Does anyone remember Catherine Quinn?
She was a widowed mother and would still be an unknown woman, except for her decision on July 31, 1981, which echoed her name across Ireland, Great Britain, and the whole world.
Four years earlier, Catherine had watched her nineteen year-old son, Paddy Quinn, sentenced to fourteen years in the H-Block of Maze Prison in Northern Ireland for his part in a failed Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush against a British Army unit. Upon entering prison, Paddy became an active participant in the IRA protests against being labeled criminals, rather than paramilitary prisoners.
Those IRA protests escalated into the 1981 Irish Hunger Strikes, beginning with a man named Bobby Sands who started his food fast on March 1, 1981. During Sands’ hunger strike, he was elected to British Parliament as an Anti-H-Block candidate. Sands’ election, hunger strike, and eventual death brought world-wide attention to IRA’s demands and a surge in recruitment activity. 100,000 people attended his funeral.
Other IRA prisoners joined the Hunger Strike at staggered intervals after Sands, in hopes of applying the heaviest possible pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the British government.
When Paddy began his food fast on June 15, 1981, four men had already died and five others were at various stages in the strike. Paddy told his mom not to intervene if he fell into a coma. “You either back me or you back Maggie Thatcher,” he said.
On July 31, Paddy Quinn fell into a coma after forty-seven days and could no longer make decisions for himself. Six men had died on the hunger strike and three others hovered near death in the prison hospital. All were considered heroes and martyrs because IRA fervor was at its peak.
Authorities ushered Catherine Quinn into Paddy’s hospital room where she saw his emaciated body being wracked by epileptic twitches. She walked over to him and leaned down, whispering into his ear, “Paddy, I love you and can’t let you die. God has a plan for your life.”
Medical aides stepped in and saved Paddy’s life.
Even though four other men died after Catherine’s decision, the rest of the families intervened and the 1981 Hunger Strike ended with ten dead and twelve survivors.
So, was Catherine Quinn considered a hero?
No, not at all!
She was considered a traitor and turncoat to the IRA cause. Her son Paddy was angry with her. Her neighbors shunned her. The mothers of the ten dead hunger strikers hated her for tarnishing their son’s martyr’s deaths.
Yet, she didn’t care because she loved her son and believed God still had a plan for his young life.
Hey, black mothers, are you willing to be ostracized by your neighbors and families for loving your sons enough to do whatever you have to do to save their lives?
(Continued in Part 2)