Tommy McKearney spent sixteen years as a political prisoner. He participated in the 1980 hunger strike, during which time he wrote the letter (below) which forms the basis for the pattern on the hunger strike scarf artwork. He is now a freelance journalist and an organiser with the Independent Workers Union. His book on the history of the IRA was published by Pluto Press in August 2011. For more information click here


The message on cigarette papers was simply a plea asking for help prevent a bitter prison protest having a fatal outcome. Yet so much effort was put into trying to prevent that message ever being heard. SDLP leader Gerry Fitt used Her Majesty’s diplomatic channels to advise the Pope not to mention the Blanketmen when he visited Ireland. The Pope, who so loved liberty and justice for Poland, listened intently to Fitt’s message and never raised the issue. A papal decision that was warmly approved of by Britain’s government and the Free Staters who feared the Pope might take heed of his Irish cardinal and show some mercy to imprisoned republicans.

Mercy was in short supply three decades ago in Margaret Thatcher’s realm and attempts to prevent death in the H-Blocks failed. However, the message from the H-Blocks was not so easily suppressed in either its physical or political form. So many of those who sent that signal to the world and who wrote and carried those messages held on to a dream of a better world and a better future. It was then and remains, a powerful dream among those who were released and a vision underwritten heroically by those who didn’t survive the H-Blocks.

It would be very appropriate if something from that time, written secretly on cigarette paper could now serve as a pattern for what might become, in time, an Irish Kaffiyeh. How very fitting if words from the H-Blocks were to become embedded as a symbol of a struggle for a world built better than the one we now have.

This message on cigarette paper was one of thousands and symbolised a spirit that was propelled by a concrete and realistic dream of a world, new built and humane. It is truly magnificent that this note is now being turned artistically into a tactile and beautiful object but something nevertheless, that still speaks of a dream that must be held on to and somehow fulfilled.

                                                                                                            Tommy McKearney         2010