Priest refutes files on brother’s hunger strike as ‘very inaccurate’

A FORMER Coalisland based priest has refuted an account of the final days in the life of his brother, who died as the result of hunger strike three decades ago.

Claims contained in a series of confidential files relating to the Maze prison protest, released under the ‘30 years’ rules, allege that in May, 1981, a weak Raymond McCreesh indicated a willingness to accept nourishment but his family advised no medical intervention.

According to an Irish News article published on Friday, a ‘Note for the Record’ dated May 18, 1981, states that on May 16, Raymond McCreesh was on day 56 of his hunger strike and described by the prison doctors as “in a confused and disorientated state of mind”.

“At about 6pm he had a conversation with the Prison Hospital Officer and said that he would like a drink of milk”, the file reads. The prison doctor was sent for.

Despite his confusion, the note states: “McCreesh gave an affirmative answer to the question from the doctor, ‘Do you want us to save your life?’”

The McCreesh family were then telephoned by a Dr Emerson, the file reports, and McCreesh’s relatives arrived at 8.30pm, when they were interviewed by the doctor.

Senior Hospital Officer, L Nolan, records that the family impressed on the doctors that “McCreesh’s wish, which was expressed some weeks ago, should be respected and he should be allowed to continue his hunger strike with dignity.”

In a separate statement, Paul Lennon, a prison officer, said Raymond McCreesh’s mother, sister and two brothers - one of whom was former Coalisland priest Fr Brian - entered at about 9.20pm.

Mr Lennon alleged that he overheard the convsersation between the family and the dying Mr McCreesh since, owing to the fact that the prisoner’s hearing was affected, the visitors had to speak loudly.

He recalled: “I could hear Fr McCreesh repeatedly telling his brother to be strong and to remember where he was - ‘You are in Long Kesh concentration camp, being looked after by prison warders.

‘Remember O’Hara (Patsy O’Hara, who died on May 21); he is strong and on hunger strike the same number of days as you.’”

During the visit, Mr Lennon claimed, the prisoner’s mother said: “Now, Raymond, you are going back on your word.”

Mr McCreesh was repeatedly told to remember where he was, not to get confused and not to listen to anyone except his family, the files report.

However, the report contained within the confidential files has been totally refuted by Raymond McCreesh’s brother, Fr Brian MacRois, currently based in Carlingford.

Fr MacRois particularly rejected suggestions that their mother, Susan, told her son that he was “going back on your word”.

He said: “That never happened. My mother would never say anything like that. The alleged statements by myself and my brother are very, very inaccurate. One of the things we were assured going in was that it would be totally confidential but I wrote an account of it that evening because the whole thing was suspicious to me.”

Fr MacRois continued: “It was obvious to us that Raymond was totally and utterly confused. At one stage we asked him did he know where he was and he said he was in hospital in Scotland.”

The family said they were convinced the episode was part of a plot to break the hunger strike.

“It stands as a testament to the depravity of the state at the time, and as a measure of the shameless depths to which government was prepared to go to achieve their goals.”