Remembering Thomas McElwee - 1981 Hunger Strike
.Thomas McElwee, the sixth of twelve children, was born on November 30th, 1957, into the small, whitewashed home built by his father, along the Tamlaghtduff Road in the parish of Bellaghy.
As children, Thomas his younger brother Benedict and his cousin the legendary Francis Hughes, along with other neighbours’ children, used to walk together each day to the bottom of the Tamlaghtduff road to catch the bus to school, returning home again each evening.
They went to St. Mary’s primary in Bellaghy, and then to Clady intermediate, three miles away.
After leaving school Thomas had gone to Magherafelt technical college for a while, but later changed his mind and went to Ballymena training centre to begin an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.
As he grew older, his fascination for engines grew stronger. He got his driving license as soon as he was old enough and got his own car.
Thomas used to travel all over the place to watch stock-car racing, particularly at Aghadowey near Coleraine, in North Derry, and once he even got his own stock-car for a while.
Thomas McElwee joined the Fianna Eireann when he was 14, Thomas and his cousin Francis Hughes soon formed an independent Republican unit.
For several years they carried out ambushes on British Army patrols as well carrying out bomb attacks in neighbouring towns such as Magherafelt, Castledawson, and Maghera, before it was recruited in its entirety, after a period of time, into the IRA.
On October 8th 1976 Thomas and his brother Benedict were injured in a premature explosion in Ballymena, Thomas lost his right eye, while two other Bellaghy men were also injured: Colm Scullion, losing several toes and Sean McPeake, losing a leg.
After months on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, Thomas received twenty years and was sent to Long Kesh with his brother Benedict where they joined the blanket protest and received harsh brutality from the screws.
Thomas joined the 1981 Irish hunger strike and died on August 8th 1981 at the age of 23 after 62 days on the strike.