More than 200 people--most of them Irish-Americans crowded into small smoky Brighton convention hall last night to listen to speeches by relatives of three Northern Irish hunger strikers and to demonstrate their support for Irish independence.
Sean Sands, brother of Bobby Sands--the first Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker, who died after 66 days without food--gave the audience detailed descriptions of atrocities allegedly committed by the British against his brother and other IRA prisoners in the Maze prison, and said that "no man wants to live like that because no dog could live like that."
Other speakers included Elizabeth O'Hara, sister of Patsy O' Hara, another hunger striker who died, and Malachy McCreesh, brother of Ray McCreesh, who also died.
Members of the audience, many of who cried softly during the speeches, gave Sands three standing ovation during his talk and periodically shouted words of support to the speaker, who calmly recounted the details of his brother's death.
Sands sharply attached British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for her consistent refusal to classify IRA prisoners as political prisoners, and told the cheering crowd that in his brother's battles with Thatcher "Bobby always beat her--even in his death he won."
During an emotional closing of his speech. Sands said that "The time has come when Irishmen should be treated like Irishmen."
Sands, who, along with O'Hara and McCreesh, has been touring the United States to stir up support for the hunger strikers, finished by praising Boston Irish Americans in particular for their support.
"I've been all over the country for this, and by far the news letters and support we have received have been from people from the Boston area--we've gotten thousands of letters."
Organizers of the speeches last night had originally predicted that between 30 and 60 people would show up for the Proceedings, but by the time the speakers had arrived, more than 200 had squeezed into the hall.
O'Hara also described atrocities allegedly committed by the British, and said that after her brother died "cigarette burns were visible on his eyelids and it was clear that his nose had been broken."
O'Hara urged the audience to offer continued support for the IRA prisoners and to help Northern Ireland reach a solution before more hunger strikers die.
All three speakers spoke to Joe McDonnell, the hunger striker who last night was described by authorities as "close to death," and declared that McDonnell should not be allowed to die.