Remembering Francis Hughes
The Irish Revolutionary Francis Hughes died on Hunger Strike in Long Kesh on this day in 1981.
Francis Hughes was born in Bellaghy, County Derry on February 28th 1956 into an Irish Republican family, the youngest of four brothers in a family of ten siblings.
Hughes' father, Joseph, had been a member of the Irish Republican Army in the 1920s and one of his uncles had smuggled arms for the republican movement. This resulted in the Hughes family being targeted when internment was introduced in 1971, and Francis Hughes' brother Oliver was interned for eight months without trial in Operation Demetrius.
As a boy, Francis went first to St. Mary’s primary school in Bellaghy, and from there to Clady intermediate school three miles away.
He enjoyed school and was a fairly good student whose favourite subjects were history and woodwork. He was not particularly interested in sport but was very much a lively, outdoor person, who enjoyed messing around on bikes, and later on, in cars.
He enjoyed dancing and regularly went to ceilidh as a young man, even while ‘on the run’, although after ‘wanted’ posters of him appeared his opportunities became less frequent.
His parents recall that Francis was always extremely helpful around the house and that he was a “good tractor man.
Leaving school at sixteen, Francis got a job with his sister Vera’s husband, as an apprentice painter and decorator, completing his apprenticeship shortly before ‘going on the run’. In later days, Francis would often do a spot of decorating for the people whose house he was staying in.
Hughes loved socialising and on one such occasion, he was returning from an evening out in Ardboe, County Tyrone when he was stopped at an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) checkpoint. When the soldiers realised he came from a Republican family, he was badly beaten.
Hughes' father encouraged him to see a doctor and report the incident to the police but Hughes refused, saying he "would get his own back on the people who did it, and their friends"
Hughes initially joined the Official Irish Republican Army but left after the organisation declared a ceasefire in May 1972. Hughes then joined an Independent Republican Unit in South Derry along with Dominic McGlinchey and Ian Milne, before the three decided to join the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
In 1973 Hughes, Milne and McGlinchey took part in scores of IRA operations, including daylight attacks on Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) stations, bombings, and attacks on off-duty members of the RUC and UDR.
On April 18th 1977, Hughes, McGlinchey and Milne were travelling in a car near the town of Moneymore when an RUC patrol car carrying four officers signalled them to stop. The IRA Vols attempted to escape by performing a U-turn but lost control of the car which ended up in a ditch. They abandoned the car and opened fire on the RUC patrol car, killing two officers and wounding another, before running off through fields.
A second RUC patrol came under fire while attempting to prevent the men fleeing, and despite a search operation by the RUC and the British Army, the IRA Vols escaped.
Following the Moneymore shootings, the RUC named Hughes as the most wanted man in the occupied six counties and issued wanted posters with pictures of Hughes, Milne and McGlinchey. Milne was arrested in Lurgan in August 1977, and McGlinchey later in the year in the Free State.
Hughes was captured on March 17th 1978 at Lisnamuck, near Maghera in County Derry, after an exchange of gunfire with the British Army the night before. British soldiers manning a covert observation post spotted Hughes and another IRA volunteer approaching them wearing combat clothing with "Ireland" sewn on their jackets. Thinking they might be from the Ulster Defence Regiment, one of the soldiers stood up and called to them.
The IRA volunteers opened fire on the British troops, who returned fire. A soldier of the Parachute Regiment, Lance Corporal David Jones, was killed and another soldier wounded. Hughes was also wounded and was captured nearby the next morning.
In February 1980, he was sentenced to a total of 83 years in prison. Hughes was tried for, and found guilty of, the murder of one British Army soldier (for which he received a life sentence) and wounding of another (for which he received 14 years) in the incident which led to his capture, as well as a series of gun and bomb attacks over a six-year period.
British security sources described him as "an absolute fanatic" and "a ruthless killer". Fellow Republicans described him as "fearless and active".
During the Hunger Strike of 1981, Francis Huges commenced his strike on March 15th 1981, two weeks after Bobby Sands. After 59 days on Hunger Strike Francis Hughes, aged 25 died on May 12th 1981.
Fuair sé bás ar son saoirse na hÉireann