 1981
Sixth Hunger Striker Died
item mark Martin Hurson (29) died after 46 days on hunger strike.
death button

Tuesday 14 July 1981
item mark Matt Devlin joined the hunger strike to replace Martin Hurson.
item mark The Irish government asked the United States government to use its influence with Britain on the issue of the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Wednesday 15 July 1981
item mark Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced that representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross have been invited to carry out an investigation of prison conditions in Northern Ireland. [Over the next eight days the delegation meets with the two sides to the dispute but announced on 23 July 1981 that they were unable to help resolve the hunger strike.]

Thursday 16 July 1981
item mark Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross paid a visit to the Maze Prison and met Republican prisoners to discuss the hunger strike.
[proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 17 July 1981
item mark The delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross had a meeting with Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to discuss the hunger strike.

Saturday 18 July 1981
item mark There were serious clashes between Republican demonstrators and Gardaí following a demonstration outside the British embassy in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Over 200 people where hurt during the clashes.

Sunday 19 July 1981
item mark Those Republican prisoners taking part in the hunger strike rejected attempts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to act a mediators with the British government.
[proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Monday 20 July 1981
[proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 23 July 1981
item mark The leader of the delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that the situation with regard to the hunger strike was deadlocked and in such circumstances they had no role to play.

Monday 27 July 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Wednesday 29 July 1981
item mark Representatives from Sinn Féin (SF) and the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) visited those taking part in the hunger strike. SF and the IRSP suggested that the strike be suspended for three months to allow time to monitor prison reforms. This suggestion was rejected by the hunger strikers and Republican prisoners.

Thursday 30 July 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 31 July 1981
item mark Peter Doherty (36), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by a plastic bullet fired by the British Army while at his home in Divis Flats, Belfast.
item mark A former member of the RUC was shot dead by the INLA in Strabane, County Tyrone.
death button
item mark The family of Paddy Quinn, then on day 47 of his hunger strike, intervened and asked for medical treatment to save his life. [This series of events was to be repeated a number of times towards the end of the hunger strike as more and more familles intervened to save the hunger strikers.]

August 1981

Saturday 1 August 1981
Seventh Hunger Striker Died
item mark Kevin Lynch (25) died after 71 days on hunger strike. Lynch was a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).
death button

Sunday 2 August 1981
Eighth Hunger Striker Died
item mark Kieran Doherty (25) died after 73 days on hunger strike. Doherty was a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and had been elected as a Teachta Dáil (TD) during the general election in the Republic of Ireland on 11 June 1981.
item mark Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were killed in a landmine attack carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Loughmacrory, near Omagh, County Tyrone.
death button

Monday 3 August 1981
item mark Liam McCloskey, then an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Wednesday 5 August 1981
item mark The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a series of car bomb and incendiary bomb attacks in seven areas of Northern Ireland including Belfast, Derry and Lisburn. The attacks caused serious damage to property and minor injuries to a number of people.

Saturday 8 August 1981
Ninth Hunger Striker Died
item mark Thomas McElwee (23) died after 62 days on hunger strike. This weekend marked the tenth Anniversary of the introduction of Internment and there were widespread riots in Republican areas. Three people were killed during disturbances over the weekend.
death button

Sunday 9 August 1981
item mark Liam Canning (19), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a covername used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), as he walked along Alliance Avenue, Ardoyne, Belfast. item mark Peter Maguinness (41), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by a plastic bullet fired by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) while he was outside his home on the Shore Road, Greencastle, Belfast. item mark There were continuing riots in Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.
death button

Monday 10 August 1981
item mark Patrick Sheehan, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Wednesday 12 August 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Monday 17 August 1981
item mark Jackie McMullan, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 20 August 1981
Tenth Hunger Striker Died
item mark Michael Devine (27) died after 60 days on hunger strike. Devine had been a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). The family of Patrick McGeown, who had been on hunger strike for 42 days, agreed to medical intervention to save his life.
death button
item mark A by-election was held in Fermanagh / South Tyrone to elect a Member of Parliament (MP) to Westminster to the seat that became vacant on the death of Bobby Sands. Owen Carron, who had been Sands' campaign manager, was proposed by Sinn Féin (SF). Carron won the by-election with an increased number of votes over the total achieved by Sands. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) had again decided not to contest the election.
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Sunday 23 August 1981
item mark Having won the Fermanagh / South Tyrone seat for the second time Sinn Féin (SF) announced that in future it would contest all Northern Ireland elections.

Monday 24 August 1981
item mark Bernard Fox, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Tuesday 25 August 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 27 August 1981
item mark The Boundary Commission recommended that Northern Ireland should have its quota of seats at Westminster increased from 12 to 17.

Saturday 29 August 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Monday 31 August 1981
item mark Hugh Carville, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

September 1981

Tuesday 1 September 1981
First Integrated Secondary School
item mark Northern Ireland's first religiously integrated secondary school, Lagan College, opened. [The integrated school movement was mainly driven by the desire of parents to have schools which would provide the opportunity for greater cross community contact amongst young people.]

Wednesday 2 September 1981
item mark Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), called for the establishment of a 'Third Force' along the lines of the disbanded Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) ('B-Specials'). [Paisley envisage a legal Loyalist paramilitary group which would be used to counter the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other Republican paramilitary groups.]

Friday 4 September 1981
item mark The family of Matt Devlin, then on day 52 of his hunger strike, intervened and asked for medical treatment to save his life.

Sunday 6 September 1981
item mark The family of Laurence McKeown, then on day 70 of his hunger strike, intervened and asked for medical treatment to save his life. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) issued a statement saying that it would not replace men on hunger strike at the same rate as before. [At this stage the INLA had only 28 prisoners in the Maze Prison compared to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which had approximately 380 prisoners.] Cahal Daly, then Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, called on Republican prisoners to end the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Monday 7 September 1981
item mark Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers were killed in a landmine attack carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on their mobile patrol near Cappagh, County Tyrone.
death button
item mark John Pickering, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 10 September 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Sunday 13 September 1981
item mark Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was appointed as deputy Foreign Secretary. James Prior was appointed by the British government to take over the post of Secretary of State.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Monday 14 September 1981
item mark Gerard Hodgkins, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike.

Wednesday 16 September 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 17 September 1981
item mark James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, arrived in Northern Ireland and went to the Maze Prison where he had a three hour meeting with those on hunger strike.

Monday 21 September 1981
item mark James Devine, then an Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoner, joined the hunger strike. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) was openly critical of the hunger strike.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Thursday 24 September 1981
item mark Bernard Fox, then on day 32 of his hunger strike, ended his fast. Fox's condition had deteriorated quickly and Sinn Féin (SF) was reported as having said that he was 'dying too quickly'.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 26 September 1981
item mark Liam McCloskey, then on day 55 of his hunger strike, ended his fast. McCloskey's family had said that they would call for medical intervention to save his life if he became unconscious.

Sunday 27 September 1981
item mark Garret FitzGerald, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), gave an interview on Radio Telefis Éireann (RTE) and set out his vision for a new Republic of Ireland in what became know as his 'constitutional crusade'. [The main theme of his ideas was to make the Republic of Ireland a society where the majority ethos would be expressed in a way so as to not alienate Protestants living in Northern Ireland.]

Tuesday 29 September 1981
item mark At the British Labour party's annual conference a motion was passed committing the party to 'campaign actively' for a United Ireland by consent.
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

October 1981

Thursday 1 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 2 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 3 October 1981
Republican Hunger Strike Ended
item mark Those Republican prisoners who had been still refusing food decided to end their hunger strike. At this stage in the protest six prisoners were on hunger strike: Hugh Carville - 34 days; James Devine - 13 days; Gerard Hodgkins - 20 days; Jackie McMullan - 48 days; John Pickering - 27 days; and Pat Sheehan - 55 days. [The prisoners took their decision when it became clear that each of their families would ask for medical intervention to save their lives. Even though the hunger strike was called off it was announced on 4 October 1981 that the 'blanket protest' was set to continue. On 6 October 1981 James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced a series of measures which went a long way to meeting many aspects of the prisoners' five demands. By 25 October the 'blanket protest' was all but over.]
item mark [The hunger strike of 1981 had very important and far-reaching consequences for Northern Ireland and proved to be one of the key turning points of 'the Troubles'. In addition to the 10 Republican prisoners who had died inside the Maze Prison there had been an upsurge in violence outside the prison with 62 people dying as a result. The Republican movement had achieved a huge propaganda victory over the British government and had obtained a lot of international sympathy. Active and tacit support for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) increased in Nationalist areas. Political support for Sinn Féin (SF) was demonstrated in the two by-elections and eventually led to the emergence of SF as a significant political force in Northern Ireland. The British government's fear that SF would overtake the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) as the main representative of the Catholic population of Northern Ireland was a key reason for the government signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) on 15 November 1985.]

Sunday 4 October 1981
item mark Republican prisoners issued a statement blaming pressure on their families as the reason for the ending of the hunger strike: "Mounting pressure and cleric-inspired demoralisation led to [family] interventions and five strikers have been taken off their fast."
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Monday 5 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Tuesday 6 October 1981
Announcement on Prison Policy
item mark James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced a number of changes in prison policy, one of which would allowed prisoners to wear their civilian clothes at all times. This was one of the five key demands that had been made at the start of the hunger strike. Prior also announced other changes: free association would be allowed in neighbouring wings of each H-Block, in the exercise areas and in recreation rooms; an increase in the number of visits each prisoner would be entitled to; and up to 50 per cent of lost remission would be restored. [The issue of prison work was not resolved at this stage but there were indications that this issue too would be addressed.]
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Wednesday 7 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Thursday 8 October 1981
item mark Lawrence Kennedy, an Independent councillor on Belfast Council, was shot dead by Loyalist paramilitaries as he stood in the entrance to Shamrock Social Club, Ardoyne, Belfast.

Friday 9 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 10 October 1981
item mark The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a bomb attack on a British Army (BA) bus close to Chelsea Barracks in London. The device was believed to be a romote controlled bomb hidden in a parked van, close to the junction of Ebury Bridge Road and St. Barnabas Street. The bomb was detonated when the bus carring the soldiers passed. Two British civilians were killed in the blast and 40 other people injured, including 23 soldiers.
death button

Thursday 15 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Friday 16 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 17 October 1981
item mark Steuart Pringle, then Commandant-General of the Royal Marines, was badly injured when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb under his car.

Monday 19 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Thursday 22 October 1981
item mark The European Court ruled against the British government on the grounds that it was discriminating against homosexuals by treating homosexuality as a crime in Northern Ireland.
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Friday 23 October 1981
item mark Ulster Unionist Party conference took place over two days (23 - 24 October 1981).
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Saturday 25 October 1981
item mark By this date most Republican prisoners had ended their 'blanket protest'.

Monday 26 October 1981
item mark Kenneth Haworth (49), a police explosives officer, was killed when the bomb he was trying to defuse exploded in Oxford Street, London.
death button

Thursday 29 October 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike.]

Saturday 31 October 1981 (or 1 November 1981 ?)
item mark Sinn Féin (SF) held its Ard Fheis (annual conference) in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Danny Morrison, then editor of An Phoblacht, gave a speech in which he addressed the issue of the party taking part in future elections: "Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?" [This statement was subsequently often quoted as: 'the Armalite in one hand and the Ballot box in the other'.]

November 1981

Tuesday 3 November 1981
s[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Friday 6 November 1981
item mark Garret FitzGerald, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), held talks with Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, in London. As a result of the meeting it was decided to establish the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Council which would act as forum for meetings between the two governments.
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Monday 9 November 1981
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Tuesday 10 November 1981
item mark During a speech in the House of Commons Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, said that: "Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom; as much as my constituency is." [This statement was subsequently often quoted as: "Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley".]

Wednesday 11 November 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike; Political Developments.]

Friday 13 November 1981
item mark The Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out a bomb attack on the home of Michael Havers, then British Attorney-General, in London.
item mark The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners issued a statement indicating that on 1 December 1981 they would end their protest over the issue of prison work.
item mark The SDLP held its annual conference over two days (13 - 15 November 1981).
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Saturday 14 November 1981
Robert Bradford Killed
item mark The Reverend Robert Bradford (40), then an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Member of Parliament, was shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at a community centre in Finaghy in Belfast. Kenneth Campbell (29), a Protestant civilian who was a caretaker at the centre, was also shot and killed.
death button
[ proni on cain Political Developments; Victims.]

Monday 16 November 1981
item mark There was a Loyalist 'Third Force' rally in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. The rally was addressed by Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who said that Unionists would make Northern Ireland ungovernable.
item mark Three Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Members of Parliament were suspended from parliament when they protested about the British government's policy on security in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday 17 November 1981
item mark The funeral took place of Reverend Robert Bradford. James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, attended the funeral but was given a hostile reception from members of the congregation. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) announced that it was cancelling all holiday leave for its officers.
[ proni on cain Political Developments; Victims.]

Monday 20 November 1981
[proni on cain Education; Day of Action; Political Developments.]

Monday 23 November 1981
Loyalist 'Day of Action'
item mark Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), organised a Loyalist 'Day of Action' to protest at the British government's policy on security in Northern Ireland. A series of rallies where held in Protestant areas of Northern Ireland and a number of businesses closed. The DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) held separate rallies at Belfast City Hall. The 'Third Force' held a rally in Newtownards, County Down, which was attended by an estimated 15,000 men.
[ proni on cain Day of Action.]

Tuesday 24 November 1981
[proni on cain Education; Day of Action.]

Wednesday 25 November 1981
item mark The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) carried out a bomb attack at a British Army base in Herford, West Germany. There were no injuries in the attack.
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

Monday 30 November 1981
item mark A number of Unionist controlled district councils voted to adjourn council business in protest at the security situation in Northern Ireland.
[ proni on cain Political Developments.]

December 1981

Wednesday 2 December 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike. ]

Thursday 3 December 1981
item mark Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), claimed that the 'Third Force' had between 15,000 and 20,000 members. James Prior, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said in response that private armies would not be tolerated.
[ proni on cain Political Developments. ]

Friday 4 December 1981
[ proni on cain 1981 Hunger Strike. ]

Monday 7 December 1981
[ proni on cain Political Developments. ]

Thursday 17 December 1981
[ proni on cain Political Developments. ]

Monday 21 December 1981
item mark It was revealed that the State Department of the United States of America (USA) had revoked Ian Paisley's, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), visa to visit the USA because of statements he made in Northern Ireland. Over 100 US Congressmen had lobbied the State Department to revoke the visa.

? 1981
[ proni on cain Hunger Strike.]

 


Sources
This chronology has been compiled from a number of sources:
  • Bew, P. and Gillespie, G. (1999) Northern Ireland A chronology of the Troubles 1968-1999. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan Ltd.
  • Elliott, S. and Flackes, W.D. (1999) Northern Ireland A Political Directory 1968-1999. Belfast: The Blackstaff Press.
  • Fortnight Magazine's monthly chronology of 'the Troubles'.
  • Sutton, M. (1994) An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969-1993. Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications. The Sutton Index of Deaths 1969-2001 - see in particular the list of deaths for 1981.
  • Various newspapers
  • For a full list of, and links to, on-line sources see the Guide to the Internet.

    Notes
    Each entry contains information, where relevant, on the following topic areas:

  • Major security incidents
  • Political developments
  • Policy initiatives
  • Economic matters
  • Other relevant items
    Information contained within square brackets [   ] may contain commentary or information that only became publicly available at a later date. Any piece of information which is followed by a question mark in parenthesis (?) is a best estimate while awaiting an update.

    A Chronology of the Conflict - 1968 to the Present 1968 1969
    1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
    1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
    1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
    2000 2001 2002 2003            

  • CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
    CAIN is based within the University of Ulster.


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