1981 Hunger Strike Book Cover

Out of the Mailbag, Comes Songs and Stories – The 1981 Hunger Strike

1981 Hunger Strike Book Cover

An Account from Declassified British Documents

Mike Mentel is an experienced and dedicated Irish American leader and jurist, active in the community of Columbus where he lives, and serves as elected state appellate court judge. Prior to that, he served three terms as a Columbus city council member and as its president. He has practiced law for 35 years. Mike has served our community publicly and privately to find out the truth, and explain it.

The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike is meticulously researched, referenced, and tied together, with extensive notes and index, providing tools for research, and new insight. Then Mentel, in an easy, fact-based, and conversational style, takes the reader through how the melting pot of actions and reactions led to the painful decision to commence the 1981 Hunger Strike.

Since it is impossible to experience the circumstances these men lived through, history will have to serve to illuminate what the circumstances were like and how these men lived in them. Once illuminated, it is possible to see the events of 1981 from the perspective of the men who went on that hunger strike and why they committed themselves to it.”

We too often see that history seems to repeat itself to those who refuse to learn, especially in Britain’s draconian relationship with Ireland. Just as the British government’s decision to execute the 1916 Rising leaders did, the authorities poorly thought out, hard line response to the hunger strikers caused another world reaction, and from that pressure, another pivotal turn in Ireland’s fight for freedom.

1981 Hunger Strike Book Cover

The 1981 Irish hunger strike has been etched into my mind since the day it started. I remember watching reports on the nightly television news about a 27-year-old man, Bobby Sands, who had started a hunger strike in Ireland. I was nineteen at the time and finishing my first year of college. It struck me that a man almost eight years older than me and imprisoned was willing to die on hunger strike for his convictions. The nightly news reported almost daily on his deteriorating health using sketch artist depictions showing how he was wasting away….

Mike Mentel

Mike Mentel

Mike continues: “The focus of this book is the civil disobedience carried out by ten men in the H- Blocks of Long Kesh prison who, in 1981, died while on hunger strike…”.

For me in reading the book, the highlights are the utilization of the declassified documents to illuminate the journey, the good and bad actions, the milestones that led to the hunger strike, despite reactionary and in hindsight, exacerbating British attempts to keep it in a vacuum.

“The prisoners’ reaction to the British government reneging on the deal would not end with the smashing of furniture and resumption of the dirty protest. Their next step would stun the Thatcher government and change the politics of the north forever.”

Conflict, explained, not from some distant past with grainy photos, some might think it forgotten, but actions in many of our lifetimes, on the evening news. Mike ties it all together, going beyond the immediate action, and details much more of the background, the reasons why, which I love. My understanding grew, and events on an island became more connected throughout Mentel’s research, and book.

Document declassification offered British inside thinking, at least in those documents, and Mentel presents that as it is. Actions, reactions and policies put forth in and around 1916 to address what was going in and around 1916 had direct impact in 1981 (Reneging on negotiated deals, Internment, Special Powers Act …). Near seventy years later, those policies hadn’t fallen off the books into antiquity, they came into play again and throughout, to dictate how the players of the time responded to them in 1981, and all the way into the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

“The declassified documents chart the road that led to the Good Friday Agreement, a road that began in 1981 with the men who died in Long Kesh on hunger strike.”

The 1981 Hunger Strike is highly recommended, a Top Shelf Selection, for the detail and the insight offered using the British declassification of key documents to shed great light on perspectives not seen, yet alone examined before. Mentel does a fantastic job connecting and explaining this part of Irish history, still alive and relevant today, to our past and present, and of course, our yet unwritten future.

You can find more at


27 years

John O'Brien, Jr.

*John is a Founder and the Publisher and Editor of iIrish, an archivist, spokesman, emcee, Spoken Word presenter and author of five books, (see below) so far.

1981 Hunger Strike Book Review
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